The best thinking has been done in solitude.
— Thomas Alva Edison
I am on vacation this week. The only responsibilities I have are investing and writing posts for the blog. (WHAT, you take a vacation and don’t work??!!!) As part of pampering myself, I’m catching up on Charlie Rose. Five nights a week, Charlie invites someone interesting, or famous, or powerful or sometimes all three at once, to his table and has a conversation with them. The Social Animal by David Brooks had just been published and Brooks was doing his book tour. Hence, he was Charlie’s guest for the hour. (I don’t mean to be overly familiar but I’ve been watching Charlie for sooooo long that I figure I can call him by his first name.)
The Social Animal is fiction, based on research about how we develop and learn to interact with other people. His story is a series of demonstrations of how things work. (To be honest, I haven’t read the book, but that’s what I think Brooks said.) At the very end of the interview, Brooks told Charlie that it’s really important that we be with other people. Married people are happier and people who hang out with other people are happier and… you get the idea.
What About the Introvert?
To be fair to Brooks, his job is all about going into a room, closing the door, doing some research, and writing. Since writing isn’t a group activity, by the time he comes out of his room, he’s probably ready for people. On the other hand, I getting ready to go away from people, to get some alone time. Just as I was getting ready to leave, he was saying that what I was doing, what I desperately needed, was not good for me.
Always, I have been different. One of the things I struggle most with is being an introvert in an extroverted world. It doesn’t help that everybody thinks I’m so cute claiming I’m an introvert. I do a good job of faking being an extrovert. I can be “on” but after a day of being “on,” what I really need is time to be “off.”
My neighbor, who has three girls, is never alone. It’s not that she’s with her kids all the time. It’s that she’s with her kids, and hosting team dinners, and meeting with coaches, and other team mothers, and planning activities, constantly. Clearly, she is invigorated by being with people. I am drained.
That, in a nutshell, is the difference between an extrovert and an introvert. Extroverts are energized by being with people. Introverts are energized by alone time.
Being an introvert can be challenging in our extroverted society. Efforts to set boundaries and take time for ourselves can be misunderstood. For me, what has worked is to simply acknowledge that I need the time alone. Some people accept it and others think I’m strange, but that’s OK. For extroverts, it’s hard to understand why someone would want to be alone.
If you’ve never given this any thought, odds are that you’re an extrovert. You love being with people and you love activity.
I wrote this post to promote understanding. There is a place for all of us if we just show a little acceptance. One of my friends thinks the best thing to do when she feels low is to go to Downtown Disney (think Times Square, when the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve.) For her it is. For me, even when I’m feeling great, Downtown Disney sounds like purgatory on earth. We each bring something different to life. Before, we argued. Now, we accept that for this particular event, find someone else.
There’s no right or wrong way to be. David Brooks is right – we need to connect with one another. David Brooks is also wrong – being alone is healthy in the right proportions for the right reasons. Choosing solitude is healthy. Choosing community is healthy. Each choice in its own time.