Innies and Outies

“Come on Heather, aren’t you going to the Get Drunk and Eat Doughnuts Ride tonight?”

“Don’t forget, January 1st is a holiday. See you at the First Day of the Year Ride!”

“Happy hour tonight at the Fifth Quadrant! You’re coming, right? Why not?”

As soon as I started working at the BTA, my “free” time started being eaten away by bike-related events I was not being paid to attend, but was at least in some regard expected to be at nonetheless. Even on weeknights, many of these events lasted until 9pm or later–after which I had a minimum one hour bike commute home. I enjoyed many of my coworkers, and didn’t want to be seen as the Negative Nancy in the office, so I often went, dragging my heels. On the occasions I did refuse, I was often needled about it by someone.

Between on-the-job stress and these extracurricular expectations, by the end of my time at the organization I was starting to come apart at the seams. Sleepless nights. Stomachaches. Excusing myself during staff meetings to go sob in the bathroom because I was just so tired and so unhappy. After reaching out, professing my burnout to my new boss in a teary meeting, I was laid off just a couple of weeks later. Interesting.

It was around this time I first read the book The Introvert Advantage and was reminded of what seemed like a radical concept: constructing your life around your needs instead of trying to fit into everyone else’s expectations. Mindfully preparing for success by drawing lines around yourself. And oh yeah, in the expectation to keep up with the bikey Joneses I had totally forgotten that I’ve always been a textbook introvert.

What’s the difference between an introvert and extrovert? Extroverts gain energy by being out in the world, soaking up a variety of stimuli, like a solar panel. If left in a room by themselves for too long, they feel drained. They need to be out constantly experiencing new things to gain energy. Introverts, on the other hand, are more like a laptop battery. Going out into the world drains us of energy, and to be functional we often need quiet alone time, plugging in to recharge before going out again. If an introvert isn’t getting their proper alone time it shows, as described in this awesome Atlantic Monthly article. And much like our different belly buttons, neither being an innie or outie is really better than the other. They’re just one of our many human variations.

While the introvert/extrovert thing is on a spectrum (meaning most people aren’t 100% innie or outie but somewhere in between), western society values extroverted character traits more. Extroverts are likely to not understand introverts (see here!). And because extroverts are the majority, it’s pretty easy to feel roughed up as an introvert in an extrovert world. Finding like-minded introvert friends is difficult because by definition we spend a lot of time at home quilting, or writing, or studying mayfly variations, or building bike frames.

My introvertedness was likely a product of both breeding and environment. My mother, who people say I am a lot like, spends as much of her free time as possible by herself, and gets cranky when family members won’t leave her alone. Growing up as an only child, I often had only myself and my dog Meggie after school, which translated into memorizing dialogue or the songs from Labyrinth every afternoon. (An eight year old entertaining themselves this easily, and for so long, is unusual.) My brain is so detail-oriented to this day that I can listen to one music album, or mull over one thing in my head all day, and never get bored. Staring out a window while drinking tea and contemplating comes more naturally to me than physical busywork. (This is probably why my yard looks so awful.)

In the time since I was laid off from my job, I have been doing some serious resting up. When I see people, I do it on my terms–one on one. None of this noisy happy hour business, or forcing myself to go to every single party and try to feel comfortable when the noise makes my head spin. (In December I was so drained I fell asleep in the living room at a New Year’s Eve party, without having had any alcohol, within minutes of arriving. I left at 11:55. True story.) If it weren’t for the internets, I’m pretty sure all but a few of my bikey friends would think I had recently died or moved to Sri Lanka.

I’m starting to venture out a bit more these days, and interestingly enough, I’m seeing signs in some friends that they aren’t honoring their 7% or 50% introvert, and how that’s impacting them. This post is partially a quiet encouragement to all to rebel against group-think and do what you need to do for yourself to be happy and functional.

Are you an innie or an outie? How do you successfully balance your needs for alone and/or together time?

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Innies and Outies

  1. Jennifer

    Great post! I’m an innie! I definitely need to recharge when I’ve been around people all day, especially people who don’t know me well and who require lots of small talk. When I meet new people while traveling I’m grateful for the company, but usually can’t spend all day with them. I need to find excuses to take breaks and be by myself, even if it’s just by checking my email or taking a walk to run an errand.

    Hope you’re well!! I’m coming home for a little while over Christmas. Would love to see you!

  2. What a great post and oh boy can I relate! I enjoyed many childhood afternoons just reading or cooking up something in my “laboratory” in the back yard. 🙂 I dream of working for myself, from home sweet home someday, so maybe I won’t already be “peopled-out” by the time events come along that I “simply must attend!” Thanks so much for linking to me – it’s nice to meet a fellow innie!

  3. aprilstarchild

    I am such an extrovert, that sometimes it feels like a character flaw–don’t I like my own company?

    Recently a band I like was doing a show, walking distance from my house. They’re from Iceland, so hardly a neighborhood band. I ended up not going, because I had no one to go with, and previous experience has shown me that I don’t enjoy shows nearly as much without a friend along. It’s irritating to feel as though I can only have fun if other people are doing it with me, as it makes me semi-dependent on other people in order to have a good time.

    I need my own alone time too–time to catch up online (admittedly still mostly an extroverted thing, as I’m catching up on things like facebook and livejournal), or read novels, or lie around. But not that much.

    But I’m happiest living with people whom I consider friends and I love doing things in groups.

  4. Carye Bye

    A lot of people over time have confused Introvert and Extrovert with personality traits – those who like to speak in public are extroverts, etc. Those who garden are introverts. False. But the key which you pointed out is energy. Do you feed off people for energy or do you need to be by yourself to gain energy.

    When I was younger, quite shy, during college, those Myer Briggs tests gave me an I for Introvert, though I was always borderline. Nowadays, I’m a fairly strong E, though probably not too much over the border.

    I like my mornings alone. I like to read my paper, my tea, look at my task list. But as the day wears on I need people. Especially now that it gets dark so early. Now that I print all by myself at home, I go a little crazy. I have to watch dvds or check email every half an hour just so I know I’m not the only one left on earth. In fact I would be a very prolific artist if I was better about making art all by myself.

    But now I know I’m much happier interacting and being around people. My favorite work days are days I spend doing errands and I get to chat with store owners I know, or the copy shop guy, and often I’ll run into a friend along my journey. Days home printing all day can be great days too, but often I need to go out afterward to feel like had a really good day.

    I like socialness, bike gatherings. But not everyday and not everyday in the row. I have so many kinds of friends and really value one on one. I don’t mind going to the movies or an lecture by myself. But I hate going to music show or events that are more about who you know than about what you are seeing by myself.

    Over the years, I have began to understand who my introverted friends are, and I appreciate it when they just tell me they want to stay in or don’t’ want to go to my party because they don’t want to be around a crowd. I totally respect it. Introverted friends tend to often be great listeners, have amazing projects, and when they are in good balance with themselves in the world, great friends.

    So here’s to finding Balance, it makes a world of difference.

  5. haw

    How freakin timely is this? I have been going through major personal turmoil over this very thing lately.

    Thanks for your insight and making me feel better about my own choices related to extricating myself from social obligations. I think I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that once it starts to feel like obligation, the energy expended exceeds energy received, and I become cranky. I had been discounting it as simply depression, but I noticed after a weekend alone how much my mood had improved. I’m learning to be ok with it….thanks again.

  6. radishly

    i totally honor my innie, as my facebook will show. 🙂

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