Friday, August 30, 2013

Inside Out

So when I said I didn't enjoy the mother-daughter event Big A and I attended last week, it wasn't because of the event per se, but because I have a difficult time interacting in big groups of people I don't know.

This is because I am an extroverted introvert.  That means I thrive on interaction with others, but generally only one-on-one or in small groups.  I felt like a bit of a fraud at the event, to be honest, because everyone else was in media, a celebrity, or a blogger and clearly had experience networking.  I HAVE a blog, but I wouldn't call myself a blogger.  I am a psychotherapist and fitness professional by training.  Actually, it makes perfect sense that I am a psychotherapist because this involves intimate interaction with individuals and couples, rather than working alone or with big groups.

I have to give the organizers of the mother-daughter even credit though.  They were so concerned when they heard I didn't enjoy the event that they called to chat with me about it.  I explained that it was simply due to my personality, but suggested that for people like me, smaller, more intimate discussion groups would have been a nice option.

I've been thinking about this stuff a lot lately because I just finished reading Quiet, by Susan Cain, a book all about introversion and extroversion and how to each of these traits has strengths and weaknesses.  If you want to take her test to see where you fall on the spectrum, you can find it here.

I had an epiphany when reading the book too: I think I have become more of an introvert in some ways over the last few years since becoming a parent, because with kids at home you cannot necessarily get solitude or quiet when you want or need it, so I think I have had to compensate in other ways.  I have absolutely no interest in going to a big party.  An intimate dinner with a few friends?  Sure.  If I do go to parties where I know lots of people, I have a fabulous time, but after a few hours I hit a wall and need to get out quick.  I just feel tired and overstimulated.  Fortunately, Adam is even more of an introvert than I am, so on most things like that we are pretty in sync.

This book has been very helpful for understanding both myself and the girls.  In fact, there is a lot of great advice for how to nurture the strengths and weaknesses of both introverted and extroverted children.  Through reading it, I've realized that Big A is probably the most extroverted of all of us, while Little A, like me, is more of an extroverted introvert.  She loves hangin' in smaller groups with people she knows, but is very shy and slow to warm up with new people and easily gets overwhelmed by big groups.

Cain's premise is that we often overlook, in our culture, the value of introversion, and some of the wonderful traits and characteristics that often accompany it.  She also gives many examples of how introversion can help people achieve all sorts of goals and successes, despite our tendency to favour extroversion.

I love some of the wisdom Cain shares in her conclusions based on her research for the book:

Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.  Cherish your nearest and dearest.  Work with colleagues you like and respect.  Scan new acquaintances for those who might fall into the former categories or whose company you enjoy for its own sake.  And don't worry about socializing with everyone else.  Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity.

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting.  For some it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk.  use your natural powers - of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity - to do work you love and work that matters.  Solve problems, make art, think deeply.

Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it.  If this requires public speaking or networking or other activities that make you uncomfortable, do them anyway.  But accept that they're difficult, get the training you need to make them easier, and reward yourself when you are done.

When I told Adam how uncomfortable I felt at the mother-daughter event because of the fact that there were lots of people, none of whom I knew, he said I should approach such things with a goal, such as, have 3 conversations with 3 different people.  This is exactly the kind of thing Cain suggests, and exactly the approach this extroverted introvert will take next time when faced with this time of situation.

I will also stop talking about Little A being shy in front of her.  Cain says one should not label children that way because they will internalize it and see it as a permanent trait.  Also, Adam and I will no longer try to pressure Little A, as we have done in the past, to participate in activities with other kids when she is uncomfortable (we were puzzled and concerned when she refused to participate in her cousin's birthday party activities, but her cousin was the only kid there she knew, so it all makes sense now).  Lots of great lessons learned from this book!

I'm signing off now because Adam and I took the day off work to take the girls to the CNE.  It's freakin' hot and humid today, so wish me luck because I would rather stab myself in the eye with an ice pick than spend any time outdoors.  What we do for our kids...

Have a lovely final long weekend of the summer!

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