Inside this introvert is an extrovert trying to get out.
June 22, 2009 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Inside this introvert is an extrovert trying to get out. Help me.

For all of my life (30+ years) I have been shy and lacking in self confidence. I have a hard time meeting new people, am somewhat reserved, and find it difficult to act in an uninhibited, spontaneous manner.

The strange thing is that I hate being introverted, and I love opportunities that I have to be extroverted. When I can break out of my inertia and go to a party - the wilder the better - I generally have a great time. I am very good at and enjoy teaching and public speaking, and don't feel particularly nervous about either. When I have played team sports, gone out dancing, etc., I have generally enjoyed myself a great deal. These kinds of things leave me feeling energized rather than drained. If anything, I experience a real letdown afterwards, when I return to my everyday life, which seems so bland in contrast.

The main dilemma I am facing right now is that I have arranged my life to comfort my introversion, and thus in a manner that seems to inhibit my nascent extroversion at every turn. Someone once answered an AskMe question by saying something like "look at who you surround yourself with - that is who you are." I surround myself with shy, awkward people, who are unresponsive to my attempts at being positive and social. I am in a profession (academia) that is dominated by awkward, introverted people. Most would really rather be alone most of the time, and respond to new ideas with criticism and negativity. I have a partner who is quite wonderful, but deeply inhibited and introverted. Our relationship is stable and warm, but there isn't much spark or passion. Most of the social events I attend are quiet, tepid, superficial affairs; most of the people I interact with are reserved, awkward, critical, and passionless; there is very little joy and passion around me, and every time I try to ignite a small fire I feel it being snuffed out. I feel like I'm living in a world of snark. To top it off, I recently moved to new city in which I am far away from old friends and, because of cultural differences, it is quite difficult to meet new people.

My question is: how do I change this? I know that it starts from within - that I have to be expressive and extroverted if I expect things to happen - but I feel like these efforts are just being wasted, like I'm shouting at the ground. I feel like I have a lot to give to people and projects, but I can't do it all on my own, and I can't find others who want to share experiences with me. Every time I make a small effort, it feels wasted. Is there a special secret world of passionate, energetic people that I just don't know about? How do I find them?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
These kinds of things leave me feeling energized rather than drained.

You're not an introvert. You're a shy extrovert. Many people think shy means introvert, but that is just not true--the two things have nothing to do with each other.

So the solution to your problem is the typical solution to shyness. Talk to people even when you'd rather not, and surround yourself with outgoing people who will be responsive to your attempts to socialize. Since you're in a new city now, you have an opportunity to start over. Reach out to a coworker, start a conversation with a neighbor, say hi to people you pass on the street. If you see someone who appears outgoing, talk to them. It sounds like you really are most interested in making friends with outgoing people, and in my experience there is never a shortage of people like this.
posted by Lobster Garden at 10:14 AM on June 22, 2009 [16 favorites]

Your instinct is to keep to yourself and decline invitations. Well, when your partners says hey why don't we blah, blah, blah. Just say yes. Even though you really want to say no. Just say yes. Or if there is something that you know your partner would love to do, do it for them.

Here is a link to an article that describes introverts like you and me perfectly. You are really fighting your nature.
posted by mokeydraws at 10:15 AM on June 22, 2009

woops - after a second read I want to agree with Lobster Garden. An introvert feels totally drained after having to be social.
posted by mokeydraws at 10:17 AM on June 22, 2009

When you say that your efforts to be extroverted are "wasted," what do you mean exactly? Do you mean that you try to engage the people around you in activities, but they all just say "no....thanks anyway" and you end up doing nothing?

If this is the case, then you're just directing your energies to the wrong people, and you just need to find the right people. Fortunately, there are a couple ways of finding the right people.

* is a great resource for finding groups that gather to participate in just about any activity you can imagine. It's free to register, and once you do, you can search in your area for groups that deal with any possible interest you have -- book clubs, comic book discussion groups, movies, writing groups, sports, board games, you name it. Some cities even have groups for "people who are new in town", which sounds like it would be doubly apt.

It is totally free to join each of these groups, also -- just click on a button or send a message to the coordinator, and you can get access to the mailing list which then sends you a message whenever they have their next event. You are under no obligation to show up at any one of these events, either -- so it's entirely possible that you could join a group and then just not have time to show up at anything for a year. You can also leave at any time, just by going back to the site and taking your name out of that group's membership list -- no harm, no foul.

