Yes, introversion. And, extroversion.
How to equip ourselves to best interact with the world, regardless of how we label it.
Several months ago a friend asked me a question which I didn’t know how to answer at first.
“Where do your most meaningful moments happen?”
He didn’t mean it in the sense of physical location, but instead the type of environment where I felt most fulfilled and happy. My initial reaction was to feel like I should say “with people, of course,” but that didn’t feel right, so I kept thinking.
Ask yourself the same question. Do you immediately think about a group of people, or does your mind gravitate to time you spend working on independent projects? Maybe you think of moments at work, on vacation, or in a particular class or club at school. The tricky thing about the question is the preconceived notions we likely have about what our answer “should” be. As someone who has spent a significant portion of the last few years in places and roles focused on people, I feel obligated to say the best moments of my life are with those people. In some cases that may be true, but I don’t always think so, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s not that I believe people aren’t the most important thing we can invest in—I’m convinced they are—but instead, that how we process the time we spend with people may not look the same for each of us.
The terms introvert and extrovert are thrown around a lot, in leadership style assessments to internet memes, with a variety of definitions. Many refer to extroverts as people who enjoy social situations and introverts as those who don’t, defining the terms based on outward manifestations of the trait. Others define either end of the spectrum based on where energy is restored, with extroverts gathering energy from other people and introverts recharging with time alone. Still, the second way of thinking about the terms tends to limit the understanding to specific activities. People generally assume if you enjoy public speaking or making friends, you’re an extrovert, and if you enjoy reading and never leaving your house, you’re an introvert.
As far as I can tell, though, people are too complex to effectively categorize them in one of two categories on any spectrum, let alone when it comes to how we interact with other humans and the world around us. You likely have a group of friends with whom you exhibit extroverted tendencies, and yet find yourself shy and less inclined to make conversation in other groups. Maybe in some scenarios you feel there’s more purpose in being outspoken, and in others you see a need to let others be the center of attention. Simply based on where or how they know you, different people likely classify you as something different.
Why does it matter?
Who really cares about the label, right? In a perfect world, we probably wouldn’t pay much attention to it. Yet, we don’t live in a perfect world, and I’ve found myself (and watched others become) limited by the label of introvert or extrovert.
For most of my life, I’ve considered myself an introvert. I used to be very timid, almost incapable of starting a conversation with a stranger and even uncomfortable in conversations with friends, and being in a spotlight scared me. Yet, now I would consider myself more assertive than timid, confident (if not entirely comfortable) in conversations with friends and strangers alike, and I can thrive in a spotlight. What changed? I learned I needed a motivator beyond the action itself to step out. I’m willing to be assertive if it means I’m saying something which needs to be said but no one else will say. I find a great deal of value in conversations with people because it’s how I can see and call out their potential, how ideas are refined and multiplied, and simply a way to value the existence of the other person. I don’t love spotlights for the attention, but instead as a way to share lessons that have been passed down to me by people and experiences. Many people who met me recently are convinced I’m an extrovert and assume these things all come naturally to me; they don’t, but I see the value in choosing to take on skills and attributes that aren’t natural to me in order to better serve people.
Extroverts have challenges of their own, too; I’ve watched friends feel obligated to be funny or the center of attention all the time simply because they consider themselves extroverts. I’ve found myself frustrated with some of my extrovert friends because I feel like they don’t want to give me space, but I’ve come to realize they often need human interaction the way I need my space; neither of us can use our label as an excuse to be selfish.
Whether you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert, perhaps the worst disservice you can do to yourself is to always act according to the definition you’ve read on the internet. Introverts don’t always have to avoid social situations, extroverts don’t have to always enjoy them, and there’s nothing wrong with choosing to be honest about either one. Yet, sometimes the label can be a helpful way to understand ourselves. In the sense of restoring my energy through time alone, I heavily identify with introversion; it often helps me to articulate to my friends why I need to spend time apart in order to contribute most positively to our relationships. Ultimately, it comes down to this: where do you thrive best? The answer may not always be the same, so it’s a continual process of determining how to best interact with the world around us.
When I finally had an answer for my friend, I realized it encapsulated my dilemma with the introvert vs. extrovert dichotomy.
“Many of my most meaningful moments are when I’m alone, but reflecting on time I’ve spent with people.”
I love people. I also can’t spend every waking hour with other humans and expect to be at my best for every one of those hours. The time I spend alone equips me to add more value to the time I spend with people. I journal about what I’ve learned from interactions so I can be a better friend in the future. I express gratitude through written notes and texts so the people I met know they meant something to me. I remind myself who I am and what my purpose is so I can go out and serve the world better tomorrow than I did today. Maybe the fact that I love meeting new people and cultivating friendships makes me an extrovert. Maybe the fact that I value time alone makes me an introvert. Frankly, I’m not too concerned about it either way.
Do you consider yourself an extrovert or introvert? Do you consider the label helpful or unhelpful? Drop your thoughts in the comments below or tag @miriamrosah on Twitter or Instagram. I’d love to learn from you.
One more thing… If you want to read more about the psychology of extroversion and introversion, check out this article.
One more, one more thing… Of the many personality type assessments I’ve taken over the last few years, the Big Five is my favorite. It includes extraversion as one of the five core spectrums on which to fall, and this site is my favorite version of the assessment. It’s helped me understand myself and how I interact with the world on a much deeper level than most of the other tests I’ve taken. If you take it, let me know what you think of the results!