Thump. Rustle. Murmur. Clip clop clomp. Giggle. DING DONG.
That’s the sound of approaching trick-or-treaters. Innocent enough but bringing with them a flash of alarm for the more hermit-like Introverts among us. Who the heck decided that one night of the year, ghouls and goblins should invade our porches demanding candy and obligating us to open our doors to strangers?
I suppose it’s not so bad, but for some folks, the trick-or-treat process may feel a little forced. Especially for certain personality types (like me, a Turbulent Architect), the subtle stress of obligatory social engagement is not a sweet treat. Human contact? It has uses. Like when a friendly teenager hands me a bag of burgers from a drive-through window. I like that.
I remember being on the other side as a child, nervous to go up to strange doors to ask for candy. Why? I thought. Can’t my parents just buy me some candy? The whole thing wasn’t logical to my little brain, but sometimes culture engulfs us unwilled. When in Rome... Roman guards (a.k.a. parents) apparently march you around the streets at night with a plastic pumpkin and a flashlight.
I doubt I’m alone in how such social interaction with strangers can be taxing. We’re expected to perform these human rituals, but they can seem... foreign. In my case, foreign not just to my experience but also to my sense of enjoyment. I like going out and meeting people, but that’s the point: I go out when I feel like being social. Then, I go home... where there aren’t supposed to be droves of strangers.
So on Halloween the prospect of entertaining trick-or-treaters has always seemed like a bother. For one thing, those of us struggling with the social world depend heavily on superficial decorum to avoid discomfort. Adults know there are some things you don’t say, but kids? They’re far too innocent and observant to embrace the lies that hold the world together:
Random adult ringing my doorbell: “Good evening, sir! You seem like the kind of intelligent and handsome person who wants to buy what I am selling.”
Random child ringing my doorbell: “You’re old. Were you taking a nap? Do you have any pets? Why is your lawn dead?”
Ahhh... sweet, terrible honesty. The point is, a random stream of kids pouring across my porch is a vector for unpredictability. We Architects don’t like unpredictability (shakes finger with a prudish frown). We like things neat. Orderly. Private, even. Plus, there’s a hyperbolic risk-assessment circuit that kicks in. It’s not solely a Turbulent Architect thing, but we pretty much invented it. My brain goes:
“What if one of these kids trips over my sprinkler and hurts themselves? Does my homeowner’s insurance cover that? What if I unknowingly extend a Snickers bar to a kid with a peanut allergy, only to be tackled violently by a vigilant parent? What if a kid... needs to use my bathroom?” (Insert campy Halloween screams here...)
Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way arguing against trick-or-treating, just exposing the underbelly of my own version of Introversion. So, you might wonder, why don’t I just turn my porch light off and pretend there’s no one home?
I admit I have done that once or twice, or retreated to someone else’s house party. Or handed out candy for a couple hours and then shut things down early just to be done with it. And that’s all okay – trick-or-treating can be a fun holiday tradition, but no one should feel bad about skipping it.
But the thing is, I hate feeling held back by circumstance. Avoiding trick-or-treaters started to feel less like expressing a personal preference and more like hiding from – and sustaining – a personal deficiency. I am not thrilled to interface with strangers for hours, but I am even less thrilled by my own inability.
We Architects love the idea that we can fix things. And I’ve helped develop lots of content about expanding personal limits to modify behaviors that aren’t working well in life. Surely, I can take such advice myself and exit my comfort zone? A step to mastering a skill needn’t be vast, but by definition it must be taken.
So, how does a Turbulent Architect confront social discomfort and embrace a holiday expression of fun? I answered that question for myself last Halloween with a headlong charge. Given that I had an outfit left over from the previous night’s costume party (I was a sheep accompanying my Bo-Peep), I decided to put myself out there, literally.
Rather than shutter myself inside as the tricking and treating hour grew near, I put on the costume and sat on my front step with a big bowl of candy, waving at every passing car and person. A grown man overheating inside a wooly white costume, complete with big floppy ears bearing livestock tags. A dyed-in-the-wool Introvert on public display. I was uncomfortable. Growth can be uncomfortable. I felt... sheepish.
But my exercise of choice was a balm to the irritation of exposure – discomfort is less objectionable when it’s voluntary. And my effort was rewarded with a lighthearted effect: people were notably pleasant. Instead of rote, simultaneous parroting of “trick or treat!” by the kids while the adults stood disaffected off to the side, I saw smiles breaking a hundred feet away from kinder and eltern alike.
“Look, it’s a sheep!” the kids would exclaim, tugging at their parents’ arms and pointing at me. Smile. Wave. Blush. Be neighborly. I was an object of amusement to be sure, but not ridicule. Generating cheer is worth a little embarrassment. The parents were very good-natured about the sheep-man-thing confronting them. “How’s it going?” they asked, amused, to which I of course replied, “not b-a-a-a-ad.”
This all might seem silly, but what’s easy and normal for some can feel like a bogeyman to others. Not scary, but troublesome. Through this experience, I reminded myself that it’s worth leaping a few gates to evolve my capabilities. It’s okay to dislike or be bad at some things, but why not try to get better at what’s useful?
As for the upcoming Halloween... will I be as warm and fuzzy? We’ll see. I won’t feel as hobbled by discomfort when the kids flock to my door, but I may still be tempted to just say “ewe” and hoof it to where the grass is greener. Whatever my choice, I won’t feel as fenced in.
Oh, and the directness of the kids? It surfaced as I was sitting out with my soul bared (or rather, draped in fleece), but it was met easily enough with Architect rationality and logic... delivered with a smile and handfuls of chocolate bars (and my best Dwight Schrute manner):
“Are you a sheep?”
“No. I am a human in a sheep costume.”
“Why are you wearing that?”
“Because it’s Halloween, and people wear costumes on Halloween.”
“You look funny!”
“Thank you. So do you.”
“Why are you sitting on your porch?”
“To give you candy.”
“Aren’t you afraid of the big bad wolf?”
“No. There are no wolves in this region. Also, a wolf cannot blow down a two-by-six exterior-framed house.”
“Why are you by yourself?”
“Because Bo-Peep isn’t home from work yet.”
“Why is your lawn dead?”
“... Hey, kid, isn’t it past your bedtime?”