Aren't We All Ambiverts?
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
And How to Be Your Best Self!
Our personality resides on a continuum. Picture Introversion on the left and Extroversion on the right. But none of us reside on the far left or right. We are somewhere in between. In fact, at any given point in time, we could be anywhere on that line. Yes, even on the right side of center!
Depending on the circumstance, we may exhibit stereotypically extroverted traits. We are in a small, familiar social circle and enjoy gabbing and sharing with close friends. We are in the trenches with our close team at work and dig in for some brainstorming or challenge sessions. We are leading a meeting in which we know our stuff, come quite prepared, and may have a passion for the topic.
One of my favorite recollections was at my retirement party in 2018. After 30 years at Shell, I hung up my hat, ready to move on and explore the rest of my life. At the party there were dozens of people from across my varied career. We had a great time catching up and recalling old memories. Toward the end I addressed the crowd and shared my future plans. I had written a bit as a kid in high school and I wanted to reconnect with that and see if the spark was still there. "What are you going to right?" asked a few. "I'm going to right about a common theme throughout my life - introversion." Well, the room went quite, people started to look around, and then someone stood up and proclaimed, "You're not an introvert! I worked with you for years. We traveled together. Ate meals together. Managed adversity together. And you've had over a dozen jobs in your career. You can't be an introvert!" Others nodded their head in agreement. Ahh, but I was. As I reflected on that, I realized I 'slid over to the right' with many of them. I was comfortable with them and our specific situation.
In all those cases, others who don't know introverts well would suspect we are indeed extroverts. But we are true introverts - introverts who are leaning on our strengths and creating the right atmosphere for us to slide right for a while.
Many will define this as AMBIVERSION. Merriam-Webster defined ambivert as "a person having characteristics of both extrovert and introvert." So that really defines us all. Even extroverts have their "introvert moments" when they reflect and may need a bit of personal time.
However, we all have our tendencies and mine certainly lies to the left - introversion.
What is Introversion Then?
First, what is introversion NOT? It is not what many dictionaries and thesauruses claim it to be. It is not "loner, anti-social, icicle, wallflower, narcissist," or...my personal favorite, "the opposite of extrovert." Sure, these may describe everyone (including extroverts) sometimes, but these words don't encapsulate what it is to be an introvert. First, where are all the positives? Some extroverts and even many introverts don't see the positives, but the 1900 respondents to our Strengths Quiz have discovered they have many common strengths - often planning and preparation, thoughtfulness, listening and observing, balanced analysis, creativity, resiliency, and more. I don't see those in the dictionaries.
The best definition lies in how we typically gain and expend energy. Introverts gain energy through some alone (not lonely or loner) time, some relaxation, introspective thinking, and creative hobbies like art, writing, music, or yoga for example. We lose energy through engagements and debates. It doesn't mean we can do these things and in fact, do them well, but we typically have a short leash on them and even though we may enjoy them, we get drained and need a boost. But this is a good definition of introversion - how we gain and lose energy...not the destructive synonyms floating around still today.
Oftentimes I'm asked how someone can rid themselves of their introversion or others will proclaim, "I used to be an introvert." Over the years I've realized this is not really so. Introversion (or extroversion) is part of our personality, part of our DNA. We can, and certainly should, strive to learn about ourselves and our strengths, and discover how to navigate tough situations our way. But we can't rid ourselves of introversion.
In fact, research has determined that our introversion or extroversion is closely linked to the chemical makeup in our brains. Extroverts thrive on dopamine. The receptors in their brain crave dopamine and their body emits that chemical when they are stimulated by interaction and feedback. Extroverts get a bit of a high on dopamine. They need that injection and frankly can hardly get too much. Hence their days are ideally filled with chitchat and discussion. Such activity overwhelms the introvert's brain. Our receptors need very little dopamine and too much exhausts us. However, we too need a fix - of acetylcholine. That is our own drug. Our brain receptors crave acetylcholine much like extrovert's dopamine. And, no surprise, our body generates this elixir through introspective thought, calmness, and comfort which we often gain from alone time or personal hobbies. We thrive on this and need that fix. But much like extroverts and their social engagement, we have to create those introspective moments to get the good stuff. If not, we will not only be overwhelmed by the engagements of the day, but we will be in acetylcholine withdrawals. The moral of the story here is to feed yourself what you need!
Not a Curse, but a Blessing
I encourage you to take the quizzes below. They help you discover the strengths