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Secret introvert?

September 7, 2013, 1:21 AM

Growing up, whenever the topic came up about introverted or extroverted personalities, I would hear, without hesitation, “Oh, you’re an extrovert,” like it was a foregone conclusion.  After all, the stereotypical introvert is, as my mother once said in jest, the “Shy, silent type that communicates with [their] eyes.”  After reading a bit more about introverts vs. extroverts, though, I think I can say with some level of confidence that I am actually an introvert.

The article on The Huffington Post titled “23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert” is what made me realize that I was more introverted than I might think.  I always thought I was just weird being the way I was, enjoying adventures by myself, and needing time alone to “recharge” after social interaction, so I’m glad that there are other people out there who function similarly to me.  I first spotted this article on a former coworker’s Facebook page, where they identified a number of the qualities listed on the page that applied to them.  When I read the article, I realized that yes, a lot of these things applied to me as well.

I’m going to be going through a number of these points assuming that you’ve read the article, and so if you haven’t read it yet, you may want to do that now.  You’re not going to be missing anything funny.  I’ll just be sitting here reading this grownups’ newspaper:

Sitting here reading this grownups' newspaper... (with apologies to Krusty the Clown)

When I read the article (and I hope you did, too), I was able to really identify with #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #19, #22, and #23.  That’s 17 out of 23.  Based on the raw count, I think I must be an introvert.  But don’t take the raw count as gospel, considering the old saying of “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  I’m going to go into a bit of self-reflection as I tackle each of these, which I think will both help me sort out my own personality, and also give you all an insight into what makes me tick, since I think I was as surprised as anyone when I came to the realization that I was actually more introverted than extroverted, especially when I was pegged by so many as being extroverted for so many years.

2. You go to parties – but not to meet people.

I’ll be the first to admit – I am not a fan of parties.  When I do go to parties, I am there to see and spend time with specific people.  For example, when I was at a party at a former coworker’s house a few weeks ago, my mission was fairly narrow: I wanted to catch up with the host, whom I hadn’t seen in about four years, and I also wanted to visit with a few other former coworkers that would also be in attendance.  Other people were there, but I wasn’t there so much to meet them as I was to connect with people that I already had established relationships with that I wanted to connect with.  That’s not to say that I was cold or unkind to the other people and that they weren’t lovely people, but meeting them was secondary to those established relationships.

3. You often feel alone in a crowd.

This one logically follows along with number two.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m just naturally a little socially awkward or what have you, but at said party, when my main targets of interaction were mingling around, I felt alone in the crowd.  Likewise, over the course of approximately 140 office happy hours that I attended at Food & Water Watch, it would probably be easier to count the times when I didn’t have an occasion of feeling alone in the crowd of coworkers in the room.  Thus I had a mixed reaction to those office happy hours.  I looked forward to the biweekly event, because it was an opportunity to unwind at the end of a busy week.  However, I never really enjoyed them all that much, because I was often that guy standing in the corner feeling out of place amongst all of these people, sipping his beer and looking lonely.  Plus, when the room is somewhat noisy, I can’t make out conversations very well at all, even with people right next to me.  It contributes to the feeling of being alone in the crowd.

4. Networking makes you feel like a phony.

Oh.  My.  God.  I hate networking events.  I hate them with a passion.  I went to a few networking events at a barbecue place in DC in the first half of 2012.  I can’t say I didn’t try, though, as I went four times over a period of about three months before realizing that it really wasn’t my thing, and that I wasn’t getting anything out of it.  It felt unnatural to me.  I am not the kind of person who will do well at a meet-and-greet type event.  They weren’t meeting me, but rather this phony persona that was not comfortable.  And it ended up going back to #3, as I felt alone in that crowd of people.  Certainly, I made connections and shook a lot of hands, but after leaving for the last time, I don’t think I ever spoke to anyone from there again in any capacity.  The only one of those where I actually felt I made some sort of connection was on my third visit, when a friend that I hadn’t seen in a while was also in attendance, and my friend and I got to visit and catch up.  I’ll be the first to say that outside of the time I spent with my friend on the third visit, those events were a waste of my time.  There are many other ways to expand one’s professional and social network, and I do much better in other, more naturalistic ways.

