Even Introverts Are Here

Stepping out of my comfort zone paid off big time.

Posted Jan 24, 2017

Susan Kaufman on Twitter
Source: Susan Kaufman on Twitter

The protest sign reads “So bad, even introverts are here.” Several friends posted it on my wall, several others sent it to me privately.

Because yes, I was one of them: An introvert marching in Washington D.C.

This is not going to be a political column, and I warn you in advance that I will delete any political comments.

This is going to be about dragging yourself from your comfort zone and seeing what happens.

I was determined to attend the Women’s March on Washington but needed to do it as inexpensively as possible. When plans to attend with a friend and stay with a relative of hers fell through, I ended up arranging to stay with the friend of a friend, whom I had never met. This woman both rented rooms through Airbnb, and was generously opening her home to others for the weekend. I was among the benefactors of her generosity, although the best she could offer was a sleeping bag, a pillow, and a piece of floor. All told, she estimated, there would be eleven of us in the house.

You can imagine how much I looked forward to this. And my dread escalated in the days before the trip. Not just my general anxiety about traveling. (I had the inevitable travel-anxiety dream; in this version, I forgot to pack a suitcase), and my anxiety about the march (Would there be violence?). I also had introvert anxiety over my accommodations. A house filled with ten other strangers? Hyperventilate!

But despite the fear and loathing of a weekend so far out of my comfort zone, I was determined. And this turned out to be a good thing, from the get-go.

Ordinarily when I fly, I avoid conversation. I have a horror of being trapped next to a chatterbox on an airplane, so I take my seat, put in earbuds, and bury myself in a book immediately. But this time, once my seat mate and I ascertained that we were both heading for the march, we started an intense and meaningful conversation that lasted through the entire flight. We bonded over our beliefs, and we’re Facebook friends now—though there’s a 97.3 percent chance I will never see her in a person again.

At the house, I lucked into more than just a piece of floor—I scored what was essentially a cushioned bench. Not luxury, but not bad. Even better, I got the living room to myself, which was far more privacy than I had anticipated. So far, so good. Winning!

But I also got so much more than that.

Because as it turned out, staying in this house full of women enhanced my experience of the march tenfold. While several guests went their own way, about six of us spent most of our time together.

And we talked. Oh, how we talked. In the kitchen, around the dining table, on the Metro (to each other and to other marchers we were crammed in with), during the march on Saturday and after. We talked and talked and talked and talked—about the issues that concern us, about what the march meant to us and what we would do when the marching was over and work began in earnest. We cooked. We drank wine and whiskey. We laughed. We shared resources: toilet paper and snacks and Sharpees to write the name of emergency contacts on our arms, as was recommended but was happily not needed. (I will always regret bringing just two extra pussyhats, but I ran out of yarn and time.) We took group photos and marched together and chanted together and pointed out good signs to each other, and marveled to each other about the emotional impact of the historic event. We even talked about introversion for a while because all but one of the women in the group identifies as an introvert.

By the end of the weekend, we were friends. Maybe just for the weekend; maybe we’ll never see each other again in person, who knows. But these onetime strangers were witness to and part of a seminal experience for me, and I am grateful to them.

Three of the women  left Sunday morning, and I went off to meet up with two old friends, also in town for the march, and another who lives in D.C. (She did not march because she is part of the news media, which precludes political activism.) And we talked some more over a long, long brunch, over an afternoon hanging out in my friends’ accommodations, over dinner.

When I returned to the house on Sunday night, most of its occupants had moved on. Some Airbnb guests and were still upstairs; I could hear them but didn’t see them. My host had gone to stay at her girlfriend’s house and all the others had started their treks home.

At first, I felt lonely and bereft in the empty house, but that lasted for, oh, about 30 seconds. Then I took a deep breath, put on stretchy pants, climbed into my bench bed, and streamed a cozy British movie on Netflix. The next morning, I stayed in bed and pretended to be asleep until everyone else in the house left, then I made coffee and drank it in my jammies before taking myself to the airport.

My last conversation of the weekend was with a young couple on line behind me to board our flight back to Texas. They too were in D.C. for the march. When I mentioned all the great conversations I’d had, they looked mildly perturbed. “We didn’t really talk to anyone else,” the woman said. “Just a few passing comments.”

I realized at that moment that if things had worked out as initially planned—if I’d attended the march with my friend—I would probably have had the same experience. I would have indulged my introversion and limited myself to conversation to my friend. And I would have missed out on what turned into a richly rewarding part of my experience.

I got home last night and I’m tired. So, so, so tired. Physically, emotionally, and—oh boy, am I ever—mentally. I’m cutting myself slack for the rest of the week when it comes to accomplishing anything but the minimum of what is necessary.

But in a few days, a friend and I are attending an all-day political training and brainstorming event.

All. Day.

Believe me, I’m dreading it. It sounds awful. Stressful and exhausting.

But who knows? Maybe it won’t be. Maybe it will be as inspiring as this past weekend was. Since my experience in D.C., I'm game to give it a shot. (My friend and I have also agreed that if it's torture, we'll bail.)

When something matters, really matters, to you, dragging yourself from your comfort zone to engage can be empowering, exciting, and enlightening. And letting introversion interfere with engagement can be a mistake. I am so very glad I didn't let fear and loathing keep me at home this weekend.

Although getting back into my own bed felt awfully good last night. 

Check out my books:

Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After
The Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World
100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go
The Yankee Chick’s Survival Guide to Texas

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