This week I'm happy to have Abbigail Kriebs as a guest on the blog. Her topic of introversion is one that I can definitely relate and hope you can too. Enjoy!
I grew up in a large family. There were six of us kids, and between siblings, half-siblings, and step-siblings, there was (and still is) always a bit of confusion as to how to describe what I grew up with as normal to the outside world. Add in the fact that my dad was self-employed and was gone most of the warm-weather months from sun up to sun down, and life was a bit chaotic. My stepmother was also not an easy person to be around. She went through extreme ups and downs, and looking back, I’m sure there was an undiagnosed mental illness there somewhere. She never responded to something the same way twice, which as a child and teenager was a very hard thing to navigate. She and my dad have since divorced, but not until after I had grown up and moved out. I don’t consider her story mine to share, but it is important to know the situation in which I grew up in order to understand my story.
I grew up timid. My stepmother’s temperament combined with the noise of a big household caused me to retreat at home. I spent most of my time reading in a quiet corner, or drawing pictures. I was always a daydreamer, something the rest of my bold family could not understand. They—including my stepmother—would poke fun at me, saying I was too quiet, teasing me about my books.
I don’t think any of this would have been too damaging, except that I was also—and still am—a people-pleaser. I want to make others happy, at all costs, even to myself. I was a good child: I obeyed all the rules, and even obeyed the ones that didn’t exist but that I knew were probably there, just not formalized. Put a people-pleaser in a situation where the one person they most want to please is absolutely unpleasable, and it becomes a recipe for a not-so-awesome childhood.
I tried my best at home, but where I really excelled was school. Pleasing people there was an easy task: follow the rules, turn in your homework, and test well. Luckily, I was great at all three. And I worked hard. I got straight A’s, was top of my class, won all the student achievement awards. And when I wasn’t at school, I was at work, about 25 hours a week. I won myself a scholarship on out of the house and hustled myself away from a less-than-stellar environment.
I also hustled through college and the early years of marriage. If someone asked me to do something I said “yes,” of course. Being likeable and being good at what I did was the way I had “fixed” my life, and so that was obviously the right way to do everything.
Throughout my early twenties, I burnt myself right on out. I was working and moving and volunteering and trying to build a business and write a book and instead I just built up a lot of anger.
I was busy all the time. I never got a chance to reflect on what had happened before I was already having to prep for the next thing on the agenda. It was exhausting and maddening and no matter how far I worked “ahead” I was always still so far behind and still so unfulfilled.
Around this time, a friend from childhood started sharing about her journey in discovering that she was an introvert. As I read her description of her struggles to learn to balance what she thought she ought to be doing with how she actually felt in her mind, body and soul, a light bulb came on in my head.
This is why I was so emotionally exhausted: I was an introvert and I was not spending any of my time recharging.
The light bulb may have come in my head, but it’s never easy to overhaul your whole life in an instant. It took me several months to wrap up projects that I had been working on, excuse myself from a commitment that had taken over many of my nights and weekends, and start making alone time a priority.
And it has been hard. Two years later, it is still hard.
It is hard for the people-pleasing side of me to say “no” and to turn people down. It is still hard to skip out on social gatherings with friends when I really do want to be there, but also know that if I don’t skip I will be upset with myself in the morning for not taking the time to read a book or even do my laundry.
Often people are mistaken in thinking that introverts are shy—most of us aren’t. In fact, I would wager that many, many people in my community think I am outgoing and decisive and talkative. Many introverts can turn on the charm, speak in front of large groups of people, and even be gregarious and entertaining. But it exhausts them. After a day at work full of meetings in which I don’t get much time to myself, the only thing I want to do is go home and be alone. This was extremely problematic when I was working full time and then volunteering a couple days a week and serving on a committee and also trying to spend time with friends. I never got a moment to spend truly unplugged and doing nothing.
Once I figured out I was introverted and starting intentionally reserving time to sit and read or get outside and go for a hike, I started feeling exponentially better every day of the week. I was allowing myself to process events and sort out how I felt about things before I had to move onto the next event and the next emotionally challenging moment. Scheduling intentional times of rest allowed me to sort out what I truly wanted in life, where I wanted most to spend my time. It led me to blogging and writing and photography, all things that bring me great joy. I finally feel like myself, maybe for the first time in my life.
This doesn’t mean that life is never too busy or that I never get burnt out, but it does mean that I don’t feel that way all the time. I get enough sleep, I spend time with people when I need to, and time with myself when I don’t. I’m still learning to feed my own soul first, and trying hard to keep the people-pleasing tendencies at bay. I don’t have all the answers, but I have more of them each day.
Abbigail Kriebs is the writer, reader, and photographer behind www.InkwellsandImages.com. She works full time at an advertising agency, and is slowly typing away at a novel on the weekends. She doesn’t like to be bored. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram most days, or on the recently-launched Chasing Creative podcast each Monday.