This article first appeared in the March 2013 issue of Saskatoon Well Being Magazine. If you're in Toon, pick it up today! If you're not, read it here: http://www.saskatoonwellbeing.com/
Has this ever happened to you? You meet the young child of a friend
of yours who walks up to you on the playground and says, “Hi! I’m Leslie
and I like basketball and horses! I live in a blue house and I’m in
grade two and I’m good at drawing and I’m happy!” Don’t you just want to
hug a child like that?
Then, you meet the new boyfriend or girlfriend of a friend of yours
who walks up to you at a party and says, “Hi! I’m Pat and I’m into yoga
and the Riders! I’m in a condo downtown and I work in marketing and I’ve
got a lot on my plate right now, so I’m just trying to, like, find
myself.” Don’t you just want to punch a person like that?
Isn’t it interesting that some of the advice we heap on children is
the same we don’t heed as adults? Clean your plate, for instance. When’s
the last time someone congratulated you for being “a good eater”? We
demand naps of children that we never take ourselves lest we miss a
tweet or a Facebook photo of a friend’s homemade dinner or fingernails.
And we encourage a kind of forced extroversion in children that, while
cute and precocious in a six-year-old, is creepy and off-putting in a
In the above hypothetical scenarios, I adore the happy, bubbly child
and despise the overzealous party guest because they are extroverts and I
am not. I was a kid with a fantastic childhood and I wish, in
retrospect, that I was more relaxed and carefree about it. But rather
than engaging in conversation with my parents’ friends, I was busy
practising Stop, Drop and Roll, and preparing my response for when I was
inevitably offered drugs (“That’s not my scene, fella! Now scram before
I get an adult!”). Now, too, I enjoy a fantastic adulthood, but am far
too plagued by insecurities to engage in conversation with a stranger at
a party. I’m busy practising holding my stomach in and preparing my
strategy should a guest accidentally overdose on drugs (“Hey, let’s cool
it with the drink and smoke! If I get a bowl of regular-strength
Acetaminophen for the table, will everybody have some? Come on, let’s
But there are times I wish I could ignore my introverted tendencies
and let my extroverted impulses rule the day. It is my new Dream.
Dream: Become an extrovert when it counts.
Remember the viral video that launched Susan Boyle? Of course you do,
it was inescapable. A mousy, frumpy woman took the stage of a reality
competition show, awkwardly answered a few questions and then blew the
judges and audience away with a stirring, show-stopping performance of
“I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables. The mass appeal of the video
wasn’t just her voice, which was surely strong, but the idea that a meek
housefrau yielded this kind of power, just by taking a
heretofore-private talent to an extremely public arena. I think even the
most private of introverts fantasizes about a Susan Boyle-moment where a
sudden burst of extroversion changes the world. If she can do it, the
reasoning goes, so too may I.
Plan: Determine the best situations to let my extroverted self shine. Situations like:
The First Date. Luckily, through trickery and dark forces, I’ve
conned my partner into sticking around for a while, but before my main
squeeze came along, I suffered through a bevy of awkward dates, all
thanks to my top-notch mumbled shyness. Once, in a noisy bar, I worked
up the courage to introduce myself to a real looker who misheard “James”
as “Shane.” I wasn’t brave enough to correct something so gorgeous and
so merely scrawled my number on a napkin with the message, “Text me! xo,
Shane.” Never got that text, but might have had a better shot with the
bar star had I said, “Oh, it’s James, actually! And I’m thrilled to meet
you, but I have to confess, bars are loud and sweaty and I don’t care
about this band and I hope you have a job with health/dental benefits
and please don’t smoke pot or write poetry and can we agree that The
Bachelor is a stupid show and I don’t ‘split’ desserts, I get my own.
Are we down to clown?”
The Job Interview.
Wouldn’t it be great to be charming and personable in a job interview
as opposed to evasive and armpit-stained? I get so thrown by having to
talk about myself that I either downplay my accomplishments and
abilities, or lie about them completely. And I always wonder what the
right answers are when they ask you to name your three worst qualities.
I’ve heard variations on, “I just push myself too hard! I’m never
satisfied unless I’m giving a hundred percent!” Honesty can’t be the
best policy here, can it? “Well, I’m super-lazy. I hold my stomach in at
parties. I steal things from work.”
The Injustice. I really want to work on this one, because I see petty
injustice all the time. I’ll be in line at the grocery store and watch
somebody yell at a defenseless cashier over the price of eggs. I’ll see
someone cut in line for a movie, take up two seats on a crowded bus,
refuse to hold the door open for the person behind them. It’s just
obnoxious behaviour that deserves to be called out, but for the amount
of times I see injustice and don’t speak up, it seems I’d rather drown
than rock the boat. And this isn’t as bad as that worst moment…
Have you ever experienced something where your heart stops and your
guts churn and everything in your body, mind and heart is telling you to
do something, say something, but you’re frustratingly, completely
I once saw a man run out of a store, pushing a stroller in front of
him as he ran. I thought at first it was for the child’s benefit, a
speedy ride to make up for a dull shopping trip. Then I thought maybe he
had stolen something from the store and was trying to make a hasty
getaway. Then I saw that he was running towards someone, his wife,
presumably, the mother of this child, and when he caught up to her, he
cuffed her in the back of the head. I froze. I saw a man strike a woman
and was so shocked that I couldn’t move. Man and woman argued loudly, in
front of the child, but moved farther away from me. Finally, I grabbed
my phone and stared at it, dumbly. Was this a 911 call? Or was this not
technically an emergency? What if I didn’t see what I think I saw? If a
man had cuffed another man in the back of the head, or a woman to a
woman, I wouldn’t have thought much of it. But this was domestic abuse.
Wasn’t it? The worst part is that the most probable reason for why I
never made any call was that I was afraid of being noticed myself,
afraid that this violent man would overhear me on the phone and turn his
anger on me. Finally, I grabbed a mall security guard who was walking
outside and said, “That man just cuffed that woman in the back of the
head!” and literally ran out of there. I’m haunted by my cowardice here.
I can make up excuses about being an introvert, but this doesn’t speak
to a personality trait, this speaks to a character flaw.
We try to teach children that they are special and deserve to be
listened to. We want to instil in them a sense of self- confidence that
transcends any circumstances, because we want them to be the generation
that we were not. Maybe, as adults, we let too much slide in favour of
not speaking up, not calling attention to ourselves, not making a fuss.
So let’s not simply speak when we are spoken to; let’s speak up for the
good of ourselves and each other. No excuses. I don’t care that you’ve
got a lot on your plate right now. Clean your plate.