Nope, I’m not a vampire. No, I’m not hiding in my office. No, I’m not allergic to lights. These are the typical responses I have ready, when peppered with questions from co-workers about my intimately lit office. Yes, I keep the bright overhead lights off. Yep, I enjoy the minimal, soft lighting of my lamp. Yes, I often prefer natural light from my window in lieu of any artificial lighting, even on cloudy or rainy days. But my question is, why does it matter?
I am an introvert – a very proud one. I am also a strong leader at the executive level of my organization. My work product is stellar, and my relationships are unanimously positive. I am engaged and enjoy my work, so why are people so fascinated – or bothered – that I create an environment that fuels my energy, enables me to recharge, and allows me to thrive? Then I remember – it’s not me…it’s them.
For years as a child I used to wonder why I didn’t want to be a cheerleader, and why the only thing I cared about at a birthday party was the cake and ice cream, not the games and ‘fun’ that others craved. As a young adult I used to wonder why I didn’t enjoy going to huge outdoor festivals, or to massive college parties like everyone else – except for Prince – I got over my displeasure for crowds to go see him in concert…always! But just recently, I’ve done the math and discovered that my number is 12. Yes, 12. For me, that is the sweet-spot number of people I enjoy for any “group” activity. A gathering with a dozen or so people gives this introvert room to spread her wings, meet new people and engage in conversations that are more meaningful. Remember, introverts do like people! Some of us simply don’t prefer a large group of them at the same time! Twelve is just large enough to be able to fall back into “observation mode” if I need to disengage for a minute to think, process, or replenish my energy.
Like the typical introvert trying to make it in this extrovert-rewarding world, I used to offer up in-depth explanations for why I didn’t want to go somewhere, or why I was quiet in a meeting or class when I may have known the answers, or why I didn’t want to socialize with co-workers after work. I no longer do that. I no longer take responsibility for others’ discomfort or lack of understanding. After many years of not understanding how or why to define my personality as introverted, I now know clearly who I am and what makes me unique and happy. I am an introvert, one who is introspective, intuitive and deeply intellectual. Yep, that’s me! I’m claiming it. I stand, unapologetically, in my introversion with pride and compassion for myself. I am who I have always been. Everybody needs to be ok with that, because I am.
What I’d love for people to understand is that I am not shy. My introversion is not a quirk. It’s not an illness. I don’t need medication or therapy to resolve it. I most certainly do not need an intervention from extroverts trying to convince me to live life more like them. Yes, I’ve sometimes had to “masquerade” or be a “performance extrovert” for job interviews, conferences and even when creating an online dating profile! And that’s OK. I learn from extroverts daily and I hope that they learn from my tranquil charm and unassuming demeanor. I appreciate their ability to respond in the moment with ease, and how they think…while doing, as I hope they appreciate my ability to process, give further consideration to the task, while I think…then do. What I need is for people to understand that what they believe is odd – like my office lights being off – is their problem [bias], not mine. The simple fact is, introverts are highly sensitive to stimulation, and for that reason we need less of it in our environments.
From all that I’ve read and learned from researchers and authorities on personality types, including trailblazer Susan Cain (author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking), introverts make up one-third to one-half of the population. That means there are a lot of us – living, loving and making things happen – in our own special ways. We’re all different and land at different places on the spectrum of introversion, but I think unanimously, we all feel some sort of bias, misunderstanding, or maybe even discomfort from others – especially in the workplace. I challenge you, my tribe, to work together with me and embrace your unique gifts, lead in your introverted style, make an impact in your introverted way, and educate on your introverted-ness!
I have always heard that comfort is a catalyst for creativity. If you are comfortable and work best in a more stimulating environment with bright lights, loud music, and a constant flow of people and their accompanying energies – go for it! Hit up that coffee shop or busy park and let the inspiration flow, because that’s what works for you! Conversely, if you’re an introvert and your most creative self shows up more brilliantly with the lights off, then as R&B legend Teddy Pendergrass would say … “turn ‘em off!” The point is…create spaces in your home and work environments that bring a sense of calm, high energy, or whatever you need. For those in my tribe who don’t have an office? There are small ways to surround yourself with something meaningful that may spark your energy to create and thrive while at work – a treasured photo, a meaningful screensaver, or writing with your favorite, purple, felt tip pen. At home, turn off the lights, cuddle up with your cozy blanket, throw on those faded sweat pants, and light a scented candle to put you in the mood to create. Embrace the fact that we all energize and recharge differently, so I encourage you to do what works for you.
So back to my original question, why do my co-workers care that I prefer to work with the lights off? Answer: I don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter because I’m too busy basking in the light that shines within my introverted self, getting things done and making a difference.