There’s No Such Thing as an Introvert

I typically call myself “an introvert”; maybe you do too.

We need to watch it, though — for our language and the thinking behind it, both conscious and unconscious, can lead to trouble.

Remember: The personality traits of introversion and extraversion aren’t black and white. Rather, they lie on a continuum:

Introversion               |                   Extraversion

None of us is purely introverted or purely extraverted. Carl Jung once said that “such a [person] would be in the lunatic asylum.” Rather, we’re each a mixture of both traits and a thousand others. And even that mixture fluctuates to some degree depending on our circumstances.

If, for example, you’re very passionate about something, you’ll tend to become more extraverted in your behaviors, if only temporarily. Conversely, if you’re exhausted after a particularly trying day, you’ll likely become even more introverted than you already are.

Either way, you’re never 100 percent introverted. And therefore you are not — and cannot be — “an introvert.”

No one can.

Furthermore, the developers of the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) instrument — the most widely used personality assessment in the world — note that an “introvert” is more accurately described as “a person who prefers introversion” or “a person who tends toward introversion most of the time.” (Similarly, an “extravert” is more accurately described as “a person who prefers extraversion” or “a person who tends toward extraversion most of the time.”)

We’re all only human, pressed for time and energy, and so we tend to use the terms “introvert” and “extravert” as a form of shorthand in our everyday lives. It makes sense.

But it can be problematic if we’re not constantly vigilant about what we’re actually doing; shorthand invites potential typecasting (“all introverts are the same”), and typecasting inevitably leads to overstatements, misstatements, and misunderstandings where introverts and introversion are concerned. The same can be said, of course, for extraverts and extraversion.

If you’re someone who thrives on solitude, needs to think before you speak and/or act, craves depth and substance in your relationships and activities, and longs to focus intently on one thing or one person at a time rather than constantly multitasking, you’re probably someone who prefers introversion or tends toward introversion most of the time. You’ll be referred to as “an introvert” only — only — because it takes way too long to refer to you as “a person who tends toward introversion most of the time.”

But you are indeed most accurately described as “a person who tends toward introversion most of the time.”

You are not “an introvert.” I am not “an introvert.” No one is “an introvert.” Not really. We are all different, thanks to our individual experiences and our genetics and dozens of other variables that make each of us unique.

“An introvert”? There’s no such thing.

Socializing Comes in Many Forms

Most every year, my lovely wife, Adrianne, asks me to accompany her to the downtown beer tent that is one of the main attractions of “Boxcar Days,” her hometown of Tracy, Minnesota’s annual Labor Day Weekend celebration of railroads and trains.

The beer tent is where everyone over the age of 21 gathers to visit with old friends, perhaps have a beer or two, listen to karaoke, maybe even dance a little. It’s easily the biggest draw of the celebration.

And the loudest.

Adrianne, like me, is an introvert, though she generally seems more outgoing than I am. So while I’m never exactly shocked that she wants to go to the beer tent — and I’m ultimately happy to go both with her and for her, especially so she can see her high school friends and vice versa — the inconvenient truth is that my very first, gut-level reaction to her suggestion that we attend is always: “Ugh.”

I have my theories as to why.

For starters, I think I have a touch of social anxiety disorder in certain situations. I’m also not much into beer drinking, though I’ll have my one from time to time.

The real story, though, is something that marketing writer Kate Finley touched on a few years back in her superb Fast Company article entitled “How Introverts Can Network Without Losing Their Minds.” There, in describing the key distinction between introversion and shyness, she wrote:

“… [A] lack of interest in socializing (introversion) is clearly different than fearing it (shyness).”

As I wrote in a comment to Finley’s piece, I don’t have a “lack of interest in socializing,” necessarily. Rather, I tend to have a lack of interest in the typical ways OF socializing. As I noted in my response:

A one-on-one, quiet conversation with someone about a topic that really matters? Count me in — let’s socialize! Glad-handing and back-patting through herds of shouting people at conferences and parties? Not so much.

Interestingly — and this happens to me quite often in similar situations — I always end up having a nice time with Adrianne at the beer tent. (It’s especially gratifying to see her seemingly mild-mannered high school friend get up on the karaoke stage year after year and belt out tunes like Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.”) There’s always something to be said for pushing beyond (or being nudged beyond) one’s comfort zone.

But there’s also something to be said for diversity when it comes to socializing approaches. And socializing one on one — in a peaceful coffee shop, perhaps — is what I’ll always pick if given the choice.

It’s still socializing.

There Is No “Introvert Code” to Uphold

I’ve been talking to myself all day today — literally.

As in talking out loud to myself (in environments where I’m by myself, at any rate). Sometimes I’ve even been raising my voice to ensure that I’m heard over the irritating, nonstop blurts of the ever-present inner critic inside of me.

What have I been saying to myself? Words and phrases that would probably be referred to as affirmations. Primarily two sentences:

  1. I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I’m a writer.
  2. What I write matters. What I write matters. What I write matters. What I write matters. What I write matters.

I spent much of yesterday doing the same thing as today, covering not only my identity as a writer but also my role as a parent:

  • I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent.

I’ve been aware of the concept of affirmations for years. But I’ve never actually tried them, out loud like you’re supposed to, until about 30 hours ago — at the backhanded suggestion of my lovely wife, Adrianne, who in truth suggested that I write them down on sticky notes and put them all over the house. I figured I might as well just go ahead and say them aloud instead, since research has shown that verbal affirmations actually work — that they make you feel better about yourself and thus live and perform with more confidence.

