Invisibility and Our Introverted and Extroverted Selves

Just last week I was out with a colleague and a graduate student. It was a lovely lunch catching up with each other’s literary lives. As we were swapping new young adult titles to read, two former administrators from our university walked by. I greeted them and introduced them to my lunch mates. When asked about our summers, I responded that I was acting department chair. The former provost of the university then went on about the vacationing department chair and what a great job he had done on a statewide writing team.

Yes, the chair had done a great job on that team, but I also was a member. During those writing sessions, I had talked to this man – we had conversations about my work for the university and for the state’s English/Language Arts teachers. He presented me with a certificate of appreciation. I sat there quietly mortified. Am I that unnoticeable? Unremarkable? Invisible?

On the way back to campus, my colleague (an assistant professor relatively new to the department) asked why I had not corrected the former provost. Why hadn’t I told him that I had worked with him, too? I had no easy answer, so I turned to the internet for some self-diagnosis via those ubiquitous “tests.”

Thinking the results would give me a cutesy twist for this post, I chose one from entitled, “Are You An Introvert or an Extrovert?” Fourteen questions later, I had my answer: I am more of a public introvert and a private extrovert. According to my results, the following are true:

  • I am comfortable within my circle of family and friends;

  • I am pragmatic and can successfully manage problems;

  • I am more comfortable with family and friends than with my job;

  • I am expressive and emotional.

  • I am often the one to soothe others and help people work together.

  • I feel less comfortable with the “rhythm of professional life;”

  • I grow distant in my work life because I cannot control all the pieces;

  • My discontent at work can be due to a lack of thanks or recognition or even a fear of not being good enough.

My search for a comical twist instead produced an ironic set of truths. These statements are quite accurate.

I do shy away from work-related tasks that would put me center stage. When working on the writing team mentioned above, I felt most comfortable within my smaller writing group; I could manage those specific purposes. After the standards were completed, I was asked to be interviewed about them or star in some professional development videos. Both of those frightened me. Would I sound smart enough? How would the audience perceive me?

As I look at my peers’ shining accomplishments, all over Facebook, I wish that could be me. I just simply do not know how I can even start stepping on a larger professional stage, whether that is for my university or for my national organization. I prefer invisibility to the anxiety of trying to be that kind of academic.

For those of us in academic settings, levels of introversion and extroversion matter. We have very public responsibilities - teaching, advising, mentoring, and networking. This last one proves difficult for a public introvert. I hate those social gatherings on (and off) campus when I have to shake hands and try to fit in. This is particularly difficult when a college dean, provost, or university president is involved.

I acknowledge the ironic turn of this blog, and I realize some may chuckle at my willingness to put so much belief into an online quiz, but I now know how to think through those moments when I feel shy and invisible. By naming these feelings, I can focus on what elements of my private extroversion can be used to make the workplace more manageable.