The Introvert’s Dilemma

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be an extrovert.

As a shy, socially awkward teen, I was deeply envious of people who could light up a room with their gut-busting jokes, captivating stories and mere presence. These animated, energetic and outgoing individuals made me feel terribly inadequate. When they wanted to go out and party, I wanted to go home and read. When they wanted to go to the bustling spot with the long line snaking around the door, I wanted to go to the back corner of a familiar  hole-in-the-wall joint. Being “on” for large groups of people – especially strangers – is my kryptonite. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always made excuses for why I’d rather be alone than in the presence of others. I consistently score as an “ISTJ”  (The “I” stands for for “Introverted”) on the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. I’m what 16Personalities.com defines as “The Logistician”:

ISTJs have sharp, fact-based minds, and prefer autonomy and self-sufficiency to reliance on someone or something…People with this type may struggle to express emotion or affection outwardly, but the suggestion that they don’t feel, or worse, have no personality at all, is deeply hurtful…ISTJs need to remember to take care of themselves – their stubborn dedication to stability and efficiency can compromise those goals in the long term as others lean ever-harder on them, creating an emotional strain that can go unexpressed for years, only finally coming out after it’s too late to fix. If they can find coworkers and spouses who genuinely appreciate and compliment their qualities, who enjoy the brightness, clarity and dependability that they offer, ISTJs will find that their stabilizing role is a tremendously satisfying one, knowing that they are part of a system that works.

I’m commonly criticized for being robotic. I’m process-oriented to a fault. Couple that with my sharp introversion, and you’ll understand why my colleagues are convinced that I’m a Terminator sent from the future to convert the human race over to Asana. The truth is, I simply lose energy in social interactions. Don’t get me wrong – I love people. I love my friends. I love my family. I love my colleagues. And I get great satisfaction from meeting new people. But talking to anyone exhausts me. And it seldom has anything to do with the people I’m talking to. It’s not you, it’s me.

Now here I am, stuck in a Twilight Zone episode. Last Sunday, I embarked on a week-long drive across the country in an RV. My travel-buddies? All people I envied growing up. The most extroverted of extroverts. Three former varsity athletes (Nick Asquini, Kait Asquini and Troy Murray), a rockstar housing professional (Brandon Smith) and the personification of energy (Jen Gonzales).

In the days and weeks leading up to our journey, I had premonitions of me being huddled in the recesses of the RV, headphones-on, hunched over my phone, in my own world. I thought that I’d have to resort to my defence mechanism of retreating or risk snapping under the pressure of being “on”. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The #RoadToCACUSS has taught me a thing or two about navigating the relationship between introversion and extroversion. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Learn About Each Other
It behooves everyone to understand what introversion and extroversion actually are. They aren’t simply “shy” vs. “outgoing”. Reducing them to such simple binaries will limit your ability to understand your strengths & weaknesses as well as your capacity to interact with people who manifest both traits in varying degrees. In “Looking at Type: The Fundamentals”, Charles R. Martin defines the introversion and extroversion as such:

Extraversion (E)
I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I’m excited when I’m around people and I like to energize other people. I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say.

  • The following statements generally apply to me:
  • I am seen as “outgoing” or as a “people person.”
  • I feel comfortable in groups and like working in them.
  • I have a wide range of friends and know lots of people.
  • I sometimes jump too quickly into an activity and don’t allow enough time to think it over.
  • Before I start a project, I sometimes forget to stop and get clear on what I want to do and why.

Introversion (I)
I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.

  • The following statements generally apply to me:
  • I am seen as “reflective” or “reserved.”
  • I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own.
  • I prefer to know just a few people well.
  • I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don’t move into action quickly enough.
  • I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience.

Roommate Agreements
Our Vice-Provost of Students, Heather Lane Vetere, facilitated the creation of “Roommate Agreements” on the road. I found this to be a useful exercise for safely communicating our unique needs and establishing ground-rules. I was able to articulate to my teammates my need for occasional alone-time in order to recharge, and assured them that I wasn’t being anti-social. They fully understood my need and even offered suggestions for how to communicate to them that I needed to recharge my batteries.

Approachability Statements
While we didn’t do this particular exercise for the Road To CACUSS, I still pulled from one I wrote a while ago to support my Roommate Agreement. The former Acting Coordinator of Student Life Programs, Rachel Barreca, facilitated the creation of “Approachability Statements” which allowed our team to reflect on how we want to be communicated to, especially when receiving critical feedback. I sometimes fail to understand how my introversion manifests itself. I’ve been told by peers I come across as aloof, uninterested and distant. I needed my travel-mates to understand that this was far from the case, and that they should express this to me if it ever came up.

Structured Downtime
I edited this blog post in Chicago, alone, in our hotel room. The rest of my peers are out shopping, as we have some downtime before our next social gathering. This respite of four hours was intentionally included in our itinerary to give folks like myself the option to reclaim personal space and recalibrate.

Intentional Programming
Our programming through this week also allows for various types of social interactions. We have a combination of group meetings, one-on-one meetings, campus tours, and personal work time. This was created intentionally to help us move through Kolb’s Learning Cycle, but also to let us de-stress before moving into the next activity.

Coming to Student Affairs at Ryerson, I gained a framework for understanding my introversion. I’ve learned how to wield its strengths and avert its shortcomings. And recently, I’ve learned that introverts and extroverts can get along quite well. In fact, I learned that they need each other. What supported this outlook was the realization that introversion and extroversion aren’t mutually exclusive – there are varying levels of each in all of us. In fact, some people are so evenly-balanced that they are labelled as “ambiverts”. Knowing what energizes my peers helps me to step forward to step back in certain situations. For instance, I trust Jen, Kait, Brandon and Troy to lead and steer group conversations. And when it comes to going heads-down on a project or being a co-pilot for my more introverted-peer, Nick Asquini, I gladly step up.

As a child, I was socialized to believe that introversion is unnatural. Portrayals of geeks and nerds in the 80’s and 90’s were fairly one-dimensional and downright absurd. And if I were quiet for more than 30 seconds at a family gathering, I’d be incessantly asked if I was okay. But the times finally caught up with me. It’s now perfectly normal to be an introvert, and easy. Most folks bury themselves into their phones and re-enter their personal “bubbles” when they need to recalibrate. Jen does it. Troy does it. Nick does it. Kait does it. Brandon does it. I do it. And we understand. There are often long moments of silence on this trip, and nobody feels any differently about each other. We know what energizes one another, and work to accommodate each other. But left to my own devices (no pun intended), I might miss out on spontaneous moments or transformative experiences. It’s why I need people like Jen in my life, who encourage me to step outside of my comfort zone. At the same time, people like Jen need me to be a source of calm in a storm.

Our students are growing up in a world where it’s all too easy to retreat into introverted tendencies. It’s entirely possible for a student to experience post-secondary education without making new friends, considering that your childhood and high-school friends are in your pocket. And it’s entirely possible for them to not participate in any co-curricular programming, services or events, seeing as how there’s no shortage of distractions offered by “the digital layer”. As Student Affairs professionals, it’s imperative that we examine the complexities and nuances of introversion and extroversion, and create programming that encourages both personality types to learn from one another, work with one another, and play off each others’ strengths.

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