I have a job. Like we all have to for some reason, have jobs. I’m not crazy about it, but I have rent to pay and I’m fond of eating, so there it is.
One of the ongoing issues I have with my workplace is the noise. The place where I work is an industrial building converted into an office space with a vast collection of cubicles. One big box containing many little boxes. From 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, I occupy one of those little boxes. As I labor away under florescent lighting, I am surrounded by numerous other office drones laboring away in little people compartments of their own.
And they talk.
They’re not doing anything wrong by talking (usually). Talking – on the phone and to each other – is necessary for their jobs to one degree or another. It’s just that some of them are so LOUD. I can hear some of these people from five or six cubes away! I guess their parents never taught them about “inside voices.”
One of the defining characteristics of introverts is the way we handle external stimuli. There is a great book by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D. called The Introvert Advantage. In one chapter, she writes about studies that have been done to better understand the neurological differences between extroverts and introverts. It turns out, our brains really are wired differently.
The neural pathways and neurotransmitters that extroverts tend to rely on are ideal for reacting to a piece of information quickly and easily. Their brains are wired to react to the world around them in real time.
By contrast, the introvert brain is set up to take that same piece of information and internalize it. To think it through, commit it to memory, and then respond to it.
(This explains why it is a mistake to try to “cure” oneself of introversion. It is not a pathology. It’s a facet of one’s personality that is hardwired into the brain. Laney argues that the goal is not to change, but to learn how to work with your tendencies, rather than struggling against them.)
Anyway, you can see why introverts can feel drained by too much stimuli. That stuff doesn’t just bounce off of us. Our brains are constantly trying to process it. Too much, for too long, can be exhausting, even when it’s something we enjoy. Imagine how much worse it is when it’s something that annoys us to begin with! Imagine how much worse it is to deal with while we’re trying to concentrate on something, like doing our jobs.
The other day, I had an incident. It’s the sort of incident that used to occur many times throughout the day before I asked to be moved to a desk in a quieter area. Thankfully, these events are less frequent now, but they still happen from time to time.
My cubicle is at the end of a row. On the other side of the cubicle wall to my left are some folks who work in a different department than me. On the other side of the cubicle wall behind me is one of my co-workers. To my right is an aisle, on the other side of which is my boss’ cubicle.
There was some sort of hubbub about some technical issue in that department to my left. It had everyone over there chattering away about this and that. In the cubicle behind me, my co-worker was chattering away with someone who had come over to ask her a question. In my boss’ cubicle across the aisle to my right, two people were chattering away with her about something of great importance to the three of them. All of this, in combination with the usual background chatter that always permeates the workspace.
Sound, piling upon more sound, piling upon more sound, coming at me from multiple directions – this is a scenario that stresses me out like few other things can.
Again, none of these folks were doing anything wrong. They were just having the conversations they needed to have to get things done. They had no way of knowing that while they were doing that, I was sitting at my desk with my head in my hands, grappling the anxiety attack they had unwittingly triggered. It was all I could do not to get up on my desk and scream, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!” at the top of my lungs.
But I didn’t. I just sat there and waited for that feeling to pass.
There are so many days when I wish I could just stay at home and hide from the noisy working world. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out a way to get paid for that.