Let’s start with some definitions:
Introverts (or those of us with introverted tendencies) tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds.
Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from other people. Extroverts actually find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being social.Source
My whole life, I’ve considered myself an introvert. Keep me away from groups and parties! Hide me from that old high school friend when I spot them in Walmart! And for goodness sake, do not force me to make small talk! The phrase “recharges by spending time alone” describes me exactly, I thought.
Now I’m not so sure. I can think of many times where I was alone for a while and ended up feeling like tired garbage. And I can think of many times where I ended a lively meeting or a game night and felt energized and excited.
So let’s get to the bottom of it. Here are some social things that leave me feeling energized:
- Game night with friends and family
- Chatting with my wife
- A work discussion or debate about a topic that interests me
- A job interview that goes well
And here are some social things that suck the energy out of me:
- Making conversation or small talk
- Being in a group where I don’t know most of the people
- A work discussion or debate about a topic that doesn’t interest me
- Any party or gathering where I have to shout
The theme is that I’m energized by talking to people I know well, or by talking about things I’m interested in. I’ll come back to this.
Let’s look at alone time. Introverts “recharge by spending time alone.” I used to think that was true about myself. In the chaos of daily life, I wished I could sit on the couch and watch The Office alone. But thinking about it now, doing that left me feeling like crap. I’d feel lazy and lonely and blah. That doesn’t seem very introverted.
So my hypothesis is that I’m more extroverted than introverted. Social time energizes me more often than alone time. But then why don’t I like parties or small talk or being with people I don’t know?
Because I’m shy. I’m a shy extrovert. To find social time energizing, I need it to feel safe. The energizing social situations I listed feel safe to me. A social situation could be safe for two reasons: either I know the people well or I know the topic well.
As confirmation, I just googled “shy extrovert” and found 9 Signs That You Are Actually A Shy Extrovert. It describes me pretty well.
So assuming that’s true, why does it matter? This post talks about how shy extroverts dread social situations but also need them. That seems like a pretty important insight. So what do I do with that? I’m going to stop here for now and ponder that a bit more for a future post. It feels like I’m getting somewhere.