Sure, the Holidays Aren’t All About You — but They’re Not All About Everyone Else, Either

For most of my life, I’ve figured that I just won’t get what I want and need during the holidays.

I’m not talking about presents. I don’t much care about them.

I’m talking about what I want and need as an introvert.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, the rest of the upcoming festivities: There’s going to be some extra work involved for me, work that stems directly from being an introvert. It’s always been that way where holidays and their general tilt toward extraversion are concerned, and it always will be.

So I can already count on becoming somewhat depleted during the holiday get-togethers. I’m not going to get as much time to myself as I normally get. I’m not going to have as many opportunities to just sit and think and recharge my batteries. I’ll have to be “on” far more than I usually am, and it will be draining.

But you know what? You know what I’m (finally) learning? It’s OK. I don’t need to fight the holidays or resent them, as I often have — if only subconsciously — in the past. Because I’m starting to see, for the first time in my life, a picture of holiday give-and-take that has somehow never presented itself to me before.

If the holidays are a teeter-totter, it can seem like the extraverts in your life dominate one side of it, leaving you up in the air all alone, feet dangling. Stuck.

I’ve always taken this scenario as a given when it comes to the holidays. “Holidays are for extraverts,” I’ve come to conclude. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Wrong. Times two.

The holidays are actually for everyone. And a teeter-totter only works if it’s balanced, and the riders on both sides get not only their downsides but also their upsides.

So here’s how I can think of things as an introvert trying to navigate a time of year that is even more extraverted than usual:

[teeter] I’m not supposed to get all the things I really want and need (nor do I expect this extreme in the first place, just for the record). No one is. It’s a universal impossibility.

[totter] I’m not supposed to get none of them, either (which is exactly the extreme I’ve always expected).

[balance] I am supposed to get — I deserve to get — some of the things I really want and need. Just like the next guy.

Ahhh. Feels good, this whole balance thing.

If you too have always struggled during the holidays, please join me in reclaiming them — again, not completely, but fairly. Equitably. Here’s how:

Keep Reminding Yourself: Sure, It’s Not All About Me — but It’s Not All About Everyone Else, Either

You don’t and won’t and shouldn’t get everything you want during the holidays. It’s not all about you and your introversion. But the opposite extreme — everyone else gets everything they want, and you get nothing — is equally unrealistic and unfair, not to mention unsustainable.

Strive for the middle ground, the balanced teeter-totter. Tell yourself you’re going to give and take during the holidays. Then do it.

Communicate What You Need — and Why — to Key Players

It’s great to tell yourself that you’re going to give and take during the holidays. But the people around you need to understand that too. And they may need to be filled in on your reasons, not in the context of justification but, rather, in the context of mere explanation.

If you want and need to step out of the festivities for some alone time, for example — and you almost certainly will — you can just tell people (if they notice or ask) that you’re taking a quick break to decompress. And that you’ll be back soon.

Take Introvert Breaks

You can try to be an extravert for hours on end, but you’re probably going to fail. So instead, just keep bouncing back and forth between participating in the extraverted activities and stopping out to catch your breath and recharge. Take a short walk outside. Go read a book for a bit in the quietest place you can find. Just a few minutes at a time is all you need. Even a slightly extended trip to the bathroom will do the trick!

Find the Extraverted Thing You DO Like and Get into It

Maybe you really do enjoy playing games with your family members, or singing karaoke, or whatever it may be. Latch onto that extraverted activity and spend your energy there. Or latch onto the parts of other activities that bring you some joy, even if the activity as a whole doesn’t really thrill you.

Give Yourself Rewards

After you’re done extraverting, give yourself the gift of a half-hour sipping a flavored drink at the nearby coffee shop. Or go for a run. Or do whatever else makes you feel good. Because you deserve to feel good.

Same as everyone else on the holiday ride.

Don’t Eat Your Children — Feed Yourself Introvert Food Instead

My beautiful wife Adrianne and I have four kids — a 16-year-old, a 13-year-old, and two 10’s — and I love them all to pieces. I’d step in front of a truck for any one of them.

Sometimes, though, I want to eat them.

Introversion and parenting don’t always mix very well. As an introverted person (special note to children everywhere: parents are indeed people) I crave a little peace and quiet in my day, either to re-energize or to remain energized in the first place. As an introverted parent I get fake fart noises at breakfast and blaring Weird Al songs after lunch and whining about [fill in the blank] in the middle of the day and random-fact-sharing competitions after dinner that do absolutely zilch for the quality of the kids’ kitchen cleaning, to say nothing of my psyche. Makes me feel like The Grinch: “Oh, the noise, noise, noise!”

As an introverted person I long for some time alone, some blissful solitude, to think and regroup and just be. As an introverted parent I am almost always surrounded by anywhere between one and four needy birds, cheeping in unison with their mouths wide open as they beg for an attention worm.

