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.)