Holmes Report 13 Jan 2014 // 9:40PM GMT
By Dushka Zapata The first time I ever learned the definitions for an extrovert and an introvert, and how what defines each is the source of their energy, I considered it a revelation. I felt it provided a tidy, logical justification for so many things I didn't like about myself. [caption id="attachment_1340" align="alignright" width="200"] Dushka Zapata[/caption] If I go overboard on the amount of time I spend with others I become insufferable - short tempered, impatient, depleted. After completing the Meyers Briggs test, I realized I rated high on the "introvert" scale. It shocked me. It explained everything. I am often mistaken for an extrovert. I process many things, particularly of an emotional or logistical nature, out loud. I don't mind being the center of attention (that might be an understatement). I can be extremely chatty. I find humans delightful and strangers irresistible. I frequently interject in other people's conversations. (You know that person on the plane who talks to you even if you're pretending to read? That could be me. I apologize. But your book looks interesting. What made you pick it?) I can also be very quiet, needing large swaths of time for myself, keeping my calendar free of social engagements for weeks. Recently, I was leaving my apartment, scurried into the elevator and quickly pressed (and pressed) the button for the ground floor. My boyfriend said it was impatient of me to not wait for the people behind us. "It's not that I'm in a rush" I whispered. "It's that I don't have the strength to say hello." I would do pretty much anything to avoid a large party. The last one I was at was, alas, New Year's Eve at my house (long story). I asked people to leave two hours into the New Year and barely had enough strength to make it up the stairs to my bed. (I was vaguely worried I'd hurt their feelings, but a couple of days later they told me they were really impressed with how well I had done. See? Humans. Delightful.) I have been known to leave a bar 6 minutes (not that I was counting) after I walk in if I determine it's too populated. I don't like having more than a handful of people over to my house at one time. It makes me feel I'd have nowhere to go if I needed a place to hide. I have a distaste for small talk that borders on aversion. At work, I'm surrounded by people. They have gotten used to me saying things like "go away" as I see them approach my door. It's just that being interrupted is pure torture. When I get home at the end of a normal day I need space so badly I often sit in corner with no light, no book and no devices. Many of the activities I enjoy the most are solitary by nature. Swimming. Reading. Writing. Yoga. When social plans are cancelled what I feel, even when I really want to see the person in question, is relief. If a beloved friend calls from abroad announcing a visit and asks if she can stay at my apartment, I offer to pay for her hotel room. My friends know I'd do anything for them, anything, as long as they don't inadvertently threaten the room I need to retreat. After being squarely extroverted and squarely introverted and pretty much every grade in between, I now believe that we all have a possibility to be intermittently one or the other. To be one thing all the time - many of us are just not that clear cut. It can depend on the year, the weather, our mood, our caffeine intake, our glucose levels, our saturation point, the level of heartache we happen to find ourselves in and who knows what else. Why does this matter? I often feel I need to recharge but have no inkling how to go about it. A book? A nap? Dinner? Learning where my ever-moving boundaries are is so much harder than I thought; but when I get things right I become a better person. We all want to be better. We want to be spared the merciless spectacle that is to witness ourselves being resentful, snippy, petty. We don't want anyone to see what we look like when we are feeling overextended (I mean, it makes my hair look really frizzy). It's easy to jump to the conclusion that PR people are extroverts, but many of us like to write and ponder and research and do things that do not involve being in the midst of others (sometimes). Us introverts network well, thank you. Just one on one, rather than "working a room." We are smashingly inventive during a brainstorm, just not one that is taking place in the presence of others. And my observations on a document will be so much better if you give me the document. No, I don't want you to "walk me through it". And, tell me. Why on Earth should we all have drinks after work if we've just spent the entire week together? Recognizing our textured, beautiful complexity and getting to understand, respect and accept (ah, accept!) our ever changing, ever evolving, mercurial selves - resisting the temptation to throw anyone into a category, even after reviewing Meyers Briggs results - means I unlock the mystery of how not to put myself in a situation that will compromise me. It means that even if it makes me feel selfish and like a terrible friend, maybe I shouldn't be throwing New Year's Eve parties at my place. It means, hopefully, that I will more frequently be able to smile to my neighbor in the elevator. And just as importantly, it means too that if on that plane trip my travel companion says he'd rather not talk, I nod knowingly and let him be. Dushka Zapata is managing director of the West Coast at Ruder Finn.