A while back, I sat around the dinner table with several writers in an old wooden home in the secluded woods of the Virginia mountains. Most of my fellow writers at this weekend retreat were new acquaintances, and as a way to foster quick understandings of each other some began sharing their Myers-Briggs personality type. I had never taken one of these tests, thinking they were mostly a gimmick to corral folks into some kind of preordained career path or subdued moral sense of self. I was skeptical of why my fellow writers seemed to sincerely trust that four letter combo. Inquiring about my personality type and realizing I didn’t have an “official” one, they begun guessing and predicting what mine might come out to be.
“Are you extroverted or introverted?”
“What does that even mean?” I asked. This binary has always been a very confounding description of a human being. If one of my main goals was just to try to be a kind person, neither option seemed like they were particularly helpful for that. It all seemed materialistic. Internally I have always seen myself on a spectrum–never particularly inclined toward one attribute always. And yet, American pop culture seems to love the extrovert so much, and love to see the extrovert all the time, and the extrovert is always present, and you are only valuable when you are always ever visible. And the introvert is a dork and depressed and unable to cope with reality. Broad strokes. Unrealistic.
And my fellow writers asked, “well, does being in a crowded room energize you or make you tired?”
“Can it do both?” Answering questions with questions, I was reminded of my constant struggle of mitigating the almost unfathomably shy child inside me, who moved through the world so frightened most of the time, and the awesome amount of effort I put into myself to not be so damned scared all the time. Perhaps like many young women, it wasn’t until my last years of undergrad that I found myself (all the sudden it seemed) the initiator of most of my conversations. That was pretty huge for me. All that effort, indeed, helped me to be outgoing, and I like this. But the energy it takes me to be outgoing is still quite draining, and here is where I was looping in confusion. I hadn’t really understood the difference between being shy and introverted. My assumption was that I had a problem, and that problem was being shy because shy meant scared, reserved, and unable. After I wasn’t shy anymore, every other personality flaw would begin to right itself on its own. And yet, that wasn’t the case. Feeling like I preferred quiet interactions, although I was perceived as an outgoing, high-energy, party person made me distrust my instincts of how I wanted to spend my time to engage in the activities most valuable and meaningful to me.
So when my fellow writers said, “Yes, it can be both,” then went “uhuh” and “I see,” I realized that what they were doing when sharing their Myers-Briggs was not an interrogation or box to stuff me into, but an invitation to speak succinctly about our needs and desires for how we were going to spend our time together. It was a lingo to express respect for each other’s personal space. By rambling off their particular permutation of those 16, they were saying that the human spectrum of emotions is complicated, and it’s difficult to talk about what our bodies and minds need without some helpful vocabulary parsing the subtleties. Through time I have been understanding extroversion or introversion as ways of cultivating mindful energy and presence. I understand that different people have different needs. We have finite resources within ourselves that can be replenished, but that takes effort and will happen in various ways–each valuable. My effort comes through opportunities to be alone and quiet, before bursting onto the scene. It is also my effort to respect the needs of others, as they respect mine, and not place judgement on their path. I’m learning that my shyness wasn’t a flaw or hindrance, but an expression of my introversion that hadn’t quite figured out boundaries yet. As if I am a child again, I am learning to listen to myself.
So, I’m an INFJ. Mix that with my being a triple Pisces and you have the recipe for one incredibly emotional and introspective person! And even though this says I’m predominantly introverted, in all reality, sometimes I’m not… and that’s just the way it works.
It wasn’t really taking the test that has encouraged me to be kinder to my body and mind though, but more the using of available resources to access the stories and experiences of others similar and dissimilar to me. Ram Dass, in his lectures, frequently speaks about using various resources and practices to help you access the depths inside of yourself. Use them for everything that is good in them, but hold off on attaching too tightly to the dogma. Of course, depending on your particular situation “using available resources” can mean a entire spectrum of who knows what and seem kind of vague. I recognize that, and know I’m not solving giant systemic problems here. I do believe though, when we engage with ourselves we are more able to serve others. And that is important too.
Where I was in my life at the time, taking the test was a pretty simple thing to do and has been unfolding exponentially in positive insights since. I want to explore far reaching personal capabilities as a way to have fun and enjoy my time with others. I want to be able to express this verbally and take time out for myself. I want to use what I have to love for love’s sake. And once I notice myself not loving as freely as I was before, I want to be able to let go and move on to the next open avenue. I feel like, with trust in your body and intuition new opportunities are easier to find. Most likely, they will be small opportunities, but those are often time the best places to start.
All in all this is a long-winded effort to say I love you and I wish you the best in this weird adventure to the middle. I haven’t written a blog post like this yet, so thanks for following along. Even more though, I deeply admire individuals who proactively seek to know themselves better, not to “fix their weaknesses” but understand their strengths and use those as a navigating light in this crazy mixed-up town. My dear friend, Kayti Burt, embodies this effort, and, in Part II, I would like to share some of her work with you.
Please click here for Part II: The Introvert Abroad.