I remember the first time I took the Myers-Briggs test. It was my first semester of college and I was quite surprised to see that “I” was my first letter. I’d considered myself the “social butterfly” my mom always called me, so the idea that I was an introvert seemed contradictory. But as I got older, I realized not only how true that letter was for me, but that I did have this contradiction within my introversion - I craved community. Especially in life after college, this has been a point of tension I’ve had to learn to navigate.
Growing up, I never had a huge group of friends. I had individuals and small groups of people that I had deep connections with. I didn’t go to parties, but went on long drives and coffee dates with people I loved. In college, orientations and “get to know you’s” full of small talk exhausted and stressed me out. But I thrived in the late night conversations in dorm halls where we were all trying to figure out who we were in this new phase of life. I came out of college having lived a bit of a different experience, and with a handful of friends who I love dearly and continue to impact my life.
After college has been where I really felt the tension of an introvert craving community. In college and even high school, your community is presented to you. Peers with similar interests were easy to find because they were in the same classes, clubs, etc.
But later in life, your community becomes something you have to search for, which is hard for the introvert.
The places in which you search for people become much bigger (churches, offices, gyms and community centers), and there’s a lot of putting yourself out there required. This can overwhelm me to the point of doing the opposite and just standing in a corner and observing everyone else connecting.
I also own a business, which requires an extra level of putting yourself out there and interacting with strangers. There have been days where it seems hopeless that I’ll find connection and community anywhere besides with my husband and immediate family, but I know part of that comes from my drive to protect my own energy.
I want to be seen, known, and understood, but without calling a spotlight to myself.
This feels selfish, like I’m wanting other people to search me out and pursue me, but that’s not what I’m asking of my world. I’ve learned a few ways to navigate finding this balance that allows me to feel connected, without driving me to the point of emotional exhaustion where I’m no good to anyone.
First of all, I lean into social media. I know that a lot of people argue that social media is hurting our social skills, but for a millennial introvert like me, it’s so good. I’m much more outgoing behind a keyboard, and it helps me grow relationships so that I know people enough to be more comfortable meeting them in person. Through utilizing social media, Facebook groups, and virtual introductions, I was brought into an online mastermind community that has been a true life-saver.
We are called Revel in Biz, and because of our leader, we moved quickly from just being a business support group to true friends. We have Skype chats and are in constant communication. We cheer each others victories, we talk through losses in life, discuss personal struggles, and lend perspective to each other when we’re caught up in our own head about our business.
Having this small but mighty group online energizes me by allowing me to feel connected and seen, without having to show up at a networking event, or something equally as intimidating, where I don’t feel comfortable presenting my full self. I also have one or two dear friends that understand this tension in me, who I know I can call on when I just need human connection, even if it’s a quick 30 minute coffee to hear about their day.
It is something that brings me out of my head (and out of my office and house), reminds me I’m a part of the bigger world.
Sometimes, I just have to be brave enough to ask for what I need. To message that person I’ve had a “friend crush” on for coffee. To show up to a community event and try to connect with two or three people I’ve seen around at other similar things. Introversion doesn’t mean I have to be afraid of people, it just means understanding the mental work needed ahead of time to show up and be seen. I wear outfits that feel the most like “me”, I get caffeinated for extra energy, and I remind myself that the pressure is off to make my new lifelong best friend. I can just be kind and curious about someone, and the rest will play out.
On the other hand, I can’t just power through and ignore that I am an introvert all of the time. One of the biggest practical things I do is schedule out my social calendar to involve “introvert appreciation” time. I will take note of the interactions that will leave my energy a little more drained, and I try to schedule a day or night soon afterwards to “refuel”. I protect those times as if they were non-negotiable meetings. That way I can be more energized and fully present for the next round of engagements.
The biggest thing I’ve realized is that community is so much more fluid than I used to believe. It’s not ten ladies meeting once a week; it’s not a large group of friends you go out with all the time. It’s moments and people sprinkled through my daily life that bring me outside of myself, and remind me that there are people here to love and be loved by. To be connected to the bigger story of my community. To hear and learn from people with different and new ideas, world views, and lifestyles.
For me, my energy mostly comes from being in my own mind, but sometimes I need the electricity that comes from the world around me.
It’s big and colorful and inspiring. It overwhelms me and sometimes my couch, dogs, husband, and a book seem safer, but introvert has never translated to afraid, has it? Because we’re human, we all possess self-contradicting qualities and we have to work within the tension to meet the needs of both parts.
I’m an introvert who needs to be show up and be seen. My community may be small and sporadic, but it’s what I need and keeps me from feeling alone. I don’t have a squad, but I’ve got friends that are family. I work hard to say yes to staying connected to the community that I crave, and then make sure I say yes to spending some time alone to recharge as well.
Photos by: Liz Calka