06 December 2005

The Life of Introverts.

Julie O. at They Get Letters has noted a wonderful piece about introverts, a group I count myself among, from the Atlantic Monthly by Jonathan Rauch, and she laments the difficulties of introvert parents raising extrovert children, an enterprise I understand well.

While it is still too early to tell what sort of personality my younger child will develop, my elder child is clearly an extrovert. I can assure you that when I was that age, I was not coming home with report cards proclaiming that my social skills were most advanced and well developed talents, chatting endlessly with friends on the phone, and taking the initiative to set up play dates with members of the opposite sex. I don't think I went on a sleep over until I was in junior high school. My eldest child, in early elementary school, has already been on half a dozen or so. I can't imagine what the teen years will be like. The mind boggles.

I need to spend an hour writing in the morning and half an hour at lunchtime, plus some quiet time after the children have gone to bed, a solitary walk several times a week before work, and some time alone on the weekends, simply to remain sane. I often have lunch alone, and don't mind. While I do a fine job on a stage giving a presentation to a group of people in a continuing legal education class, or talking about ideas in a one on one setting, I tend to be oblivious to the social world around me. Years of practice have allowed me to hone my skills at small talk, but I've never had a busy social life, and don't naturally seek out group interaction, for the most part. Remembering people's names does not come naturally to me. I've resisted buying a cell phone to this day, and prefer to avoid the phone whenever possible. My favorite part of being a lawyer is the hours tucked away doing research, writing legal briefs and memorandums, or drafting documents.

Probably the most exhausting thing I've ever done in my life was serve as a "senior patrol leader" (i.e. CEO of the leadership structure for boys in the local troop). I dreaded the constant interaction with the other boys in the hierarchy that was necessary to get things done. Likewise, while I enjoyed being an actor and working on sets in high school theater, my brief foray into directing a play was a painful experience for all involved.

Recognizing who you are early on helps (and I was certainly well aware of my personality by the time I was a teenager). But, living as the person you are without undue condemnation for being anti-social isn't easy.


Julie O. said...

The funny thing is, I've become more reclusive and less willing to go out on the town as I've gotten older. I think it's because I was able to have so much more alone time when I was younger, that I could get to a point where I would crave social interaction. I used to enjoy parties.

I didn't even realize I was an introvert until recently, after a few years of dealing every day with an extreme extrovert.

wunelle said...

A very perceptive post and unexpectedly fascinating subject. Growing up and thru school I was very much an extrovert, but I've had a long-standing dislike of my hamboning, publicity-seeking side. Now, over the years I have reigned that part of me in to the extent that I have become a bit of a recluse. I don't think the leopard changes his spots, but muscles unused will atrophe. What has come out the other end is quite different from where the arrow pointed 20 years ago.

I think my parents and siblings are struck a bit by how my interface with the world differs from what they expected (not completely, but a question of degree).

Not having kids, I never considered how I would deal with a child whose makeup differed markedly from my own. I wonder if my straddling this fence, as it were, would affect how I would approach an introverted child of mine (I guess I still think of myself as an extrovert).

Great post.

B Murphy said...

I understand your interest/concern in raising a child that is an extrovert to your introvert. There is a book (Nurture by Nature : Understand Your Child's Personality Type - And Become a Better Parent) that my wife and I read that has helped us understand some of those interactions with our own kids. As with most Myers Briggs related books they describe behaviors that can help you identify Myers Briggs attributes in your kids. I am a bit skeptical of anectdotal characterization, but the book has been helpful in our understanding of the parent-child and sibling relationships in our family. That said, you probably don't need to run out and buy a copy as DPL has it in physical and ebook versions.