For a long time I identified as one. Mainly because I thoroughly enjoy my own company. However, during the pandemic I’ve taken a good hard look at myself and have come to the conclusion that we should drop such labels altogether.
I get why they exist. Society loves to put labels on things. It’s easier for our brains to take shortcuts and make things binary. And the introversion / extroversion tag is the simplest way to categorise our personality.
However, trying to fit our extraordinarily unique and varied personalities into a box is holding us back from reaching our true potential.
I was a social kid. I enjoyed birthday parties, sleepovers and making new friends. I liked that version of me. The outgoing, confident one. And when I saw those personality traits in the extroversion box, I decided, yep, that’s me.
As I entered teenage-hood, I started valuing time by myself. Learning music, studying film, meditating. Surely I wasn’t becoming an introvert? Was I becoming a loner? Naturally, I overcompensated and veered into obnoxious territory. The worst.
In my adult years, I’ve swung back the other way. I spend a lot of time by myself, I prefer small groups of people and love a Saturday night in. I must be an introvert now, right? I found the more I leaned into introversion, the more I disassociated from typical extroversion traits such as being outgoing and thriving in social settings.
I begin thinking that, because I’m an introvert, social settings aren’t for me. Speaking in front of a group? Not an inherit skill of mine. The label was boxing me into a comfort zone.
How did these terms come about?
Carl Jung was the first person to introduce introversion and extroversion in a psychological context in 1920, theorising that each person falls into one of two categories. Basically, introverts are inward facing, being more thoughtful and solitary, whereas extroverts are outward facing, engaging more with who and what’s around them.
1920 is also the year when women were given the right to vote in America, Walter Disney started working as a cartoonist and it was the year the Spanish flu ended; the last global pandemic.
This was over a century ago. And while it’s generally accepted today that introversion and extroversion fall on a spectrum, it might be time to take a look at our reliance on these personality theories.
Because they ain’t useful.
We are complex creatures who are continually evolving. I mean, I feel more “extroverted” after a good cup of coffee. And as an actor, I go inward to practice meditation before performing in front of 50 people. That’s a spikey, confusing looking spectrum!
Also, It’s easy to misdiagnose introversion and extroversion. Usually, we make a coarse self-diagnosis at an early age (like I did) and there, that’s it, that’s our personality. But what if we’re wrong? For example, It would be easy to confuse insecurity for introversion. People pleasing could be mistaken for extroversion. The labels can mask an underlying issue.
Labels come with stereotypes. And they encourage us to play small.
For example, if you’re an introvert, you’re usually stereotyped as being:
- Anti social
These can become limiting beliefs. If you decide you’re introverted, by its binary definition you could be led to believe that you’re also shy. It doesn’t exactly encourage one to exit their comfort zone. Instead, the opposite — an introverted person might pick and choose behaviours that reinforce his or her identity. It’s classic confirmation bias and you can see how easy it is to slip down the rabbit hole once you believe that’s where you lie.
In a work context, stereotyping an employee doesn’t do anyone favours. For example, Dave might not be considered for certain projects if his boss considers him one way or the other. Interactions, productivity and growth are stunted when employees are put in a box.
The pursuit of uniqueness.
Introversion and extroversion encourages us to judge our behaviours and categorise them. To see how we fit within a societal norm.
That might have flown in 1920. But today, we know that the cornerstone to any thriving society is diversity. Individual difference drives progress and invention.We need to lean into this uniqueness to access our collective potential.
So, I’ve ditched my introversion label and have decided to stop judging my behaviour. If I feel like going out with my friends, I’ll do it. If I feel like staying in by myself? Fantastic. Now I allow energy to flow in whatever direction it wants to, without judgement.
I’ve made it my goal to become better at speaking in front of a group. Something I previously believed wasn’t an innate skill of mine. With belief and consistency, we can be anything we want to be. And ditching introversion is a step in the right direction.
So how would your life look different if your stereotype? What are some skills you’d like to master that you never thought were possible? Transformation lies on the other side of self-belief and determination.
It’s time to pull down any obstacles in your way, level-up and discover your true potential.