Recently I was at a restaurant with some friends when I mentioned that I was an introvert. They were surprised and attempted to disagree with me: “But you’re so friendly!” they argued, “and not at all shy!” As evidence, they pointed out that I was the only one in the group who had engaged our server and started a conversation with her while she was taking our orders.
This is a common misconception about introverts – that we are shy, antisocial, or unfriendly. These erroneous ideas have tainted the definition of “introversion” from the way it was originally proposed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung himself was an introvert, and described introversion and extraversion as orientations of energy, i.e. whether a person is energized more by acting in the outer world, or by reflecting in their inner world. In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (who else but an introvert would have such a title for their book?), Jung describes how he wandered off alone to spend time in quiet spaces, where he immersed himself in his inner world of ideas, theories, and fantasies.
Where do you draw your energy from?
Introverts tend to focus on their inner world and need to withdraw in order to recharge their batteries, while extraverts feel more alive in the external world of people and activities; they draw their energy from the outside world like solar panels. If you like reflecting on ideas, tend to think a lot before acting, and hate interruptions while working, you could be an introvert. If you prefer to act in the outer world, enjoy stimulating environments like lively parties or active workplaces, or if you welcome interruptions as just the perfect diversion to take a break from your work, you may be an extravert. In reality though, we occupy various positions along this continuum, with ambiverts falling somewhere in the middle. Also, these states are not static; we tend to move up and down this scale depending on the situation.
I’m a classic introvert. Respect my quiet time, and please turn off the radio while I’m working (I don’t even own a TV). Those friends I ate out with? I was happy to hang out with them and catch up, but it was so satisfying to decline their offer to join them at a club and head straight home afterwards, where I curled up in bed with a book for the night.