Running on Batteries: Introverts and Conventions

Introverts… tend to be introspective, quiet and less sociable. They are not necessarily loners but they tend to have fewer numbers of friends. Introversion does not describe social discomfort but rather social preference: an introvert may not be shy but may merely prefer fewer social activities. (source)

Most people think introverts are socially awkward shut-ins who need to be saved from themselves. I would suspect that many people reading this are aware that this common view simply isn’t true. We introverts aren’t uniformly bad at socializing. Introversion and extroversion describe how a person responds to the presence of others. For extroverts, the presence of others is energizing. It’s a cold glass of water on a hot day. For introverts, the opposite is true. Socializing, while enjoyable, is tiring, and we need to recharge our batteries once in awhile.

The problem for me as an introvert is that I really like going to conventions. I enjoy meeting experts and making new friends and hearing what cool things have happened and what cool things are on the horizon. However, conventions are a lot of people. I mean it’s 24/7 people. You wake up, there are your room mates, you go for breakfast, there are people in line who may attempt to converse with you when they see your badge (and some of them are morning people), then panels, more meals, the bar, the dealer room, on and on and on, people and social interaction.

So how does an introvert deal?

Schedule Selfishly

Look at the list of panels to go to. Sort and group them based on criticality. Now think about all the other things that go on at conventions: dinners, happy hour, barcon, parties into the wee hours, random hallway cons, that sudden, intense, five-hour conversation in the hotel lobby, you get the idea. These are things you have to take into account with your schedule. Staying up late at a party might mean taking those first two hours in the morning to yourself instead of going to that panel. Be pro-active where you can be.

And be aware of the implication here: you may not get to do everything you set out to do. That’s true. I run into this problem every year at SDCC. So many panels, such long lines, so little time. So I pick my one must-see panel for a day, allow the rest to fall where they may, and then decide on one singular thing I want to happen to win the con. By setting the bar realistically, I have a blast every time I go.

Keep Creature Comforts Handy

Whatever makes you happy, keep these things in your bag of holding. I carry my iPod, pen and paper, some candy, raw almonds, and random little toys in my purse. When I need a moment to breathe I’ll back away from the crowd, root around in my purse, and pull one of these little things out and it makes me happy. I’ll brush the hair of my mini Pinkie Pie or play with my R2D2 Pez dispenser.

A little sweet treat, a moment of music, jotting down a few notes for a story, all these things can give a fresh burst of energy when the moment begins to overwhelm me but you can’t step away just yet. It’s amazing what a little security blanket can do. And sometimes a quick calorie boost is exactly what the doctor ordered.

To Thine Own Self be True

This is your energy, your mood, your health. Guard your alone-time. Check in with yourself every hour or two, just to make sure you are happy and energized and not needing to get away. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with needing to get away. You’re not missing out, you’re keeping yourself from burning out. If someone’s needling you for a random cup of coffee but you’ve just had a full day of socializing, tell them thanks but you just need a break. If they push, and some people will, either make something up (feeling ill, need a nap to stave off conplague) or be honest (I just really need a little time to myself to relax). Either way, when you’re feeling that need to get away, just get away. Politely, of course, but firmly.

And be prepared for those moments when you’re by yourself, and someone thinks you are sad and alone and need company. I had this exact thing happen to me today. We’re social creatures, and we’re trained to think that when someone is alone, it is not by choice. The people who ask if you are okay while you are sitting alone are being polite and concerned. They may wonder if you are upset or hurt or ill, if you need medical help but can’t get it yourself. All you have to say is, “I’m fine, thanks. Just taking a moment to decompress.”

I’m both a writer and an engineer, the two most cliche occupations of an introvert. I spend a good deal of my day silent. I’d walked away from many conventions with a sore throat and a physical tiredness bordering on sick, until I finally figured out I need to take care of myself, and that it’s okay to enforce some me-time. My socialization capabilities are gathered over time in a reservoir, drained at each convention, and I need to make sure I don’t drain it too quickly.

And with many of us staring down one last convention, World Fantasy, and the oncoming massively-social holiday season, I hope we all remember to pace ourselves and that it’s okay to be an introvert.

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