I enjoy reading other people’s writing, learning about who they are, and what experiences they have had. I’ll even follow them on Twitter and Facebook stalk them, but when it comes to actually reaching out and connecting with them by email, verbally or in person, I’d rather eat broccoli for breakfast everyday for a month. It’s not that I don’t like people, I’m just selfish. I used to blame it on being an introvert, which I am according to definition. But, in examining my feelings more closely, I’ve realized that many of the introverted tendencies I have for avoiding connection are purely self-serving.
I don’t want to give up my time.
I’m afraid of rejection.
I have a difficult time committing to maintain the relationship.
I have a hard time emotionally sharing.
I like to be alone.
All of those reasons begin with ‘I’. Lately, I’ve been thinking less about myself, and a lot more about community and how the small, daily interactions with each other play such a big part in the quality of our lives. Even somewhat one-sided interactions like reading an article someone has written, sharing a smile with a stranger or being the first one to say hello link us together. Two-way interactions like conversations, spending time together and providing service to others create even stronger links. All of these links build families, communities, cultures and the bond we feel as a human family. Community is important. I also believe that it is the responsibility of each of us to contribute in some way to our communities to make them stronger, happier and healthier.
My question is this- How do I reach outside of myself and positively contribute to the community around me, when by nature I would rather be alone and just a bystander?
For me, and maybe others, the answer is ‘small steps’. It takes me some time to think about and work up the courage and desire to interact with others, but as I do, I notice that it is very fulfilling and adds much more depth to my life experiences. Some of the small steps I work at taking to combat my introverted nature include-
-Reframing interaction. Instead of thinking I am ‘losing my time and attention’ when I have a conversation with someone, I reframe it to mean that I am strengthening our relationship, showing them that I do care about them and that what they have to say is important. Changing my mode of thinking from the selfish outlook of losing something to giving to someone else ends up benefitting both of us.
-Planned ‘Alone Time’. I find that if I allot myself a certain amount of time each day to be ‘alone’, I am much more likely to be excited about interacting with others. As long as I have my own bit of time alone to look forward to, I can reach outside of myself and give to others.
-Accept that you won’t be friends with everyone. This one is still hard for me, but I have internalized it much more since having children. I’m not sure how many times I’ve told them ‘you don’t have to be good friends with or even like every person you meet, but you do need to be nice.’ There are some people whose personalities will just rub you the wrong way, and likewise my personality won’t be a good fit for some people, that’s okay. Rejection in that sense is wise, we should focus on connecting with those who will bring out the best we have to offer, and just be kind to the rest.
-Make commitments carefully. Some people have a much easier time maintaining friendships, keeping in touch and picking up the phone to say hi. I am not one of those people who is naturally social, I have to be more selective of who is in my intimate circle that I will regularly connect with. I enjoy having friends, but I don’t like feeling guilty for not talking to them as often as I should, or not realizing they were having trouble because I hadn’t checked on them in 6 months. I find that having a few good friends that I keep in touch with is better than having a hundred friends and feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of trying to have meaningful relationships with each of them.
Aside from the actions above, I have also been trying to get out of my comfort zone and contribute to other’s lives in the following ways-
Smiling at and asking one question of a person standing near me, whether in public or at home, and actually listening to their answer and responding.
Commenting on others perspectives online.
Taking regular walks with my children one on one and having quality conversation.
Blocking out a set time to make phone calls to those I care about that don’t live near me.
Writing letters and sending cards to family and friends.
Volunteering more in my children’s classroom.
Periodically placing myself in situations that force me to be around other people (writing a post on my computer at the local coffee shop).
I have found that by intentionally doing these things, I am not nearly the introverted person that I had assumed; it just takes practice doing things that were originally outside of my comfort zone, which leads to meaningful connections with new people and builds the bond of community. There are those of us who will most likely never be the life of the party in a social sense, but as we overcome the more selfish sides of introversion, we can make a significant contribution to our communities, both online and in person.