Reverb 13 | December 19 | Alone Time vs. Party Time

Personality: Were you an extrovert or an introvert this year?  Why?  Is that normal for you?  Or a switch from previous years?

I am often heartbroken at the way the world talks about extroverts– it really can be quite mean. Of course, this could just be the E and the F parts of my ENFJ personality type screaming loudly that we like to be liked, gosh darn it (E is for extroverted and F is for feeling).

But even Merriam-Webster doesn’t seem to have the best grasp on extroverts, as these are the definitions they offer up:

ex·tro·vert noun \ˈek-strə-ˌvərt\ : a friendly person who likes being with and talking to other people : an outgoing person; a gregarious and unreserved person

Although the definition of extroversion is a little better:

ex·tro·ver·sion noun \ˌek-strə-ˈvər-zhən, -shən\:  the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self

But I would argue that extroversion is not the “habit of being predominately concerned with obtaining gratification from outside the self,” because habits can be formed and changed through basic but consistent behavior modification. Extroversion is being hardwired to need stimulation and engagement outside the self to obtain gratification. And, in general, I think people are reluctant to talk about personality being hardwired, like hair color or the shape of our ears, because we are resistant to the idea that we can’t change our personalities. Especially the parts that are a bit, okay a lot, flawed.

I have talked about being extroverted several times in this space, because I think extroverts get mischaracterized as much as introverts. It is not a need for attention, rather it is an innate need for connection. Sometimes, getting attention is the tool used to make that connection, but it’s never about the spotlight- it’s about sharing.

So the punchline to the long answer to only the first part of the question is: I was an extrovert this year in the same way that I have been an extrovert since birth. Relationships are my lifeblood, storytelling is the tool I use to build my world around me, I am motivated to be successful, and I am driven to empower others.

That said, we all know human personalities are not so black and white. Even as a enthusiastic member of “Camp E!”, I have introverted needs that struggle to be met by my overriding extroversion. This year I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Knowing, of course, that I was exactly a part of the problem she identifies right in the title of her book (see? we are so mean to extroverts), I figured this would be like reading the other team’s playbook. if this book was written to empower introverts, I wanted to know what it was about our world that had them feeling so… un-empowered.
Aside from the fact that she spends the introductory pages labeling extroverts as loud idiots who are incapable of thinking before we speak, who have caveman-esque reasoning and social skills, the book is quite good. And I think it really highlighted for me exactly which of my preferences were more similar to those in “Camp I!” so I could understand and nurture them better. At the same time, I took a Myers-Briggs personality test, where I learned that I am an ENFJ (Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging) and having a better understanding of my whole personality brought to light how bits of introversion sneak in and have a logical place within my extroverted self. For example, like introverts, ‘feelers’ (the F in ENFJ) dislike trite small talk. We do not have any interest in talking about weather or traffic or your weekend plans. We really want to share our deeper thoughts and feelings on topics with you and have you share yours with us. Again, it’s about connection. Deeper, more meaningful conversations tend to breed a little better in smaller groups, because who wants to be in a party of 30+ people and yell out their feelings? Not even the Ultimate Supreme Captain of Camp E!

This year, I have discovered that my book club is a supreme outlet for meeting my E and F needs. The group is pretty smart, and we generally dive pretty deep into personal thoughts and feelings on certain topics. The group is large enough to feed my social need, but small enough for me to express my emotional needs. It is a lovely group.

It has been really interesting to get to know myself from a psychological science level this year. I have learned that I really can’t change these hardwired parts of my personality, and I feel a lot less apologetic for them now. I am extroverted and I need social interaction in the same way I need sleep and exercise to feel healthy and balanced.