Hot tears form in my eyes and my heart races.
“Can you explain what’s not working?”
“Just tell me what’s wrong!”
“I don’t understand why this is an issue for you.”
I swallow, surrendering to the tears, my face as red as a stop sign. In fact, I wish I had a stop sign so I could hold it up instead of trying to find the right words. I know I’m crying, but I’m not sad! I’m…mad. I have a million things I want to say, a million eloquent, valid points, but they simply won’t rise to the surface.
All I can seem to utter is an emotional, “I don’t know, it’s probably just me. I’m sorry.”
Does this sound familiar? Every time I’m faced with a difficult situation, my body immediately goes into fight or flight mode. Picture your worst stage fright coupled with a funeral, and then those two things have a baby with the ugliest argument you’ve ever had. That’s kind of how my body reacts when it senses anything resembling confrontation.
Meanwhile, my mind has been turning over well-spoken, rational explanations for weeks, possibly months. Long, one-on-one conversations with close friends affirm that I have a sane, solid handle on the matter. Yet all of that goes out the window the minute someone signals it’s “showtime.”
In fellow introvert Jessica Pan’s moving and hilarious memoir, Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come, she tells the story of trying to overcome her introversion by giving herself a series of daunting tasks over the course of one year, ranging from hosting a dinner party to stand-up comedy. In one challenge, given to her by a coach, she has to talk to strangers in London’s Underground. Not just talk to them, but ask the ridiculous question, “I’m sorry, I forget, could you remind me, is there a Queen of England, and if so, what is her name?” She was shocked to find that people actually responded.
“Nobody waves,” her coach explained. “But everybody waves back.”
I used to think something was seriously -I mean seriously- wrong with me. In fact, the feeling was so deep-seated that I didn’t even realize I still carried it until recently, after reading both Susan Cain’s Quiet and Jenn Granneman’s The Secret Lives of Introverts.
Also solid reads.
Turns out… I’m (we’re) normal! There are other people like me (us)! I always knew I was an introvert, but some part of me never let go of the notion that it was something to fix. Gotta give that presentation, gotta speak up in meetings, gotta tell charming stories at that dinner party… And I did. And I do. Sometimes it’s even kinda sorta okay! But it’s never, ever without sweaty palms and a racing heart.
While it’s deeply soothing to know that this reaction to stressful situations -including those uncomfortable confrontations- is actually just part of the introvert package, I can’t help but continue to wonder what my life would look like had I been born an extrovert.
How many more relationships, promotions and opportunities might I have experienced if, instead of crying and stumbling through awkward moments, I spoke my piece with confidence? …Would I be willing to trade my entire identity -including my introspection and “hyper” sensitivity, as some have called it- to find out?
Maybe I (we) don’t need to answer that question. Maybe, for now, it’s enough to know that if and when we wave, we have nothing to fear.
What do you think? Do extroverts have the advantage, especially in their love and career lives?