Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Me? An introvert? Puh-leeeze!

After working in the world of human resources for too many years, I’ve taken a number of those awful personality tests. You know the ones. You answer a bunch of questions about yourself (or worse yet, your family, friends and co-workers answer questions about you). Then the responses get decoded and you get smacked with a label that's supposed to define your entire personality.

According to Myers-Briggs, I’m an E-N-T-J, the “E” standing for extrovert. It also means I’m “forceful in presenting my ideas.” Yeah, guilty as charged.

According to Wilson Learning’s Social Styles, I’m an “expressive-expressive.” Yes, my primary and secondary personality traits are BOTH expressive, which basically means I talk a lot to anyone who will listen, and if I sat on my hands my mouth would probably stop working.

According to the geniuses at the Ennegram Institute, I’m an “Eight with a Seven-Wing,” known as “The Maverick.” My manager who made me take that test began calling me “Miss Eight” afterward. (Yes, really. Talk about pigeonholing.)

All of this HR bullshit boils down to this one basic fact: I'm not an introvert. I’m as extroverted as they come. That’s what I’ve always been told and what I’ve always believed to be true about myself.

Until recently…

Not long ago, I was reading Literal Mom, one of my favorite bloggers. She wrote this post about understanding your child’s personality and where he gets his energy from. This knowledge will help you better communicate and build a stronger relationship with your child. Genius!

Turns out, I had the definitions of introvert and extrovert all wrong. It’s not about being shy versus outgoing, it’s about whether you get your energy from being alone or being around others. I realized that even though I’m rather outgoing and talkative, I actually get my energy from solitude. (Ahhh, just the word “solitude” makes me salivate a little. *sigh*)

Now, if you know me personally (or even just from reading this blog), you probably just spit out your morning coffee and said, “Yeah right! If Mel is an introvert, I’m Halle-fucking-Berry.” I know. I almost didn’t believe it myself, but hear me out.

I started paying more attention to my behavior in groups and when I’m alone, and I made some interesting discoveries. For example, about a month ago, my mommy friends and I took our babies to the zoo. I found myself pushing Quinn’s stroller a little ahead or behind the rest of the group, lost in my own head. I realized that I need those short moments to recharge and organize my thoughts, and then I felt ready to rejoin the group.

As much as I love being around my friends and family, I’m exhausted at the end of almost every gathering, emotionally drained from all that stimulation. Even though I have a ton of fun with my girlfriends, I crave solitude when it’s over. A true extrovert would have more energy after that interaction, not less.

Maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time deciding which blog conference to attend. As much as I would love to go a big one, like BlogHer, I know that I could easily fade into the wallpaper in crowds that thick. But in a smaller, more intimate setting, like Springboard, I would probably have an easier time meeting people and being my usual expressive-expressive self.

I started paying more attention to how Quinn behaves as well, and I discovered we’re pretty similar. Quinn tends to be more reserved – and sometimes downright cranky – around other people. When we have a play date at our house, he eventually goes off into the corner – his nook – and reads or plays by himself for a little while. When he’s ready, he comes back to the group.

Although he often puts on a public performance, the full magnitude of Q’s charm is truly only witnessed by Hubs and me. When it’s just the three of us at the dinner table, Q will talk non-stop, point out all of his body parts and tell us what noises several farm animals make. He’ll crank up the silliness to extreme levels and go to great lengths to make us laugh. And we do laugh!

After all that laughter, I'm often hit with a small wave of melancholy because I know other people rarely get to see that side of Quinn. It’s so beautiful and sweet, it makes me cry.

Coming to this understanding about my son and myself has been really helpful. I don’t push him too hard to interact when he doesn’t want to. When we’ve had a stimulating day, I make a point to give him some space when we get home and let him play by himself for a while. I usually need the quiet time, too, and it makes for a much more pleasant evening. 

Then, once we’re both recharged, we turn back into silly, expressive “mavericks” once again.

What about you? Do you (or your kids) get energy from being alone or with others? How do you use these insights to be a better parent?

(If you enjoyed Part One of Literal Mom’s post about knowing your child’s personality, be sure to check out Part Two.)


  1. I too am introverted, and I have to convince people I am. There is such a negative connotation Americans put behind introverted, when really it just means your introspective, contemplative, empathetic, passionate and thoughtful....you can still be crazy, loud, talkative and have a powerful presence....but you need time to unwind or process information. Time had a great article on this (his reference to checking his phone or taking an extended bathroom break at large function in order to regain energy I can embarrassingly relate to) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2105432,00.html

    1. Thanks for the link, Mark! (And I do the same thing at big work functions.)

  2. Believe it or not, I think I could have told you this about yourself. I can remember us chatting about how desperately you wished you could just run off to the beach with a book for the remainder of the day, or how excited you were when you had the place to yourself on a Sunday afternoon. You could sit quietly at your desk for hours, without anyone even knowing you were there...just soaking up the energy of time alone. And, you were always really at ease with our small group of work friends. But, I tried to give you space before big presentations, because I could tell the last thing you wanted to do in those spare Mel moments was chat. You always rocked those, of course, even if you probably felt like running home for a nap after. LOL. With all that said, I'm overly analytical. So I was probably paying far closer attention than anyone should. :P

    Very cool lesson learned about Q. Something I'll have to try to remember whenever I start raising my own kiddos. :)

    1. You've always been one of the most perceptive, empathetic people I've ever known, Katrina. It's such an amazing and unique quality, and I love that about you! (And don't worry, I love your long comments, so please never apologize for that!)

    2. You give me warm and fuzzies. *hug*

  3. I feel the same way. I like to be around people and love the interaction. But there are just moments where I need quiet and my own thoughts to recharge and be me again. I'm not always on! Love this post.

    1. That's a great way to put it, Susi. "Not always on." That exactly it. I need to have a long period of "off" before I can be "on."

  4. Thanks so much for the shout out! So glad I could help you! And you know I love it when someone uses my favorite Eff word in a post. ;)

    1. I always learn so much from your posts, Missy. I've loved reading all about your "Old Fashioned Summer" plans. Sounds like so much fun!