My foot tapped rapidly beneath my desk as I intently watched the seconds tick by on the clock. Only five more minutes of class before I could escape the swarm and head back to my dorm room for lunch. Oh, how I loved those lonely lunches. For one whole hour every day, I had the world to myself. For one whole hour, I could embrace the quiet and breathe.
I began my tradition of lonely lunches during my first year of college. The intensity of 24-hour friendship and roommate living had me exhausted, and these lunches were often the only time I had to myself. For an introvert-turned-extrovert, these lunches were my savior.
The words “extrovert” and “introvert” get thrown around frequently in our society, and yet the understanding of these words is limited. Articles like “23 Things All Introverts Are Guilty of Doing” and “6 Things Every Extrovert Secretly Has to Deal With” have clouded our view of these words, often causing us to come to the simple conclusion that all extroverts are outgoing and all introverts are shy.
These personality markers, however, tend to manifest themselves more as a spectrum rather than a binary, and an individual can fall anywhere on this scale. Further, it is not uncommon for an individual’s personality to reflect opposite sides of this scale, depending on circumstances or, as I’ve experienced, practice.
Although I identify as an introvert and feel that I embody the introspective and reclusive qualities of an introvert, most individuals would take one look at me and classify me as an extrovert. As a journalist, I purposefully throw myself into rooms of strangers and ask them pressing questions. I stand up in front of rooms full of people and speak with ease. My participation score in class has never fallen below 100 percent. And with my overpowering voice and passion, my beliefs will never go unheard.
These characteristics may be indicative of extroversion, but for me, they were never natural.
According to Susan Cain in her TED Talk, “The Power of Introverts,” we live in a world overpowered by extroverts. Cain discusses how our school systems and work atmospheres value the individual who is comfortable speaking up and stepping forward, while introspective individuals are seen as uninventive and therefore unworthy of leadership roles or power.
It’s this stigma surrounding introversion that pushed me to begin practicing extroversion. As I saw my introverted peers fall to the wayside, I began to copy the actions of the extroverts around me. I pushed myself to my utter limits — to the point of severe anxiety and back again. But once again, I powered through, learning how to control my socially triggered panic attacks, all the while stepping further away from introversion.
It was a difficult path, but I made it. For all intents and purposes, I was an extrovert.
According to Cain, however, forcing society’s introverts into extroversion results in loss for all.
“Introversion — along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness — is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology,” Cain says in an article for The Huffington Post. “Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”
According to Cain, one-third to one-half of all adults in America are introverts. Cain says introverts, due to their reclusive and reflective nature, tend to be more creative and tend to think more deeply about problem-solving. Although they may not be quick to speak, their ideas are powerful and well thought out.
In my transition to extroversion, I lost a lot of that creativity and deep thought. Although it’s been a slow and coming process, I’ve finally learned how to balance the power of introversion with the positive characteristics I developed from my stint in extroversion. I have learned how to say no and to take time for myself without feeling guilty, all the while working to refine my skills in leadership, management and public speaking. I’ve learned that wanting to stay in on a Saturday night instead of going to a frat party is not necessarily anti-social, all the while learning how to network and create connections to better my future. And finally, I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert, all the while learning that there’s also nothing wrong with being an extrovert.
Our variety is what makes us powerful, in regards to all forms of our diversity.
The words “extrovert” and “introvert” are useful for helping us understand our minds and our personalities, but they do not deserve the power to control us or the view we have of others.