Likewise, I had a friend who once suggested that I go out “bird dogging” with him.  For those not familiar, “bird dogging” was this person’s term for going out to bars to pick up women.  While I found the term itself to be somewhat offensive, on the same coin, the prospect of being put out in public to meet people that I don’t know terrified me.  I would have loved to spend time out with my friend, but “bird dogging” was not something that would work for me.

This also explains why, after a few forays onto OkCupid (an online dating site), I finally shut my account down for good.  It felt wrong.  It wasn’t me.  Like at the barbecue place, I didn’t get any benefit from it.  No dates, no friends, no nothing, though the “magic” that OkCupid used to put people together tried to match me with the human resources person at the office one time (awkward!).  That was a complete waste of my time.  I’m sure it works wonderfully for some people, but not for me.

5. You’ve been called “too intense.”

I’ve noticed this before.  I don’t go into many things lightly.  When I get interested in transit, I went all in.  ShowBiz Pizza Place, I went all in, catching up on about 20 years of missed history in a few months.  I’ve also gone off the deep end with my interest in ships.  Then I move on to something else.  And I admit – I’ve driven people a little crazy at times because I go into things so deeply and become something of an expert on such things.  I think it’s best described in a recent Facebook post, where I posted this:

Favorite line of the day: “When that big computer there in the sky was passing out parts, he musta forgot a couple of yours.”

Now: guess who said it.

A bunch of people took guesses, but no one actually got it (the answer was Chuck E. Cheese, by the way).  Closest guess was this, from a friend of mine in New York City:

It’s obviously one your ridiculous animatronic characters, but I refuse to indulge this unhealthy obsession, so Doki Doki Panic?

Yeah, I went off the deep end with that, all right, though I don’t consider my interest in various animatronic characters that frequent pizza restaurants to be an unhealthy obsession.

6. You’re easily distracted.

Basically.  I remember in third grade, I had quite a bit of trouble concentrating in school.  My teacher would often send me to “study hall”, which was a room in the office that had four study carrels in it.  I spent many, many, many hours in that room – perhaps more than I spent in the regular classroom.  I really came to resent that, however, when the teacher excluded me from a group storybook-making activity because I was in the room.  The groups’ books were all comb-bound and placed in this little reading corner, and everyone’s name was on one… except mine.  Thanks for nothing.

The one benefit to that room, though, was that it was right next to my elementary school’s fire alarm control panel, which delighted me.  I never got to see anyone operate it, but I did get to study it quite a bit.

As an adult, this is why I know I could never do a work-at-home job.  Too many things that could distract me at home.  I need to be out of the house and in a proper work environment to work most effectively.  This is why I could never do a receptionist’s job.  Too many distractions, being out in the open and with no privacy.

7. Downtime doesn’t feel unproductive to you.

Not at all.  Sometimes, you just need that to recharge the batteries.

9. When you get on the subway, you sit at the end of the bench – not in the middle.

In discussing this, I should remind folks that this is Metro we’re talking about, with its 2×2 row seating rather than a subway with normal sideways benches.  Nonetheless, my usual seating preference is to get my own row, and sit in the aisle seat, specifically so that I do have some “breathing room” on one side and am not surrounded by people.  Now I’m not one of those people who will hog two seats, but I do try and subtly discourage having a rowmate on the Metro, but try as I might, I do often end up with one nonetheless.  I especially hate having a “hot bench” next to me, i.e. three different rowmates over the course of a trip.  As soon as one gets up, I’m all, yesssssss! and then someone else plops down a few seconds later.  My hopes dashed again.

Likewise, watch me in a restaurant.  I will almost always try to sit in the spot at the table where I am facing most of the restaurant.  I don’t like sitting with my back to the majority of the space.  If I’m seated at a table at the end of the room, rest assured that I will sit with my back to the wall.  In a seat-yourself place, I will find a place to the side where, again, I can see most of the room, and there is very little behind me.

