Conversations about extroversion versus introversion usually make me nervous. People use these polarizing Jungian terms to cultivate the one thing that we don’t need more of: division. Susan Cain and her exploration of the archetypical introvert did little other than send me through a Brene Brown shame storm. My heart started racing, my palms started sweating, and I got all kinds of indignant about how extroverts are painted as brackish, rude, and overbearing.
As I recall, during her chat with Jonathan Fields on the main stage at this year’s World Domination Summit, I all but broke down into tears.
“I must be doing it wrong,” I whispered to my friend, Leah – a Michigan-based artist and web designer. “I’m not that way… am I?” She shook her head at me and turned her attention back to the talk. I couldn’t concentrate on what they were talking about anymore. If I wasn’t careful, I’d be in danger of getting shame whiplash.
Susan Cain’s primary thesis is that introverts shouldn’t change themselves to fit into an extrovert’s expectations, nor should they feel like they are bad people for the way they naturally experience the world. Introversion allows for introspection; for thoughtful and intellectual dissection of an issue; and for observation over engagement.
I offer a corollary viewpoint from the perspective of an extrovert.
Introverts are not necessarily shy. But shamed extroverts are.
As a child, teachers often told my parents that I was too talkative, too loud, and too… much. It would be one of the first things on my report cards: “Amanda is very bright and intelligent, but too chatty in the classroom. Often distracts other students.” My parents would tell me that I needed to be quieter around the other children – not everyone had the ability to multi-task talking with working, after all.
I would nod and smile and agree. I didn’t want to distract anyone and I certainly didn’t want to be a nuisance to anyone. Inside, I felt ashamed that I struggled with being quiet. All I wanted to do was connect with people and talk about, well, everything that I was thinking about.
By the time fourth grade came around, I made an active decision to be the quiet one in the class. I was still relatively new to the school at the time, so no one would notice. (Or so I hoped.) Quiet, after all, was what everyone had been telling me to be for as long as I could remember.
So, I was quiet. I did my best to acknowledge people in the classroom with nods and simple answers. I concentrated on my work, got great marks, and flew under the radar. The longer I practiced quiet, the easier it became. But my insides ached for exuberance and big, shiny smiles, and talking about everything under the sun.
I was shamed into silence by an education system that told me that loud was bad.
Theatre eventually drew me out again, teasing out the exuberant little girl, desperate to claw her way back into the world. Thankfully, that exuberance stuck around for good this time.
Comic books, Dungeons & Dragons, and Code: A Purposeful Infiltration
Chris Brogan and J.D. Roth talked about being nerds and comic book geeks at the conference this year (which made me squeal with delight). It was almost disparaging, however, as they talked about being the introverted dorks that everyone picked on in school. Granted, these are a couple of dudes that grew up before the hey-day of the message board communities that united we nerds from all over the world… but it still struck a rather uncomfortable chord.
As Chris referenced geek culture during his talk, there were a handful of geeks in the audience that whispered giddily. I would blurt out the comic books that he was referencing, which made some people invariably uncomfortable. (Couldn’t be helped, folks. It was Planet Hulk. I make no apologies.)
My dad’s a Geek – and yes, you can say that with a capital G. He and his friends played D&D in our basement a few times a month. Playing video games and tinkering with computer hardware felt as natural as going outside to kick a ball around with my brother. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that I’d been doing it wrong:
In order to be considered a Real Geek, you had to be an introvert.
I didn’t get the memo until recently.
“Oh, you’re into comic books? But you’re so outgoing!”
“Eeeyeah. Funny, that.”
Or this nugget.
“Oh my goodness, I had no idea that you did all of your work online. I would’ve thought that you would in marketing or something. Isn’t that coding stuff for weird people that are allergic to other people?”
Or even this.
“Aren’t video games for people who can’t make friends?”
“Isn’t conversation for people with real intellectual capacity?”
Clearly not. (I tease.)
My hobbies – the clearly nerdy, geeky, and even dorky pastimes of the kids who would get pushed down in school – are part of what defines me. The fact that I just happen to be a naturally outgoing and extroverted person has no bearing on that, even though people seem to think that the two are mutually exclusive.
Extroverts are assholes. (Sorry folks: assholes are assholes.)
Just as introverts are painted with the broad strokes that they are shy, closed-down, and inwardly broken, extroverts are portrayed as aggressive, outlandish, and uncaring. We are often confused with the jocks and cheerleaders that used to bust the introverts’ chops in high school. And, to our great dismay, we are told that because we are this way, we are seen as stupid.
Introverts are not dull or uninteresting. They comprise my family, my best friends, and the violetminded team. Extroverts are not stupid or aggressive. When you meet someone like Tanya Geisler, she will pounce on you and kiss your cheeks until you are practically breathless.
And it’s one of the most wonderful experiences you will ever have.
Tanya is overflowing with love and exuberance and joy. She’s practically bursting! No one would look at her and say, “You’re stupid because you’re too loud.” And if they did, Tanya would probably tell them to suck it.
Introverts are not cold or unfeeling. They are deep wells of gratitude, patience, and compassion. Jeanne Hewell-Chambers has made me feel so loved that I broke down into tears at this year’s conference and kept whispering, “Oh my Jeanne. I’m so happy.”
She is the farthest thing from cold – she is the epitome of Southern Charm and Warmth.
Extroverts and introverts are cut from the same cloth: we are human beings capable of a great range of emotions. At times, you will find introverts delivering main stage speeches to a thousand people. At times, you will find an extrovert taking a break from a party because s/he is overwhelmed from all of the stimulation. At times, you will find an introvert surrounded by people – and loving it. At times, you will find an extrovert quietly contemplating and internalizing situations.
Susan Cain’s research is important to discuss: it places people in uncomfortable situations that they must question and say, “Hey, I want to be treated better.”
To my gorgeous introverts: I love you – I accept you for who you are and honour your need for quiet. All I ask is that when you meet me, you don’t recoil in surprise that I’m smiling at you or engaging in passionate conversation. I will always be louder than you (and that’s okay.) I will usually be more ecstatic with my hand-gestures (but we can say that my Italian heritage gave me that.)
But know that I visit you and your space from a place of love, much as I always have.
Come visit mine anytime.