People who know me are aware that my normal introvert inclination toward a social event involving more than a few friends is to search for a polite excuse. I don’t dislike people, I just find large numbers of them gathered in one place somewhat overwhelming. This is especially true when I don’t know most of them. My store of casual chit-chat is rapidly depleted during the “social hour,” often leaving me and my partner in conversation stranded in a stupor of inanity, both (for different reasons) searching for rescue.
Thus you could reasonably expect that I might stutter and stammer and run a hundred miles from a public speaking event. However, I do not, because I have a secret that I suspect other introverts share. I am a situational extrovert. That’s a trendy-sounding term I came across awhile ago that in my case is really just a stand-in for “closet show-off.” I score off the charts on the introvert scale, yet when I’m asked to take center stage, when it’s my role to be the focus of attention, my inner performer rises to the fore.
I spoke last week at a local library event attended by maybe 40 people. The week before that I guested at a well attended book club. Both events were really fun, even though both called on me to function as an extrovert would — circulate before the meeting and be comfortable delivering a program and/or fielding questions. It’s the situation that pulls out the extrovert in me. That’s not to say that public speaking comes as easily to me as it does to extroverts — those friendly souls who speak with easy confidence, even though they may have no idea where their words are going to lead them. It’s quite the opposite for me. I have to think and organize and make sure I’ve got my material down cold. But once I do, I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.
Now, I don’t think I could do that 24/7, because part of my pleasure in the whole center stage thing is the blissful retreat to peace and quiet when the event is over. But when I let my undercover extrovert self out for awhile, I’m usually rewarded. At the author event, I reconnected with two women from different work areas of my life that I might never have seen again, had I not accepted the invitation to speak. I also met several nice people and as we talked we discovered unexpected links to each other, in that six degrees of separation way that small towns like mine afford.
So the moral of this story is, we’re not all one thing or the other, neither absolute extroverts nor immutable introverts. There is some of each in all of us, and it’s good to shake things up once in awhile. Let your extrovert flag fly now and then, if you’re inclined toward introversion. Or take a break for some solitary reflection if your usual approach is group engagement. There are satisfying rewards to trying a different way of walking in the world.