Let’s talk about introversion. It’s rife in academia, and for good reason. I’ve found that, over the years, I theoretically understand what makes an extrovert tick, but I can’t conceptualize it in practice. I just don’t experience life the same way.
A lot of people still seem to think that introversion means a dislike of other people. Or another term for socially inept. Or people that are downright anti-social. It’s not. I love spending time with other people. I really enjoy hanging out with friends, throwing parties, seeing people at work. But, after those activities, I need to be alone. It’s how I recharge.
Extroverts get energy from being around other people. Introverts lose energy being around other people. We need alone time in order to recover. The more people I’m around, and the longer I’m around them, them more ME time I need.
Lately, this has been brought home to me in rather startling clarity. I’m working a contract job right now that is – blessedly – only eight weeks long. Anymore than that I think I’d quit. It involves constant 8-9 hour days (without a break – we don’t do breaks – breaks are for the weak) 6-7 days of the week where I am not only constantly surrounded by people, but constantly conversing with them, being asked questions, hearing demands (and occasionally borderline threats of ‘if you don’t do this, I won’t do what you want me to do, so there‘ in the most childish way possible), and all around just dealing with HR issues on a constant minute-by-minute basis.
Now, at lot of people thrive in those situations. A lot of people love it.
Introverts really don’t. Me? I hate that. It’s like my worst idea of a job ever. But it was a contract and they asked for me specifically. So there I am. And every night I come home mentally exhausted, because since the moment I walked into work my energy levels have been dropping. After a nine hour day, they drop a lot. And I only have – sometimes – 12 hours at home to recoup before I go back at it again. And I’ve discovered that that is not enough time to recover. I need a day off after every work day, and I don’t get that. I started a work-through schedule last Friday and I’ll work every day between then and next Monday. That’s 11 days straight. Each day, my energy levels in the morning are lower than they were the day before. I am, naturally, very concerned my energy is going to bottom out completely before next Monday.
When I get exhausted because of being around people, I get irritable and lack any patience whatsoever. Not great, when you work in HR. Today, I snapped at someone for the first time. It was minor, and to be fair, I was sort of provoked, but that doesn’t make it okay. And it’s likely that not snapping at people is going to become exponentially harder as the days go on.
I write this post because I was thinking today about how many introverts I know in academia. And why that is. And the reason to me seems clear. I was happiest when I was left in my own little corner, in my own little apartment, on my lonesome, doing my thesis. That was the best part, in the end. I enjoyed other parts of the PhD, but that was the best part. Even on the days I couldn’t bring myself to work, at least I didn’t have to lose energy being around other people. If anything, the four years of my PhD were blissful relaxation and rest (except for all the stress).
Now I’m facing being out in the working world again, with a newfound realization of exactly what introversion means to me, and how hard it is to live with. I realize now, looking back on the jobs I’ve had, why some of them I enjoyed and others I hated. And it had everything to do with the people I was around, and how much time I was allowed to just ‘get on with it’ myself, without having to surround myself with a team. I do work better alone, because I’m more comfortable and energized doing so. I love working from home, though I know some people can’t stand it. I love nothing more than to sequester myself away in my house for days on end; an attitude most people would think worrisome, but which I adore. Because I don’t get tired doing that. Yes, sooner or later I’ll want to see a friend or go shopping, but most of the time I can spend more time alone than I’m ever actually allowed to.
So, I’m job searching. And, at the same time, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what I actually want to do. And what I can do. And what I can’t. Self-analysis. Let’s see where this goes.