I did that a lot last year when I was looking to expand my social circle -- I signed up for a lot of different Meetup groups, tried each one out once or twice, and found a few that seemed like I wanted to stay with them; I just quit the rest. I've thus managed to find a great book club and a bad movie club, and I'm having a great time.

Finally, most people are used to a new person in the group being a little shy, and so even if you do hang back and observe for most of that initial meeting it wouldn't seem out of place.

* Second idea: volunteer! Most organizations looking for volunteers aren't necessarily too specific when they're looking for volunteers, because they're usually desperate for help. There are lots of organizations in your community I'm sure would be thrilled to have some kind of volunteer help -- nursing homes, hospitals, animal shelters, food banks, zoos, museums, you name it. There's also an organization called "One Brick" which is active in a couple major cities (I think San Francisco, New York, and maybe Boston); they maintain a calendar of events held by groups which only need a volunteer for just that one day, so you don't have to sign up for any long-term commitment -- you just state that you want to be a volunteer at this dog show, you show up, do taht event, and you're done.

Actually having a thing to apply yourself to can also help with any introversion, I'd wager --- you don't necessarily have to be "on" because you and everyone else around you is too busy stuffing the envelopes for the food bank mailings or walking the dogs or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:18 AM on June 22, 2009

I think you should start by reconsidering your perspective on the terms "introverted" and "extroverted". I don't know that its so much "how" you act, but as you put it, how "(t)hese kinds of things leave me feeling energized rather than drained".

According to all those silly personality-type tests (who knows maybe not so silly), that's the definition of an extrovert - you are energized by engagement. So maybe its even easier than you think; maybe you just need to be yourself and ensure that you are doing very social things. And that's not that hard, really - in a new town you can do meetups or join a rec team or volunteer. Reading your question I am convinced you don't really need to "change" yourself, but slightly adjust your surroundings.

And there is no secret world of passionate, energetic people. There is a secret world of people who put themselves in passionate, energetic places.
posted by RajahKing at 10:19 AM on June 22, 2009

Although I'm a bit younger than you, I can identify with the way you feel. Most of the time I am content with sitting around at home, etc. But when I do get the momentum to go out there I enjoy myself.

Look up clubs or groups in your area that interest you. Commit to going to the meetings/events if you like it. I think theatre is a great way for introverts to come together and be extroverted.

I don't know if you could talk your partner into it, but perhaps a dance class would be a good way for both of you to get out there a bit more, in a fairly non-threatening way.
posted by JauntyFedora at 10:19 AM on June 22, 2009

Seconding Lobster Garden: you're a shy extrovert. There's no necessary connection between "shy" and "introverted," or "not shy" and "extroverted." (Thus, there are shy extroverts, and there are non-shy introverts.) "Extrovert" = interested in spending large proportions of your time socializing in a variety of groups of people. "Shy" = often uncomfortable socializing. No contradiction there.

Leil Lowndes has a couple books full of tips that might be useful: Goodbye to Shy and How to Talk to Anyone. A lot of her suggestions are offbeat or gimmicky, but even when I disagree with her advice, I at least find it thought-provoking.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:05 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's not for everybody, but if you can handle Jim Carrey you might watch the movie Yes Man. It's got a bit of schmaltz of course, but you may see yourself in it.
posted by rhizome at 11:10 AM on June 22, 2009

Many people think shy means introvert, but that is just not true--the two things have nothing to do with each other.

As a shy introvert engineer/computer geek turned gregarious extrovert surrounded by friends, I disagree with every fiber of my being.

An introvert feels totally drained after having to be social.

Socializing is A SKILL like any other, like playing the guitar or distance running. Being good at it requires a ton of social observation and empathy skills -- if you're not used to doing them, they are HARD, require intense concentration, can be frustrating, and they will drain you mentally. Look, if you've never run a step in your life, running even a mile is going to be draining. But for a marathon runner, a mile is a joke. Similarly, if you never get out of the house, a simple dinner party can be impossibly daunting. But for a social butterfly, a dinner party may even be boring -- it's too easy, not enough social stimulation.

The good news is that, as a skill, socializing can be learned. But you don't go from couch to winning marathons in a week. Like other skills, you gotta start out simple and work your way up: make 15 seconds small talk with the cashier at the grocery store. Chat it up with your bartender. Invite a co-worker out to lunch rather than eating at your desk. Have a few people over for a movie night. Meet people after work for cocktails. Go bowling even though you're terrible at it. Sing karaoke in front of a room full of strangers. Give a speech. Kiss a stranger. What I'm saying is: Start easy, build from there.

