Find your tribe – a lesson for the extroverted introvert

I call myself an extroverted introvert. I would really rather be alone, doing what I like doing (writing, reading, gardening) than be with people no matter who they are or how much I like them. There’s different layers of being alone, of course. Hanging out with my partner is pretty much like being alone–we are are a unit (whether that’s good or bad, who can say) but we can just be–alone–together. It’s good. When my kids were little, being with them was a lot like being alone, because we were a tight unit, our own little wolf pack. It was good.

I didn’t always crave time alone. When I became a single Mom, I wanted ANYTHING but to be alone. In order to be with people I did what many introverts do–without realizing it, I adopted a persona that allowed me to be “out there,” almost someone else; I could be friendly, talkative, ebullient even!

After the kids were grown and I moved to rural Ontario, I spent the first 3 months of my new life holed up in my tiny country house, stepping out only when I really needed supplies. When I went back to the city to see my boys, I slipped back into extrovert mode but I was always eager to go home to my little house where I didn’t have to talk to anyone, see anyone, be with anyone. That was not good. I eventually pulled myself out of the hermit’s life, but it took tremendous effort.

For a writer it’s so easy to rationalize being alone, and it can be an occupational hazard. I have spent so much time alone in my life that it feels like its more normal to be alone than with people. But humans are social creatures and we need to feel part of a tribe. Even the lone wolf archetype encompasses the innate longing for a pack.

And last month I finally found mine. In May I attended my first Annual General Meeting of the Writers’ Union of Canada. Okay, it sounds like a big yawn but it was anything but! Spending three days surrounded by hundreds of writers, many of them my personal heroes, I suddenly understood. I like being alone because most of the time being with other people means being my “outside self”. With other writers I felt absolutely free to be my “inside self.”

At first I stayed outside the pack, just witnessing the camaraderie and feeling out of place in a crowd of old friends who’d followed each other’s lives and careers for decades. But it didn’t take long to start to feel part of it. Sure, there was hierarchy, there were minor power struggles and some jostling for glory–or a cause–or just the desire to be seen and heard. It’s the pack mentality, after all. But when it’s YOUR pack, YOUR tribe, it’s a wonderful part of the whole experience. It’s okay, even enjoyable, to be the newbie when your tribal “elders” are willing to show you the ropes, let you watch and learn. There is a profound sense of security that comes from being with one’s tribe. It is a feeling that has been missing in my life for a very long time.

I left that weekend a changed person. It’s been nearly three weeks and I am still trying to take it all in. I haven’t been able to take the leap to connect again with the wonderful people I met–that’s another step and it will take me some time, and courage, to do that (I am still an introvert, after all). But I know that I have found my tribe. And with that knowledge and security anything is possible.


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