Thanks, but I have my own drummer

19

Since childhood, I have never understood the people I uncharitably think of as “chameleons.” From the time we were teenagers, I’ve known two people who seemed to completely change themselves several times, based on who they were hanging out with. As teenagers, they started out in a relatively rough crowd in high school, adopting their friends’ way of speaking, dressing, and living totally, as if they had no tastes or thoughts of their own. That lasted through high school, then a few years later they moved to an affluent area, joined a wealthy crowd, and started talking about things like, “He’s from a really good family,” or “Breeding tells.” (What?? Do you even know what you’re saying?? I sure don’t!) The tough redneck stuff had been hard enough to take, but just as I thought that’s who these folks were, then they totally changed everything about themselves, from their opinions to their accents, based on the people around them. I felt abandoned, as if I didn’t know these two at all. Finally we all got into our 30s and 40s, and they settled into the suburbs. Now their emphasis was more on appearances, for the neighbors and fellow church members. I’m in the suburbs too and enjoy the quiet and privacy, so I don’t feel quite as lost anymore when it comes to these friends since we have similar lifestyles, but I’m still stubbornly independent. I now know that their behavior is due to their personality types, and I also know that my total opposite preference of always being ME, whether I fit in or not, is due to mine.

When I first went to high school, a school that no one else from my elementary school was zoned for, my mom dropped me off each morning around the corner from the school. Each day I’d get out of the car and I’d have to pass by a crowd of kids who were smoking and talking about things totally unknown to my introverted ears. This was the 1970s, so I had even less of a clue then than introverts would now of what was going on with most kids my age. I’d just walk briskly by, my mind thousands of miles away, on a mission to get to that school door. One day my mom told me that after I walked past this group, one boy broke away from the group to bow deeply to my departing back. Apparently the group thought I was a snob! Nope – I’m just me, following my own dreams, my own agenda, and I wouldn’t have dreamed of stopping to talk to that unknown crowd. Nowadays of course I’d probably glance at them and smile briefly at anyone whose eye I caught, but I at the time I was just a kid in a totally strange environment and that crowd was just another unfamiliar obstacle. I didn’t try to fit in, but part of that was because I wasn’t even aware that fitting in was an option.

As I went through high school and college, my surroundings taught me things and changed me a little at a time, sure. But I never “re-invented myself” just to suit those around me. It was more of a learning process and a matter of gravitating toward things and people I actually liked. Even after I got into the work force, I find that I’ve never wanted to be one of the group as far as eating in the break room with the other women or talking on and on about weddings or babies. I like to consider myself a “free agent.” I like to get along with everyone and joke around with everyone here and there, but I’m not going to try to fit into a mold chosen by someone else. That includes using office jargon to sound like an ass, or pretending to have the same hobbies as the boss in order to flatter him. I am me, and I try to make that a nice me, but I am always myself.

Just like anything else, of course, a balance would be ideal! The people I know whom I harshly thought of as “chameleons” actually make more money than I do. When they get to an office environment, they quickly take on the coloring of that office, including the corporate language, “Let me ping Bob… I’ll just reach out to Jerry…we really need a home run…” I really despise all that and am not about to do it myself, but it has its place in helping those folks to assimilate. And for introverts in high school and college, if you’re like me and usually enjoy “marching to your own drummer,” I at least think it’s a great idea to have a look at what the other kids are wearing, saying, and doing. It doesn’t mean you have to change what you’re doing, but sometimes we forget to have a reality check with the rest of the world and end up far down another path, all alone. My youngest son, an extrovert, had to gently tell his older brother what the guys were wearing these days. My older one was glad to have the advice – he had simply never looked at others in much detail! He’s a cool kid being exactly who he is, but he’d like to be wearing clothes that look like 2009, and thanks to a little hint from his brother, he is.

Likewise, although Joe Average often sneers at people who are different, we should stop and think – What if someone had convinced Einstein that it wasn’t cool to like physics? What if Bill Gates had decided to just blend in and get a Joe Average job? (Well, really that would be OK). ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think people are supposed to be unique. We all have our own gifts and interests, and if we’d explore them instead of trying to blend in at all costs we’d most likely be happier and more productive. It’s a shame that a lot of society is suspicious of others if they aren’t average, “normal,” and typical. If all we had in this world was Joe Average fitting in, we’d never have an invention, a medical breakthrough, or anything really interesting to see or do.

I think blending vs. doing your own thing may be a sliding scale where we have a choice on how far in one direction or another we want to go. If we work for someone else, then we have to blend a little in order to work with the others in the culture the boss has chosen. I feel a very strong pull toward doing my own thing though, so I remain independent even when it might slow my career growth a little because I don’t constantly try to hang around with and pursue people who could help me. I do dress in the business casual clothes my company requires and try to keep my hair style and other details current, but I’m not afraid to tell everyone else to go on to lunch without me because I’m working on a geeky project of my own and am so obsessed I don’t want to stop.

