NOW THAT I’M RETIRED—and living in a warm desert climate—walking has become one of my favorite activities. Most days, I log between six and eight miles trekking around our neighborhood. I usually listen to a podcast during my journey, but it just serves as background noise. My real focus is contemplating dog training strategies or the subject matter of my future HumbleDollar posts.
Some days, I play the “what if” game. I contemplate how my life’s trajectory would have been altered if I’d made different choices at certain junctures. I also often reflect on how my personality has shaped nearly every aspect of my life.
Ten years ago, I read the book Quiet. As I consumed each page, it became apparent I finally had a word—introvert—to describe my personality. Up until that point, I’d never fully understood why I enjoyed the activities I did.
As a child, I preferred spending time alone. Given the choice between going outside to play or staying indoors and reading a book, I’d always choose the latter. I spent hours writing stories and poems, with plots that almost always revolved around animals.
As a teenager, I spent more time with my livestock than I did with friends. I found animals easier to interact with than humans.
In college, I spent my time studying. I always signed up to earn more credits than I needed to be considered a fulltime student. Unsure of my career path, I used the time to take classes in a variety of subjects. The social aspects of college held no interest for me.
When I was in graduate school, I landed an unpaid internship at a clinical laboratory located within a large medical school. I quickly became a valued member of the lab and was offered a paid position a few weeks after I started.
Thinking back over my 30 years of employment, I now realize that my first job was the one I enjoyed the most. For eight hours a day, I would sit at a microscope and analyze human chromosomes. The work was tedious, and required an enormous amount of focus and attention to detail. I never felt more comfortable.
At the time, I couldn’t understand why I enjoyed the work as much as I did. But I thrived in the lab environment. It was solitary work so there was never any need to engage in small talk with my coworkers. The lights in the lab were often dimmed to prevent eye strain. Getting paid to sit in a quiet, softly lit room, with just my own thoughts to keep me company, felt like nirvana.
Now, in retirement, my introverted personality continues to affect the choices I make. I spend my days reading and writing, rather than traveling and socializing. My husband and I will always choose a quiet dinner and movie at home over going out to eat. As for walking around the neighborhood, with just my own thoughts to keep me company? That, too, feels like nirvana.
As an introvert and child-free to boot, all your posts resonate strongly with me. Love your writing – thank you.
I must admit: I do worry a great deal about the future and envy extroverts in that respect. Because they thrive on and genuinely enjoy time with others far more than I do, they build stronger connections and a better support system than I’ll likely have going into my later years – when one needs it the most.
One of the ways I’ve evolved as a teacher over the years of my career is to give more space and consideration to introverted students in my classes. To give just two examples, rather than expecting everyone to grab the floor in a class discussion if they have something to say, I have an online discussion board where students can quietly share their thoughts at their own pace. And I no longer define “class participation” as “speaking up in class” (which is easy for extroverts and can be painful for introverts). They can demonstrate their learning in other ways, such as written reflections or completing a project that applies what we’ve discussed.
I wish every introvert-unaware teacher would read what you wrote — thank you! It’s no wonder many introverted students prefer lectures and avoid courses based on whole-class discussion.
When I taught mathematics and wanted to incorporate some active student involvement, during the presentation I interspersed multiple-choice conceptual questions. After each one, students would answer individually with a clicker (SRS, student response system), view the anonymous distribution of votes displayed, and be surprised that not everyone thought the same way. Then they discussed their own reasoning with one or more nearby students, and voted again to see whether they’d achieved consensus. Extroverts and introverts alike loved this method. It is well-suited to humanities courses, too, not just one-right-answer STEM.
So much of this resonates with me, including the part about not wanting to go to the barber, which is partly why I shave my head. I actually enjoy having people nearby, so I prefer the office to home, but I definitely need to do the work by myself. If I have to figure something out, I can’t think straight even if you are sitting in here quietly, because I have the FEAR that you’re going to interrupt me. While there are positions and status levels that seem appealing, I realize with my personality type they are not for me.
What a wonderful post – thank you for sharing this. I enjoy almost all Humble Dollar posts and often get more out of those that aren’t finance related at all. The world needs more introverts!
Another insightful and candid article providing insight into your personal life. Thank you.
Kristine, as a lifelong introvert, I can relate. Introversion can include some surprising paradoxes. It’s interesting that, dedicated introvert that you are, you have probably shared more personal details of your life than any other HD writer.
For my part, while making small talk with a bunch of strangers in a social setting can be painful for me, I don’t have any qualms about speaking or doing a presentation in front of a large group of people. Seems like I’ve read that a surprising number of comedians and other stage performers are serious introverts.
Can’t say I ever met an attorney introvert.
My husband is one.
Count me as one! As Dave Barry might say: The Introverted Attorneys — what a great name for a band!!
Paradoxes indeed! I absolutely hate getting my hair cut because of the obligatory small talk to be made with the stylist. I absolutely dread it.
On the other hand, if someone wants to talk about dogs, dog training or personal finance, I can spend hours talking and listening. I’ve never had an issue giving talks in front of crowds, as long as the topic is of interest to me.
I too have read that many comedians are introverts–Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman come to mind.
