Many people are surprised when I mention that I am an introvert. I enjoy giving talks in public. I love to connect with new people, and I have a huge network, offline and on social media.
However, I can only be talkative, social and outgoing for a limited amount of time. Then, my mood and my energy levels take a rapid turn downhill.
This is how a teacup must feel like. Once the tea has reached its rim, it just can’t take any more. It needs to retract into a quiet room, close the door and reflect, until all the tea is gone and it is ready to party again.
When I started my role as new lecturer last September, I had prepared myself for the obvious challenges of taking on a new job, having to juggle even more things, and working long hours to prepare new teaching materials.
I had not expected the amount of input that I suddenly had to digest. So much to reflect on. So little time. Every work day filled my teacup up to the rim with new experiences, meaningful teaching moments, meaningful learning moments, critical incidents, significant conversations, and début ‘performances’ in front of new audiences.
Not every evening was enough to fully empty it again. I could feel my brain becoming slow and stuck, as it tried to grind its way through a particular issue, with a long queue of other things patiently waiting in line.
The most annoying part was that I knew that it would get better once I had finished my first semester and the full cycle of teaching a module for the very first time, but that I still had to go through that slow process of experiencing, reflecting, rinse and repeat.
One of the funniest moments was when I taught a small group of students for the first time and realised that all except one were introverts. Whenever I find myself in a group of three or more people, I go quiet. I smile and nod a lot, and listen intensely. So were my students. Suddenly, I had to be the extrovert. I had to start small-talk, and I had to keep the conversation going. An introverted friend broke into laughter when I told her about this, as she had experienced the same thing.
I am finishing this post as World Introvert Day draws to a close. I feel like I wanted to put this in writing, maybe for introverted undergraduate or postgraduate students who are pondering their future career options: You can be an introvert and successfully take on extroverted tasks. You just might need different strategies to recharge and reflect.
With my new role, I will need to come up with new ways to build in moments of alone time during the day, to reflect more quickly – or maybe filter more strictly on what to reflect and what to put aside – and to switch off.
Instead of a work-life balance, I will need to find my work-life-‘alone time’ balance. Not a seesaw, but a Pogo ball, trying to keep steady while wildly jumping around. Yes…that sounds about right.