It took years for me to understand one important and life changing detail about myself.
I’m an introvert.
My parents are gogetter’s. They love being out in the world conquering challenges in unfamiliar territories and are very good at it. They were always confused as to why I always held back in approaching things and did not imbibe their “Bring it!” approach to life. When casually asked “How are you?” among their Mexican circle of friends, the response is ALWAYS “Echandole ganas”, meaning putting in the effort to make life better.
They didn’t know what to do with me. I grew up pressured to be confidant, speak louder and be more driven. I was signed up for modeling classes, jazz dance classes, girl scouts, swimming, all further making me want to hide in a cave.
A nagging feeling that I didn’t quite measure up grew. As a teen, feeling already overwhelmed, overstimulated, “under performing” and out of place in a loud world, I turned to self development.
I wanted to change this nameless thing that made me so wrong. The self development world said I could. The underlying message I got from these books was that to develop yourself meant to be that go getter. As if EVERYONE on the planet had a dormantly lying, ambitious, highly charismatic, magnetic, always enthusiastic, bubbling with energy inner self. Those that didn’t were “not reaching their potential”. I bought this for a while. Being driven is good. Being driven took my parents out of poverty and into a financially stable life, in a good neighborhood to raise their family.
I get it.
I wanted to reach my potential. I started with my weight. I set a goal to lose 60lbs and broke it down and over a year succeeded. Fine.
“BEING” Self Developed
That was pretty easy compared to the other suggestions of being the first to initiate a conversation in a social gathering, projecting my voice when speaking, being charismatic and enthusiastic always. Once I lost the weight as a teenager and I sincerely tried this way of being and felt again “not up to mark” When I found it utterly exhausting! More exhausting was attracting more people like that and holding conversations with them. Being seemingly extroverted and seemingly interested in what everyone around me was interested in (fashion, “hitting the clubs”, getting high /drunk, tv shows, sex, diets) attracted more people like that and I couldn’t keep it up. I always felt like the biggest nerd.
Total Odd Ball Teenager
I REALLY liked spending hours at a time in Barnes and Noble. I loved open mics in small hole in the wall cafes. I really enjoyed having conversations where people actually talked about what honestly mattered to them, I could do that for hours! To really speak what you felt and thought was “cheesy” according to my high school classmates. To this end self development for me created more self criticism. It was one more validation of what an odd ball I was. “I guess I’m not positive enough and am underdeveloped because it takes soo much work to be like that”, I concluded.
Self development created this tension for people like me. The very thing I wanted: to change my life, required I be this salesy’, magnified persona that went against the grain of who I was at my core.
I’m Not Alone
This is not just my story, this is the story of millions of people according to Susan Cain in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. She gave a powerful TED Talk on the power of introverts that started a movement she has called the Quiet Revolution, check it out here!
Cave of Alchemy
One of the best gifts my parents ever gave me was my own room in their apartment building basement. They lived in the 2nd floor. They rented the first floor out to tenants. That space all to myself was critical in my daily re-calibrating through the chaos. I didn’t know it at the time but the seeds of self care were planted in that room.
After school, I’d rush through my house chores in order to dodge explosive interactions with my parents and speed down the stairs to my cave of refuge to spend hours at a time laying in candle lit darkness, by myself with ambient music and at times a journal.
Having that time alone saved my life. It gave me the space in my day to just be. It was there in those hours of solitude that I made the choice in my deepest depression to stop making plans to commit suicide .
Space for contemplation is important to say the least.
How Self Care Cleared the Storm
I wish the term introvert or highly sensitive person as Dr. Elaine Aron has coined through her research, was known to me back then to have sped up this process of self acceptance. Se la vie.
Following my own voice in my time of solitude and taking tiny steps every day to take care of myself helped me clear the self development storm within me so I could thrive as an introvert, here’s how…
1) Acquiring Self knowledge.
Self care time for the most part has meant time spent getting acquainted with myself. Letting myself seemingly putz around and daydream, in actuality helped me acquire self knowledge. What started as solitude to cope with a chaotic environment led to my pursuing solitude out of sheer enjoyment. I got to know myself and in time like myself. In this space my white knuckling way of forcing myself to be the way “I must” gradually relaxed and I contemplated other ways of being outside of the examples I witnessed in my corner of the world.
Self care time has been time to detox from the barrage of outside stimulation. Messages from billboards, magazines, mainstream music and clothes of what to buy in order to be desirable, successful, independent blah blah blah are subtly intrusive. Navigating through hordes of people to get from point a to point b in Chicago, most of them seemingly anxious, hurried, some hostile and downtrodden with petitioning signs, was taxing for me. Other experiences like sharing a bus stop with people who didn’t know what private space meant, rude and over taxed food servers, loud cellphone conversations on the trains, witnessing arguing people on the street, tense interactions with my parents all left my nerves brittle.
Time alone in silence, in a dimly lit room with ambient music and a journal was time to shake off and get some space between I and the obnoxious messages and interactions of the day.
Not having that time had me feel like the junk of everyday life eventually, inwardly and dangerously would build up.
3) Outside World Detox
This detox led to integration of where I objectively was and where I wanted to be. It gave me the time to flex the muscle of discernment to find what was true for me and eventually plan how to change things within my control for the better… my way.
In my introverted, slower paced, more methodical, thought out, felt out, quieter way I found my own voice, desires and ultimately my own conviction to live accordingly.
That time to integrate led to more acceptance of who I was, allowing myself more permission to just BE.
On the Defense in Following the Herd
If we’re not protective over how we spend our time and energy, it’s easy to go with the flow and join in on the trend of the constantly consuming, fast paced, nourishment depleting and superficial . We need time to unwind, untangle ourselves from these distortions and make sense of it all.
Leading Digital Companies Get It
Leading edge tech companies like these are on the bandwagon for making space for integration or what they call “quiet time”. A great video I watched a year ago that has stayed in my mind is of Loic Le Meur talking at the Wisdom conference about how meditation and having that inner space has helped him be on the leading edge as a digital entrepreneur. Be prepared, he curses quite a bit. Meditation is his concentrated unplugging time to filter what’s essential and what makes for real progress in his line of work.
Do you set limits for yourself on your consumption of information? What does that look like for you? I’d love to know.
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