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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.
Quite simply, introversion and extroversion are about where you draw energy.
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 of 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!
You can also listen to our past episode with Leslie McDaniel about exploring the 16 personality types if you’re eager to learn more about your introvert/extrovert breakdown, plus a whole lot more! (That episode is from August, 2018.).
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.
Rachel (+ Kristen)
TIRED OF TRYING TO BE SOMEONE YOU’RE NOT?
The single most common problem we’ve witnessed in our years of coaching is how EVERYONE is beating themselves up for being someone they’re not. The introverts are ashamed they aren’t extroverts. The highly sensitive people are afraid that they’re weak or too emotional.
But while you’re busy feeling guilty for not being someone else, you can’t make any progress. Clarity comes when you give yourself permission to be who you are, want what you want, and then go after it without guilt or shame.
If that sounds like exactly what you need, but you’re having a hard time achieving it on your own, then we should chat about 1-on-1 coaching!
Fill out the quick form on this page and we’ll talk it out.
LIKED THIS? THEN YOU’LL ALSO LOVE
Exploring the 16 personality types with Leslie McDaniel
Side Chat: Overcoming impostor syndrome
Blog: Are you an internal or external processor?
Submit your question for a future episode of Dear Krachel
It’s funny. When I got my new job, I was asked to complete the Myers-Brigg and I found out I was also an INTJ. Unfortunately, this company is full of extroverts and all of the company outings focus on this.
We have two big events where the entire company drinks and parties and I was so completely drained from attending that I found ways out of going. It’s hard because they declare these events “team-building” and “mandatory” but it’s really difficult for me to attend due to my introverted nature.
I sometimes feel like I won’t find a company that is comfortable with introverts because they can be characterized as “anti-social” (which to be fair, I kind of am) which makes it hard for me to try to find a new job.
You know, the thing about introverts is that a lot of us feel the need to pretend to be extroverted when we’re not. So I almost wonder if a lot more people at your company feel the same as you, they just don’t feel comfortable talking about it or acting accordingly. I wish you could start your own introverts club or something (with only a handful of members, of course!). Sometimes I think a little solidarity can go a long way in making you feel like it’s OK to be who you are.
And as far as any future job goes — Honestly, I think it’s important to be up front about this in an interview setting. There’s no shame in telling people that you’re an introvert, and explaining what that does and doesn’t mean, and then asking if the company embraces both introverts AND extroverts. And if they have a good answer, then they’ll likely be accepting of you once you’re hired. And if they don’t have a good answer, then they likely DO expect you to be more extroverted, which means it’s likely not a good fit.
So timely! I watched the Marie Forleo interview with Susan Cain just yesterday. I was recently told (by someone I respect) that I’m “missing out” on life because I choose to spend time alone more than with others. I don’t want to feel shamed/defensive for my choices. How do I respond to suggestions like this? To me, missing out would be defined as not being able to read all the books on my list, or being too busy for yoga or a homemade meal. INTJ as well, represent.
I feel bad — apparently I mistyped my result as INTJ when I really meant INFJ, so we’re actually one letter off! 😉
Anyway, I think that what you told me is actually what you should tell anyone who makes you feel ashamed of your introversion! “In my mind, here’s what missing out means.” And also, “It’s great that you feel the way you do! It’s totally understandable, as an extrovert. And … I’m an introvert, and here’s what that means.” I think it’s totally fine to educate people a little!
Ohhh…I thought you guys were INFJs! Anyway, I’m an introvert, too, (INFJ) and I don’t consider myself quiet either. INFJs are often mistaken for extroverts! I’m definitely opinionated, but don’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings when I share them (INFJness right there). However, I have no problem (loudly) sharing my opinions if I feel like my value system/integrity is questioned, or when I feel like someone is taking advantage of another person.
I think more and more people are learning about the variations within the label “introvert”—thanks to articles such as yours! Schools and workplaces seem to be set up in a way that favors extroverts, and that leaves out a whole lot of people. Getting over this stereotype is good for all. 🙂
We’re totally INFJs! I had a typo and confused everyone. Whoops! It’s fixed now. 🙂
What’s heartening to me is that a LOT of people have heard of the whole Myers-Briggs thing, which means many more companies, schools, etc. are waking up to the fact that people are not wired the same way. I imagine that over the course of the next decade or so, this will become even more of a “thing,” and people will be encouraged (not discouraged or shamed) for working in a way that’s aligned with how they’re wired. It can’t come too soon, in my opinion!
