For a period of time in our relationship, my friend and I experienced an ongoing miscommunication when I described myself as an introvert. The first clue I had that we were not on the same page was her reticence. I would refer to myself as an introvert, and she would just listen, saying nothing. Then, one day, she laughed a little and gently said, “Yeah, go ahead and keep telling yourself that!” When I asked what she meant, the truth came out: in her eyes, there was no way I could be an introvert. She knows I speak to large groups, have close friends, and can talk at length on a variety of subjects. This was incongruous with everything she had learned introverts were. In her mind, these were people who kept to themselves, had difficulty making friends, and liked to be very, very quiet.
I, too, had held those beliefs until a trusted colleague and fellow introvert shared a different definition with me several years ago. She explained that being an introvert means that a person energetically refuels by spending time on his or her own. Conversely, extroverts find that they get energy from spending time around lots of people. Introverts may or may not be quiet. They are fully capable of creating deep, meaningful relationships with others. In fact, introverts often love to engage in long and lively conversations with their close friends.
Having that information rocked my world. This made sense to me and clarified for me why, after attending the same party, some of my friends are ready to head off to another party while I am ready for a long nap. It took me a while, though, to realize that my wise friend had never heard this definition either, and despite my explanations and examples, it was her daughter–also an introvert–who finally explained it to my friend in way that she could relate.
This new understanding of what being an introvert meant rocked my friend’s world as well. She recognized that she, too, is a classic introvert. She is also one of the most social and outgoing people I know. Yet, when she is done with an event, she needs a significant amount of quiet time to refuel her jets. She loves going for quiet walks and spending time on her own. “This makes so much sense,” she said. “For most of my life, I thought there was something wrong with me because I’d get so tired and worn out after being around lots of people. Now I realize I’m an introvert. Understanding how I operate helps me honor my need for down time, especially after big social events.”
Until we find a new term that is free of the old negative myths and connotations, it is on us–the introverts of the world–to share the true definition of our experience. We are all over the place. We lead companies. We perform on stage. We write. We sing. We are some of the most outgoing people you will ever meet. Yet, to be who we are when you see us, we need to honor our need for space, sleep, quiet reflection, and alone time. Whether we identify as an introvert or an extrovert, the same premise is true: the more we understand and know how to honor our own needs, the more effective we are in communicating our needs and our life design to the people around us.