Pardon me while I dust off my soapbox and get fired up about something (Ha! As if my soapbox ever gets dusty…).
I’ve got a bone to pick when it comes to introverts and extroverts.
There’s a huge misconception about what both of those words mean, and I used to fall prey to it. In fact, I spent a big chunk of my life feeling like I was broken because of how widespread this false interpretation is.
For some reason, we’ve gotten the idea that being an introvert means that you’re shy. A wallflower. Quiet. Hesitant to share your opinions. Demure.
And on the other hand, we assume that being an extrovert makes you loud, outgoing, talkative, and opinionated.
So, because I’m loud and opinionated and not particularly concerned with what others think of me, most people are surprised to find out that I’m not an extrovert. I’m actually a huge introvert.
But they shouldn’t be surprised at all. Because that’s not what it means to be introverted or extroverted.
Think of it this way: Each one of us has a battery life, just like your phone or computer. When our batteries are depleted we feel tired and antsy and far from the best version of ourselves. We all need to refuel, and the difference between introvert and extroverts is how they go about doing that.
Introverts recharge mostly with alone time. They need a lot of peace and quiet and time to think.
Extroverts recharge mostly by being around people. They need more social stimulation and human connection to feel at ease.
There’s nothing inherently good or bad about either of these. You’re just born that way. It’s how you’re wired, and you can’t really reprogram it.
But here’s the problem … because I didn’t know I was an introvert for most of my life, I was ashamed of how I felt. Lately, I’ve seen other people resisting their introversion or extroversion, and it always wreaks havoc.
I THOUGHT I WAS A “BAD EXTROVERT” FOR MOST OF MY LIFE
Growing up, my mom got so used to me wanting to be alone instead of go to yet another sleepover or birthday party that she gave me carte blanche to tell my friends that my parents were super strict and wouldn’t let me come to whatever event was happening.
Externally, I’d be all, “Ugh, they’re such a drag,” while internally I’d be sighing in relief and secretly thrilled to have the day to myself.
In fact, I think I’ve made myself actually sick a bunch of times so that I could have a legitimate reason to get out of things I didn’t feel like doing. Massive headaches, sore throats, infections, cold, flu, stomach bugs, food poisoning — I’ve mysteriously conjured them all the day before some event or other.
But this always made me feel like a bad person.
“What’s wrong with you?” “You’re a crappy friend.” “You’re really selfish.” “I can’t believe you care more about reading a book all day than seeing someone you supposedly care about.”
These are the kinds of thoughts that would plague me 24/7 a few years ago.
Of course, it didn’t help that for most of my life all of my closest friends were extroverts. I felt like the odd man out because going to parties and staying up all night with friends and flitting from event to event was easy for them and felt like pulling teeth to me.
I HAVE A FRIEND WHO’S BEEN FEELING THE SAME WAY, IN REVERSE
A friend of mine recently quit her full-time job to start her own coaching business, and a couple weeks ago we were chatting about it over the phone.
She’s an extrovert, so going from a fast-paced work environment with a lot of human interaction to working alone in her house all day with few people to talk to was jarring.
But instead of being understanding and compassionate with herself, she was beating herself up:
“I just feel like I’m not good at this. I don’t have a lot of motivation. What’s wrong with me? Why am I so needy? Why can’t I just be alone? What kind of adult can’t be by themselves all day? Maybe this business won’t work. Maybe I need more courses or training to get better.”
Thankfully, I was able to see through that pretty quickly. Here’s what I told her:
“There’s nothing wrong with you! And you don’t need to spend more money on courses. You’re smart and talented enough already. The only problem you have is that you’re trying to work in a way that’s opposite of who you really are.”
For an extrovert, working alone all day is depleting. It actually drains her energy. And instead of acknowledging that, she was beating herself up for not being what amounts to a “good enough” introvert.
Meanwhile, a few years back I was beating myself up for being a bad extrovert. Oy vey!
LET’S GO WITH THE CURRENT, NOT AGAINST IT
What I eventually came to realize, and what I told my friend, is that you’ve got to work with the current of how you’re programmed, not against it.
Trying to work in a silent, empty house all day is swimming against the current for an extrovert. It’s depleting ten times more energy than it would if you, for example, joined a co-working space.
And for an introvert, attempting to be a bar-hopping social butterfly is swimming against the current. It’s going to feel like pushing a boulder up a mountain, when you could be at home watching Netflix and feeling totally at ease.
Whichever one you are, we’ve all got to agree to drop the crazy guilt we feel about not being the other.
You are who you are, and that’s perfectly acceptable.
Personally, I am SO much happier now that I know I’m an introvert and everyone else knows it, too. My friends understand when I’ve hit my wall and need to go home. I don’t overbook myself anymore, and I give myself the gift of a LOT of silence and alone time. And working with my programming, not against it, makes me feel more at ease than I’ve ever felt before.
And the same is true for my friend. Now that she’s embraced her extroversion, she’s doing a lot of networking to build her business instead of sitting behind a computer all day. She gets clients and social stimulation. It’s a win-win.
NOT SURE WHICH ONE YOU ARE? I’VE GOT SOME IDEAS
You might be an introvert if …
- Networking feels like pulling teeth.
- You secretly love when people cancel plans on you.
- You abhor small talk and would much rather have deep conversations.
- Your idea of a fun social outing is going to brunch with one or two people.
- Going to places with big crowds makes you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or drained.
- You could happily spend hours or even days by yourself.
- Silence feels like a balm to your spirit.
- You regularly get labeled an “old soul.”
- You’re happiest with a small group of really close friends.
You might be an extrovert if …
- Meeting lots of new people is fun and exciting to you.
- You prefer to have at least a handful of social events on your calendar each week.
- You’re the kind of person who can make friends wherever you go.
- You feel energized after being in big groups of people.
- You get bored and drained really quickly by being alone.
- Silence often makes you feel restless, and you prefer to fill it with some form of noise or conversation.
- Your mantra when it comes to friendship is “the more the merrier!”
- You’re a natural connector, and you love introducing people from your various networks to each other.
Again, none of this is about being shy or outgoing. I’m a loud, opinionated introvert. And I’ve known plenty of wallflower extroverts. How you refuel your energy and how comfortable you feel in social settings are two different things. Related, but different.
And one last thing: Being an introvert or extrovert isn’t a “yes or no” thing. It’s measured on a spectrum. Personally, I’m about 70% introverted. I’ve known people on all points of the spectrum. There are even “ambiverts,” who straddle the line between introversion and extroversion.
If you’re curious where you fall, take the 16 Personalities test.
It’s a test that’s based on the Myers-Briggs personality types. One of the things it measures is your degree of introversion or extroversion. It takes some time, so give yourself at least 20 minutes to complete it.
You’ll get a nice breakdown of your personality type, which will help you understand not only where you get your energy from, but how you tend to make decisions and relate to yourself and others.
I’m an INFJ, and so is Kristen. Because of course we have the exact same personality type (even though apparently it’s the rarest one!). If you want to come back and share yours in the comments, go for it!
So, are you an introvert or an extrovert? And have you been giving yourself permission to be who you are? Or have you been fighting it? Share with me in the comments.
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Rachel (+ Kristen)