The Introvert’s Bill of Rights

As an introvert, I hold these truths to be self-evident. If you’re an introvert, I urge you to ratify them too:

THE INTROVERT’S BILL OF RIGHTS

I Have the Right to Remain Silent — not because I’ve been accused of some crime, but because silence is no crime. Sometimes I just don’t want to talk, or be talked to. Other times I’m simply listening silently, contemplating silently, or recharging silently. Silence doesn’t hurt; it helps.

I Have the Right to Seek Solitude — to find or create the revitalizing alone time I need to stay psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and physically healthy in our frenzied, stressful world. My alone time isn’t about rejecting anyone; it’s about protecting myself.

I Have the Right to Contemplate — to take the time I need to choose my words, weigh my decisions, and consider my actions — before I act (so I can prepare), after (so I can change course if necessary), or both. I am, therefore I think.

I Have the Right to Seek Depth — genuine substance and significance in my conversations, activities, and relationships. Small talk, shallow pursuits, and superficial people leave me unsatisfied and wanting. I need real human beings, real talk, and real pursuits.

I Have the Right to Focus — to avoid multitasking, interruptions, and haste so I can concentrate solely on whatever or whoever is right in front of me. The next thing can wait.

I Have the Right to Be Heard — to be truly listened to and understood — minus multitasking, interruptions, and haste — not because I’m more deserving than other people, but because I’m equally deserving.

I Have the Right to Share What I Want, When I Want, How I Want — to decide for myself, without pressure or judgment, what to say, when to say it, and how. My thoughts, feelings, and expressions are mine first — and last if I so choose.

I Have the Right to Be Seen as Normal — as normal as the extraverts of the world. My introversion isn’t a character flaw or a malady to be cured, any more than extraversion is. It’s a healthy, natural part of who I am.

I Have the Right to Define Myself, Not Defend Myself — to let my introversion stand without apology. I don’t expect the extraverts of the world to justify how they tick; I don’t have to justify how I tick either.

I Have the Right to Be Defined by What I Am, Not What I Am Not — by my many natural strengths, not by what others see as shortcomings; by what I have to offer, not by what others think I lack. I’m not an extravert wannabe; I’m an introvert.

Be the Introvert You Are — You’re Not Alone in Just Wanting to Be Yourself

I figured it was just me.

I didn’t really want to do the Bunny Hop with a bunch of fellow 18-year-olds I’d met — if you can call it that — only seconds before. I didn’t want to sing silly songs or participate in goofy icebreakers. I didn’t want to go to the freshman dance with its blinding strobe lights and deafening music. And I didn’t want to take part in any of the booze-soaked off-campus parties that were most definitely not college-sponsored or college-sanctioned.

It was the fall of 1985, almost 35 years ago now, yet this time of year I still remember it vividly: college orientation week, an experience I’d just as soon forget.

As Harvard University sophomore Eva Shang put it in her insightful article a few years ago entitled “To the Introverts of the Class of 2018″:

“If a modern Dante were to write The Inferno for introverts, specifically, he would probably paint a picture of something similar to opening week of college.”

The impossibly enthusiastic but well-meaning orientation leaders at my school, God bless them, were trying so hard. So hard. So hard to make us newbies, in our red new-student T-shirts with our red new-student folders, feel comfortable and welcomed, like part of a community.

But mostly I felt exhausted and overwhelmed, like I’d been beamed to the planet Frenzy and there was no escape from the group activities, or the group itself for that matter. No time to think, to breathe, to just simply be in this strange new environment, away from the family and familiarity of home.

It was all too much, way over the top. And so the events that had been designed to make me feel like I belonged instead made me feel like an outsider.

I figured it had to be me. Clearly something was wrong with me, and I was the only one thinking what I was thinking and feeling what I was feeling. Everyone else was having the time of their life, or so it seemed.

But I was mistaken.

As I’ve learned in the years since college, nothing was — or is — wrong with me. I was, and am, just an introvert, with tendencies and preferences that are simply different from, but not inferior to, those of extraverts.

Moreover, I now know that I wasn’t alone all those years ago. Depending on which statistics you believe, somewhere between one quarter and one half of us are introverts. So I wasn’t the only one struggling with stimulation overload. And I wasn’t the only one who would prefer to gravitate toward my own types of activities and build friendships my own way as the college years went on.

In fact, just the other day, College of William and Mary student Ethan Brown described his own orientation experience this way in his Flat Hat student newspaper column “Orientation Undermines New Student Adjustment“:

“By the first day of classes, I felt like I never wanted to talk to anyone again — I felt so depleted, and so emotionally exhausted, that I couldn’t imagine how I’d handle four years of being constantly ‘on.'”

