The Unwitting Introvert: Why I Thought I Was an Extrovert

I grew up in a large Midwestern family. Translation: your business is everyone else’s business. Your time is everyone else’s time. The bowl of mashed potatoes only lasts so long, so get it while you can. My family (myself included) was (is) uproarious and opinionated with little sense of spatial boundaries and few temporal luxuries. Between my brothers’ baseball games, my sister’s and my volleyball or softball games, my musical rehearsals, youth group on Wednesdays, church on Sundays, and every micro-catastrophe in between, it was miraculous to pass an hour uninterrupted (and I even had a room of my own! Tell me what went wrong, Virginia!) And that’s just taking my immediate family into account. My family tree is really a forest, so Christmas party attendance is rarely less than 50 on both sides of the family. Midwesterners are breeders, what can I say? I was frequently surrounded by crowds of people, and I thought I liked it. I actually thought I was an extrovert.

Another element that contributed to my fake extroversion was my family’s “status.” I’m not talking about wealth or political prowess. My father is the executive pastor of a church of over 6,000 people. Six. Thousand. Plus. I don’t remember going out for dinner without running into at least three people we knew. More often than not, we didn’t actually know them, but they’d seen my dad’s face at church. (Many “Heeey, yoooouuu…” moments occurred.) On a Sunday morning, we were often late to service because we couldn’t walk ten feet without someone stopping us to chat. At seven years old, I was drinking coffee just to keep up and by the age of eight, I had mastered small talk.

I was also a part of my youth group, so I led worship, a small group of my high school peers, and weekend retreats. I sought more leadership roles by traveling to other countries to help build orphanages and plant churches. I went to the same church camp my dad and grandfather had attended every summer. Nearly every arena of my life was peppered with people who knew my family.

Put simply, I was conditioned to be a people person. It was ingrained in me that my job as a human being was to love other human beings, to bring love into the world, and to seek out people to love. Which of course is all very lovely. For all I knew, these things put together meant I was not only extroverted, I was super extroverted. A few years of introspection and space have taught me that I was living an extroverted lifestyle, but I was a closet introvert.

What I struggled with

In high school, I didn’t understand why I was emotionally spent all the time. Three years into college, I took a semester off. I’d been depressed and anxious the entire year, and I needed a break to figure things out. I moved home for a few months and ended up seeing a therapist. Therapy helped me begin to understand that I have no obligation to be this ultra-social, solve the world’s problems single-handedly, be Jesus to everybody, anxiety-ridden person. It can be simpler than that. I can let go of who I’m not and embrace who I am.

Then, a wonderful thing happened–I got my own apartment.

I transferred schools, moved to far-away Seattle, and lived alone for the first time. It was glorious. Everything in the 422-square-foot room was mine. I came and went on my own schedule, I stayed up late and got up early, watched Netflix in my underwear, and went to poetry readings by myself. Did I mention it was glorious? I continued to reflect on my true qualities. As it turns out, I’m an INFJ personality type by about a 1 percent margin in each category. However, a little DNA tweak and I could have easily been an ESTP.

I recently read 10 Signs You’re an Extroverted Introvert and it continued to sink in: people are never just one way or another. It might be easier to categorize, give labels, and draw lines, but there is too much variety in life for any one definition of a person to hold true at all times. Call me cocky, but I like to think that I’m much more interesting than just this or that.

What I still struggle with, what I appreciate now

Which brings me to the struggle and redemption of having grown up living an extroverted lifestyle as an introvert. I found it impossible to achieve balance growing up. I thought people were either one way or another and that I had to choose between my natural inclination and what I thought was expected of me.

My post-college life has taught me that I can have my moments of condensed social interaction and my quiet evenings alone without feeling like my entire identity is wrapped up in one or the other. Because of what I learned as a faux-social butterfly, I can small talk with the best of them and sometimes turn it into a meaningful conversation. I’m not afraid to speak my mind if I feel like it. I make a very good hostess. I also say no to social engagements that I would have felt obligated to attend a few years ago. I let myself have time to recuperate after socializing, especially after being with people who don’t know me well.

I’m in control of my own chaos.

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Read this: 21 Undeniable Signs That You’re an Introvert