10. You start to shut down after you’ve been active for too long.

This is one thing I’ve noticed about me for a long time.  If I have to be “on” for an extended period, I start to get really irritable and unpleasant to be around.  This was one of those moments:

I was really pissed off in this photo, don't you think?

Look at me in this family photo taken on our California trip in August 1991.  I was clearly pissed off, and it was most likely because I had been “on” for too long.  This is why I’m not so much into family trips.  After a while, I need quiet time to “recharge”.  I think by this time, I had been “on” for about three days.  The flights from Arkansas to California on one day, then the San Diego Zoo the next day, and then Sea World in San Diego the next day.  So this was my fourth day of having to be “on” all the time.  And it didn’t get any better on the remainder of the trip.  Was so glad to get back to Rogers and close the door to my (freshly repainted) room and have quiet time.  By the way, I now laugh at this photo, because it’s funny how obvious it is that I’m far from happy.  But the point still holds.

As I’ve matured, though, I know my limits.  Experience has shown that I will reach that limit by the end of the second or third day of being constantly “on”.  I need quiet time to just go and “recharge” for a while.  Obviously, when spending 24 hours a day around my immediate family and stuck in a small space with them, I’m going to go crazy.  Don’t get me wrong – I love all of them very much, but I need downtime, and if I don’t get it, I go crazy.

I have also noticed this in other cases not with my immediate family.  Was starting to happen in Boston in 2010 with the Anons, but I got the much-needed downtime when the others went to a movie and I went off and did my own thing for a while.  I’m also amazed that I managed to get through RA training at JMU two years in a row.  Spending two weeks with Mecca Marsh was not a fun time by any means, because her own insecurities about her ability to do her job and her constant mood swings made for a very challenging time.  It was not only the stress of learning how to do the RA job, but also the stress of being Mecca’s little show dog for two weeks so that she could look good in front of all of the other hall directors.  Thankfully, I got just enough “recharge” time to where I did all right, but it was still right on the line of what I could handle.  Let’s just say that RA training was more challenging than the real work as an RA ever was.

11. You’re in a relationship with an extrovert.

While I’ve never been in a romantic relationship except for three weeks in 1998, I certainly have been good friends with quite a few extroverts.

12. You’d rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything.

True that.  I remember that group presentations in college were never fun specifically because everyone had to present in front of the class.  Honestly, I would rather eat nails before having to give a serious presentation in front of an audience.  I don’t like doing it, and it gives me major diarrhea (and I’m sure you really wanted to know that).  The best group presentations were ones where I could work in only the areas that I did well: research, writing, and slideshow building.  If I didn’t have to speak in front of the class, then good.  I also resented that, when I was an RA, we each had to do building programs in all of the various subject areas rather than, as a team, needing to meet a quota of so many programs in the various areas.  I remember that when I was an RA, we all had our strengths, and rather than let us all focus on our strengths, we had to do programs in areas where we were weak, which gave less for our residents.  And nothing was more demoralizing than having nobody show up for your program, especially when it was in an area you weren’t strong in.  Then would be when I would grab somebody walking by, have a (very short) conversation about something related to the program topic, and then write it up as a program with one participant, because I put in effort to make this happen, and, dammit,  I’m counting it.

There is an exception to that in one area: this website.  By the nature of this website, I am IT, I am the graphic designer, I am the chief creative officer, I am the marketing department, I am the purchasing department, I am the accounting department, and I am also the President and CEO.  It’s also why I (only half jokingly) refer to my apartment as “Schumin Web HQ”.

13. You actively avoid any shows that might involve audience participation.

Yes.  This especially extended to school.  I hated when I would get called on without raising my hand.  My view was, “Did I have my hand up?  Then don’t call on me.”  I don’t like being put on the spot, whether it’s for education or entertainment purposes.  Again it kind of brings me back to RA training.  Don’t make me perform.

14. You screen all your calls – even from friends.

Guilty.  I’ve done this before with any sort of real-time communication service.  Pretend I’m not around and then catch up with people later.  Nothing personal.

