“We’re going to Whole Foods next. We’re getting crunchy peas.”
I took a sip of coffee. “Oh yea? Wasabi peas?” I asked.
The girl across from me wrinkled her nose and shook her head.
“You don’t like Wasabi peas? What’s wrong with you??”
She shrugged and changed the topic. “Do you like my dress?!” And with that, she lifted her dress up for the entire coffee shop to see Timbucktu underneath.
I swear, three-year-olds get away with everything. You don’t see me flashing twenty strangers at 8AM Sunday morning.
I was hogging my usual table in my crowded coffee shop when a dad (now a considerable shade of purple) asked if he and his daughter could share the space. Little Miss Chatty Kathy and I hit it off great—she liked dresses, grocery shopping, visiting her grandparents, coffee shops—all my favorite things! She ordered milk while I like my coffee black, but hey—sometimes I splurge for lattes too.
The one thing we clearly did not share was our outward adaption to social situations. At three years old, this girl is more outgoing than I will ever be.
I am a self-diagnosed external introvert.
When I say I’m shy, nine times out of ten I’m met with an argument. Those who know me assume because I’m opinionated, outspoken, and somewhat convincing; that I’m also a fearless extrovert.
I can state my case in a business meeting; I can hold my own in group conversation. But no matter how many times I voice my opinion or share a story, there are many more times I would prefer to say nothing at all.
As I type this, I’m on a plane en route to San Francisco for Dreamforce. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s the quintessential technology, marketing, and sales gathering in the U.S. and a conference I’ve wanted to attend since I was twenty. It is four days of keynotes, parties, appearances by everyone from Mark Cuban to Flo Rida, and part of it makes my stomach turn.
So Captain, as we prepare for landing into my anxiety nightmare, I would like to clarify the meaning of an external introvert—and give a shoutout to those who know it well.
The characteristics of an external introvert:
You don’t fear public speaking; you fear private speaking. [It’s a thing.]
I would rather give a speech in front of one thousand people than walk up to a single stranger at a bar. The latter gives me the heebie jeebies. So if you fly me solo out to a conference of thousands of people and make me play nice and shake hands, I will volunteer as tribute to type, work, and photograph in lieu of making eye contact or conversation.
You get weirded out when you’re around people for too long.
Yep, extended periods of human interaction quite honestly freaks me out. Case in point, I could have stayed in San Francisco through the weekend. I could have gone to Napa, seen Alcatraz, and done all the touristy things. But I know myself and I know my limits. It’s not that I hate human beings – I find them quite interesting honestly – I just find them a bit exhausting.
You care more about the depth of relationships than the breadth.
I can truly say I don’t give a rat’s ass about the size of my network, and I rarely find the need to branch out from my inner circle. At the risk of sounding like a complete weirdo, I rarely make new friends. I would rather spend my time and effort focusing on the quality of friendships I already have. [If I met you in the past year and you broke down my wall – well hats off to you.]
You actually love being alone.
My alone time is 100 percent sacred to me. While some people look forward to weekends to catch up with friends, I look forward to time to myself. I love living in a city where there’s so much life around me, but I also love being left alone to take it all in.
…And you know there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the above.
Do I wish I could carry on a conversation like the Mr. Homecoming King Turned Frat Boy types I’m sure to meet this week? Yes, one hundred percent. I wish I could strike up a conversation without having my intestines wrap around my esophagus. That would be great.
But I also know I can handle it. The one great thing about anxiety is that it’s invisible, given you’ve invested in a quality anti-perspirant. No one can see the doubts or unease beneath the surface. To everyone on the outside, you have a voice like anyone else – you just also happen to love the silence.