I recently read a book on introverts and their precarious place in a society that relentlessly encourages outgoing, always-on uber personality types among its members. Starting in school then continuing throughout life we are taught the importance of being extroverted and personable, outgoing and confident. Shyness is associated with weakness. Being thoughtful is perceived as slow to act. Don’t expect to get what you want if you are not able to dynamically sell yourself and your ideas.
In many ways, our world reveres the extrovert. Kids of all ages navigate toward peers who are the most self confident and outgoing. Gregarious in-your-face Uncle Bob is the favorite relative. In the work environment it’s the player with the best presentation skills and personality who tends to rapidly ascend the corporate ladder. The reality is those same perpetually confident individuals may not always have the best idea but still get their way because they do the best job selling that inferior concept. It’s not easy being an introvert in a world where the loud talkers grab all the attention.
While reading the book I thought of myself and where I might fit in the whole introvert/extrovert discussion. And how, I wondered, might my particular personality leanings play out in retirement.
At a high level I am an introvert. Kind of unexpected considering my career was in sales. I am comfortable being alone and rarely challenged when it comes to entertaining me. Whether engaged in my daily exercises or reading from one of what are typically 3-4 books under way or walking the neighborhood or just sitting in the backyard, I keep busy on my own. I do not feel any particular emptiness due to a lack of personal contact during my typical retired day. I find plenty to do on my own and the list keeps growing
People talk about missing the social aspect of “the job” but I am not so sure. I admit interacting with co-workers keeps it interesting – you never know what hot gossip you are missing unless you are there in the middle of things. Sometimes an eventful weekend is more special when shared with those around the Monday morning coffee machine. But when I compare the benefits of that regular social interaction with the “costs” associated with work – stressful quotas, long boring meetings, office politics, and the endless competition to climb the corporate ladder – I am not surprised that the retirement option for me is preferred.
Although an introvert at heart, I also very much enjoy getting together with friends for an evening out or attending a San Jose Sharks game. I love to make people laugh (that old hint of Robin Williams I used to be known for during college days). I can even hold my own at cocktail parties although small talk pretty much loses its interest after an hour or so. It’s not that I don’t like people but rather that I am okay on my own.
Is it okay to be slightly introverted in retirement? I think the answer is yes (at least I hope so) as long as you have sufficient worthwhile activities to engage yourself mentally and physically. If you are self sufficient, you are less likely to become bored since you do not rely on others to fill your dance card. You are free to do what you want when you want for as long as you want. If you lose interest in an activity, you move on. I accept it can be dangerous if you let your natural introversion become an excuse for hiding from life. You don’t want to be so afraid of interaction and stepping out that you lock yourself away. I don’t fear for my particular situation. My slightly more extroverted wife will make sure I do not find myself in such a predicament, keeping the social calendar filled with a smattering of events, dinners, shows, and other things outside the home.
Does an extrovert have better odds of living a happy retirement? After all, they find it easy to interact and typically build expansive social networks throughout life. It would seem a natural extension to continue building those networks once retired. Being connected with a wide variety of people makes it easier to fill your day with lunches and outings and events. Free from the shyness that hounds some introverts the extrovert retiree is comfortable trying new things and meeting new people. If that retirement lifestyle sounds like your cup of tea it does not hurt to tip toward the extrovert side of the scale. But if you are an introvert, forcing yourself to live a role you are not comfortable with might not necessarily be the way to go.
I don’t think that there are too many 100 percent introverts in the world. More likely people tend to lean one way or the other but are a mix of extrovert and introvert. I don’t believe there is any significant advantage to be more one way or the other. But knowing which way you are inclined can be helpful. If you are introverted you realize trying new things and meeting new people may require a little extra effort. You can better understand where people may find you slightly put-offish or uninterested when you are far from it. But you are also more likely to be self-sufficient at a time in life when many struggle for a clear path to follow.
Whether you are introverted or extroverted or somewhere in between, knowing your true nature can help you leverage your strengths and confront areas of weakness. Better informed and self aware perhaps you can improve your odds of living a retirement that is the best it can be.