As an introverted person I dream of focusing on one thing, one activity, one human being at a time. As an introverted parent I can’t spend 20 seconds on the phone without a kid interrupting my conversation with some global crisis — like “he’s/she’s touching me!” or “somebody stole my Legos!” (“somebody” is responsible for a lot of crime in our house) or “I can’t find my [fill in the blank]!” All voiced with obligatory desperation and exclamation points, naturally.

As an introverted person I pray to have to say something only once and be done with it for all time. As an introverted parent I have to repeat myself constantly — repeatedly repeating my repeats and recycling endlessly through apparently complex instructions like “you gotta blow your nose when you’re stuffed up” and “the guinea pig cage isn’t self-cleaning” and “you’re not required to ransack your entire dresser drawer, like you’re an overzealous cop executing a search warrant, just to get the shirt you want at the bottom.”


But wait a minute. Not so fast.

A few years ago when my even-more-introverted-than-I-am dad was still alive, I asked him how it had come to pass that he and my mother had been abducted by space aliens and replaced with look-alikes who were most certainly not act-alikes. It was obvious to me that something had happened to my real parents, because the two old impostors standing in front of me were routinely giving our kids ice cream for breakfast and picking up all their garbage for them and tossing $100 bills into their birthday cards.

“Cripes, Dad, you never did this stuff for us when we were kids!” I crabbed at him one day. “What the hell happened to you and Mom when you became grandparents?! Who stole my mommy and daddy?! What is going on?!”

I was expecting a complicated, lengthy response. But instead, in true introvert form, my dad answered with one word and one word only.


I had to think about his reply for a few seconds; it didn’t register right away. But then it clicked.

“Oh my god, Dad,” I whispered. “All the crap the kids do that I’m always telling you about: We did that same stuff to you and Mom … didn’t we.”

“What do you think?” he asked, not needing to wait for my lame answer.

He was right, of course. We were equally horrible as kids — or at least my three siblings were! But somehow I had convinced myself that when my poor introverted dad had come home from a long day at work and had sought out a little uninterrupted quiet in his garage or had issued a seemingly simple instruction, we had responded “Yes, Fathah” in an English accent — and had then darted off not only to cook dinner, but to clean our rooms and take baths and brush our teeth without being told. We had given him exactly what he’d needed, when he’d needed it, without fail or delay. We had saved his introverted soul.

Not so much.

The Circle of Life says that what goes around comes around. So instead of devouring my kids when I’m frustrated with them, I will simply set aside a few C-notes that I can give to their kids someday … along with some Pixie Sticks for the kids’ lunches.

In the meantime, I’ll feed myself solitude and reflection time and focus — introvert food — whenever and wherever I can. And I’ll keep in mind the wisdom my wife, a first-grade teacher, often shares with me:

“They’re just kids, Pete.”

And they are. They’re not trying to drive their introverted dad (or their introverted mom) nuts. They’re just living. Being. Doing their thing. They’re only human. Just like me.

Especially when I was a kid.

Dance of Dissonance: Introverts and Self-Promotion

Yay! I get to be on TV tomorrow, to talk about introverts and introversion and, in the process, promote my book and my ideas and even myself!

Ugh. I’m going to be on TV tomorrow, to talk about introverts and introversion and, in the process, promote my book and my ideas and even myself.

I really do get to be — I really am going to be — on TV tomorrow on a local morning news-and-a-latte program called “North Dakota Today.” And I really do get to — I really am going to — talk about introverts and introversion and, in the process, promote my book and my ideas and even myself.

How am I really feeling about it all, today, right now in this moment? God’s honest truth? It’s the same gray as always (tomorrow will be my sixth appearance on the show): We’re talking not only cognitive but also emotional and even physical dissonance. I’m actually doing a strange little dissonance dance that involves patting myself on the back for my initiative while simultaneously smacking myself on the forehead for it. Imagine what the neighbors must think.

I’ll bet you’ve been here yourself if you’re an introvert like me. Tell me if you’ve heard this one:

Yay! My job interview is tomorrow!

Ugh. My job interview is tomorrow.

Or …

Yay! My annual review is tomorrow!

Ugh. My annual review is tomorrow.

You and your introverted self work hard to make opportunity knock, and when it does you answer the door and let it in. But seconds … or hours … or days … or weeks later, when you (finally) realize the imminent ramifications of having said yes, you go back to that same door, stare at it a little regretfully, and mutter to yourself only half-kiddingly: “What have I done?”

Why am I in the midst of my own psychological tug-of-war today … again? Well, nerves are a part of it. TV isn’t exactly my natural habitat, after all, although it’s getting a little easier each time I go on.

But TV per se, as a medium and an experience, really has very little to do with it. There’s a lot more to this story, mine as well as yours in whatever form it takes.

Introversion itself explains most of what’s going on when you find yourself conflicted about the prospect of sitting in some kind of hot seat — one you actively sought out, ironically — answering someone’s questions as you try to present yourself, your ideas, your product/service, your achievements, your potential in the most compelling way.

