Wednesday, June 6, 2012


It's a lot of self analysis stuff and since that always feels incredibly indulgent and not all that interesting, and yet super important on a personal level, to write about, I'm burying it after the jump to force you click if you want to read.
Have you ever read something and before you had barely even started it you just knew it was going to be so vitally important you couldn't really handle it? That's how I currently feel about Susan Cain's Quiet. I'm on page six of the book and it's making me so emotional, I had to put it down. 

I found out about her book because I somehow, and I have no idea how, stumbled upon her TED talk on YouTube. I'm not the kind of person who generally stumbles on TED talks. I'm not listening to Fresh Air or All Things Considered, though I'm told I should and both are brilliant, and I sort of lump TED into that touchy feely higher thinking NPR stuff which is not my jam because mostly my jam is the NHL Network and EDSBS. Regardless, I stumbled on her talk a few months ago and watched it. And proceeded to bawl my eyes out. 

It's long but please take the 20 minutes to watch:

The reason it so affected me was because someone was putting in to words, and easing, an insecurity I have carried my whole life. 

This whole idea that being an introvert is somehow a negative and we should seek to be extroverts was being dismantled in her nineteen minute speech and the advantages of introversion were being explored. Maybe this shouldn't have been such a revolutionary idea. Maybe in all the education I've had  introversion as a strength would have been somehow previously discussed. And yet I can think of not a single instance in my life where it had occurred to me to celebrate that particular character trait.

From the earliest ages, those who excelled in very public ways were adored. Star athletes and performers in high school, jocks in college. My own father and brother have skipped through life on charm, good looks, a twinkle in their eye and exuberant personalities while I've been told I'm quiet and sullen and just need to "be out there more". 

I would give my mother fits all through grade school because I would lock myself in my room and read a book a day and was awful at team sports, both because I lack any athletic prowess and because that much attention and noise and spectacle makes me uncomfortable. (Why I'm a great observer of sports and not a great participant.) I've always liked quiet and being alone and could never understand why when we were younger my brother needed a constant stream of noise and stimulation. Couldn't he just BE? The answer was, and remains, no. 

I would sometimes make an effort to be the extrovert that I was supposed to be. 

For example, I remember in high school having the vague sense of wanting to pursue popularity because that's what one should want, but it never quite worked out. I remember saying to my best friend then that we should try to be friends with this other person, or become better friends with that person, so that we could be popular with only the vaguest sense of what that meant. And I wasn't even sure that's what I wanted. I would attempt to join groups or clubs (and I did row my freshman year, which is the one sport where grace is not necessary, and which really is an individual pursuit in a group setting) but I just felt uncomfortable in large, loud groups. I was the kid that was in the library every lunch period reading something random off the shelf because the student activity center or commons were just too busy and loud and full of people I didn't even really know. I'd have like one best friend throughout high school at a time and that'd be it. 

I'd come to understand that popularity was the way to everything. We sort of fetishize it in our society. That I should want to be invited to keggers and have people calling me all the time and getting invited to dances or on dates. But the truth was, if I really analyzed it, which I obviously didn't and just felt weird, that I liked being at home alone watching a movie on a Friday night and not freezing my butt off quite literally across the street at the beach at a keg party. I'd watch kids park their cars and go to parties from my bedroom window and want to be included but also enjoy the comfort and solitude of my own place, puttering around my own house, writing endlessly in journals. The idea of popularity was something I desired in the way a teenage girl does, ridiculously, but the reality of it wasn't for me. None of which was helped by having a sibling attend the same school two classes behind me who immediately thrived in that environment and in his sophomore year was going to far more parties and events than I had in my previous three years. Nothing like family to make you feel even weirder. 

Any attempts to actually go out and be popular, to hang out in big groups and be gregarious, only left me feeling even more awkward, as if I had made some horrible missteps that were gonna brand me and follow me forever. And truthfully, when it comes to high school people, I still often feel that way. I may have accomplished more than being an awkward, not cool, slightly uncoordinated 15 year old. But put me in the room with some of those people again and I am immediately exactly that again.

