Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wanted: Department social queen. Extrovert a plus, but not required.

I am an introvert. I start with that because, although you all know me, you may not know that about me. It seems obvious, but judging from the fact that most people greet this statement with either laughter or some variant of "Yeah, right," I have to assume it's not as obvious as I think. But it's true: I am an introvert, in the Myers-Briggs sense: when I need to recharge, I need to be alone. When an extrovert is needs to recharge, they need to be around people. I like people, but social activities drain my energy.

Yet despite being an introvert, in the 18 months since I rejoined my current department at work, I have somehow, improbably, become the de facto social queen. I am the one who has a list of everyone's birthdays and organizes cake in the break room each month to celebrate. Who arranges lunches out or just lunches together in the conference room or on the patio. Who instigates baby pools and baby showers.

It had occurred to me before that this is sort of an unlikely thing - most social organizers are extroverts. But I'd never given much thought to how or why it came about until this week.

This week, my girls are away on a mission trip, and Chris and I are enjoying being temporarily kid-free. One of my coworkers, C_____, has been talking about organizing happy hour after work one day this week. This is the one semi-regular social activity at work I don't organize or attend, because I leave at 2:30. There's usually some excuse, like a colleague from the DC office in town; this week, it was meeting up with a coworker on maternity leave. And with the girls away, I was excited that I could go.

But C_____ got swamped, so I offered to pull it together instead. Which was fine, until the pretext, the coworker on maternity leave, couldn't do this week. So I set up lunch with the new mom in a couple weeks, and mentally kissed happy hour goodbye. When I sent out the invite to lunch, C_______ replied "But we should do happy hour anyway, just because you're kid-free this week!"

And that was when that little voice in my head, the one I call The Critic, said "You can't send out an e-mail saying let's have happy hour just because you're kid-free this week and can come! No one will  come for that!" I thought  8 years of therapy had banished The Critic, but apparently not. And in truth, we probably all have a little voice like that, though the things that prompt it to come out and spread its dysfunctional little wings differ.

But it was an epiphany of sorts: one reason I like organizing social activities at work, despite being an introvert, is that it enables me to socialize without risking rejection or giving the appearance of assuming people would want to spend time with me. Because despite a fair amount of empirical evidence to the contrary (people do not flee when I enter a room, and did I mention the 8 years of therapy?), I STILL fear that people's response to the idea of socializing with me is along the lines of "I think I hear my mother calling me..." (or maybe in this context, the client).

I do think there's more to my being social queen than avoiding The Critic's insidious whispers. The other, healthier part of it is that I do like socializing, but as an introvert, I like it best in small doses. A half hour cake break with my coworkers is perfect - it's structured, it has a focus that's not me, it's all people I know and have common conversational ground with, and it's short. So I enjoy that, and am motivated to make it happen.

The happy hour story does have a happy ending. I actually told C_____ why I had punted happy hour (take THAT little voice!) and bless her heart, she set it up herself, and without saying "because Anne is kidless this week and can come." Just, let's have happy hour.

So tomorrow at 5:00, I'll be at City Beverage enjoying a beer with my excellent coworkers. Thanks, C_____!

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