I rushed out of my Introductory Geology class session on metamorphic rocks a bit early that day, brushing off student questions at the end of class with hurried apologies, and walked to my car at the fastest clip I could manage. My destination was a restaurant: the Margarita at Pine Creek, where I was giving a lunch talk for the Pikes Peak Environmental Forum. I agreed to this plan because I had no lab that afternoon with my students, but this talk was still crunched between class and afternoon meetings.

I had decided to talk about the crossover between earthquake science and climate science. Newly-discovered links between the atmosphere and earth have been shaking up my scientific community in recent years, creating collaboration between scientists in disparate realms through new technologies and the discovery of new phenomena.

The sun blazing, my car was sweltering hot as I drove up to the restaurant, and by the time I entered the restaurant, I was more in the mind of summer than fall. As I walked inside the restaurant, the calm atmosphere was striking, with the mixed sunlight and shadows from the trees entering through the windows to give a feeling of the outside being brought inside.

I was the first to arrive, as I prefer, so I had ample time to take in my surroundings. I then quickly turned my thoughts inward to run through the talk in my head. The topic was new to me, and I did quite a bit of research to put it together—a bit more than I’d usually do for a public talk—but I had been interested in using this material for a class I was teaching in the spring anyway. However, even after 9 years of teaching college classes, I still had butterflies in my stomach.

The host arrived along with the earlier guests, and I ate lunch while making small talk with several of them. I was lucky: we found some good things to talk about, and the time for chitchat was thankfully short, owing to the fact that I was giving a talk for most of lunch.

The talk went well. The audience asked lots of questions, and I received a warm reception with many thanks from them after the talk. However, my brain was already rushing back to the myriad tasks and meetings I still had to do that afternoon at school, and I struggled to stay present in my post-talk conversations with the guests.

After many of the guests had funneled out of the restaurant, a woman approached me. She was upper middle-age with short, cropped white hair and a simple, comfortable dress. Her calm expression was striking and inviting in a way that made me feel immediately at ease. She thanked me for the talk and expressed how much more connected she felt to the earth after hearing me speak. “I’m just going to go home and lie on the ground in my backyard,” she said, “and feel the earth for a while.”

Immediately, my subconscious brought up a visual of her house: small and cute with lots of wind chimes. It had a kitchen filled with herbs and crystals hanging in all the windows. I assumed she was one of those persons whose comments often leave me lost for words: someone who values the hidden and unexplainable energies of the world more than scientific explanations. Yet, her statement pulled a tiny bit at my soul. What she described doing with her afternoon sounded much better to me than what I was doing with mine. She went on: “I really like going to these talks. I like to get out and meet new people and learn new things. Then I need to go home and just be alone with my thoughts for a while because I’m an introvert.”

I thought that sounded wonderful. I wanted to have that life and to be like her when I’m 55. Then, a new thought hit me like a firecracker in my brain. She’s an introvert, and she’s okay with that! Moreover, she talks about it with other people and has constructed her life to be in tune with her introverted temperament. At the time, I felt—more than understood—that this was very different from the norms of society and certainly different from the norms of my profession and workplace.

I’m 40, so 55 is not that far away. How could I become like her when I felt my life was set up to move in such a different direction: to a place full of busyness and constant interaction with people all day?

What I have learned since that day at the Margarita is that I had constructed my career as a geology professor to be in line with my core values: promoting education, mentoring young people to find their paths and gifts, helping young people also work on their shortcomings, and studying the earth.

My daily activities, however, were starkly out of line with my introverted nature: being the center of attention for hours each day, attending back-to-back meetings, having student appointments for entire afternoons, making daily small talk with students and faculty, and—in the rare moments I had time at my desk—being interrupted regularly. I was pretending to be an extrovert because I thought being an introvert was socially unacceptable, and that led me into a job that clashed with my personality.

Though the full weight of that lesson at the Margarita needed many months (plus some therapy) to settle on my brain before I could fully describe and understand it, without the 30-second influence of this woman’s conversation, I’d be far behind where I am today in accepting who I am, making positive changes to move my career in a direction more in line with my temperament, and speaking openly to friends and family about my introverted nature.

As much as my talk moved her, I wish I could thank her and let her know how much her comment moved my life.

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  • Elaine Taylor

    There is much for me to !earn from this wonderful lady too. Thank you for that love!y honest story. I hope you are more at peace with your true nature now. The earth never pretends to be anything other than the earth. Maybe the earth you love so much will be your finest teacher. An interesting thought. As a novice farmer I am learning much about who I really am from the earth I love so much.

  • Shannon ‘Thomas’ Kline

    Thank you for this. I have a love for psychology and keep considering grad school, but ultimately it would lead to a teaching career that I know in my heart would not be right for me. Still, I can’t seem to completely let go of the idea and accept the fact that I need a more quiet, simple life than academia could ever allow me. I’ll be clipping this article to Evernote, as a reminder of my truth—that my version of success will never be too busy or loud. And that is okay.