When I was a young girl, still in the single digits of life, I dreamed of walking onto the stage alone to sing for an audience. In my imagination, I grudgingly allowed for there also to be a pianist onstage with me. As a very shy person whose musical vision was to become a well-known singer, I tried to find ways to keep my distance from large groups of people, while at the same time, living my dream.
In looking back over many years as a professional singer and vocal coach who was trying to maintain that awkward balance, I realize now that I was an introvert who had the dreams of an extrovert. And more than half of my 68 years of life have been a struggle to keep these two parts of me in a state of equilibrium.
I believe that I have lost friends and associates (and work) over the years because of my need to have enough alone time to support the “out there” energy that a singing life requires. Sometimes I would find myself literally walking backwards away from a person whom I felt was too demanding and forceful in their need to be with me.
What about you? Are you an introvert in some ways and an extrovert in others? Or are you sitting fully in one camp or the other? These 18 months of pandemic living have forced most of us to withdraw. But now that things are opening up again, how will you return to community life?
After reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I understand more about what it means to try to find your place of equipoise when the world around you seems too loud, too fast and too insensitive.
In her deeply-researched book that was 10 years in the making, Cain explains:
“Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling. They focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them, while extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.”
And here is a statistic from her book that surprised me very much: “one third to one half of Americans are introverts!” That means that one in two or three of our friends and colleagues are introverts! And yet, we still live in a world where the ideal way to be is outgoing and brash, with fast opinions and quick and often ill-considered responses to stimuli.
Again, from Cain’s book, “Probably the biggest inaccuracy that I see people making… [is that] a lot of people who are clearly introverts describe themselves as extroverts. I think that’s because of the social stigma that they might feel about being an introvert.”
Well-known names head the list: Einstein, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, to offer a few. But it might surprise you to know that Meryl Streep, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton also consider themselves to be introverts.
After reading and thinking a lot about these two opposing life forces (as an introvert tends to do!), I have come to believe that most of us have the propensity to be both introverted and extroverted depending upon the circumstances. And it is in finding a balance – each of us in our own personal way – that our lives can become healthier, wiser and more successful.
My first husband, Nick, a writer and TV producer who was also often seen on national TV arguing with other forceful people in politics, would seem a good candidate for the fully extroverted camp. And yet, later in life, he told me that he longed to get back to his true self – a philosopher, living in the woods, calmly writing a book every two or three years.
I believe that to some important degree, it is because he did not have that necessary downtime that his life ended at the young age of 58.
My current, marvellous life-partner, John, knew deep inside from a young age that he was an introvert – though he likely did not have that word for his state of being. His very successful life’s work in software development allowed him his necessary quiet time. Now at 69, he is at peace with a life lived close to nature and far from the maddening crowd.
As our post-pandemic lives become freer, keep in mind that a surprising number of us are introverts. There is no shame about wanting to hold on to some of our pandemic “chill” time. This is a rare opportunity to reconsider your needs and make some of the changes that your quieter self may have been longing for.
For myself, I’m eager to get back to live singing. But my final concert of the year will be a free online Christmas concert. You can sign up here if you are intrigued!
What plans do you have for reentry into your more public life? Are you eager to get back to the hustle and bustle? What did you miss most over the past 18 months? How would you like to change your engagement with the world – if at all?