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I’m an introvert, a fairly extreme introvert. And I’m introverted in both the technical (being with people drains energy) and colloquial (has trouble dealing with social situations) senses. People who have only encountered me in classroom or professional situations are often surprised to hear that. In class, I’m energetic, outspoken, and interactive. In meetings and discussions on professional issues [1], I’m even more outspoken. In both those contexts, I seem to represent the classic extrovert.

But watch me being around people for long enough, and you’ll see that I eventually find a way to escape within myself. I may sit separately at a meal. I may head off to an art museum or a book store by myself. I may place myself at my computer and write programs or code. I may head off to home or to a hotel room to be alone.

If you watch me in a non-professional [2] situation, such as a social event, you will find that I am either relatively silent, or that I try to turn discussions toward professional issues. Students may have noticed this when I meet their parents, after saying Thank you for allowing your student to attend Grinnell, I usually can’t find much more to discuss. Alums may have noticed it when they return to chat with me. It’s not that I’m not happy to see you; I love seeing our alums. It’s that I’m bad at chatting with people.

Can I change? I don’t know. Should I change? I’d like to be better in social situations, and I’m sure that my inability to chat about things is off putting to some. But it’s who I am.

Why did I write this piece? Primarily, to give myself permission to be myself. I started it while grading AP exams to remind myself that it’s okay that I don’t go out with people every day that I’m at a conference or other meeting. I think the previous night, I’d just gone back to my room, written a bit, and gone to bed [4]. It’s okay that I spend some days in a room by myself [5]. It’s okay that I can’t always carry on continued social conversations. It’s who I am. But maybe I also wrote the piece to remind myself [6] that how people appear in public is not necessarily who they are. And perhaps I wrote the piece to give my introverted students encouragement to find ways to push themselves but also embrace themselves.

[1] By professional issues, I mean things like computer science, higher education, and the institution that is Grinnell College.

[2] I was tempted to say unprofessional, but I think that’s unappropriate [3].

[3] Yes, that was intended as a joke.

[4] I missed a trip to a distillery and to a pinball arcade. Both would have been great. But time alone was better.

[5] Well, and with my family.

[6] And, perhaps, to remind my readers.

Version 1.1.1 of 2017-07-08.