I’m an introvert. I don’t like the experience of meeting new people. It’s exhausting. I hate starting conversations, I absolutely hate small talk, I’m really judgmental (I was born that way), I have resting bitch face and, probably the biggest problem of all, I spend a lot of time worrying about what other people think of me.
All of this takes a lot of energy and can lead to unnecessary feelings of anxiety when I’m in unknown situations. Especially on things like group tours (See header photo. I still don’t understand why people stick their arms out in photos but apparently it’s to make it look like you’re having more fun?) or when you’re in a hostel where people expect you to socialise. I can work myself up into a right state. It’s important to remember that sometimes feeling anxious or worried or panicky isn’t the same as having a mental illness. I’m just an introvert.
Also, don’t assume that I hate people because I’m an introvert. I know it can come across that way but, in fact, I really enjoy being around people. I’m just a bit picky about which people, and it’s mainly the initial bit of networking that causes me issues. Small talk, to me, seems really fake and I can’t deal with fake. There are a lot of people out there who are only interested in talking about themselves, and they are the people I don’t want to have conversations with. (Yeah I know, hypocrite much – the whole blog is about myself)
None of this is new knowledge to me. I’m not suddenly ‘woke’ about my own feelings because I’m experiencing new things around the world. I’m 31 years old, I’ve had plenty of time to decipher all of that. In fact, I’ve had a personal development objective at work for the last two years to improve my networking skills and put mechanisms in place to counteract my introvertedness.
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before travelling that it would just be a whole long string of meeting person after person. It’s social networking overload with nowhere to hide. And yet here I am, seven months in, and I think I’ve actually made some new friends without embarrassing myself too much or running off as soon as they say hi!
What do you mean?! You can be an introvert and actually enjoy meeting people while you travel?! I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘enjoy’ but I certainly hate it a lot less.
Don’t get me wrong, I still get tired from it all but I seem to have accidentally found some ways to cope with the entire lack of personal space while staying in hostels, and the irrational angst, allowing myself to rejuvenate and continue the barrage of new conversations.
Solution: creating physical space
I get severe FOMO. Removing myself completely from a social activity doesn’t usually make me feel any better. I can’t just go and sit on my bed and read etc. However, when I feel it all getting a bit too much, taking a shower gives me the 10/15 minutes I need to rest and restore in a truly private place. This works especially well in one of those social hostels where there isn’t much space to hide for a bit. It also gives me a legit excuse to remove myself from a social situation. I know I don’t need an excuse, but it just makes me feel better and there is nothing wrong with that. A little bit of personal space goes a long way.
Solution: creating mental space
If it’s not possible to take a shower I have learned to sit among it all and edit photos or read, creating my own little bubble. However, when I do this I can get anxious or worry about what people are thinking of me. I start to tell myself that I’m being boring while everyone else is having a laugh. It makes me worry and look less like I’m enjoying what I’m doing, and my resting bitch face goes into overload. When this happens I pause and look around. The chances are that, among the social chaos, someone else is also on a laptop or reading a book. Then I ask myself whether I think they’re boring, and of course I don’t, so that resets my mind and I carry on with another chapter of the book. When I feel like I’m a bit happier I rejoin the conversations, or card games, or beer pong, or whatever is happening at that time.
Prevention: be picky and create the space
I don’t put pressure on myself to start new conversations or meet new people. This can be difficult when it seems like everyone around you is having a great time. The trick is being OK with that. Social networking isn’t about opportunity like it is in business, so I don’t have any pressure to speak to people. If I end up forcing conversations I get tired from it and don’t really enjoy it. There are plenty of friendly extroverts out there who have started conversations with me. I tend to get on with them better and easier anyway.
It can also be a bit harder being in a couple because if people see you together they assume that you don’t want to speak to them. To alleviate that slightly I have started work on my resting bitch face by smiling at people more. I also encourage Alex to go off and meet people on his own (he is the opposite to me, he’s an extrovert so he gets all his energy from meeting people). This either leads to me being brought into the conversation or gives people an opportunity to speak to me alone, which is less intimidating than approaching a couple.
I know all of this stuff seems really simple, but often it is the simplest solutions that elude us for the longest time. I have been talking about networking for so long (at work and during my MA) that I completely understand the theories around it, which I can put into practice at work, but I’ve never understood how to translate that into the social sphere where I see networking as a much more personal thing.
Everyone has their own approaches and some people are completely different to me. But having written this post I finally understand how I can look after myself in these situations. It feels like a light has been switched on. Seriously, I believe that even the most introverted of introverts can find mechanisms that allow them to (almost) enjoy socialising and therefore get as much as they can out of travelling.