I joined my colleagues last week for a gathering of medical school advisors. The session, led by one of our fellow society advisor faculty, centered around the whole idea of introverts versus extroverts and how we could work to bring out the best in each one.
Well. To be honest, we focused primarily on the introverted side of things. The discussion worked from the premise of the world being an extrovert's world. Those who "go hard or go home" or go, as one of my patients said recently, "balls to the wall" are the ones that get rewarded. Noticed. Promoted. A lively discussion ensued. We explored the book "Quiet" by Susan Cain, which talks all about these concepts and helps devise a diabolical plot for the introverts to take over this world full of blabbermouths.
Okay, maybe that oversimplifies things a bit but my point is that our meeting and that book aimed at highlighting the positives of being more on the introvert side of things than the extrovert end.
I heard some really good points. One was that we should be careful about who we label as an "introvert" and who we label as an "extrovert." Before we dove into all of that, we defined what we even meant by those terms--which was, perhaps, the part I found most intriguing of all.
Okay, so check it. Introverts mostly draw energy from inside, from small and intimate settings, and are often invigorated by solitude. Extroverts are the opposite. Groups of people give them a rush and and they get their jolt from the confluent souls of other human beings. Too much "alone time" stresses them out just as the introvert reaches a point where they must, must, must retreat to hide off in little space of their own.
So that evolved to lots of points being made about how this relates to our students and what we do each day in the hospital. The whole speaking in front of a group on rounds, interacting with patients and the team, and collaborating pieces that serve as these outward measures of "exceptional" versus "just aiight." Hands went up and faculty gave testimonies of how their more introverted advisees overcame those "shortcomings" to push through and succeed. And pretty much, that was the gist of it.
Then one of the senior faculty members said something else that grabbed me. He returned to the original way we defined "introvert" and "extrovert" and then added another point for us to consider:
"Let's not confuse having effective communication skills with being extroverted. Or being shy or in need for better communication skills with being an introvert."
And that isn't an exact quote, but it is somewhat similar to what he said from my recollection.
Now. Let me just put a kickstand on that for a minute. And admittedly, I'm just sort of thinking about all of this this morning and feeling rambly so just bear with me, okay?
Let's not confuse communication skills with being extroverted. . ."
Yes. This right here? All day long, man. That hit home for me, for real. Let me explain why:
I have said it a million times before and any who read this blog by now might gather that I just love people. I do. I love their stories, their journeys, their laughter, their lessons and so much more. And Grady Hospital is so filled to the brim with so many interesting and intriguing human beings that each day that I go to see patients some part of me feels excited. Even on the days that I don't feel like working.
But Grady Hospital is a familiar territory to me. It feels like home when I am there and because of that I am relaxed. And, yes, in environments that aren't virtual unknowns, I think I tend to let down guards and open myself up. No part of me recoils like a rose in darkness but instead bursts toward their light. And, I guess, for any who are with me or around me at Grady, that would deem me an "extrovert." I can see that.
Where do I get my energy? My real true charge? Almost always that comes from after the encounters. My time alone, reflecting on all that I live and see, is what gives me my greatest uploads and reboots. I almost never get enough sleep because, quite honestly, I am up thinking and hungering to write about what is in my head. It's not enough just to chat with Harry over pillow talk about my day or recent events. I need my time alone in my head for an exegesis of what it means and what lessons are nestled inside of it. Sometimes I wait and wait for my house to go to sleep so that I can do this. And I don't feel right until I do.
Here's the other thing that is interesting. I love intimacy. And while I love the BHE, I'm not referring to that "eros" type of intimacy. I'm talking about what happens when two girlfriends chat about life over a full bodied red wine with bare feet folded under their bottoms on couches. I'm speaking of the days that I stop by the offices of my Grady (and also real world) BFFs Stacy H. or Lesley M. just to laugh and listen and share. Boring afternoons with my wing woman Lisa D. or text exchanges with the Profesora in Pittsburgh or hanging out in the living room just talking to Harry. This? This is when I feel the most happy.
That is, in addition to when I'm thinking and writing all alone.
Conversely, any of my close friends would tell you that I don't do so well with too many unfamiliar variables or people thrust at me at once. This is probably the most "non-extroverty" thing about me. It's funny because they all sort of know that I am less comfortable with the dinner for two morphing into "I invited two of my other girlfriends" or even something as simple as a weekend girls' trip that includes some people who (though I'm sure are wonderful women) I don't know.
Crowds I can manage only when a few things are in place. It is my preference to enter them with a few people that I know very well (which makes it feel intimate in the end) or it has to be a crowd that is mostly familiar like Tuskegee University's homecoming for example. Beyond that? I feel quite anxious, actually. And if a very, very social friend wants just to two of us to go to a very, very crowded place--one where I am likely to be left to my own devices with a bunch of quasi-strangers? Any chance of that makes it a no for me. At least, unless I can't help it. But it's crazy because I really do enjoy the energy of a big crowd when I have someone right beside me that I know very, very well or have a history with.
Crazy, I know.
So I thought a lot about all of this and wondered what it meant. I reflected on this idea of communication skills being confused for extroversion or shyness being a placeholder for introversion. I downloaded "Quiet" and learned that I am, at best, an "ambivert." I read it with great interest and, in true Kimberly Manning form, got about 75% through it. I think I got the main points though.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that there is also this notion about how different versions of who we are come out depending upon whether we are stressed or not. So I guess this ambivert is more of an extrovert in relaxed and predictable situations and more of an introvert in opposite environments. Or maybe that's not true at all, right? Like maybe if I get most of my energy from me and my own crazy thoughts and mental iPod that isn't true at all.
Hmmm. I don't know.
Okay, so after all of that discussion with my colleagues (and with myself) I ended up drawing this conclusion about how it relates to my advisees and learners:
It doesn't matter what box you fit in according to some expert. I guess I will just pay attention to you and try to respond in a sensitive way. And try to push you without torturing you. For some folks that requires defining who you are. But for me? Not so much.
I just need some time alone to think about it, that's all.
Honestly? I write this blog to share the human aspects of medicine + teaching + work/life balance with others and myself -- and to honor the public hospital and her patients--but never at the expense of patient privacy or dignity.
Thanks for stopping by! :)
"One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. Everything depends of how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give."
~ James Baldwin (1924 - 1987)
"Do it for the story." ~ Antoinette Nguyen, MD, MPH
Details, names, time frames, etc. are always changed to protect anonymity. This may or may not be an amalgamation of true,quasi-true, or completely fictional events. But the lessons? They are always real and never, ever fictional. Got that?