labels, mental models, making myself legible
First of all, I can never tell if it’s spelled “extrovert” or “extravert.” Is this an American spelling thing? As the title suggests, I’m going to lean on the latter spelling, because it dutifully expresses a key part of how I feel about myself: I’m extra as fuck.
I’ve never really enjoyed the dichotomy between I and E. That you would either find socializing draining or rejuvenating. It’s left me in a bind, challenging both my self-reflection, self-knowledge, and my process of relating, expectation-setting, and context-building with others. I carry in me a few distinct, yet superimposed models of self, and calling myself an extravert has always felt incomplete and leading.
But sure, I do love talking to people! Sure, I have my friends and confidants, but I have also always found myself comfortable in the presence of strangers. My parents instilled in me a deep-seated drive to perform, to do the needful, to show up and execute on, to exceed expectations. That means: at some pre-teen age I showed up at a family friend’s 60th birthday and gave an impromptu speech about my relationship with him in front of ~100 of our community members. That means: I could teach a programming framework a few days after starting to learn it myself, fumbling through my own mistakes and misconceptions with limited grace but maximum humor, earnest, and effort. That means: I performed an Indian song in front of my entire elementary school and our parents, even though the stage rehearsal had every student burst out laughing at me. That means: put me on a stage and put me around people and I will go, go, go! I don’t diminish myself, so long as I know I’m performing. Because afterwards, I get to walk off stage and collapse.
But being socially capable, being able to perform isn’t the same as being extraverted, at least not by the typical definition. Sure, I do have the capacity to go entire days around other people. I love people. I love talking, listening, doing activities together. I love doing our own thing while sitting in the same room. I have historically struggled to leave social gatherings; there’s always more connection to be found by staying. I’ve historically struggled to leave relationships. I push the people in my life to be more authentic, intimate, vulnerable. I push people away—I fear—because I demand a particular level of disclosure, and I model it myself. I am extra as fuck. I can’t stop talking about my feelings, and I bring this into every space I occupy.
I know this behavior can have a positive impact on others: when I share more of myself, it makes it okay for someone else to see that as acceptable, and perhaps they might share too. But I also fear sometimes that this is behavior that isolates people from me. That they feel disconnected by the way I communicate or present myself, that they question my authenticity, that my taking up of space actually has the opposite effect, and I perform acts that are hard to follow. And people are ready to label me with that E, something I used to take as a point of pride—I’m social! I belong!—but I now see as furthering my confusion.
Because at my happiest, I’m making ample time for myself. Me time, spent browsing the internet, reading, making music, cooking, running, singing, exploring, is when I am the most me. When I’m connecting with folks on that deeper level, the one I try to push social interactions to, I am able to be the most me. So, am I actually introverted? For a while I called myself a “social introvert,” someone who actually needs his own time alone to recharge, but has social skills and enjoys using them. But I don’t know, it feel more complex than that.
Recently, a coaching instructor referred to extraversion as “you need to express yourself out loud to know what you think or feel about something” and it feels like a weight has been lifted. I do relate to that! And though it adds more to the pile of “you might equally be extraverted or introverted or something else,” it also takes the pressure off. We’re complicated beings. We don’t need to fit cleanly into boxes or spectrums or whatever one framework will rule them all, because there are far more truths out there than we can reckon with. And the more I talk about and think about this thing, the more likely I am to be able to express my interior model to others. And, I can only hope, this helps the people I love investigate and express their own models.
To more of us getting in touch with ourselves.