Just like any new skill, you're going to suck at first. But you know this going in. Keep at it. Learn from your mistakes. Try different things. But keep pushing yourself. Don't get too crazy all at once, but do things, progressively, that make you just a little socially uncomfortable, and give yourself permission to fail. (Social Fail = look like a fool, piss people off, hurt somebody's feelings, etc.) It's practice. All of life is "practice". This is an iterative process. Keep at it; it takes time. Years. A lifetime. Think "continuous improvement" rather than "taking a class".

And please do try to make more social friends. Observe them, watch what "works" (gets whatever results you find desirable) and what doesn't, and emulate them. Social friends can be great mentors. Non-social friends can reinforce anti-social habits and explicitly discourage your social development.

Check out Dale Carnegie's book, "How to Win Friends And Influence People". Here's a cheat-sheet, but the general theme is you need to stop worrying about your own self-esteem and start worrying about boosting other peoples'.

And if you're a guy, I highly recommend David DeAngelo's work. It's geared and marketed towards the end goal picking up women (and hence regarded as TEH EVEL here on Mefi), but the means to that end is generally to become a more social person. If, as a man, you master the skill set, you'll pick up guys as friends and followers the same as you pick up women as friends and lovers.

I really, really wish there were schools that explicitly taught this stuff.
posted by LordSludge at 11:12 AM on June 22, 2009 [14 favorites]

I'm going to generalize here. I think that self-talk or analysis of "how to be extrovered/social" is the biggest problem introverts, including myself, run into. At time, we want to be social and outgoing but don't know what to say. Or how to say it. So we live inside our heads and try to think of the perfect thing to say or wait for a good opportunity to be social, which really defeats the purpose. You need to learn to act and speak without thinking.

I've noticed that, in a lot of cases, shyness and introversion is a case of social anxiety that can pretty easily be overcome by getting a little momentum.

Go to a mall or city street or any place that there are a lot of people. Walk around and ask a stranger what time it is. Then find another stranger and ask them. And again. If you're anything like I was, you'll feel some resistance before you do it the first time, but after 15-20 times you won't even think twice about asking. You'll do it without thinking.

Once you're "warmed up," tell someone you like their shirt and ask them where they got it. Or ask them a different follow up question after you ask the time. Everything will start to flow once you're in a talkative state. In my opinion, being in a talkative state just removes the resistance you have to talking to other people. I get like this after a few beers because the alcohol kills my self-talk and lets me live in the moment. Getting in a talkative state does the same thing... it just puts me in a jazzy state that I really enjoy.

After a while you'll get warmed up a lot quicker and it won't be so difficult to talk to people, but I think going out and asking strangers harmless questions gives you social momentum and some progressive desensitization to help get over social anxiety.
posted by PFL at 11:28 AM on June 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

You're an extrovert. Introverts do not typically feel energized by lots of people (on the contrary, we need some time alone to recover from it). One of my best friends was just like this when I met her. She loved being around people, but was shy about meeting new people. I gave her two pieces of advice:

1) Always assume that wherever you go, you're going to have fun. This means the DMV or happy hour. Just think that you will be the fun table and you will subconsciously look for ways to make it happen.

2) Pretend you are the kind of person who really likes to meet new people until such a time that you don't have to pretend anymore (following advice #1, will help with that tremendously). Keep telling yourself over and over that you really like being out and about and meeting new people. Whenever you feel hesitant about going somewhere, say to yourself, "That's silly. I really like being around people! New people are great!" Do this every single time you try to keep yourself at home.

This advice worked for my friend anyway. She's a partying fool now :)

Good luck!
posted by Kimberly at 11:29 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I found myself in a similar situation a while back. I've been a table-top Role-Playing gamer for a long time, and eventually got into Live RPGs (or LARPs, for short). My first two goes at this kind of gaming, I played a personality / character that was close to my real-life self. I had fun, but only tepidly so.

When the time came to make another PC, I decided to try something else, and rolled up a character that was a complete extrovert - an over-the-top, exuberant, happy-go-lucky bundle of social energy (a gypsy con-man, flirt, and card-sharp). Once I started acting out the part - it wasn't ME being this way, it was the character - I had a BLAST. My friends were amazed I had it in me, and a lot of social walls fell down. When I came back from playing the persona, I'd still maintain some of that exuberance and social outwardness that I normally lacked, and could move forward being happy with life.

