Sunday, December 22, 2013


All my life I have cast myself, mentally, as outgoing and rather loud.  As a child, I enrolled in theatre camps rather than YMCA sports, and viewed present opening at Christmas as an invitation to practice my chops.  Public speaking and musical theatre provided an adrenaline rush.  I never felt shy raising my hand in class (and sometimes felt embarrassed that I always seemed to have so much to share).  I studied vocal performance in college and loved sitting in a practice room, discovering the character and creating the images to hold in my mind so later, I could try and bring the audience into the song to feel its grief or sensuality or humor.  I loved the moment of utter stillness of the room after I had finished a piece, because I knew then the people sitting in the rows had felt it, and aren't performers supposed to be boisterous and outgoing to enjoy the spotlight like that?

So it has been a bit of surprise, since moving to Seattle, to begin discovering the parts of me that love to be alone and quiet (beginning with the realization that living in the dorms was rather draining for me, and this didn't seem to be the case for all my floormates).  My interests are deeply embedded in people, in interactions and stories and psyches, but after spending time around them, I need to be alone to decompress.  A day spent entirely around others makes me anxious and overstimulated (another reason I would die in the Hunger Games--guys, can I just have a few moments to myself?  I'm feeling a little overwhelmed).  So it seems I am an outgoing introvert, my social tendencies sometimes masking my need to unwind alone in a quiet space.

I read Susan Cain's Quiet earlier this year and found myself resonating deeply with the description of ideal work environments for introverts: spaces with little opportunity for interruption, protecting the solitude and privacy that allow for total concentration and immersion in the task at hand.  This description sounds at odds with the hip young company culture of the 21st century: open floor plans, constant collaboration, frequent brainstorming with teammates.  A snippet from Cain's book published in the NY Times highlights this recent trend in workplace structures:

"Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in. But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist."

I'm not calling myself spectacularly creative in any field, but as I think about what I want to do, professionally--something often on my mind these days--I now imagine myself in a job that allows for uninterrupted stretches of concentration, followed by the opportunity to share, connect, and revise my work with others.  I love people, and I find them much more interesting than spreadsheets or data analysis, but I also don't want my work to be constantly social.  I value solitude and the way it allows me to think deeply and dream and create--especially with words, but also with music and books and insight on my own life, and maybe even yours.  

I also consider my enduring love of performance from a different angle now: every concert, recital, speech, and performance that I have loved was preceded by the time I spent alone, practicing, immersing myself in the music or lines or notes to polish and prepare for the time when I shared it with others.  I have been an introvert all along, working in solitude, passionately creating something I'm excited to share with others.

Now--I just need to decide the field or topic or craft in which I want to immerse myself.

One step at a time.

1 comment:

  1. I like this about you, and I am finding I can relate to the beauty you see in slow, take your time environments. :)