Extrovert or Introvert?

For most of my life I’ve hated those personality tests that claim they will classify, categorize and explain who you are. Well, I actually didn’t hate them, they just disappointed me. I would grab onto each one I found, avidly filling in the little bubbles in a vain attempt to figure out why I act the way I do.

A few multiple-choice questions in I would invariably feel frustrated. Is my answer A or B? Sometimes I feel like A, but then again, other times it’s B. And yeah, every so often it’s even C.

I’d scribble in A (or maybe B) and move on. But I never felt satisfied with the explanatory results. This feeling of frustration extended beyond personality tests to other types of  “tests,” from the silly ones in women’s magazines, to the ones that assert they can assess your health and wellness needs. I mean, some are okay – and the best of them acknowledge that no individual fits neatly into one “type,” but I’d still set them aside feeling a little cheated.

I think some people just have a strong and solid grasp on their likes, their dislikes, their passions (that would be my daughter Rosie, I’m sure she doesn’t have much trouble with these tests.) Others of us are a little more fluid, sometimes to the fault of wishy-washiness. I’m not saying I don’t hold strong opinions and values. And I think I have a pretty defined “personality.” I just feel drawn to many different activities and ideas. (Just yesterday, I saw this defined as being a “multipotentialite.” Love this idea and want to explore further.)

Take the whole introvert/extrovert thing. For a long time I just couldn’t decide where I fit in. I mean in so many ways I feel like an extrovert – I enjoy people, I like parties, I have a lot of friends (at least nowadays.) But then again I often find myself overwhelmed when  spend too much time surrounded by people. I hit burnout fast. And I love to sit and read for hours, I enjoy driving solo to San Francisco and walking by myself on the beach. I can be painfully shy.

So which is it, I kept wondering. Extrovert or introvert? Then my friend Julie clarified it for me several years ago. It’s all about where you get your energy, she explained. Extroverts get energy from being around others. Introverts get energy from spending time alone.

Lightbulb! Okay, if you put it that way, I fall squarely into extrovert camp. I can be slogging along on a project by myself, feeling all tired and uninspired. And then I’ll walk into a meeting with a few colleagues and next thing you know I’m chattering away with all sorts of new ideas for the project – coffee growing cold on the table (didn’t need it after all.)

Or, I’ll be feeling all introverted and not wanting to go that party at all. “Let’s just stay home,” I’ll beg my husband. But we go. And within 15 minutes  I’m suddenly awake and energized again. (Okay, the wine might have just a little to do with it, but I still note the influx of energy I take in from the people surrounding me.)

But I still wondered. If I spend too much time out in the world I become completely drained of energy and all I want to do is make a beeline for the sanctuary of home. (This is especially true when shopping is involved.)

When one of my first blogging friends, Debi, introduced me to the Myers-Briggs test a couple of years ago, I finally began to get it. Of course I still had the same reaction of being unsure about some of the yes or no questions. For instance: You prefer to spend your leisure time alone or relaxing in a tranquil family atmosphere. Yes, or No? And the companion question – Do I prefer to spend my leisure time attending parties, visiting with others, shopping, etc.

Well, actually – both! But I looked at how I actually do spend the majority of my leisure time, and I had to say yes to the parties and no to the alone time.

Extrovert Alert!

What works for me about the Myers Briggs is it doesn’t just stop with the extrovert/introvert classification – there are four aspects of the personality. I read all about it after I took the test the first time (scoring as an ENFJ – extrovert, intuitive, feeling, judging), and I said wow! Now we’re going into some depth. After reading about my type, I didn’t think much more about it – until recently.

(When I took the test today, I scored ENFP – could be an indication of a different mood, but I think it’s more likely a shift in how I’m looking at my self and the world.)

Now, that I’ve been feeling around for my next big THING, I’ve been wondering again how my personality can fit with what I do in the world. And – just in time, the latest installment of A Year With Myself is all about How To Leverage Your Personality Type. (Wow, I’m hundreds of words in here and I’m finally getting to what I wanted to write about…)

When I started reading, I was brought up short by one of the first questions posed by Laurie Foley: What were you told as a child? Was it You need to get outside and play?

Umm, that would be me. Up in the bedroom, nose in a book – they called me the mole. Both parents were always admonishing me (and often forcing me) to go outside and play with the neighborhood kids (who mostly bullied me, but that’s another story.)

And that is obviously the introvert question, right? Uh oh, am I really an introvert?

But what about this childhood admonition: You need to sit down and be quiet.

Oh yeah, heard that one a lot too. Especially at school. But truthfully? I heard the first one more often. So – it makes me wonder. Is it possible to start out as an introvert, and then morph into an extrovert?

Personal Development expert Steve Pavlina claims he flipped from introvert to extrovert intentionally – by consciously working on his social skills to build his business. I’m wondering if I somehow unintentionally flipped as a method of self-preservation. It got depressing to be shy and all alone. And gave me way too much time to dwell on my pain. It fed my anxious habits.

