I often wonder what it would be like to step into someone else`s shoes for a moment. To see what the world looks like through their eyes, experience their inner landscape, and eavesdrop on their thoughts. Or similarily, to have someone enter my world to understand what an introvert`s environment looks and feels like.
The other day, as I sat in a co-worker`s office, I couldn`t help but be amazed at how different another human being could be from me. Everything about this individual screams extraverted personality. Being a fairly extreme introvert, this puts our personalities on opposite ends of the spectrum. And it shows. There is an invisible but huge welcome sign at her door beckoning people to come in and stay awhile. Her office is bejeweled with colourful objects, pictures, and candy bowls reflecting the social, outward focus of her personality. She will kindly and energetically offer tea or coffee to those who visit and it feels rather like home; welcoming and warm.
As we chatted, I noted the sense of order in her office, the neat organization, with everything she could possibly need at her quick disposal. Strong evidence of her outgoing personality and the energy she derives from social interaction surrounds her. This is someone who senses her immediate external environment and is completely connected in the present moment. As is the case with most extraverts, she speaks and reacts quickly; her movements purposeful and efficient. This is who she is, and she is likely not very different in other areas of her life outside of the office.
In stark contrast to hers, my office is relatively disorganized. There are no candy bowls, and, although my door is usually open in order to accommodate my staff, my invisible welcome sign is much less evident than hers. This is fairly typical of the introverted personality as we are a very inward-focussed lot and pay much more attention to what is going on inside than outside – and it`s difficult to be both in and out at the same time. Since much of my time is spent in my head, there is little focus or energy left for those things in my external landscape. When I am engaged in my thinking mode, which is about 95% of the time, I am fairly unaware of my surroundings. As a result, I no doubt appear somewhat aloof to those around me. It isn`t that I don`t care about my outer environment, but rather, that it takes so much energy to maintain awareness of it when my rich inner world is constantly vying for my attention.
Although my external environment is somewhat disorganized, my consistent inner housekeeping means my head space is in tip-top shape. Everything of interest to me is structured, organized, and in perfect order, ready for retrieval or referral at any time. However, unlike the quick reactions of my extraverted co-worker, I am likely to respond more slowly, needing time to analyse, synthesize, and think deeply before speaking on any matter of importance.
I suspect that slipping into an extravert`s shoes would be akin to stepping in front of a speeding, on-coming transport truck run amok with horns blaring and lights on high-beam, coming straight at you with nowhere to run or hide. In other words, for the introvert, this would without a doubt feel shocking, jolting, and painful. Too much sensory input; too much awareness of the outer world; too exhausting.
For an extravert, the world of the introvert would likely feel like slipping into a warm bath, with candles burning and soft music playing… Ideal for the introvert, but perhaps dull, boring and a waste of valuable social time for the extravert. Who knows?
Either way, I do wish at times that others could step into my shoes to see what my world feels like as there is simply no way to explain it to those who could never understand. We introverts are a minority, owning a personality trait that does not jibe so well with the rest of the world. And, if like me, you tend to occupy the more extreme position on the introversion personality scale, you represent only about 5% of the general population. You have to meet a lot of people before you run into someone who comes close to understanding who and what you are. Since extreme introverts tend to keep to themselves, you are not likely to meet any occupying this small minority.
The best we can do is accept what we are – embrace it even – and try to value our differences rather than fight against them.
I say power to the (introverted) people – you have got to be yourself :).