“Did I hold you over?” my instructor asked as I scurried to the front of the dojang after a late night class. I usually walk fast because I have short legs and lots of places to go, but I also had a few troubling things on my mind, and I wanted to get home so I could stew and sulk in peace.
“No, why do you ask?” I replied. I didn’t tell him that I was worrying about a conversation with a recently resurrected ghost from my past.
“Well,” he continued as he straightened chairs, “I see you rushing out most nights, and you don’t talk to anyone. Sometimes it comes across as stand-offish.” He said it in a matter-of-fact way rather than acting offended or accusatory the way others have when they’ve addressed my quiet nature. (I still don’t understand why people take it so personally that I’m not walking around with a big dumb grin on my face 24/7. Pretty girls don’t owe y’all smiles all the time.)
I was crestfallen but not surprised. I’ve always had a quiet, serious expression and am hesitant to enter conversations. Some would say I have Resting Bitch Face. I just call it my Blank Introvert face. Arched eyebrows and slightly slanted eyes don’t help my cause. Some people have wondered if I’m about to cry, whether I’m angry, or they just assume I’m a “snob.” Those assumptions have all been true at one time or another, but for the most part I’m just in my own little world and am not concerned with what’s going on around me.
I actually love people and am very nurturing and caring, but some days I just…I just can’t. I’ve chosen to live my personal life in an isolated way, so it’s a bit jarring when other people seem to want me to interact with them. Maybe it’s some kind of anxiety brewing or maybe I just don’t need the level of interaction that others do. Sometimes I feel like I have to “fake it” as a normally functioning human to function in our society. I’ve forced myself to smile at babies when I’d rather ignore them. I joke around with people in line at the grocery store, but only if they initiate the exchange. I’ve become adept at small talk in social or work situations, but inwardly I feel exhausted and disgusted with myself for having to put on a mask. I’m always polite. I’m just not always engaging.
And then my yoga teacher offered us an intention for the evening that seemed fitting: coachability. Being coachable is having the ability (and willingness) to accept feedback and try something new or make a change. I had always brushed off suggestions from people to be more personable (or as my extraverted boss would say, “build more relationships”) because I figured they were just more sensitive to whether people paid attention to them or not. I put up my tough girl walls and claim I don’t need or want people in my life. The thought of planning an outing with friends, or…ugh, following through on a commitment to someone makes me want to double-lock my door and bury myself in my books. I had received some very valuable feedback from my taekwondo instructor. It was up to me whether I was going to accept it and use it or not.
Perhaps my reluctance to get involved is not only hurting people who care about me, but it’s hindering my growth as well. A former partner claimed we only grow in relationships. While I don’t fully agree with that since much of my profound growth has happened during periods of solitude and reflection I do see his point. I can become so isolated that my perceptions become skewed and I lose my ability to relate to the world around me.
Back to the dojang…I care very much for the people there. My instructors and classmates are right up there with family and close friends. I’m actually more outgoing in the dojang than I am in other situations because I am doing something I love and am so excited to be around other people with the same interest. During sparring rounds I’m a little Mother Hen, flapping around the kids and clucking words of encouragement. I just seem to shut down once class is over.
It does matter to me how I come across to my instructors and classmates, and I know there’s the expectation that I’ll play a bigger role and be even more involved than I already am once I become a black belt. Being an “introvert” isn’t a free pass to ignore everyone, especially people I actually like. So I tried to be a little more social and chatty after the next few classes, and it wasn’t that bad! Maybe one of these days it will feel more natural. Perhaps I could pull this human being thing off after all.