Category Archives: Alexia

A Comment on 27 Introvert Problems

Today’s list was taken from this post. I will admit that the title could be its own hashtag, but #introvertproblems reminds me of #firstworldproblems. Do extroverts make lists like these? I’m as addicted to Cracked.com as the rest of us, but even I sometimes want some sort of action beyond enumeration and naming things like the gods we are. The concept of introversion as a different type of personality has existed since Jung after all.

As such:

1. When you need to take breaks and recharge after socializing for too long.

This is why I burn some incense sticks for the person behind this initiative (US only for now. Wish it were here up north already). Being able to go on vacation in any random city and instantly find a quiet spot? Priceless.

2. When people mistake your thoughtful look for resting bitch face.
3. When your friend wants to invite more people over, and you don’t want to sound like a dick by saying no.

I can’t help but consider this a diversionary move when someone “suddenly brings” someone new to me on the spot. It’s as if my acquaintance, friend of family member felt awkward meeting up alone with me for some reason at that particular moment and bam! Here’s a witness. Now I’m definitely feeling awkward. And resentful. If you want to invite people, ask. Odds are very high that I’ll accept if I’m asked. Odds are very high I’ll be annoyed if I’m not involved until the deed is done.

4. When spending a heavenly weekend alone means that you’re missing out on time with friends.

If this happens, it means we’ve both poorly planned our time this month. Let’s prepare for next month. Does that work for you?

5. And the fear that by doing so, you’re slowly turning into a hermit…

Too late.

6. Who will likely die alone.

Everyone’s afraid of this. Everyone. Even the nastiest people you could think of do not want to die alone. Even if you think they deserve it.

7. Having visitors stay with you is a nightmare, because it means you have to be on at ALL TIMES.

I’m facing this later tonight. I just finished spending the last 21 days at a film festival (i.e. 21 days of socializing) and now I’m having my in-laws over for a week. I enjoy their presence in my life, but I’m also grateful that my mother-in-law is a fellow introvert and so lets me spend time alone over extended visits.

8. When people stop inviting you places because you keep cancelling plans.

I’m not really this type of person. Are you? I’m more likely to suggest alternate arrangements if they don’t happen to work out for me and I will invite people to do activities.

9. Too many social obligations + no alone time = a total grump.

It can become a problem if I don’t realize it right away. Once I do, I’ll prepare solo time the moment it’s open. I’ll schedule dates with myself to do nothing.

10. When you’re asked to do a group project, and know that you’re going to hate every minute of it.

It depends who are my colleagues. It’s a lot easier to pull this off over paid work than school projects. Your colleagues are as invested in you as you are in them.

11. When your ride at a party doesn’t want to leave early, and no one seems to understand your distress.

Everyone seems to make this mistake once (OK, a few times). Then they learn to not depend on other people for travelling arrangements.

12. When you hear this question, and your palms start to sweat with anxiety: “Wanna hang out?”

My response to that question is usually “Right now? (Are you mad?)” And I worry that these undefined plans will ruin the rest of my evening with long, awkward pauses and chitchat to which I cannot add anything but nods, followed by the asker’s declining respect for my lack of social skills.

13. When you hear, “Are you OK?” or “Why are you so quiet?” for the umpteenth time.

This is the nicer alternative to #2. Do you want to be angry or sad? Let’s flip a coin.

14. Trying to be extra outgoing when you flirt so your crush doesn’t think you hate them.

This one sounds like a “girl problem”. It smells like one. I generally like to talk to my crushes so I can get a more rounded understanding of their personality. I don’t know if that’s common.

15. That feeling of dread that washes over you when the phone rings and you’re not mentally prepared to chat.

We get so few visits that I nearly hide whenever the bell rings. And I always get shocked for a second whenever I receive a phone call.

16. When you have to deal with that one friend who ALWAYS wants to hang out, and you ALWAYS have to say this: “I kind of want to spend some time by myself.”

