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Rant

I’m here in Legaspi, so far from Makati and from everyone else I know. Got dragged off by my parents.

Looks like we’re not very sure about what date we’ll actually make it back.

I have a hard time dealing with that sort of thing. I would really, really, really like to go home today. In fact, I would really have liked to go home yesterday, or even not gone anywhere at all.

It’s just that I have a hard time dealing with unanticipated plans. This whole thing was an unplanned excursion. We were supposed to attend a wedding in Tagaytay – accepted, planned for, and scheduled around. We were supposed to stay there overnight – again, I had fair warning, so I was prepared for that. Then my crazy dad thought it a good idea to go south to Bicol.

I want to go home. I want to go home.

Now they’re talking of staying until Wednesday.

My family is quick to reassure me that we will find an Internet cafe sometime. As if that’s what’s bugging me. What would I do on the Internet? Check Slashdot? Earn good karma on #linuxhelp?

It’s not about that at all.

I am just not an adventure person. My idea of a good social activity is a quiet conversation over good food, and a nice game afterwards perhaps. I do not like substituting activities for conversation. I do not like going on great adventures.

One of the things I do not feel comfortable with on this trip is that I have no choice but to be here. I have no control. Even if I really wanted to go home – which I do! – I can’t do anything about it. In fact, my family seems to have acquired the idea that this adventure is a Good Thing for me.

I hate it.

I want to go home.

My parents think I have some previous appointments that I want to keep.

I’m used to having plans. I’m used to knowing where I’ll be in the next few days. I’m used to knowing what will happen.

And even if something unexpected happens, I’m used to being able to decide what to do about it. I do not like not having control.

And I just get the feeling that they don’t really care, which makes perfect sense of course because they finally have my two sisters together in one place, and that my parents have taken time out from their ultrabusy schedules. I’d rather that we _didn’t_ have these adventures and that we just regularly got together instead. I’d rather we didn’t have to treat it with such fuss. I’d rather that we didn’t have to make it such a big thing.

Yes, I know my sister will be married next year, and will henceforth probably have little time for our family. How is that any different from now? And yes, we so rarely go out as a family, and that I should value the time we all have together. Why have to guilt-trip me?

I want to be home.

What would I do if I were home, anyway? Nothing much, probably. Play Nethack. Talk to friends. Read the assigned work. Continue with life as usual. It’s not much, I know, but I can choose, and so I am fully present. Here… well… My sisters want to be off surfing and kayaking. My dad is going around taking pictures.

I suppose I resent being uprooted and my plans being changed. I do not like this uncertainty at all. I do not like not knowing where I’ll be the next day, or how long it will be until I get back. I do not like having to buy clothes one day at a time. I do not like it at all.

This is one of the things I will have to learn how to deal with eventually. But it will be hard to counter the effects of an upbringing that has always emphasized planning. You know what it’s like to show talent at an early age. People will have great expectations, and all your life is part of a plan. How unfortunate it would be if you were distracted, if you deviated from the course that had been set! True, the plan may change slightly, but in general you are not supposed to do anything that does not directly contribute to your plan.

Do only that which furthers your goal.

This is something I must change.

Okay, I feel better now.

Missing people

Part of being more social, I guess, is that I begin to miss people. I grow accustomed to their presence. I start looking forward to the next meeting, the next phone call, the next get-together with friends. Anticipation keeps me excited about the weekend.

But it also makes the weekdays harder to bear. Hours pass less quickly. I find myself passing the time with activities that do not engage me fully. Passing the time! How terrible an idea. To live sub-optimally for a number of days, just waiting for a few hours of fun… Whatever happened to the fun I used to find in hacking on some obscure bit of Emacs code or browsing through online documentation? My hours are spoiled by hope.

And when the weekend comes, what then? Hope can so easily turn into expectations, even though I know it is foolish to expect anything. I begin to wonder if things might not be better a different way. I begin to wish I was having a nice, deep conversation – or even a silly one – instead of just passively watching television. I begin to expect, to measure, and once I begin doing so I allow myself to become disappointed.

