From third grade through graduation from Middle School, every report card was the same:
“Pamela is an excellent student, but she needs to participate more in class.”

I was a shy child, an introvert and a bookworm. I never raised my hand in class because I was never 100% certain that I had the right answer.  Today we call those students “low risk takers.” Back then I was an example of the extreme case: I was risk-averse.

Whenever I tell my children about my life as a student and about the assessments of my teachers, they contradict my story. Similarly, many people who meet me now believe me to be an extrovert.  They are mistaken.

Most people think that introverts and extroverts occupy two opposite ends of a spectrum, and they assume that all outgoing people are extroverts. This is a misunderstanding that emerged in popular culture. Psychologists do not define these terms based upon interpersonal relationships and behavior.  Nor do they view people as being one or the other; rather they define people as having dominant and recessive traits of both extraversion and introversion.  Introverts are not necessarily quiet and shy—like I was when I was younger—but tend to need quiet time to reflect, and they need to recharge after an extended period of social stimulation.

In high school, I made a concerted effort to “come out of my shell” and take risks in the classroom and in social settings.  It was not easy or comfortable to shift my behavior outward; I remember having to practice in front of a mirror, making eye contact and holding my hands steady.  It helped that my best friend, Lisa, drew me out of my interior world.

As an adult, I am quite sociable. That is a characteristic or personality trait. If you ask my spouse, he will confirm this fact and, most likely, complain about having to wait for me to leave the synagogue after services. But I find that I must recharge in solitude—I prefer to curl up with a book or take a walk alone—to recover from too much extraversion. And every time I take the Myers-Briggs test, which measures a person’s orientation toward internal reflection, my score falls squarely in the Introvert quadrant.  My results on that assessment are as predictable as my elementary and middle school report cards.

The realization that I can be a sociable, introverted person has helped me make better choices in the second half of my career and in my life, especially as a spouse and parent.

I think anyone can benefit from an affirmation of who she is.


Comments (3)

Did you ever read “Raising the Spirited Child”. The author speaks about this exact thing. It’s about how we recharge, or reflect, or take time for ourselves. What you describe here is me too!!! All through childhood, and even now. I never participated in class. Still don’t now. But, I used to get non-satisfactory in self control. I’ve made many new friends in the last year and half. When I tell them how scary it was to be a stranger at kiddush, or that I hate public speaking, or that reading Torah is so new for me, people don’t believe me. When I tell them I’m an introvert they never believe me. But I am one. Just like you.

Ann, I am not surprised at all by your descriptions of yourself here; I remember your sharing that “scary to be a stranger at kiddush feeling” with me. I used to be that way when I would go to education conferences or walk into a luncheon meeting alone. As an adult, because of my career choice, I learned to compensate for that aspect of my introverted self. I really did practice “the art of being extroverted.” Now, after many years, I no longer have to remind myself to make eye contact and smile as I introduced myself to a table full of strangers at a lunch meeting. Oh, and I love that book. I’ve read it twice–once for each of my girls–through a mother’s eyes.

I am a big fan of Myers-Briggs. I need a lot of time to myself and I love to be alone for long stretches curled up with a good book, writing or thinking, so I assumed I would be an introvert, but I score pretty high on the extrovert range because I am very energized by people. My younger son (who you know) is the opposite. He is extremely outgoing and uninhibited socially. No one who knows him at school can believe he is an introvert, but those of us who live with him seem him that way because moments after leaving a social interaction the energy drains out of him and he retreats to his room to recharge. My older son is an extrovert through and through. He is so dependent on others for energy that he starts to feel sick if he is alone for for than a short time. This is problematic at school because studying usually happens alone. This year he finally had the epiphany that he can study better if he is around other people–at Barnes and Noble or in a study group. I am glad he finally figured this out, but I wouldn’t mind if he can someday learn the art of being alone.

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