May 23, 2012
I remember first learning the concepts of "introvert" and "extrovert."
It was in a parenting book in a section identifying the general nature of children. And I was interested to discover my firstborn, around four at the time, was a classic introvert, even though he often got rowdy and silly. Previously, I'd pegged him as more "out there," but through the descriptions, it was clear he drew the bulk of his energy from being alone, and came alive mostly in smaller, intimate crowds.
Learning this about my son helped me understand and parent him better.
During that time, I also assessed the rest of our family and determined myself to be an extrovert. And I stuck with that for years.
More recently, however, I've revisited that assessment. As I examine my life and how I operate best, I've come to the conclusion that I'm half and half: about 50 percent extrovert, 50 percent introvert.
The first "aha" moment was during a week-long writing retreat when I realized how desperately I was craving alone time. It was as if I couldn't get enough of it. Well, I was a mother of five. It was perfectly understandable, right?
But there were other signs too. My pattern of craving afternoon naps -- even if just ten minutes on top of the covers on the bed, head down. Another sign: becoming quickly overstimulated and drained of energy when in public places like the mall. I've also come to realize that although I really enjoy socializing, my favorite gatherings are smaller or after the larger party has dwindled.
I'm surprised, really, that I didn't discover this sooner. Thinking back, I remember people saying as a young child that I was shy. I recall, also, feeling like more of an observer in many situations. I am a happy contributor to group conversations, but usually only after I've had a chance to warm up.
I'm really not as "out there" as I thought, even though I have some aspects of me that are more gregarious. Still, that doesn't make me a full-out extrovert.
In fact, I could easily be an extroverted introvert as the reverse. Either way, why does it matter?
Well, it matters because, just as helping me identify my son's nature helped me better understand and parent him, understanding my own has helped me put a lot of pieces together.
I now give myself a break when I feel myself running out of batteries when out in public. I allow myself rest time during the day -- moments to just close my eyes and rejuvenate. The thing is, when I don't allow these things, I don't function nearly as well.
This comes to play in my writing life too, every day. I find that the writing process consumes great quantities of mental energy. So does interviewing people. I can tell when I've overdone it and need some alone time.
Recently, my supervisor was surprised to learn I'd gone off and eaten lunch by myself. She's a self-admitted, full-out extrovert and can't imagine actually desiring a solo lunch. But, much as I love lunch and coffee with girlfriends, I actually love meals alone, too, especially when I'm in the middle of a busy writing day. It helps me check out long enough to give me what I need to continue the story when I return. If I were to chatter through that "break," I'd likely be spent afterward.
Understanding that I'm an introverted extrovert, or an extroverted introvert, helps me treat myself more kindly, and also gives me the words to help others in my life understand me better too. The more we know about ourselves, the better we can go about our lives, the more we can offer others.