It does not have to be that way, does it? I should just remind myself that all of this is a nice extra; not essential, not expected, but appreciated whenever it’s there. Still, it is difficult.

True, there is much about this ‘being social’ that I enjoy. I like the conversations and the surprising insights other people have.

I do not need to pretend to be social in order to enjoy my life.

Perhaps I should end the social experiment and return to my normal routines. I miss those Saturdays of learning or coding or simply lazing around; days that were mostly under my control, that did not wait on anyone or anything in order

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.)

The shy connector’s schedule: making time to breathe

hamsterwheelIt starts innocently enough. You’re asked to attend a meeting next Tuesday. You accept. Your coworkers invite you to lunch on Wednesday. You agree. A friend invites you to her birthday party next week. You put it on your calendar. Then another meeting invitation comes, and another, and another. Networking events, coffee breaks, and presentations crowd into your schedule.

If this has ever made you feel suffocated, exhausted, and in dire need of some alone time, you might be an introvert.

I know it’s difficult to say no to opportunities. I’ve accepted too many invitations and tried to attend too many events. Last year’s conference season was particularly stressful. The first week, I was in New York for the Best Practices Conference, giving a presentation on blogging. The second week, I was at the even bigger Technical Leadership Exchange in Florida, giving a presentation on Generation Y. By the time I got to the Web 2.0 Summit (which I was helping organize), I was ready to hide. (And I did, behind the podium.)

As much as I enjoy learning from people in conversations and conferences, needing to be “on” all the time is incredibly draining. I’m learning how to manage my schedule and how to say no.

It’s important to figure out what works for you. For example, I don’t want to be out late two nights in a row. In fact, I’d rather not be out late at all. This means that before I accept an invitation, I look at my schedule for that time and my schedule for the week, making sure that I’m not trying to pack too much in.

In addition to getting better at saying no, I’m also getting better at scheduling time for myself. I’ve blocked off time on my calendar for planning, working on important tasks, and responding to mail. Sometimes people still schedule meetings during those times, but in general, I can be sure that my day won’t be full of conference calls. I sometimes block off time during evenings and weekends for particular projects, too. If I’m going to travel for a workshop or a presentation, I want to have a quiet week before and after the trip, and I plan accordingly.

Does this limit opportunities compared to extroverts who are out there schmoozing? Maybe. But I’ve tried running in extrovert mode for extended periods of time, and I can’t do my best if I feel like I’m coming apart. Besides, the things I do in my quiet time—read, write, reflect—also help me connect with people, although in a more introvert-friendly way. It’s better to work with the grain instead of against it.

It’s important to make time to breathe. If you find yourself running ragged because you feel that you have to say yes to everything, stop and slow down. Schedule introvert dates with yourself. Make time for breaks. Say no. You’ll find that the quiet time you give yourself will make it even easier to connect with people when you do, because you’ll be happier and better rested.

What can you do to free up some time for yourself?

The shy connector’s guide to business travel

As an introvert, I often find business travel quite stressful. I know I should be making better use of the time and money spent getting me there by meeting lots of people while I’m in town, but the workshops and presentations I’m in town for are usually intense, so I don’t want to overcommit. Here are some things that have helped me with business travel:

