Being an Introvert in Las Vegas, Kansas City & the Service Industry
Recently I landed in Las Vegas, and a few days later, Kansas City (see massive pic below). The first with a group of friends who were anxious to take advantage of a few days off and the discounts available to us in a city where the party never stops. The second by myself, since weather and delays would have caused my original crew to work an illegal number of hours if they were to continue the trip. Both journeys I enjoyed, and both highlighted a fact that I’ve been wrapping my head around for the past two months: I’m a flipping introvert.
To be honest, I’d never really considered the possibility that I was an introvert until, during my airline training, we were asked to take a series of personality tests to better understand ourselves, and as a result of this newfound awareness, better communicate more efficiently with each new crew we worked with. My Myers-Briggs result was INTJ. “The Architects,” as people like me are called, are logical but incredibly optimistic because we believe that with enough push, anything can change. We’re generally bookworms, and feel everything should be open to questioning. (My close friends are used to me asking, “but what if… or if you look at it from this way… where did you find that, but which news source?” – they’ve learned I’m still probably going to take their side, I just, you know, need to know everything). We hate looking stupid, or making statements we aren’t sure are 100% correct. We communicate to exchange information or about topics that interest us.
Another test which focused distinctly on communication style resulted most of the class discovering, to no one’s surprise, that they communicated empathetically, a common trait for flight attendants, nurses and teachers. They like to talk about feeeeeelings. I and one other woman were told our instinct was to communicate using information-only, as if we were barely humanized robots. Cool. Our instructor cracked a joke that we tested similarly to most of the pilots in the industry, and my brain immediately began down the track of, I wonder how much effort, time, and money it would take to become a pilot? Hmmmm... TBD. I snapped back into the classroom discussion with the realization that maybe I had missed the point of the entire exchange. Do I not care about people? No, I reasoned, I think I care about people. I found three things about myself that proved I care: 1) I vote for the better interests of all 2) I give what I can to charities in need, and I recycle and 3) I really like rescue dogs, and dogs are pretty much people, so... I then moved on from the topic.
None of this was hugely shocking or revelatory, except for that pesky title of introvert. I’m social, and I like to talk to people. I, personally, believe I can work a crowd when I have the desire to, and aced all my public speaking courses. I don’t have a fear of being the center of attention. How did this make sense? I began Googling the topic furiously as another trainee behind me pointed out that I had been “shy” the first weeks. Not shy, I corrected internally, with additional internal side-eye, I just hate pointless ice breakers and answering the same stupid questions about where I’m from over and over… but saying I’m shy? No.
I started digging around, and found a lot of articles about the “extroverted introvert,” and a large amount of people that felt more comfortable with this title, versus simply introvert. These people discussed having similar traits as me; they liked being social, and they also liked being alone. They could do either – but these explanations still didn’t feel right to me despite reading ten articles which described 50 signs that I might be one, I wasn’t buying it. I’m not fond of dualities, because I think wishy washy answers are not answers, they’re indecisions. I finally went to the root of the word (do you see my “architect” research habits coming out yet?) and found a definition which, for me, finally provided clarity.
Extroverts gain energy from being around people, whereas introverts expend it. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy, or can’t shine bright like the best of the glittery extroverted diamonds. What it means is that it takes significant energy for me to do so. That, I conceded, was probably true.
In Vegas, I was mentally prepared to exchange meaningless conversation with people I didn’t know to make the best of our experience, locate the happening spots, and score a few drinks off people that had more funds than fresh-from-training flight attendants, and are intent on proving what they have (or want to believe they have) by spending exorbitant amounts of money. I would have also been completely fine ignoring everyone but my friends, and chilling in our own exclusive bubble by the pool. We ended up heading out to see Steve Aoki that evening, and I expended energy by having a mind-numbing conversation with the promoter to ensure he wouldn’t question his decision to bring our group to the free-alcohol tables (reminder, we’re all broke). Once inside, I grabbed a drink and a spot with a great view, and moved only to dance clumsily to the rhythm of some serious womp-womp music.
