Outspoken Introverts and Shy Extroverts

Some months back I left my last employer and started a new gig, and as a result I am back at zero in trying to overcome my innate introversion for long enough to meet and integrate with a whole new team. It’s a lot. It also is an opportunity to reflect on the misunderstanding a lot of folks have about the nature of being an introvert.

The most common response I get when I talk about being an introvert is one of confusion or disbelief. Because I’m outspoken, because I often find myself (or, shove myself) in front of crowds of humans, or because I’m not conflict averse (which is the kindest way to describe my relationship with conflict I can imagine), folks find themselves surprised that I’d identify as such. All of my characteristics are among those they’ve come to identify as ones possessed by extroverts. We are all taught in a variety of ways that “introvert” and “shy” are synonymous, as are “extrovert” and “outspoken” or “social” from an early age.

They are not synonyms.

The fact that I tend toward introversion (unless you believe in the class “ambivert”, at which point I’m probably that…and how can you not believe in ambivert but believe in the other two that are no less scientifically dubious!?) doesn’t mean that I am incapable of speaking my mind, of participating with people, or of being the center of attention. Anybody that has had to suffer through me regaling a group with some over-long and too-much-information-filled stories can attest to that last bit.

For me, the cost of those forays into outgoingness is emotional energy. Even a relatively short group activity that requires my active participation can cost me hours of mental energy. When I speak at conferences, teach a class, or run a workshop, the rest of that day is more-or-less shot. Much of the time I can recover that energy through a period of quiet, solo work. More expensive activity will leave me sapped though, and on days that have required tremendous amounts of extroversion I often end up idly flipping through social media or reading something lightweight with nonsense–distracting but not attention demanding–on a second screen.

All of this can be offset to some degree with caffeine, but as I get older I’m increasingly aware of the impact of that sort of intake on my body. During a recent, multi-day meet up with the whole team, I was putting away a four-pack and change of energy drinks plus a couple of pots of coffee each day to survive full days of social interaction. Several days of extreme hermitude got me back to myself afterward.

The moral of the story? I’m too tired for a moral! But don’t assume that just because someone is actively hurling themselves into the thick of things, conversation-wise, that they’re not going to pay for it dearly later.

And if you see me speaking a lot, bring me a coffee. I almost assuredly need it.