How do you figure out what you want—and need—as an introvert? Start by looking closely at the things you don’t want.
Too much noise.
Too many people.
Too much crap lying around the house or in your garage or in your office.
Too many tasks on your to-do list, more than you’ll ever realistically get to.
When you’re an introvert, you get used to that overwhelmed feeling of too much or too many; it comes with living in largely extroverted territory.
And you probably deal with it, understandably so, with a simple, subconscious mantra.
You leave the holiday office party (if you bother to attend in the first place) to get away from the bright lights and the loud music and the attendees shouting at each other just to be heard.
You deal with the federal disaster area that is your garage or your house or your office by closing the door, putting the whole thing out of your mind, and going somewhere else, anywhere else, for the day.
You manage that to-do list by, well, doing nothing at all.
Escape is a reasonable strategy; avoiding the things that overcook you in life can make you feel less overcooked. Simple enough.
But don’t forget to address the key follow-up question, the one we introverts tend to overlook in our single-minded effort to move away from what’s draining our physical, mental, and emotional batteries:
What do I want to move toward instead?
Avoidance vs. What You Want
An hour or so ago, I grabbed the gliding rocking chair from my 98-square-foot home office, lugged it up the stairs from our basement, and loaded it into our minivan so that my wife (a teacher) could start using it at school.
The chair and its accompanying footstool took up about 14 square feet of the office—meaning that I just got one-seventh of my cramped office back. (And I’ll get even more returned to me when I move the items our oldest son abandoned in it before he left for college.)
I have been at psychological war with this little workspace of mine ever since we moved into the house in 2014.
When we got here the space was a storage closet with blinding white walls, a door, plastic shelves, and a fluorescent light.
Today, particularly with the earth-tone colors and inspirational posters we’ve added to the walls, it’s a semi-better place to be as I write.
But I still work elsewhere whenever I can, never stopping to ask myself why—or, just as importantly, what I’d prefer instead.
Now, though, as I look over my shoulder and see the noticeable empty space once occupied by a chair I never sat in anyway, I realize I’ve been missing something:
When it comes to my home office, I’ve fallen into the trap of asking “What do I want to avoid here?” without then going further and asking “What do I want to have here?”
What I want to have is space to breathe and an atmosphere of calm.
And I want it here, in my office.
Which means that the long-term peace resolution for my office war isn’t avoidance of the space, but instead more mindful use of the space.
Beyond Avoidance Alone
What are you really looking for during all those times in your life when your introversion compels you—again, understandably so—to avoid something, some place, maybe even someone or someones?
Is avoidance alone really the entire answer for you?
Take that office party, for example. Yes, it’s often louder and more crowded than you’d like it to be, and yes, people often shout to be heard at such gatherings.
So it really isn’t surprising that your first reaction to it might be to leave shortly after your arrival—or, again, to simply not show up in the first place.
But maybe what you really want in that moment is not to be alone at home, but to be able to simply have a quiet(ish) personal conversation with one of your co-workers, on a non-work-related subject for once.
If you leave the party (or if you don’t go at all, as the case may be), you lose out on this potential opportunity.
If, on the other hand, you simply tweak the environment slightly—by, for example, asking your co-worker to step outside on the patio where it’s a little quieter—you get what you really wanted all along.
What You Want Is Connected to Quality
If you were to somehow poll a large group of people who identify as introverts, chances are that most of them would say they value quality over quantity:
Two good friends beats two dozen “friends” who are more like acquaintances.
One deep conversation at a networking event tops 20 interactions with people who are all looking over your shoulder for the next person they can talk to (and the next business card they can land).
A soothing space with three key design elements in it is more appealing than a cluttered, suffocating space with 33 design elements in it.
So the next time you’re in getaway mode, keep the quality-beats-quantity axiom in mind.
Make sure, too, that you think—that you really stop and think—not only about what you’re trying to leave behind but also about what you’re trying to find.
You may discover that it’s been right in front of you, albeit cleverly disguised, all along.