Emerson College freshman Julia Tannenbaum put it like this recently (in a blog post she titled “Surviving Orientation“):

“[N]othing — not my single room, not my nightly phone vent sessions with my parents, not even The Great British Baking Show — could replenish the energy orientation had sucked out of me, like a vacuum cleaner sucking up the crumbs of a delicious homemade muffin (I really miss my mom’s cooking). It was so draining that at times, I worried I wouldn’t make it to the actual start of school.”

So it wasn’t just me.

And if you’re an introvert yourself, it wasn’t — or isn’t — just you, either.

If I’d had access to artices like Shang’s and Brown’s and Tannenbaum’s three-plus decades ago, I would have understood this a lot sooner than I ultimately did. It would have saved me a lot of confusion — and pain — if I’d simply had the chance to read sage advice like Shang’s:

“Don’t push it. There will be plenty of opportunities to make friends at any point in time — plenty of opportunities more suited to forming genuine connections than those initial weeks of mass introductions. Furthermore, don’t feel pressured to be social the same way everyone else is, especially if it isn’t your scene. You will not miss out on life or on college simply by taking a much-needed break.”

Shang’s advice applies to you, me, all of us who tend toward introversion. And it goes far beyond the college campus.

You’ll only “miss out on life,” as she puts it, if you try to be someone you’re not — instead of understanding and embracing who you really are.

Alone Time Comes in Several Satisfying Flavors — So Order the One You Want … When You Want It

My alone time isn’t my wife’s alone time. And hers isn’t mine.

We’re both introverts. Pretty strong ones if you believe our respective Myers-Briggs Type Indicator results. And yet I’ve noticed that Adrianne tends to prefer a type of alone time that is slightly but significantly different than the one I typically crave.

When Adrianne is ordering from life’s menu of alone time options, she generally picks Alone Time with Another — for example, alone time at the kitchen table with me at 8:30 at night, typing away at her computer as she firms up her lessons for the kindergartners she’ll be teaching the next day.

I just sit there drinking a sparkling water and reading a book. Or staring into space. Or reading a book and occasionally staring into space. Or staring into space and occasionally reading a book.

That’s because I usually order Alone Time All Alone if it’s available — the kind of alone time I picture in my fantasies: being completely by myself out in nature, for instance, so far away from everything and everyone that I can’t hear a sound, that I can’t help but be re-energized. Even if I can get Alone Time All Alone only in snack form, I’ll still usually order it over anything else.

So I might step out on Adrianne, briefly, during her (our?) Alone Time with Another to sit outside on our rocking bench for a few minutes, munching on my Alone Time All Alone bar and listening to nothing but the whispering wind and the faint sounds of the occasional train in the distance.

And yet … sometimes I myself actually order Alone Time with Another. One of the most revitalizing experiences of my life happened in Canada a few winters ago, when Adrianne and I spent an entire day reading alone — together — in a snuggly, isolated lake cabin in eastern Manitoba. It was my choice (albeit an easy sell where Adrianne was concerned!).

Adrianne orders her fair share of Alone Time All Alone, too. She has it every weekday morning, in fact, as she sits at that same kitchen table around 6:00 a.m. having her breakfast, drinking her coffee, and reading a book — by herself — while she readies herself to share the day with those same squirrely kindergartners she prepared her lessons for the previous night. As she was enjoying her Alone Time with Another, of course.

We all have different alone time palates, it turns out, and our tastes fluctuate considerably based on a whole host of variables. Among them: our ingrained natural preferences as introverts, our fatigue levels, what we’ve done and who we’ve been with (or not with) during the day, the time of day, the state of our health — physical, emotional, psychological — and who knows what else and when.

So it’s liberating and reassuring to know that you do indeed have several healthy menu options where alone time is concerned, Alone Time All Alone and Alone Time with Another being just two of them. You might also have an appetite for:

Alone Time with Accompaniment — alone time accompanied by, say, your favorite TV show or your favorite band. When I want Alone Time with Accompaniment, I think of a way to drive somewhere in my car … so that I can sing with Robert Plant as Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” pounds the windows at a thousand decibels.

Alone Time with Ambiance — a combination of Alone Time with Another and Alone Time with Accompaniment: alone time with a few other people (and sounds) around. Think coffee shop on this one. Ideally, a coffee shop with just a few other people present — none of whom asks “May I join you?” — and equipped with surround-sound speakers that are softly playing Enya music.

You can order any type of alone time you want or need, whenever you want it or need it. It may not always be immediately available. But you can always get it to go so that you can savor it later.

Be sure to top it off with an extra treat sometimes too — something scrumptious if not exactly nutritious. Alone Time a la Mode, perhaps.