This variety of extroverts seem to get bored with me pretty fast. Not that I’m hunting them down as particular prey.

17. When you have an awesome night out, but have to deal with feeling exhausted for days after the fact.

Ah yes, the Fear of Missing Out, my old friend. You too are one of Extroverts’ friends.

18. When people pressure you to be more social, whether you like it or not.

I will sometimes give in, but I need a payoff. I will socialize so that my job is a little easier to do. I will chitchat with the people who I see every day, like neighbors. I will regularly meet up with my love or with my in-laws because I enjoy spending time with them.

19. When you’re really excited to go out, but those good feelings don’t last long enough.

Another common friend of ours and Extroverts.

20. When you’re trying to get something done at work, but you can’t, because everyone else is talking.

Worse: when you talk about it to your boss trying to find a solution and he tells you “Oh, that’s just _____________ (noisy person).” and waves you off. Your productivity keeps going down because of the noise and then your boss asks you why your productivity has gone down. You tell him you can’t concentrate because of the noise. He looks at you and leaves the room. Sigh.

21. When someone calls you out for daydreaming too much.

It hasn’t happened yet! People forget I’m there.

22. When you carry a book to a public place so no one will bug you, but other people take that as a conversation starter.

I love books. I am tempted to interrupt you to gush about the book that’s in your hand, but I know how it feels to be interrupted in the middle so I will look longingly in your direction.

23. When people make you feel weird for wanting to do things by yourself.

People try to make me feel weird for all sorts of things. They want me to feel weird because I don’t have kids or because I’m a nerd. They want me to feel weird because I’d explore the woods next to my house and build forts from branches. They want me to feel angry and crazy because I’m a woman and “Women are all crazy b***ches.” (Yes, a few idiots have told me this in those exact words.) In my hometown, they wanted me to feel bad because I don’t go to their church. Other people want me to feel weird because of the way I dress, of the way I wear little makeup, of the way I don’t wear designer shoes or designer bags. They want me to feel weird because I don’t listen to the music they happen to like. Being an introvert? Wanting to be alone? I’d consider it a sane reaction to social judgement if it wasn’t part of my nature already.

24. When someone interrupts your thoughts, and you get irrationally angry.

I have walked out of a coffee shop in the middle of writing once. I was sitting down peacefully, jotting something highly convoluted in my notebook, when a man dressed like a beggar approached me.

Him: “Do you want to see my paintings?”

Me (not looking at him): “I’m busy.”

Him: “It will only take a minute.”

Me: “No.”

Him: “Please.”

Me: “Not interested. Busy. Go away.”

He left for a few minutes, only to approach me twice more with the same request. I get fed up with situations like these, so by the third time I stood up and said:

“Look, I’m writing. Writing is what I do. This is my art. Do I interrupt you when you make your art? No. Leave me alone!”

He started arguing with me so I picked up my stuff and left in the middle of the conversation. I even complained to the owner and she said “Oh, it’s just (person).” (Do you see a pattern?) That piece of writing is entirely lost now. He broke my concentration and once you break an introvert’s concentration, it cannot ever be completely restored.

25. When people can’t seem to grasp that being in small groups is where you excel the most.

Small groups are excellent for introverts for the simple reason that we are not overstimulated (groups) nor are we doing all the vocal legwork. We can choose to speak or listen in small groups, while we are relatively restricted to either of these roles in larger or smaller settings.

I know the original list has 27 points but number 26 is repetitive and number 27 works better in visual form.

Where I like to pick who I share my thoughts with (Warning: mild swearing)

-Alexia Larcher

Do you ever get told you’re quiet as if it were a problem? Do some people continuously expect you to contribute what’s on your mind so that you can prove to them that you’re worthy of respect? Do acquaintances tell you you look “angry” or tell you to cheer up when you’re busy thinking about what you’ll have for supper? Then you might be a sufferer of Chronic Bitchface.

