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introvert-extrovertAs you head out the door on a Friday, a coworker invites you to a party.  Does the idea of spending the evening socializing excite you or exhaust you?

Do you do your best work when energized by a team or do you work better when given some space and time on your own?

Does the prospect of a weekend at home fill you with dread or anticipation?

The answers to these questions can reveal a lot about your natural tendency toward introversion or extroversion.  Introversion has gotten a bad rap in our culture.  It’s associated with pale, unattractive, socially awkward folks who spend their time alone playing online games or surrounded by cats. We are told that we must socialize to get ahead; that wanting to spend time alone is a sign of depression or antisocial personality or social anxiety and we should take a pill to fix it; that we can’t be happy if we don’t have hundreds of friends (at least on Facebook).  In other words, that introversion is a PROBLEM to be fixed.

Now let’s be clear about what introversion is not,  It is not a lack of social skills.  It is not shyness. It is not a highly sensitive personality.  It is not a dislike of people or snobbishness.  Introversion refers to how we naturally prefer to interact with others and with the world.  An extrovert feels energized by the presence of others.  She feels alive after a big party.  He loves to tell stories in a group of people or catch up on the office gossip.  An introvert prefers to interact with a few people at a time rather than a large group.  He wants time to reflect and consider what is being said before responding.  She loves deep and meaningful conversations but feels burdened by small talk.

As a society we have forgotten the value of these introspective, thoughtful traits.  We all seem to believe that everyone else is naturally extroverted and having a great time clubbing every weekend.  We think that the fastest talker has the best ideas, that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  If you snooze, you lose!  We worry that our kids aren’t social enough; that if they hang back from a group, there is a problem and we need to fix it!

This cultural value of ours – sometimes called the Extrovert Ideal – is NOT a reflection of intrinsic worth though.  It is just a reflection of our current societal values.  In Japan, for instance, where they still value introverted strengths,  it is the quiet, reflective business person who makes it to the top not the smooth fast-talker. Even here in the U.S., the prevalence of natural extroverts is far from universal. In fact, research shows that over 50% of Americans are introverts. Over half of us would love to take a little time to think before we speak; would like an occasional period of solitude to reflect and process.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if it were okay for us to embrace ourselves?  If it were just as acceptable to stay in alone on Saturday as to go out with friends?  If we could work in teams or on solo projects depending on how WE worked best? I’m here to tell you that it IS okay!  If a large gathering energizes you – go and have fun!  If a quiet evening journaling feeds your soul – stay in and have fun!  It’s time to embrace who you are.  We are not all carbon copies of each other.  We are each unique and lovely.  So stop feeling bad about it and BE YOU.

Want to learn more about this subject?  Here are some great resources to check out: