I took a Myers-Briggs personality test several months ago. It was ridiculous.
Why was it ridiculous? Glad you asked.
The test itself wasn't ridiculous, but rather the fact that I took it for the first time ... I'm 35 years old and I had never taken a "real" personality test. Well, perhaps I did in high school when the counselor was helping me identify that one thing I was meant to be when I grew up (<----sarcasm), but I certainly did not understand how to apply whatever I discovered.
Anywho. The test came back labeling me as INFJ. And in case you are not aware, that "I" stands for introversion. In other words, the test labeled me an introvert.
What tha wha...?!
I was surprised. Real surprised. I also felt ignorant. Really really ignorant.
I always thought an introvert was a painfully shy, soft-spoken, reserved person ... all of which I do not consider myself.
And honestly, I grew up thinking an extrovert was what everyone wanted to be... actually, needed to be in order to do anything productive in life. Shy people were those odd, wacky artist-types or the person that made people anxious because they were too quiet (and perhaps secretly plotting to blow up something). Right?
This is the part where I felt ignorant.
I had been putting this group of people in a box. And all because of the way society labels them. Little did I know I was one of them.
I was also frustrated. I looked back on my younger years and resented how we force many of our youth into some extrovert mold. Maybe it's different now for kids (hopefully) or maybe I invented this in my head (possible), but it seems we were taught that in order to "get ahead" or "be someone" or "be successful," you had to groom yourself into a charismatic person with a big voice and even bigger presence. You had to be a specific kind of leader. You had to be a doer. A joiner...the more clubs and extra-curricular activities the better. The more community work and professional organizations on your resume, the better. Spending time alone means you are weird. No wonder I spent the overwhelming majority of my high school, college and even young professional years exhausted and physically sick! I had a virus. It was called "trying to be something I am not."
I have NO CLUE how I could live 35 years and never understand the complexities of introversion and extroversion. As I started reading more about the introvert's tendencies, I was shocked. I am definitely, unequivocally an introvert.
I know this sounds ridiculous, but learning this detail about myself gave me so much clarity! Every single thing that I always thought was strange or wrong with me finally made sense.
No, I don't mind eating alone at a restaurant. In fact, I enjoy it.
No, I don't really need a running or workout buddy. (I can't run and talk anyway.)
No, I have zero interest in a networking event. Actually, I get anxious when having to make small-talk. Pretty much my personal hell.
No, I don't have to hang out with people all the time. It actually makes me physically tired.
No, I really don't want to do an icebreaker. Please make it stop.
No, I'm not a recluse, I just require alone time. I actually crave it. It's 100% essential to my well-being.
No, I'm not anti-social, I just don't have to be around people all the time. You don't need to entertain me.
No, I'm not going to grow thick skin. I'm a sensitive person and it makes me uniquely equipped.
No, I can't shut off my brain. And yes, because of that I'm fairly "random" and "deep." Just embrace the crazy.
Yes, I hit the shady button when you called. (sorry). I think you are awesome, but I didn't have energy necessary to converse.
Now, all that being said, I'm certainly not advocating all the above behaviors are OK all the time. I'm not making excuses for myself or other introverts. I'm not saying you should just deal with the way I am. This is not an ultimatum. I believe everyone, no matter extrovert or introvert, can learn something from the other. And we should!
In our professional lives, we have to make concessions:
- Networking is a good thing. Meeting new people is a good thing. It may not always be on your terms, but making those genuine connections is a worthy endeavor.
- When in a meeting, take a cue from your extrovert peers and speak up WHEN you have something productive to add to the conversation. Don't just speak to be speaking. But DO NOT be afraid to voice your idea or opinion. It may take a lot of energy to do so, but it's important.
- Make eye contact, smile and be the first to say hello when passing someone in a hall on in that dreaded elevator ride.
- Learn to appreciate your extrovert counterparts. They are actually great partners at events/meetings because they will usually do all the talking. :)
- PLEASE stop making everyone participate in forced group activities and brainstorming sessions ALL THE TIME. There's actually research showing that good ideas often come from being in solitude. Moderation is key when it comes to these things.
- Know that your introvert counterparts have much to contribute and they are constantly thinking. Consider alternate ways and environments to nurture their uniqueness.
- Learn to appreciate your introvert peers and take note that sometimes listening is the key. Silence is OK. It may be uncomfortable for you, but you may be surprised at what you'll get from listening.
And most importantly, when it comes to our friends, people we love, try employing a bit of empathy for those that are close to you:
- Extroverts, please do not take it personally when your introvert friend or loved one doesn't want to talk or "hang out." Please know it has absolutely nothing to do with you. They aren't mad at you. Nothing is wrong. They may just need some time alone to recharge.
- Introverts, take into consideration how your extrovert friends and loved ones feel loved. They may view you taking time to hang out with them or chatting with them as an act of love. This is how they may feel appreciated or connected to you. Sometimes you just need to suck it up and do the thing that will make them aware you care for them and the relationship.
I think it really boils down to trying to understand and appreciate differences. We need to become acutely aware there is not a "right" way to be.
And we need to make sure as parents, educators, leaders, mentors, and truly society in general, we nurture a person's uniqueness.
We should be challenging our youth to uncover that "thing" that makes them special, and encourage them to embrace that uniqueness. That "thing" will ultimately make that young person the happiest and most fulfilled. That "thing" will be their best contribution to society. And we will all benefit from it.
And lastly, do you really know yourself? I mean REALLY know yourself. I would challenge you to figure that out. Even if you think you know exactly who you are, even if you've been living your life the same way for decades - I challenge you to dig deeper.
Knowing yourself is the catalyst for happiness.