I resisted Facebook for a long time. For some reason I didn’t want to join what appeared to be the latest trend that everyone was addicted to. My wife had joined and seemed to enjoy it. She occasionally showed me a funny video or told me something that she had discovered an old friend was up to. I thought I was too busy for that stuff. So I resisted.
But one day the curiosity got the best of me and I created an account. My genuine intention was to see what everyone was up to and never make a post. If anyone under 30 reads this, the next thing I say may not make sense. But those of you over 30 will possibly relate. I’m 44 and I joined social media for the first time when I was 28. At that time it was a “trend” (tame by today’s trend standards) among those in my circle to post a picture and a comment that described a meal you were having or some pleasant moment in your day. A picture of a cup of coffee beside a good book. “Enjoying a relaxing cup of Starbucks and my new spy novel.” A picture of that steak on the grill. “Grillin.” A picture of a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of orange juice. “Heart healthy breakfast.” These peeks into the lives of the people I followed were oddly fascinating to me.
Predictably, one day I broke. I posted a picture of my sandwich, coffee and latest book while sitting at Barnes and Noble. “Chillin at BN with the new James Patterson novel.” I could not have predicted what followed. A flood of comments. “I love Barnes and Noble!” “What kind of sandwich is that?!” “Is that book any good?” “Dang how about some coffee with that cream!” I went on to NOT read any of the book and barely touch my sandwich. Instead I enjoyed chatting with friends about all of the mundane elements of my little moment at Barnes and Noble.
Another day at breakfast with my wife, I took a casual picture of my eggs and posted them. “I like my eggs like I like my Saturday mornings. Over easy.” Whatever that means. My wife: “Why did you post your eggs? Why would you want to tell the world what you are having for breakfast?” Me, genuinely confused: “Why would I NOT want to tell the world what I’m having for breakfast!?”
And there in that moment is a fundamental difference between introverts and extroverts. Clearly I am an extrovert. I would enjoy sitting in the middle of a room and chatting with a hundred people about how I like my eggs and my latest favorite book. My wife is an introvert. She likes her books like she likes her eggs. In private. She’d probably rather I not mention her in this article. Oops.
I’d like to share just a couple of thoughts with you about taking care of yourself no matter if you’re an introvert, extrovert or an ambivert. Extroverts tend to thrive off of interaction. Whether it’s on social media or in person, we love being around people. It energizes us. But extroverts need to pay attention to self-care. We may thrive on social interaction, but we need boundaries. You can overdo it. You can give too much and burn out. The way an extrovert can tell they are running on a low emotional tank is pretty simple. When you start dodging people in the grocery store and pulling your car into the garage to avoid the neighbors, something is wrong. Interestingly, the way to recharge isn’t sitting in the food court at the mall and absorbing the social energy. Instead, I suggest taking a page out of your introvert friend’s book and pull back a little. Unplug from the masses. Be careful not to isolate yourself which can lead to depression, instead focus on connections to those closest to you. Know who your two or three people are that support and energize you. Spend meaningful time with them and ease back to the masses.
Here is some encouragement for my introvert friends. I know the world tends to reward extroverts, but you need to know that your introversion is not a weakness. It’s a superpower. You are a thinker, and you appreciate privacy. You love boundaries and thrive when everyone respects yours. For you, the pandemic quarantine has been oddly refreshing. Maybe you have discovered that working remotely is your dream job. The world needs people like you who are contemplative and secure in themselves. You don’t need a room full of people to be happy, you’re enough all by yourself. Unfortunately your job or friends may require you to venture out from time to time and “people.” It’s not a weakness that “peopling” exhausts you. It doesn’t mean you are antisocial or unfriendly. It just means you are an introvert and you need to recharge after being out and about. Plan your schedule accordingly. Going out Friday night? Plan a quiet Saturday morning. If you have a social job, don’t plan evening activities that are social too. Or at least limit them so you know you can count on four or five quiet evenings a week. Consider your home your charging dock. Enjoy the fact that you can have a quiet cup of tea in private and you don’t even have to post it on Instagram.
I consider myself an extrovert with a high appreciation for introversion. Maybe that makes me an ambivert, someone who can enjoy a crowded room or a quiet evening alone. I love the idea of quiet private time when I can think, write, or read. I know those times are healthy for me. I haven’t even scratched the surface in this article concerning all there is to know about introversion and extroversion. My goal here is to encourage you to know yourself. What energizes you and what drains you? How can you plan and organize to prioritize self-care? Understand that what drains you is not a flaw or weakness, it’s just who you are. Knowing and being confident in who you are is the first step to thriving.
One more thing: Parents who have had success discovering these strategies can be a huge blessing to their kids by sharing what you know. Helping young people understand what energizes and drains them can be a key to them grow in self-confidence!
Dr. David Walker is a local school counselor and graduate student in the master’s in social work program at Idaho State University. He lives in Pocatello with his wife and three children.