26 May 2009


An extroverted introvert

PhotoFunia - Derek retailPeople are supposed to be either introverted or extroverted, but I've never been sure where I fit. Perhaps I'm an ambivert (yuck, an ugly word):

  • Most of the time, I like meeting new people; I have stage love instead of stage fright (hence why I've taught courses, given speeches and been in a band for so long); I'm decent with small talk at a party or in a crowd; and I can be quite a chatterbox—not to mention loud—in the right context.

  • On the other hand, I always enjoyed being an only child; when I'm uncomfortable or in pain I tend to become quiet and withdrawn; I despise making unsolicited phone calls and am not fond of telephone conversation in general; when out and about (either in my own city or somewhere else) I'm far more likely to wander about alone, take pictures, and think to myself than to strike up conversations with strangers; and I need significant time alone every day, time I often take when the rest of my family is asleep.

So I found Sophia Dembling's "Confessions of an Introverted Traveler" (via Kottke) fascinating. I like her thesis:

Though I don’t need to talk to a lot of people, I love watching them. [...] I travel for the travel.

I suspect I may be primarily an introvert—like Dembling, I find the North American preference for extroversion a bit oppressive. That doesn't mean I prefer solitude in all circumstances, but that social interactions take energy for me, and I need time alone to recharge. I like activities with friends, and especially with my wife and children, but given time to myself, I'm unlikely to want to meet anyone for lunch or a night out. Instead, I might go out by myself, and it doesn't feel at all lonely.

I recall last year's Gnomedex conference in Seattle, an intense three-day geekfest of ideas and discussion together with hundreds of my peers in a Seattle meeting room. The hotel my wife and I chose was a good 20-minute walk away up the waterfront escarpment and through downtown. Despite the physical difficulty of making the trek with my rolling bag of computer and camera gear while suffering cancer-treatment side effects (as I still do), I enjoyed the trip each day. That's because I could be alone and enjoy people-watching as I trundled through the glass tower canyons and Pike Place Market, and either charge up on the way to the meeting, or get my energy back on the way to the hotel.

Right now is a good example too. I've had a rough couple of nights of side effects this week, and my wife is out for the afternoon, but now that I'm finally feeling good, rather than setting up a lunch meeting, or saying hi to my parents (who live next door), I'll probably just go for a solitary walk. That's just what I need.

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I've recently heard of introvert vs. extrovert being defined by where you get your energy from. Some people (like me) get energized by being part of a crowd, or more specifically, being the centre of attention in that crowd - those are extroverts. Other people need some time alone to recharge their batteries - those are introverts. It doesn't mean that introverts can't enjoy being up on stage, just that they need that alone time to recharge from it (or to get energized for it); similarly, extroverts can enjoy having some time to themselves, but it's going to be more along the lines of de-stressing rather than energizing for them. By that definition, it does sound like you are an introvert!
Hi Derek - the introvert extrovert distinction comes from Carl Jung and Beth has distilled it properly above. Im also on the border and have tested out as such in the myers briggs and strong inventory tests.

FYI - introverts and extroverts are attracted to their opposites in marriage time and time again. like flies to honey really.
Another interesting wrinkle to the introvert - extrovert concept is that one can be a "shy extrovert" or a "social introvert."

There's also a tendency in many people, as they get older to balance extroversion and introversion. Maybe because they marry their opposites? I'm a much more social introvert than I was in my teens and twenties.

As Beth said, the kinds of situations in which you find your energy ebbing or returning are the most telling way to determine whether you are an introvert or extrovert. There are also some good Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) clone tests on line.
Derek, I understand completely. I'm much the same way. It's nice to read about others who experience the same thing I do.
I feel very much the same way, I find that I'm generally an extrovert, but after 5 events in a row (some of them, back-to-back in the same day) the hummingbird becomes the polar bear and I want to run and hide in my apartment.