Now I will be the first to point out that Chronic Bitchface is a choice, to some extent. I don’t smile as much as people want me to because I’m generally content with my present situation and my happiness does not take the form of joy. It means I’m feeling serene. Joy is what I feel when my present situation is better than what it normally should be. I’m pleased when I’m feeling serene, but I don’t smile.

Here’s another reason for my few smiles: since I spend quite a bit of time in my head, my smiles frequently reflect what’s on my mind, not what’s in front of me. The only times my smiles relate to you are when we’re having a pleasant conversation. Else, I’m likely thinking of something that amuses me, like the idea of Zeus being a judge on a reality show singing contest. Or Camus’ biting description on the city of Oran in the 1940s. Usually I catch myself before I smile at the empty space in front of me (don’t want witnesses who will later testify to my being mad) but I’m sure I lost a few smiles in the wilderness of public spaces. I know I have odd tastes and I’ve talked about it before.

Here’s another: in North America, smiles are considered an invitation for conversation with strangers. If I’m in a setting where I want to meet new people I will smile, but there are only a half-dozen settings in which I want to meet new people. Even at these settings, I don’t talk to everyone unless it’s a small group. Everywhere else is off-limits, either because odds are higher we will not click or it’s too loud for me to hear you. (I’m not the only introvert who feels this way. If you want to bring an introvert somewhere, here’s a short list of ideas for quiet public places.)

It also does not help that, as a woman, my smiles may be misinterpreted as flirting by the men around me. A few times I’ve ended up having to make narrow escapes from creeps who followed me over several hundred meters just because I was thinking about something and smiling in public. It’s an unfortunate part of the experience of being a woman. (For the record, if I were single again and wanted to flirt with someone, I would do more than just smile at them; I would approach them and try to engage in conversation.)

Just know that ultimately, it’s not about you whether I smile or not all day. “This introvert wouldn’t have broken into the meeting to speak, for it would have seemed a disservice to her ideas to shout them out above the noise of the others.” One person’s fleeting emotions should not affect you this much. Ask yourself: is it really up to other people to regulate your “positive attitude”?

Introvert, Interrupted

– Alexia Larcher

Often, in interviews, I tell my future bosses that I have spent most of my life honing my focus and, in doing so, my ability to flit from project to project is dulled. I can’t handle having a million ideas on the go and stay healthy at the same time. Many bosses don’t believe me until they see it, until they see me struggle grimly and quietly under the weight of too many emergencies. I don’t say anything because it’s not in my nature; asking for help on my workload is something that I have recently learned for my own sanity and even then, it’s not my first impulse. If I carry too many counter-balancing ideas in memory for too long, I will topple and break down.

It’s the nature of my work as well. Most of my days are spent thinking or trying to think and interruptions slow me down, which frustrates some. One colleague only talks to me to place large and further disruptions on my entire week’s routine. I spend a lot of energy trying to diplomatically negotiate his interruptions.

“I cannot do X *right now* because I’m doing Y, Z, A, and B for our boss and your X will take up the next few days. However, I can start doing X at *time*.” He frowns. He’s never done my job but believes, for some reason, that he knows my entire schedule. You’ll always meet people like this in life. He comes back days later, having ignored what I told him today. I hold my ground. He’s not trying to pull rank on me, he genuinely chooses not to understand. Every time he interrupts me, it slows me down. It keeps his work from getting done. He chooses to get annoyed at me instead of trying to understand. We can’t help our neural pathways. I have the same problem with strangers.

When I meet strangers, I’m always in the middle of some thought that regularly leads to bizarre What-Ifs like this one or this one. It’s my default mode. I’m well aware that sharing such thoughts off-cue makes for a disconcerting (or negative) impression. For instance, just before I wrote this part of the post, I was thinking about reading a few more pages of a book I’ve borrowed, on the future of wild fish reproduction, and generally pondering whether we could “re-wild” certain areas of the globe for that specific purpose. Now that’s not too strange of a thought for me. Neither is what I thinking about a few hours before that: the general decline in the quality of affordable women’s shoes and how it reflects the ever-growing greed of speculators, of which most of us are unwittingly part of, public pensions et al. And then I wonder whether public pensions could live beyond an era of continuous capitalist growth, followed by wondering how we could possibly sustain modern comforts in a post-consumerist, post-capitalist, non-communist society and what that society would look like if it weren’t The Culture. That’s where it starts getting weird.

