Most people do not believe me when I tell them I am an introvert.
But you are so friendly. You are so animated on stage. You seem like you love to be around people.
While all those things are true, I am still an introvert. The problem may be in the classic definition of introvert.
in·tro·vert [ˈintrəˌvərt] NOUN
a shy, reticent person.
synonyms: recluse · lone wolf · hermit · solitary · misanthrope · outsider ·
While I often feel shy, I have taught myself to be assertive and even bold. While I benefit greatly from time alone (and lots of it,) I am not a recluse. Yes, while I attend a conference, I often go to sessions alone and carve out time by myself. Does that make me a lone wolf? Almost every definition I find for introvert makes it sound like social disorder or a moral failing.
For me being an introvert is all about where I get or lose energy. In loud spaces with lots of people and chit chat, I feel like an ancient mobile phone quickly losing its charge. Move me to a quiet space where I can be alone or with one person for a deep conversation or time of reflection, and I feel the life pour back into me.
In reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I marvel at descriptions of people who get more and more energized in large gatherings, meeting new people, and with lots of lively activities going on late into the night. It’s not that I don’t like those sort of settings. I really do; I just can’t be in a space like that for too long. No, and it is not just that I am getting older; it’s always been that way with me. As a teen, I would find times and spaces to be alone in my room, in nature, in the toilet. Wherever.
I had the joy of traveling with a fellow introvert while I was on my recent UK tour. Ruth Wilde, who works for Christian Peacemaker Teams and is the national coordinator for Inclusive Church, agreed to a joint three week tour that took in multiple venues in England, Wales, and Scotland. It was a mad and wonderful road trip (with the occasional rail trip) in and out of people’s homes, churches, and universities. Ruth is also an introvert. Together we listened to Susan Cain’s Quiet as an audiobook. Ruth wrote about our time together in a blog post that both introverts and partners of introverts will benefit from reading.
Many people assume, unless I tell them otherwise, that I am in fact an extrovert. Cain explains that the reason many introverts have become so adept at pretending is because we learnt early on that we often need to be extrovert in order to get on in life. We are also often genuinely interested in people- we’re not faking that- but we are just tired out a lot more quickly by conversations and especially superficial chit chat.
Introverts have also developed throughout our lives. When I was a child of 4, I literally hid behind my mum. When I was 16, and in a school where I didn’t have many friends (due to my Dad’s job, we moved around a lot), I often preferred to be alone in the music rooms practicing at lunchtime rather than in the social spaces with other people. In fact, I hated most of my time spent in school because I was a shy introvert. Nowadays, I’m not shy, but I’m still an introvert, and there are still social situations which I find uncomfortable, for example team building exercises in work places where the focus is on enforced small talk with people who are not my close friends!
Ruth’s partner, Ellie, is an extreme extrovert. Ruth put into writing a list of the things that stress her out as an introvert and invited Ellie to create her own list. The outcome is fascinating.
You can see the lists and read the blog post, Being an introvert in an extrovert world, over at the Inclusive Church website.
What about you? Are you more introvert or extrovert. Are you an ambivert? How does that affect your work? Your relationships? I’d love to hear your experiences.