Friend or Foe?
Should introverts be angry, jealous, fearful of our extroverted brothers or sisters?
It doesn't take long to surf social media and find introvert/extrovert bashing. Many introverts are downright angry at extroverts - how did they become the standard from which we are compared? Why are extroverts considered gregarious, social, decision-makers, and we are called boring, indecisive loners? Why can't extroverts just shut up and listen?
Despite my own decades-long struggle to dispel stereotypes and overcome society's constant comparisons, I am not a fan of this disparagement. I don't believe (most) anyone intends any ill-will. And besides, what good would that do anyway?
Aren't we more similar than different anyway?
My first (strong) inclination is to say "no," we are definitely not very similar.
I grew up with three very different and lovely sisters. Renee, only two years older than me, appears to be the classic extrovert.
I love to read - she loves to talk on the phone with friends.
I have always been at home with my hobbies - she is at home at parties and socializing with friends.
I am always quieter, measured in my talk - she talks off the top of her head as thoughts come to mind.
I've always been nervous and shy at presentations - she seems confident and excited about the opportunity.
I rarely talk to strangers on the street, in the elevator, or at a dinner - she imagines the possibilities of who she might get to know and how her life might change.
Sound familiar? We are so very different.
Yet as I've gotten to know my sister more as aging adults, we also have so much in common. At our core, we want to be loved. We want to care and provide for our family. We have our own ambitions. We are hard workers determined to succeed. This helps us both overcome our nervousness in front of people.
YES, she actually gets nervous in front of people! This came as quite a shock. While she loves socials, if no one wants to talk to her she will pass by the buffet and slide out the door. I used to just stay at the buffet and bar, tormenting myself. through overindulgence. I can learn lessons from her.
We also share common insecurities from our childhood. Hers drove her to other people and mine drove me inside.
She does like to read and even enjoys her alone time...in small slices as I enjoy my social time. She leans on her strengths of curiosity, cheerfulness, and charity, as I have learned to lean on my strengths of preparation, reflection, and measured analysis.
An Overlapping Continuum
What has taken me a while to learn is that each of us inhabits a place on the same continuum. I used to think that spectrum was a simple Introvert/Extrovert line, myself placed toward the far left and others like my sister toward the far right. But actually, life is a myriad of situations. Sometimes we react very similarly and other times we behave quite differently. Rarely do any of us act on an extreme, but actually are a blend of behaviors that help us cope, grow, and thrive. This seems to be common for all people, whether introvert or extrovert or two.
I've also learned that we need each other. Why? Because it can be as straining on some extroverts to create a detailed schedule as it is for an introvert to get to know a table full of strangers. But together, we can share our strengths to help each other out. This doesn't allow my sister to avoid planning or me to completely avoid socializing, but it allows us to pick up some of each other's slack and help out. We can learn from each other. This can be helpful as a family and also as a work team.
Not only am I thrilled to do more planning and analysis with others, but I appreciate others doing the social "heavy-lifting" while I come along and dabble without the full social burden on my shoulders. I do like to socialize in small doses at my own pace, just as my sister may have no issue putting together a schedule for her week.
Be Our Best Selves
I used to wish I was more outgoing, more social, more like my sister, more of an extrovert! But over the years I've realized our ambition is simply to be our best selves. It's funny. For me, I'm trying to stretch myself and grow in new directions that help me get my voice into the room more often. My sister has declared that her COVID silver lining is that her social calendar is not so overwhelming...and she likes it! Perhaps we all stretch with age and shed some of the labels others, and ourselves often used to box us in for much of our lives.