It's not really a secret that I'm an introvert. I crave space to think and reflect. I like prayer, meditation, and other contemplative practices. I'm not so great at small talk, and parties and extensive socializing wear me out. Over the years, I've found ways to cope. I do well connecting one-on-one, and I'm a good listener. Although I have to work a little harder, I am able to reach out and meet students on our busy (yet small) university campus. There are days when I long to hide away in my office, but after the long silent summer without students, I realize that I do need time to connect with others.
I grew up thinking that introversion was some sort of disease or problem. I remember being a child and my mother asking me what had happened to me; I had been so talkative when I was younger. I was perfectly content to sit in (what I thought to be) companionable silence while she thought it was a sign of me turning away from her. Although I excelled academically, I wasn't showy or social like the ones who got the most attention in school. The people who were famous or well-revered seemed to be the ones who could give a good talk, perform, and tell a lot of jokes. I learned about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator from my campus minister in college, who administered the test to student leaders. I discovered I was an INFJ and a little of what that meant. I discovered that my campus minister, whom I revered, was also an introvert. For the first time, I understood that perhaps introversion was not something I had to overcome, but something I could use positively, even in becoming a leader.
I just finished reading Susan Cain's interesting book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
which provided further illumination. For example, between one third to one half of people are introverted. We have unique gifts such as persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity that actually makes us great leaders once they are heard. We are also more inclined to be empathetic and to be more spiritual in our orientation (which explains all the introverted ministers I know, which are in contrast to the public images of loud charismatic mega-church pastors). Introverts can work on being more extroverted when needed (such as in public speaking). But we will need opportunities to "recharge" afterwards. Studies are showing that group work, a bane in an introvert's existence, is not truly beneficial to the overall creativity of products and not as helpful as people working individually and then sharing their ideas electronically before meeting to discuss them. Companies are starting to re-think open office concepts and mandatory brainstorming sessions as a result of new research that proves them to be inefficient.
But the most interesting bits hit closer to home. They talked about "highly reactive" children. These children were the ones who, as babies, would wildly flail their arms and legs and cry when confronted with novel situations or people. In later life, these children are often labeled "highly sensitive" and are prone to be shy introverts (shy and introvert do not always go together). I thought of our saucy Maryn who in good moments we call "unpredictable" and in bad moments we call "difficult". As a baby, she would only be happy if I were holding her and would cry if anyone else tried. As a toddler, she stuck to mainly John, Brady, and me. Over time, she began to warm up to extended family, but at 4, she is quick to tell you that she's shy, and usually responds to a friend's greeting by glaring or hiding instead of returning the "hello". When she's mad, she hits and kicks and flails and screams (highly reactive, it seems). Sometimes I worry about her, but in a different way than I worry about her tenderhearted brother. I'm relieved that she will likely stand up for herself as she is fierce in her reactions. And she's been quick to defend Brady, even sending away our 10-year-old neighbor away in almost tears after his playfulness with Brady went too far in her (strong) opinion. You always know where she stands and what she's thinking. She's also highly creative and has been able to play in her own fantasy world independently from a young age (unlike Brady the extrovert, who needs constant stimulation and company). I worry sometimes that her feisty nature will get her into trouble or that she won't be able to control it when it benefits her to do so, but that's a minor worry. Mainly I wonder if others will see the beauty and brilliance in her as she keeps it hidden from most people. I worry about her being uncomfortable and limited by her shyness as I once was as a child.
And I guess that's the main revelation. Since her birth, I've often looked at her with awed curiosity...where did this girl come from? She didn't look or act like me (or so I thought). But now, in reading the descriptions of such children, I remember another small, quiet blue-eyed girl that also held strong opinions and desires. It wasn't always an easy journey for her, but she has found her place and is loved and accepted. As we provide the love and support for our own spitfire, may she continue to shine brightly and find her own place in this world, teaching us all along the way.