Whether because of our biology or because of culture, we as humans love to categorize stuff. We like to organize and generalize and put things in boxes so that it’s quicker and easier to think about them. Perhaps more than anything else, we love to do this with other humans.
Race, nationality, gender, sex, Myers-Briggs personality types, astrological signs, enneagrams; there are so many ways by which we try to fit individuals into boxes so that we can make assumptions about them without actually knowing anything about them. And while I think there is some merit to some of these classifications, their presence also has some potentially destructive consequences, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Anyways, I want to talk specifically about the designation of a person being an introvert vs an extrovert. I’ll start by saying that I do think these are real observable classifications, a person can be introverted or extraverted. However, I don’t think that the classification is an innate quality.
At least for this, I tend to fall on the nurture side of things (though as with probably everything, there’s at least a bit of both). Often I hear that the designation depends on “where you get your energy,” either from being with others or being alone. For a long time I considered myself an extroverted introvert; I could turn “it” on when I want to and be outwardly extraverted, but at the end of the day or if it goes on too long I’ll shutdown and retreat into myself.
Over the past year I have really had to push the limits of my extroversion, and have actually enjoyed doing so. I’ve come to think that introverts are actually just extroverts in denial. Deep down, most if not all, people crave connection, they crave community and belonging. However, interacting with other people is seriously hard. And because it’s hard, we fail at it more than we succeed. We have awkward silences where we feel like someone needs to say something; we say something that we shouldn’t have (or think we shouldn’t have); we come up with the perfect witty response a little to late for it to be relevant; we say a joke that falls completely flat. There is no shortage of perceived social shortcomings and so it’s no surprise that people want to hide away by themselves after being subjected such internal torment.
I just listened to Conan’s latest podcast with Stephen Colbert and they both talk about how energizing it is to have a good crowd and how demoralizing it is to have a bad one (they also talk about a bunch of other stuff that I think is really meaningful so check it out). Both in some way expressed how a good crowd, that makes them feel affirmed and heard, puts them on top of the world, while a bad crowded, that makes them feel separate and “other,” makes them want to quit their jobs. To me this is just social interaction on steroids.
“Extroverts” and “introverts” are subject to the same torment, where they differ is in their attitudes toward that torment. In my experience extroverts embrace tend to embrace it, whereas introverts deny and avoid it. Personally, I would proclaim myself to be in introvert because I wanted there to be an innate, unchangeable reason as to why I was socially awkward. I always admired extroverts because I sought social connection, but lacked the “gene” for it. In pushing myself to interact with others over the past several years, and especially this last year, I’ve noticed my perspective on my interactions shifting. Making a connection with another person is a privilege and it’s energizing. There are times at work when I manage to truly connect with someone, and have an amazing and productive conversation. That there is the “paycheck.” More frequently there are times when I try to connect and fail miserably, leaving me despondent. Those moments, those possibilities of utter failure, are what make interacting so hard. But keeping with the theme that I feel like I touch on constantly, when something is challenging that usually that means you are heading in the right direction.