“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice.
“Oh you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad, you’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” asked Alice.
“You must be,” said the cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
–Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Just over a week ago, I had the pleasure of presenting for the first time at the Lead365 National Conference, on supporting introverted student leaders through program design and stylistic change. This session went far differently than any other I have conducted on the topic in some very interesting ways, but I know several people walked away with good ideas on how to approach processes like recruitment, selection, advising, and evaluation.
At the close of the session, I received a question that I’m starting to get more and more lately: “what about ambiverts?” For those unfamiliar, ambiversion is very much what it sounds like- the ability to respond well to situations, regardless of the amount of stimulation they provide. In a lot of ways, ambiversion seems like the best of both worlds: social or high intensity situations take little from energy stores, and low-key or solitary scenarios are equally well tolerated.
However, while I don’t want to diminish the very real questions that are coming up about this hybrid of introvert and extrovert tendencies, my response to this is much like the cat’s above: we’re all ambiverts here.
“There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.” -Jung
From a purely biological standpoint, the determination is made by if your brain responds more favorably to dopamine (the neurotransmitter that shows up in higher quantities in extroverts) or acetylcholine (the neurotransmitter that shows up in higher quantities in introverts). But the fact of the matter is, everyone has both. Everyone needs both. Even the most social and effortlessly gregarious person you know likely needs to take time at the end of the day to recharge, and even the most retiring or otherwise reserved person you know has moments of seemingly uncharacteristic liveliness.
What’s more, the activities that we tend to ascribe (at times wrongly) to each type, are by no means out of bounds of either type. I am just as troubled by assertions that extroverts are less insightful or thoughtful counterparts, as I am by ones that imply that introverts like people less than their extroverted counterparts. A common refrain from me on this topic: “No skill or ability is out of bounds for either type.” The only difference is energy.
There are activities and circumstances that pull more energy from some people than others. For extroverts, it takes a great deal of energy to do things in solitude or less energizing places, energy stores that are restored when they return to stimulating environments- loud places, places with people, places that they can pull energy from. For introverts, it takes a great deal of energy to operate in spaces that have more going on- often the very same circumstances that give energy to their extroverted counterparts. But at the end of the day, the need for both stimulation and recharge is common…and every person needs both.
So what does this mean for students who are finding their space within what seems like an unforgiving binary?
Regardless of what type students identify as, encourage them to monitor the spaces in which they feel the most focused, productive, and successful. These are likely the spaces that either give them energy, or don’t tax their energy stores as much. Comparatively, encourage them to monitor the spaces in which they feel tired, worn down, or otherwise depleted. These spaces are the ones that are taking energy away from them, ones that tax their energy stores excessively.
Then, help them brainstorm ways in which they can learn to moderate their energy when going about these activities. For example, ask extroverts how they handle expectations of restraint in classrooms, or how introverts speak publicly if it’s something that doesn’t come naturally. While I write often about managing energy as an introvert, there is also a need to teach extroverts their version of these skills when they’re in spaces that might pull energy from them. Developing these skills is essential for preventing the pigeonholing that can often result from identifying as one type or another. And these practices are beneficial for everyone, no matter what’s going on (literally!) in that head of yours.