15. You notice details that others don’t.

This is one of my strong points (potential future employers, take note!).  I am the one who, going into a store, will point out how long it’s been since a store has been remodeled.  I notice when fire alarm changes have occurred.  I was the one who suggested that when my parents updated their porch lights, that they also update the light next to the garage for consistency’s sake (they were originally going to leave it).  When they thought about it, they realized that I was right, and updated that light as well.

Likewise, it irritates me when people insinuate that all of something looks the same.  Those of you who know me and tell me that you took Metro will probably get the question about what car number it was that you rode.  After all, it’s not enough that you just took Metro.  I want to know what kind of car you got, since a Rohr is not a Breda rehab, which is not a Breda 4000-Series, which is not a CAF, which is not an Alstom, which is definitely not a Kawasaki 7000-Series car.  Likewise, a bus is not just a bus, as you have Orions, New Flyers, NABIs, Gilligs, the Navistar Pinto (pardon – Champion), etc.

16. You have a constantly running inner monologue.

Yep.  Got that, all right.  Some of that ends up on Schumin Web, as this is my outlet for many things.

19. You don’t feel “high” from your surroundings

Definitely “no” there.  When I’m at an event, even when there’s a lot of happy energy, I’m all get me out of here.  I’m not a fan of big crowds, and I’m not a fan of noisy environments.  This is another reason that RA training was torture.  I was surrounded by a lot of people whom I could have sworn were on something, and they weren’t sharing whatever they were taking with me.

22. You’re a writer.

And this website proves it, I believe.  This is my outlet.  You won’t find me on television or the radio, or any other real-time venue.  I don’t work well that way.  I do my best work when I can sit down and plan what I’m going to say, and be able to revise accordingly.  I think that’s why my Video Journals more or less went away, as it’s been more than a year since the last time I made one.  It’s not where I do my best work.  I do my best work in the written word, and not verbally, where if I have to pause to gather my thoughts, it’s not dead air.  If it tells you anything, this entry was done over the course of two nonconsecutive nights (the split is between #4 and #5).

23. You alternate between phases of work and solitude, and periods of social activity.

I think that’s one of the reasons that I did so well at Food & Water Watch for as long as I did.  I was able to block my time out where I could recharge doing quiet work in my private office, and then take care of the other activities that required interaction.  It was a nice balance.  Likewise when I schedule a weekend.  I will usually only schedule one weekend day for activities, in order to give myself a “recharge” day.  I don’t have to be at home necessarily to do it (I’ve gone and wandered around a mall by myself before, which is actually pretty fun), but I definitely need a “me” day in there to maintain my equilibrium.  This is also why I deliberately chose not to have a roommate/housemate.  Think about it: I could have saved some money on rent by finding a roommate or moving into one of those group houses where eight or so people live in a big house.  I’m sure some people thrive on that sort of thing, but it’s not for me.  I deliberately chose to live alone, and I enjoy it.  I can go out and socialize all I want, and then come back here and decompress in the quiet of my own place for me, me, and me only.

So there you have it, I suppose.  I’m not strange – I’m just an introvert!  Certainly explains a lot of things…

Web site: Two more things that I found amusing as I came to this realization of introvertedness, from Buzzfeed. One was "27 Problems Only Introverts Will Understand", and the other was "31 Unmistakable Signs That You’re An Introvert". On the "27" article, I really liked #7 ("Having visitors stay with you is a nightmare, because it means you have to be on at ALL TIMES.") and #26 ("And when you need to be completely alone so you can recharge and get back to being awesome."). Then on the "31" article, I especially appreciated #6 ("If anyone ever throws you a “fun” surprise party, this is your reaction." The reaction is, "I don't think I can ever forgive you for this." Point of illistration, there is still someone whom I haven't quite forgiven for a surprise "roast" in college.) and #18 ("When you’ve been around people for too long, there comes a moment when you realize you need to be alone OR ELSE."). Yes, these were all eye-openers, and definitely helped me realize that many of my little eccentricities are in fact normal.

Postscript: Also, in the newspaper photo, there's a really obscure Schumin Web reference in the picture. See if you can spot it, and leave a comment below!

Categories: Myself