What about you? Do you fit in perfectly in your school, office, or social circle, or do you think people consider you, “A little different, but nice..”..? If you’re not trying to blend, do you think the freedom is worth it, or would it be beneficial to try to “act” a bit and take on some protective coloring?

Photo credit: David Boyle

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19 Comments

  1. Hi- I’m new here and wanted to say thank you for sharing your experiences. It’s nice to see someone with a clear voice address the needs of introverts across the spectrum. I, the “dreaded” INTP, have never fit in perfectly in the surroundings I’ve found myself in these last (cough, cough) 30+ years. That doesn’t mean I don’t have friends, though, or had difficulty connecting with certain people. My Facebook page has more than 200 “friends,” people who retain some pleasant memory of me from some situation we found ourselves in, or they worked with me. Others (like some high-school classmates) perhaps not so much; presumably they want to maintain contact for status, which I don’t care about, or to see if they’re faring better than me professionally, or socially. Lately, I’ve posted some interesting things about introversion on my page, particularly about setting boundaries, so I imagine that some folks are steering clear of me. Lol!

    The problem has always been people who expect me to be *more* of something when I’m ready to turn it off, or be something that I’m not, or not speak about intellectual subjects when I feel comfortable discussing them — though I can discuss many things and pull jokes from out of nowhere. I’ve learned the hard way to be abrupt with people who try to run roughshod over me, or use me. I’m still working on that. I am a good listener and feel that I should give other humans *some* chances. Perhaps my coping mechanism, however dysfunctional this may sound, has been a reliance on making people laugh first before they can laugh at me, so I can “navigate” my way out of uncomfortable situations (for an introvert). Sometimes that falls flat; sometimes I hit home runs. Even within what I consider my close circle of friends, carefully constructed in college and my early working days, I have always been considered the one with the “intense” personality, yet I’m usually the one folks contact to hash out their problems. Most people who encounter me, even if they are particularly fond of me, would probably say they don’t “know” me. That’s fine, because I’d rather not have to deal with intrusive probing, though some people try anyway. Just leave me alone so I can create something. Sometimes I start asking intrusive questions to “help” them see how it really feels to be interrogated (and I know what that means, since I work in the media business).

    I’m not as keen on “acting” in certain situations like I used to be. Perhaps that’s a function of age (mid-30s) and the feeling that, in some situations, doing so really hasn’t consistently benefitted me professionally or socially. I find now that more people are drawn to me now that I’ve built a kind of psychological moat. In my professional life (which is slightly disconcerting), I want a job where I can make money AND have the freedom to choose my associations. I am sick, and I mean sick, of being around people who are disrespectul, childish, narcissistic, inefficient, unnecesssarily loud, and most of all, threatened by those trying to improve the working environment. I just don’t have the patience anymore, nor can I afford to eat antidepressants like Skittles to make it through each week.

    But back to your first point: “Blending” to me is a function of comfort and desire to learn more about one’s surrounding environment. As an INTP who probably falls closer to the middle of the I/E spectrum, I do so when I feel like it, or feel that I can get something out of it.

    • Hi Neveah, thank you for the kind words! It’s great to have you here. I totally identify with what you said about people wanting you to be *more* of something when you’re ready to turn it off. I’ve been in that situation plenty of times. Each person had their own interests, their own “thing,” and somehow they expected me to be 100% into what they were, always insisting I try more or do more, even when I had had enough and was ready to move on to something else. I wonder if it’s because we’re good listeners, so somehow we give the impression that we’re easily pushed around.

      Thanks for your point about the “blending.” That fits very well and I can see where I’ve blended into some situations that were really right for me and didn’t even realize it. I guess they didn’t seem “fake” since it was me and I knew my interest was sincere.

      Thanks again for your comments, and please keep coming back to Introvert Zone!

  2. “Breeding tells?” That’s a hilarious thing to say. : )

    Generally I feel like a bit (or a lot) of a social outsider no matter where I go, except in my own family. At the last place I worked, there was a definite expectation to do things with the group all the time, including many happy hours, getting lunch together at the food carts, and on one occasion, even a mountain bike race! If I didn’t join in, at least one person would call me on it and pester me until I relented. It was really exhausting.

    Although I’m pretty proud of having done the mountain bike race. : )
    .-= heather´s last blog ..Sweetpea Journey #6: More Than the Sum of Its Parts =-.

