Way back in 2016 I was asked to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test ahead of a two-day team away day. Now, I won’t get started on my thoughts about team away days – there isn’t enough space on the whole internet to cope with that rant! But personality tests come pretty high up on my bullshit-o-meter. And Myers-Briggs with its promises about discovering if you are an introvert or an extrovert seemed especially full of bull. I was an extrovert and I didn’t need some test to tell me that!
After all, I could stand up in front of a room full of hundreds of people and give a talk. I was confident and could get across my ideas in meetings. I took part in group activities, normally taking on the role of leader. I’ve sang karaoke for Christ’s sake! I wasn’t a shy person.
So, fast forward a couple of weeks and the results were flashing up on my screen. INTJ. First of all, what is an INTJ? Is it catching? A quick search on google and you get totally lost comparing yourself to everyone else in the team. “I’m the same as Tom Cruise.” “I’m Gwyneth Paltrow.” “I’m like Churchill*.”
At this point and following much searching I was still calling bullshit on being an introvert. So, I attended the two day away day (away days should be legally restricted to one day, tops! Quick someone start a petition). We all had to stand in a line with most introvert at one end and most extrovert at the other – I was at one end and a woman I’d less than lovingly nicknamed ‘Duracell Bunny’ was at the other. Looking at the people in the line, I had a bit of a waiver, but at the end of two days I was still an extrovert. The test was clearly wrong.
Fast forward to 2019 and my husband buys me a copy of Susan Cain’s Quiet. A couple of pages in and halle-fucking-luja. I’m an INTROVERT. Not even an ambivert, but a full blown, keep people away from me, stop making so much noise and no I won’t answer phone calls just text me, INTROVERT.
And what a revelation it was. Suddenly things became clearer. For example, why I’ve always said I’m not a people person. It’s not that people are bad (mainly), I just find them exhausting and need to recharge after being around them. If I don’t then my patience levels drop dramatically. Over stimulation has also been a problem for me – too many different noises or distractions and my head hurts and my stress levels rise until I can escape that environment. It’s not that I don’t like going to concerts or going out, but imagine a popular chain of Japanese-inspired restaurants, with long shared tables and open kitchen (you know the one). If it is a quiet sitting I can go there and enjoy myself. On a busy day, the combined noise of the people talking and eating, the echoey, minimalist environment, chefs scrapping metal pans with metal tools, all this is hell to me. I can’t concentrate, I can’t hear the people I’m sitting with and it ruins the whole experience. This is the effect of over stimulation on me.
One thing I have realised since my epiphany, in a world that’s full of extroverts us introverts all need to stick together (individually, from our own homes, of course). Or at least get better at telling others we are introverts. I’m not saying these discussions will be easy – extroverts will be full of lots of helpful tips to stop you being an introvert, such as just get out there and meet people, just talk more, stop being so shy. A quick tip from me, don’t google ‘tips to stop being an introvert’ you’ll lose a lot of time and end up very angry with some very ignorant people**.We need to show people (not just extroverts but other introverts) that we have our own superpowers. Introverts can be great listeners, highly observant, compassionate and calming to be around.
We also need to be honest with family and friends about our needs, to make your life and theirs better. A big one for me is reminding yourself that having some quiet time to yourself is not selfish. I repeat this is NOT selfish. Introverts need to recharge, if you don’t the world will be shittier for you and those around you. Take time out and explain why you need this time – and only explain this once or twice – it is not up to you to repeatedly tell the same people what you are doing and why you are doing it – that will be just as exhausting.
Now, nearing the end of 2020 (thank fuck) I don’t miss thinking that I was an extrovert. My life is simpler, quieter and less exhausting. I can also confirm that I don’t dislike extroverts. I used to work in comms and marketing where I was surrounded by high energy, noisy, stimulation-seeking people – I just learnt to adjust my day to take into account the time I’d need to recharge after a meeting with a room full of extroverts.
If I could make Quiet required reading in all schools I would. I honestly can’t recommend this book enough – buy a copy for yourself and one to lend/ forcibly give to others. And no, I’m not getting paid for this endorsement, it’s just a brilliant, eye opening book that made such a welcome difference to how I experience the world.
* According to the wonderful world of Wikipedia Briggs and Myers of Myers-Briggs fame started working on the indicator test during World War II, but I’m fairly certain Winston Churchill didn’t take the test! If you know different feel free to contact me. I also can’t make any promises about Tom and Gwyneth. Angela Lansbury comes up as an INTJ and as she is one of my fave people I’ll go along with that one!
**I also got pretty angry searching for pictures of introverts. They all showed people on the outside of a crowd, looking depressed while the others are having loads of fun. Well fuck you well known free picture site!