I can tell you the results of my experiment so far: Affirmations do indeed seem to work. I do feel better, and I do feel more confident now than I did even this morning.

Moreover, I’ve been inspired to write this very blog post. And another one began cooking too as I ran on the treadmill at the YMCA, trying my best to whisper my verbal affirmations loudly enough to be effective, yet softly enough so the people around me wouldn’t think I’m a wingnut.

I always thought I shied away from affirmations because they’d make me feel silly. To some degree that’s true. But in the locker room just now, standing next to a naked guy who was on his cell phone talking very seriously to someone about “operational costs” (speaking of silly … or wingnuts), it occurred to me that the real reason I have shied away from affirmations has more to do with my introversion than anything else — more specifically, my sometimes misguided beliefs about how I as an introvert should think and behave.

We introverts are so inner-focused by nature that we sometimes figure we have to solve every problem on our own, and in silence. I am guilty of this behavior frequently, albeit subconsciously. My dear Adrianne has told me that, at times, it looks to her as though I’m trying to uphold some kind of warped “introvert code” which says that I always have to go it alone, that I cannot reach out for help or even talk about what’s bothering me. That I’m supposed to keep it all inside because, well, that’s what introverts do. Or, more accurately, that’s what introverts are supposed to do. It’s the introvert brand.


I have to stop. And if you’re an introvert who does the same kind of thing from time to time, you need to stop too.

I will always be, and appreciate, who I am. Being an introvert is part of that. But being an introvert doesn’t mean always keeping my thoughts and emotions inside, or always feeling like I have to. I’m human. You’re human. We all need help. And we all need to sometimes hear an audible voice of encouragement and understanding, whether its our own or someone else’s.

There is no “introvert code.” And therefore there is no “introvert code” to uphold.

Yes, the inner voice I have as an introvert can and often does work to my great benefit, helping me come up with ideas and solutions seemingly out of nowhere. No wonder I gravitate toward it and embrace it.

But when it is instead working against me, in whatever way, well, then it’s time for me to talk. Out loud.

To someone else.

Alone Time: There’s Such a Thing as Too Much of a Good Thing

My fellow introverts, we all need to remember something:

Too much alone time is just as bad as too little. It’s just a different kind of bad.

I, for one, have to watch it sometimes. As an introvert — and as the author of a book called The Introvert Manifesto, for crying out loud, which devotes many of its pages to the introvert’s dire need for some solitude in life — I protect and defend the concept of alone time, vigorously. As I write in the book:

I plan for my alone time. I plot for my alone time. I finagle and juggle for my alone time, the same way extraverts look for activity and social interaction. I all but put alone time on my calendar — because if it’s not a part of my life, well, then I don’t have much of a life.

I stand by these words, and will til the day I die. I really do need my alone time; all introverts do.

But today I’m reminding myself — and all of you reading this — that there was a reason I included the phrase “a part of” in that book passage I quoted, just as there was a reason I included the word “some” when I talked about “some solitude in life” in the third paragraph above:

Introverts need people too.

I know this — actually, it’s more accurate to say that I’m being reminded of this — because I’m really feeling it right now. It’s almost embarrassing to say it, like I’m violating some sort of fictional introvert code or dishonoring the introvert brand or something (which is ridiculous, by the way). But I’m lonely today. And I’ll be even more honest: I’ve been lonely a lot lately during the workday. Because for me, “going to work” means walking to the kitchen table, opening my laptop, and starting to do my research and writing. The kids are all at school. My wife is at school too, teaching kindergartners in an environment that is the polar opposite of mine.

I’m here, all by myself. Alone. No colleagues. No office banter. No interaction. A few days ago when I was really pushing it on a writing project, I went an entire workday without talking to a soul — and thus, without even hearing my own voice, let alone someone else’s.

Not good. Not good at all. It’s no wonder I’m feeling the way I’m feeling. We humans really are social animals, after all.

And so while I often do have to plan for my alone time and plot for my alone time and finagle and juggle for my alone time as an introvert — especially when I haven’t been getting it, or when I really do need to actively pursue it because I’ve actually had a day full of interaction — sometimes, like today, I have to plan and plot for and finagle and juggle for a little people time.

So I’m getting out of here, out of this house, just as soon as I post this. Not because I’m rejecting the concept of alone time, but because I’m accepting the concept of people time — and reaffirming that there can and must be a balanced mixture of both in my life. In every introvert’s life. In everyone’s life.

Let Your Fingers Do the Talking Sometimes

My wife Adrianne and I had the loveliest spontaneous chat late one night — using paper as our communications medium.

We were sitting at the kitchen table, having a late-evening glass of wine together, when Adrianne reached for the sticky notes that happened to be on the counter nearby and said, “Let’s use these to talk.”

And so we did.

There we were: Two card-carrying introverts, each of us exhausted in our own way, letting our fingers do the talking using red pen on bright blue squares of paper.

The words between us flowed effortlessly, even more easily than they usually do — especially since we both got the comparatively rare chance to think for a moment or two before speaking. We reaffirmed our love for one another, reflected upon a few of the challenges we’d been facing, and closed by drawing a heart with the phrase “P + A” inside.

At one point I told Adrianne, perhaps for the first time in such an explicit, purposeful way: “I think deeply and I feel deeply.” I noted that I have always been and always will be this way, even if it’s not in the typical-male handbook.

The fact that I was writing instead of speaking encouraged me to say things I might not have otherwise said, in ways I might not have otherwise said them. It was the same for Adrianne, too.

I hope the two of us talk this way again sometime. (I’ll send her a written invitation to make it happen.) It was fascinating. And illuminating.

And liberating.