My Life as an Extrovert Nearly Killed Me

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.

My Wife Went Out of Town and I Asked For Help

b4a26-14993164_sSeveral months ago my wife started preparing me for the inevitable.  A long time friend was getting married and she floated the idea of attending the wedding. She would be a plane flight away while I stayed home to care for our four young children.  My normal response in these situations is silence.  I am trying to remain calm, and avoid totally betraying the feelings of anxiety and frustration that immediately crop up.

I love my kids, I am a very involved father, and I am passionate about impacting the lives of my children.   When it comes to parenting alone for a weekend however, I am a mess.  I really desire for my wife to have time of her own, I desire for her to connect with old friends, and I have had many chances to take such trips.

My problem is that I get overwhelmed; there is just so much to do.  There are moments when things are going fine, and then there are moments when it feels seconds away from implosion.  As I move through the days doing my best to stay one step ahead of the chaos the feeling becomes more powerful and out of control.

So, with this trip on the horizon I asked for help, my mom came into town and my sister and her pre-teen daughter spent time lending an extra hand.

Somewhere in the middle of the weekend I started to wonder if I was betraying my fellow man.  I have read several articles lately and am aware of a pretty significant movement of dads looking to improve the image of fathers.  I have felt that I am a part of this movement.  I do desire to demonstrate that men are capable parents.  So, I wondered if asking for help made me a sell-out?  Had I become a hypocrite in the world of active fathers?

After some reflection I have decided that no, I am not a sell-out or a hypocrite, I am just me.  I am laid back, low energy, low structure, introverted, reflective, and male.  When I enter a group of people I hang around the edges, observe for a while, and then settle into a conversation with 1 or 2 warm personalities.  My wife is outgoing, high energy, high structure, extroverted, logical, and female.  When she enters a group of people she jumps right into the mix, moves from group to group, and meets many new people.

I am struck by the fact that our different personalities also reflect our different styles of parenting.  She is perfectly comfortable managing and directing the crisis of taking four children to the grocery store.  She responds quickly in many situations and is adept at moving from child to child, while maintaining focus on the task at hand.  My reflective personality causes me to respond more slowly.  I want to think things through.  I wonder how my words in this moment may impact the future development of a fragile psyche.  I analyze motivations, body language, and tone changes all in the hopes of responding perfectly as to avoid any further complications.

Isn’t it amazing how who we are as people, so totally impacts who we are as parents?  I am very thankful that my wife is not like me.  I am also thankful that I am not like my wife.  Our personalities and parenting styles are complementary and we have become a really great team.  She is a force of energy, passion, excitement, and structure.  I am steady, thoughtful, calming, and relaxed.

I am beginning to realize that my anxiety and frustration with parenting on my own may not be the result of deficient skills.  I think it is more like losing a valued teammate.  I think I am a better parent in the presence of my wife.  We work well together and support one another.  She gives me strength and I give her stability.  Asking for help is like inserting a sub, the new player can never replace the trusted veteran but neither does it reduce the value of the remaining player.

 The weekend with my wife away went much better than I expected.  It was a nice opportunity for my children to spend time with their grandmother and cousin.  I enjoyed having new team members at my side and am thankful to have learned a lesson about accepting my weaknesses and strengths.

Oh, and my wife points out that it took three of them to replace the one of her!!

This Post originally appeared at The Good Men Project

The Facade of Manliness–a discussion with Chopper Poppa

Chopper Poppa is Kyle Bradford a father of two.  He is passionate about his children and fatherhood.  He recently invited me to join him for his podcast Fatherhood Wide Open.  We discussed a post I had written when I first started my blog.  “The Fortress of Solitude” was a post I wrote while thinking about what it means to be a man and how I can best influence my boys to reaching this ideal.  Kyle and I discussed the difference between authentic manhood and a facade of manliness designed to emotionally isolate oneself from others.  We discussed how parents unintentionally lock their boys into a fortress of solitude and some important ways to protect them from relational isolation.  Follow the link below to hear more of the discussion.

Fatherhood Wide Open–The Facade of Manliness