Crowd control for introverts

Brenna at Lake Erie in winter

Two recent experiences have modified my concept about how I interact with the world. I may be an introvert, but that does not mean I cannot thoroughly enjoy being around people for extended periods. I simply need to be mindful of what it takes to ground myself.

An introvert is by definition one who recharges his or her emotional resources in solitude, while extroverts draw energy from being around other people. My introversion may have been complicated by social anxiety—and perhaps that anxiety becomes compounded when solitude and society get out of balance.

People are becoming confused about what it means to be genuinely solitary. Technology provides an onslaught of distraction including imagery, noise and interactivity that make it harder to be alone even in the confinement of our own offices and homes. However, it fails to provide benefits of genuine human connection.

You cannot get sympathy from a television. A phone call or email might connect you with lovers or colleagues but it does not supply the physical aspects of relationship. Meanwhile, these screens and devices increasingly isolate us from people beside us on the street or in the lunch room. We are caught in a nowhere land, neither intimately together nor truly apart.

As a freelance writer I can spend many hours a day communicating with others through my fingertips or phone lines. Then I make dinner to share with my partner while watching an episode of Doctor Who or Two Fat Ladies. Afterward I might wind down the day reading Facebook or playing a computer game that creates an illusion of social interaction and achievement. From morning till night I spend many hours alone but hardly ever apart.

The two recent social experiences I mentioned were the Men’s Spring Knitting Retreat and MagNet2013, Canada’s magazine industry conference. In both cases I spent many long hours in the company of people who shared my passions and ideas about the world. The fellowship was intense, but it didn’t tire me out.

At MagNet I would return to my room mid-evening excited, anxious to write about my experiences and share them on Facebook or the forums on Freelance Success.

Instead I decided to draw the line. After so much social interaction, my introvert soul deserved a little peace and quiet. So I would knit a couple rows of a scarf while soaking my sick toe. Then I would read myself to sleep.

I felt these simple choices profoundly refreshed me for another day of learning and networking, in a way the social media could not. This is a lesson I want to bring home. Every day I want to make time for genuine solitary pursuits not haunted by social expectations:

  • walking
  • other exercise
  • knitting
  • spinning
  • weaving
  • gardening
  • reading (which provides time to reflect in a way other media do not)
  • just being still, alone and conscious of my own thoughts

This lesson has a counterpart: that I also need to spend more time outside my home office. Having people around stimulates the mind in unexpected ways. It is hard to build self-confidence without exposure to real interaction. Humans are social creatures. Without others, would we cease to exist?

Thanks to my daughter, Brenna, for the image, which has always evoked for me a sense of perfect solitude.

6 thoughts on “Crowd control for introverts

  1. Fabulous post Van, from a fellow introvert/.

    I particularly liked “Meanwhile, these screens and devices increasingly isolate us from people beside us on the street or in the lunch room. We are caught in a nowhere land, neither intimately together nor truly apart.” Time in the garden or hiking is the only time I’m truly alone and unplugged, and I love and need it. Lately I haven’t been able to get out and away and I’ve not been switching off enough. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Thanks, Toni. I hope you can manage that time away soon. I’m in the middle of a busy month: lots of work and lots of social contact. Sometimes switching off only takes an hour of doing something quiet before bed, and sometimes that doesn’t seem enough. Good luck!

  2. I love this post. I think there is a lot to be said for activities when it comes to the re-energising of introverts. I can be around people for extended periods of time and depending on what I’m doing I can maintain a pretty decent level of energy. If I’m given the opportunity to get stuck into something, read, solve problems, or just simply ‘be’ with people then it is as good as the quality times of solitude. And there are times, like you say, when I’m on my own, immersed in technology and feel completely and utterly drained at the end of a day. It’s easy to think that it’s all about people, but really the key is stimulation and activity.

    1. Welcome, Andy. I like what you said about being plugged into the kinds of activities that stimulate us. And your website looks fascinating. Thanks for introducing yourself.

      1. Thanks, Van! It’s a pleasure. I really like your blog, some really challenging ideas. Have added you to my RSS feed…no pressure! 🙂

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