Recently, my team at work had a large online party for our senior manager who’s going on paternity leave, with online games like Among Us and other activities. But I quickly felt uncomfortable and decided to drop out. This is not new for me though. In past jobs, when work parties take place, I like to grab food and then duck out to some place quiet.
Strangely, I like people a lot, and I like socializing (I am pretty chatty actually), but I tend to like smaller gathering with like-minded people than larger settings with people that I am not that familiar with. For some reason, work parties always make me uneasy unless I am with a good friend.
The truth is, I like being alone a lot. Again, I really like people, but I also like being alone with my thoughts and personal projects too. But also I value sincerity too, hence I like to be with sincere friends more than socially “beneficial” events.
This reminds me of yet another fine passage from the 14th century Japanese text, “Essays in Idleness” (tsurezuregusa 徒然草), composed by Buddhist monk Kenkō:
I wonder what feelings inspire a man to complain of “having nothing to do.” I am happiest when I have nothing to distract me and I am completely alone.
If a man conforms to society, his mind will be captured by the filth of the outside world, and he is easily led astray; if he mingles in society, he must be careful that his words do not offend others, and what he says will not at all be what he feels in his heart. He will joke with others only to quarrel with them, now resentful, not happy, his feelings in constant turmoil. Calculations of advantage will wantonly intrude, and not a moment will be free from considerations of profit and loss….Even if a man has not yet discovered the path to enlightenment, as long as he removes himself from his worldly ties, leads a quiet life, and maintains his peace of mind by avoiding entanglements, he may be said to be happy, at least for the time being.
It is written in the Maka Shikan, “Break your ties with your daily activities, with personal affairs, with your arts, and with learning.”1Translation by Professor Donald Keene
That said, sometimes it sucks being an introvert when life kind of insists that the key to success is networking.
One of my favorite movies in Japan is an obscure historical movie called Twilight Samurai (Japanese: tasogare seibei):
In one early scene (not shown above, sorry), Seibei, played by the awesome Sanada Hiroyuki, is invited by coworkers (again) to go drinking, but he politely declines and goes home to spend time with this young daughters (his wife died long ago) and work around the house. That said, his coworkers badmouth him behind his back for never socializing.
As a dad who loves his wife and kids, and loves being home, I can definitely understand this feeling, but I also know it probably strikes other people as odd, or maybe even rude.
1 The Maka Shikan (original Chinese: Mohe Zhiguan) is an influential meditation text from the Chinese Tiantai school, so the quote that Kenkō puts here is in the context of dedicated meditation practice, not necessarily daily life. I like the quote, but felt it’s important to mention the context to avoid confusion. 🙂