Whether you’re interviewing for a job you really want or telling the boss about your diligent personal efforts or, in my own case, appearing on TV for two four-minute segments on “Job Search Success for Introverts,” it’s basically a foregone conclusion that if you’re an introvert and you’re in a question-and-answer situation — especially one that involves aspects of self-promotion — you’ll be half excited for the opportunity and half wanting to barf your breakfast (your percentages may vary).

Let’s home in on the barfing part. For starters, the energy output involved (in presenting and answering questions, not barfing) will be enormous, and you likely already know that from experience. You might talk more during one two-hour job interview than you normally do in an entire day … or two … or five. It’s exhausting.

You also know that you will have little or no time to think through your responses to the various questions that will be thrown at you. When I’m on TV, for example, members of the viewing audience won’t be impressed if I create 30 seconds of dead air to prepare my answers to the anchors’ questions; they’ll be asleep — or hammering the clicker in frustration to escape to another channel. They, to say nothing of the anchors, won’t think I’m deliberate and reflective; they’ll think I’m a loon. So I have to think on my feet and respond to the anchors’ questions quickly. Again, not the introvert’s usual cup of tea. And again: exhausting.

Finally, there’s that word, that semi-nauseating concept: promote. Self-promotion? Blech. You’d rather let your actions — past, present, and future — do the talking. Same here.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Hence the dance of dissonance when you’re presented with — or is that faced with? — talking about yourself and what you have to offer.

So what will I be doing between now and tomorrow morning to have a successful segment on “North Dakota Today,” despite my paradoxical struggle? Three things, which I encourage you to adapt to your own needs in similar circumstances.

For starters, I’ll rest up tonight and get a good night’s sleep, knowing I’ll need to go into tomorrow’s segment with an energy cup that runneth over.

I’ll also think about and practice responding to a few of the sample questions that I myself provided to the anchors in a handout I emailed to the show’s producer earlier today.

Finally, I’ll remind myself that the anchors want to help me help their viewers, not embarrass me or trip me up with trick questions and curveballs. They want viewers to stick around and learn from some knowledgeable guests. They’re not interested in loons. Or barfing.

Yoga: A Workout That Strengthens the Introvert’s Body AND Mind(fulness)

Yoga — specifically, yoga class — might be the introvert’s ideal workout.

Careful. I can almost hear you (a few of you, at least) scoffing at my use of the term “workout.” Don’t be fooled: Yoga is not what you might think. Or at least yoga is not what I once thought. It is much more than lollygagging around in funky poses, breathing deeply and stretching once in a while as an Enya CD plays softly in the background.

I have now been to two yoga classes — one last week and the other today, just a few hours ago. And even though I should have known better having lost my yoga virginity last week, I went to the gym this morning with what seemed like a sound two-step workout plan:

  1. Go to yoga class.
  2. Do real workout afterwards.

Ten minutes into the one-hour yoga class, even though I was supposed to be working on being mindfully present and in the moment, I made one of my routine jaunts to the future and urgently cooked up a new one-step plan:

  1. Re-evaluate old plan.

Yoga is an intense physical workout, not even remotely what I imagined. The sweat pouring out of my body in class this morning drove the point home nicely. So did my quaking muscles, not to mention my inability to do certain things or move certain ways. I wanted to flawlessly perform all the right moves — to, for example, put my palms on the floor while my legs were straight. My body often did not.

But it will come, I’m sure, as it generally does for me in any physically demanding activity. The whole point of working out, after all, is to build strength and endurance over time. That’s not new to me.

The thing about yoga, though, is that it is also an intense psychological workout for an introvert like me — forever in my head, thinking about something: something from the past or something in the future, generally. Almost never truly present in the now. The exact opposite of what yoga encourages and teaches.

Even today I couldn’t help but continue straying from the present on occasion. This very article was formulating in my head, for starters. To say nothing of the ever-present internal conversations with myself. Sample:

Did she just say “Move through Ticonderoga and into Down Dog?” Maybe she said “Cowabunga.” Or “Anaconda” — at least that’s another animal. Why don’t these moves have cooler, more exotic names anyway? This is yoga, man!

That was shortly before we did a pose called Happy Baby, which I don’t recall actually doing as a baby. And all the while I’m trying to not only hear what the teacher is saying, but understand it so I can actually do it — which isn’t easy when we’re talking about instructions like “breathe through the ribs.”

I wanted to stay in the present. But my mind often did not.

Will this skill, too, come in time? Will I get better at living in the moment? I hope so. That’s why I need the yoga class. It’s teaching me mindfulness strategies that don’t come naturally or easily to me as an introvert. It’s helping me build psychological strength and endurance over time. And that type of workout is new to me.

It all happens in a setting I absolutely love as an introvert — in a quiet room with pleasant music and the instructor’s soothing voice. And with a dozen or so other people who, like me, seem to understand the concept that sometimes you want to be alone with a few other people around. Even as you’re struggling to be truly present.