I took one of those personality tests, the kind that promises to provide a “freakishly accurate description of who you are and why you do things the way you do.” After taking the 15-minute quiz, I received the report. It said that, when it comes to interacting with environments, I am 35% introverted. Wait, what?
The public speaking coach? The hostess who has organized and orchestrated epic bacchanals and major corporate events? The one whose first grade teacher admonished as being “too chatty” in class?
That person is…35% introvert?
As I reflect on the last few years, I recognize the clues. My desire for quiet. Silence, even. My exhaustion after a day of standing up in front of an audience. I’ve run my own business for over 20 years, often blissfully working alone in a home office. I don’t understand co-working, where you pay to go somewhere to sit with a bunch of other people wearing headphones to tap away on your computer. When people ask if I get lonely, I don’t really understand the question.
Outside our apartment window, on one of the busiest, tourist-clogged neighborhoods in Lisbon, a relentless cacophony echoes off the buildings. Pub crawlers, tram bells, impatient drivers honking, people laughing at the outdoor cafe downstairs. It alls creates a constant audible assault.
I love living close to restaurants, cafes, public transportation and all the urban conveniences. I walk to the market every day. I walk to my dentist, my hairdresser, the bank, the post office. Being close to a busy metro station and various bus lines allows me to get virtually anywhere in the city quickly and easily. Even better than not having a car is not needing a car. But all this convenience comes at a price: the non-stop clamor that frays my nerves.
Finding a restorative niche
I have been obsessing over “space.” Specifically, a quiet, personal, private, untouched and touchable space. A space of my own, of my own design and for my own purpose. Not just a guest room with a tiny secretary desk that is currently my official office. I dream of “she sheds,” renovated Airstream trailers, and tiny treehouses in the woods. I collect images of private courtyards, desolate beach cottages, and rundown farmhouses in the countryside.
This fantasy space is called a restorative niche. Susan Cain, in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” refers to a restorative niche as “the place you go when you want to return to your true self. It can be a physical place, like the path beside the Richelieu River, or a temporal one, like the quiet breaks you plan between sales calls.”
It is a place where I can reset, restore, renew.
Coming home to myself
I always felt that my comfort with solitude came from being an only child. With a single mom and no siblings, I grew up accustomed to a quiet household. I learned to play on my own, to keep myself amused or distracted while my mom was busy.
I never identified myself as an introvert because being an only child also made me crave the company of others. I was “bubbly, outgoing, chatty” in an effort to be liked and accepted, included and welcomed.
Now there is a flash of recognition of the quiet, soulful part of me. I am recognizing and honoring my inner introvert, and welcoming the 35% of me that sometimes prefers to stay in my own company.
“When you cease to fear your solitude, a new creativity awakens in you. Your forgotten or neglected wealth begins to reveal itself. You come home to yourself and learn to rest within. Thoughts are our inner senses. Infused with silence and solitude, they bring out the mystery of inner landscape.”
John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom