I used to think introversion was something that needed to be “fixed.” But I was wrong — and finally stopped pretending to be an extrovert.
When I was younger, I had this idea that introversion was something that needed to be “fixed.” That mentality stemmed from being an introvert who was also sometimes shy (two different things!). Sometimes, I felt like I wasn’t doing “enough” to put myself out there, be assertive, or have fun. And, honestly, I didn’t even fully understand my introversion back then. So I inadvertently “faked” being an extrovert.
Years ago, I wrote my college application essay on how I’d come out of my shell in high school, in part because I’d started to accept that I was a “quieter” person. But I don’t think I fully grasped the nature of my introversion — or fully accepted it — until I was well into my 20s. “Extroverted” was still something I’d aspired to.
Throughout my late teens and into my early 20s, I’d experience Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) if I didn’t have weekend plans — like doing something quiet on a Friday night was somehow uncool.
How did I get to the point of feeling like I was (or needed to be) more extroverted? In college, I felt — and probably seemed to others — a bit more extroverted, which I think may be natural in an environment that has constant built-in social situations. It’s easier for some introverts to be social if those opportunities are constantly right there in front of us… but it can also be tiring.
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Discovering I’m an ‘Extroverted Introvert’
Sure, in college, I went to my fair share of dance parties and other lively campus events, like concerts, and I have some great memories from those experiences. Some of my favorite moments from those years, however, are quiet game or movie nights, long talks with a small group of friends, and lazy Sunday brunches. My late teens and early 20s involved wonderful experiences that I’m thankful for every day. But, at the same time, some of those experiences hid the more introverted side of myself not only from the world but from… myself.
This is a story of self-acceptance, and of remembering the moments when I started to “get” myself as an adult. Moments when I stopped trying to be an extrovert and embraced being an introvert. In doing so, I also grew to understand that I’m somewhat of an extroverted introvert, and that some of my behavior was genuine rather than “fake.”
Throughout that process of understanding, I began to discern which aspects of my personality were the real deal, and which were just me trying to fit into an idea of “the extrovert.” I wasn’t the usual life of the party, but I wasn’t in the corner either. (Okay, so sometimes I was in the corner hanging out with the host’s pets rather than the people, but the point is, I’ve accepted myself for who I was — I don’t need to be the life of the party.)
Here are five ways I learned that striving for some mythical “extrovert” ideal was not something I wanted or needed in my life. And I still don’t.
5 Ways I Stopped Pretending to Be an Extrovert
1. I liked (and needed!) time by myself after a busy work week.
Not long after I got my first full-time job, I realized I was often tired on Friday evenings. In my job in higher education, I frequently needed to be outgoing, participate in high-stimulus environments, and spend long periods of time with others.
In those situations, I found myself not trying to be more extroverted, but drawing on the parts of my personality that already felt more natural to be social. It was fun making genuine connections with others as part of my workday. The extroverted aspects of my job also involved not being at a desk, which was a plus!
Yet at the end of the week, I found that I liked sitting out on the porch with a book and glass of wine. When I wasn’t working, I found being alone relaxing and restorative. Outside of work, I also spent an increasing amount of time exploring my new city, taking Saturday mornings and afternoons for myself to go out and about — alone — and get lost in a bookstore or park myself in a cafe.
In retrospect, I see that this new routine was a part of my necessary introverted recharging. My early-to-mid 20s were a time when I began to appreciate my alone time and understand that it was not “uncool” to spend time alone on the weekends. (Also, I started caring less about what others thought, asking myself, “Who defines what’s ‘cool’ anyway?” More about that below!)
2. Large social gatherings started to be… less fun.
In my late teens and early 20s, it was always about having something to do on a Friday or Saturday night. Like it was weird to stay home for one — or both — nights. (Which I now, by the way, do not think is weird at all — being at home on a weekend night is wonderful.)
After college, and then a year abroad, no longer spending time regularly with people who knew me well, the idea of making small talk with strangers at a party late at night was just… nope. I wasn’t a fan of going out to crowded bars and clubs and distinctly remember a few moments in my 20s when I wished I was somewhere else, like in a cozy pub with a small handful of friends.
