“His retreat into himself is not a final renunciation of the world, but a search for quietude, where alone it is possible for him to make his contribution to the life of the community.”
― Carl Jung, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, p. 552
It is Saturday afternoon, and I’m sitting in a coffee shop reading and now writing. For many, this would seem like a waste of time. For others who would even find it appealing, it may not be possible for such luxuries. Parents, employees, and those alike couldn’t make the time to sit alone with their thoughts for hours on end. Luckily for me, I have the time to do it, and it is one of my great pleasures.
As a millennial, I grew up wondering the answer to the question: “Am I an introvert or an am I an extrovert?” It seemed a question needing an answer.
At a young age, I made a lot of friends, tried hard always to be outgoing, and even joined student council as a sort of popularity test in 4th grade. All of this to hopefully push myself off the fence and into the camp of the admirable extroverts.
In my mind, extroverts were cool, fun people that got what they wanted in life. While introverts, on the other hand, were quiet nerds who stood in the corner while the extroverts soaked in all of the attention and took all of the success.
But as I grew older I struggled with this concept, like so many do. I wondered if I was the only one who felt this way, but after discussing with my adult friends recently, I confirmed that I wasn’t the only one. Being introverted certainly had negative connotations. While being an extrovert was associated with popularity and fun. Even dictionary.com defines an introvert as “a shy person” and an extrovert as “an outgoing, gregarious person.” After reading those definitions, doesn’t everyone hope they are an extrovert?
Being an introvert just wasn’t an option for me. If I wanted to succeed in business and in life, I needed to build relationships, gain trust, and communicate openly. And, if I can be so bold to say, that is exactly what I have done. For the last six years I have been in outside sales for two different companies, which, in both, I have experienced success. Corporate sales is a job predicated on the fearlessness of social interaction, and I believe I have been fearless. I have been the guy at happy hour who holds the attention of ten people around a table; I have stood in rooms full of fifty or more people, giving engaging presentations and smiling; and I have attended ten meetings in one day, smiling and conversing with the energy of the UPS Delivery Guy from MadTV. Yet, among all of this, among my perceived “outgoingness” and my apparent “social comfort,” I still didn’t feel like I was an extrovert.
After all, extroverts are the people with the brightest smiles, the boisterous laughs, and the ones surrounded by friends. That picture seemed too perfect to be me. Although I feel that I can sometimes flip a switch and “perform” at work when I need to, I often don’t feel natural in any of it. Instead, I felt exhausted.
While I look back and wonder how I would have answered the question at various moments in my life, the truth is that years have passed while I gave the concept little thought at all. I went about living my life, pursuing career success, and building real friendships. Whether I was labeled as either an introvert or an extrovert was mostly irrelevant, and a thought I was unwilling to entertain, until recently. A few months ago someone told me new definitions for the two terms, and I want to share them with you.
An extrovert, I was told, is someone who is energized and recharged by being around other people.
An introvert, on the other hand, is someone who is energized and recharged by being alone.
Alas, it made complete sense! The delineation between the two has nothing to do with shyness or gregariousness, and everything to do with how social settings make a person feel. After all, even the most extroverted person will be shy at times and certainly want to be left alone, but in order to feel recharged and energized, he will need to surround himself with people. An introvert, on the other hand, can be outgoing and social when he needs to be, but it will drain his energy. In order to feel rejuvenated, the introvert needs time alone.
For the first time in my life, I can answer this question. However, having a definition about myself isn’t an accomplishment, and it shouldn’t be for you either. After all, none of us want to be labeled or put in a box. You can’t put every person into one of two categories. However, understanding how you personally gain energy through social interaction is critical for your happiness and for your success.
For me, I have found that setting aside time to be alone is what makes me happy, recharges my batteries, and propels me forward to be able to be socially outgoing and charismatic when I finally am around a group of people. This realization was one of significant impact on my life. Knowing this about myself freed me up to spend more time alone, with the understanding that I was making deposits into my life around others. Now, whether I am journaling, reading, exercising, thinking, or simply folding the laundry – I believe that I am unlocking my potential for a greater happiness, greater success, and greater relationships. My wish is that everyone can understand this simple concept and unlock their own potential as well.
“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family…”
“…I also believe that introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward.”
– Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t be Stopped