Wait! Wait! I don’ wanna go “back”!

a.k.a.

How introversion can save the world.

So I’m on Zoom with a colleague a couple of weeks ago chatting after concluding our business and he mentioned how, with COVID-19 vaccinations well underway in the United States, things soon could be “back to normal.” 

I talked about a client who’s told me how much he’s enjoyed the at-home, online meetings that the pandemic thrust us into. Like me, he’s liked the glimpses into the “real” lives of people in our day-to-day worlds. Whereas a couple of years ago a dog jumping up on someone’s lap or a child entering the room to ask where to find the Oreos during an online meeting would have been harshly judged, those kinds of distractions have been almost welcome during this time, and certainly accepted as part of our pandemic norm.

I’ve learned who the cat vs. dog people are (a critical distinction), who has young children and who prefers tea to coffee. They’re insignificant details, but I’ve never felt closer to clients, and that’s been a good thing.

My Zoom companion was much less enthused. 

“That’ll go back to the way it was, don’t you think.” he said. It wasn’t a question. “I mean, sure, that stuff has been OK during COVID, but it’ll go back to being frowned upon.”

Obviously I’ll be keeping my office doors shut tight when I’m online with him in the future.

He can’t wait to “get back to normal.” Me? Not so much.

To be clear, nothing about COVID has been remotely positive. 

Except, perhaps, this one little thing: I’ve been able to go about my business on my terms, not according to stringent, unaccommodating societal norms. And when the meeting’s over, I can click off; no drawn-out goodbyes or extra chatter required.

So, no, I do not want to go back, or forward, into the all-the-time, face-to-face interactional existence. In fact, as much as possible I’ll be maintaining my interactions as they are now, for a couple of reasons. 

Post-COVID “Normal” Reason the First

Yes, I am an introvert. 

I prefer my own company. I keep my own counsel. And I’d rather not be in groups or crowds for any length of time. It’s draining, and being drained makes me less effective, both in my work and my life.

A significant misconception among non-introverts is that we “don’t like people.” Rubbish. I like many people. I even love some. There are times I like being around people, and sometimes gobs of you. But the fact is, the longer I’m around people, keeping up the small-talk façade, the more of my life force is drained. Even those I love most can be draining.

Go ahead and laugh, but that’s what it is – life force.

People who are not introverts do not understand this, and I doubt you ever will. That’s OK, as long as you know the introverts in your life need time to recharge after social activities, and at those times we need you back off and withhold judgement.

“High-Functioning Introvert”

I am what many call a “high-functioning introvert,” which is a label I’ve always found more than a little insulting because it suggests that, in general, introverts are not able to function well in society. Rubbish again.

I doubt many people would conclude, during an interaction at a gathering, that I don’t like people. They’d only come to that conclusion when, after only about an hour or so, I split. Bailing early is something many people do not take well. This is where the non-introverts in the crowd think, “Jeez, he’s leaving already? He must not like me (us). What’d I (we) do to him? Nothing! What a jerk!”

But I’m not a jerk (at least not all the time, as Sexy RN would interject), but I can’t stick around and have all you fine folks draining away my life force, either. Nothing personal, but not healthy for me. Literally.

In her book, “Quiet,” Susan Cain discusses many types of introverts, including those of us who do just fine socially, thank you very much, but need to limit time with others and must – MUST –  have time to ourselves before being with people again. 

That’s me.

Cover of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking"
“Quiet” is an amazing book, great for introverts and anyone who wants to understand us better.
Highly recommend.

I need to protect myself. I need to recharge. Alone. Except for maybe my dogs.

No offense.

It really has nothing to do with you at all.

It’s not you. It’s me.

Well, actually it is you, but not in the way you think.

“Reentry Fear”

Now, with a dim light at the end of the pandemic tunnel beginning to show, introversion experts and psychologists are talking about “reentry fear,” which Emily Shawn at Introvert Dear reports, “…is the fear that stems from rejoining society after having spent the last year in a socially distanced lockdown.”

I’ve been self-employed and working from home for most of the past 17 years, so that’s not exactly my issue. My life hasn’t changed much during the pandemic, except that I haven’t had to meet face-to-face with anyone. 

Which – and please don’t take this the wrong way – has pretty much been awesome.

Photo of an introvert reading near a lake.
An introvert is someone who prefers calm, minimally stimulating environments. Introverts tend to feel drained after socializing and regain their energy by spending time alone.” Photo by Ben White via unsplash.

