As I go through the submissions that I’ve gotten for the book, I am stunned by the thought, the humor, and the beauty that lies behind each one. Introverts and extroverts alike have blown me away with the care and attention they take in the answers they provide me. I’m still collecting, and look forward to the prospect of hearing from many more of you. But this submission I just had to share.

It comes from a friend of mine, Ryan, who is a hilarious extrovert. His thoughts are funny and relatable, but also thoughtful and insightful. I hope you enjoy as much as I have, and thank you so much Ryan for lending me your thoughts. Someone else had to read them.

Today, I went into another office within my department and passed a colleague’s door with the a posting on it that almost always irks me no matter how many times I see it. It seems innocent and well-intentioned enough, but it still manages to make me grit my teeth just a little. That little quarter-sheet treatise that seems to drive me up a wall is titled “10 Ways to Care for Introverts.”

The first time I saw it, I couldn’t figure out why it got me so frustrated. According to my most-recent MBTI assessment, I’m technically and extravert, but I definitely fluctuate between ENTJ and INTJ, but the introvert in me was a little offended, and the extravert in me felt incredibly guilty that there are some people out there, introvert or otherwise, who don’t feel cared for because of some way I might be living my life (the decidedly sinful and offensive things I do in my life aside). I thought about that sign constantly that day, and I thought about why this bothered me so much. Some people feel treat Student Affairs as a decidedly extroverted field, but it’s not, and I thought about a lot of the role models and people I admired in this field who called themselves introverted: my supervisor in grad school, my best friend in grad school, a well-liked colleague at UMD, and one of my best friends whom I met during my summer internship.

So, I went home and googled “10 Ways to Care for Introverts” to spend some more time working through my anger. This graphic popped up right next to one about extraverts, presumably designed to be a matching set. Seeing the juxtaposition between the two graphics helped me clarify what was bothering me so much.

First, look at the design contrast between the two. The introversion graphic is drab, with muted, muddy colors that don’t get anyone too excited. Its extraverted counterpart is vibrant (offensively so) with shocking blues and yellows where the introvert puts forth taupes and mauves. From an esthetic standpoint, these opposing graphics say, essentially, “those introverts are as grumpy as Walter Matthau, and those extroverts are as fun as Fred Astaire. Which one would I rather hang out with?”

As for their content, that is equally frazzling. Looking at all of this, introverts seem like so much work. I have to give you people advanced notice of things? I can’t interrupt you? What if what you’re saying is just ripe for interruption? It seems almost as though the introverts who made this sign (and those who endorse it) are asking to be handled with kid gloves, because even the slightest tinge of embarrassment will cause them to crumble. The extravert one isn’t any better. Publically compliment them and make gestures of affection? I’ll pass (both for giving and receiving). It’s like they’re asking to treat these people like rock stars and be their groupies, because any indication that they aren’t the best at being special would cause a downward spiral. Clearly, both of these messages are a little extreme, and probably inaccurate for 90% of the population of both groups.

So if introverts don’t really need to be handled like the Bubble Boy, and if extraverts shouldn’t really be put up on a pedestal, it begs the question: why embrace these stereotypical and sort of demeaning archetypes? Why post a sign on your door that sends the message of , “I’m inflexible in how I interact with people, so here’s a list of things you can do not to piss me off,” because I’m sure that the vast majority of introverts (and extraverts) aren’t so inflexible that they need to make decrees about what “thou shalt not” do to your introverted classmate or extraverted colleague in the style of the 10 Commandments. These graphics, and the sentiments attached to them, are self-defeating. They isolate the introvert in a way he should not have to be isolated, and they do much the same for the extravert.

Now, I understand what it’s like not to fit the standard personality type for the student affairs professional. The noble ENTJ is better suited for the corporate world, as our discomfort with emotions would make us better CEOs (or boat captains, as one assessment told me) than someone mentoring students and managing their crises. My general lack of empathy leaves some colleagues utterly flustered as to why I chose the career I did, and typically as, “Why didn’t you become something more ruthless like a mortgage broker (or a boat captain)?” So, I can understand (though not empathize) with the plight of the introvert in the world of student affairs. We are called to do what we are called to do, and 9 times out of 10, we do that very well.

And one of the best ways that we do what we’re called to do, despite our apparent incompatibility to do so, is by being adaptable. You have to know that the career path you’ve chosen isn’t going to change to fit your needs, so you have to change to fit its. I have learned how to approach another’s emotions from a more sensible place, rather than stuttering nervously when I think someone is about to start crying. And so too must the introvert adapt to find success and satisfaction in the field of student affairs. I don’t think that introversion is “the lesser preference” of the two, I don’t really see how one can be better than the other, and I think that introverts, simply by being themselves, have a ton to bring to their chosen path. But there is always going to be that group presentation, or that group brainstorming session, or situation that needs you to finish what you’re doing immediately, and that needs to be accounted for. Just like I have to cautious of being too overbearing, or insensitive to be successful, sometimes an introvert is going to need to push themselves to speak up when it’s needed, or live outside of themselves. Essentially, introversion (or any other preference) isn’t an excuse to not do your job well.

So, I get frustrated because it so often feels like introversion is being looked at as some kind of borderline disability, which it absolutely isn’t. And it’s frustrating to see so many introverts feed into that and buy into this notion that they are somehow helpless and need to be “cared” for. The introvert is not an injured fawn, or the bird with a bad wing. He’s a human, with all the God-given strength of will as any other human. So the notion that the introvert (and the extravert) needs some kind of special care is a little insulting, and also overly simplistic.

2 thoughts on “Reflection from Ryan: Why “Care” Is the Wrong Word

  1. I don’t know if “hilarious extravert” is the right thing to call me, but I’ll take it.

    And feedback/reactions are more than welcome! I’d love to engage in some dialogue.

  2. “Care” is absolutely imprecise, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily wrong.

    I’d like to add that the onus to “care” is as much on the person as on others. Awareness of one’s own quirks will help them help themselves and others in ensuring their needs are met. My self-care needs professionally are different from my needs with Girl Scouts, are different from my needs at home, and *I* am really the only person who can (most of the time) make enough sense of those needs to express them to others.

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