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Extroverted Introverts: Creating a Life of Balance


Professional athletes, political figures, celebrities, and business leaders have public-facing positions. But do you think they all enjoy being in the spotlight?


So many people in high-profile positions struggle with the duality of their existence. A public persona demanding they put themselves out there, no matter how uncomfortable or unnatural, and a private side craving time alone and peace.


The common assumption is that if you pursue a career requiring time in the public eye, you must be an extrovert. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Extroverted introverts

President Barack Obama is an excellent example of an introvert in a career where extroversion is expected. In a profile published near the end of his presidency, he revealed that most nights, after a quiet dinner with his family, he would retreat to his private office. This quiet, private time is when he was most productive.


Despite her unflappable stage presence, Lady Gaga is a self-proclaimed introvert. Even though she’s shy and prefers smaller groups to crowds, she’s figured out how to thrive on stage in front of millions.


I don’t think anyone would disagree that President Obama and Lady Gaga followed the paths they were meant to. So why were these introverts destined for careers requiring so much extrovert energy? Because their talent and passion for what they do transcend their personality type.


Four out of ten executives consider themselves introverts. These titans of industry lead organizations of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. Public speaking, handshaking, and occupying the center of attention in a crowd come with the territory. Even though nearly half would probably prefer anonymity, their passion for their work is worth the discomfort of feeling exposed.


My introvert life

Few people believe me when I say I’m an introvert, and I can see why. Most of my work involves teaching, often in front of several hundred students at a time. Sounds like an introvert’s nightmare, right?


That intensity of attention would be if I didn’t love my job. Even though I’m often in situations that don’t align with my introverted sensibilities, I wouldn’t trade teaching for the world. Helping my students and creating meaningful relationships with them feeds my soul. I’m passionate about teaching. I believe in my mission as an educator.


My comfort level depends on the situation. I feel completely at ease in front of my students or on stage at a conference with colleagues—if the setting is educational. But a crowd of people at a gala? That’s not me.


Introverts need friends, too

One of the biggest misconceptions about introverts is that they’re not interested in friendships—that they prefer their own company to the company of others. This just isn’t true. Introverts, while they value alone time and enjoy small groups, are simply misunderstood. Even though I love alone time, I enjoy my friends, too!


Once again, my comfort level comes down to the setting. Introverts often favor one-on-one interactions and intimate, small-group settings. They typically aren’t comfortable in large groups and usually dread the small talk and surface interactions required at large social functions.


For me, friendships are about quality, not quantity. So rather than repeating the same conversation about the weather with 50 people at a networking event, I prefer to reconnect with one friend at a restaurant.


Over a meal, we can talk about things that matter, what’s actually affecting our lives. Smaller gatherings like these are where I want to form deep, meaningful bonds with someone I care about.


Introverts' preference for small get-togethers confounds many extroverts, who sometimes think everyone should automatically be as comfortable as they are in social settings. When they see introverts’ lack of interest in engaging in a group, they falsely perceive the introvert as aloof and disinterested.


The truth is, introverts value and enjoy having friends just as much as extroverts. Both personality types have the same end goal. They simply have different needs and expectations for their relationships.


There’s no exact formula here, because no two introverts or extroverts are exactly the same. I can tell you, though, that the best friendships are built around learning and responding thoughtfully to how the other person thrives socially. When we respect each other's needs, we have the opportunity to forge meaningful friendships regardless of personality type.





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