  1. Fly with just a carry-on. With some clever packing and trimming, you can fit all of your needs for short business trips into a single carry-on piece of luggage (or maybe one piece plus a small bag, which many airlines will allow). Not only will you never have to worry about dealing with airline customer service when it comes to tracking down lost luggage, you’ll usually be able to skip the lines by checking in online and or through a kiosk. This makes it easier to avoid rush hour, too.
  2. Leave space in your schedule. You’ve already invested so much on travel and lodging. You might be tempted to maximize your trip by cramming every break, morning, and evening with meetings. Don’t. Give yourself time to recharge, especially on your first day in and before any important presentations. It’s okay to spend some quiet time in the hotel room or walking around. You can experiment with meeting people, too. Find people on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Doppler and arrange something beforehand, or use Twitter to plan something on the fly. I tend to prefer organizing things on the fly because that lets me adapt to my energy level.
  3. Ping people. You might not have time to meet everyone (see tip #2), but a trip gives you a natural excuse to reach out to people in the area and tell them you were thinking of them. Check your address book and social network, and send off some notes to say hi. If you share a few details about why you’re in town, you might end up making unexpected connections.
  4. Find a local spot if you want to shake up your routine, or keep it consistent if that works for you. Find out what you like. Staying in interchangeable hotels and eating at chain restaurants can make business trips blur into each other, but that can be a good thing. On the other hand, local favourites might lead to new discoveries. Figure out your style, and work with that.
  5. Have little rituals to ease the transition, and enjoy the silence. It might be the way you pack your bags. It might be the kind of book you take on the plane. It might be the long bath you take after you reach your hotel. Enjoy the silence. You’ve got a hotel room to yourself and no chores to do. Relax in the bliss of being alone, and come out of your shell when you’re ready.

What other ways do you make travel easier?

Reflecting on introversion and shyness; help me find better words!

I’m an introvert. It’s not a bad thing. I’m growing into my strengths.

It took me a while to understand that part of me. My parents wanted me to enjoy myself at family reunions. My sisters called me square because I didn’t like hanging out at bars and clubs. Sometimes they let me just read. Other times, I think they wished I was more outgoing. I felt outgoing enough. I liked my own company, and that of a few others. I could spend hours just reading or using the computer. I wasn’t one of the popular kids, but I had a close-knit group of friends I brought together.

People don’t believe I’m an introvert. I speak. I write. I introduce people to others. It seems introverts should be tongue-tied in company, shying away from social contact. I’ve met some like that: hard to get to know, but rewarding when you do.

I’m learning to work with who I am. I plan my schedule so that I don’t overextend myself with events. I enjoy organizing my thoughts and communicating them through presentations, blog posts, and sketches. I get my energy through quiet time.

Thanks to books about introversion, I feel comfortable saying, “Thank you for the invitation to the party, but I’m looking forward to a quiet evening.” No need to pretend I’m over-committed. No excuses about work that needs to be done.

I can fill a conference with energy and hold my own in a room when needed. I even enjoy the buzz. But I know I’m an introvert, so I build quiet time into my schedule and I don’t feel guilty if I need a break.

Shyness is a different matter. There are shy extroverts. Shyness is social anxiety–a feeling of awkwardness, a lack of confidence.

I need a better word. I am not shy. I would just rather jump into the middle of a conversation than start one.

Given a choice between going to a cocktail party with mostly-strangers and hoping for a serendipitous connection, or reflecting on a topic and writing a blog post that can lead to more conversations over time, I’ll pick writing. It gives people reasons to start the conversation with me. It scales, too.

I mix in some randomness so that I’m not constrained by homogeneity. I take up different interests and meet different people. I reach out, read blogs, and leave comments. Yes, sometimes I start the conversation—when I can jump into the middle of it, informed by what people have shared publicly.

I don’t reach out to random people on Facebook and ask them to be my friend. I don’t chat people up at bus stops and in elevators. People who do that make me nervous. Being singled out in an anonymous crowd makes me wonder about people’s intentions. I value the ability to choose when to withdraw and when to engage.

I share, publicly and non-intrusively, so people can choose to reach out to me. We can jump into the middle of a conversation. It’s an odd sort of intimacy. It works.

So what is this? Not shy, not anti-social, not asocial… Pragmatic, because this approach lets me reach far more people? Lazy, because it reduces the work of connection? Respectful, because I give people the choice? None of those quite seem to fit. What word expresses this well?