The internet has worsened this introvert trait because of the ease with which we can get fast answers to easy questions. When I was younger, I regularly spent most classes daydreaming because I understood the material fast enough to complete my homework in class. Now I spend several hours at my job flipping between 4 or 5 entirely different computer programs with entirely different internal mechanics, adding information to databases and possibly worsening the info glut. It’s the modern datastream workflow combined with as-flat-as-possible hierarchies. After work, I indulge in link-jumping free from the tracking gaze (and potential judgement) of the IT department. Another colleague once asked me the origin of Newfoundland dogs and next thing you know, I’m reading the history of cross-breeding large dogs in the Americas.

This vast, internal, self-sufficient landscape is also a con for introverts in respect to our relationships. We are sometimes so wrapped up with our thread of thought that we give the impression we don’t care about others. Unfortunately, as a rule of thumb, people care less about you if you seem to care little about them when you first meet. (And if you appear laid-back, they start thinking they might be able to take advantage of you.) The pool of people I end up leaving an impression on is much smaller than I’d like because of my relaxed silence. I’m definitely a Canada.

Neighborhood Extroverts

– Alexia Larcher

A new bar opened in my neighborhood. It’s a nice bar, a micro-brewery; it’s not as if you could have too many of those at this point. It even has a large back patio and I’m sure it will be crowded and enjoyed by us patrons. Yet I know it will be loud and I can’t help but wonder if the neighbours will enjoy the noise. The location and existence of the bar itself is not a surprise, in fact, this bar was supposed to open last summer. Potential neighbours had not only plenty of warning, but plenty of time to find a new abode.

I will probably head there myself soon. I enjoy some amount of alcohol every once in a while and I can spend some time savouring my glass. Yet like every human being who has ever heard of alcohol, I know bars are a package deal. It’s noisy and crowded and dark, there’s some sort of music, and you’re expected to participate in the general merriment. It’s not like a festival where there’s fresh air and you can drift among the crowd and escape. It’s not like you can step in a bar, order your drink, pull a book from your bag, turn on a reading light, plunk in some earplugs, ignore the crowd, and read. You’re just “asking” for interruption of one sort or another, unless you’re looking at a well-known machine and tinkering with it.

Our interactions in these semi-public areas are scripted to some degree. Our species has always included introverts and extroverts and everyone in between, and we understand that often people do not want to talk to strangers. Some of these social scripts are targeted to men so they can approach women and flirt with them without being told off in public. Some are cultural rules for specific places, such as malls, schools, and churches. Yet all of these scripts address not whether or not you want to be approached, but how you should deal with others when you are approached or when you approach them. The unspoken assumption has always been that you go to these places to meet people. If you didn’t want to deal with people, you stayed at home. It’s only in post-industrial cities that we’ve been able to “enforce” anonymity through the sheer impossibility of meeting everyone in large cities. The default mode for most of our history has been to spend time with others outside of your home.

This is why introverts rarely appreciate the strong loneliness that grips extroverts whenever they are left on their own or with our silences (at least that’s how it’s been described to me). We think to ourselves “Why is Extrovert bothering me now, when I’m burnt out from being in the world all day? There’s a million other people just outside that door who would be glad to talk to Extrovert.” We don’t really think about the conventions that restrain most of these public interactions, all those small barriers that slow down potential conversations and budding friendships. We don’t really think about the time extroverts spend all day talking to people who don’t care because they don’t have the time to care or are too self-absorbed or the extrovert feels self-conscious or shy or anxious about the quality of the interaction. We know the effort it takes to meet people who share our interests but we wrongfully presume that extroverts don’t have that problem.

