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Outgoing Introverts

How does that even make sense?

The word "introvert" has religious and poetic origins. First used in the mid-17th century to refer to people turning their focus inward for spiritual contemplation, it's also a close cousin of the poet's main occupation of creating verse or new turns of thought and feeling. In its 20th century incarnation, introvert as popularized by Carl Jung and the Myers-Briggs mother-daughter team took on a more specific meaning that referred to the need to recharge and refuel by going inward. We easily forget this, and this is why we don't recognize how an outgoing introvert makes complete sense.

In fact, there are so many that you probably don't even realize they're introverts. Just look at Stephen Colbert, an introvert who delights in the kind of sharp satirical wit, deep social connection, and general hilarity as your most outgoing of extroverts. Or take Oprah, a virtual cultural force who knows how to both connect with a large crowd and really get to the heart of the matter in a deeply personal one-on-one interview. Remember how she launched a sponsored book series, the Oprah Book Club, that changed the way our culture relates to literature? Or there’s the dancing prankster we all know so well from daytime television, Ellen DeGeneres. And there are many others that aren't celebrities too.

In the past, people mislabeled introverts as socially anxious or reclusive and muddied the waters. Introversion refers to how an individual energizes, their dominant preference for connecting to themselves and the world, not whether they are shy or outgoing, socially anxious or self-assured. Introverts and extroverts can have any of these common traits.

Introversion and extroversion are truly about energy. Introverts are like the electric-powered cars of our world—the Teslas—often needing to go back home to get recharged, mostly because there are so few charging stations out there on the road (compare that to the many gas stations around for the extroverts of the culture).

Once they are fully charged up, introverts often appreciate sharing with others in some form or another, whether in writing or in-person in a one-on-one or small group conversation. It's not uncommon to see introverts together look virtually indistinguishable from extroverts when they hit their conversational stride. Who knows, maybe if there were more introvert charging stations in our culture, we'd see even more outgoing introverted behavior too; or at the very least, we'd see introverts who weren't on the brink of what I call "introvert hanger," that desperate need for an introvert recharging break.

Many are familiar with this concept from Snickers commercials. Picture two teenage boys getting ready to approach some girls at a party when Joe Pesci suddenly appears, crowing, "What do you think we're not good enough? What are you, big supermodels or something? What, do you model gloves?!" The other teen pulls Pesci aside and hands him a Snickers bar to take—stat!—so he can pull himself back together. "You're not yourself when you're hungry," the tagline instructs.

Introverts do well to connect from the inside-out in general, and more specifically when deepening and expanding their comfort zone in the larger social world. This can be through a book club, a well-chosen meetup group, or tailored plans with a larger group, i.e. putting some healthy introvert time limits on it, even if that means making an excuse that they have to leave early.

You don't have to be outgoing in order to feel fulfilled as an introvert, but it is clearly a misconception that introverts aren't social or don't have the capacity to be outgoing. They just choose to do so in a way that suits their overall sensibility, making sure their energy needs are met and that they are sharing of themselves in a way that honors an inside-out perspective.

So, the next time you're surprised to learn that an introvert is outgoing, just remember that introversion is really only about energy. There's a whole range of how introversion is expressed, and that's a very good thing!