I recently wrote on The Pastry Box Project about introversion. I’m going to re-post here because I like having owned copies of stuff I write.
Everyone knows the words “introvert” and “extrovert”. But I’m surprised at how widespread the misunderstanding of terms is. Many people I talk to, when this subject comes up, still essentially have this understanding:
introvert = shy nerd = bad
extrovert = cool jock = good
This is untrue and a bit harmful if you ask me. I’m highly introverted. But I’m not particularly shy, or a shut-in, or whatever other negative stereotypes we could lump on.
The truth about the difference between introverts and extroverts lies in how personal energy is used and gained. Introverts need a lot of recharging time to gain energy. Being out-and-about, especially in social situations, is draining. Alone time is the only way to get that energy back. For me, it’s a lot of alone time. Not sitting in a dark cave staring at the wall, but somewhere comfortable where I can do other activities I enjoy. Laying on a hotel bed catching up on the internet totally counts. At home cooking dinner totally counts. Even reading a book at a coffee shop counts.
Extroverts are the opposite in that they gain energy from social interactions. They thrive on the excitement of meeting people and doing new things. Being cooped up alone would be more like torture than quality downtime. Maybe. It’s harder for me to write about what extroverts are like because I’ve only read about them.
25% introverts is the number typically quoted for the public at large. That number feels about correct to me for the general public, especially in the United States where I live and grew up, where extroversion is the “ideal” and my little formula up top holds especially true. I suspect a much higher percentage for the web worker crowd.
The reason I’m writing about this is because knowing the true nature of introverts was incredibly liberating for me. Most of my life I thought there was something a little bit broken about me. That I wasn’t quite right. That if I could just snuff out this part of myself everything would be a lot better. It certainly didn’t ruin my life but it didn’t make it very comfortable either. Just understanding what being an introvert means and that it’s highly common is a relief. I can read up on it now. Find out how other people handle it. Talk about it with friends. Explain it to people who don’t get it yet.
I grew up in a house with my stepdad, who is about as full-tilt of an extrovert as there ever was. He’s a great guy and we get along well. But he never understood why my face was always buried in a computer. Why I’d go straight for my room after coming home. Why small talk was difficult for me. He probably still doesn’t, but hey, at least I do. I feel like us introverts should make business cards we could leave behind at parties when we duck out the back door without saying goodbye that just say “Google ‘Introvert’” on them.
At the risk of a #humblebrag—a question I get fairly often is: “how do you do it all?” Referring to blogging fairly often, having a podcast, building a startup, etc. I usually referred them to my favorite quote, but a big part of the truth of that is that I gain energy from the quiet time when I’m doing those things, which makes “just sit and do it” easy and enjoyable.
If you had these same type of feelings as me, require quite a bit of recharging time, or otherwise suspect yourself an introvert, I’d suggest some reading:
- Quick primer – Caring For Your Introvert by Jonathan Rauch
- Book – Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is extremely good. It’s loaded with real research but absolutely not dry. It’s full of human stories. She also has a TED talk.
- Book – The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney
- Book – Introverts at Ease by Nancy Okerlund is a little self-helpy, but that can be good.
The article seemed to really resonate with people, which is fantastic.
D. Keith Robinson is has similar-but-slightly-different introverted traits as my own. He writes:
For years I would have considered myself sort of shy, but never introverted. I mean, I like people. I like being around people. If you were to meet me with my batteries all charged up, you’d probably never consider me to be introverted. But I am. I really enjoy, and require, alone time. I’m classically introverted: interaction with people drains me. Even talking intently to one person drains me. I need to prepare for being social; even the comfortable social time I enjoy with good friends and co-workers. I actually enjoy big parties with lots of people, because it’s easier to limit my social interactions. I can kind of blend in and it’s easier to duck out. Irish goodbye FTW!
