ACT I, Scene 1
(Two colleagues are chatting by the water cooler)
“…He must be. Look at those bright purple pants he wears!”
-“Not just that… the fact that he has matching bright purple shoes and iPad case to match… he must be!”
-“Yes, meticulously groomed, not afraid of dressing in any colour under the rainbow and relentlessly cheerful? He must be!”
-“True, but did you catch that sombre look a few days ago?”
-“He’s sometimes like that first thing in the morning, but after his third coffee, he’s like Tigger”
-“So why is he always putting on headphones and getting into that ‘cone of silence’ when he does written work”
-“Ah you know those ‘creative’ types… they can be a little eccentric. But in all fairness, he knows every word of our library of documents like the back of his hand, in both official languages.”
-“Yeah, he’s the only one who really likes working on those documents. He says it’s all creative work and he enjoys the challenge.”
-“Yeah, whatever. Takes all kinds…”
(END OF SCENE)
This scene of workplace gossip and speculation is a work of fiction and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
It should be pretty obvious that this conversation is in regard to whether or not the character in question is… an extrovert!
I had not really given much thought to that question until I was offered the opportunity to do a Myers-Briggs-type test many years ago. Going into it, I assumed I was somewhere in the middle between extrovert and introvert, but definitely in introvert territory. Given that I liked to be around people but felt shy in certain social situations, and doing things on my own seemed like my natural inclination, there was no way I could be an extrovert.
When the results came in, I was a little surprised. No, actually, I was very surprised that I was indeed somewhere in the middle, but clearly in extrovert territory. Shut the f…ront door! How did I not know this? (Sigh) It seems that I am often the last to figure out stuff like this. Oh well, let’s chalk it up to another “7 watt bulb” moment in my life! 🙂
As I gave it more thought, it did seem plausible as the mildly extroverted tag seemed to fit more and more. It explained some of the intuitive choices I made, the career decisions I made, the people I had gravitated to as well as the hobbies I pursued at specific points in life. It even explained some of my fashion choices.
Nonetheless, in the years that followed, I realized that in being close to the middle line like that, there is a balancing act taking place. For all the time I was “on” (consuming extrovert energy), there had to be some counterbalancing time “off”, on my own, disconnected from social commitments, in order to replenish extrovert energy stores.
That became an interesting journey in itself, the balancing act between introvert and extrovert energy, as it became a long term quest in pacing myself and recognizing the natural ebb and flow of energy and to know (in a timely manner) when I need to compensate. If the balance got tilted too far and too long on the extrovert side, I tend to get tired, then exhausted, which unresolved can sometimes turn to illness. On the other hand, if I isolate myself for too long (as sometimes happens during long Canadian winters, when I tend to go into hibernation mode), I go a little stir crazy after a while as my craving to be around people intensifies over time.
For me, the introvert/extrovert split works great for writing because as much as I enjoy the solitude, serenity and euphoria of the creative process, I genuinely hope that the work resonates with people or, at the office, meets the approval of my bosses. When it comes to my personal writing, the introvert in me is very careful about being tactful, diplomatic and not offend anyone, while the extrovert in me is fairly resilient to criticism. I either take it with a grain of salt or I view it as constructive feedback.
However, dancing across the extrovert-introvert line like that does have its Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde moments:
– Although I have been told by my supervisors that I am a pretty natural public speaker, the fact is that I would rather no one speak to me in the 10 minutes before I begin, while I get into the zone as I get the confetti cannon of extrovert energy ready.
– Even though I am a pretty cheerful guy overall, never assume I am cheerful before my first coffee has fully taken effect.
– In the years I was working in client service, I absolutely loved interacting with my clients during business hours, but during the evening I was notorious for screening my calls at home and taking a while to call people back as I hated being on the phone after a full day.
– Through the years, dating was always interesting as I was often drawn to the exciting energy of extroverts, but felt very grounded and comfortable in the calm world of introverts.
To this day, I count my blessings that I am surrounded by such a great mix of extroverts, introverts and everyone who is somewhere in the middle. Without actively saying it or doing it, I think we just naturally surround ourselves with the right people at the right time who either provide the lift we need or the grounding we need to keep our energy in check. As long as both parties ensure they don’t become energy vampires, I think most friends are happy in sharing in that complementary energy exchange.
I would like to think that as a middle of the road mild extrovert, I enjoy the best of both worlds and can turn it “on” and “off” as appropriate to the occasion (ie: I am still working on remembering to use my more introverted “indoor voice” when greeting colleagues early on grey or dark Monday mornings… I have been known to scare the crap out of a few). As long as I have sufficient time to recuperate and bounce back when rapidly changing gears from introvert to extrovert, I think I can keep people guessing… is he or isn’t he?