I was sitting at Starbucks. Staring out the window. Listening to some non-descript artist. Out of the corner of my eye, an elderly gentleman played musical chairs. Two tables over. One table over. Standing beside me, slightly bowed over, hand extended toward mine and asking about my heritage.
It was a common question, but he was an uncommon reaction that started a great dialogue.
There were a lot of similarities between both of us. We both read. We both had experience in copywriting. We both had an interest in international travel and extending our knowledge of culture and diverse ethnicities. We both wore blazers. We both admired Henry Kissinger for his penchant for perfection. We both believed everyone had a story but too many were scared to write it; we’re not taking the time to share it. And most glaringly obvious, we both had – at least for that day – an affinity for Starbucks’ beverages.
As our conversation progressed, he began to understand why I do what I do as I learned of his profession. He clearly lived with exuberance (despite being a lawyer). From his wing-tipped shoes to his sweater vest and graying hair, there was a purpose with every clearly enunciated English word he spoke – later learning he also spoke, read and loved the Spanish language.
For all his outgoing mannerisms, something still kept me back. Pop psychology and mainstream interpretation of introversion. I was sincerely enjoying our encounter, but whether my body language indicated it or not, mentally I was unplugging. I wanted out. Nevertheless, at that point, I was all in. Every word kept me wondering, was going home really that interesting – my comfort zone vs. listening to his next story of Russian Jews migrating to uncharted lands.
Which made me question. For all my interaction with him, both of us divulging in more than small talk, in less than 11 minutes I opened up more than I did after sharing a seat on an 11-hour flight. I was contradicting society’s sometimes harsh, somewhat aspiration for that state of being: The life of an introvert.
For all its glorification, it can be misrepresented. The gentleman at Starbucks saw (and painstakingly listened) firsthand to a self-proclaimed introvert, who dares to defy the stigma and, at times, doesn’t affect an extrovert personality but rather becomes extra excited to dialogue.
This is the process:
1) We don’t enjoy the company of people: We do. On our terms. We actually love people. Sometimes, the more the better, as long as they are not crushing crowds. (All the better to get lost in, my dear.) While our regulated lifestyle may seem boring, our often consistent pattern will seem positive when the party is over, and you need a shoulder to lean on.
2) We are freaks of nature: (Aren’t we all, in a beautiful way?) We are not hoarders. We don’t live in dark, damp basements. We are not jobless, spineless, friendless. We do not howl at the moon or make protein shakes out of insects and bugs.
3) We are socially inept and snobs: We can mingle and make conversation. When we stick to the sidelines, it’s not because we think we are better or have better things to do, but need more time to perfect our game plan. Seriously, we are just like you; we just have a different way of compartmentalizing our thoughts and emotions. And different doesn’t make it wrong.
4) We are shy and silent: We can talk (even I can talk – well, I can participate. By now you’ve probably heard the Worx disclaimer about me: She can write, she just can’t talk). We have things to say. We just have to adjust our way of communicating, when or how we will do it. For me and my fellow blazer wearing Starbucks friend, he probably waited a good 45 minutes until I took one earbud out to a single I might be open to a conversation if indeed his solo musical chair rendition was an attempt to converse.
5) We hide behind our phones: False. Everyone does. Technology has become more engaging than face-to-face with FaceTime. If our friends, family or colleagues are already on the other side, why switch our way of interacting? Give us a reason to look up.
6) We can be reduced to a list: Nope. No one can be. My title alludes to there being five myth busters, but here we are at six. BONUS! See. Introverts can be fun! While it’s true, with the hundreds of online tests, statistics and lists in magazines and online (this one without exception), we’ve pigeon-holed introverts, making them sound like adults going through their sullen teens while throwing a toddler tantrum, the fact is some of us can combat that by what the twenty-first century calls extroverted introverts. Or I like to call communicating. Networking. Growing up. Adulting. Maturing. Enjoying life one syllable at a time.
Most importantly, don’t let a list define you. Let an opportunity like the wing-tipped shoed gentleman at Starbucks reaching across a table to start a conversation be the beginning of something new in your life. Live life with ears wide open and arms even wider.
If I can do it, you can too.