Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lessons from an Extrovert

Are you an introvert or extrovert? Author Susan Cain explores how introverts can be powerful in a world where being an extrovert is highly valued. Join From Left to Write on January 19 as we share our stories inspired by Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. We'll also be chatting live with Susan Cain at 9PM Eastern on January 26. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

I am an introvert raising an extrovert.

As soon as Sophia could make eye contact with people, she did. With anyone and everyone--neighbors I had never spoken to, people on the street I hurried by--her primary impulse, it seemed, was to reach out to others.

This impulse jarred me. I had spent the previous 38 years trying to be, if not invisible, unobtrusive. I’m not sure if it’s shyness, or a preference to keep to myself that was miscast as shyness, but I have to force myself to talk to people outside my small sphere. I become painfully self-conscious, hearing myself speak as I talk, wondering how much eye contact I should be making, hoping I am passing for sociable and engaging.

My introversion is hard for many to reconcile, considering that I used to stand up and speak before hundreds of people. Or that I’m a psychologist, helping others to build their social skills. If anything, because I have had to push past my introversion, had to learn skill by skill what is unconscious and easy for some, I have a great deal of empathy for others like me. I know what they need to know.

I would have known how to raise an introvert. I could have taught her how to cope.

Sophia doesn’t need to be taught how to cope. She instinctively knew how to relate to others from day one. We’d be on the elevator in our high rise, headed out for some fresh air, Sophia snugly tucked into my Ergo, facing my chest. As the elevator doors slid open, she would twist her neck uncomfortably to orient towards and beam at each person who stepped on. They rewarded her with exuberant attention.

“She’s so alert!”

“She’s so friendly!”

“Look at those big, blue eyes!”

Suddenly, I was forced to communicate.

“Yes, she’s always observing, taking it all in.”

“She loves people!”

“Thank you so much!”

Frankly, there was something lovely about this experience. After years of puzzling over how to connect with others, I had found the thing that transcended every kind of barrier--race, age, sex, class, introversion: Babies. Sophie, completely unaware of the things that divide us, made connections effortlessly.

She drew me out of my shell. She was my social lubricant. She helped me bridge the gap that lay between myself and others.

I absolutely hated the prospect of Mother and Me activities, sitting around with a bunch of people I did not know, our lowest common denominator the fact that we could give birth to live young. But I went for Sophia’s sake, because the only thing she loved more than gurgling at complete strangers was being amongst her kind. When she saw another baby, she’d go nuts with joy, even, on occasion, mounting the child because she just couldn’t get close enough. And, in these situations, I didn’t have to speak, I could just smile and let Sophie do the work.

And then, I did start having some nice conversations with people.

Out of these conversations, I made some nice friends.

Looks like the extrovert might be raising me.


Bay said...

Yes! I know exactly what you mean. I've spent my whole life dodging awkward conversations with strangers only to have an extroverted little girl. Her first word was "HI!" which she'd yell at everyone she could when we were out. Cringe!! ;o)

Some Suburban Mom said...

I love realizing I've been taught something I didn't know I needed to know, by my child!

I'm also raising a child that has the opposite temperament as me. It's confounding.

Great post! And she is a beauty, by the way :)

M. Scott Solo said...

The perfect length blog. Interesting and enjoyable. Introverts write well too.

Amy, Using Our Words said...

I love having my kids with me when I go out as icebreakers. I totally relate to the baby being social lubricant...great way of looking at it!

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

Our kids do change us in ways we don't expect.

Janin said...

I love your perspective and sense of humor! And like you, I delight in the things that my children end up teaching me (:

Amy said...

I love this! My 3rd child, my only daughter, is the same way as your Sophia. She's 3, and I have had many conversations with people after she makes herself the center of attention wherever we go! :-)

Stacey Friedland said...

What a great lesson. Isn't it amazing how people are born with a personality and preferences of their own. Way cool. Good for you for recognizing her innate nature and going along for the ride.