The Extrovert Paradox


For a long time after I first took the Myers-Briggs personality test , I was amazingly stressed by the pressure it put on me. No one in the high school class where we took the test had explained it too my classmates and I beyond the simple results we received.

So, I wore my E not as a descriptor of how I tended to interact with the world, but more as a commandment as to how I was to present myself to the world. I was an extrovert, so I needed to be outgoing, hang around with people, and be energized by them all the time.

While that was often true, it wasn’t always true. Sometimes, I wanted to be by myself, and that made me feel guilty. Typing this now, I realize why I identified so closely with the Divergent series.

It wasn’t until my mom made a comment one night after I said I was going to my room that I started thinking differently about what that E might mean. “Yeah,” she said, “you’ve been with people pretty much non-stop. I can tell you need some time alone to recharge.”

I quickly corrected, “No, I’m an extrovert. That’s not how I recharge.”

Luckily, my mom had worked in human resources for decades. “You know that’s not what that means, right? Extroverts need time by themselves, too. And, it’s not a fixed label so much a descriptions of your proclivity on a scale.”

I’d like to say I stayed and had a deep conversation with her about what this news meant to my sense of self and how I’d been burdened by the designation. I was 17, though, so I said something like, “Oh,” and headed to my room. Still, my world was rocked, and it has shaped how I see my free time since then. My initial understanding of my free time as an extrovert designee was that un-programmed time was to be spent fulfilling my duties as an E and surrounding myself and interacting with other people.

Now, though, my free time is the time when take stock of what I’m feeling and decide if being with other people or being alone will help me to feel more energized and take on whatever responsibility or task is on the horizon. This has also helped me to understand the unfree time. The time that’s spoken for by a responsibility to others includes tasks that either require me to find energy in my interactions with others or that I find what I need in solitude to complete a given task. The choices I make that lead to me taking on these responsibilities reflect my tendency to live as and E, and my free time ensures I have the space to let my introverted freak flag fly when I need to.

This post is part of a daily conversation between Ben Wilkoff and me. Each day Ben and I post a question to each other and then respond to one another. You can follow the questions and respond via Twitter at #LifeWideLearning16.

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