I used to think that success required an extroverted personality. Over the years this belief has nearly killed me with heartache, depression, feelings of failure and worthlessness.
If you asked people who knew me in high school they would probably say I was an extrovert. I was involved in everything: sports, music, plays, student leadership, and all sorts of social activities. If you asked people about my freshman year of college they would say, “who?” That’s right, they probably wouldn’t have known me. I was usually hiding in my room listening to music or hanging out with a small group of friends with whom I felt very comfortable. At the time I wouldn’t have admitted that I was an introvert (this would have meant admitting weakness), but I think things would have been a lot easier if I had been able to accept my introversion at a much earlier age.
Following college I was pulled towards people ministry. Work felt good when it involved serving others, being creative, or impacting another’s life. My first attempt in this arena involved working as a camp counselor for the entire summer following my senior year of college. I am not sure if you have ever met a camp counselor, but they tend to be an extroverted lot of people. They are full of energy, excited about everything, and endlessly positive. I gave a pretty good go of it for a while; I lead worship, sang silly songs, and built relationships with as many campers as possible. I poured out all the energy that I had. By the middle of the summer I was spent. I had nothing left and I had no idea where to go to get more of whatever it was that I was giving. The other counselors seemed OK; they weren’t as tired as I was, what was wrong with me?
Looking back on this summer, I realize that I was trying to be someone that I was not. Actually, looking back on much of my adult life I realize that I have many times pushed myself to act like an extrovert when deep down I am an introvert. I felt guilty when I wanted to spend time alone. I thought I was being selfish when I gravitated to individual conversations rather than groups. I forced myself to speak up in classes when all I wanted to do was observe from the back. I developed a love for reading, but felt guilty about reading too much and not spending enough time “ministering” to people. In short I could not accept who God had made me to be because I thought to truly serve him I had to be someone different.
In recent years and even months I have grown to accept my introversion. I am learning to view the time I spend quietly reflecting, my sensitivity, and the way I organize my thoughts before speaking as strengths rather than weaknesses. Working as a therapist has been a very good fit for my introverted personality. I have the opportunity to connect deeply with the people I counsel. We talk about deep, thought provoking subjects with ultimate meaning. One thing I have been reflecting on recently is how an introverted person like myself can successfully parent 3 seemingly extroverted children. Like many other areas of my life, I have tried to fake it as a parent, over the years. I have pushed myself to interact more and more and more while on the inside desiring time to slow down, reflect and think. I wonder how much they have missed by my ignoring my inner self. Could they too be introverts that have been pushed to act like extroverts in order to survive? If I had viewed introversion as a strength would they have greater ability to accept themselves for who they are? My introversion added into the mix could actually have been a good thing giving to them an experience of rest, and reflection in a culture that is hurried and over-stimulating.
I am hoping to continue to grow in this area both at work and home. I desire to parent more like “me” I desire to work more like “me”. The more I accept my introversion as a strength rather than a weakness the more my personal leadership and parenting style will come out. I think I will find that I will have more energy to give, because less of it will be wasted pretending to be something that I am not.