Samantha was shocked to realize that she may be an introvert. Image from blog.k12.com.
A couple of months ago, Go Girl held a meetup in the Boston area centered around contributor Kayti Burt‘s column on traveling as an introvert. It was a cheerful night of sharing travel stories, indulging in coffee and treats, and reflecting on the learned art of traveling solo when you’re one whose energy may be drained by large groups.
I’ve never thought of myself as an introvert. Not at all. I like to speak publicly, I get sociable (and often too loud) during parties, and I feel at home in (or in front of) a crowd. I had defined my adventures in solo travel as a challenge in being alone, not in branching out. But I thought the meetup would still be a fantastic way to connect with other Go Girls and snag some valuable travel tips.
Yet, as we filled out a quick 12-point survey designed to tell us if we were introverts, I ended up with a score slightly in favor of introversion. I was shocked. Of course, the questions were vague, required strict yes or no responses, and were filled with gross assumptions (caring about wealth less than your peers is not exclusive to introverts, nor is good listening!). But I had to admit that I definitely embodied some strong introvert tendencies: I may get excited in a crowd, but I need solid alone time afterwards; I prefer not to show my (art) work to others until it is finished; and I often prefer to express myself through writing.
“A lot of introverts can pass as extroverts,” Sophia Dembling told The Huffington Post. I knew that shyness was not the same thing as introversion. I knew that the difference between introversion and extroversion was more about where you gained your energy. And I thought I still defined myself as an introvert accordingly. But is it perhaps possible that you can both gain and lose energy from a crowd? Is it also possible to change and become more introverted over time?
For some reason, this realization caused a bit of an internal conflict. Does this affect the way I see the world? Is this a new definition of my self? Is this why I spend so much time alone? If it is, that would be a much more positive connotation than ‘loner’ or ‘depressed.’ Also, does this explain why I prefer to travel alone?
In my trying to uncover secret clues that I am indeed an Introvert, I found a lot of the statements particularly insulting to (and generalizing of) extroverts. For example, while many introverts may find smalltalk to be a source of anxiety, it was also described as a source of “inauthenticity” that introverts reject. To me, this sounds like a pretty straightforward slap in my extroverted face. I too, find small talk to be annoying, but that doesn’t mean I’m disingenuous when I engage in it. Also, introverts are not the only people who think networking is awkward and phony. It is. But it’s perhaps how you handle it when forced into such a situation that characterizes your “type.” And my biggest gripe?! That the “textbook introvert” likes to jump into deep philosophical conversation about books and films. This is a preference for the philosophical, not a characterization of whether or not you get your energy from groups or alone time.
So what started as a hopeful search into my potential introverted tendencies turned into a defensiveness on behalf of my society-supported characterization of an extrovert. Though, eventually, it turned into amusement at the fact that I had ignored a big part of myself for the past couple of years.
I am an extrovert who gets excited in a crowd, who enjoys a good social mixer, who is comfortable with (and in front of) a group of strangers. But I am also an introvert who enjoys philosophical conversation, needs solid quiet time to write and reflect, and prefers to avoid tourist spots overrun by crowds in favor of isolated and unique adventures. Perhaps, though, instead of trying to define myself by one or the other, it’s simply helpful to realize I have a bit of both within me. I am an Ambivert, who can float between both styles when necessary, or an Extrovert who frequently needs chunks of alone time.
As a traveler, I find great discovery in the process of traveling solo. Whether that is because I am practicing being alone or favorable to being alone, I suppose it doesn’t matter. What is most important is that I’ve come to respect that I sometimes need more time to recharge my batteries alone, that, as I’ve gotten older, I prefer to travel alone, and that I don’t need to worry about why that is.