What this introvert learned from taking quick laps on the extroverted race track
I don’t like running. As an introvert, I also don’t enjoy attending dinner parties with more than a handful of people. It’s against my nature.
It’s energy draining, exhaustive, and I probably sweat a lot too. I keep finding myself thinking “why am I putting myself through this? It doesn’t feel natural” and also “why do some people enjoy running when there’s no one chasing after them?”
Before we start racing off to answer at least one of these intriguing questions, let’s quickly discuss what it means to be an introvert and an extrovert.
Introverts get ready, set…
When I was growing up, my mom used to say “if we were all the same, that would be extremely boring”. Besides her obvious talent for packaging complex ideas into easy to understand points for my young self, she was and still is absolutely right.
“Think different” is more than a mantra from Apple. It’s what makes us unique, exciting and creative. All of us have something to offer. We don’t all need to belong to the same group, mentality or participate in the same activities in order to be relevant and make it.
We can use the introverted-extroverted spectrum as a guideline of sorts, to help us make more sense about these differences and natural inclinations. There’s no denying that we are all different and nuanced and what works, stimulates and inspires some, might not do the same for others.
An introvert, defined:
We can think of an introvert as someone who generally enjoys spending time on their own. An introvert can get lost deep in their own thoughts. Day-dreaming, imagining and analyzing scenarios are some of the day-to-day basic activities. They generally find it quite stressful when presented with large crowds of people, being the center of attention and public speaking. This is not to say that they’re socially inadequate, as introverts can actually be the best and most attentive of friends. But they would prefer having a deep, introspective and meaningful conversation with a close friend, than attending a party.
Extroverts are the exact opposite
They get energized by talking with different people and enjoy being the life of the party. They can of course also be deep thinkers and are perfectly capable of having meaningful conversations, but they would much rather be outside at a concert or in a room full of people than at home reading a book or playing a video game.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that we don’t need to fall exclusively under either one category or the other. This isn’t binary. More often than not, we are somewhere in between. And depending on the circumstances and entourage, we move up and down this spectrum.
As humans, we are highly adaptable. That’s one of the best things about us.
... and go!
“You are weird”.
Because I’m more of an introvert, I hear that quite a few times. Especially after I turn down party invitations, or say that I’m busy for the umpteenth time. Meanwhile, my colleagues are rolling out to another huge dinner or get-together.
“I suppose I am”—I think to myself as I get comfy on my sofa with a good book or the sound of Netflix turning on. My fiance smiles warmly as she tells me I should really try and go next time. I don’t need to reply as I glance into her eyes and feel understood. She gets me.
But I know what she means.
The bonding, the friendship, the connections and stories I’m missing out on. All the little relationships and groups that are formed in subtle ways at such events and that later on can impact my work and my career. Like a jogger with untied shoelaces, I can’t really start running so I never get to find out where any of these possible roads may lead.
An introvert's comfort zone
I know I should go. Tie my shoes and start running, explore a few uncharted roads, but it’s so much better where I’m standing right now, shoes untied. It’s so much safer not to run. Plus, in my head, I’ve run all the world marathons and set new world records. They even made special medals just for me. They’re made of golden legos because of course they are.
How can reality do better or even compare to my daydreaming adventures?
But when I look back, I realize that most of the best things in my life happened because I left my comfort zone. They happened because I took a step forward in the dark. Amongst all the stress, anxiety and even some of the more awkward situations, some amazing moments took place.
I had the courage to ask a girl out at a coffee shop and now she’s my fiancee. When I needed independence, I moved to another country and carved my own path. I got my job and jump-started my career because of a friend I met. Even my writing was impacted by my interaction with people.
Knowing all this, why is it still hard at times to actually leave my comfort zone?
The extroverted world
Susan Cain mentions in her Ted talk that the world is more suitable for extroverts. Schools and workplaces have both been changing towards a more open and collaborative space: students facing each other and working together, offices moving towards open spaces with no walls or divisions. And don’t get me started on team-building exercises and activities.
It’s not all bad, of course. Unless you’re an introvert.
When we look outside, there are so many things to stimulate us. All the movement, the noise, the constant interactions - most people feel energized because of this. They react positively to these stimuli. Others feel precisely the opposite. The world can feel overwhelming, intimidating even, when you’re an introvert and this just makes our comfort zone feel that much more appealing.
Onto the race track
When I’m out, at a dinner party - just like if I went running - I find myself wondering “why am I putting myself through this?”. The most honest answer that I can give is that “for me, it’s worth it”.
Yes, it still doesn’t feel natural. I still feel some anxiety. Some stress. Some battery drainage. But it does get slightly easier.
And I feel that I might be missing out on other truly important and potentially life-changing moments if I don’t put on these extroverted shoes every now and then and go for a run. Not only that, but I think that the world would be missing out on me too. Not the whole world, but my world. My family, my friends, my colleagues—they would be missing out on all the things I could offer, on the person that I can become.
I came to realize that change is important. Especially so when it’s made for the right reasons. We need to be able to recognize things, habits, and thought patterns that hold us back. Even a small change in daily routines or a few steps on a previously unexplored path can have a big impact and help us grow and be more. Be better versions of who we already are.
Most days I’m still as much of introvert as ever
But recently I’ve also found times when I do feel like going for an extroverted run. And although I might come back sweaty, dehydrated, and low on energy, more often than not, I also come back inspired. Inspired by discovering something new, meeting someone with a different point of view, or learning something about myself.
I still don’t go for actual runs though. One change at a time.