How to Avoid Overcommitment as an Introvert

The following is a list that most people would say are good things.

  • Putting your children in organized sports.
  • Volunteering to coach organized sports.
  • Attending PTA meetings.
  • Volunteering to be the president of the PTA.
  • Serving on a church committee.
  • Volunteering to teach a church study.
  • Volunteering to work at a church function.
  • Volunteering to work at a charity function.
  • Enrolling your child in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.
  • Volunteering to work as a Scout leader.
  • Serving on an after-hours work committee to benefit the community.

If you’re an extrovert, you might look at a list like that with something approaching excitement, or at least interest. After all, nothing can make an extrovert panic quite like the prospect of a quiet evening isolated away from people. I’ve had two different extroverted teacher friends tell me that they emerge from a day of teaching¬†wired up; they get restless if they have too much quiet downtime in the evening. They love getting to do more with people after work.

I’ve seen it firsthand. As a high school teacher, I’ve attended evening functions, from sporting events to theater to district committees. I remember one particular evening district committee meeting where the electricity among the room’s extroverts was palpable. They were excited to be there, excited to get down to business, and excited about the meetings to come. They chatted animatedly about the committee’s work, turning the pages of their massive binders and listening to the lead speakers. The windows were all dark, the sun having set long ago … and this was like a professional party for many of those in attendance.

That was the first and last time I went to that committee meeting.

As an introvert, I’m energized by solitude. I do like being around people, especially my family and close friends (who, to their credit, do not drain me), but I draw my best energies from the life of the mind. Sitting here, writing this piece, is a genuinely energizing exercise.

Of course, being around people is a necessity for most people, especially for me, since, well, I’m in a building with two thousand students every day. And I can cope with that fine … provided that I have recharge time each day where I don’t have to exist in a sea of people.

I think many introverts face the same challenge. Whether it’s in a cubicle with team meetings, a secretary position, or a skilled trade with other workers, dealing with people throughout the day drains an introvert’s batteries. Introverts need to find time to de-people later in the day, and if they don’t, they start to feel it. The problem is that there are things introverts are asked / pressured / coerced / begged to do that take place later in the day, adding more socialization on top of the socialization of a day’s work.

So what is an introvert to do?

The key, I believe, is to 1) know yourself and 2) try to adapt accordingly. If you know you need socialization in the evening, see what you can do to get it. But if you need time to yourself to recharge, do what you can to make that happen. For an introvert, that means:

Knowing how the activity will affect you. Everyone is a little different, so part of taking on a commitment is to know how it will impact you. Is the commitment a major drain, or is it actually fun? Does it leave you happy to have been there, or wishing you’d never done it? Those things go a long way toward helping you decide whether to do it.

Learning to say no. Whether it’s because there’s a need or everyone else is doing it, the pressure to commit is real. Learning to say no is not only important; it can be a sanity-saver, and make an introvert more productive in the important facets of their life. This can be hard when the item in question is seen as important, but if the alternative is wear-out and burnout in other parts of your life, it’s worth the trouble.

Keeping boundaries when you say yes. Just because you say yes doesn’t mean you have to be overrun. It’s perfectly appropriate — no, it’s vital — to set limits on your commitments. Make them clear, make them firm, and stick to them. Sometimes, for example, I make it clear I’m just trying something on a probationary basis, and if it proves too much, I’ll back out. This approach has saved me a lot of grief.

Being willing to re-evaluate. Sometimes what starts as a decent idea explodes into a soul-sucking experience. If you find yourself at a commitment thinking about nothing else but how you’d like to be back home or away from there, that’s a sign that maybe a revisiting of the commitment is in order.

What about you? How do you protect yourself from over-commitment?

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