When I started my Masters program, one of the first tasks we did as part of one of our courses was completing the Myers-Briggs personality inventory. One of the markers on this inventory is “Extroversion” or “Introversion.” When I did the test and met with the facilitator afterwards, I found out that I had scored ALL extrovert and NO introvert. 40 points on one scale, 0 on the other. “I’ve never seen this before,” the instructor commented…
But I wasn’t surprised. I love being with people, and that’s what being an extrovert means, right? Extroverts like being with people and introverts like being by themselves? But then she explained to me that it was a little more nuanced than that. She explained that it was about where people get their energy. Extroverts are energized by being with people and the introverts are energized by time on their own. It has nothing to do with liking people or preferring your own company – it’s about what the presence of others does for you. Does it drain or renew you to be with others? I was VERY VERY high on the renew side of things.
Without getting into the pros and cons of personality tests or the Myers-Briggs itself, I can say that this understanding of myself and others was like a light bulb went on for me. This explained why I came back from large gatherings revved up, ready to take on anything. This was why a day all by myself could leave me feeling malaised instead of refreshed.This was why my introverted husband asked for a break after we had seen friends three nights in a row while I was saying: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we lived in a triplex with ALL OUR FRIENDS?”
And this is why I super duper duper duper HATE social isolation.
Even though I have known this about myself for a long time, it still took me a while to put my finger on what has been pushing back at me for the last 10 weeks. My need for social engagement is high and without it, I simply don’t feel like myself. For 10 weeks, I have been without the thing that energizes me and gets my juices flowing. Working alone at home, seeing people only through screens, losing the engagement of big gatherings is not only lonely for an extrovert – it is downright draining. It’s like walking and walking in hot weather without being able to pause for a drink to get filled up. 10 weeks of isolation for an extrovert is like 10 weeks straight of birthday parties for an introvert without ever having a night off. Without our people, we are running on empty.
Now to be clear, I know that I have things really good. I have a great house and good health and a beautiful family to sustain me. I am grateful to be able to work in a way that is safe in this season, thankful for the gift of working from home.
Which is why for the last ten weeks, I have so frequently been frustrated with myself. “Why can’t I just focus on the good things?” I think to myself. “Why do I have so little energy?” I wonder. “Why can’t I seem to manage to do and accomplish more?…” “Why am I so often despairing when I have so much for which to be thankful?”
And then I realized something. Besides the obvious fact that, you know, we’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and life is chaos (home schooling sucks, yo), I am an extrovert. FORTY OUT OF FORTY ON THE SCALE! I don’t do so well without people.
And that meant I had to accept something else: this is not a season of strength for me. This is a season where I will feel the pull of my weaknesses, where it will often feel like an uphill battle, where I will need to accept that my energy is lower and my sense of self is challenged all the time (this also is MY LEAST FAVOURITE THING – accepting limitations is high on my list of things I hate).
To my chagrin, I admit: This is hard. I can’t do as much these days. It’s weird for me to acknowledge. I have said “no” to more things than I have in years. No to things I would normally love to do – like gathering people to support each other, or meeting with someone who needs ideas or taking that extra course I thought I could manage. I have low energy you guys – I’m on the introvert-equivalent of day 71 of a birthday party, and it is a lot.
But here is the good thing – it is teaching me! I am learning:
- Not being able to do all the things is okay
- How introverts have felt for the last forever in an often extrovert-friendly world (I AM SO SORRY!!!)
- To let others operate in their strength in a season when I feel weaker (shout out to my husband and co-workers totally shining at this time!)
- To lean on God’s strength (God actually has a lot to say about being strong when we are weak…so there is that).
The reason I write this today is not to ask for your sympathy. I write this because I’ve talked to a lot of you feeling just like me, fellow extroverts on uncertain footing. You have also struggled in this time, and you have struggled with the fact that you are struggling. You are frustrated and baffled, weary and worried. And I want to say – it makes sense that you are out of sorts. We have lost what energizes us – we are not ourselves.
So let’s be easy on us. We don’t have to do all the things. We don’t have to make this time successful. We don’t have to be strong. We’ll be us. And we’ll get through. We’ll let go of some things and learn some things.
(And later, we will throw some serious parties. We will chat to people in stores and in lines again. We’ll visit on the school yards. We’ll have face to face meetings and get off task all the time talking to people. We’ll be the last to leave church as we hang around the lobby and our kids ask us to hurry up already. We will love being with the people!!!).
In the meantime, like so many others finding this time hard for their own reasons, we will struggle a bit. But we’ll keep at what we are doing because it is what we are called to do in this season and doing our part is important.
Keep going extroverts. We’ll get there!