Author Brian Little calls it “acting out of character”—being more extroverted than usual when the situation calls for it. Just make sure that’s it’s temporary.
My older brother Mark has always told me he has the ability to flip a metaphorical switch inside himself so he can become a sort of extrovert-on-demand.
As he puts it:
“It’s like what happens to performers just as they put on their costume to play ‘superstar’ on stage. The costume has a magical effect, like you’ve been granted superpowers.”
Mark is a fine actor, it turns out, so convincing that I’m sure many of the people in his life think he really is an extrovert. But he isn’t. He’s more of an ambivert, near the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum though likely leaning a bit closer to the introverted side.
If he needs to jump into the proverbial phone booth and become Super Extrovert for his job as an IT consultant, or for his role as son-/brother-in-law in his wife Judith’s extended Cameroonian family, he just does it. And he does it well.
Mark’s method is commonplace among introverts. You likely have your own version(s) of it. I sure do.
But is it healthy? Is it good for you? Is it normal?
Yes—as long as you’re temporarily modifying your behavior for a purpose that matters to you.
And as long as you’re not trying to permanently change your very self.
Key Concept: Acting Out of Character
In his fascinating 2016 book Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being, psychologist Brian Little, himself a strong introvert, introduces the concept of acting out of character.
It’s what Mark and the rest of us introverts are doing when we take on the role of extrovert: We are, quite literally, acting—and the “out of character” aspect of Little’s phrase means, in this context, that we are merely behaving differently than we typically do.
But acting out of character ”can be viewed through another contextual lens too, Little says: The words “out of” also connote acting because of, as in the phrase “she acted out of compassion.”
“So when I use the phrase ‘acting out of character,’ it means two different but equally powerful ways of explaining a pattern of behavior,” Little writes:
“It simultaneously means people are acting inconsistently with what we have come to expect [from them] and that they are doing it because of something in their character, because of the values they wish to express.”
Acting Out of Character Is Normal
This is the healthy and quite normal way we introverts periodically become ad hoc extroverts.
Sometimes we’re motivated by love, Little says; we go to a party with our spouse, for example, when we’d rather stay home and read.
At other times we’re motivated by professionalism; we’re willing and able to, say, pitch an investor on our business idea because we believe strongly in what we’re trying to do.
What we might call situational extroversion, then, is reasonable and sensible: You’re doing something different, temporarily and purposefully, because you care about other people and/or you have goals you want to accomplish in our very extroverted world.
What we might call existential extroversion, on the other hand— being someone different, being an extrovert (or trying to) when you’re not—is another matter.
You Need to Be Who You Are
In her bestselling 2012 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author and former lawyer Susan Cain describes a panel she was once part of for an event at Harvard Law School.
With her on the panel were an environmental advocate named Jillian and a trial lawyer named Alison. Both were introverts who sought Cain out for career advice after the event was over.
Jillian, Cain writes, loved her work, especially the research and writing aspects of it. She struggled when she had to make presentations or lead meetings, though, so she simply asked Cain how she could do better in those situations.
Alison, conversely, oozed unhappiness. The next logical step in her career path was to apply for a general counsel position at a major corporation.
But “her heart,” Cain writes, “clearly wasn’t in it,” and she had come to believe what she’d frequently been told: that she simply didn’t have the right personality for the job. What could she do to change who she was, she asked Cain.
Do you see the crucial distinction between Jillian and Alison?
Jillian wanted only to be better at leading and speaking.
Alison wanted to be somebody else.
Acting Out of Character Is Temporary
Being somebody else—or trying to be and inevitably failing—goes nowhere good. Think potential anxiety and depression, just for starters.
You can only be who you are, and part of who you are is your tendency toward introversion.
When you need to act extroverted, temporarily and for a good cause, go right ahead.
Then do what my brother Mark does. In his words:
“I don’t have to feel bound to the persona I’ve taken on. I can cast it off after the performance and go fishing or running or shooting at the archery range.”
The show’s over.