Introversion

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:

Good luck!


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.

No wonder there is confusion about the topic. Even the dictionary has a harmful definition:

Scoff!


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.


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.

Comments

  1. Traxy says:

    I’m an introvert, as is my husband, and that’s one of the reasons for deciding not to have children. We both need a lot of personal space and alone time, and bringing a child into that environment simply wouldn’t work, we’d be constantly on edge. When I mentioned how overwhelming it would be to have a child, my (extravert) mother said “but surely that’s a GOOD thing?” … eh …

  2. Excellent post Chris!

    I believe the tide is beginning to in our favor and we need more introverts to write posts like yours. The resources you listed are excellent and more resources are cropping up all the time.

    We are not broken, not deficient and introversion is not a character flaw. My turning point came when I read Laurie Helgoe’s article in Psychology Today magazine “Revenge of the Introverts”. It was like a home coming and I used it to educate the people around me both at work and my personal life.

    This motivated me to coach/teach introverted professionals.

    Thanks again and all my best to you.

    Christian

  3. This is a wonderful post to read. I am an extrovert and my two favorite people in the world are both introverts. My fiancee and father. They both agree that at times I never shut the **** up.

    An extrovert needs their alone time too though. I thrive on it. It is usually my favorite part of the day and where I am most productive. This weekend I watched the Lodge videos and finally after months of trying to grasp custom fields your videos made it click. That wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t alone. I used to think I was an introvert because of how much alone time I need. However, being alone is not where I recharge my energy. Its with people and in new environments.

    I think the balance of both extroversion and introversion create a dynamic that allows an understanding and comprehension of different perspectives and new ideas. My first career was in youth development and being able to identify those who were introverted and those who were extroverted enabled me to create learning and social environments that nurtured both.

    I think the biggest struggle you address head on is the fact the in our society and in-turn our media presents extraverts more positively and continues to embrace them as the social norm. I also wonder due to this issue that the % of introverts is possibly off and may be higher because its human nature to project extroversion onto yourself when its favored as the social norm. One very well may be an introvert, but will categorize themselves differently on questionnaires and surveys due to this. In my personal experience I know as many introverts as extroverts.

    Anyhow. I just wanted to say that if it wasn’t for css-tricks and your continued contributions I probably would have given up on web, but you have a distinct ability to communicate the concepts to people in understandable ways. I would not have gotten a job at the creative agency I work for if it wasn’t for the Lynda.com video you made. Thanks again.

  4. Jack Wheeler says:

    Really am enjoying the discussion on introversion. It’s caused me to do some further reading and I’ve learned a ton about myself in the process. I always wondered what the deal was because I get so drained from social interaction, but as a musician, I can get charged up playing in front of large groups.

    Like many here, I always figured there was something broken because I love to be alone so much. Now, I know it’s not only OK, it’s necessary!

    Thanks.