February and March happen to be a pair of months in which I’ve spent a great deal of time traveling over the past few years. It means a lot of unpacking and repacking carry-on size bags (no checking if I can avoid it!), tweeting from crowded gates and anticipatory runways, and compressed air that stings my eyes and dries my throat. It’s a part of life, and it’s finally become ritual- something that’s just routine for the season.
It was with the anticipation of a busy travel season that I perked up to find Amy Heinz’s fantastic piece via Quiet Revolution on granting introverted children a “long runway” to warm up to energy-intensive situations.
As she puts it,
There was nothing to do but take a deep breath and join them. One of my friends welcomed me with an enthusiastic hug. And just like that, my shoulders relaxed, and I took off…out of my head and into the moment.
You see, as a quiet type, I understand the long runway: the extended amount of time it can take an introvert to warm up in a new situation and become comfortable enough to socialize. Because of this, it should come as no surprise to me when my quiet children also need time to adjust to different social settings. And yet, it does.
As I think about the manner in which I get in the air each time I take a trip, it truly does mimic my path into most high intensity situations (whether that intensity is created through people, nervousness, or something else that at times challenges the capacity of my energy stores). A long runway is the most efficient way to take flight, because fuel will be burned for the duration of my “flight.” Similarly, the descent has to be gradual, and if I run out of fuel midair? Welp.
It feels an apt comparison to liken extroverts, then, to the space shuttle or other rockets that blast into space with explosive energy, quick ascent, and plumes of smoke.
They can burn fuel on their way toward the heavens because once they arrive, the environment they’re in, quite literally gives them what they need to sustain flight. That is to say, while fuel is needed to keep a plane going in our earth’s stratosphere, the weightless nature of outer space provides energy for shuttles to soar in the same way that extroverts gain energy from the highly stimulating environments they plunge into.
Please note: by using these comparisons, I by no means wish to imply (nor do I believe) that the trajectory of extroverts is inherently higher than that of introverts. Quite the contrary, to be honest. I simply mean that to get to where they’re most effective, the mechanics differ sharply. And by ignoring the natural construction of the vehicle at hand, forcing too great an energy burn at the start of flight may cause discomfort (at best) or danger (at absolute worst). So recognizing that the ascent will look different depending on an individual’s type, what can we do?
Be open about the flight plan. Are you anticipating turbulence over the course of the flight? Does the itinerary have layovers or a special offering available? Part of a successful flight (or mission) is letting all headed up know what’s going on. Yes, surprises present themselves. We can’t control everything. “Items in the overhead compartment may shift during flight.” But as much as you can, brief all those headed up on what they may encounter while they’re up there.
Help make the positive clear. I’ve talked previously about how activities that will burn energy are very easy for introverts to be fatalistic about. When contemplating takeoff, the idea of doing so under bumpy or adverse conditions isn’t so exciting. It’s scary, even a bit discouraging. However, knowing that the forecast is clear or that time in the air will be short can help.
If holding a gathering where decisions are being made (meet and greets, group interviews or prospective member meetings), highlighting the “come and go” nature of such events or that there will be opportunities to listen and learn as well as speak is important. With that said, “come and go” nature should be risk-free. That is to say, staying for a short time or connecting with a small number of people shouldn’t be able to be held against someone later. When you assess someone’s potential or likeability once all have reached cruising altitude, it’s a more equitable process that is more likely to reveal each individual’s true colors.
Embrace forgiveness. I couldn’t say what Amy Heinz said, any better:
Of your child. Of yourself. We all have moments that don’t go as well as we hope—even with all the planning and thoughtfulness we can muster. I try to remind myself that the next time I see a graceful lift off, it will be because of something learned on a rockier day—even though it doesn’t always feel that way. Sometimes the long runway feels very long, so it’s important to remember—and celebrate—the successes along the way.
This principle has been a big one for me lately. We don’t always get it right- regardless of who we are or how our energy ebbs and flows. But some of my favorite pilots have demonstrated apology for those circumstances, and the best flight directors have been open about the rattling and mistakes that are made. Creating space, however you can, for smooth flights and successful missions, is important. The sanity, peace of mind, and overall trajectory of those on board is dependent upon this.