Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Confessions of an Unsettled Introvert

Recently I went to a hockey game with my son.  Between periods he was performing with his karate demo team in the Great Hall of the Onondaga War Memorial.  The rest of the time we got to watch the game.  Toward the end of the third period, the karate instructor, who was sitting in front of us, turned and said to my son, “Your dad is getting a little too noisy.”  She was teasing, of course.  I was anything but noisy.  It’s not the first time that my quiet demeanor has been uncomfortably nudged into the spotlight.

I am an introvert.  I blush easily, get nervous in front of crowds, feel inept at small talk, and have to muster up courage to introduce myself to strangers.  In most cases, I’d rather be at home enjoying a quite evening.  It is not crippling, like agoraphobia, but it is noticeable.

I admire those who gather a crowd with scintillating stories or compelling opinions, who speak with confidence and composure, who have the gravitation pull to bring conversation in orbit around them. It is an admiration that may trespass into envy.

I wish I were the charismatic host, the amiable guest, the life of the party. Instead, I am the wallflower.  In mingling, I tend to slink into the background. I nervously fill my plate, so I can excuse myself from initiating conversation.  Finger to the wind, I approach a conversation in progress with the hope of catching the current.  I may not control the conversation, but I can at least contribute.  I wait for a lull to offer my input, too timid to interject.  The topic is changed and I’m left holding that little piece that I meant to offer.  The cycle repeats itself, ad nauseam.

I have struggled to accept this personality trait.  I tend to see it as a character flaw, something inherently wrong with me, or at least deficient.  I feel pressure to overcome it, like I feel pressure to stop biting my nails.  I can compensate when needed and push beyond the barriers of my temperament, but it feels unnatural.  I can tell I’m pushing.  Eventually I weary of it and return to my default setting.  Seems that being an introvert is something I need to come to peace with, at least on some level.  That peace may come from looking at this from another angle.

“The Power of Shyness” the cover story of the most recent issue of Time magazine (Feb. 6, 2012), addresses the “hidden benefits of the introverted temperament.”  The author, Bryan Walsh, notes that introverts tend to be good listeners, careful thinkers, strongly focused workers, and empowering leaders, each directly related to their introversion.  These are some of the qualities I most treasure about my personality.  As much as I hate my social timidity, I love that I think deeply, analyze carefully, and respond with level headedness. 

Ironic that the traits I most value in myself are directly related to the one I most revile.  They spring from the same well.  I suspect this is by design.  There is balance.  My greatest weakness may be my greatest strength. 

According to Scripture, I am God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), a term used for the output of a craftsman.  In the days before mass marketing and assembly lines, everything, from the crude chamber pots to the fine red pottery of the upper class, was handmade.  A craftsman would labor over each piece, molding it by hand.  Each work had the marks of the maker all over it. 

So God has molded my personality, pressing the clay until it takes shape.  He labors over me, crafts me by hand.  Personality traits are rubbed into this vessel for good reason. There is design in this.   He knows the purposes he has created me for.  He’ll shape me accordingly.   Part of that is making me an introvert.

I find peace when I look at it from this perspective.  There are two sides to this coin. “Shy” carries an armload of negative connotations.  “Reflective” sounds more complimentary.  Both are probably accurate depictions of me, offshoots of being an introvert.  But you can’t have a one sided coin.  Recognizing the heads side makes it easier to accept the tails.   

But for the coin toss, I’ll always call heads.

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  1. Wow, I felt like you were describing me! Thanks for being so open and transparent. Being an introvert is something I have struggled to "overcome" for a long time when in reality there are parts of it that just need to be accepted and used to your advantage. God does have a plan in how he makes us and introversion is included in that. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I also as the above commenter stated... feel like you described me to a T. I have viewed my shyness as a thorn in my flesh at times. But reading what you wrote... makes me feel much better as all of my life... I have 'struggled' and yet it is the way I was made.

    Thank You for giving hope.

  3. Greetings ~ How simply yet elegantly you describe yourself, the previous commenters and me as well. Statistics say introverts are in the minority - only 25% of the population. Just think what a blessing of balance God provides through this trait. Thank you for your words.