Yes, this resonates so much with me! I have to remind my boyfriend and parents (all extroverts) that I need time to myself to recharge. For them, watching TV with a group is relaxing, where I need to go read in my room to truly relax.
Also, I’ve noticed that my personality has changed from very shy to outgoing, and I sometimes lean more towards one depending on who I’m with. But I have always been an introvert and get energy from alone time.
Seriously, I think so much of our happiness as introverts relies on how well we can communicate to the extroverts in our lives what our needs are! You’re doing a great job, I know. 🙂
Hey, I’m also an INFJ! I love the energy definition of introversion/extroversion because it makes so much more sense than the traditional “shy” vs. “outgoing” idea. I know how to be friendly and talkative, but at the end of a day of being outgoing at work I need my alone time to recharge, which always seems to surprise people. But I’m job hunting right now and I’m a bit concerned that I won’t be able to find a workplace that will allow me to go with the current, as you put it. Like other commenters have said, our society right now really loves the Extrovert Ideal (speaking of which, has anyone read “Quiet” by Susan Cain?) so a lot of social spaces are set up for extroverts.
I have Quiet on my shelf, but I have yet to read it! Honestly, I think I was turned off by the title, because as a loud introvert I never resonated with the idea of being called “quiet” just because I’m an introvert. But I’m sure I shouldn’t be judging a book by its title, and that it goes a lot deeper than just “loud or quiet.”
Anyway, my response to Gillian above is relevant to you too (about the whole job searching as an introvert thing). Bottom line — I think this is something you have to ask about. Being transparent about who you are, and what your needs are, will always be more helpful than guesswork!
I love this post due to how articulately you convey your personality and your points. At the same time, I would say I kind of disagree with it, which rarely happens with me and you. An interesting first, I suppose.
I’ve found there’s a lot of value to challenging any idea that attempts to put you in a box and out of the other. My grandfather was a psychologist, and when I asked him about these personality tests, he said he found them to be silly, because he didn’t think people could be so simply boxed. He also told an interesting story about someone who tried to beat one of them when a company interviewed him. The company decided, I’m quoting, “that the person trying to beat the test was either a liar or a serial killer, and they didn’t want either.”
Anyway, I think when you look at two contrasting halves, that seem to be mutually exclusive, you find the whole. I’m an extrovert, no question, according to what I would prefer to be doing and what I’m most energized by. But I’m also highly creative. Those two things are, upon first look, mutually exclusive. Creativity requires being by yourself, because it’s just you and your mind, in a situation where your mind becomes output.
But see, being an extrovert, I find it impossible to actually do anything creative unless there’s a social element to it. I want to then go talk to people about my ideas and theirs, and try the joke at the party that ran through my head, and teach the yoga class based on the routine I just created. The more I seek experience, also, the more I have to write about when I write novels or blogs.
I’ve been a solopreneur for about four years now, with mixed success, and according to your article, I’m “going against the current.” But I’d be denying another just as significant part of myself – the massive creativity – to just say, “Okay, why don’t I go be a producer instead?” (I did consider being a Hollywood agent at one point, but ended up sticking with solo creativity.)
I’ve also tested differently on Briggs-Myers multiple times, between ESTP and ENTP. The E-T-P are always consistent, but the S and N vary. I’m a very sensual person. But I’m also creative and intuitive. I don’t judge people or take things by face value, and if I’m asked to describe a glass of wine, rather than saying something like the concrete scents I’m getting, I’ll say something more like “It has a masculine feel to it – like it reveals itself strongly.” Briggs-Myers would say that’s definitely an N function, but it would also say that an N function wouldn’t be a sensualist, someone who deeply appreciates epicurean pleasures like sniffing and tasting wine with friends, to begin with.
I can also just as easily enjoy Harry Potter as I can the all night frat parties I had in college. They’re really equally pleasant memories for me. I went ape-shit the time I went to a Lakers game, but I also went ape-shit when I read the history of the 1980s showtime Lakers at home.
This idea that we have to determine our preference, and just go with what’s easiest and most natural, to me, robs us of the challenge we could pose to the people like Isabel Briggs-Myers who want to box things up and give us “THE ANSWERS.” (I put that in caps to mimic how over-confident these people can be about thinking their findings are the final story on humanity).
