I’ve been an introvert all my life but didn’t know it until adulthood. My mom saw it all along though. She jokes now about how I’d sit quietly in the front seat of our van, perfectly content to let her carry on all conversations with my friends in the backseat while I observed.
I was just kind of a weird, quiet, anti-social kid.
In college, I took the Myers-Briggs personality test as part of a leadership training on the Student Activities Board. (I was very cool.)
In an attempt to correct the “weirdness” and “shyness” that had always plagued my social life, I was forcing myself into roles and behaviors that opposed my natural quiet state — fraternity parties, sorority rush, student clubs, etc. I fooled myself and the test into believing I was ENTJ, a personality type defined as a charismatic, extroverted, natural-born leader.
Years later, I took the test again in grad school. A little older and a lot more confident in who I actually was, I guess I answered the questions more honestly and scored exactly the same across the board with one exception: I made a drastic flip from E to I, from extrovert to introvert.
I was INTJ, apparently the rarest and one of the more difficult personalities marked by a need for independence and privacy. Suddenly I made sense.
A common misconception about introverts is that we’re shy, socially inept, intimidating, standoffish or just plain weird. While some of these personality traits may fit, they’re usually a byproduct of the misinterpretation of an introvert’s true defining characteristic, which is the need for alone time.
Where extroverts are recharged and energized by social situations with other people, introverts are drained by such activities. As one fellow introvert described it, imagine in social situations that I am jogging in place next to the table. While an extrovert is drinking and laughing and soaking up the experience, I am doing those things too but I’m also expending energy just to be present. Eventually, I’ll hit a wall and need to refuel. That fuel is solitude.
Seeking solitude and maintaining a social life can be easier said than done in Charlotte’s “hey let’s grab a beer with 400 of our closest friends” scene.
It’s not that I don’t want to have friends or meet people. It’s that, for my personality type, certain social environments are more overwhelming and draining than they are enjoyable. So to help navigate the scene, I pulled together a little Introvert’s Guide to Social Charlotte. Enjoy reading it in your cocoon of isolation, fellow introverts.
I’m a lone wolf in most aspects of life and working out is no exception. Remember when I said introverts need solitude to recharge? My workouts are where I seek that escape. I think solo running (or walking) is the best medicine for a burned out introvert but when your goals and/or social life send you into group fitness settings, here’s where I’d land.
Flywheel is an introvert’s workout dream. The dimmed lights and loud music let you zone out into perceived isolation all the while surrounded by a room full of people. You can opt in to a computerized “race” with your classmates or lay low and just compete against yourself.
Arrichion’s hot yoga room is a cocoon of warmth and silence. I use yoga as an escape from the world and myself. Arrichion maintains pretty strict no talking (and no cellphone) rules inside the studio, which is a hot, dark, window-less, low ceilinged escape from reality. Perfect.
Breweries are basically my nightmare, but can be navigated.
A loud, crowded warehouse full of people drinking beer is more or less the opposite of an environment in which I thrive. But since I’m in the minority and don’t want to lose the few friends I have, here’s where I would go…
Free Range Brewing is chiller and smaller than a lot of the breweries in town. The main tap room is set up like a narrow galley, with a long bar to the left and some tables to the right, which means it’s cozier and not as cavernous as some of the other spots in town. I also love the secluded two-top under the cute mural by the front door.
Heist is more restaurant than brewery, which is good for me. Heist brews their own beer but they’ve also got a full kitchen and liquor license making the whole place feel more like a restaurant/bar and making me feel more like I can lodge myself into one seat and inhale snacks while talking to a select 2-3 fellow humans. Splendid.
Dating never really bothered me because I thrive better in one-on-one interactions than I do in large social settings anyway. Lots of roads can lead to the end goal of a one-on-one date, and large group outings and crowded bars were never the right path for me.
Online dating worked best for me. Specifically, I met my husband on Tinder. It may not be true for all introverts, but I communicate more clearly and effectively with written rather than spoken words. So messaging-based first introductions on an app like Tinder gave me the chance to be myself and “talk” to men I might have otherwise avoided out in the real world. Whether perceived or real, it gave me a sense of safety and control over the situation so that I was comfortable and chatty if and when we finally took it to an official face-to-face first date.
Unofficial coworking spaces
If I’m not at the Agenda HQ it’s usually because I’ve opted to stay home because I’ve gone to too many social events and need some alone time. But even as an introvert, I find sitting at home alone all day to be excessively isolating.
So whether you have the flexibility to work from home on the regular or just need an occasional escape from your traditional office environment, these are some good unofficial coworking spaces you can visit for moderate background noise, buffered human interaction and snacks.
The Gallery and Craft. I included both of these as one because they’re right next door to each other. Go to The Gallery if you want coffee and cake while you work or go to Craft if beer and a cheese plate is more your style. Or sit there all day and move from one to the next. These are great places to go when you want to be mentally alone but also want to be physically in the presence of other people.
Earl’s Grocery. I’ve written before about why this is one of my favorite unofficial coworking spots. But the reason I like it as an introvert is the seating. There are a handful of tables in the back for a more isolated work space or you can grab a bar seat facing the wall to cut down on visual distractions and stay focused on your little work cocoon.
Tips for traditional workspaces
Whoever invented open office plans really had it in for the introverts with the endless distractions, constant exposure to coworkers and ceaseless small talk. We weren’t built for it. When I was little I used to build a fortress of folders around my desk at school so I could hide. Since someone might call HR for this behavior as an adult, I like these tips for open offices…
Request the biggest monitor they’ll buy you. This is the next best thing to having your own office. I don’t care if you work exclusively on a laptop. You need to ask for a monitor and use it as the adult equivalent of my childhood folder fortress. Personal physical space is, for some reason, very important to me.
Wear headphones. It’s the universal symbol of “Please don’t talk to me.”
Book conference rooms for regular solo work sessions. If your company has a conference room that’s not in use, it doesn’t hurt to retreat there every once in a while for better focus.
Stagger your work hours. When I worked in a traditional office after college, I opted to come in at 7 a.m. and leave at 3 p.m. The office didn’t really ramp up until 10 a.m. so it gave me several hours of productive alone time in the morning.
Ask if it’s ok to work from home once a week. Find a reason other than “I’m introverted” to persuade your boss. Maybe Mondays are full of conference calls anyway so it doesn’t matter where you are. Maybe you have a report due every Friday and would appreciate a distraction-free environment on Thursdays to produce it. Couldn’t hurt to ask.
Tips for large group events
If the thought of hanging out with hundreds of strangers at regular social events like #instabeerupCLT, OMB’s Yoga on Tap, NoDa Brewery’s weekly run or even our upcoming #caLIVE event sounds overwhelming, try a few of these tactics.
Go alone. I’m serious. I like this tactic because, aside from the fact that I like being alone, arriving solo at events means that I’m freed up to exit whenever I see fit. It also increases my likelihood of meeting and interacting with new people because if I go with a group of friends, I will cling to them for dear life and not speak to anyone else.
Claim physical space. I feel so much less out of control at big events when I know there’s a chair or a table or a spot at the bar that’s my home base. It also shrinks the party down. I find 6 people around a table much easier to engage with than a whole room of 400 people.
Get to know someone. Like, really talk to them. If you’re an introvert, odds are you abhor small talk of any kind and prefer to keep the spotlight off yourself so find a topic that’s of interest to someone else and go deep on that. Ask lots of questions. Learn something.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You’re probably an introvert or are trying to figure out how to cope with one in your life. Bottom line: Be ok with being yourself. Play up your strengths (introverts are often great listeners, powerful public speakers and fiercely loyal friends). Refuel alone as needed.