My Secret Life as an Introvert

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Credit: flickr / PoliCardo

My friend Maggie tells me I’m an introvert. Not because I’m shy, or because large groups make me nervous, but because I don’t get my energy from being around people. I was surprised by this, because I guess I’ve always considered myself to be extroverted and so I asked another close friend and he said that was nonsense because I’m happy to be the center of attention and the life of a party.

It doesn’t really matter which of them is right – introvert, extrovert – it’s is just a label. Thinking about it, I’ve decided that I need to be both. Too much time alone makes me angsty, but I don’t think someone who was truly an extrovert would love living alone as much as I do.

When my life is very social, though, I do get to these points where I desperately need to be alone. Too much stuff going on, too many people makes me stressed. When I get to about a week without any “Cate-time” I will literally block off time in my calendar to make sure I get it. I got to that point last week.

Perhaps it’s not really about introvert vs. extrovert. Perhaps the real problem I’m having, is being a maker living on a manager schedule. Hour by hour blocks and lots of meetings and jamming about pitches and posters might be manageable, but then my personal life is on manager-time as well… and it’s too much. It means that I get to the point where it’s mid-afternoon on a day when we’ve spent all that day working on our pitch and I feel strongly that if I have about half an hour before I’m going to crack from too many people, too much talking. From the article linked above (emphasis mine):

I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.

My whole team was overloaded like this, and so we called it quits and I escaped and – bliss – had a whole evening of maker time, which I spent coding. It’s interesting that most of the technical people find the pitching stressful.

I would have thought I would be OK, since I do a fair amount of public speaking. However,  there are two things that make giving talks by myself different:

  1. It’s one aspect of what I do where I do my best at the time and try and improve for next time, sure, but good enough is fine. Because I won’t teach that exact same class again any time soon, or give that same talk.
  2. The talks I give alone are either are made in maker time – in fact, require maker time to create because it’s all about connecting the dots and inspiring.

In what we’re working on, we give the same pitch nearly every day. Each time we have something new to work on. We have thrown out my section and started over on it more times that I can count. It’s exhausting. The idea might need maker time, but the pitching and the discussions and the hammering away at it until it shines – that’s manager time.

So I’m going to make a conscious decision that as my work-schedule moves to manager-time, I’m going to shift my personal life to maker-time. It satisfies my need to be alone, and my need for unstructured time in which to create. Coding distracts me from the stress of pitch-pitch-pitch.

Strange that the final stretch and living on manager-time is the biggest stress I have. But good to know.

How about you? Do you live on maker-time or manager-time? How do you cope when you’re on the wrong one?

2 thoughts on “My Secret Life as an Introvert

  1. The thing about describing personality is that you mostly looks for behavioural traits (since they can be measured) and tries to divide people into groups based on this. Intro/extroversion is one of these bisections, and you can only describe it in terms of the traits that each group tends to have – in this case that includes assertiveness, loudness, hubris, thinking-out-loud rather than internally, and so on. That's why all the major personality factor tests use a bunch of indicative questions across these traits (eg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16PF_Questionnaire). It doesn't really mean anything outside of these tendencies, and us being human we all have a mix of them so intro/extroversion is necessarily a continuum.

    The thing is, though, we all seemingly intrinsically understand the concept, and a well-estimated intro/extrovert scoring is a really good behavioural predictor for certain things (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personali… – see especially the bit about experimental data). You could do better with more information but there's a rapidly diminishing return, so we being heuristically-oriented creatures with incomplete information about each other are happy to use that, and say “Cate's an extrovert, she'll probably come partying”. Of course, when we're thinking about ourselves we don't have the problem of incomplete information and we're not trying to predict our behaviour with whatever level of certainty, which is why we get hung up on labels like like this – we just don't see ourselves the way we see others, or others see us. It's why the Forer Effect works the way it does – if I list the traits of extroverts or introverts you'll see yourself in both.

    Can you tell I seriously geeked out on this stuff at one point? I was building a video game that essentially implemented the 16PF questionnaire and molded the environment to it at one point, might have to resurrect it one day.

    Oh, and if we are going for labels, I'm going to peg you as a classic ambivert. So there.

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