As the sharp December cold stung the air and we gathered on the old grey pebbled beach I had known as a child, a certain apprehension had coursed through my veins! Because running into the icy north sea on Boxing Day is one of those things you carelessly joke about in the height of summertime and which your stubborn streak would not dare let you ever retract! Sometimes it can be just what we need to dip a toe outside of our oh so comfy comfort zones, even if it is just running into the sea in late December in a too tight wetsuit and an elf hat!
And when I took his hand for the countdown and we ran seawards behind the crazy crowds, it was all I could do to stop myself laughing hysterically! Hysteria in the truest sense. And as we leapt the frothy waves and the icy bite began its creeping journey up little legs, the confident nine year old was suddenly shocked into utter dithering silence. His excitement extinguished fully by the shock of freezing sea. The hot shower and hot chocolate being the only thing to aid his shivery recovery! Even so, I hope he looks back in thirty years and rather than feeling traumatised, can recall it with laughter. I hope he can laugh that the introvert mum slipped briefly from her comfort zone and into the ocean in deep mid winter. I hope he has a freedom of spirit I've much longed for.
When an introvert child is raised by a mother with all the exuberance and confidence an extrovert could ever possess, it can be both wonderful and horrifying in equal measure! Wonderful because she can do everything in her power to encourage you to talk to people, meet people, be confident in public and to stand out from the crowd in the same lovely way she always has...but horrifying, because whatever she does to encourage you to talk to people, meet people, be confident in public and to stand out from the crowd, you never actually fully can if it's not YOU!
It was never ME!
I still today will often revert to introvert-clam-up-mode when I see people I might unexpectedly have to converse with. When I have to mingle at a party and mine for small-talk. When I have to speak out loud in a social situation. When I see someone I know in the supermarket and have to linger rather too long beside the roll mop herrings until the coast is clear and it's definitely safe to proceed stealthily to the beers wines and spirits, unseen, and with my word count intact.
But the introvert life certainly does not mean one of being totally incapable of effective social interaction. On the contrary, when needed, I can have ALL the smiles, chat, small talk and sparkling charisma (?) of my extrovert counterparts!...It simply means it doesn’t naturally flow from us with ease. It doesn't sit comfortably with us. It's essentially not in our nature.
Nor does introversion necessarily equate with shyness. My own lovely dad was my introvert twin but he certainly didn’t own shyness. And naturally too as with many personality traits there lie many many increments in between pure introvert and extrovert. Maybe shyness carries a fear of negative judgement upon us, while introversion is merely a preference for calmer, less stimulating, less social environments. Those of us that fear we might own both of these traits basically just need GIN! And as lot of it. Frequently.
But really maybe it's not always healthy to pin a label to ourselves, because I wonder if then we risk setting a sly trap for a self fulfilling prophesy, but had I known as a child and young adult that I was simply an introvert maybe I might have felt less awkward. Less uneasy. More myself.
And as I raise my own little extrovert, all be it a sensitive one, I try every day to be profoundly aware of HIS natural bent, however different it may be to my own. When on holiday with TWO of these extrovert males (!) I have come to learn that in order for them to holiday well and relax fully in themselves, they find it absolutely essential to converse on a regular basis with complete and utter strangers!...to make new friends...to find out everything they can about the people surrounding them and then to KEEP speaking to these new friends every single day for the duration of the holiday! I naturally find this alien concept utterly unthinkable and in all circumstances keep my head fixed firmly in a book and disguised as effectively as possible behind ill fitting sunglasses blocking any likely possibility of eye contact with fellow holidaymakers who may have been considering any kind of actual interaction with me. I'm on holiday. I don’t want the stress of chatting...the weight of searching for conversation avenues. I don’t want to make friends with a bilingual vegan driving instructor from Weymouth who wishes me to know her entire family history dating back to the fifteen hundreds and regale me with hilarious recollections of past holidays in the Lancashire hot spot of 'Nob End'. I don't want all the bants with the family next door. I want to read my books and think about...things! But what I also know is that the two extroverts next to me truly come alive when they meet new people, when they chat, when they socialise, when they live according to their own spirit, and this I love about them. And THIS is what I must always remember. This is as important to them living well as anything can be.
We can't change the essence of our nature and nor should we strive to, but maybe some days it's necessary to relinquish the control an emotion has on us and override the fear. Swallow it down. Be confident.
Our differences can be mutually respected only when we seek some insight into their origins.
Our differences can be what balance the scales, what level the path ahead.
What can inspire us out from comfort zones.
They can be the very things we come to adore.