Thursday, September 24, 2009

Transitions

Over the summer I read a book called Transitions, by William Bridges, which has to go down as one of my favorite, most influential books I've read in 2009. Bridges looks at the internal shifts (transitions) that happen in a time of change (which he defines as the external shifts).

He says that each transition doesn't actually start with a beginning, but actually an ending. We spend too much time focusing on the new beginning, but ignore the implications of what has ended. We get married and we focus all our energy on the beginning of the new relationship, but we don't acknowledge the significance of the end of our single lives. We change jobs and we devote our thoughts to the new job and not to the loss of the old job and the old support system there. We turn 30 and think about the new phase of our lives but do not think of what has passed us by (by the way, the author says that 30 is one of, if not THE most important, transition in our lives!! What. Adam from 3 years ago just called and says "Can I please have that information?!!!")

I picked the book up at the encouragement of my spiritual director, as I explore this big change of becoming a published author and the transition (i.e. internal changes) that is occurring.

So transitions have been on my mind a lot, and it seems that many people actually become more introverted (defined broadly here as "inwardly oriented") during times of transition. I have a good friend who moved recently and started a new job, and though she is an extrovert, she found herself with much less relational energy for the first couple of months, and she relished solitude much more than usual.

Since introversion and extroversion is actually a continuum (not a dichotomy) that totally makes sense. There are times when we slide on the scale, though most of us have a pretty consistent preference (though we may not discover our preference until we really meet ourselves, in our 20s and 30s). Of course, the shift in my friend on the scale could be attributed to other factors - a shyness that developed in a new context, or a grieving process that acknowledged the end of her old life. But introversion and extroversion is more fluid than some people think. It seems fairly common that as people get older, they may discover a more introverted bent. Younger people just have more social and physical energy (and let's be honest, hormones which propel them more frequently into social situations), and as that youthful passion starts to fade, they may discover they're more introverted than they realized.

There was one section in Transitions that leaped off the page at me:

"The truth is that, although ours is a youth-oriented culture, many of us do not come into our own until our lives are half or three quarters over. Schopenhauer noted this more than a century ago, writing that each person's "character seems best suited to one particular stage of life, so that he appears at his best in that stage of life."

The author goes on to ask "What would you say is your own natural stage of life? Were you born to be seventeen or seventy? Are you a perennial twenty-five-year-old, or are you still waiting for your entrance cue at fifty?"

The reason this section was so significant for me was that people told me all through my childhood, all the way through my 20s, that I seemed a lot older than I am. I always found that comment a little offensive, but I'm wondering how much of that had to do with my introversion. How many of you introverts out there have been told that? In my childhood, I tended to observe in group settings more, enjoyed time to myself, didn't jump into the action very often, and didn't outwardly express much excitement or passion. Characteristics that are all typical of much older people. What do you think? Was this your experience?

I was actually very happy to turn 30, because I feel like it gives me permission to be a little more reserved and thoughtful, a little less impetuous and enthusiastic, which is a good look for me. What do you think? Are introverts better as they get older? Are we more suited for a later stage of life than extroverts?