We like to bucket people according to clearly defined characteristics. It makes things easier, it is a short hand, we use rules of thumb, stereotypes – there are necessary. The counter view is that people are more complex than these crude definitions, layers upon layers, but that, I am afraid, is completely missing the point. The complexity is the very reason we bucket, people are far too complex and we can never know them well enough to define them, let alone describe them in detail. We need the heuristic short hand to keep things moving.
The classic perception
One such characterisation is being an extrovert or an introvert. The stereotype extrovert is outgoing, happy, loud, always socialising. The introvert is reclusive, content, quiet, with their head in a book. Generally people wish to aspire more to be an extrovert and spend time apologetically finding reasons why being an introvert is good and valued. So much so, that I started substituting the word introspective for introvert.
The Thesaurus is a bully
Looking at the thesaurus’ association of the extrovert, the noun is sociable person and synonyms are generally less kind and include character, exhibitionist, show-off, showboat, gregarious person, life of the party.
Introvert get’s even less kind, actually mean is a better description, the noun is a person who retreats mentally! Synonyms include brooder, egoist, loner, narcissist, solitary, wallflower and then casually ends with self-observer. Good thing the Thesaurus is not a parent.
A more interesting definition
People I know from a work situation would generally class me as an extrovert, people who know me more intimately would say I am introvert. I was chatting about this classification to someone who knows me as well as anyone. He sagely described the difference as dependent on where you get your energy from, do you draw it in from the people around you (extrovert) or draw it from within (introvert). This definition hit home more than any, I can be the life of the party and I can be a wallflower. But I definitely feel like I draw my energy from within, from time spent in introspection.
Me as an Introvert
If other people try to energise me, I fight back (which is tiring).
Them – “Dave it’s fun, get involved” -> Me – “No, I’m not keen.”….I’ll get involved if I want to.
Them – “Dave we are doing this, if you would like to get involved” -> Me – “Sounds like fun, I’m keen.”
It is not the activity, as much as the approach. For example….
…which is more fun?
For me, both can be, I just need more time (& maybe beer) to prepare myself for the concert. Another example is that I personally would hate being thrown a surprise party, as it does not give me time to prepare myself emotionally. I see the phone ringing and I take a moment before answering to pause and break myself from introspection to allow myself to engage “properly”.
For most of us, it’s about balance. Even the clearest examples of extroverts I know, need and treasure time spent by themselves. Derek Sivers writes about balance between art and money. This lesson can be a proxy for many other areas of life.
To conclude then, my default answer to social events is yes, I love doing things with people, but I first need time to draw energy from within.
I am a Social Introvert.