Thanks so much for your replies and comments for last week’s blog post, An Opportunity Missed! It seems to have struck a chord with many of you and it’s kept me thinking about not only that opportunity missed, but a pattern in my life through the years. If you missed the post you can read it here.
I had been pondering this stuff about opportunities and “things left undone” as I prepared and wrote the blog post. (I call it pondering. Others close to me call it overthinking everything!) Here’s the thing, I’m an introvert. When I was a kid, before the concept of Introverts and Extraverts was common, I was a “shy kid.” Anyhow, as I was thinking it through, it began to make sense to me that my introversion was one of the reasons I missed my opportunity to learn from Oren Aldritch and to enjoy a relationship with him in his final years. Then my attorney friend Jacques DeKalb responded to last week’s post with some thoughts about why people like him, also an introvert, and me, sometimes miss those opportunities.
I know that my introversion has been a significant factor in shaping my life and my relationships. But I also realize that in spite of my introversion, I have done some “non-introverted” things through the years. I owned and operated businesses that were customer relations intensive, I was drawn to Christian ministry, and I’ve been doing public speaking since my teens. My military story and my tour of duty in Vietnam were also shaped by intentionally pushing the boundaries of my introversion. So while being an introvert is a legitimate part of who I am, it doesn’t have to dictate my entire story!
When my friend Jacques responded to my blog post and we began a series of email communications here’s what I realized: A very legitimate personality characteristic like being an introvert can be a reason for not reaching out. But if it keeps me from making the extra effort it requires to engage with my world and its opportunities, it has become an excuse!
I’ve included (with permission) my email communication thread with Jacques. This has been very clarifying for me and I can see its application in other areas of life beyond dealing with shyness. I’ve edited our conversation for length. If you haven’t read the blog post I’m referring to take three minutes and read it here.
Jacques DeKalb: It seems to me that “missed opportunities” is the curse of the introvert. As I look back on my own life, I see, and regret, so many relational opportunities I missed or failed to advance toward in my personal relationships, my spiritual life and my career. Lately, God has been helping me get beyond that innate shyness which is really a level of fear of stepping out, of drawing attention to myself. My deepest regret is that I didn’t recognize sooner that God could help me with this weakness. I have no desire to become an extravert, but I do desire the courage and faith to be bold when it’s called for in my relationships with others.
My Response: Hi Jacques! So good to hear from you! I’ve had many conversations with myself about the role my introversion has played in my “missed opportunities” through the years. It’s interesting that, for me, my introversion is a completely separate thing from my public speaking. Speaking in front of a group can be energizing for me but trying to speak to someone seated next to me on a plane (they still have those don’t they?) or in a waiting room is exhausting. Like you, I’ve realized that God can help me with pushing through the “impenetrable barrier” of introversion.
Jacques: Jim, I never had a problem speaking to jurors or at conferences either. I’ve read that many actors deal with introversion, but can step up when called upon. To me, it seems that if I have some authority or a specific responsibility in a situation, then I can be more outgoing. One on one with strangers is not easy at all.
I was about age 35 when my very outgoing secretary let me know that introverts were just as good as extroverts and I began to be more comfortable in my skin. I read that 20% of humans are introverts. I have read, too, about the introverts on bank boards of directors that felt like they were never heard when they warned about inadequately secured housing loan schemes. The extraverts just rolled right over them.
I think there are many introverted heroes in the Bible, starting with Moses. Maybe all the minor prophets. Jesus was not energized by crowds, but needed time alone with his father to be able to follow the course. I think of the widow touching Jesus’ robe in the press of the crowd. He was aware of energy being drawn from him. Probably every act of healing drew energy from Jesus such that he had to seek time alone with God to be restored. It’s a common trait of introverts to get energy from being alone. Extroverts need the energy of crowds.
Bless you, Jim, for being bold about missing real treasures. I have missed so many myself! On the other hand, being introverted has also kept me out of a lot of trouble! I thank God for that!
My Response: Thanks, Jacques! I’m starting to think you should be writing this instead of me! (As it turns out we both have had a hand in this post!)
So what do we do with this stuff? This is something I’ll be thinking about and processing for a while! Being an introvert is a reason, a legitimate reason, for having a hard time reaching across the invisible barrier it creates. It’s a reason for why it’s difficult to act or speak up, but if we don’t make the effort, climb out of our cave, step up and smile a smile and speak some words, it becomes an excuse. I’m committing, as Jacques says above, to looking to God for the courage and faith to be bold when it’s called for in my relationships with others.
There can be other things we find difficult or that we struggle with. Often it’s just too easy to allow the reason for the difficulty to become an excuse for not acting, not embracing the opportunity. Most any personality characteristic, strength or weakness, like or dislike, can be a reason that we do or don’t do things. But if that characteristic or preference keeps us from doing things we know we should do, things we feel prompted to do, a perfectly good reason becomes a very costly excuse.
What does this stir up in you? What “reasons” do you find easy to turn into “excuses”? We know beyond doubt that God loves us and accepts us just as we are. But we also know God loves us too much to leave us just as we were! So let’s reject the excuses and draw on God’s gracious enablement to “Just Do It!”
As always, I welcome your comments or questions. If you’re reading this in the email, you can simply click reply and respond. If you’re reading it on the blog at https://jimastephens.com, you can respond in the comments section at the end. Thanks for reading!