I have always had what my parents called a “slow-to-warm” attitude. I’d rather hang out with my two best friends or my husband than make small talk with twenty people. I have an aversion to public speaking and hate talking on the phone. I need a respite from humanity each day. I need my time to recharge.
I also happen to have a job that requires me to speak to strangers constantly. I’m often tasked with pitching and selling my ideas. It’s like when I was graduating college, I looked into my future and thought, What could I do that is the complete opposite of what I think I like doing? And then I did it.
That being said, I love my job. When it comes to my career, I might still struggle with my natural introversion more than colleagues, but I ultimately overcome it, at least to a degree that has kept me gainfully employed.
After years of fighting my shyness, I thought I had come to a happy medium, but then two new issues arose that unexpectedly challenged my inner introvert: Parenting and Politics.
I had no idea just how much parenthood would force me into so many social situations with strangers. There are non-stop playdates, mommy groups, dance recitals, gymnastics classes, and let us not forget the birthday parties.
Birthday parties do come with some bonuses, though. There is a magical common ground found at birthday parties that can be the cure for the common introvert. While everyone has their own personal parenting style (and the differences can often lead to brutal parenting group Facebook debates), when it comes to chatting about kids, it’s easy to find a connection. “Your kid does that too?” It is the answer to any awkward small talk and it might even be its own form of group therapy.
I consider children’s birthday parties to be more like support groups. It gives parents the opportunity to vent about the new frustrating thing their kid is doing, and to hear that they are not alone. Plus, you get to eat your feelings, often in the form of pizza and cake.
Recently, though, I’ve discovered some of my own weird baggage when it comes to introversion and parenting.
My daughter often tells me on the way to school, “I’m going to be shy today.” I’m not sure what motivates this and I’m not certain that it’s even true. Whenever I see her interacting with classmates and teachers at school, she seems to be confident and boisterous. It pushes some button inside me, though, that hates my own inner introversion, and wants her not to struggle with it like I did.
However, if she wants to be shy, I don’t want to treat it like it’s a bad thing. She shouldn’t be punished for it, or forced to be friends with someone she doesn’t want to be friends with – as long as she’s still kind. There are benefits to being an introvert, not to mention countless examples of very successful ones. I have to let her be who she’s going to be. I need to give her the tools to be her best self, no matter whether she’s quiet or a class clown.
The other major challenge to my introversion has come in the form of politics. Like many Americans, I’ve recently become much more politically active. I’ve always talked the talk, but in the last year I’ve begun to walk the walk.
If the recent election has taught me anything, it’s that concrete actions matter. I can tweet and share articles all I want, but that’s not the same as interpersonal communication. This now means interacting with strangers, be it a congressman’s representative, fellow protesters, volunteers, or other concerned citizens.
For an introvert, this can be terrifying. I signed up for some phone bank training and quickly flaked out. Maybe I should have started smaller. After that false start, I’ve begun making phone calls to my representatives. Follow the script, stay polite and firm, and get off the phone. This is doable. I’ve written letters to the editor, the perfect form of communication for shy people. I joined the Women’s March in Los Angeles, bonding with countless strangers as we collectively dealt with our national grievances and frustrations.
A month ago, I helped my friend run for local office. This meant handing out flyers and trying to convince strangers to vote for her. It tested everything inside me to have to approach (sometimes unfriendly) fellow constituents to explain where my friend stood on issues and why they should vote for her. But I pushed through; this was too important to let the introvert inside win. I wasn’t going to admit defeat like I did with the phone bank training.
At the local election, my worlds of parenting and politics converged. My husband brought my daughter, and she marched up and down the line of voters, chanting my friend’s name. She took her job seriously and had no qualms about speaking out in front of strangers. It inspired me to do the same, and reassured me that no matter if she “wants to be shy today,” she can still call upon her inner confidence when she wants or needs it.
Shyness does not relegate her (or me) to some quiet corner in the room. It may mean a different approach to situations, but that doesn’t inherently mean it’s the wrong approach. I’ve noticed that the ability to take a pause and read the room is not necessarily a bad thing. Quiet introspection sometimes leads to more complex ideas. Less of a wide-ranging social life may mean fewer, but stronger, connections.
My daughter can be shy if she wants to be shy, and loud if she wants to be loud. Most importantly, I’ll instill the confidence in her that either is fine. While I’m at it, I’ll continue to try to convince myself of that as well.