Yesterday I conducted a workshop for a tough crowd of nurses despite having a voice weakened by allergies and an absent second speaker, and then I went to taekwondo class where I jumped around and yelled with my classmates and worked on my sad-looking flying side and turning back side kicks. I didn’t get nervous at all. If you had told me twenty or even ten years ago that that’s how I would be spending my Monday I would have run away screaming.
I never talked to strangers…or anyone for that matter. My dad’s best friend told me that when I was little I would throw my forearm over my eyes whenever he (or any other adult) tried to talk to me. Once I was in a store investigating a little toy when a kind woman came up behind me to show me how it worked. Out of sheer shyness and mortification of being spoken to I turned on my heel and walked away, leaving my frustrated mother to apologize for my rudeness. Sometimes at school my voice would sound clogged and hoarse the first time I spoke in class since I had used it so little that day, leaving me feeling more self-conscious and less motivated to talk at all.
I never had a really bad experience with an adult (or another child for that matter) – I just didn’t like interacting with people. I turned down invitations to hang out at friends’ houses after school when I’d reached my comfort quota of people time. No one understood that I needed my down time to read and draw by myself. Then I was good to play again until another self-imposed exile.
To this day I don’t talk to little kids I see out in public because I remember how much I hated strange adults invading my space and acting like they could get all up in my grill. Now I only have to contend with the occasional insecure redneck or patronizing old gentleman of the Greatest Generation barking at me to “smile!” as if I owe them something. Sometimes I want to go all Russell Crowe in “Gladiator,” throw out my hands and scream, “Are you not enteraaaaained?!?”
I still prefer time alone with my thoughts and interests over socializing. I’m curious and fascinated by life; I just don’t need a gaggle of margarita-sipping cronies to click and cluck behind me while I explore. It took me a good two years to really gel with my team mates at work. We work very well together, but I couldn’t be in meetings with them or “on” with clients every single day. Other than taekwondo all the athletic activities I do are completely solo even when I’m surrounded by others doing exactly the same thing. I would much rather spend a silent hour gliding back and forth through the water than cutting up with buddies on the basketball court. I still need to take breathers when I’ve been in an over-stimulated environment with a lot of people and noise. I just want to explore and enjoy my world on my own terms. Go away before I hold your head under water.
If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m an introvert. Now, does that mean I’m anti-social or pass out at the thought of speaking in public? No, I’m not. I happen to like people, and part of my job includes speaking in public, which I’m quite comfortable doing. For those of you playing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator game at home, my personality type is INJF. No, I did not get that off some random internet site that promised to match up my type to a Star Wars character. I’ve taken the real MBTI twice, and I’m certified to administer and interpret the assessment….so to get really picky and technical I should say I “prefer” introversion. Preferring introversion or an extraversion (yes, that’s how it’s really spelled) refers to how you are energized, not whether you’re the stereotypical quiet wallflower or lampshade-wearing center of attention. People, noise, crowded spaces, congested streets—all those things may be stimulating and exciting to another person, but they drain the heck out of me. Huge department stores with too many choices and swarming shoppers have nearly brought me to tears.
So how the hell did I end up in a job and a hobby that both require me to interact with people and perform in front of a crowd?
I like learning and in turn like helping other people learn. That’s the core of it. My job centers around helping other people learn and improve their performance. My number one hobby, taekwondo, centers around not only my own learning and improvement but helping others learn and improve too. This, for the MBTI followers, is where my F comes in, the extraverted feeling portion of my personality. For those of you who are sitting here saying “MBTwhaaaaat?” that means I care deeply about and connect to the well-being of others, and I seek out ways to encourage it. For the MBTI techies, yes, “feeling” actually indicates my decision-making preference, and more often than not, my personal values and concern for other people’s feelings and well-being play into my choices. In fact, my MBTI Step II report (that’s the one that goes into much more detail than just the four main letters) states that as an INFJ I am “most interested in helping people see new possibilities. [I] like others to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and often work one-on-one to help individuals do so.” Yup, that’s right.
A participant in a workshop I facilitated told me I had a very “nurturing” style. That’s the mode I go into when I do my day job or coach other taekwondo students. It’s not about me and getting praise for my vast knowledge; it’s about bringing out the best in them and seeing those lightbulbs go off over their heads. The most joyous moment in workshops or meetings I’ve facilitated is seeing participants discuss topics with each other, generate their own ideas, and get excited about their own work. Last night in TKD I quietly pulled a promising young student aside and gave him some feedback on his roundhouse kick. That was just as fulfilling as doing the kick myself. Coaching, facilitating, and even consulting with clients every day would kill me, but I sure would miss it if I were stuck in an office by myself all day.
As for the performing part—the day job really is about being a channel for other people’s learning, although I am very proud of the workshops, meetings, and learning tools I’ve created from scratch. There’s a little more ego and striving for perfection in taekwondo. I did theater in high school and minored in dance in college so I’m not terrified of being “on stage” or stared at by strangers. I lose myself when I am facilitating by day or kickin’ it with my peeps (pun intended, sorry) by night. I am the most focused and peaceful in those moments, even when chaos is swirling around me. I joke to people that I black out during those moments, but it’s partially true. My spazzy mind completely shuts down and who I really am at my core takes over. I can express myself in these moments when it can otherwise be very difficult.
Both the athleticism and beauty of taekwondo pull me out of my isolated shell. I love the way it feels to kick and jump and lose myself in forms, and you can’t help but be enthusiastic and let out a yell (or you yell because your instructor gives you the side eye and says you didn’t ki-yahp loudly enough). What a delightful way to slough off everything I’ve been holding in all day in my internal world–yell and hit sh*t! I don’t care what I sound like. I don’t care who sees me. I know I look ridiculous! So does everyone else. I. Don’t. Care. At the end of most classes I am as red as a tomato, mascara is smudged under my crazy bloodshot eyes, my hair is plastered to my head, and my dobok is crumpled against my profusely sweating body. I. Don’t. Care. I was more nervous during the first few months, especially doing things that highlighted my weaknesses, but I soon realized that the dojang was a safe place to experiment, practice, and even fail. Everyone respects and honors each other, and even when we’re throwing kicks at each other’s heads we’re doing it from a place of love. I am doing what I love, and there is no room for any doubts or fears or self-consciousness in that moment.
And then I go home and get the hell away from everybody.