I’ve been losing sleep lately. It may be the iPad I use before bed, the family things I do in the evenings, or the work issues that become silent when I leave the office and pop up again when the action stops. In the end, I think it’s the flutter of ideas that I feel compelled to think about, research, or act on. The iPad probably amplifies that (I’m typing on it now instead of sleeping on a plane) but it comes back to the kind of person I have become.
I just finished watching a TED talk by Susan Cain titled “The Power of Introverts”. I am, of course, being introspective now. When I fly, I put on headphones and tune out the rest of the world. At the same time, I’m active socially, post a good bit on social media, and do presentations for a living. A term Susan used really jumped out at me: “ambivert”. The term means someone who has the qualities of both an introvert and an extrovert. She goes on to say that a pure introvert or extrovert is probably a rare person and is probably not allowed in public. As a result, most of us are fairly healthy and fall somewhere in the middle. I suspect that most of us tend towards introversion, some lean towards extroversion, and those that have stronger ambiversion are much smaller. This graph certainly isn’t scientific. Feel free to debate it.
My early days were definitely introverted and shy. My first long term job was delivering technical training which took quite a lot of getting used to. I’d used the software I was delivering the training on but wasn’t an expert at that point. The people I tended to train were more experienced engineers and I felt more than a bit insecure speaking for quite a while. I’d get very nervous even before I made it to the city I was going to work in. This got better over time and I got better at what I did plus I came out of the introverted shell I was in more which really helps when you’re presenting several times a day to the same people for a full week.
I got into technical sales a couple years later and that differs quite a bit. Sure, you start at something prepared to be easily digestible and appealing but then you have to solve problems and look confident doing it. That’s a tricky thing for an introvert. Susan Cain went on to write a book about introverts and then talked about the subject and presented at TED. There is some irony here along with some growth and finally self-awareness. This was a similar experience to mine but I found that I no longer felt the deep jitters before a presentation. Instead, I grew so that I now really enjoy interacting with an audience and connect well with people from many walks of life.
My core still retains a lot of those introverted qualities though. I enjoy learning on my own. There are plenty of times I try to shut myself down even in groups of friends just because I need the quiet or am done with socializing for a while. I bike a lot and have gotten to the point where I ride solo quite a bit and use it as a time to unplug and think.
The other side of me needs to take the results of those thoughts and talk to others about them. I’ve been on a kick about something at work that kept me up at nights. I researched it because it bothered me quite a bit. I realized that it’s critical for our business but could really be presented positively or taken very negatively. Then I found a time to present the thoughts to a group of around 35 peers in person at a meeting. The responses I got to my extroverted and passionate presentation of some introverted thoughts that had been bothering me was incredibly rewarding.
So yes, I enjoy being an ambivert. I’ve got friends who are at both ends of the spectrum and can appreciate both experiences. The introverts have lots of thoughts flying around and can’t necessarily express themselves well about it. The extroverts like being out there and sometimes have a hard time slowing down and having quiet introspection. Again, I think most of us are somewhere in the middle. In my opininon, the more you can embrace who you are and take the time to enjoy the flip side, the more you’ll grow as a person and feel at home with yourself.
Please share your thoughts on this post, if it has any meaning for you, and if you have had similar experiences.