Some more about an extrovert’s perspective.

Introverts and the Be Gretchen Principle

– Alexia Larcher

One of the things that struck me about David’s last post was that many people, for whatever reason, believe that introversion actively hinders their lives. Actively. Hinders.

Now of course it depends what you want out of life. Introverts can very well become rich and famous. Or popular. We have Audrey Hepburn in our ranks, Grace Kelly, and Guy Kawasaki. (Here’s a nice, diverse list.) We can end up changing a lot of lives with our work. We can travel the world. But most of us end up having a hard time with a simple concept, which Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project calls “Be Gretchen.”

Several years ago, Gretchen Rubin found herself on a bus wondering what she wanted out of life and she realized she wanted to be happy. So she took a year-long sabbatical from her job as a lawyer to test out every single hypothesis she’d heard about happiness. She published her results in the book The Happiness Project and posted the 12 most important happiness-inducing principles for her life on her blog, which she calls the 12 Personal Commandments. The first one is “Be Gretchen” on that list for a reason. Here’s what she has to say about it:

But being Gretchen, and accepting my true likes and dislikes, also means that I have to face the fact that I will never visit a jazz club at midnight, or hang out in artists’ studios, or jet off to Paris for the weekend, or pack up to go fly-fishing on a spring dawn. I won’t be admired for my chic wardrobe or be appointed to a high government office. I love fortune cookies and refuse to try foie gras.

Now, you might think – “Well, okay, but why does that make you sad? You don’t want to visit a jazz club at midnight anyway, so why does it make you sad to know that you don’t want to do that? If you wanted to, of course you could.”

It makes me sad for two reasons. First, it makes me sad to realize my limitations. The world offers so much!–and I am too small to appreciate it. The joke in law school was: “The curse of Yale Law School is to try to die with your options open.” Which means — at some point, you have to pursue one option, which means foreclosing other options, and to try to avoid that is crazy. Similarly, to be Gretchen means to let go of all the things that I am not — to acknowledge what I don’t encompass.

But it also makes me sad because, in many ways, I wish I were different. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.” I have a lot of notions about what I wish I liked to do, of the subjects and occupations that I wish interested me. But it doesn’t matter what I wish I were like. I am Gretchen.
Once I realized this, I saw that this problem is quite more widespread. A person wants to teach high school, but wishes he wanted to be a banker. Or vice versa. A person has a service heart but doesn’t want to put it to use. Someone wants to be a stay-at-home mother but wishes she wanted to work; another person wants to work but wishes she wanted to be a stay-at-home mother. And it’s possible — in fact quite easy — to construct a life quite unrelated to our nature.

This is the problem many introverts face too. Many of us wish we were extroverts because we believe it would make our lives significantly easier. We look at extroverts and they look like they’re enjoying their lives. They look as if they are always surrounded by people who love them and it’s tempting to compare these situations to our own lives and wonder what’s wrong with us.

But honestly, we’re using the wrong measuring stick. We’re wondering why we are not someone other than ourselves and then get frustrated because we can only be ourselves. We don’t think about the downsides of being extroverted: regularly seeking a higher amount of stimulation, getting bored if others aren’t around, to name a few possible ones. It only looks easier to be an extrovert because our society is built for us to join crowds. It’s ridiculously easy to text someone and meet up at a popular restaurant or a packed club, compared to a time when telephones and cars didn’t exist. We can still build our own lives so that we don’t burn ourselves out on socializing. And then we can go out and conquer the world if we want to.

More on applying the Be Gretchen principle here. It’s not easy, for sure.

Introvert Character Tropes

– Alexia M. Larcher

Two days ago, I started coughing every few minutes at work, to the point where I was getting seriously worried. It’s not unusual for me to catch a cold at this time of the year; I discovered several years ago that I can’t handle sudden changes in the weather. It doesn’t bode well for me, considering climate change has already arrived in Canada as it has in the rest of the world. Anywho. I’ve been doping myself with extra-strength decongestant syrup to survive the weekend and I spent most of my free time in the past two days sleeping, which is why I’m late with this post. My apologies.