Jesse Gortarez echos the common thought that most people don’t realize introverts are introverts:
People that know me through Facebook or most real-life social situations probably wouldn’t think of me as an introvert, but the behaviors he described are definitely me. I like going out every now and then, I like social activities (though sometimes I feel much more awkward than I might come across), but I definitely prefer and need to spend time reading or doing things I find intellectually stimulating.
Kai Branch also felt the relief I felt:
Just like Chris I felt relief when I discovered that there is nothing wrong with enjoying the company of fewer people, or getting joy out of being alone.
The number of replies I got from people who now understand themselves better and felt the relief is fantastic.
@chriscoyier Great post, thanks! Can definitely relate; I felt a similar relief when finding out.
— Alexis Deveria (@Fyrd) April 3, 2013
Thank you, @chriscoyier, for making me not feel all alone in the world.
— Vegar Norman (@vegarnorman) April 3, 2013
@chriscoyier Wonderful post. I’ve had the same feelings regarding alone time all my life. Very liberating to learn that’s ok.
— Matt Waldron (@mattwaldron) April 3, 2013
@chriscoyier awesome read man. thanks for writing that. I’ve felt exactly the same way all my life. i’ll definitely check out those books!
— Raul Esquivel (@raulativity) April 3, 2013
@chriscoyier Loved that post – describes me to a T – fun, social and need a whole lot of quiet time
— Diane Kinney (@gidgetthegeek) April 3, 2013
No wonder there is confusion about the topic. Even the dictionary has a harmful definition:
@chriscoyier I love that article! Even the Mac dictionary has it wrong: “a shy, reticent, and typically self-centered person.”
— Carl Peterson (@carlpeterson) April 3, 2013
I got some interesting personal replies as well.
Steven Bennett asks:
I’m wondering though, are you married/in a relationship? Do you believe that introverts need extra recharging away from their partner, especially if they’re extroverted? What do you think?
I can’t speak to this particularly well since I’m not married or in a relationship. I do feel like my introversion is related to that fact, but that’s another topic. I suspect that introverted folks in relationships do still need normal recharging time, especially if the partner is an opposite.
In Susan Cain’s book, there is a good bit of it about relationships and how mis-matches can actually be a great thing (a sense of “they complete me”) but that compromises have to happen often. I’ve also heard from a number of people on Twitter that children can be particularly difficult for introverts.
Graham Macphee asks:
If you could maybe just explain how being introverted has affected your life (or how it hasn’t), I think I’d be able to take a lot away from it.
It’s hard to know, because I’ve only ever been the one thing. I know that there is often times I wish I could just turn on the switch and be Captain Social and it bums me out when I can’t. Usually I turn to booze to help out with that, which is a bit of a bummer. I don’t have any problem with alcohol, but I can see that hurting other people’s lives.
I do want to make clear that my life is super super awesome. I’m pretty sure that being introverted has largely helped me, not hindered me.
Speaking of the connection between introversion and alcoholism, I’d love to know more about the correlation between those things, if there are any. Are there a lot of people who try and drink their way out of introversion? Do introverts shy away from things that numb their sense of personal and social awareness? Are there correlations between introversion and obesity? Introversion and relationships/dating/sexuality? Introversion and music and art? I’d love to read more about that stuff.
I was also stoked to learn so many of my own heros share this temperament.
— Dan Cederholm (@simplebits) April 5, 2013
— Jason Santa Maria (@jasonsantamaria) April 4, 2013
“The reason I’m writing about this is because knowing the true nature of introverts was incredibly liberating for me” the-pastry-box-project.net/chris-coyier/2…
— Cameron Moll (@cameronmoll) April 4, 2013
And thanks a bunch to my friend Jesse Lynch who first told me about Susan Cain’s book. Jesse is more of an extrovert I think, but he lived with me for long enough to know that I was introverted and saw it before I even knew what it really meant.
Huge thanks to Susan Cain who is really leading the charge on spreading the word about all this which is certainly making the world a better place.