I eventually toned down what was an almost cartoony personality in the role, but the idea is still there - I got to say things I would never say in Real Life, and get away with it because it was the character saying it, not me (i.e. - I could be a shameless flirt and not be embarrassed). I never went so far as to cross any lines of taste or decency, or offend anyone else in Real Life, but the opportunity was enough to make me enjoy both the game, and myself when it was over.
posted by GJSchaller at 12:03 PM on June 22, 2009

I'm not sure introvert/extrovert is so black and white. I (I can't be the only one) go through periods where I love to be out in public, meeting new people, but I still need to be alone for a couple hours a day or I get totally drained and cranky.

Basically, I guess, make sure you get out and socialize when you feel like you need to (other people have made great suggestions for how to do this), but also make sure you take care of the introverted part of you (if you've gone this long thinking you're an introvert, you probably have one) or you'll burn out.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:21 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Join an amateur theatre group. You can help backstage if you don't want to act, or help with technical stuff or costumes, even prompting can be good fun. You get to be around buzzy people and the project length is short so you don't have to commit huge amounts of time for indefinate periods.

It's a really good way of mixing in a low pressure environment (you've always got the show to talk about!) so you get to flex your social muscle as much or as little as you feel happy with. Many universities have a theatre group - drama geeks are everywhere once you start looking...
posted by freya_lamb at 3:55 PM on June 22, 2009

Nthing Lobster Garden. However, I don't think its fair to view introversion in the negative terms the thread has. If extroverts are energized by company, introverts are energized by solitary activity. This doesn't have to be about what exhausts you, but just about what motivates you.

If you are actually energized by solitary activity and company, than don't bother labeling yourself. If you're shy, than follow the advice upthread.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 4:14 PM on June 22, 2009

Is there a special secret world of passionate, energetic people that I just don't know about? How do I find them?

What a great way of describing this! But it's not super secret, even if it feels like it is. It's just that you just don't cross paths with them very much, yet, so they're not yet a part of "your" world. But if you want them to be, then they certainly can be! There's no secret password or anything. :) Like you said yourself, it's just a matter of choosing to spend your time around those types of people.

I have definitely found that certain communities will attract more passionate, energetic people than others. These communities usually involve a lot of social interaction and/or emotion -- such as social dancing, sports, politics, community service, etc.

Conversely, other communities draw in quieter, reserved people. In my experience (and yours, it seems), academia is usually one such community. And if that's what you've been immersed in, I think it would do you good to go get involved in some communities that are totally different than what you've been doing.

To elaborate a little, a couple years ago I went through a realization sort of similar to yours:

I had some roommates who were PhD candidates at a top-tier school. (I was not in their program; I had a job instead.) They spent their life doing research, and despite their inevitable complaints, I think it is what fed their soul. They thrived in that isolated, quiet environment. Now, at the time, I was convinced that we should all be friends. They were my roommates, we shared a mutual friend, and they all seemed to be good friends with each other. So why not me? But we just were not clicking, and I truly thought that I was a failure in the friend department. Something must be wrong with me; they are all friends, so why not me?

Thank goodness I happened to make another friend through work. She introduced me to her other friends, who were people who had been in the workforce for years, in jobs that required a lot more social interaction than a research-based PhD. These people were very outgoing and they genuinely enjoyed interacting with people, including a geeky stranger like me. It opened my eyes to what it's like to be friends with people who get energy from other people. And I realized that *these* were my people. I truly enjoyed being around them; they made me feel energized and excited. I didn't even know I could feel that way around friends. (isn't that sort of sad?)

Anyway - with these people I noticed that I was more natural, more myself. Whereas with the roommates, I realized I'd been dampening my natural inclinations since my way-of-being just was not endearing myself to them. Ultimately, I think we were just cut from a different cloth.

And so I sought out more people who like to be with people. The specific way that I found it was through social dancing. (Swing, especially.) And that has just turned my life around in ways I can't describe. I am living an energized life now! It's not perfect, but it's certainly feels a lot more natural than before! Which makes me feel a lot more alive, a lot more confident, and I'm just a lot more content and at peace with myself.

But it's not just dancing that has people like this. Go spend your time doing activities and interests that attract the type of people you want to be around. (ideally, they should be things that you like, too!) Some ideas are in my first paragraph, but you might also look at places like yoga studios (or maybe even the gym?), a running club/sand volleyball or any other social sports group, maybe a travel club? An adult education class, which might have young individuals open to meeting new people?

And I think you will find that the more you're around people who are energized by people, the you'll see that come alive in yourself. So don't think that it has to entirely "come from within" before you get yourself out there. Being out there will help it thrive in you.

good luck!
posted by inatizzy at 11:00 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

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