An Ambivert’s Guide to Loneliness

I love people.

I love people’s stories.

I’m in marketing and p.r. which means I’m a storyteller. When I worked in politics, I told the stories that needed to be told to appeal to a certain region or demographic. With my health and fitness clients, I tell stories of transformation, success and the professionals leading the way.

People assume I’m an extrovert because I’m always asking one more question, for one more story, one more idea.

The dumbed down definition of an extrovert is someone who draws strength from others or from the company of others.

And I do.

Most often, after a long engagement, after I’ve modeled in a publication that everyone has seen or in an ad that pops up on your news feed, after a high-output/high-demand event like a conference, a speaking engagement or a reunion, I need to unplug and regroup. I need to be alone.

An introvert draws strength from solitude; from themselves.

And I do.

Enter – the ambivert

Although incredibly flexible and up for most anything, not enough alone time or too much attention can be completely exhausting. And in that exhaustion, I can feel lonely – even in a room full of people.

In conversations, I’m finding more and more people are genuinely lonely. I’m trying to be more intentional with those I know – for whatever reason – need a little extra care and attention. I’m also aware that we are all experiencing life through a digital lense of one social media app or another instead of actually living our life out loud in the moment.

More and more people are relying on a “like” or a “follower” to fill the role of a friend. It fosters a type of loneliness that they don’t fully appreciate until the battery dies or the power goes out. And we aren’t building the social and spiritual muscles needed to combat that.

According to Dr. Christie Hartman PhD,

So, according to these 2022 stats, half the country feels alone and void of meaningful connections. That’s frightening – but I get it.

Last week I spent four days at a medical fitness conference. It’s my third year attending and I look forward to engaging with the people that attend. However, while I do marketing and public relations for them, I’m not actually one of them so there are times I excuse myself from the lecture on the “Posterior Fifth of the Iliac Crest” and wander around the convention floor.

Each year, I pass the same elderly man that runs the pop-up bookstore at these conferences. I pass him when I arrive, when I leave, when I go for my morning coffee, my afternoon coffee, my late day stroll during the “Internal and Posterior Fascicles” seminar.

I’ve never talked to him but he’s always there.

Besides, there’s always a text to respond to or an email to send.

After four days of lectures, luncheons, late night brainstorms, (also late night laughter & late night bonding) in an airbnb with members of my board and early morning cram sessions with others, I was just….done. But I didn’t have time to regroup. That evening I was catching another flight to New York for a 19 hour trip to West Point where I’d be treated to a VIP experience with my friend’s daughter who is being looked at by all the service academies to swim. I was facing a high-output day ahead with an already empty tank.

In the afternoon, avoiding the “Obturator Internus Muscle and the Pelvic Tilt” Q&A, I walked past the book display and sat down on one of the seating areas in the lobby. Surrounded by therapists and trainers on their computers and phones, I felt really alone.

I exchanged a few messages with my best friend who reminded me to get over myself and trust God more. I wasn’t terribly receptive to that at the moment but I accepted the slight reprimand and listened to his prayer for my comfort.

A few minutes later, while waiting for my carpool to get out of their “Lumbar Discs and Cramps” happy hour, I noticed a man sitting in the next sofa sectional with a West Point crest on his shirt. Though tired of interacting, I went over, sat down next to him and asked about his connection to the Academy. “Oh I didn’t go there,” He said. “My brother did and I’m a huge Army fan.” We talked about his family and job back in Ohio.

I asked what his connection was to medical fitness.

“Oh – I just come to these to help the man at the bookstore. He’s brilliant and special and I travel with him whenever he needs me.”

I asked if he’d introduce me to the man at the bookstore.

He introduced him as “the Professor.” Serious and stoic, the Professor shook my hand and asked what organization I was with. He told me about his traveling bookstore and what books he’d recommend for our conference next year. My friend from the sofa said, “she’s familiar with West Point, too.”

The Professor at the bookstore sat up straighter and told me he had taught there. He mentioned the Generals and politicians that he had had as cadets and how that time equated to the golden years of his life and career. He asked about my connection and I shared that my father had been there from ’72-’96.

His soft eyes intensified as he locked them onto mine. “Well Those Were My Years!” His deep voice had a mix of apprehension and inquisitiveness. He slowly pushed up from his chair and stood tall, strong and square in front of me. He stooped slightly to look at the name on the conference badge around my neck. His eyes widened and in a deep exhale said, “You’re Dick Camp’s Daughter!?”

and then he sat down and buried his head in his hands.

“We were in touch till the end. He was my…. we were good friends… we wrote letters till the end.”