I still struggle with shyness. That’s why those personality test questions about whether I make friends instantly stump me. I mean, come on!  It depends on how approachable the people are.

My mother on the other hand was a true extrovert. I doubt she ever experienced a moment of shyness in her short life. She’d easily chat with any stranger she encountered, made friends left and right, and everybody loved her. I remember her looking at me in disbelief when I’d whine that I had no one to play with.

“Just go up and introduce yourself,” she’d say impatiently.

She simply did not fathom how scary that was for me. How impossible.

Now, after reading and thinking on Laurie Foley’s prompts, I believe my mother was the ‘oppovert’ to my natural introvert tendencies. Maybe I had that extrovert living inside me all the time, and living with my mom slowly brought it out of me. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but I do know that it’s helped me get along in the world.

I still get scared about introducing myself to strangers. But as they years go by I’ve learned that when I push myself to do it I almost always am rewarded with a new friend, an interesting connection, or at the very least a story. That part of accessing my extrovert nature is good. And so is the fact that one of my greatest strengths is connecting people and setting them at ease.

But I wonder now: What have I lost by leaving that introverted child behind? Is it possible to balance both of these qualities inside one personality?

9 Responses to Extrovert or Introvert?

  1. I like to think of it as a spectrum and I’m always moving between the two poles. While mostly an extravert, as I get older I’m noticing that my energy gets charged more reliably, more nourishingly by time alone – especially during a silent retreat. I know right!? What’s an extravert going to do at a silent retreat? Bask in the silence, that’s what 😉

    So maybe now it’s more like 80% extravert and 20% introvert. Either way, I like knowing I can move myself along the line any time I want!

    • I think you’re absolutely right, Sandi. It’s a spectrum and we just need to tune in with where we are on that spectrum at any given moment. I’ve thought about trying out a silent retreat for years – but it scares me to death! What – not break the discomfort by babbling? Of course it is probably just what I need.

      • I have grown up as an introvert and now live as an extrovert. Personally I think it is all in the context, I wouldn’t talk much if I work in an office but for the time that I worked in the zoo, I mingle around with no issue. And I love the silence. Somehow that is the only time I could catch myself thinking coherently(: I would suggest practicing yoga if a silent retreat sounds too scary. At least yoga isn’t done in a massive block of time all at once (:

      • I highly recommend silent retreats. For me they’ve become the most reliable way to nourish my mind-body-spirit. I like to do at least 2 a year 🙂

  2. Sarah,
    Multi-potentialite is a term made by Emile who woo hoo happens to be from Montreal. she bases her idea off of a theory of a certain personality type.

    The polymath. There are a couple of books i have read on this subject and let me tell you, it really cleared up some things for me. I thought i was a flake but now i understand why i do and think the way i do.
    1 – The renaissance soul: http://www.amazon.com/Renaissance-Soul-Design-People-Passions/dp/0767920880

    2- Refuse to choose: http://www.amazon.com/Refuse-Choose-Revolutionary-Program-Everything/dp/B000S6MFDG/ref=pd_vtp_b_1

    Emile quotes these people quite often and has based her work on the same beliefs as these other two people. i highly recommend these two books if you are interested in learning more.


    • Thanks Annie! I am so excited I’ve discovered these resources about being a multipotentialite, or Renaissance soul. It makes so much sense when I look back on my dabbling life. Even though I stuck with the same business for 19 years – I never would have done that if it hadn’t had so many multiple components and things to keep track of. It drove me crazy at times – but also kept me stimulated. I’m definitely going to check out these books!

  3. I really enjoyed this post – my mind is churning…this would make great stuff to sit around (for hours!) talking about – love it, love it!

    • Hey Karen, thanks for giving this a read. So glad you enjoyed it. I’d love to sit around with you and talk about all this stuff for hours. Maybe someday we’ll have a square peg conference and get a chance to do it!

  4. I really enjoyed this post! I’ll be honest, longer posts typically lose my interest, but yours totally didn’t. Loved it!

    I think it’s definitely possible for you to balance both – as you’ve seen in my recent post, there are lots of people who are kind of on the fence. Have you been able to find the balance?

    I do wonder at Steve Pavlina switching from an introvert to an extrovert…I didn’t think that was possible! From what I understand, this quality has to do with how our brains are wired. http://intj.multiply.com/journal/item/47/Dopamine_vs._Acetylcholine_and_Blood_Flow?&show_interstitial=1&u=%2Fjournal%2Fitem –> This actually explains it really well – better than I could say it. So maybe he became less shy and more outgoing, but I doubt that he became an extrovert. Or maybe he did…but I’m not gonna stress myself out trying to change my brain’s chemical makeup. 😉 Just thought you might find that interesting!

    Like your friend said, it’s all about energy – where you get it from. But I’m sure that conditioning/outside influences can definitely have an impact on the end result. Like you! Being an extrovert with introvert tendencies.

    Anywho, this comment is WAY longer than I intended (sorry!). I’ll shut up now. 😉 Thanks for a great post, I can’t wait to check out your other content!


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