Introversion, it seems, is having a moment
I actually didn’t realize “introversion” was being discussed so extensively and gaining so much “popularity” until an extrovert I know suddenly tweeted: “all this noise about introverts!! extroverts are cool too, okay??” And I was like, “uh. they always were(?)” (#allvertsmatter?) Some more than others, apparently, but still.
Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” came out six years ago, and we’re still talking about it. (Which — lol — ya know… is ironic…but that aside.)
And yeah, it’s good we are — discussions around classrooms and workplaces, in particular, are worth having. Introverts work differently. They learn differently. They energize differently. They consume and process information, and then make decisions, all differently.
And, of course, having “down time” is a great thing in life — as much for introverts as it probably is for anyone who’s balanced and healthy.
But as an introvert, I think I also speak for introverts when I point out what may be obvious to everyone but me:
All introverts need to “externalize” things, too.
For lack of a better term, we all need to “extrovert.”
Just like all extroverts sometimes need introspection and down time.
But “extroversion” doesn’t always mean “talking.”
And even if we don’t all crave “socialization” or “conversation” (and not all of us do, to the same extent that some may), we all have a natural urge to get out of our heads and put things out into the world. And, if we don’t, we get very unhappy — and then start to “extrovert” or “act out” in other, unhealthy ways.
But that “externalization” doesn’t always look the same — and it certainly doesn’t always look like “conversing with others.” We’ll get to that.
We get stuck in our heads
When we have too much down time, we start to spiral, cycle, internally loop. I describe the feeling as “falling backwards indefinitely,” a mental or psychological sensation almost like the drunken “spins.”
And the worst part about this is: we don’t always know at the time
We know it’s “uneasy,” but we’ve also mostly lost touch.
Very often, in the moment, it feels “good” — in the same way drinking or binge eating or any other indulgence often feels “good” while you’re doing it. It’s only the next day or next week, looking back, that you’re like “ugh, not your best moment, sister.”
We get lost
We forget. We give in to the sensations — fall back instead of forward; into ourselves instead of out — and we succumb to the “gentle wash cycle” that, over time, leaves us ragged and strung out, dripping and undone, turned inside over and over until we’ve lost sense of how to stand outside of ourselves.
The solution isn’t more “down time”
It’s getting out. (Of our heads, that is.) It’s engaging with the external world.
Stop the spin cycle, grab hold of a door frame or something, and get out.
Not all introverts are created equal
And not all of us need the same “externalization.”
Here are four types of introverts
And if you are one, then one or two of these “introvert truths” will resonate with you — as will the tough love message around what you need.
- You clarify. You yearn for certainty and understanding, and sometimes unknowns and change can threaten that. I get it. But definitions can’t just float around in your head. We also need to tether them to the real world.
- You think. You yearn for internalized logic, and sometimes people just don’t get it. Okay, fine. But logic can never amount to anything inside your head — it’s not going anywhere. On the contrary, it’s destructive, stripping more down than it actually builds. The answers you want aren’t there — they’re in experimenting and playing with the real world — throwing things against the wall to see what sticks.
- You abstract. You yearn for insight, and sometimes it’s just “the real world” that you fight — being “in it” vs. being pulled back and away; what’s actually “real” vs what “matters.” I get it. But these thoughts are nothing more than “nothing” in your head.
- You feel. You yearn to express yourself, but sometimes you feel at odds with objective external outcomes. And you are special, but your creativity is nothing more than “potential” inside your head, and can never come to fruition until manifested through ideas and art.
Ryan Holiday just tweeted this timely quote from Emile Zola:
And it’s as true for every introvert, in other ways, as it is for the artist.
A risk of introversion imbalance (also: a sign of it)
The biggest one: unhappiness.
When we take our internal thoughts and feelings too seriously and don’t balance them out with enough externalizations, we start to base our identity on them — thinking that we are our thoughts and feelings, and dumping too much into them, “pedestalizing” whatever is in our heads (and maybe ourselves) as we pull ourselves farther out of touch with reality and push ourselves deeper into our spiral. (Can you tell I’ve experienced this?)
An introversion imbalance is identifying ourselves by our silence — and hypotheticals. It’s like standing on the sidelines of improv — sure, you think it’s “okay,” but nothing you ever do in your head will ever be as “good”or “real” as anything that anyone actually does.
Because the stage (and the world) is real; our head is only hypothetical.
The risk of extroversion, of course, is being proven wrong (or “bad”)
Being shown that our insights are wrong, our logic is wrong, we aren’t special, or that the world is, indeed, as messy as we feared.
But what we get in exchange for that risk is: reward
Expression. Manifestation. Creation. Validation. Confirmation. Connection.
Each time we put ourselves out there and “externalize,” our thoughts and feelings get better for it. It’s scary, of course, but in the long run, we are happier, healthier and stronger— we end up with more certainty, better logic, stronger insights and richer creativity.
That only comes from “out,” not “in.”
