psuedo extrovert

Put simply, a pseudo-extrovert is an introvert pretending to be an extrovert.  But for many of us, the word has a much deeper significance.

Donning the cloak of extroversion has become a way of life for a lot of introverts.  It helps us fit into a culture that favors charisma over character.   It allows us to avoid being labeled as shy, anti-social and weird.   It is our swipe card into every place where the “extrovert ideal” prevails (which is a lot of places).

The power of an extroverted personality

From an early age we recognize the power of having an extroverted personality.  We learn that to be popular, successful and attractive, you must be an extrovert.

In childhood we notice that smiley, talkative children are favored.  As teens, our hormones beg us to try on a more attention-grabbing personality. If we don’t succumb to pseudo-extroversion in our youth, we are certain to do so in adulthood.

We act extroverted in an effort to land that job, which is calling for enthusiastic, outgoing, multitaskers.   We searched, but couldn’t find any ads for quiet, singletaskers who prefer to work alone.  Bummer.

Likewise, we wear the mask of extroversion in social situations.  We learn to speak louder, laugh more and take up more space.  We might even enjoy getting our extrovert on every so often.  After all, it does get us what we want …right?

The grass isn’t always greener

The problem is, sometimes the things we want can transform and turn on us.  The luscious apple we’ve been coveting becomes poisonous.  The people we strive to emulate turn out to be just as flawed and human as ourselves.  We are left to wonder, what now?

I can’t help but be reminded of countless cheesy makeover movies (ie. Clueless, She’s All That and The Princess Diaries). The story is always the same.  An unattractive and awkward young woman (or not-so-classy prostitute in the case of Pretty Woman) is transformed.  All of a sudden, she is beautiful, popular and more confident.  Oh yeah, and she finds true love.

Everything is wonderful until she realizes that (OMG!) money and beauty don’t solve all your problems.  It turns out that her fake self attracted fake friends who never really cared about her.  Somehow, true love still prevails, but let’s not focus on that.

My point is that giving yourself an extrovert makeover can have similar outcomes.  It might get you what you want, but not what you need.  The grass is not always greener on the other side.

The side effects

In the past, I devoted a lot of energy to trying to be more extroverted.  Being a pseudo-extrovert helped me get jobs, make new friends, and network.  The benefits are undeniable. But like the makeovers in movies, much of what I gained was superficial or temporary.

Those jobs that call for outgoing, enthusiastic people kinda suck if you’re not actually outgoing and enthusiastic.  Trust me, I know.  They also have the side effect of leaving introverts feeling drained and inadequate.

In the social realm, pseudo-extroversion is pretty much expected.   When I have the energy, I enjoy being more extroverted.  For very short periods, I can even be bubbly.  The problem is that people who meet me when I’m “on” are very confused by my introverted behavior later on.

This occurred a lot when I used to compete and perform as a salsa dancer.  People would see a glittering, sassy version of me and assume that was my true personality.  Men, in particular, were disappointed when they discovered that I do not, in fact, spend my life winking and giggling as I sashay along a trail of glitter.  Unless I’m very comfortable with someone, I am usually serious, reserved and quiet.  I am an introvert through and through.

The energy factor

The other factor to consider is energy.  All the energy you invest into being more extroverted equals less energy for other things.   The mind is not a limitless resource.  For introverts, the overstimulation that comes with being a pseudo-extrovert can tire our brains.

For me, constantly trying to be more extroverted caused a creative drought in my life.  The energy I put into acting out of character robbed my creative reserves as well.

It is difficult for introverts to switch quickly between tasks (hence the inability to multitask).  Likewise, we can’t just flick between a more introverted and extroverted personality without any consequences.  We lose time, energy and focus every time we act out of character.

Having said all this, I do realize that acting extroverted is necessary at times.  If you feel the need to act as a pseudo-extrovert for a little while, here are some things to keep in mind.

Tips for the pseudo-extrovert

  • Reserve your energy beforehand – don’t spread yourself too thin.
  • Factor in the time it will take to switch gears – don’t expect to be able to switch instantly between inward and outward focused activities.
  • Recognize why you’re doing it – are you coveting a poisoness apple or something you really want and need?

Most of all, remember that who you truly are is enough.   You have unique gifts to offer this world.  The key is to recognize them and then find a place where they can shine.  As Susan Cain put it:

“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers — of persistence, concentration, and insight — to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems. make art, think deeply.”