Travel Therapy #31
Lessons Learned by an Introvert
At 50 years and 7 months of age, I volunteered myself for a potentially intense 13 day social experiment. I wanted to see what would happen if I, a highly independent introvert, went on a structured hiking tour of the Canadian Rockies with 13 strangers. At the end, I was refilled, drained, and enlightened—my unscientific notes are included in this travel therapy session.
“Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people. We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.” | LAURIE A. HELGOE
Urban Dictionary’s top-rated definition of introvert is:
- Opposite of extrovert. ( 🙄 )
- A person who is energized by spending time alone. Often found in their homes, libraries, quiet parks that not many people know about, or other secluded places, introverts like to think and be alone. Contrary to popular belief, not all introverts are shy. Some may have great social lives and love talking to their friends but just need some time to be alone to “recharge” afterwards. ( 👍🏻 )
In a society geared more toward extroverts, we introverts often get a bad rap, particularly when we’re younger. Growing up is like being stuck on a 15 year tour where you have little free will and, for the majority of every day, you’re forced to be in social situations ranging from uncomfortable to torturous. Even more frustrating is that most of the extroverts you’re subjected to believe themselves to be superior to you.
If you’re a female introvert, words like shy, bitchy, weird, and nutty are often attached to your name either behind or in front of your back. Honestly, in my case, they’re not too far off. At this point in my life, I have purged (most of) the defensiveness and fully embrace the good and quirky aspects of my introverted empathic and sensitive self. Although I am far from shy, my inner bitch emerges at the precise speed at which my bucket empties. I used to vehemently attempt to prove my normality to anyone who doubted it—including my current boyfriend who proclaimed me “nutty” before we even met on our first date. Now, I give him credit for his astute diagnosis.
So, onto the experiment…
My original plan was to max myself by opting out of solo tent option. By Day 5, if I could have grabbed my own shoulders, I would have shaken them while posing the question “What the f*ck were you thinking???”. I was absolutely giddy with gratitude every time I zipped down the the door of the solo tent I had been granted by an extraordinary stroke of good karma.
Although my fellow tourers were interesting and friendly people, I reached my threshold after five days. A non-stop flow of small talk and bantering is definitely at the torturous end of the introvert’s social spectrum. It became harder and harder to proffer the polite chuckles that were called for. As my energy continued to deplete, I fought against my usual defense—total retreat. That would NOT be good with such a small group—there was no place to hide. Instead, I sought little bits of rejuvenation wherever I could find them—behind my camera, in the pages of my book, in my mind as we drove, and snuggled inside my sleeping bag in my gloriously peaceful tent.
It didn’t help that I was also becoming enormously frustrated on every hike—my Nature Bucket wasn’t getting filled nearly enough to compensate for my struggles. Of course, that sounds ridiculous considering we were sleeping in tents and hiking in four of Canada’s most beautiful national parks. The problem was were not given any time to savor the beauty. In fact, other than our lunch stops, we were rushing through the flower-filled alpine meadows and lush rainforests and bypassing the babbling brooks and breathtaking waterfalls.
While the rational part of my brain totally understood that the price for seeing everything on the itinerary was the time required to savor (and photograph) it, the emotional part was full on cantankerous by Day 10. I had two eye opening realizations—
—My primary motivation for being on any trail is to “be” in nature, not to log miles, get to the top of the mountain, or reach a final destination.
—The only way to have the full experience my soul craved would require me to be alone in nature, without anyone to exhale a single impatient sigh.
The empath in me became starved for deep connections, but group dynamics, as well as personality and cultural differences severely restricted these. (Thank God for my tour guide, Marie, or I may have perished!) I noticed (and Google confirmed) a blaring cultural difference between Americans and United Kingdomers—Americans are far more likely to have meaningful conversations with strangers in public places, while people from the UK don’t generally are to converse with strangers and tend to stick to their kind.
I’m proud to say that not only did this independent introvert manage to hold it (mostly) together, but I didn’t cast negative aspersions on myself or the others for our differences or wish to be anyone other than exactly who I am.
I was able to objectively observe the way others reacted to me and take the following points of clarity home with me:
- Those who do not seek out unique viewpoints and new experiences will be irritated by me.
- Those who are not empathic will be befuddled by me.
- Those who are not a bit untamed will be threatened by me.
- And, of course, those who are not introverts will think I’m a nutty bitch.
It only took 50 years not to take this personally! My heart used to hurt when people didn’t like me. I finally get it—I honor us all because without diversity, life would glaze my eyes over.
There will be no more tours for this independent introvert. My next hiking wander will either be a solo adventure filled with reflective hikes and at will photo stops OR a cherished mom-daughter or girlfriend-boyfriend adventure.