Travel Therapy #31
Introvert Insights & Lessons Learned

At 50 years and 7 months of age, I willingly volunteered myself for a 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. In short, I wanted some introvert insights and some more learned lessons under my belt.

At the end of the experiment, I was simultaneously 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:

  1. Opposite of extrovert. ( 🙄 )
  2. 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. After years of collecting my introvert insights, I’ve come to see growing up as being stuck on a 15 year guided 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. I am far from shy. In fact, I have no problem speaking my mind. 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. Today, I give him credit for his astute observational skills.

So, onto the experiment, which will hopefully gift me tons of introvert insights..

My original plan was to really push myself by volunteering to share a tent with one of my fellow tour mates. By Day 5, I could almost cry with gratitude that the Universe didn’t allow me to do this. Quiet time in my tent every night was how I survived.

Although my tour mates were interesting and friendly people, the non-stop flow of small talk and bantering from morning until after dinner because torturous. It became harder and harder for me to politely smile or laugh. As my energy continued to be depleted, I fought against my usual defense—total retreat—which was totally irrational because there was no place for me to hide.

Instead, I sought moments of rejuvenation wherever I could find them—behind my camera, in the pages of my book, in my mind, and snuggled inside my sleeping bag in my very own peaceful tent.

It didn’t help that I was also being challenged on every hike. Despite being out in nature, my nature bucket wasn’t getting filled as much as I had hoped. This sounds ridiculous considering we were sleeping in tents and hiking in four of Canada’s most beautiful national parks. The problem was we were not given any time to savor the beauty around us. In fact, other than our leisurely lunch breaks, we were rushing—through the most beautiful flower-filled alpine meadows and lush rainforests and quickly passing by babbling brooks and breathtaking waterfalls.

While the rational part of my brain totally understood that we had to go at this speed in order to see everything, the emotional part was totally cantankerous by Day 10.

I had two eye-opening introvert insights:

  1. My primary motivation for being on any trail is to just BE in nature (NOT to log miles, get to the top of the mountain, or reach a final destination).
  2. The only way to have the kind of experience my soul craved was to be alone in nature (without anyone to exhale a single impatient sigh).

At the same time my inner introvert was starting to lose it, the empath in me became starved for deep connections.

Unfortunately, group dynamics, as well as personality and cultural differences, severely restricted them. Thank God for my tour guide, Marie, who was a solid source of meaningful conversations. I noticed (and Google confirmed) a blaring cultural difference between Americans and people from the U.K.—Americans are far more likely to have meaningful conversations with strangers in public places, while people from the U.K. don’t generally converse much with strangers and tend to stick to their kind.

I’m proud that not only did I manage to hold it together, but I didn’t cast negative aspersions on myself or the others for our differences or wish any of us to be different than who we were.

Nor, did I take anything personally when I observed the following:

  • 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 totally tame will be threatened by me.
  • And, of course, extroverts will think there’s something wrong with me.

Before turning 50, my heart used to hurt when I noticed things like this—but, one of the very best things about getting older is getting wiser and understanding that without diversity, life would be incredibly boring.

Our of all my introvert insights, this is the most important—there will be no more structured tours for this untamed and independent introvert.