Every once in a while I end up on TvTropes and play a game I called “If I were to summarize my life into one trope, what trope would it be?” The last time I played it, I wondered if they had an Introversion section. They do! So how to introvert tropes compare to extrovert tropes?

Introvert tropes seem to center around the quiet sidekick. If the introvert is a positive addition to the team, they are often violent and quietly dispatching enemies left, right, and center. They are never quite considered as part of the team (Beware the Quiet Ones) or they are outright loopy (Absent-Minded Professor or Mad Mathematician). The inner lives of introverts are depicted as generally scary and negative (Rant-Inducing Slight or Ice Queen) and explain their silence to the audience. Does silence have to be explained? Apparently. Of course, you will find introvert characters who do not have these issues, but aside from the strong, silent hero, a generally male trope that David mentioned in an earlier post, they are nowhere near as common.

In contrast, extrovert tropes seem to center around their being loveable or hateful, but generally loveable. They can be the Life of the Party (loveable), the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (loveable), the Perky Female Minion (loveable) or simply Big Fun (indeed). Sometimes they are the Gossipy Hens or Affably Evil, but overall, extrovert characters seem to revolve on how much other characters love them.

So why don’t we see more positive introverted main characters? Television and movies are, ultimately, visual media. It’s incredibly hard to convey the internal life of a character without “externalizing” it through objects or relationships. To give an example, Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey has a lot of internal subtext, but leaves many people confused simply because Kubrick tried to convey what his main character thought through imagery and not a narrator’s voice. (I realized this when I read the book. Yes, the 2001: Space Odyssey book exists, and it was written by Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the movie script.) Script writers, for whatever reason, decide that introverted characters are “media boring” if they’re not blowing things up and so they don’t bother spending a lot of time on them. This is also why you’re more likely to find introverted characters in books more than anywhere else.

Some good examples of introverted characters (introverted characters depicted as having large inner worlds):

– Will Farrell’s Harold Crick in Stranger Than Fiction is depicted as an introvert finding his own stride.

– Monsieur Lazhar, from the same movie,  might an introvert, but it’s hard to tell because of the situation he’s been put in.

– Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Apocalypse Now, who you only hear speak through his diaries for 90% of the movie.

– Neo, from The Matrix, disputably. (I feel like putting a Keanu Reeves snark, but I won’t.)

– Amélie Poulain and her boyfriend in Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain.

– Fight Club’s main character, though it manifests as utter insanity.

– Many of Clint Eastwood’s characters are introverted of the I Work Alone type, but they’re still subtly different enough that you can tell that they’re self-sufficient internally as well, a sign of a large inner world.

– Terence Mann from Field of Dreams.

– Could The Doctor be an introvert? It would probably depend on which incarnation, since some have been known to travel alone for hundreds of years on purpose. Inevitably he always comes back for a companion, but how different is it to introvert hanging out with friends on purpose?

– For anime fans, most of the cast of Genshiken could be considered as introverted. So is Shiori from The World God Only Knows (in the picture for The Quiet One). Her only “flaw” is that she takes so long to decide what to say that the other person is gone. Her inner dialogue is quite entertaining.

N.B. – Batman, Spiderman, and Superman are rather introverted by default: if too many people know their superhero identities, it would blow their cover. It’s hard to tell how much of an inner world they actually have considering the nature of serial American comic books, which didn’t spend much time brooding over their characters’ psychology.

Work Generation

– Alexia M. Larcher

Like many other introverts, I am ambitious. I grew up poor and I swore to myself that I would be financially independent as soon as possible and make enough money not to have to worry about simple things like buying clothes and owning a room of my own. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to finish my bachelor degree and know enough about selling (and I’m prone to get badly nervous when I sell, honestly) to repeatedly use it to get a job. Of course, this means I go out of my way to acquire information about business as a whole and business culture more specifically so I can get through my day so I can keep said job.

