Are you an introvert? Most people aren’t. By some estimates, 70 percent of us fall into the extrovert — more socially inclined — category.
But you might be an introvert if:
• You really enjoy your alone time. You find yourself to be good company and appreciate the chance to think, read, plan, and chill.
• You enjoy conversation, but prefer one-on-one rather than group discussions. Among others, you’re more likely to remain quiet than to frequently join in.
• You hate small talk, preferring in-depth discussion on topics of interest to you.
• You’re disinclined toward self-promotion. Social media sites such as Facebook seem to appeal less to you than they do to more outgoing types.
• You do your best work alone, and find it easy to concentrate and stay on task.
• In a learning situation, you prefer lectures to seminars or hands-on group activities.
If you found yourself mm-hmming in agreement with many of these, you may indeed be an introvert — a person who’s naturally drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, as opposed to the outer world of people and activities.
I’ve known I was an introvert since I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test years ago. At that time, I discovered (not to my surprise) that I was at the far end of the I-for-introvert scale.
I didn’t fully appreciate what this meant, however, until I read the best-selling book by Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown Publishers, 2012). In particular, I learned is that introverted doesn’t necessarily mean shy, though the two traits do overlap. A shy person avoids social gatherings out of fear or anxiety, whereas a (non-shy) introvert avoids them because he or she just prefers not to mingle.
I fall into the non-shy introvert category. Reading Cain’s book, I had many shocks of recognition, but none more startling than realizing I share with other introverts the peculiar habit of sometimes “taking shelter” in a bathroom at large gatherings — just to snag a few moments alone to decompress.
I’ve done that. Often. At family gatherings, even.
Journalist Bryan Walsh, who wrote a Time magazine cover story on introversion earlier this year in response to Cain’s book, also pled guilty to the bathroom maneuver.
“A few rounds of the room at a social event leave me exhausted,” he confided. “So now and then I retreat into the solitude of the bathroom, watching the minutes tick by until I’ve recovered enough to go back out there.”
Writers tend to be introverts at a higher rate than the population at large. In her book, Cain mentions specifically George Orwell and J.K. Rowling. Also pegged as introverts are individuals as wide-ranging as Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Gandhi.
Among politicians, according to the Time article, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney exhibit introvert tendencies — reserved and deliberate — while Bill Clinton and George Bush tip the other way — outgoing and happy in groups.
In America today, the so-called “culture of personality” tends to favor the extrovert. Sociability, talkativeness, a willingness to put yourself “out there” are all highly valued. Think of the popularity of talent and reality shows, for example, and the emphasis on group projects and presentations in the world of work.
This can put introverts at a disadvantage, though it shouldn’t, says Cain, herself an introvert. She says introspective types have a lot to offer society. They tend to think things through and are smart decision-makers. They focus well and have strong powers of concentration. And, she adds, they tend to be “relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame.”
That all sounds good. More to the point for me, however, I now know why I love living way out in the country and working from home. I understand better why I dislike shopping and prefer one-on-one email over the broadcast of social media.
I’m not a hermit or a misanthrope, and neither are you if you share some of these qualities.
We’re just introverts.
Jennifer Forsberg Meyer is a biweekly columnist with the Mountain Democrat. Share your thoughts with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.