When I was in Amsterdam the other week, my friend showed me this article from the Huffington Post. It’s one of those lazy-journalism ‘listicles’ they’re so fond of, as the title suggests (’23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert’). I’m not sure why the ‘secretly’ was needed in the title: I already knew I was an introvert, as did my friend. Still, the article provided what is known in Dutch as a ‘feast of recognition’ and as such, prompted much self-deprecating laughter. The one that particularly did it was the one about telephones: “To me, a ringing phone is like having somebody jump out of a closet and go ‘BOO!,’”, as a fellow introvert is quoted in the article. “I thought that was just me!” both of us exclaimed. How reassuring that it turns out to be a ‘thing’.
I have never liked making phone calls: what if the person you’re calling doesn’t want to speak to you at that particular moment? What if you say something stupid? What if the line is bad and you can’t hear them properly, or they can’t hear you? What if you forget to ask something, so you have to call them back? So many potential avenues to Awkwardsville and Panic Central. I need to be prepared for a telephone call, even one with a close friend. And when my phone rings unexpectedly, yes, I do jump. And I often let the person leave a message so I can call them back when I have composed myself. Now that I know that this is an official symptom of being an introvert, I am no longer so embarrassed about admitting that. (Well, a little embarrassed still. It does sound rather stupid when you write it down.)
‘Think first and speak later’ is another very recognisable symptom – or rather, ‘think first and react later’ in my case. I remember once in my old job when a strange lapse in hand-eye coordination led me to somehow shoot a staple right into my finger. Rather than uttering a string of expletives like a normal person, I proceeded to silently dislodge the staple, found a tissue to stem the bleeding, and went back to what I was doing.
I’ve already written about not being a natural networker, although I will do it if I really have to. I feel very self-conscious in crowds, and my natural instinct is to go and hide somewhere. On Friday I was at a conference in London – a Blast Theory colleague who was too busy to attend had kindly passed on her ticket. The venue was slightly too small for the amount of delegates, to the extent that it was hard to move around during the coffee breaks. I don’t get anxious in crowds exactly, but physically pushing up against strangers and starting a conversation with them in an attempt to advance my career is not my idea of fun. Thankfully I was with someone I knew, so I just talked to him all day. It may have been a missed opportunity career-wise, but certainly spared me much social anxiety and awkwardness.
Sometimes, though, it is worth giving yourself a kick up the backside. On Friday night I found myself at a party where I hardly knew anyone, and although I spent a good hour or so awkwardly tapping my foot at the edge of the dancefloor and trying to avoid eye contact, I somehow managed to leave with a bunch of new friends. Ok, that was mainly because a couple of nice extroverts came up to me to say hi, and because my extrovert friend whose party it was did that thing of ‘let me introduce you to…’. It’s probably a good thing that the world consists of both extroverts and introverts, otherwise everyone would be hiding behind pillars the whole time and never speak to anyone. And phone companies would probably go out of business.
Are you an extrovert or an introvert? How do you deal with the more challenging symptoms of your character type? As ever, I would love to hear from you. And you can follow me around on social media too: come join me on Twitter and Facebook.