I had just finished giving what I thought was a contemplative, well-researched and powerful speech surely worthy of adulation from my peers in one of my literature classes while studying for my master’s in English. The fact that I was pink-faced, still a little shaky and with an imaginary cottonball lodged in my throat didn’t matter. This time I was feeling really good about my presentation. I had nailed it, I thought. I knew George Orwell inside and out, and I let my audience know it in several different ways. As I walked ever so gingerly back to my desk relying on my slightly wobbly legs and sporting a restrained smile and a wisp of hair standing straight up from the sigh I exhaled, the lovely young woman sitting in the desk behind me who was a good 20 years my junior with wide eyes, quietly said to me, “I felt so sorry for you,” as she looked sympathetically at my flushed face and stress wrinkles on top of my age wrinkles.
So, this was my foray back to college after attaining my bachelor’s degree a couple decades earlier down in the nation’s capital. Humbling.
Some might be surprised to hear me call myself an introvert, while others will be equally perplexed when I mention my name and extrovert in the same sentence without the usage of not. Especially those forgiving souls who so kindly watched me suffer through various oral presentations, all the while flushed and with clammy hands.
Welcome to my inner conundrum. I am an extroverted introvert. No, I’m not suffering from a bout of schizophrenia or a split personality nor have I received a professional diagnosis of this label. As far as I know, it’s not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a bible of sorts from the American Psychiatric Association better known as DSM that was first published in 1952 following the aftermath of World War II and the ensuing bulging need for more psychiatrists to care for the shell-shocked and demoralized.
As an extroverted introvert, I can crack a joke with the best of them, and I genuinely enjoy being with people and socializing. However, flanking that side is another one where the thought of being the center of attention sickens me at times and making a dramatic entrance does not interest me in the slightest. I shy away from bold prints but ask questions that others wouldn’t dare. I love to go out dancing but shrink at a surprise birthday party for me. I shake behind a harmless college desk in front of an audience of only 15 but boldly have entered a gymnasium filled with hundreds of stranded residents in a sea of wayward cots and strangers.
Yes, I’m an extroverted introvert, and I’m pretty sure many of you reading this are nodding right now and saying that sounds like me.
All I can say is embrace it—the same advice I would give to an extrovert who unabashedly can entertain a crowd of 200 without so much as a one degree uptick in his blood pressure. Embrace the fact that you are a chameleon that changes with each environment and you keep people guessing. We all have limits. It’s just that some are wider than others. At times, you’ll find your extroverted side will surprise your introverted one, and vice versa. That’s okay. It is those steps outside our comfort zones that make us stronger—no matter how far the distance is.
So, as I sit here alone typing away at my computer while thinking about what fun plans I’ll have this weekend with friends and family, I challenge you to embrace both your extroverted and introverted sides and everything in between.
And by the way, I wound up getting an A on my presentation that evening. Thanks Prof. B.