It’s not just about “talking”
Because “talking” is not what all introverts need. While deep down many introverts are still energized by conversing with others and learning about people’s lives, some aren’t.
“Extroverting” is just about expansive, external energy. It’s broad and beyond — meaning, most importantly, it is outside of ourselves and our heads.
Four “external” options:
You don’t have to pursue all of them. One or two should resonate.
- People. Of course. But actual conversation — something more than a “passive consumption” of others’ lives (literature, film, etc.) “People” with a heartbeat, with the rhythm of live dialogue (you being included), something organic, that runs the risk of interruption (and I say this as someone who loathes interruption.) Something where you speak and say words, not just listen. (Which, again, I know is scary. Part of the reason I write.) Human lives, the human experience, human values and fears and aspirations and motivations and influence. Test things, play with things, see if you can make people happy. See if you can get them to share.
- Objective, external measures. Too easily (and too often, if I’m honest), it’s so tempting to bastardize “objective” and bring it all back “in house,” dragging it down the long hallway of our interior and setting up shop with it like some love nest in the living room. That’s not where it goes. Take it back out, throw it back to the world. This isn’t about chewing on things or debating (the latter of which is “people”); it’s about tangible and measurable; pass or fail. It’s about playing in a space where there’s a winner and some losers and the rules are clearly defined, and there’s no wishy washy negotiation. It’s about clear and hard results, from machinery to Monopoly to mutual funds.
- Ideas. This one is most important for the artist / logical theorist, who really need to experiment and expansively express their thoughts and feelings. But I think anyone can play here — so long as the ideas are manifesting not just as “thought exercises” but as actual, tangible tries (tying back up to one of the first two) and ideally with one or two of them sticking, at least for a bit.
- Presence, concrete things, and action. Okay, this is one of my favorites, mostly because it is so dang adorable and fun and easy —the Labrador puppy of the four! — making it a perfect distraction when I’m dodging “people” and “objective measures” but still trying, desperately, to “extrovert.” It’s my “sneak out the bathroom window and run barefoot down the street” escape from my own head, my last ditch effort to get the heck outta Dodge for the night. At it’s unhealthiest, it can definitely get a bit reckless. But at it’s healthiest, it’s so simple and sweet, because all it entails is: just be present. That’s it! Join the real world. Take action. Jump in, regardless of what’s going on or if you even really care. It’s like “all improv all the time” with this one, and it works for me on occasion. If it works for you too, awesome. Though it is often best coupled with something else — either people or external measures — at least for me (and many others.)
What energizes you?
What feels like “play?”
Because: something besides “quiet time” does. And honestly I think this whole “do other people energize or exhaust you?” question is totally misleading and not what “extroversion” is always about, even though I totally posed that very question a few days ago.
We want other things.
Either that, or I’m some kind of mega maladapted masochistic extrovert who’s misunderstood everything there ever was to understand about myself and others… Because I find the following very energizing: crowds. other people. understanding other people’s values, fears, insecurities, aspirations, pain points and problems. solving their problems. solving their problems when they’re working to solving them, too. doing so at a high pace, esp. with deadlines …and crowds. again. (I really like crowds.)
When you think back to your happiest times of your life, what were you doing? What was your lifestyle like, in the best several-month stretch?
One of my favorites was a big project, with a tight deadline and a killer team. (And three other happy times after that can all be described the same way: “high energy,” and “people.”)
And funny thing is: in all those cases, I was not in my head. (At least not consciously.)
Your real happiest time might look like that, too. Or it might look like “certainty regarding the world and others,” “perfecting a system,” “experimentation with a team,” “creative expression — and making clear headway,” “understanding and serving others.” Whatever. It can be anything.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy
Because we all have both — healthy and unhealthy ways of “extroverting,” with the unhealthy ones feeling very distinctly like “acting out.” The unhealthy ones feel frantic or “desperate,” a clear and deliberate panicked rejection of our normal guiding light.
My unhealthy extroversion is my “sneaking out the bathroom window and running down the street barefoot” “action” extroversion. (No, I don’t really do that — it’s a metaphor — but I guess I might?)
Other unhealthy “expressions” might look like: seeking validation / accolade / love from other people, preoccupation with objective external markers of success, or endlessly chasing ideas to the point of dropping each one to pursue the next.
Healthy feels more like “happy.” In the long run, not just the moment.
Come at me, bro!
Come at us all.
If you don’t put anything down out there — in words, on paper, with people, in productive work, etc. — then you might as well be dead. And I say this with love because, as I said, I am like this, too.
And yes, we all still need down time — as an introvert, I’ll be the first to agree that that’s still true. But when we’re all done with the refresh and starting to feel a little antsy, the answers aren’t in our heads, but in the Great Wide Wonder of the World that is “out there!” It’s scary, but also it’s pretty fantastic.
I want to see your work. I want to see your heart. I want to see your thoughts. I want to see your expression. I want to see you. We all do. Including you.