October 23, 2009

Bulk view

Vacations and the introvert

What’s your ideal vacation? Many people would probably describe an idyllic retreat on a pristine beach. Others dream of action-packed adventuring or blitzing through foreign hotspots.

Me, I want a clean, well-lighted place. So I’d better figure out what I want to do with my vacation, or else I won’t get to make space for it.

I don’t think of a vacation as an escape from work. I like my work, and I live an awesome life even during the weekdays. I like investing blocks of time to prepare the foundation for even more awesomeness. I like developing skills. I like catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while. I like reflecting, writing, drawing, expressing. For me, a vacation is a block of unstructured time that I can use to make things happen.

Last August, W- and I took a staycation. We got so much done around the house. We picked up a new hobby (canning), deepened existing interests (sewing and photography), got some exercise (biking), and puttered around for two weeks of weekends. It was absolute bliss.

I guess I’m a strong introvert that way. It’s not about external stimulation from scenic views or activities. I want to explore the inner landscapes of my mind. This may sound self-centered to extroverts, but introverts understand that self-centering – becoming centered – isn’t necessarily bad, is even essential.

The previous paragraph still looks somewhat scandalous to me. I imagine other people’s reactions: “Are you saying that the world isn’t as interesting as your thoughts?”

It is impossible to explain. Yes, I see the value of stepping out of my comfort zone, of exposing myself to new and interesting things. I read with interest my eldest sister’s stories of awe in the African savannah, and the adventures my middle sister takes around the Philippines. But for myself, everyday moments already contain a universe of insights waiting to be unpacked. I don’t need to gaze on the Mona Lisa in the Louvre to feel inspired by the sublime (although I have, thanks to my mom’s love of travel; the painting was smaller than I’d imagined, but beautiful). The wood grain of a table is fascinating enough for me. I think of the complex processes needed to shape it and bring it to our kitchen, and I am amazed. I’d be perfectly happy to stay at home and explore the intricacies of Manila, or even to stay in Toronto and connect with people online, or even just to sit in silence, reflect, write, read, and maybe chat with a few people. Actually, I wouldn’t mind spending the vacation doing voluntourism instead. Building houses, that sort of stuff.

What an unpopular way of thinking! So I adapt, because my sisters chafe at being confined to the city boundaries during a vacation, and my parents insist on the value of shared experiences. (Which is true; we do have some great shared stories, such as the one involving schlepping a box of iced tea around Europe.) It seems to be the only way to convince my father to set aside his work, relax, and take a real break. Easier by far for me to pack a notebook, a pen, and the fortitude to ignore my sisters laughing at me for being such a geek. I do join in activities—I breathed water during our attempts to learn wakeboarding, and I got the hang of bodyboarding—but I don’t have to do everything or be into everything, and I certainly don’t need to be fixed.

The more I understand about myself, the easier it gets. For example, now I understand why that last car trip drove me crazy.

The introverted daughter or son in a family of extraverts, for example, may learn to be more extroverted to keep up with the rest of the family but also must find time alone, perhaps through reading in his or her room. However, car trips or other situations in which s/he can’t physically get away may remain difficult. 

Leslie Sword, The Gifted Introvert

By golly, it really is liberating to give myself permission to be myself. I’m happy that my sister’s excited about the vacation, and I’m okay with tagging along. I’m definitely going to geek out when I’m there, though, and my sister is not to drag me into activities or spike my orange juice.

What are the ingredients of a perfect vacation for me?

  • Time to meet up with family and friends. After all, that’s why I’m going halfway around the world, despite airfare and travel time.
  • Enough alone time, too. I realized that this had gotten on my nerves a few vacations ago, when I was getting stressed out over the fact that I didn’t have as much myself-time as I used to, and people expected real-time interaction all the time when I’d gotten used to being able to reflect on and get back to people about deeper questions.
  • Skill development. I want to get better at writing, sketching, sewing, taking pictures, and cooking.
  • Choice. I want to be able to spend time on the things I want to spend time on, and get out of the things I don’t want to spend time on.

I think we can make this trip work out, and maybe we’ll get the hang of the alone/shared-time dynamic too.

Sharing this here because I think other introverts struggle with this too, and I’d love to hear what you think and how you deal with vacations. My mom once asked why I blog about family things. People say it takes a village to raise a child. Y’all are my village, and I’ll take all the help I can get when it comes to figuring things out. And who knows, maybe sharing these thoughts will help someone else down the road…

So… Introverted? How do you deal with vacations?

(See my comment below for additional reflections.)