I went to college and completely, accidentally, obliviously became more outgoing and sure of myself. Except it was never a conscious thing. I just figured that's what happened in college. The tribe gets bigger and is far less rich Catholic school kids and a larger variety of humans you interact with that means you find ones you actually get along with. There are no forced interactions, you get to choose. (Well, that's not completely true. But I was lucky enough to adore my freshman assigned roommate so as to not consider that a forced interaction.) And in that you find your skin. I once, and only once, ventured back into the halls of my high school a year after graduating and my favorite teacher was amazed at the transformation. I will never forget her telling me that some people bloom in high school. But the rest of us get to be far more lucky and bloom in college. That's all it felt like. Where high school didn't fit for me, college did. (And even then, I remember both of my roommates at different points getting frustrated that I was happy to stay in all weekend on a particular weekend rather than go out and raise hell.)

There is also, at least at my alma mater, so so so so much alcohol that for my particular brand of introversion, that eases a lot of pains. A lot of college is a blur of figuring out who you are and what you can handle and what you like. But it's done so effortlessly and cluelessly, in that naive haze of being in your early 20s, that it isn't until I sit here now pondering why those things worked then and don't now and how I got to be more outgoing then and what that meant. Because to me, I was just being me. Blooming, as my high school teacher said. A lot of that disappeared when I came home, and then I became more entrenched in my ways, as happens when you get older, I'm discovering. Or I lost sight of those lessons? I'm not really sure...

I also hated all through my life, as Ms. Cain points out, group work. I have no problem speaking out loud in public, when I have the audience's attention. That doesn't bother me. I gave an amazing eulogy for my grandmother a few years ago, after much hesitation, because I knew I could do it right. I was told later that a distant cousin's daughter turned to her after I was done and said, "Can we clap?" That may be the best compliment I've ever gotten. But group work? Where you have to argue with others to put forth your idea? I always thought I was too bossy and too much of a control freak who ends up taking over to get things done to be good at group work. And that's very definitely part of it. But the other part is not having the energy to make your voice heard when that's the goal of everyone else as well.

My law school sports law class will forever be a sticking point. It was, naturally, male dominated. (Well, it was the semester I took it. The following fall when it was offered, at my and a couple other people's urging, and the easy A, a lot more girls took it.) When the class was split in half for a group project, I ended up the only girl on my side. Which I'm not generally intimidated by. But these fawning fan boys, who were tasked with representing management in a player/team negotiation, were clueless idiots who were so in love with the sport they couldn't see straight. If you haven't been following along, sports law is my THING. I am good at it. I can't seem to make a career in it yet, but I'm good. So when these boys, and even in law school they are boys, wanted to start the negotiation making our imaginary player the highest paid player in the NFL (at a defensive position, no less), I tried, and failed, to tell them those weren't the best negotiating tactic. We, naturally, got our butts handed to us in negotiations and all I could do was sit there with a smug, "I told you so" look on my face. I HATE group work.

This group of guys was priceless, actually. Being dismissed for being female on sports opinions remains one of my most grating life experiences. (Right up there with guys being intimidated with me knowing about sports. Can't win...) Anyway, in sports law, we'd walk into class and have our usual pre-class chatter and they'd all obsess first about their fantasy teams, which I don't care about, and then about who you take #1 in the draft if you get that pick. "You have to take Bradford, right? You have to!" And I'd say, "Honestly? If I have the number one pick, I don't want it." This was pre-new-CBA where there is a rookie salary cap, so you could theoretically eat half your cap space on a rookie you'd never seen play in the NFL. I'd point out that that's a high risk proposition. Yeah, you could end up with the next Peyton Manning. You could also get Ryan Leaf or a slew of other bust QBs one could mention. Not even to point out the fact that the #1 pick goes to the worst overall team and the likelihood of one player coming in and turning things around when there are deficiencies on the line, likely on both sides of the ball, isn't going to help his career or the team much. (Here might be a good time to point out that I don't even watch Sunday football. But the principles are not lost on me.) Seems like a lot less risk taking a lower round QB, trading down for more picks and a veteran, (and the price goes down precipitously after the initial picks) and hoping/working with him so that he turns into Tom Brady, while also saving money. They, naturally, ignored this sound logic. Until the VP of operations for the 49ers came in and guest lectured. And said the same. exact. thing. I had said. BOOM! Unfortunately my boom was a smug look and some internet bragging. I was virtually, annoyingly, voiceless in that class.

