3 Apr 2013
Everyone knows the words “introvert” and “extrovert”. But I’m surprised at how widespread the misunderstanding of terms. Many people I talk to, when this subject comes up, still essentially have this understanding:
introvert = shy nerd = bad
extrovert = cool jock = good
This is untrue and a bit harmful if you ask me. I’m highly introverted. But I’m not particularly shy, or a shut-in, or whatever other negative stereotypes we could lump on.
The truth about the difference between introverts and extroverts lies in how personal energy is used and gained. Introverts need a lot of recharging time to gain energy. Being out-and-about, especially in social situations, is draining. Alone time is the only way to get that energy back. For me, it’s a lot of alone time. Not sitting in a dark cave staring at the wall, but somewhere comfortable where I can do other activities I enjoy. Laying on a hotel bed catching up on the internet totally counts. At home cooking dinner totally counts. Even reading a book at a coffee shop counts.
Extroverts are the opposite in that they gain energy from social interactions. They thrive on the excitement of meeting people and doing new things. Being cooped up alone would be more like torture than quality downtime. Maybe. It’s harder for me to write about what extroverts are like because I’ve only read about them.
25% introverts is the number typically quoted for the public at large. That number feels about correct to me for the general public, especially in the United States where I live and grew up, where extroversion is the “ideal” and my little formula up top holds especially true. I suspect a much higher percentage for the web worker crowd.
The reason I’m writing about this is because knowing the true nature of introverts was incredibly liberating for me. Most of my life I thought there was something a little bit broken about me. That I wasn’t quite right. That if I could just snuff out this part of myself everything would be a lot better. It certainly didn’t ruin my life but it didn’t make it very comfortable either. Just understanding what being an introvert means and that it’s highly common is a relief. I can read up on it now. Find out how other people handle it. Talk about it with friends. Explain it to people who don’t get it yet.
I grew up in a house with my stepdad, who is about as full-tilt of an extrovert as there ever was. He’s a great guy and we get along well. But he never understood why my face was always buried in a computer. Why I’d go straight for my room after coming home. Why small talk was difficult for me. He probably still doesn’t, but hey, at least I do. I feel like us introverts should make business cards we could leave behind at parties when we duck out the back door without saying goodbye that just say “Google ‘Introvert’” on them.
At the risk of a #humblebrag—a question I get fairly often is: “how do you do it all?” Referring to blogging fairly often, having a podcast, building a startup, etc. I usually referred them to my favorite quote, but a big part of the truth of that is that I gain energy from the quiet time when I’m doing those things, which makes “just sit and do it” easy and enjoyable.
If you had these same type of feelings as me, require quite a bit of recharging time, or otherwise suspect yourself an introvert, I’d suggest some reading:
- Quick primer - Caring For Your Introvert by Jonathan Rauch
- Book - Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is extremely good. It’s loaded with real research but absolutely not dry. It’s full of human stories. She also has a TED talk.
- Book - The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney
- Book - Introverts at Ease by Nancy Okerlund is a little self-helpy, but that can be good.