Introverted or extroverted?

June 15, 2008

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I have taken the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator tests periodically throughout the past 15 years or so. (Daniel and I are both ENFJ’s) Without going into what it all means, the “E” stands for extroverted, as opposed to introverted. Over the years I’ve seen my numbers drift towards introversion. Most of my family are introverts. You’d think it odd that a preacher — a guy who stands up and addresses large groups of people every week — would be an introvert, but he is. My brother Andy has blogged on it several times. My mother, always the exuberant preacher’s wife, shaking the hand of everyone who stands in line to greet my dad as they filed out of church, is now an introvert. That even shocked my father. If I think about it, many of my friends are introverts.

I bring this up only because yesterday was our graduation ceremony. As Chair, I read the names of the graduates as they walked across the stage to shake the Dean’s hand and get their diploma. Around lots of people, congratulating lots of students, greeting parents, saying farewell to colleagues for the summer — lots of good social energy. Later, we were invited to a birthday party for M. When I got there, I realized I had ZERO social energy. I sat there, spent, like a black hole. I managed to actually rally and have some wonderful conversations with a handful of people, but I had no energy to stand around a chat with, well, yell at each other over the music. Feeling like a party-pooper, I said farewell to the host, and wandered down the hill to Hollywood Boulevard to catch a cab home. The total walk was three and a half miles to our house. As I wandered down the boulevard I was surprised that I had the energy to do this at 11:30 at night. I walked past several groups of dudes who I might have been terrified of in previous years, but tonight I didn’t give a shit. It was invigorating. I realized that I was going faster than the traffic, so I might as well walk rather than jump in a cab and sit in traffic. Why was being around strangers walking down Hollywood Boulevard invigorating, and standing around a party, not?

The evening made me realize the difference between social energy, and physical energy. In an extroverted person, there is a magnetism to other humans and an innate desire to converse. That energy seems to be variable, probably attached to some hormone or biochemical transaction or brain habit. It is not that an introvert is incapable of being socially adept, but s/he finds the social transaction exhausting. Last night, I was socially exhausted — not through any fault of the birthday boy or the party. I should have just stayed home and updated my Myers-Briggs status.

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