Introverted in Indy

11 08 2014

One year ago this month, I kissed my wife goodbye, packed up my car, and drove to a strange city to start a new job in sustainability. The introvert in me cringed at the thought of having to leave behind my rich tapestry of friends back in Michigan. I had found a community that, for the first time in my life, really felt like “home.” Ypsilanti was so good to me, that I was terrified to leave.

 

Unfortunately, I had no choice. My job was miserable. I was miserable. I came home each day exhausted from the toxic environment and the anxiety-inducing daily commute to Detroit and back on I-94. I knew that I could not stay at that job without becoming a withered shell of myself, no matter how much of a sanctuary my home and community created for me. Work is such a huge part of our lives, that I knew enough to prioritize finding a better fit. I just did not expect to find that fit in Indiana.

 

After being selected as a finalist for several great jobs located closer to home, but not getting the position, I expanded my search. I was very strict about what type of job I would take. If it meant relocating, I would only consider it for a dream job that I would be passionate about. Life is too short for a bad fit. Then I was approached for this sustainability position with Purdue.

 

10492426_677134702369157_7868290351175616890_nBefore I even agreed to come down for my final interview, I did my homework. I checked the stats on Indianapolis, searched for quality of life indicators that are important to me, and, well, I was impressed. In fact, on a number of aspects, Indy compared well to Austin, another favorite city of mine. The only thing I did not expect, was that when I drove down to interview and spend the weekend experiencing the city, it felt way further south than Indiana.

 

As Bethany & I walked the streets of downtown Indy, I heard southern twangs- some subtle, some strong- reminiscent of my childhood in Durant, Oklahoma. People here carried themselves with that same southern hospitality. Perfect strangers were polite! They held doors, smiled as we passed, and struck up casual conversations. When they learned we were from Michigan, folks leaped at the chance to tell us all the great things about their city, and why we should move here. In fact, one of our dear friends, Cindy, met us that very first Friday night as we were sampling wine in a cellar below a liquor store just three blocks from her town home. Most importantly, we walked holding hands, being ourselves, and were encountered with nothing but love from this city. So, I took the job.

 

Those first 3 months of living here alone were hard. I spent a lot of time driving back to Michigan on weekends. I was overwhelmed learning a new state, new job, house hunting, and trying to make new friends. I pushed myself- hard- to get out and meet people. I stretched my limits beyond what 23-year-old-introvert-me could have ever imagined.

 

10390266_797115186967272_2213055492363398838_nI became engaged in the fight for equal marriage in Indiana. I joined every relevant sustainability group I could find. I joined Meetup, and forced myself to go out by myself to strike up conversations with strangers who shared interests. I walked the streets of Fountain Square every night after work, observing my new community, and stopping to introduce myself to neighbors. People were really nice once I explained that I was new and just moved here!

 

1013708_589810657768229_313667675_nHere’s a perfect example of what it’s like as a natural introvert. One day, there was a big rally after work to celebrate a marriage equality victory and grow support. It was cold, and dark, and I wanted to just go home, but I didn’t. I made myself go downtown. I stood in a large crowd, filled with groups of friends and happy couples, but I was painfully alone. I had no one to share with, and could not find anyone to talk to easily. I wanted to hide in the corner. After the rally, people were supposedly gathering at the local gay bar, Metro. I texted Bethany and debated going. She urged me to celebrate on my own. I wished she was there with me. After sitting in my car for 10 minutes, I finally worked up the courage to go to a bar alone. It was practically empty. Instead of turning around and leaving, I walked up to the bar, and fumbled for an excuse to say something to the happy couple next to me. The victory was sweet, but my fear was bitter. Not only did I survive, but I actually had a very nice conversation with the folks next to me. It’s just overcoming that first hurdle and the lump in my throat that never goes away as an introvert.

 

970541_538055309610431_930777581_nThis does not come easy or natural to me. I work very hard to make friends and acquaintances. I come home from work and all I want to do is work in my garden, or curl up with the pets and work on my art or writing while listening to music. Instead, I push myself to go out to numerous events, and later return exhausted and drained. This is the definition of an introvert, in my book. Being around lots of people is EXHAUSTING for me, but for Bethany it is ENTHRALLING! It was a relief, when Bethany would come to visit me. We would go out at restaurants and she couldn’t resist telling someone she liked their necklace, and then asked if they lived nearby, and then explained that we are new to the area. She leaves with a few new friends every single time we go out! She makes it looks SO easy. That’s part of why I love her so much, and why we balance each other out.

 

I’ve worked hard over the past 10 years to learn how to make small talk without seeming awkward. I remember being annoyed at the meaningless drivel that is ‘small talk.’ “Get to the point!” I would think. I didn’t want to invest my time and energy in a conversation that did not result in something. As I began working, I realized that this was impacting my professional networking. All the successful people around me were loquacious, charming, and funny. And thus began my mission to become extrovert-esque.

 

It’s interesting to realize, now that I’ve been here one year, that most of my new Indiana friends think I’m an extrovert. They never knew me before, and all they really see of me is when I am ‘on.’  If I am an introvert, why am I so outgoing, and cheerful, and why do I pull other introverts out on the dance floor? That’s easy for me to answer… despite the hard work, it pays off! I have FUN when I pretend I’m an extrovert.

I live more.

I smile more.

I laugh more.

I dance more!1554378_695642937185000_99580933321624744_n

I’m more youthful, and active.

I no longer worry about what other people will think of me, because, I learned this amazing secret: If you live life with a smile, your joy shines through, and nothing else matters.

 

I used to be terrified of dancing in public. I was horrified that others would be looking at me, and judging me. In grad school, I was blessed to meet my dear friend, Raina. She danced without a care, flailing about with impossibly silly gestures, and having a blast! Only then, one the dance floor in Austin with her, did I finally feel safe enough to get out there and dance, knowing that, surely, SHE was the one people would be distracted by, and I could dance under the radar. Now, I make myself the center of attention to make other people feel more comfortable. That is a gift that others gave to me in my introverted 20s, and now I want to share that gift with others.

 

I have a perfect extroverted role model who now lives with me again in this new city we call home. Bethany impresses me constantly with her lack of hesitation to reach out and be vulnerable. I, too, have learned to take social risks, and I am rich in social dividends.


291833_388583231224307_1058986565_nSo, yes, I am an introvert. If you give me a choice between going out to a party or inviting a couple of friends over for a glass of wine and a game of Carcassonne, I’ll pick my home 9 times out of 10. Just because I get exhausted when I’m too social, doesn’t mean I don’t also love it. It just means that I need to have more balance and moderation than an extrovert. Right now, in this new place, I’m really enjoying the balance.

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