My social energy levels were something I began paying closer attention to. Perhaps spending more and more time by myself also helped me recognize those levels more clearly. When I felt relief at getting home to my quiet room and putting on a movie after a social or work event, I knew something had shifted — both with my general priorities, and with how I was understanding myself. I enjoyed social time (to a point), but my alone time (and my own space) had become a sanctuary in my adult life.
3. I had more naturally-occurring independence as an adult.
I remember distinctly, at barely 21 years old, the first time a friend described me as “independent.” It stuck with me for sure (and was one of the more perceptive things someone recognized about me, which, as an introvert, I deeply appreciated!). But I didn’t understand my full potential on that front until I was an adult who had to rely on myself more than ever. Adults have to do a lot alone. That’s just… adulting.
Relying entirely on myself for getting things done naturally led to more alone time. I didn’t have time or energy to “try” to be an extrovert — and no longer had interest in doing so! Also, realizing just how thoroughly I could choose who I spent time with, and when, and how I spent my time in general, was a wonderful self-discovery. My independent nature was a key factor in destroying any impulse toward wanting to be more extroverted than I naturally am.
Now, in my mid-30s, I still don’t feel like an adult all the time. But if I were to compare myself today to myself 15 or so years ago, it’s a dramatic difference. Part of that difference comes from recognizing how well the natural independence of being an adult suits my introverted personality.
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4. I made big plans (like traveling!) alone.
Even though this topic could go under “Spending Time Alone” or “Independence” above, I’ve set it apart because traveling has been so central to my life — and to realizing I didn’t need to be a “fake” extrovert. And because I love traveling. Like really, really love it.
In fact, I studied abroad in college and spent a year teaching English overseas after graduating. But I didn’t understand and appreciate just how much travel meant to me until I started taking solo trips.
For nearly every trip — except day trips — that I took while living in Europe in my early 20s, I felt like I always had to have someone else with me. I just thought that that’s what you did. Solo travel — what was that? Sure, I’d traveled alone to get to a destination where I was visiting someone else, but I hadn’t taken a trip entirely on my own.
And then two things happened: One, traveling solo became a key part of my first full-time job, and two, on the brink of my mid-20s, I spent several days alone at the end of a trip to Europe. And I loved all of it. Those experiences made me see that I could enjoy traveling alone just as much as with others.
When I take trips with others these days, whether for fun or for work, I’ve enjoyed myself and have made some fantastic memories. But the solo trips are the ones where I have to rely entirely on myself, ensure I’m entertained and happy, and that I get safely from point A to point B. And, when traveling solo, I can make my trip as introvert-friendly as possible, without feeling the need to fill it with more extroverted experiences.
5. I started caring less about what others think.
Last, but certainly not least, I have to give a special nod to that wonderful adult moment of realizing that you just do not care what other people think. This is something that both introverts and extroverts experience. But, for introverts, it’s also freeing us from any expectations to fit into a mold of what we “should” be — yep, more extroverted. (Plus, fun fact: Introverts get more introverted with age!)
I can’t remember the moment when I realized I no longer cared about what people thought of me. Maybe it was when I took a couple of solo trips, or maybe it was as simple as turning down an invitation to go out somewhere (on a Friday night, no less).
It was probably a combination of a few things, but the feeling was empowering, and it helped me embrace being an introvert with a few extroverted tendencies — and one who didn’t need to become any more extroverted.
Understanding Myself and My Introverted Personality
Part of how I ended up as a “fake” extrovert in my teens and early 20s was because I didn’t understand that 1) it’s more than okay to spend time by myself; 2) I don’t need other people to enjoy myself; 3) being a “quieter” person, an introvert, is not something that needs to be “fixed”; and 4) I love spending time by myself and actually need it to recharge, both physically and mentally.
And, once I understood these things, I was able to distinguish the genuine “extroverted introvert” aspects of my personality from what I thought I “should” be doing. I stopped trying to be more extroverted than I actually was, and accepted my personality in all of its complexity. And I hope you do, too.
You might like:
- Why ‘Fake It ‘Till You Make It’ Is Terrible Advice for Introverts
- Yes, You Can Still Be an Introvert Even if You Have Extroverted Traits
- You Get More Introverted With Age, According to Science
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