When you hear a person described as being an extrovert, what’s the first characteristic that comes to your mind? What about when you try to picture an introvert – what do you think that person would be like?
If your initial response was to think “outgoing” when you pictured the extrovert and “shy” when you thought of the introvert, I’m willing to bet you’re in the majority.
I’m not convinced that’s really the case, though.
I believe that fitting predominantly into one or the other category is less about whether you’re shy or outgoing (though it seems that those characteristics often do fall in line with expectations) and more to do with where you get your energy, or how you recharge yourself. The thinking, I understand, is that an extrovert gets their energy from being around other people, whereas being around people for too long actually drains energy from the introvert, and they need to recharge by spending time alone.
So what about me? Introvert or extrovert?
I struggle with defining myself in this area. Most of my life I assumed that because I was shy (painfully shy as a child, and still somewhat shy and quiet in large groups), I was an introvert, and the people I knew who were outgoing must be extroverts. I really never questioned it, until I got older and grew a little more self-aware and realized that perhaps my shyness was masking my true self. I really don’t enjoy spending large chunks of time alone, and I tend to feel most energized when I’ve had a lot of quality time around other people. To further complicate my thinking, I’ve also met several people who are tremendously outgoing – the life of the party, often – who can only last so long before they need to get away, be by themselves, and recharge.
I’ve noticed that the better I get to know someone, the more my level of shyness with them decreases until it’s nearly nonexistent. The same sort of thing happens to my degree of shyness in relation to how I’m feeling about myself at a particular time – I’m actually fairly outgoing when I’m feeling good about myself, and much, much quieter when I’m self-conscious or insecure. (Thankfully, the older I get, the less I seem to care about what people think… so the self-conscious and insecure times seem to be decreasing!)
Any time I’ve had to do personality tests (such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), it seems to me that the questions are skewed to the “shy = introvert and outgoing = extrovert” paradigm. My answers in this area rarely fit into a neat little ticky box, and so I always end up with mixed results on the introvert vs. extrovert questions.
So the jury is still out.
I suppose I don’t really need a definition, though “shy extrovert” seems to come the closest to explaining who I am. After all, perhaps it’s like so many other things in life, and rather than fitting neatly into one or the other category, some people fall somewhere along a spectrum. Maybe we tend more one way or another at different times in our lives, or in different circumstances. Who knows? It’s certainly something I find curious… and I’m always up for questioning assumptions!
What do you think?
Do you consider yourself to be an introvert or an extrovert? Why?
(Originally posted in part in March, 2012.)