The life I’m currently living – traveling, speaking to groups about life in South Asia, staying in other people’s homes – is not one tailored for an introvert. The quick meet-and-greets, the new set of faces every weekend, the constantly interrupted rhythms of life are starting to get to me.
But what’s bothering me even more is that in order to fulfill the expectations of this role I’m currently living there is a certain, necessary “game face”. The parts of my personality that prefer to duck away from attention, to keep the other person talking so I can just listen, to spend more time in the company of old friends than new acquaintances – are on a long hibernation. I must run counter to these deeply held introvert instincts in order to do the job people expect of me.
Everyone from the introverted pastor who’s expected to be with people all of the time to the introverted executive who has to learn to be more assertive has felt the tension of “tweaking” who they are to fit the role. And while the Western world is by-and-large built to accommodate extroverts – I’d imagine there are situations they don’t feel suited for given their personality traits.
Perhaps it’s because of the regularity with which this is happening as of late, but it’s begun to leave me feeling a bit disingenuous. I’ve shaken so many hands, had so many conversations, laughed at so many corny jokes and told so many of my own. I count every awkward break in the flow of small talk (as I try to think of what to ask next) at the lunch table like some people count failures. People tell me I’m so friendly they don’t believe I’m an introvert and I don’t tell them how excited I am for the solitary drive home rocking out to Jai Ho (because it’s a pretty fabulous song).
Granted, I’m not lying by exaggerating the outgoing side of me and boxing up the introverted side. But in answer to the classic test question for integrity – “Are you the same person in private you are in public?” – my answer must be no. In private or with good friends, I’m reserved, quiet, and quite happy to have someone else take the initiative. In public, I’m outgoing, friendly, and initiative-taking. I can raise my voice to take control of a group, but I much prefer listening quietly to a single friend over a cup of coffee. The person I see on the weekends is not the same person hanging out during the week.
Of course there are similarities between the weekend person and the weekday person who both wear my clothes. Perhaps I need to concentrate on qualities that can remain the same in both contexts – willingness to take a backseat, thoughtfulness, joy in discovering another person or context, preferring to ask questions – and not worry so much about how they’re being expressed. Perhaps I need more grace for the messiness of my own humanity and acknowledge that there are many sides to all of us. Points where we alternatively express or inhibit one side of our personality. Places where we tweak ourselves to fit a mold.
How do you define integrity? Am I the only one out there who feels like who they are isn’t quite suited for the job or role they’re required to fill? How do you bring the disparate pieces of your personality together?