Explaining Introversion: Imagine You're Not Hungry

Much as I dislike the introversion-extraversion false dichotomy (which is the popular understanding of this ‘personality trait’) I do acknowledge that, given a set of circumstances, people tend to be either outgoing or reserved. [1]

Given this disclaimer, I would classify myself as being usually introverted.

Growing up with Extraverts

This was a bit of a challenge growing up because most of my family members are very extraverted and, at the time, I didn’t have the understanding or the language to express my discomfort with life in that outgoing and energetic household.

In fact I think the first time I read a good, easy-to-understand explanation of what it’s like to be an introvert was Jonathan Rauch’s famous ‘Caring for Your Introvert’ article in the Atlantic in 2003. (Sage Stossel’s 2006 interview with Rauch, ‘Introverts of the World, Unite!’, is a good, follow-up read, too.)

Since then the internet has been full of explanations from people about what their lives as introverts and extroverts is like. Most of these have been bad or, at best, misinformed and nauseatingly earnest (as people tend to be on Facebook).

Imagine You’re Not Hungry

So I was extremely pleased to read today on Reddit this excellent explanation about life as an introvert by bad_username (slightly copy-edited):

Imagine you're not hungry but every single person you meet during the day offers you a sandwich and it's rude to decline so you have to eat all of those sandwiches one by one. At the end of the day you are sick and tired of all the food. On the other hand you like good food and need it to survive. It's just you need less of it than most other people.

I really like that analogy and I think I’m going to use it from now on.

Crawl Under My Rock

My other go-to explanation for introversion comes from Gavin Lister, one of my MBA career coaches at Melbourne Business School back in 2006, who said something along the lines of:

While I am perfectly happy to attend a networking event or stand in front of you like this to deliver a lecture I will need to go home and crawl under my rock to recover from all this socializing.

That is a perfect description of what I’m like: I’m happy to go out to meet people and do things but, afterwards, I will need time to recharge and recover (usually in my cave). That, for those who are interested, is why I very much prefer doing almost little on the weekends.


Understanding Nerds

Fortunately life as an introvert isn’t too difficult for me now. Nadia who, as a huge extravert, gets recharged by meeting people (the horror!) really understands my need to be alone for extended periods of time (loosely correlated to how my day has been). More than that: she is happy to go out and meet her friends or even our friends on her own, leaving me at home to recharge. (Yes, she is awesome.)

I also have really good friends, many of whom are nerds like me and so understand very well the needs of other nerds.

So, overall, life right now is good. And today I have added another arrow to my introversion-explanation quiver.


[1] For the record my preferred personality classification tool is the Birkman Method.