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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 2, Issue 1, 01/10/08

Introvertly Happy

Last night I had a great time at a birthday party, but not the way I was expecting.

It was a small gathering the "birthday girl" (turning 55) and five of her woman friends. We sat in front of the fireplace and ate soup and bread and birthday cupcakes and chatted about nothing in particular.

The "birthday girl" has old friendships with everyone in the group but the six of us had never spent time together. I knew it was going to be a small gathering and mainly I didn't know who was coming.

This was a party my introvert self could look forward to (and I did.) Only a few people, a cozy fire on a winter's night, good food (the birthday girl is a great cook) and the possibility of some real conversation.

Here's what I think I was expecting (besides good fire, good food). I think I had it in my head that because it wasn't 10 or 15 or 25 people, I'd find myself at ease in this more intimate group and get immersed in an in-depth conversation with some interesting women.

What actually happened is I quickly remembered that what I like best is having a great conversation with one person a group of six is no small thing! (The generalization about introverts preferring one to one interaction isn't exaggerating.)

But what happened after I got clear about that is what I truly wasn't expecting: I had a great time immersed in small talk!

As I settled myself in really close to the fire I began sizing us up. There was one other self-identified introvert and one extrovert. I don't know how the other three identify but my hunch is one introvert, two extroverts. That would make an even balance - half introverts, half extroverts.

Now I may have had some help from being so close to the fire it was very relaxing. (And if I did, thank you, fire :-)) What I noticed is that once I realized the in-depth conversation (with one person) wasn't going to happen, I went with the flow and I liked it.

Something I learned is that "small talk" isn't synonymous with superficial. The conversation moved from one thing to the next - little reports about people's lives, a question here and there, comments about the food, laughing, periodic interruptions to pet the two roaming chocolate labs, a short discussion about a book.

At first I tried to figure out how to be part of this little group and how to be in the conversation. Maybe it was the fire, maybe I was tired, but I gave up soon and just went with it.

The extroverts were being extroverts, setting a lively (but not speedy) pace. The other introverts seemed comfortable being themselves, both listening and talking. As for me, I discovered a way to be with myself and with the group at the same time that was surprisingly pleasurable.

For starters, once I gave in, I realized this party was doing fine with or without my participation the pressure was off. I was free to do what I felt like.

Mostly what I felt like was watching and listening. Five beautiful people were being relaxed and natural and having a good time and I got to be in their presence.

A topic would come up that I could add a story to, but the pace was faster than mine, so mostly I'd enjoy my story silently it was part of the conversation, just not spoken. Same with opinions I loved hearing what people said about the book and I added a comment or two but mainly I enjoyed my own perspective privately and didn't have to generate much energy to keep up with the pack.

And when I got tired, I quietly excused myself and went home. They paused to send me off warmly and got right back to business.

The moral of this story, for me? Don't underestimate the potential to be "introvertly" happy in any situation. (And don't cheat yourself on time in front of the fireplace.)

End of food for thought on to a practical idea:

A Practical Idea for Introverts and Extroverts

The next time you're in a group setting (of any size), remind yourself that who you are speaks louder than whatever might come out of your mouth at a given moment. Then relax and enjoy yourself.

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