Silence is Golden.

My ears hurt. Like a weird ringing, reverberating hurt. Like I think I can hear my pulse in my ears hurt. That’s how I learned at age 40 that I was an introvert.

I live in the city but had gone away for a weekend retreat in the Rocky Mountains about an hour from my home. I stepped out of the car, and the silence was almost too loud for me to bear. No traffic, no planes, no neighbors, no kids asking to play Minecraft for the millionth time. Just silence and the occasional hum of wind through the stand of pines, towering over my cabin. That’s when I knew.

It took three days of quiet for my ears to physically stop aching and adjust to the sound of peace. It was a bit shocking to my system to become aware of this. On previous Myers-Briggs assessments, I had always scored fairly borderline on the introvert-extrovert scale. It seemed it really depended on the circumstance as to whether I would react as an introvert or extrovert. Never before had it occurred to me that my introversion wasn’t about how I chose to respond to something; it quite possibly was inherent to my being. Like squares sewn together to make a quilt, the very fibers of my physical self dictated who I was—an introvert with people skills.

I do like people, don’t get me wrong. I even like my kids most days. But during that three-day retreat, I learned a lot about what I need. I need to recharge. I can make only so many marketing presentations. I can attend only so many Girl Scout meetings. I can smile and wave and play my role as pastor’s wife only for so long before I am physically spent. I can handle the toddler hitting me in the face, breaking my nose, and causing a minor concussion, only once before I need a break. (I can’t make this stuff up.) I can handle only a few house guests. I can handle only one week with a kid’s emergency tooth extraction, the dog having surgery, and the entire family coming down with Influenza B— even though we all got our flu shots last fall, I might add.

I’m not saying introverts can’t handle parenthood or regular employment for that matter. Introverts, contrary to what others may think, can actually contribute to and be productive members of society. But this introvert can laugh off only so much before it all gets too real.

In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek says, “WHAT you do can change with the times, but WHY you do it never does.” For me, my ringing ears brought me a sense of clarity that day, for which I am grateful. I gained clarity and understanding of my MO, how I operate day to day and handle stress, demands, and deadlines—real and perceived. With that clarity also came permission. Permission to recognize when I’ve had enough of people and need quiet.

I don’t do what I do because I am an introvert, but knowing I’m an introvert helps me approach my work and life in a healthier way and choose only those things I’m truly passionate about. And ear plugs in the city sometimes help too.

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