I wasn't always afraid to be alone. As an only child, I could play by myself happily for hours. I made up elaborate games, enlisted my stuffed animals and dolls as characters that were as real to me as anything, and got lost in my books.
But at some point, maybe when hormones and peer pressure reached a fever pitch in my life, I began to believe I needed the approval of others more than I needed the quiet calm I felt in solitude. I always had a boyfriend. A best friend. A party to organize. A group project to complete. I gathered others around me as armor; safety in numbers was my survival strategy. I forgot how to be alone and eventually became afraid of it.
I chose a career path in one of the most social professions of all. I filled my professional and social calendar to the brim, until there was never a quiet moment left in my life except when I was sleeping—and I did very little of that.
To those who knew me, I was the ultimate extrovert. The party planner. The event organizer. The publicist who was constantly working on the next big thing. And then I met my match, my highly extroverted husband, and we built a busy life together. Throughout the Three Ms—Marriage, Mortgage, and Motherhood—I kept up my extrovert ways.
But somewhere in between the dinner parties, work conferences, and group camping trips, there was a little girl who longed to go into her room and curl up with a good book. She stole moments of quiet in the bathroom, the car, or a hotel room on a business trip. And she secretly longed for more of those moments.
Instead of being afraid to be alone, I became scared that's how I liked to be.
I pushed my inner calling for quiet away while I prepared for another themed birthday bash. I kept up with the whirlwind I'd created until it all came crashing down. My business. My health. My state of mind. And that's when I knew something had to change.
At this critical juncture in my life, driven into bed by despair, I decided the little girl inside was trying to tell me something important. I wasn't an extrovert, and I couldn't pretend any longer. I was exhausted.
I changed my career path. I handed the social schedule over to my husband to manage and kept the option to opt out. I read more books. I went hiking alone in the forest. I embraced my introvert ways.
And you know what? There was nothing to be afraid of. Those who love me accept me as I am. I don't have to be at every party and function. After I've had time alone to recharge, I'm more fully present when I'm with others and I have more to offer everyone. I now understand that the brains of introverts and extroverts have fundamental differences that simply don't fit into each other's mold. Introverts process information so thoroughly that we are often having complex conversations or running complicated scenarios in our heads.
Whereas extroverts need others to stimulate their thoughts and conversations, introverts are easily overwhelmed by too much external input. We need quiet downtime to reflect, process, and recover. Neither way is right or better; they're just different.
I'm finally accepting myself as I am rather than pushing myself to be how I think I'm supposed to be.
If you think you might also be an introvert who's trying to fit into an extrovert mold, I encourage you to try an experiment.
For 30 days, cancel as many social engagements as you can. Create the opportunity to have quiet time every day.
Focus on the activities you enjoy—whether it's reading, painting, exercising, cooking, writing, gardening, whatever it is—and allow yourself to do more of it alone. See what happens. I predict you'll feel lighter, more relaxed, focused, and energized. This doesn't mean you have to become a hermit! But listen to your brain and body's natural inclinations. When we honor our unique strengths, we can harness our greatest power.