Last week was my fifth week in quarantine, and I must confess to a small meltdown. This whole experience, I concluded, was similar to being about 8 hours into a really long international flight: I just want to get off this damn plane.
But other people, surprisingly, aren’t feeling this way. Broadly speaking, they’re called introverts. And I happened to speak to three very different ones last week. All told me they love this time. (To be clear, they love the “being trapped in one’s home” part of this time; not any of the more insidious aspects of Covid-19).
The first is my own daughter, a 4-year-old who happens to have an identical twin who is a stereotypical extrovert. In normal times, my extrovert loves group gatherings, helping her teacher in front of the class and turning on the charm when friends or family speak to her. My little introvert, not so much. Like most with this personality type, she has a quieter style of being.
“Do you miss your friends? Your classmates? Going to school?” I asked, as my daughter played in typical serious fashion with cars and trucks on the living room floor. She briefly looked up at me for a second, before turning back to her toys. “I don’t miss anything,” she said, somewhat defiantly.
Of course, I thought. Small children love this time. But a few hours later, I was surprised to hear that same sentiment — perhaps uttered a little less firmly — from a business colleague.
And not just any business colleague. Eliza is a lovely young woman in Medellin, Columbia, who is part of The Story Exchange’s remote SEO (search engine optimization) team. Every week, she joins us via Google Hangout, usually from some charming coffee shop. I look forward to seeing what chic earrings she’s wearing — will it be the long dangly white ones? — and the cute outfits that make my standard-issue black leggings look even sadder than usual. I always imagine that, immediately after our call, she dashes off to get a workout and a healthy smoothie in, before joining friends at some trendy Medellin hot spot.
Fast forward to global quarantine. Like the rest of us, Eliza is now working from home, still radiant despite no make-up or cute earrings. “How are you doing?” I asked sympathetically during our call, expecting she might be ready to jump out the window of her fifth-floor city apartment.
“I love this,” she said, enthusiastically. “I don’t have to leave my home — it’s great.” My jaw dropped — I could tell this because I could see my own image reflected back at me in a Hangout window. Eliza went on. “I am an introvert,” she revealed. (Huh?) “This is perfect for me.”
This must be an anomaly. Who could love this time? One manages/handles/deals stoically with this time. No one loves this time. But one day later, an interview source expressed those same words, as we spoke over the phone. “I am an introvert,” said Jules Pieri, co-founder of The Grommet, an online marketplace based in Somerville, Massachusetts, who is now working from home (her 74 employees are as well). In fact, she can’t figure out how some people seem to have so much extra time right now, what with all the exciting things to do in one’s home. “I’m working and keeping up the fitness. It’s like my dream life.”
This time, I pushed back. I’ve interviewed Jules before. She is an articulate, well-spoken business leader, someone who persisted in getting venture capital after being turned down 250 times. I thought introverts were quiet people who hid in their shells? “I play an extrovert at work,” she explained.
She mused for a second about whether she and her employees will continue to work remotely, after quarantine is over. The other day, her entire staff gathered together online, and the team meeting was “better than any we’ve ever had in person,” she said. “We always had a flexible policy, but I always had a nagging worry about connectivity.” The concept of a large number of employees working from home used to be “worrisome” to her. “Now I think I am over that.”
A world built for extroverts has turned inward. The introverts are partying. Quietly. Happily. Effectively.
I worry my introverted child won’t want to (willingly) go back to real school — the physical kind, full of overstimulated classmates with loud voices, all shouting over one another — once this is all over.
But I now suspect, because of her natural personality, that she may be better equipped to live in a post-coronavirus society, where remote meetings become commonplace and social distancing becomes the new normal. Someday, she might even be a quiet leader. The world that used to move at a dizzying speed has tipped and a new order — calm and centered — may be rising.