    • ๐Ÿ™‚ It really is hilarious – and would be great if the people saying it realized that it tends to make them sound ridiculous.

      That’s such a shame when part of the job becomes spending a lot of our after-hours time with coworkers – not because there’s work to do, but because if we don’t *want* to spend our spare time like that then we are not team players, or we are strange. I have a feeling a lot of people actually would rather do their own thing but are too afraid of how it would look.

      So glad to have you here Heather – thanks for your comment!

  3. I recently found your blog, and in a word, I think it’s awesome. I’ve gone through every single piece and found myself nodding along affirmatively. I was almost laughing at a few of them because some of the points you raise are just *so* true.

    Anyway, love this one especially. “Stubbornly independant” and “different, but nice” is such a perfect succinct way to describe myself (and I suspect many other introverts as well).

    I’m currently taking a graphic arts program, it’s a small group, only about 15 people, and rather unsurprisingly given the field, there are few (if any) of my introverted kind doing it with me. It’s some serious extroverted domination. After the first day barrier came down, they couldn’t stand for the “awkward silence” and it wasn’t even a week before everybody was friends on Facebook and had exchanged phone numbers setting up parties and other such social gatherings. I could only stand by on the sidelines and think, “SERIOUSLY!?”. I’ve put myself on the outside of the group, and I’m perfectly ok with that, I’m sure some of the extroverts are wondering what my “deal” is, but I just laugh.

    It’s about 3 months in now, and it seems no matter what the activity (out to lunch, doing research, etc.) it has to be done in some sort of group, which I have never understood and probably never will. Undoubtedly, some have formed some good relationships with one another over this period, and when I see them laughing and joking with one another, occasionally I wish I could be in that position. But as it stands, I’m right there in that “different, but nice” category. I’m on friendly terms with just about everybody, but all our interactions are just that…nice. Everyone is very formal and cliche when they talk to me, even from the few who I’ve felt a decent approachable vibe from and have tried to build something of a decent relationship with. Can’t say I’m all that surprised at the lack of progress though, since the deep conversation that us introverts enjoy is losing out to discussions about “getting loaded”, planning/discussing the next party, and gossip of some form or another.

    No thanks.

    Keep up the excellent work!

    • Thanks so much for the kind words Andrew! Hahaa….the laughter is laughter of recognition.. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve done the same when I see someone describe how they do things that’s something I thought only I did. It’s amazing how many of us there are who have these same preferences – yet since we don’t tend to impose them on others, we never knew about each other.

      Wow, that group is just big enough that I for one would feel awkward during the time right before class starts, when everyone is gossiping or talking about partying.. and there I’d be, hoping the instructor would start talking soon! I hope you’ll get a chance to work with a nice person one-on-one on a project or something so he/she can get to know you and how smart and fun you really are. That should break the ice for getting to know a few more. But yep, meanwhile “different, but nice” works fine! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks again for your comment!

  4. When I was younger I would try to blend in (thanks peer pressure!), but always felt like an outsider. No one understood me. Now at 26, most people still don’t undertand me, but I realize that I’m happier doing things at my pace and time. I find that I don’t much care about other people’s opinion of me because the only opinion that matters is myself. Also, I can totally relate with you when it comes to progress of my career. I will get to my goal but its slower compared to more agressive people. My theory is let ones work ethics show for itself. As the saying goes “slow and steady wins the race.”

    • Jennie I think that sounds great. It’s cool that as young as you are you already know *who* you are and realize that you’ll do fine in your career – it just won’t be in the flashy, pushy way. You’re the one everyone will want to hire when they run across your name again over the years, because of your work ethic and skills.

  5. I think you really hit on some good points here. I like to think that I’ve always been myself, and pride myself on not living to impress others, almost to a fault. I do see people (the chameleon type) who are willing to suck up to others and fit in, and get some benefit out of it. In the end, though, I think people like us not only wouldn’t be good at doing that, but we’d be less happy, too, even if it got us some material benefits.
    .-= Evan´s last blog ..40Tech: Steps & Missteps in Starting a Blog, Part I =-.

    • Great point Evan! I know I for one would definitely not be good at trying so hard to fit in to that extent; in fact it might even be a little ludicrous. I definitely wouldn’t be as happy as I am now, either.

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  7. While in elementary school, my introversion was a point of ridicule from the majority of my classmates. I had a handful of close friends (3 of which I’m still in contact with today), but barely interacted with anyone outside of that circle. When I would talk to them as myself, the conversations were awkward and stilted because we didn’t actually have anything to talk about.