Brene Brown’s another person in today’s discussion on people and life who, self-admittedly, will talk about how the ambiguity of social work bothered her to the point that she decided to become a person who wraps it all up into answers, for instance her points that “vulnerability is the key to human connection” (not always true, according to the ambiguous world you’ll experience) or that “imperfection is a gift (definitely not always true, according to the ambiguous world you’ll experience).
I guess what I look for these days is to accept the world and ourselves in the mess that it is, to actually encourage yourself to take on paradoxes, and then find truths within those that actually challenge what those before us claim are the answers.
But, reflexively, Briggs-Myers would say that I’m saying this because I have a (P) (perceiving) preference and Brene Brown and Isabel Briggs-Myers have a (J) judging preference.
What a mental whirlwind. Anyhow, I appreciate the post. It’s nice to have a bit of intellectual discussion.
You know, I think we agree more than you think!
First of all, I totally agree that these types of tests often attempt to put people in convenient boxes, and people are way more complicated and messy than that. People actually try to do this all the time with our Passion Profile Quiz, and it pisses me off! lol. What I tell them, and what I think is just as appropriate for the Myers-Briggs or ANY kind of personality/attitudindal test is: “Do NOT use this to put yourself in a box and limit what you’re capable of. This should ONLY be used to help you express MORE of who you are, not less.”
Here’s where I’ll challenge you — I don’t think creativity is necessarily an “alone time” thing. I think creativity shows up differently for different people. For some, it might be a very quiet, solo type experience. But for others, it might thrive in a group brainstorming setting, where you feed off of each other’s energy. Both are totally valid! It sounds like you’re more of the latter, which makes sense since you relate more to being an extrovert.
So this is absolutely NOT about you choosing between extroversion and creativity. That would be using your result (ESTP/ENTP) to box yourself up and limit yourself, which is not helpful in any way. Instead, this is about you finding the ideal intersection between extroversion and creativity; i.e., allowing your result to help you express yourself MORE, not less.
The fact that you’ve been struggling with solopreneurship makes a lot of sense to me, given the fact that you’re more of an extrovert. It sounds like you might need to re-think the whole “solo” part (at least when it comes to SOME creative pursuits), and see where you can find opportunities for collaboration.
Great comment, thanks for opening up this discussion even more! 🙂
Love this blog post Rachel! I am an ESFJ and it reminded me of my early days in management when a mentor gave me some great advice. They said to pay attention to how people are wired and to treat each person the way they “want” to be treated versus how I liked or expected to be treated. I am completely comfortable being recognized publicly (put the sombrero on my head, stand me on a chair and sing Happy Birthday to me in public) but I had associates who dreaded that so thanks to that mentor I remembered to stop and think about how they wanted to be recognized. Made such a difference in my work relationships!
Love that you pointed out it is where we get our energy from. I’ve been working from home a lot lately in a very quiet environment and things have seemed a little off. Feel like you hit the nail on the head for me! Thank you! I’m off to find a noisy crowd. 🙂 You’re the best!
I love that your manager gave you that advice. I wish more people were encouraged to treat their colleagues/employees how they wanted to be treated, instead of how YOU want to treat them! It makes people feel so much more at ease, which in turn makes them much happier at work. It’s a win-win!
And I’m so glad you’re tuning in to your extroversion! Yeah, I can’t see you being totally happy cooped up in a quiet house 24/7. 😉 Time to get out and about!
I am an INFJ too! I grew up thinking I was just extremely shy, at least that’s what I was told. Now, I realize that I prefer one-on-one or small group interactions but can just as easily get up and speak to a large group if I am passionate about the topic.
I am a self-described Recovered Chartered Accountant turned Fashion Designer. For more than 20 years I worked in the accounting field and always felt like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After going through treatment, I decided I didn’t want to continue down the same career path so I took a leap of faith, quit my job and started coKANna Designs, a line of bamboo knit adaptive clothing for women touched by breast cancer.
Your comment about being able to speak to large crowds reminds me of something I’ve heard about introverts, which would seem counterintuitive: A lot of us have no trouble performing on stage (whether that’s speaking, singing, acting, playing music, or whatever!). Because when you think about it, performance can be a very solo activity. There’s an audience, but you’re not really interacting with them! I definitely relate to this as a former choir and theater kid. 😉
And it’s so great to hear that you transformed a very difficult time in your life into an inspiring creative pursuit that’s serving other women. That’s so awesome!
