I sometimes suffer extrovert envy.
I just returned from a vacation at a small all-inclusive resort in Mexico. The vacation was lovely and I have no complaints, only an observation: It seemed like extroverts got more gracious service.
I certainly can't blame the staff for responding positively to outgoing energy. Among the trade-offs of turning energy inwards is introverts' force field of reserve, which can deflect desirable attention as well as unwanted. At this resort, food was served to extroverts with flourishes and smiles. Our waiters tended to drop and run.
Is it me? My husband says I scare people, which bums me out. I don't want to scare anyone. I just gotta be me, and that's quiet and low energy. I'm polite and friendly and I smile, but I don't make friends of strangers right away.
I suppose I'm cautious, which causes other people to respond with caution. Either that or they ignore me. And that's not exactly what I'm going for.
My best friend in high school was very pretty and outgoing and could command the attention of every person in a room when she wanted to, and she often did. At the time, I felt I had two choices: Become invisible or try to behave like she did.
Sometimes I did the latter, but behavior that seemed natural when my friend did it always felt weird and awkward for me. And it usually led to regrets and insecurity. (I can still get like that, but now alcohol is involved.)
I had plenty of friends. That wasn't a problem. But in groups and with new people, the razzle-dazzle of my high-beam bestie dimmed my light and I felt passed over.
Many years later, I'm more comfortable with myself. And writing this blog has taught me lots about the introverted personality in general. But I still sometimes suffer adolescent pangs of envy towards extroverts.
It's the way they can electrify a room and light up everyone around them; their effortless manner in putting people at ease; their lack of inhibitions (within reason).
Mostly, though, I'm envious of the way extroversion is rewarded. The world opens its arms to extroverts, but steps cautiously around introverts.
Is that the way we want it? Have we done this to ourselves? Does introversion = prickly? Or shrinking violet?
Or do other people fill our silence with assumptions about us, that we're angry, bored, proud, unfriendly, shy, or unhappy?
Yes we want space, but not necessarily the wide berth some people give us. Is there a middle ground where we may have our quiet space without assumptions made about our temperament?
Seeing what extroverts want as a reward for their behavior is easy: they want contact, they want to be heard, they want as many connections as they can have. That's easy for people to respond to. Extroverts behaving like themselves are rewarded with exactly what they seek.
Does that happen for introverts? Are introverts rewarded for their ways? How? Are the rewards of introversion all internal? Is that by nature or necessity?
I don't necessarily want to be treated like an extrovert, but what do I want?
If society rewarded introversion as generously as it does extroversion, what would that look like? What behavior from other people--families, loved ones, strangers, waiters--makes you feel most appreciated?
My husband, for example, genuinely appreciates that I don't chatter, and usually listens to me when I do have something to say. (Usually. Kind of. As much as I listen to him, at least. We've been married a long time... ) This is rewarding to me.
I feel rewarded when extroverted friends neither hover nor forget about me at social gatherings. By allowing me to enjoy the party my own way while also stopping by ocassionally for a giggle and gossip, they join me in my quiet little party space rather than insisting I join their noisier one. That says this friend understands me. It's like a bouquet of flowers.
Like everything else related to introversion, its rewards are quiet and subtle. But identifying them is the antidote for extrovert envy.
How and when do you feel rewarded for your introversion?
My book, The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released December 4, just in time for party/festive/family-togetherness season. You know you need it.
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Photo by Joseph Gray via Flickr (Creative Commons).