The problem of being an introvert is not with having a lack of intelligent things to say. It's finding the opportunity and energy, and trust me, it does take energy, to have them heard. I hadn't considered it in this light until the above TED talk.

I think that's why I so adore the internet. Even early on in the days of AOL chat rooms when I was in undergrad it was such a haven. I can filter pretty easily whose opinions I value and whose I don't. I can say my piece and people can respond to it (which I so hope they do), or they can walk away. It's a refuge. It doesn't take the effort it does to be out in the world. It also has a higher level of intellect because you're only communicating with words, people have to pay attention to your thoughts and not other superfluous details about how and who you are. (And yes, there is an INSANE amount of dumbassery on the internet. But again, you can cultivate your tribe here so that you block that out. Like never ever reading the comments section on any major news site.)

This predilection towards the internet/introversion may seem counterintuitive if you follow along. When I write, I write about the ridiculous adventures of my life. But if you pay attention, those are few and far between (unless it's football season...and even football season I often find draining and depleting). It never occurred to me, until Ms. Cain pointed it out, that I so often retreat from social interaction because it saps me of energy. To be subject to all that stimulation and to interact with strangers and not feel just so horribly awkward takes a lot. And usually a good amount of social lubrication. I am far, far more comfortable with a small intimate gathering of confidants than large crowds. If I am going to engage in a large crowd, know that it takes a lot of prep. A night out to just a bar, let alone a sporting event or some other big gathering, is usually planned at least a week in advance. I have to be in the right mood, or for a more accurate portrayal of it, the right frame of mind. And then I put on enough makeup that I laugh and call it war paint. Like, "Oh, hey, this is my social interaction outfit and my social interaction makeup and I guess I have to put on a real bra, huh?" And after I've gone out and partied or participated, I'm exhausted. It usually takes me a bit of time to recover and even longer to want to do it again.

This is also why the introverts worst enemy is last minute plans. "Oh, you want me to go to a party tonight?" I'd love to be that spontaneous. And sometimes am. If you want me to go to dinner, that I can do. Want me to go rage? Yeah, not happening. Usually the thought of all that it would take is enough to put me off of the idea. I should, and would like, to be more open to those experiences but it's often too much. If it's a last minute plan I feel obligated to participate in, I'm usually foot dragging and not having nearly as much fun as I would under other circumstances, where I feel more prepared to expend that energy.

I hope I don't sound like some agoraphobic freak. I'm not. And as she points out, there are WAY more introverts than even we recognize, we're just all pushed into this "be social" box and if we buck against that, it appears there is something wrong with us. I don't want to feel like there is something wrong with me because this coming Saturday I'd rather stay home alone and watch hockey than go meet a large group of people I don't really know. Doesn't that seem fair? It does if you fall somewhere more towards introversion than extroversion on the spectrum.

I also have to say that talking to and knowing most of you through this glowing box, and talking about how we feeeeeel about things and interact with the world, started to open my eyes to not being the only one to feel the way that I did about things, to realize that more of us than were willing to admit it, or even that had even pondered it enough to understand what was going on with us, were having similar struggles.

What I think this book will do, if I ever get past page six, is not only make me not feel alone, but prove that there is just as much value in my, and all of our, introversion where I had previously considered it a wrong that needed to be righted. That's huge and I'm still amazed that in all my years of being alive and all my absurd amounts of formal education no one had bothered to say that. To me or to any of you. So if you haven't heard it before: go forth and be you and kick ass just the way you are

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