I never thought about speaking in front of an audience in that way. That it is a very solo activity that doesn’t require a lot of interaction with the audience unless of course you have a Q&A portion. And come to think of it, that would make me a lot more nervous because it requires being quick on your feet. Being an introvert, I prefer to have lots of time to think before I speak. Thanks for the insight!
You’re welcome! 🙂
I started “accepting” my introversion recently, but its still tough to explain to people. I’ve been married 9 years, and my husband is now starting to realize that when I need time alone its not because I’m mad! Lol. Because of my job, I do need to “show face” at events from time to time, but its sooo depleting. I forced myself to go to a retirement party, and only stayed for about 30 minutes, but I felt hungover when I got home. Thanks for this post!
I feel bad for all of the spouses of introverts who don’t understand that our desire for solo time has nothing to do with them! But I think as long as we communicate about it clearly, and make sure we’re honoring both their need for connection AND our desire for alone time, things can be totally healthy.
I sooo feel your pain about the “social hangover” thing! It sounds like you know where you boundaries are though, so good job for actually honoring those boundaries and leaving after 30 minutes.
I’m an INFJ too! I took the test years ago and completely forgot about it until your blog post. I just went online and read my profile. Wow – I’ve never before read such an accurate description of myself. I’m also one who has finally accepted that I’m an introvert (although I do love social time with friends, so as you say, it’s a spectrum), and that ‘introvert’ isn’t a bad word. I also have always struggled with the idea of creativity, because while I consider myself a creative person, I’m not a conventional creative (designer, artist, etc). INFJs are creative problem solvers which really resonates with me. Thanks for a great post!
I’m glad you’ve figured out that creativity doesn’t have to mean “artistic.” That’s something I’ve seen a lot of people struggle with, and I try to re-frame it whenever I can! Creativity is something that, in my opinion, should be interpreted quite literally — Your ability to make something out of nothing, or out of something else. Making things is what sets humans apart from most other animals. So for people to say that they aren’t creative is like saying they aren’t human! We all have the ability to add our own spin to something, or to find a new solution to an old problem, or to use our unique interpretation of life or the world to help people see things in a different way. All of that is creativity! 🙂
Yes, this! So, I’ve always been an ESTJ, no question, from the first MB quiz I took like ten years ago and the many iterations since… but I had started to question in recent years if I am more introverted, and I was definitely answering yes to all of your questions about signs of introversion and nearly none of the extroversion points… so I just retook the test, and luckily this one showed percentages. Turns out I was only rated E over I by 5% on their scale! Now I know why it seemed to be a contradiction, cause I’m not definitely on either end of the spectrum.
Also, as I was reading through the comments, I really appreciated the perspectives offered about the E/I acceptance and interactions at the office and treating colleagues according to their different ‘types’. I will be much more attuned to this for future jobs, cause I know I don’t really have it where I am now.
Thanks for the clarity =)
Hey Jen! So glad you took the 16 personalities test … it makes so much sense that you’re almost evenly split between introversion and extroversion! It should be easier for you to get your needs met now that you understand why you feel the way you feel. Everything usually makes perfect sense once we have the whole story!
I’m glad this has gotten your wheels turning about what you need out of a work environment! I wish this was something that everyone knew to pay attention to, but as long as a strong minority of us are paying attention, that’s a good start. 🙂
Hmm, I got ESFJ – A – but I have to say that the description is not me at all! (Well, only a minor part.) I would say that I am an introvert, as I have no problems and prefer my alone time. Give me books and music and I’m in my preferred environment. Food for thought…
Hey Marian! I couldn’t say how accurate the assessment is, and at the end of the day putting ourselves into boxes sometimes just doesn’t work, because humans are a lot more complex than that! That said, something to think about is how definitive you felt while taking the assessment. If you were doubting some of your answers or going back and forth over some of the options then you might have gotten a result that reflected your internal doubt. And/or, you could be the kind of person who’s naturally pretty flexible and adaptable, so you can go either way on some of the categories. That might make you (or anyone in that boat) feel like nothing quite pegs them accurately!
ENFJ-T here. Great post!
Rachel, no doubt an email is coming to you soon. 🙂
Thanks for coming out to rep the Extroverts, CB! I’ll be eagerly awaiting that email! 🙂