While very few people are out-and-out introverts or extroverts (we’re all on a sliding scale), it’s pretty clear that Rob and I lean towards the introverted side in a big way.
We’re not shy in the slightest: we’ll happily talk to pretty much anyone, and we don’t feel apprehensive about meeting new people. We don’t avoid social situations out of a lack of confidence, and we’ll eagerly walk up to those we don’t know and give them a cuddle (or shake their hand if they don’t look like the cuddling type).
But introversion is different from shyness. Introverts (or those with introverted tendencies) “tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds.”
Extroverts, conversely, “gain energy from other people. Extroverts actually find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being social.”
(Quotes taken from a fantastically insightful Fast Company article on the subject.)
But because I’d always linked “shyness” to “introversion”, it took me AGES – decades – to realise that I was one.
Here are some examples of my introversion:
- Once I’ve spent a few hours in the company of others, I’m pretty much done for the day. It’s absolutely nothing personal against them, but I just can’t cope with more than a few hours at a time with people. I’m knackered.
- When I was a teenager, I spent SO much time on my own in my room. My family’s house was always full of noise, people, and “stuff” going on. And I just wanted out of it: I wanted peace away from it all. So I was always a “bit weird”, by myself, in my room. If I’d had a particularly tiring day at school (or later, at work) and someone would call me from downstairs or knock on my bedroom door after I’d escaped there, I’d feel like crying. I just wanted to be on my own.
- I can’t bear the thought of sharing a house or an apartment with other people – even for a weekend. (Apart from Rob, of course – he can come.) I need to know there’s an escape – a way to get away from everyone else when I need to.
- I HAVE to get out and go for a brisk walk or a run, by myself, every morning. It’s my time alone and I refuse to share it with anyone else.
Now, all of this may seem a bit “hashtag-first-world-problems”-y to you, and I agree. If there were drones in the air above me right now, or if I had no money to buy my next meal, I probably wouldn’t be too concerned with whether it’s socially acceptable to “nip out before the party gets into too much of a full swing”.
But introversion can (in my opinion) cause a lot of angst despite being relatively (in my opinion) easy to deal with. So it makes sense to give it a few minutes of attention.
So… on to introverted digital nomads.
Here’s the problem:
If you’re travelling around the world on your own while trying to set up/run your business, it’s very easy to isolate yourself. Introverts love having friends (sorry – that came out as incredibly patronising), but it takes a lot of mental energy to go out and see people in the first place. Unlike school, work or family friends you’ve known for ever, a fair amount of effort is always involved when making and seeing friends as a digital nomad.
Also, plenty of other digital nomads are (or at least seem) very extroverted: they love getting together to work, have breakfast, have lunch, have drinks, etc.
It can lead to an isolated life where you feel left out but at the same time don’t want to participate – even though you know you’ll probably really like the people you meet. We’ve had the exact same thing. And in fact, an isolated life is even more of a risk for digital nomad couples: they’ve always got each other to talk to, so there’s less incentive to go and talk to other people.
So what do you do if you’re an introverted digital nomad (or an introvert who’s thinking of becoming a digital nomad)? Here are some tips, based on our 18 months of trying to find the right balance:
Stay for as long as you like… then leave (they really won’t think it’s weird)
If there’s one group of people you shouldn’t feel a need to conform with, it’s digital nomads. They’ve opted out of peer pressure. They’ve opted out of a regular life. They’ve chosen to do things their way – a way that’s different from the norm.
So if you want to hang out for a couple of hours and then head home to relax and recharge, they really won’t think that’s weird. Even among the extroverts, a few will probably make their apologies early in order to go home for a Game of Thrones marathon, or to do some final bits of work before bed. Everyone does their thing, and everyone else just accepts it.
There’s absolutely no need to make excuses either. We’ve done our fair share of “Oh shit, is that the time? We’ve got friends coming over for dinner in an hour.” These days though, when there’s another guy in the group exclaiming, “Must dash – I need to be home in time for Mark Cuban’s Reddit AMA because I want to ask a question about Shark Tank‘s ridonkulous T-Mobile product placement,” we know we’re fine to just say “Right, we’re off… see you soon!”
Don’t feel the need to attend absolutely everything
Whenever we’re in Berlin or Asia, there are usually lots of other digital nomads who enjoy setting up heaps of social events and doing things together almost daily. We simply couldn’t do that anyway, because we’ve overloaded ourselves with way too many projects. But even if we could, we wouldn’t particularly want to. Not because we don’t like hanging out with them (quite the opposite – we adore our fellow nomad buddies), but because we crave our own space.
I used to feel really guilty about not turning up to absolutely everything. I’d convince myself that everyone else just thought we were “rocking up when we felt like it” rather than being solid, meaningful and valuable friends to everyone else. But what’s so wrong with picking and choosing anyway? If going to a busy bar for the evening isn’t your kind of thing, what’s the point in attending? No one else is going to think you should be there to keep everyone else happy if you’re not having a good time yourself.
So just go to the stuff that works for you. And stay for as long as you like.
Join in the coworking activities
If you’re invited along to a coworking day in a coworking space or wifi cafe, grab the opportunity – it’s your dream! You get to chat to likeminded people, drink coffee with them and speak to them one-on-one in a calm and quiet location – and at any point it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Anyway, I must get on with some work.”
Remember: you can set the agenda too
It’s not just about tagging along to other people’s activities – you can also set the tone and length of a meetup with others.
This is all well and good, but what if you don’t know how to meet other people like you (who travel while working) in the first place?
Here are some thoughts:
- Join our forum! (We’ll be opening up more spaces over the next few months.)
- Create your Nomadtopia is a fab Facebook group (you need to ask for permission to join)
- Follow other digital nomad blogs and – if you like the writers – let them know if you’re in the same area as them.
- Put your pin on the Find A Nomad map – and see if anyone else is in your area too.
- Twitter-stalk people and see where they are/where they’re heading.
- If you have any digital nomad buddies already, ask them if they can introduce you (virtually) to others so that you can go on to meet them (in person) when you’re both in the same place.
- Search for “digital nomad” on Meetup.com.
- Go to a coworking space and get talking to other people there.
So what do you think?
Are you an introvert? How do you meet new people without it sapping all your energy?
Are you an introverted digital nomad? What has worked for you?
And what do you think of my suggestions?
Let me know in the comments!