Hello, threes of fans, and happy spring! Or whatever we’re calling this weird in-between time when it’s still snowing every other day and also it’s too warm for a sweater by 4:00 p.m…
I just want to go on record as saying that this is getting old, and I’m definitely ready for capri and sandals weather.
Anyway, maybe because I’m a little grumpy about this weather or I’m just feeling curmudgeonly–not sure which–I need to vent a little about something that’s been on my mind for a while. This is just a little vent, not a full-on rant, because it’s kind of a nuanced topic (as most topics are).
A Celebration of Introverts
Last week was National Introverts Week. This week was founded by Matthew Pollard, author of The Introvert’s Edge. National Introverts Week is not to be confused with World Introvert Day, which is, apparently, another moment to notice all the introverts around you.
In case you were wondering why you should care about all the introverts around you, fear not, for there are resources galore. Search for “introvert,” on Amazon, and you get no shortage of results that discuss the secret powers, advantages, and purpose of introverts. There are websites, Facebook groups, and podcasts all about introverts and why you should love and celebrate them. Just look for introvert memes, and you’ll find endless images and GIFs that will have the introverts around you saying, “yes, exactly!”
I just have one question: why does this group of people who supposedly prefer to be quiet and alone need so much celebration?
Because let me just point out that all of this attention is, mostly, preaching to the choir. You know what the extroverts aren’t doing? Spending time online researching introversion or reading books about the advantages of introverts.
My Life As An Introvert
Those of you who know me will not be shocked to learn that I have long identified as an introvert. When I was a kid, before everyone knew the word “introvert,” I was called sensitive, shy, reserved, and quiet. I was always kind of a nerdy, bookish, brainy kid who preferred to be inside reading, writing, crafting, or playing the piano than… well, anything else, really.
I think I was in middle school the first time I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and I scored almost 100% introvert. To me, it was a relief and a revelation to discover a word for what I was. I wasn’t just some hyper-sensitive freak weirdo–I was an INTROVERT! I didn’t have to be ashamed of it–I could rest assured that, while I might be quite far to one side of the scale, at least what I was had a name.
I confess to you all that I have wrapped that introvert label around myself like a warm blanket ever since. Don’t want to go to a party? Well, it’s because I’m an introvert. Find it tough to make friends? Probably because I’m an introvert. Struggling with sales calls, marketing, job search, networking? Introvert, introvert, introvert.
And yet… I also led a scout troop for three years, getting up in front of a group of 50-75 people or more every week to do whatever speaking I needed to do. I’ve performed piano and voice solos in recitals or church many times. I’ve attended all kinds of events with my husband where I’ve shaken hands, chatted with strangers, and generally enjoyed myself quite a bit. When I have told people I’m an introvert, they say, “no–you? But you’re so friendly!” I always tell them I’m an “introvert with good social skills” and that I will probably need a good dose of quiet alone time to recharge after an event.
I know the shibboleths of being an introvert.
I’m just not sure they’re working for me anymore.
The Moment of Change
The pandemic era has changed my perspective in a lot of ways, not least of which is how I look at being introverted.
When the world came to a screeching halt in March 2020, I went along with all the other introverts who said things like “we’ve been training for this our whole lives” and “check on your extroverted friends–they’re not okay” and “just found out my normal lifestyle is called ‘quarantine.'” And I confess that isolation and “social distancing” was certainly easier for me than it was for some. I was happy to have an excuse to stay home.
The truth is that humans–even “introverts”–are wired for connection. We need interaction with others. To some degree, we can get that interaction over the phone or on a video call, but it’s not the same as being face to face with another real, living human being. Of course I had my husband and two teenagers around, but… well, my husband spent most of his time on work calls in 2020, and teenagers aren’t known for having robust social interaction with their parents.
Some True Things About Me
I think sometimes I (or we?) use “I’m an introvert” as an excuse or cover for other things.
Sometimes I don’t like to go to gatherings just because it’s easier to stay home. It’s basic physics: an object at rest stays at rest… It takes a lot for me to just get up off my lazy ass and get out of the house. But it takes just as much effort for me to get my lazy ass up for a workout as it does to get my lazy ass up for a party, and I work out alone.
When I put off doing my own marketing and sales, it’s often more about a lack of confidence than any kind of introversion. Even outgoing people can lack confidence about their skills and abilities.
As for meeting people and making friends… Well, that’s complicated. Yes, it’s harder for me to reach out and connect to new people than it is for my husband, but also, sometimes I resist making an effort because of latent trust issues, fear of not doing it perfectly, or just plain lack of time.
So I hide behind introvert labels and memes and descriptions and make excuses for not doing things I should do.
And yes, I should push myself to connect more. It’s just like anything else on my list of self-care and hard things–eating right, exercising, managing my time, all of those things. Connecting with people, finding a tribe in real life, honing my social skills–all of these are things I need for my mental health and wellbeing.
What Does It All Mean?
Am I 100% rejecting the label of introvert? No, not exactly. It will probably always be harder for me to reach out than it will be for people who have a naturally outgoing social style. I will probably always prefer a few deep relationships than dozens of surface ones. I have zero intention of giving up my evenings of reading, knitting, and crocheting.
BUT–I think this idea of labeling people as introvert, extrovert, ambivert, omnivert, and whatever other -vert might pop up in the future has limited use.
Organizational psychologist Adam Grant wrote this breakup letter to the MBTI over a decade ago and recently shared it on his Substack. I think a lot of his comments about introversion vs. extroversion (and really, most of his thinking about the MBTI) align pretty closely with my own thoughts of late.
However, I hesitate to embrace a new way of looking at personality or personality type, because you know what? It’s too easy to embrace these labels and use them as excuses for our behavior, good or bad.
Personality and personality types are much more nuanced than any test can reveal. There are 8 billion people in the world, which makes me think that there are probably about 8 billion personalities. We are shaped by genetics, culture, experiences, and a host of other factors that can’t be perfectly quantified, explained, or excused by a test. The best a personality profile can do is point us in a general direction about our preferences so that we can evaluate them and course correct where necessary for our own flourishing.
No Labels, Man
At the ripe old age of 53, I am pretty set in my ways. I don’t see me suddenly becoming a big party animal who spends every Friday dancing into the wee hours of Saturday morning. I cannot imagine that my career will veer away from a solitary one into something like cruise director.
However, I do think I’m at a point where I’m ready to reject labels about my personality. To be quite frank, I don’t think I trust most of them anymore. I think it’s far more accurate to accept that I’m on a journey toward overall wellbeing, and that means addressing the behaviors that need some adjustment.
Because I actually do like most people, even when I see their faults. I can almost always find some common ground or interest with people, even those who are quite different. And I am, at my core, incredibly curious and interested in stories, and everyone has a story to tell.
So while you may still see me share a funny introvert meme now and then, just know that there’s room in my world for a more nuanced approach to connecting with people. I may occasionally fall back into curmudgeonly habits, but I’m a work in progress.
And honestly, aren’t we all?