Again, here’s Emily Shawn:

“For many of us, isolating ourselves in our wonderful introvert brains gave us a surprising chance to thrive… While of course no one wanted a pandemic to hit, some of the social distancing measures put in place to flatten the curve actually started to shape a world that better fit introverts’ needs, from working from home to gathering only with a few people to creating extra personal space in public.”

Check, check and check.

Post-COVID “Normal” Reason the Second

However, this isn’t only about introversion. 

It’s about building back better, too, from a climate crisis perspective, and that means using existing and emerging technologies to limit humans’ negative impacts on the planet. 

Why should I drive my gasoline-burning vehicle to meet a client, even if they are only across town? It adds greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, which in turn worsens climate change. Multiply that by millions of people who would otherwise get into some sort of fossil-fuel-burning transportation to conduct face-to-face business; clicking “join the meeting” from our offices makes a heck of a lot more sense.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe face-to-face meetings are necessary to establishing trust and maintaining relationships. I just don’t believe every interaction needs to be in person. Once or twice a year can suffice.

Besides, now that we’re accustomed to conducting business via the Internet, we won’t even have to make any kind of “transition.” I speak daily with people across town, across state lines and across oceans without driving or flying. Why start that again? From a build-back-better perspective, we’re right where we need to be right now; let’s keep being here.

We have very little time to do everything we can to slow global warming before it’s too late. One of the things we can do, and that would in fact be easy to do, would be to maintain online meetings as the norm, reserving face-to-face as the exception. 

The world’s been turned on its head for going on 14 months in the United States, longer in some parts of the world. Going back will bring us to the brink of a disaster much more catastrophic than a global pandemic. Given that, one small part of our response should be to turn this one societal norm on its head. It’ll make the world more equitable for introverts like me, and might just keep the planet habitable for people like all of us.

After all, we’re talking about life force, here. Yours and mine.

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12 Comments

  1. An excellent post, Martin, highlighting the silver linings from the pandemic for the environment. Totally get where you are coming from – introverts might have thrived during the wfh era, but it is about time that the tables are turned for once. Regards Zoom: “no drawn-out goodbyes or extra chatter required,” is a contrast I have also noticed during the pandemic. Participants seem to draw out the introductions but quickly vanish at the end of the session. It feels abrupt coming from another introvert, but definitely saves time wasted with all that small talk.

      1. I so hear you, Martin as the extroverts in my life are in my ear too, expounding the virtues of the office environment and telling me how society and mental health is damaged from wfh. I find that interesting. It is like the world has suddenly woken up to something and they don’t like it. But we, the introverts of the world are thriving. #ourturn

      2. And the guy from Morgan Stanley sounds ruthless. Threatening a slug in their pay! There are a few who slack off in the wfh scenario but most people are actually working longer trying to finish off work that they would walk away from if they had to catch that train home. However, I do think there is something lost in the wfh scenario. Overheard conversations with other staff, incidental comments in the corridor that sometimes spin out into whole productive discussions are lost in the wfh. It is a new phenomenon and perhaps we need more time to adapt to that. Or a blend of both?

  2. I agree and relate with you and fellow introverts. And yes, we need to “build back better”. Yet I’m skeptical of this slogan which seems to be the current big push by the elite Davos crowd to further their control and wealth in the name of progressive ideas aka New World Order.

    1. Yeah, they’ve once again co-opted something with positive connotations for sustainability and justice and are working hard to twist it. I mean it in the original sense – not sure where it originated, but governments and businesses in Europe have been talking about “building back better” for many, many months now. As usual, the Europeans grasped the potential of the pandemic before a whole bunch of folks in the USA even admitted there was one. Thanks for reading. It’s Brad, right? Really dig what you’re saying on your blog.

  3. Yep, I hear you Martin. Another introvert resides at my blog. I think many bloggers are introverts, at least in my community.
    You make some great points about keeping the online work forum going for environmental reasons, and to support those who prefer quiet workplaces. We are more productive that way and isn’t that the biggest driver of business- productivity?
    Let the extraverts be the in office crew and the introverts the wfh crew. It is a nice balance and no prizes for seeing which group would be more productive and which group would be assigned most of the inperson collaborations!
    Great post!

  4. Oh, I agree with everything! I especially like how you verbalised “I’ve been able to go about my business on my terms, not according to stringent, unaccommodating societal norms”, because it made me realise that YES, that’s exactly what’s so liberal about working from home. I truly hope we won’t regress to the old punch-in-punch-out routine after this…

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Snow, and for your thoughtful comment. We should all be able to live and work on our own terms, or something more closely resembling them at the least. Thanks again, and have a wonderful day! 🙂

Let me know what you think!