In Kansas City, I had no choice but to be alone, and I used the opportunity to visit every major tourist attraction they had available, like Union Station and the Power & Light district, plus my own interests including their magnificent public library – which has a wall of giant reproductions of famous books, art galleries on the inside, and occasionally live music! I asked a few friends where I should eat, and when I arrived at Jackstack, I questioned the bartender on the best meal and beer option. After taking his advice – lamb ribs and a local IPA - he attempted to engage in polite conversation regarding my job and I answered equally as politely before burying myself in food. An extrovert, I assume, would have been craving conversation after 24 hours of none, but I was perfectly content to ignore it all and drown myself in BBQ. Go to Jack Stack by the way, it’s magnificent.
I like to surround myself with friends and significant others (hey, babe) that are chattier than I am, allowing me to insert myself into conversations I find interesting, and zone out of the ones I find pointless. Others have tried to tell me this habit should result in me being a terrible service industry employee – but I’ve found it to be the opposite. You have a problem? Great, let me find the solution. I’m efficient when boarding a plane because I refuse to talk about so-and-so’s grandchild who caused you to be late, when all I really need to know is what exactly you need from me. You left your travel pillow by one of the gate seats? Awesome, I’ll be right back. Here it is. You’re welcome. Now you’re good? Excellent, see you never.
While in Vegas, I wasted a fair amount of energy rolling my eyes at some of the overtly made up personalities that were attempting to impress my friends. Thankfully, the women I went with get it, and get me, and found no fault with the fact that I ignored one British stranger until he made an annoyingly sexist comment – somehow, we weren’t supposed to question his claims, made in VEGAS, that he was a professional soccer player and MMA fighter, but he was doubtful us women could work in any part of a flight crew besides the position that pops a coke for you – after which my brain lit up, and I challenged myself to defeat this little sucker by questioning him relentlessly until he furiously demanded “IS THIS WHAT ALL AMERICAN WOMEN ARE LIKE?!” before storming off. I was especially pleased that I had backed him into a corner while sporting an In-N-Out hat and shoving French fries in my mouth at the rapid pace of an airline new-hire who hasn’t eaten anything but plane food in weeks.
I apologized after he left, but my amazing friends were quick to encourage my rapid deconstruction of his ego. “No, he needed to hear that, that was great.” We then discussed the difference between folks who make extreme sexist or prejudice comments intentionally to rile up others, and those who genuinely cannot comprehend that what they’re saying is influenced by generations of patriarchal bullshit, and which was more frustrating. This interests me, yesss, I thought in my favorite Gollum voice, and I prattled on for the next hour.
My training roommate Sarah and the friend she made for both us, Kelly, get a lot of credit here, since this man was seeking their attention, and they’d already witnessed my multiple moral and political interrogations during our six-week training, when Sarah was forced to be my roommate for the entirety of our learning experience. I won’t deny that I was extremely lucky to be paired with someone who was better at immediate bonding, otherwise I’d potentially have spent a month reading in my hotel room until I stumbled upon a friendly personality that also skipped the small talk, or at least didn’t mind me skipping it. The two of them patiently listened to me rant about “stupid questions,” and people throwing away marriages for a fling, which to me seemed completely illogical – why be married, then? – as well as other irritations that came up during our time as prisoners of the Hilton hotel.
In Vegas, they let me be quiet when I wanted to be quiet, and they have no problem conversing about whatever picks my curiosity each day. Basically, they’re phenomenal people – hi, friends! You da best.
After re-reading this, I guess I don’t have much advice about traveling or working as an introvert, alone or with crowds, beyond doing so with the people that know you, or accepting that you can do it yourself. I’ve learned to hold on to the relationships which allow you to flourish in areas of your expertise, but aren’t offended when you hang back if the whole social requirement is just too fucking much right now. If I surrounded myself with a group that expected me to be on my social game 24/7, I would be exhausted because, as mentioned above, engaging with others without a purpose isn’t something I like to do, even if I can do it easily. I hang with the real extroverts, the ones that like doing the social leg work, and they take care of the rest for me.
Moral of the post: You say you have the same seat number as the person next you on my aircraft? Shhhh, don’t tell me about your ridiculous buying process and your epic search for more than 50% off, just give me your damn ticket so I can fix it. I got it.