In Defense of Extroversion: the value of interpersonal connection

facebooksizedenthusiasmIn Defense of Extroversion: the value of interpersonal connection

Extroverts have been catching a lot of flack in the past few years. In a number of circles in which I run, there’s been a movement to support introverts and people’s inherent need for quiet, introspective time. I am in full support of this movement and have personally benefitted from adding some quiet alone time to my routine. And it’s been important for me to hold more space for the introverts in my life, who may not be as outspoken forthright with their ideas as I am.  I’d just like to call our attention back to the other side for a moment, in the spirit of pursuing the “middle path.” While humans need alone time, we also need each other. And the Quiet Revolution doesn’t actually recommend withdrawal from community and connection. I think sometimes this acceptance of introversion can be misconstrued and result in the elimination of friendly interactions that could be seen as “superficial.” Connection is a vital part of what it means to be alive, and relationship is an essential ingredient to a balanced life. Connection and relationship take many different forms.

In case you don’t know me well, I am an extrovert by all definitions. Maybe I was born this way, or nurtured into it by my very supportive family. I was the oldest of three kids, and near oldest of lots of cousins, so when I learned to talk, there were lots of adults eager to listen. I got the message over and over again that people cared what I had to say. So I kept talking. Over the years, I’ve learned that people might not care quite so much about allll the things I have to say, and I’ve also learned that other people who have great things to say may not always be so eager to share.

I’ve learned that many of these people classify themselves as introverts, and rightfully so. While I generally feel energized and invigorated by connecting with other people, they feel drained by too much interpersonal interaction. I do too sometimes, I just might not have always noticed. We all have different capacities for different types of engagement. I have trouble reading, for example, because when I slow down long enough to pick up a book, I am often so exhausted that I fall asleep.

So, over the years, I’ve been practicing more yoga and meditation, trying to make time to be alone—to read, and to practice the guitar. I even went ten days without talking back in December, and plan to do it again some time in the coming year. I’d like to reflect, from my quest to know myself, that knowing and connecting with others continues to be a vital part of my inner journey. I would venture to say that it is for everyone—even the most textbook introverts.  But definitely for me. And for some reason I’ve come to feel some sort of shame around my desire to connect with people. Like I should be leaving them alone, to enjoy their individuality.

This week I have been attending events in Boulder as a part of Boulder Startup Week (which is awesome, by the way). The startup and entrepreneurial community is where I hear a lot of this introvert/extrovert conversation happening, as well as the yoga community, of course. As I look around at the array of product developers, software engineers, investors, executives, and writers, I see a lot of humans. We all have a lot of reasons not to talk to one another: we’re tired, we’re processing information, it’s raining, it’s time to get to the next session, we’re nervous, or we’re just feeling awkward. But what if we connect anyways? Who decided we needed to happy about every aspect of our life before smiling at our neighbor? Who says we need to be established in our career before asking someone for support? Where did we get the idea that if we aren’t completely in our element that we don’t matter? I have been consciously challenging this resistance to connect.  After noticing the fact that it would be totally acceptable to pass someone by without a word, I’ve tried to make eye contact with people, and at least say hello.

Overall, I’m a smiler. My smiles are pretty sincere, even when I’m having a rough day. I figure that even in the wake of a breakup, a tragic accident, a heart-breaking news story, or an overdrawn bank account, there is pretty much always something to smile about. Like the fact that I just made eye contact with another human on this planet. Or the fact that I’m breathing and living in Boulder, CO. I know this can sound trite, cliché, cheesy, blah blah blah. And I’m not suggesting that we all run around flashing disingenuous toothy grins at everyone we see. I just feel like smiles and small talk have gotten some bad press lately, and I’d like to point out that connecting with people can be fun, inspiring, and energizing for all of us—not just extroverts. It’s the reason that we don’t all live in caves alone. We were designed to work together, designed to connect, designed to love and support one another. And no matter how different we seem, we really are all in this together.

And this post is by no means intended to be a definitive treatise on human interaction.  So please, interact with me– what do you think?

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