I’m a charter member of our CCRC’s introverts group. At our urging, to offset what had appeared to emphasize only group activities, the administration added this to the website’s resident-led community overview: “Residents are as active or as quiet as they desire … The community supports a range of individual lifestyles.” False assumptions about introversion abound; we introverts enjoy raising awareness about them (one person at a time).
I love this! We live in a community where there are over 150 clubs. Apparently to lead a club, you have to include a certain number of ‘social only’ events every year. I understand why they do it, but I certainly don’t think it should be a requirement. If I want to offer a club geared towards teaching people how to train their dogs, I don’t think I should be forced to offer to host pizza parties and catered dinners as well.
Kristine, perhaps you can find like-minded residents to lobby for a policy change. Once our CCRC administrators heard our group explain introversion, they publicly supported us.
Maybe you could limit that social event to the canine participants only.🐶
I’d be happy to host a dog-only pizza party.
You prompted me to go look at my introvert library which includes Susan Cain’s “Quiet” as well as “Introvert Advantage” by Laney, “Introvert Power” by Helgoe, and “Self-Promotion for Introverts” by Ancowitz. In several of these there is an argument made that what is now called introversion is actually the (pre)historical normal baseline human personality and that the extroversion, and even extreme extroversion, that modern society so often recognizes and rewards is a recent product of urbanization and industrialization.
I’ll have to check some of those other books out. Thanks for the list!
I’m fascinated by the differences between introverts and extroverts. I used to work with someone who was as extroverted as I am introverted. I could never imagine living the life they lead!
Kristine, I appreciate the value you place on quiet time. I work in an environment that is like a pilot in the cockpit with all the alarms going off all the time and constant interruption. Quietly reading by the fire on a rainy day or taking a long walk with my dogs on a bluebird day is healing.
I’m glad you’re able to find some peace and quiet outside of work. I was fortunate to have three different jobs that all allowed me to spend a fair amount of time alone. I can’t even imagine having a job where constant interruption was the norm!
Kristine, thanks for an intriguing article. I congratulate you on your introspection and self-awareness. I had the opportunity to do the Myers-Briggs assessment several times during my career. The last time was associates with a class taught by a leading expert on personality types. He did a great job of explaining how to figure out what types of activities give you energy, and what types sap your energy. He emphasized that we can all play different roles as required by our lives or careers – he was a complete introvert who chose to be a teacher! He was a fantastic teacher, but he said he required several days of quiet reflection and reading to recharge after several days of teaching a class. That insight helped me when I moved from an engineering management role into a business development role. The “selling” part of the job was exhausting. So I got help on that side, and focused on the technical side. I worked pretty well. Enjoy your walks and quiet contemplation.
Thanks Rick. One of my future articles for HD is going to focus on my Myers-Briggs personality type. I only recently realized how personality types affect the types of work you enjoy and, apparently, the average salary you might have.
I could never do sales. I still have nightmares about having to sell little knickknacks (ugly candles, tins of stale popcorn) to earn money for the trips our high school band used to take. Nobody should ever force an introvert to try and do door-to-door sales :-).
As I recall Kristine you weren’t truly happy in your old job, so finding what you enjoy in retirement is really a good thing- I wish you decades more of the enjoyment you seek.
I can relate to your feelings somewhat, I don’t like crowds, I like to read and write, a good walk is enjoyable, but I love to travel, be on the road and just take in the world.
One thing I don’t understand Kristine is your choice of retirement living. I was exploring retirement communities and Google Earthed the Phoenix area. Those communities seem jam packed with homes close together and a comparable number of people. Given your lifestyle I would have thought you would have selected something a bit more remote and quiet with some property.
I think I was fortunate in that I always had jobs that were congruent with my introversion. I worked in two hospital laboratories and at one college. The college job definitely meant interacting with more people, but I was still able to have plenty of quiet time. During the 24 years I worked at the college, I spent
hundredsthousands of hours preparing teaching labs and cleaning/organizing all the various spaces in the building. Most of that time was spent alone.
Obviously Phoenix is a large metropolitan area–I believe it’s now the fifth largest city in the United States. But the community we live in is like a small town. 18,000 homes and 24,000 people. The homes sit on oversized lots and, given that everyone here is at least 55 years old, the place is QUIET.
There are trade-offs with every location. Having grown up on a small farm in a semi-rural area, I know that having some property often means spending a lot of time driving to and from services. Need groceries? Get in the car and drive 10 miles. Need to see a doctor? Get in the car and drive 20 miles. Would I love for our dogs to have 10 acres to run free on? Sure. But having that space comes with trade-offs.
Living here, I will often go several days where I don’t leave ‘the compound’. Almost everything is within walking or bicycling distance. Given that I generally find driving to be a waste of my time, I don’t miss spending an hour or two a day commuting.
Quiet, time…time to THINK, ponder deeper thoughts, perchance dream big dreams. The longer I am on this earth, the more this seems like nirvana to an admitted extrovert (or so others tell me).
I think becoming more introverted with age is probably more common than becoming more extroverted with age. It sounds like you’re enjoying your introspective time!
When I read this comment i thought that can’t be true. My wife tells me I’m less introverted, but you are correct. Science says we do indeed become more introverted as we age.