    After some years of enduring that, I began to adopt that “chameleoning” as a survival mechanism, and wow, is that an incredibly tiring thing to do for me. I spent the end of middle school and pretty much all of high school doing it, and the acquaintances I made while not being myself felt so superficial, and I pretty much don’t talk to any of them. The people to whom I still talk today are the ones I wasn’t putting on a show for, anyway. Once I got to college, I began trying to just be myself again, but, even now, I occasionally find myself chameleoning a bit to get through the work day. At least for me, it’s been an incredibly hard habit to break, but it’s getting there.

    I can’t speak for others, but for me, the whole social chameleon thing is a function of self-confidence. The more ok I feel with myself, the less I need to fake it.

    • DF that really hits home with me. Trying to be “outgoing” or other traits that we believe society expects really drains the batteries fast. I also have a core group of life-long friends with whom I am close and have always been totally myself – and it feels wonderful to be with them. What you said makes total sense – I have a feeling even the extroverts who are extreme chameleons probably don’t have much self confidence – they just want to be what they think others want them to be.

  8. Hi cb, I have always been doing things to the beat of my own drummer as well. What it comes down to for me is that I have just never been able to fit in well with any group. I have been thinking about that a lot recently, in terms of my personality and how I come across to others. I think that aside from being an introvert, I also have a strange sounding voice, it’s monotone for the most part. I don’t know if you know about that MTV animated character Daria from the self titled show “Daria” that used to air in the 90’s, but that is one character whom I related, too, because I’m very much like that. Daria was a high school student who didn’t really fit in with any of the social groups in her high school. The only friends she really had were a fellow student, Jane, and Jane’s older, slacker/musician brother. And the show sort of made it a point of highlighting the different social groups and sort of parodying those groups in order to show how different Daria was. I kind of felt like that was my life in high school.

    That’s pretty much always been my life, always standing a part from everyone else, just observing everything. I think that it has been somewhat to my detriment as well, because I could never just easily fit in and go along with everyone else. Some people, like those two “chamelion” friends of yours are the types who can pretty much blend in with any group. I’ve observed people like that in my own life. At first I kind of felt envious that they were able to blend in and get along with others so well, but I’ve realized that that’s just how some people are, and I’ll never be like that.
    I think the fact that I’m very observant of other people has been somewhat of a curse for me in some ways because that’s another thing that keeps me from being close to a lot of people and being friends with people just so that I can be seen as easy to get along with.

    • Hi JW, yes, some people just don’t do all the noticing, thinking, and reflecting about things; they just jump right in. That’s their own personality preference, but I certainly can’t (and don’t want to) imitate it. I hope people will appreciate you for who you are though, because you bring unique gifts and insights to the table. There has to be a balance in life, instead of everyone being extroverts. The world can’t be talk-talk-talk all the time – it also needs us introverts with our listening, our quiet, and our thinking.

  9. Read the comments and it’s such a relief to know that others experience this. Most of my life, I was usually that quiet/shy girl who would just be alone reading, playing, or just thinking. It just never occurred to me to really care what anyone thought of me or whatever. My mind was just…elsewhere. Sometimes, I’d have people pick on me because they wanted to know my reactions to certain things. Was hurt but took it in stride.

    The only thing that sickens me about this whole “individuality” stuff is the motivation. I always noticed that most do it to make a flippin’ statement to OTHER PEOPLE. A statement to whom and to prove what? That you’re higher than them? That you actually think? What the hell? If you don’t care what others think of you, if you just want to do you, then why are you trying to go out your way to make a statement to them? That’s a waste of time. Just do you and live your life.

    My motivation to do my thing is because I want to do me. I want to be free and give time to myself and people that I don’t have to feign love or care toward. I don’t have time to make everyone happy and I know that I can bust my tail and lose my limbs and they’ll still find something to chastise me on. I’m happy with myself and that in itself shows to those around me. I don’t need to make a statement for that.

    Nice post,
    Miyuki

    • Hi Miyuki, I think you sound like you know yourself and you’re comfortable being you. That’s great! I know what you mean about the in-your-face stuff that’s different just to make a statement. That’s not the true, quirky individual, that’s just an attention seeker! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. it’s tough growing up for alot of kids. Not everyone had it all figured out like lucky ‘ol you. While you might turn your nose up at people like this, perhaps a little compassion and understanding is in order. Now get over here so I can smack you off your high horse.

  11. Amazing. It could have been me writing this blog post. I have strong INFJ tendencies too, and I actually find it a cross between amusing and insulting to be told I ought to be like other people.

    “I didnโ€™t try to fit in, but part of that was because I wasnโ€™t even aware that fitting in was an option.”
    Love this.
    And like you I found that college was a time of finding that there were people like me who deeply appreciated who I was. I never tried to be like other people. I have always been who I am and let similar people gravitate to me.

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