“Aw, do I hafta?” You might hear me saying that to myself right before a friend’s wedding or a business dinner. I’m pretty strongly introverted, and although I love my friends and family and want to have great working relationships, I’d happily skip a lot of social events to which I’m invited. My idea of a fun night out is dinner or a movie with one or two friends, and I’m just as happy if a week or more goes by before I do it again. So shouldn’t we just say no to almost all office lunches, parties, and reunions unless we really want to go at the moment? I think we get the best of all worlds if we select some things that we know we would benefit by attending, and go to them.
Picking important events to go to will help relationships in life and at work.
One reason I consciously decide to go to some events even when a good book sounds appealing is that I believe the only way I am going to reach my goals or have the quality of life I want in the areas of career, friends, and family, is to do things that are a little bit outside my comfort zone once in a while, attending events when I would rather just stay home and “veg.”
In the case of the office events, it really is important to develop good relationships with coworkers and others with whom we hope to work, and going to these events shows our interest in doing that. We can always leave early! I don’t go out to lunch daily with the guys I work with, but I do it on occasion, and when someone from another department reaches out to me I definitely make the effort. We may have the best credentials and skills in the world, but if we don’t interact with others, they may never know about us or think of us when opportunities come up. Human beings are the ones who are making the decisions, and they aren’t just looking at resumes.
In the case of family and friends, of course we want to see them, but we may not like the sort of events they are holding or we may just want to go home after work or stay home on the weekend. I still go to many of these things, because
1. I want to have strong relationships with family and friends throughout my life. It is a non-financial part of my “retirement plan.”
2. Although no one may appreciate how much effort your attendance is taking, an absence sometimes looks like a rejection to your host. It’s like how we don’t notice if the power is on or the network is working, but if either of those fails, it’s a big deal! So I’ll usually go to a wedding or party, but I just make sure to greet my hosts and slip away when I want or need to later.
The more I stay home, the more I want to stay home.
I love staying home. I love my home, I love the quiet when I want quiet, and I love just doing whatever I want. But the more I avoid social events which would “waste my time,” the harder it is to make myself go to them even when I know I would benefit from them in some way. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting “spoiled,” like we all do when we have a long weekend. In my case it feels analogous to how a muscle loses strength when you don’t work out for a few weeks. Socializing and talking to others is not my strongest skill, and apparently I lose that strength quickly when I don’t exercise it. When I don’t practice talking to people and expressing myself verbally, I am noticeably less able to do it well. I’m sure extroverts probably don’t have to “practice” talking to people and interacting with them, but I see that when I get out of practice, my skills diminish.
So when do I get to stay home?
I believe the answer to whether to go to everything vs. stay home from everything lies somewhere in the middle. There’s a balance to be struck somewhere, a balance that will give us the peace and renewal we need while helping us to show our value in the workplace and maintain our good relationships with others we care about. I think we all know our limits, and I have a lot less “people-energy” than most people I know. If we’re having an all-day meeting, some people just love to go out to lunch as a group during the middle of that sort of day. For me, if I can create an excuse to escape and eat at my desk or run out alone, it is just the refreshing break I need to get through the rest of the meeting. Likewise, I may enjoy going out with a friend one evening. But I would not plan things with friends several nights in a row. I really like my nights to just relax, especially after being with others at work all day. I also go to events which seem reasonable to me because it is like “money in the bank” as far as goodwill with family and coworkers when there’s something you just can’t stand the thought of doing. Yes I’ll come to your birthday dinner. Yes I’ll be at that office lunch. Team building exercises in the Poconos? Um,… no thanks! 🙂
Sure we are having to stretch our usual limits a bit when we go to events and socialize with others, but extroverts have to get out of their own comfort zones anytime they force themselves to sit alone and study or to keep quiet while the big boss is talking. There are times we all benefit by expending some effort to do things in a way that don’t come totally natural to us.
I’d love to hear about how you decide when to let yourself relax alone and when you may make the effort to do things you may not immediately feel like doing!
Photo credit: emdot