As an introvert, I feel happiest at home spending time with my family, writing, reading, or puttering in my gardens. As much as I prefer doing these things, though, I’ve found I need more. There are times I want to stretch my abilities and learn something new. This often involves leaving my comfort zone and — gasp! — actually interacting with people.
I’ve thought of this more and more lately, particularly since reading Quiet by Susan Cain (which I reviewed in a previous post). Also, with the nice Spring weather, I feel more energetic and ready to tackle new projects.
Before going any further, I want to emphasize I am not a doctor of any kind and these are only my preferences, opinions, and suggestions. Your mileage may vary.
In the last couple years, I’ve made an effort to expand my experiences, grow as a person, and not let my hermit-like inclinations get the better of me. As long as I get quiet time to mentally process and physically recharge after social interactions, I’m usually the better for it.
Granted, I’m an expert at clamming up at crucial moments or saying something incredibly unclever in front of people I’m trying to impress. Those make me cringe for days. But, the way I see it, the more experiences I have, good and bad, the better I’ll get at it. I tell my kids all the time they won’t improve at drawing or playing an instrument if they don’t practice. Time to do as I say, ya know?
My preferred method of stretching myself beyond my comfort zone is through a desensitization process. This involves subjecting myself to the things I’m uncomfortable doing, or downright scared of, many times over in manageable doses. Manageable being the operative word here. And I always enlist the help of a buddy, so I don’t melt into a pile of ooze as soon as someone looks at me. I’ve learned a smile goes a long way.
For instance, last year my mom invited me to join her History of Art club and I decided to give it a go. It only meets once a month for about an hour or for an afternoon if we go on a trip. I grumble a lot before each meeting but have a good time once I’m there. I learn new things and everyone is so nice, I’m actually able to hold up a conversation pretty well.
My kids have forced me to get out, too, simply because of the activities they are involved in. At concerts, art shows, marching band competitions, etc., you tend to see familiar faces, so I’m making an effort to say “hi.”
This month my husband and I are attending a fundraiser sponsored by a local service organization. Lots of food, drink, raffles — and some of the more prominent people in our home town. I’m kind of upping the ante this time. Wish me luck.
In the future, I’m considering taking a writing or art class. In-person. But only when I feel ready for that kind of ongoing comittment.
What’s great is these activities have a time limit. Afterward, I can go home and recover the energy I used up by operated outside my comfort zone. I don’t feel overwhelmed as long as I schedule these far enough apart.
For an introvert, doing these type of social activities is hard work. I have to psych myself up beforehand. I still get sweaty palms and my heart pounds. But it’s getting easier. I don’t feel like I’m trapped in a cage with a bunch of starving tigers anymore. Well, ok, maybe just one starving tiger.
As much as I hate to admit it, we humans are social creatures and even an introvert like me can feel the need to get out once in a while. It’s not impossible. It can be done.
Hopefully, someday, it won’t feel like I’m balancing on a high wire over Niagara Falls while I’m doing it.
Have you ever felt trapped in unfamiliar situations or have problems conversing with people? Do you have any strategies that have helped you get through these? I’d love to hear about your experiences.