We introverts know that there’s a tremendous difference in energy expenditure between situations where we’re with strangers and when we’re with people who are in our “inner circle.” Somehow with strangers and acquaintances there is a little tension, even if it’s not especially unpleasant, which can be very distracting and eventually saps our energy. Or if we go somewhere and find ourselves in the middle of a large crowd we may become absolutely desperate to get away. That’s no fun, and it may stop us from doing things we want or need to do. So when I’m doing something that’s important to me and can’t get away from being crowded by others, I’m teaching my body to react almost as if I’m with family and close friends. Sure, it’s just “pretend” and I’m not really “fooled,” but I’m having a lot of success with this technique, salvaging moments when I’d otherwise work myself into a state of being very annoyed and maybe even unable to succeed at what I’m doing.
A few years ago, to fulfill one of my annual goals at work, I signed up several months in advance to take a Microsoft exam. Then I proceeded to bring books and practice questions with me everywhere I went, so that I could study questions and explanations during any spare moment I got. I spent many hours studying for that exam, and when the big day arrived, I knew the material but still was a little nervous. I knew that Microsoft might create scenarios and and word the questions very differently than I was accustomed to in the books and practice materials I’d bought, plus of course most of the questions would require a lot of deep thought. I arrived at the test center a little early and was shown into the testing room. There were three testing stations side by side, each with a PC, divided only by thin dividers extending from the desk surface up a few feet toward the ceiling.
I sat at the station nearest the door and started on the test, trying to calm myself and think clearly, when of all things I heard the door open and another person was shown in to sit at one of the other stations and take the test! When I heard his mouse clicking while he answered the initial survey questions, I thought I was about to be too distracted to get into the deep thought I needed to do the exam. I think the main thing I was “dreading” was if he mumbled to himself or did something else to jar me out of the reasoning I was trying to do. He didn’t do anything wrong; the only one distracting me was myself. How could I take this difficult test with a stranger practically sitting beside me!?
Suddenly I thought about Leigh, a sweet young woman who worked in a cubicle near me at the time. I could always hear Leigh’s mouse clicking during the day, and I found the companionship just right. She’s an introvert too, and so we always enjoyed a little talking during the day and a lot of quiet but friendly work time. So I told myself that’s Leigh on the other side of that wall. That’s just sweet little Leigh. And you know what? My body “believed” me and relaxed. Soon I was taking my exam and didn’t even hear the mouse clicking on the other side of that little divider because it was only my nice gentle coworker, after all. By the way, I passed the exam. 🙂
Just last Friday night I vowed I’d get a good video of my son playing in the halftime show during a high school football game. He’s a senior, and between weather and other things that might crop up in the remaining four games, I found it very important to try to get a good video of him playing his trumpet in the show at this game. He has three solos during the show, and he told me he’d be on the 50 yard line when it came time to step forward and play each solo.
Soon after the first quarter of the game was over, I started making my way down to the fence. No one was standing at the 50 yard line, so I parked myself right there and got my camcorder out of its case, ready to go. I stood there for 10 football minutes, which as we know, is more like at least 20 clock minutes. Then of all things, a woman and three little girls came to stand right beside me, crowding me, and one of the girls was leaning on me! Would they talk during the show? Would someone jostle my arm and ruin my video? Why couldn’t this stupid woman take her kids somewhere else? I’ve been standing here forever! (Yes, I know that’s unreasonable in a public place, but that’s how I felt).
The second quarter was over soon and the band started coming out on the field. I was very tense wishing everyone else at the fence would just GO. AWAY. But then I decided to try my little trick again. The kid leaning on me was just one of my own kids, or maybe my sister’s little girl. No one was trying to be pushy or crowd me out; they were just standing with me and enjoying the show too. As soon as that last thought crossed my mind I relaxed inside. That little girl didn’t jostle me and her mom didn’t even talk while I was trying to make the video. It all came out just fine.
I have a feeling this world is only going to get more crowded, plus of course sometimes the only way to get something you want is to wade on in there with everyone else who wants the same thing. Although I prefer non-crowded places and times, I don’t intend to totally miss out on things because of trying to avoid having others in my space when I don’t want them there. Instead I’m trying to remind myself to relax and tell myself that this is someone I’m comfortable with, someone I can totally relax with (although I’ve never seen them before).
Yesterday my son and I went to a college football game 150 miles from home, including a huge traffic jam waiting to park, a huge crowd inside the place we went for lunch, and of course sitting among tens of thousands of people before getting back into amazing traffic jams to start back home. Since it was a game against a small school, most of the fans were cheering for the same team we were, so I just looked at all those people (and carloads of people) and told myself that they are kindred spirits – and truly enjoyed the whole day even though I was the driver! The human mind has a powerful effect on the body, but of course this is going to take a lot more practice.
My reaction to crowds is still going to be affected by whether or they’re making me late for something or are going to cause a shortage of something I want, but otherwise I intend to stand my ground and even try to enjoy myself when I find the density of humans to be more than what I’d hoped to encounter!
Photo credit: hectorir