At the same time, I recognize that my work experience is not all that different from other members of my generation in North America. I have had a superfluous number of temp jobs. I have been told that I should work for free, also known as gathering internships under my belt, which I could not afford because of the above-mentioned upbringing. I have little job security to speak of. I have little to no seniority too. I can’t expect to ever have either. I have been underemployed all of my working life so far. Due to the lack of seniority, I have had a hard time trying to get jobs which would not underemploy me, but I go out of my way to learn something from every job I’ve been in. I’m eager and impatient to start my “career”, but I don’t know when that will happen because of the way many companies deal with employees. It’s definitely been their market for a while now. I have savings because I’m disciplined in that regard, but I know I can’t expect to retire and I worry that I will never be able to even buy a house. So in many ways, I am not so different than most of my peers.

All that to say that all these changes can hit introverts hard. Work is one of the few not-so-optional life activities asides from dating where we meet so many strangers on a regular basis. You’re always meeting new people if you can’t find an employer that will let you stick around and grow on them for a while. You might be placed into situations where you don’t get a second chance because you have two weeks to persuade people you’re “likeable enough” to hire you permanently. You have to impress more people than before because everyone works in teams and the gods help you if you happen to be put in the same team as someone who spends their 40+ hours a week talking non-stop. At least we know where the washrooms are by now.

So whenever I start a new job, I make checkmark lists. Have I been going out of my way to sleep well, a known mood-booster? Check. Did I meet as many people on the team as possible and did I like them? Check. Do I know the area well enough to spot prime nap places (naps in the sun after dinner make for a great dessert)? Check. Do I know how many people I will be dealing with? Check. Have I decided on a post-first-day introvert activity? Check. It feels a little ridiculous, but the lists make change a little easier for me to deal with.

Set the Stage Without Fear

– Alexia Larcher

I have a long history with the stage. I met her when I was 5 or 6, over dance lessons. I remember being small and swinging a beach ball to the tune of “California Girls” in a kid’s bathing suit with other kids in front of a crowd of adults. Later it was tap dance, “jazz dance”, and ballet. Puberty hit me pretty badly (read: acne galore) and my troupe had graduated to putting only beautiful girls in the show, so I moved on too, to music; first, I played the flute, then the clarinet, then the tenor saxophone with a side of alto saxophone. I even wrote plays for my friends and I to perform until the age of 10. If I ever had stage fright, I was too young to remember it now.

But I do remember when I started playing solos because it made me incredibly nervous at first. The entire point of playing solos for a band is to showcase your skills. Traditionally, you have to stand up or step forward for solos, away from the rest of the band. It draws the crowd’s eyes to you. You are not only required to play at a high level, you are required to verbally demonstrate that you can pull it off better than other band member at that point of the song. And saxophones squeak when you push them too hard out of nervousness, if you close your mouth too tightly around the mouthpiece. (It kind of sounds like this.)

Luckily, I had an excellent teacher. “You play too quietly,” he would say, “go all out! I know you can do it.” I would reply “But what if I squeak?” “Then squeak, but keep playing. If you blast your one squeak and keep playing, nobody will particularly notice. But if you worry and stop playing right after you squeak, the audience will notice your every hesitation for the rest of the show.” He was confident that we would prepare, enough that one squeak would not ruin the rest of the solo or the song. And guess what? He was right. Most audiences forgive small mistakes. Most audiences know what it’s like to feel alone in front of others; they feel grateful for not being in that position when they watch you.

A lot of introverts struggle with the stage because we are used to observing others. We are not so used to being observed. When the crowd’s eyes move over us, we suddenly revert to introspection. How do I look? Am I acceptable? Will they judge me badly? Will I trip over myself? Will they laugh at me? The fight or flight mechanism kicks in. We quickly mumble our way to silence. It’s one thing we do well.

