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The Unbearable Tiredness of Being… Introverted

November 15, 2011, 10:12 am

Continuing with yesterday’s theme (which seems to have upset at least one person already, oh my!)…

I’ve been thinking about what it is about my life that wears me out so much these days, and I realized that I interact with people all day long. As a graduate student and postdoc, I often had long stretches of time when I didn’t talk to anybody (sometimes for whole days!) and was able to focus on lab work or writing or whatever without having to deal with anyone else. Professors are often able to have days when they don’t come on campus at all, or at least have set office hours when students can see them, and other times when they can close the door. As an administrator, I have to be constantly available. I am on campus every day (except when I am doing fieldwork for a few weeks in the summer) and my door is always open and I always answer the phone. I answer work emails as quickly as possible, including during evenings and weekends (hmm, maybe I do work more than 45 hours a week… perhaps I am too strict with my definition of “work”).

This is really hard on me, and I suspect I’m not the only one out there who feels this way. I am an introvert. Just because I am good at working with people does not mean that I draw energy from it. And at the end of the work day (yes, even an 8-hour work day, and yes, even after having gone to bed at 10 pm the night before, as I nearly always do) I am completely drained.

Kitten playing with annoyed cat's tail

Please make her leave me alone.

Academia can be attractive to introverts – after all, it promises independent work, long hours spent thinking… but it also requires interaction with people, in the form of teaching or administrating or collaborative research. I know from my friends in the academic blogosphere and here in real life that I am not the only introvert struggling with this problem. I also know that admitting this weakness seems to anger some people – which reminds me of how personally some people take it when I tell them that I don’t want a tenure-track job or children.

I realize it can be hard for some people to understand that what should be considered a normal amount of work can be exhausting for some of us, and that what should be considered a healthy social life (seeing friends 1-2 times a week) can sometimes feel like work. Our society, and especially academia, sets superhuman expectations on us – we should be able to work 80 hours a week, and on top of that we are supposed to have children and hobbies and personal relationships and regular exercise and a clean attractive house. And when we admit that being less than superhuman is hard enough – let alone fulfilling all of those expectations – people try to make us feel guilty and inadequate.

Well, I refuse to feel guilty any more. Who’s with me?

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