Maybe it’s selective perception, but it seems like I’ve seen many references lately celebrating the introvert. I get the feeling that perhaps introverts are tired of being misunderstood as shy or socially awkward, neither of which is necessarily true. Indeed, introverts are often successful in jobs that we normally associate with those who are more externally focused.
I guess we should define our terms, though there isn’t necessarily a consensus about this. I’ll echo the popular understanding that introverts find energy through time spent alone while extraverts become energized in spending time with others. Neither of these characteristics is mutually-exclusive, however, and most people view introversion/extroversion as a continuum. Some might only label the extreme ends of this continuum as introverts and extraverts.
I can certainly appreciate both types of people. I love my introverted friends for their thoughtfulness and reflection. My wife is an introvert who is loved by many for frequent laughter and ability to make others comfortable. (Myers-Briggs geeks will appreciate that I feel perfectly complimented, as a ENFJ, by my ISFP wife, which perhaps accounts for our 35 years together.) Still, I will sometimes leave the house early with my wife quietly in a chair enjoying a book or doing correspondence and she’ll still be there when I return hours later. For me, this would not be fun.
This leads me to conclude that some may not realize that life is sometimes challenging for extraverts like me. Let’s talk about the practical implications. I believe strongly in learning from books, both in academics and in professional competence. Reading is fundamental but reading is not a team activity. Much of my life, I’ve felt a tension between trying to get through the reading material I need to devour and my preference to talk with others. When I was in school, I often accomplished what was needed by studying with my friends. For me, nothing was more enjoyable than being at the library with someone else, satisfying the desire for achievement and avoiding solitude at the same time. Similarly, I’ve been handicapped in my efforts to learn the piano because all that practice isn’t a social activity!
This reminds me of the plot of a Batman comic that I read long ago and still think about often. (Stay with me here, I’m making a point.) Batman, who is likely not an extravert but still gets lonely, called his friend Aquaman over to the Batcave to help him with what was an impossible project. After an evening in which Batman prolongs the process with a number of extraneous tasks, his perceptive friend says to him, “Bruce, listen, next time just ask me to pick up some beer and videos on my way over, okay?”
I love the work I do but I am admittedly somewhat miscast in the field of information technology, where I cannot do my job well without much solitary concentration. I can feel my spirits lifted when I have a reason to leave my desk and consult with others. On the too-rare occasions when I get to do some public speaking, I get totally pumped up!
The next time I come to your door to borrow some milk or if I ask you a broad question, seeking your opinion, please know that you are imparting some of your energy to me. Don’t worry — I won’t take more than my share!