The Professor, Dr. Jim Peterson, has been a leader in physical education since receiving his MS and PhD in the early 70s, authoring over 80 books and 200 articles on health and fitness. Most relevant, he was a Department of Physical Education professor at the Academy from 1971-1990.

And, starting in those early years, was one of my father’s close friends.

(A moment of silence for the poor sofa guy who was standing beside us looking like a jet pilot under missile lock. This was the kind of human connection one rarely gets to experience from the sidelines.)

All those days – conference after conference – walking past the man at the bookstore.

Those moments when I felt so lonely – I was never really alone. I just had to trust God more.

How often we get stuck feeling sorry for ourselves and miss the gifts right in front of us. How often we see life through a digital lense instead of living it in the moment. How often we appreciate the sunset on the screensaver and miss the sunset outside. How often we walk past people, day after day, taking them for granted – not taking the time to make a real, human connection.

I left the conference a day early to fly north. I wanted to give my friends a great, big West Point experience but also, selfishly, have an excuse to see a home football game one more time. (If you have never been to a football game at Michie Stadium – shrouded in autumnal golds and the shimmer of Lusk Reservoir, put it on your bucket list.)

Every one of the nineteen hours there overflowed with memories.

In order to return my rental car to the off-airport depot somewhere deep in Queens, in a building that was most likely the set of every gangster movie ever made, I had to leave by halftime. On my way off post, I decided to swing by the cemetery and pay respects to my father. Arriving at the large, gothic metal gates, I was stopped by a police officer’s car blocking the gate. I pulled up and was told that entrance was blocked off to visitors. Knowing I didn’t have time to drive to the other end and still make it to my Serpico parking garage, I told a little white lie and said I was there on official business. He reluctantly let me pass and I pulled over along the sidewalk, got out and walked towards the internment wall.

In my peripheral, I saw the cop get out of his vehicle and angrily charge towards me. But then I saw my father’s name and I dissolved into a puddle of emotional and physical exhaustion. I cried that cry of total surrender. It was one of those moments when you let go of the things stuffed way down – when you let your guard down – when you purge yourself of the negative thoughts in your head – when you allow yourself to really feel and be.

I collected myself and walked briskly back to the car – having completely forgotten about the hard charging police officer.

When I started the engine I noticed the cop sitting on the curb a few yards in front of me smoking a cigarette.

As I passed by, he stood up straight and strong and nodded the nod of understanding.

It was one of those human connection moments that can’t happen virtually.

It’s an energy exchange between people who are paying attention to one another. That transfer of energy has the power to deepen a moment.

I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect way to leave my childhood home.

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to.”

Brene Brown

How do we – introverts, extroverts & ambiverts – create and maintain human connections?

When I knew I was going to be away from home for a week, I called Chaplain Funk (WP ’80) and asked if he would come ‘be me’ for the week. Between my 87 year old mother, my 10 year old student-swimmer, a 2 year old half husky-half poodle and a 12 year old half dead yellow lab, I knew it was a big ask. When he arrived, he said he was exhausted from 6 straight weeks of travel and work for family and friends. He concluded, “but I said I would come because my goal is to love and to serve.

…to love and to serve.

What would our world – our nation – our neighborhoods – our homes be like if our goal was to love and to serve? It is a mission that focuses on the human connection and fostering real, intimate relationships – the kind of relationships where you are genuinely seen and heard. They are the relationships that exchange energy, deepen moments and heal the lonely soul.

As we come to the end of a year and look forward to the next, I encourage you to make real, human connections a priority in your everyday life. Text less, call more. Email less, meet over coffee more. Unplug and visit with neighbors or coworkers or your kids. Exchange positive energy with one another and in the process, pour your love and grace into each other.

Grace is God’s gift to us and a powerful gift to give one another.

And Love is the greatest gift of all.

Archie Elam – West Point Grad & Human Connection Champion

Run to Win.

1 Corinthians 9:24

2 thoughts on “An Ambivert’s Guide to Loneliness

  1. I was running around the kitchen, preparing a Thanksgiving feast for my son and I when I paused and scrolled through my morning texts. My mom said, honey you should read Kathy Camps blog today and I wrote, ok I will when I can. Something told me to stop and read it because my mom said it was lovely.
    Kathy, thank you for your words, insight, honestly, vulnerability and faith.
    As our family navigates the ups and downs of my fathers (WP ’64) cancer battle and the heart ache of watching someone you love fall ill, supportive words from “your people” can change an outlook in a NY minute.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Thank you.

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