But the stage is its own universe. We can set up the sound, the lighting, the decor. We set a time for people to show up and they come (or they don’t). We can write a script for the stage and it’s considered appropriate. We choose the music we will perform and practice for months, all for one show that will last a few hours.

On the stage, we become a part of the stage itself. Have you ever stood in front of an energized crowd, sitting on the edge of their seats, smiling, listening, and waiting for what you will do next? You step out from between immense opaque curtains and the spotlight blinds you for a second or two. You pull your partition or notes closer and move to your seat or podium. You smile because you’re prepared and you will give them a good show. You are now part of it all.

A few more tips on public speaking for introverts

It’s Easy

– Alexia Larcher

When you meet new people, you will inevitably face bias. Most people make up their minds about other people in less than a minute and then interpret any information gathered later to confirm their first impression. If you deviate too much from a socially accepted “standard person”, many people consider it within their rights to treat you poorly. So what does this mean for introverts?

In a North American society that still has a hard time with introspection, we find it easier to just give in. We give into snap judgements, unchanging beliefs, and dualistic assumptions. We give up on our personal power, our ability to see things on a spectrum, our ability to question our thoughts and behaviours. We do it because we don’t feel we have any time, because we feel powerless, but mostly, we do it because it’s easy.

Earlier today I had a meeting with a counselor. I met her last year when she recommended that I accept a particular job offer, in a department that had a lot of turnover at the time. At that workplace, I had a supervisor who believes that quiet people think nasty things about her (Myth #4) and, instead of talking to me and seeing how we could work together, she decided that I was a bad worker because I am “too quiet”, plain and simple. She did not try to even learn who I am, she just presumed that I hated her. I actually went out of my way to try to create a working relationship with her, but nothing I did was enough. After she told me explicitly that she hated that I was “too quiet”, she would negatively respond if I tried to talk with her. What else could I do? I tried to find common ground and kept our conversations to these topics. It definitely helped alleviate her fear but she always treated my quietness as an insult to herself, which it wasn’t.

Why did this supervisor act like this? Because it was easier for her. For her, it was easier not to bother with people who live quietly and not out loud. It was easier not to reconsider her biases or to work at finding the strengths of each team member. She gave into her fear that I was “quietly hating” her (a common fear extroverts have about introverts) because it is easier for her to despise someone who is different rather than confront her fear.

I told the counselor I understand how it looks and told her I had been getting along with the rest of that department (which is the truth). I told her that I felt the entire situation was unfortunate, but that I felt I did what could be done. I do not know of anyone who can make a relationship work if the other person just doesn’t want to have a relationship with you. Well, the counselor told me off. She said that I was 50% of the problem, specifically because I am a “solitary” and “quiet” person.

So let me get this straight. I try to get along with someone who is prejudiced against my particular working style. I try to get along with them because I will be working in their team and would rather have a good time working with them than a bad time. Yet if this other person chooses not to deal with me at all, it’s my fault because I’m an introvert? Is the lesson here that no one should have to deal with anyone quieter than they are?

Now why is the counselor telling me these things? Because it’s easier for her. It’s easier for her to keep believing the myth that introverts are “naturally” rude (Myth #3). It’s easier for her to believe the myth that disagreements are always equally due to both parties’ actions, but especially the quieter party for being quiet. It’s easier for her to believe that introverts do not want any relationships with anyone (Myth #6) and that they should be penalized for their “latent hostility towards everyone else”. It’s also easier for her to believe that it is my specific fault for “failing to fit in” even though they have placed and lost over 40 people in this department over the last 2 or 3 years. (She told me this after telling me off.) And I highly doubt most of these other ex-employees were introverts.

When people talk about the bias against introverts, it’s always subtly insidious and persistent. It might be the way that your date reacts when you say you prefer to watch movies at home than go out. It might be the way that teachers ignore quiet students, at best. It might all the extroverts being promoted at work, even though you’ve been there longer. “Too quiet” is a subjective evaluation. What is too loud for me might be just right for you.