On a commuter train into New York City a few months ago, I sat behind two women having a lively conversation about introversion and extroversion. Actually, it was more of a lively one-sided conversation directed by a loud and enthusiastic Chatty Cathy, who must have been running on Energizer batteries.
Based on what I could hear, I assumed Chatty Cathy was an extrovert. Since I’ve always associated my own introversion with being shy – and train lady certainly didn’t sound shy – there was no way she was an introvert, too.
Except that she was (or at least she claimed to be). Comparing herself to a coworker, she explained that while her colleague always felt buzzed after big work events, she craved downtime. Was Chatty Cathy actually an outgoing introvert?
The reason I was heading into the city, I should mention, was to attend an event hosted by The Land of Nod. Although I was thrilled to have been invited, I was also anxious about the evening ahead. What if I didn’t know anybody else there? What if nobody talked to me? What if I was the worst at crafting among the bunch?
It turns out that I didn’t suck at stenciling as much as I had anticipated, and although it took me a short while to warm up to the small crowd of bloggers, I was able to socialize (mostly) at ease. By the end of the event, I felt energized. Pumped. Motivated. I didn’t want to sit on the train for another 40 minutes; I wanted to do something.
Hold up. If attending The Land of Nod event gave me a buzz rather than draining my energy, could I really be an extrovert?
In pursuit of answers, I borrowed the e-book version of Quiet by Susan Cain from my neighborhood library. Ever since I watched the author’s fascinating TED Talk on “The Power of Introverts,” the book had been on my to-read list. Once I had it in my hands (well, on my iPad), I devoured it.
A self-described introvert, Cain uses psychological research, brain chemistry, and her own personal experiences to explain the differences between extroversion and introversion. She discusses society’s “extrovert ideal” and the bias against introversion in a way meant to encourage and empower the one-third of us who are introverted.
Reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I found myself highlighting paragraph after paragraph of text that seemed to be describing me exactly…
My conversation habits:
Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.
Why I enjoy blogging:
Introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read, to say that they can express the “real me” online, and to spend more time in certain kinds of online discussions.
My struggle to stay present-minded:
If you leave them to their own devices, the introverts tend to sit around wondering about things, imagining things, recalling events from their past, and making plans for the future. The extroverts are more likely to focus on what’s happening around them. It’s as if extroverts are seeing “what is” while their introverted peers are asking “what if.”
Why some people actually think I’m extroverted:
In other words, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.
Cain also covers the differences between shyness and introversion, describing shyness as “the fear of social disapproval or humiliation” and introversion as “a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.” Shyness is inherently painful, she writes, while introversion is not.
So you can be a shy introvert, but you don’t necessarily have to be shy to be introverted. For example, Bill Gates is a non-shy introvert, Cain said, while Barbra Streisand is a shy extrovert.
If you’re interested in learning more about your own introversion or seeking tips about living with an introverted spouse or child, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I’m actually considering buying a hard copy of the book so I can reread pertinent sections with a physical yellow highlighter in hand.
Do you think you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or an ambivert? Do you ever act introverted in some situations and extroverted in others? This topic fascinates me, and I’d love to know if it interests you as well!
(photos by Joanna Skrzypczak via Booooooom)