Some stories stick to you. They seem to follow you throughout your life, and over time, you reflect on the particulars of these stories, trying to decipher their meaning and impact. My story, the one I think about and try to dissect most often, I didn’t even experience firsthand. It is actually my grandfather’s story, and it’s been passed down to me. Regardless, I’ve adopted it as my own, and I analyze it from every angle. The story goes that once, when he was approached by a relative who questioned if perhaps there was something “wrong” with me, my grandfather snapped back, “She is just fine. Leave her alone.” His intention in telling me the story (years later) was to solidify his love for and his protection of me and to demonstrate a kinship between us. I would later learn that there was something my grandfather saw in me that he saw in himself—we shared something in common—but it took me until I was an adult to discover that, and what exactly it was.
As a child, I was often described as quiet and shy. I know for certain my siblings and parents wouldn’t describe me in those words, but nonetheless, those words were used often by acquaintances and even strangers. As I became a teen, the words cold and aloof—sometimes even “ice queen”—came into play, and as an adult, the description evolved into serious and intense. The word “too” has been typically added to any of those descriptions—too quiet, too shy, too cold, too aloof, too serious, and too intense. Being referred to in my teen years as an “ice queen” was certainly a sharp contrast from the desired “fun” moniker—much to my dismay, I was never called the “fun” girl. However, I’ve learned to wear and accept those descriptions (all of them) as a part of me. Because, in fact, depending on the scenario, I can be all those things.
I’m one of approximately 25 percent of the population that is more introverted than extroverted. Most everyone is some combination of the two, but if forced to define myself, then yes, I am an introvert. When I described myself as such during a recent phone call with my mother, she questioned the label, almost concerned. Following her call, I was slightly disoriented by her understanding or lack thereof, so I asked an array of people if they considered themselves extroverts or introverts, and inquired about their understanding of the terms. Wouldn’t you know, the extroverts proudly proclaimed themselves as such, while the introverts were more hesitant to define themselves and often included a caveat like “I am an introvert, but I can be extroverted when….”
Fascinated by the seemingly negative stigma of the introvert, I gathered all the information I could find to better understand these temperaments. I learned, on a basic level, that introversion and extroversion are personality types most reflected in your attitude and perspective toward life—how you approach the world—and how you rejuvenate and renew yourself. And, while we often associate introversion and extroversion with social interaction; that is, whether someone is “shy” or social, these temperaments affect all aspects of life.
But this is where it gets interesting. One key difference between introverts and extroverts pertains to their relationship with energy. Introverts make their own energy, while extroverts derive energy from others. So, when an introvert is interacting with others, they are giving their energy, while in the same scenario, an extrovert is getting energy. An introvert typically finds time with others to be draining, even and especially when they enjoy the company, while extroverts find time with others to be energizing. To regain energy, an introvert needs alone time to recharge their battery, while an extrovert re-charges by being with others.
Outside of social scenarios, research reveals that extroverts are more productive in more stimulating environments, like those filled with people, or with televisions on, or music playing; while introverts are better in quieter, less stimulating environments. And because extroverts often require a higher level of stimulation, another study reveals they are less successful at monotonous activities like organizing a closet or filing. Yet another study reveals a stark contrast between the way extroverts and introverts are fulfilled or rewarded. Researchers discovered extroverts are more likely to feel motivated and ultimately rewarded by their environment, the external; while introverts are more likely to weigh internal cues, like their own emotions, reactions or sensations, more strongly.
Interestingly, our Western culture values the extrovert and considers those types of people to be the most well-adjusted and likely to succeed. Conversely, Eastern culture values the introvert—the person who is thoughtful, reserved, and calculating in their words and actions. There’s a saying: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” We can accept the way we are made. We can work to understand what drives us; why we are wired the way we are, and what we need to give ourselves to keep our energies up and our life headed in a positive direction. The key is to appreciate ourselves and surround ourselves with those who appreciate us in all our introverted—or extroverted—splendor.
What I’ve concluded from all this research is that we wouldn’t want to live in a world of all extroverts or introverts. The two need each other. Some of the greatest partnerships have been between extroverts and introverts—think Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak or Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert. But I also realized that the unspoken bond shared by me and my grandfather (which I am sure he was aware of while I was not) was the way we interacted with the world—as introverts. Predominately surrounded by a family of extroverts, we were just a little different and, in the end, he was right; I was just fine.