In the last decade of embracing my introversion, I’ve had to learn how to say no to discomforts that don’t serve a purpose in my life: the parties for people who aren’t my close friends or family, late nights out on the town, and phone calls that can be avoided.
Learning to set my own boundaries as an introvert has been liberating, to say the least. Each time I choose to set a boundary that feels good, I feel I’m also validating my okay-ness as an introvert in the world.
Within the past several years, I’ve also been learning when to push beyond my comfort zone as an introvert. To identify when my comfort level as an introvert takes a backseat to a greater cause.
For me, this has largely expressed itself in activism.
As an INFP on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I’m a cause-driven person. I have always needed a cause to champion, from the time I was a child, and it has always put me on the side of the underdog. Activism has come naturally to me in adulthood, though it took me well into my 30s to understand this.
A friend, and fellow introvert, sent me a picture the other day. It showed a girl holding a sign during the global climate strikes, which read, “So bad even introverts are here.”
I chuckled, because this is the truth. One way to gauge how bad things are is by how many introverts are willing to venture outside the warmth and quiet of our homes, into the crowds, and the general madness, raising our voices against injustice. It comes easier to some introverted personality types than others, to be fair. But it is still an act of stepping beyond our well-defined limits of comfort.
The same day as the youth-led global climate strike, I showed up by myself to join a group of people I didn’t know for an Indigenous-led, four-day walk to our state capitol, with specific climate demands for our governor. I had originally planned on attending the climate strike in my own town, but as soon as I learned of this walk, I was intrigued. And nervous.
I am a homebody. I am anxious being away from my furbabies for more than a day or two. I really don’t relish committing to overnight excursions with people I’m not already comfortable among. I really really don’t relish not having an escape plan in social situations. This experience checked all the boxes of social anxiety for me.
But, and this is a significant but, the greater purpose of this event ended up outweighing my introverted anxieties by a long shot.
Not only did I feel the cause was worth making myself uncomfortable for, I felt the act of inconveniencing myself was, in itself, significant. If I want to grow as an activist, I have to be willing to put myself in situations of discomfort. This felt like a natural progression. I had already shown up for local rallies, marches, and city council meetings. Those now fell squarely within my comfort zone. But this? Okay, maybe it wasn’t so much a progression as a leap, but it was a leap I knew I could make.
If I want to be the kind of person, the kind of activist, who can risk arrest or put herself in harm’s way one day, if ever I was called upon to do so, I won’t become this person by avoiding situations of discomfort. And if I couldn’t endure four days of walking, muscle fatigue, no showers, sleeping on the hard ground, socializing with strangers, not being at home with my furbabies and husband—tame discomforts, safe discomforts—how could I expect to endure more?
I needed to do this for my own growth.
I needed to do this because I care too deeply to stay home.
I need to know I am doing everything I can to speak out on the climate emergency because too much is at stake to play it safe. Because I don’t want to get to the end of my life, whether that’s tomorrow or 50 years from now, and regret that I didn’t live with unrelenting courage. I want to say I did everything I could to fight for this place that I love, this earth, whatever the personal cost.
On the first day, I learned that this was actually a five-day event. I had mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared myself for four. I felt the anxiety clenching my insides at this news. I didn’t know what to do.
So I did the kindest thing I could for my introverted self: I left it open-ended. You don’t have to decide today or tomorrow, I told myself. You can leave on Monday as planned, if you want. You can also stay, if you want. But whatever you decide is okay. Give yourself time.
Truthfully, I had been leaning toward leaving on Monday, but when Monday came, I changed my mind. I’m going to finish this, I said. I can do this. I can be gone one more night, one more day.
I’m exceedingly grateful I stayed. Monday night, after we arrived near the Capitol, we all gathered for dinner and shared our experience. I found myself, in a pause, volunteering to stand up on the stage in front of our group and share why I’d come and what it meant to me as an introvert. I hadn’t realized how deeply alone I’d felt as an activist until I had surrounded myself with a group of people whose hearts were like my own. We spoke a similar language. Being around these people, scary as it had been initially, had filled my heart more than it had drained me. I choked on tears as I spoke, realizing how much I had grown to love these people who had only four days earlier been strangers.
That is the power of showing up, outside our comfort zones.
When I left this group to return home the next day, after setting ourselves up on the steps of the capitol building in peaceful action, I knew I had been altered in a deep way. I came home that evening to my furbabies, a warm shower, and clean clothes, and I sat in the dark weeping for all the ones I’d left behind and the metamorphosis I could feel happening in my innermost being.
I will never be the same again.
And isn’t that worth so much more than our comfort?