81. Blue Pools of Serenity

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I was lamenting my lack of stamina a couple of weeks ago when my family was all gathered at E&R’s house. Ai Ai was washing dishes and she turned around to tell me not to be discouraged. After all, she pointed out, You’ve always been kind of sleepy. It’s part of being a Tan, she continued – sometimes we just need to go lie down.

I had to agree. When Hannah was a toddler and I was supposed to be babysitting I’d invariably fall asleep on the sofa and Hannah would come over and tell me, “Aunty Ning Ning – wake up!” So sleepiness is not unfamiliar territory for me, although I seem to be exploring it at new levels now.

The first speech I gave in my Management Communication class was on how to handle a job fair if you’re an introvert. If you have never been to a job fair, let me explain. They were these crazy events we all felt obliged to attend during Business School if we ever wanted to be employed. A bzillion people would usually be in attendance and I’d stand there, appropriately suited up and with my nametag fastened to my lapel, tentatively handing out cards asking, You wanna give me a job? How ‘bout you? This kind of event was horrifying to me but as I said, I felt obliged to go to job fairs so I could eventually be employed. (Side note: I did get my job through a fair. Intel saw my resume posted on a preview site and they called me before the fair to say “hi.” I dutifully haunted their booth at the fair the next day and met every last one of the staffers there.)

I began my speech by identifying the problem: energy depletion. My class was populated by a mix of personality types so I explained what it’s like to be an introvert so we were all on the same page. I showed them my faux “graph” (see picture above) and told them to imagine that I went to the Winter Formal and one of our classmates (a known extrovert who obligingly let me use him as an example) attended the same event. We both arrived at 8pm (time is on the x-axis) but whereas my classmate’s energy levels grew throughout the evening as he interacted with others, mine declined. By 9pm my contacts would have dried out and by midnight it would be time for me to turn into a pumpkin.

Now the timeline has moved up by about 3-5 hours, but the problem is largely the same. So is the solution:

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I asked my classmates to imagine that they now had to attend a Career Fair that started at 8am. The key was to carve out times in your schedule where you could go “hide” from the public and recharge. I told them to think of those big blue arrows as “blue pools of serenity.” I was completely serious. That’s exactly what I used to do – take a time out in the coffee shop, go wash my hands in the Ladies’, look out the window in a quiet hallway – anything for a few minutes of solitude. My friend E|B, who “drove” my slides for me that day, once caught me hiding in the computer lab during a networking event. We both laughed hard at catching each other trying to do the same thing.

These days I’ve been trying to protect my energy even more fiercely than before. The problem is that my desire to be laughing/eating/talking with my friends is also stronger than ever. For instance, today is a special day – J==> is holding a housewarming party. I was so pleased to learn of this gathering but decided that the prudent thing to do was to spend a quiet day at home. I have found that if I have too much fun on Friday or Saturday then Sunday is really hard. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be there. Instead of sending George, my social proxy, I’ve asked K to keep her sense of good décor on alert so she can help me choose something appropriate to make J==>’s house into a home.

Update:  I based the ideas for my introvert at a job fair presentation on a book introduced to me by my career advisor.  (The faux graphs are originals by me from my school archive.) It’s called The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney.  I recalled this after some people told me that those concepts resonated with them.  It feels like I’ve thought like this all along since I read the book a few years ago and immediately recognized how I’m wired in its pages.  I remembered, though, that those ideas were actually external so I wanted to acknowledge that.