An Open Letter to Extroverts: What the Introverts in Your Life Want You to Know
I’m not an extrovert, but I play one in real life.
Most people would probably be shocked to discover than I am a true introvert – that social situations and crowds exhaust me and I seek balance by being alone. After all, I have chosen to be a teacher. I am outspoken in meetings and not shy to speak in front of a group. On top of that, I have intentionally cultivated a large group of friends and I enjoy spending time with them and having them in my space. I have developed countless online relationships and enjoy time with my online family. Surprisingly, I can be loud. I rarely slow down. And I once rocked a shirt that said, “Sweet Talker in Action” as a kid because I never shut up.
But behind all of that is a woman who feels most at home in her office, a “safe” space of solitude. A woman who would be more comfortable in solitary confinement than in a cell with multiple roommates (not that I ever intend to try out either!). I need my alone time in order to be the public me. In a way, I put on an act every day. It’s still me, but it’s the “on” me. It’s the real me with a booster rocket of extroversion. And if I play the role too long, the tank runs dry.
I was looking for a concise article that would explain characteristics of introverts for my very extroverted husband after feeling overwhelmed by the demands of the beginning of the school year.
I drew a blank.
So I decided to write it instead.
Not all of these characteristics will apply to every introvert. After all, that is simply one label and we are all represented by more than a single word. But I think many introverts will recognize themselves here and I hope that extroverts will find some compassion and understanding for their more reserved brethren.
I envy you sometimes. The way you seem at ease in a crowd. How you seem to know how to initiate and carry on a conversation with no apparent effort. When I’m at the periphery of a crowd, I see you in its center, pulling energy from those around you, like some kind of emotional fusion reactor. And I’m jealous as I feel my own energy waning as the event progresses.
But then, when I’m tucked away in a quiet nook or nose-deep in my latest book, I’m at ease with myself and pleased with my nature. You see, it’s not always easy living as an introvert in an extrovert’s world. We must learn to adapt. To play-act. Or run the risk of being overlooked.
There are more of us out here then you may imagine (usually thought to be somewhere between 25-33% of the population). Some, at the extreme, are obvious – they rarely talk, have a few select friends and work at jobs where the interactions are minimal. But the rest of us? We can be found anywhere – in classrooms and boardrooms, in media and marketing and even in your own home. You see, we’re good at blending in. But sometimes we pay a price.
The following characteristics can help you identify and support the introverts in your life:
1) Shyness and Introversion Are Not the Same
I used to be shy. Painfully so. But that’s a learned response and can be changed. Introversion is a character trait found in shy and more outgoing people. You can learn to work with it but it is a fundamental piece of who you are. Many introverts have no problem approaching new people. And then they will retreat to recharge.
2) Introverts Are Not Always Quiet
The stereotypical introvert is quiet. Bookish. Reserved. Yes, that person is probably an introvert but they are not the only ones. Although I prefer to express my ideas in writing, I frequently find I am the leader and spokesperson for groups. I talk fast and often. I gravitate towards heavy metal and intensity in my activities. Only those close to me know about my need for quiet and solitude. Introversion isn’t worn on my sleeve; it’s carried inside.