If you happened to follow me on Twitter or have read this post you know I'm a hardcore introvert. Just to recap, being an introvert doesn't mean that I am shy, don't like people or want to stay home all the time. I do strike a conversation with total strangers when I feel like it. I do like people that are respectful towards myself and others. And I like going out especially in warm weathers.
Being introverted just means that I recharge when I'm alone. Being around people drains me. I also enjoy spending time with a small group of friends (up to six is my comfortable number) instead of a room full of acquaintances.
So, being a home-based business owner poses a certain kind of challenge for me. While I love this arrangement much better than working in a regular office setting, there is a real danger that I might not see anyone but my family unless I consciously make a decision to go out and socialize.
I do love my alone time. I need lots and lots of it. But I also noticed that I feel refreshed and am more likely to come up with good ideas if I mixed in some social time. It's sort of like, you know, how you need to exercise to stay healthy? If I don't force myself, I probably would never exercise. But I also know from experience that walking briskly for a couple of hours makes me feel great.
The trick is to know just how much social time is optimal for my mental well-being. And after eight months of trial and error, I think I've figured it out.
Define what counts as social time
What does being social mean to you? For me, it pretty much includes every interaction with other humans except for my family. Face-to-face business meeting? Check. Medical appointments? You bet. Getting a haircut and other beauty treatment? Certainly. Networking events, book club meetings, hanging out with friends, one-on-one Skype chats with a friend. And even commenting and replying on social media or a long texting session with friend counts as social interaction somewhat (though a virtual interaction doesn't drain me as much as the one in real life.)
Know the upper limit of social time
One of the things I wanted to do after leaving my M-F, 9-5 job last summer was to meet new people. I moved to Halifax in 2010, but since I have been either too tired, too depressed or too stressed out for various reasons, I put off making new friends.
With a flexible schedule, I finally had the energy to be social. So I started tagging along with my husband to business meetings, joined a handful of meetup groups and invited friends to go for a midday walk with me.
I quickly discovered that the three hours was the upper limit of the face-to-face interaction that I can handle in one sitting and that it's best not to have more than two social functions in a week, with at least one day with no social time in between. I'm the happiest when I have a face-to-face social engagement every three to four days lasting around two hours. That's my optimal zone.
What happens if I went over my limit? I get really, really, really tired and cranky and start acting like a misanthrope. You know how some people get hangry? I'm like that except I need about three days to recover. No quick fix for a highly sensitive introvert like me.
Choosing your people
So, now I know how much social time I need to stay happy, and the knowledge is useful to plan my schedule. But the quantity/frequency isn't the only thing to watch out for. When it comes to socializing, quality of it is as important, especially for introverts.
I am not hesitant to meet new people, and I usually give up to three meetings to decide whether or not if I want to continue socializing with them. I understand that good friendships take the time to develop and I am patient. But sometimes, it's obvious that I cannot continue spending time with some people. I don't force myself to socialize with them but actively declutter them out of my life. My energy is precious, and I just can't spare it on the wrong people.
Conversely, when I find a good group of people, I make an effort to socialize with them even on days I'd rather curl up on a sofa and read trashy novels. Because I know I will have a good time if I can push myself out of the door.
One thing I've been doing lately is to come out of the introvert closet. Because people now know that I have a low threshold for socializing, they won't think I'm a snob when say, "No, I am not going to attend." I don't even have to make up an excuse for being busy with some other stuff to do, but I can just tell them straight that I don't have the energy to go. I used to feel somewhat guilty when I made up an excuse for not showing up, and now I don't have to feel that way.
Knowing the optimal frequency and quantity of social interaction is essential for an introvert business owner who works from home. Too much interaction will drain you, and too little will make you feel isolated. Find the right balance for you.
The quality of the social interaction is perhaps more important than the quantity. Look for the right people and don't hesitate to declutter your social circle periodically. Remember, if you're not having a good time with a certain group of people, they probably aren't your fan either.
Last but not least be your introverted self and don't apologize for who you are. You're fine the way you are: you just need to be selective how you spend your social energy which is at a premium.