Personality is difficult to define; its definition often varies among theorists and psychologists based on their own studies and can vary depending on the angle taken to examine it. Most theories identify personality as a consistent set of traits unique to an individual that control and cause one's actions and reactions which are expressed through thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Sound complex? That's because it is. Often confused with character or temperament, personality encompasses so much about a person – their emotions, their preferences, their pastimes, their interactions – that it is impossible to sum up someone in just one word or with one characteristic. Describing a personality can be just as complex as describing the word itself.
With multiple definitions come a multitude of ways to test, measure and classify personality. One widely accepted system of classification divides an individuals' personality into two types: extrovert and introvert.
This categorization examines one's behaviours and attitudes towards the outside world and oneself. It is most often believed to exist on a single continuum with one side more dominant than the other.
So are you extroverted or introverted?
Extroverts are energized by other people and outside experiences. They are outgoing, enthusiastic and talkative. Extroverts seek
out social interaction, becoming more energized as they interact and tend to be bored when they have to be by themselves. They are naturally themselves in large social settings and take pleasure in being with other people.
Introverts, on the other hand, prefer to spend their time completing solitary activities or in the company of small groups or with close friends. This doesn't mean they dislike being social; introverts may love being around others but it is most often draining for them. This drain of energy is what causes most introverts to enjoy – and require – their alone time.
Unfortunately, the word introvert itself often carries a negative connotation. Being introverted isn't synonymous for socially awkward, shy, or lonely. It's simply the tendency to be predominately concerned with one's own mental life. This in contrast to extroverts ho thrive off what is outside the self instead.
“Most people have a misunderstanding of the definition,” explains Alan Kearns, founder and head career coach of Career Joy. “Introverts like to recharge by themselves and extroverts recharge with people.”
So does being an introvert or an extrovert matter? Well, yes and no. These personality indicators may dictate how you act in situations and how you react to people but they don't necessarily predict how successful you may be or what you may be good at. They may, however, explain why you are happier completing certain tasks or prefer to attend particular events.
“It's understanding what [introversion and extroversion] means and then understanding how to manage it. It's leveraging whatever style you're more strongly aligned with,” says Kearns.
When it comes to the working world, extroverts tend to thrive in industries that require outgoing and confident individuals. Extroverted individuals don't have trouble verbalizing their concerns and can move on from them as they are dealt with. Many environments are more suited to those who work better with an audience, when leading a team or in a busy workplace. They often succeed in jobs that have a high level of interactions with others throughout their days which may include networking, interacting with customers and group work.
Those with extroverted tendencies may excel as managers, teachers, sales people, politiciansand in jobs that require them to build relationships, solve conflicts, or communicate to large groups.
Introverts tend to thrive in industries that require independence. They are usually great listeners and require little social interaction to be satisfied in their jobs. They tend to observe before participating and think before speaking, a beneficial quality depending on the situation. Quick conflict resolution may not be their strong suit as much thought is required before responding. Introverted individuals often succeed in jobs that demand extensive alone time or an increased amount of computer work such as researching, reporting or analyzing.
Many introverts are artists, writers, engineers and inventors and excel in careers that involve working with tools, working online or working on one activity at a time.
While it's easy to default to a certain type and use it as an excuse, Kearns cautions against this way of thinking. “Personality is often overrated in workplace strategy and ability is often underrated,” he says. “Career choices are often made with a very strong sensibility around personality but less sensibility around ability. You have to integrate both. Both need to work at work.”
“Introverts can make very good leaders,” notes Kearns, “but people think that the extrovert is always a leader. That said, you need to pay attention to your style, you need to honour your style, you need to work with your style. Leverage it.”
But don't be too quick to judge someone – or yourself – based on what personality type an online quiz reports that you are. “We make huge life choices based upon two letters: I or E,” says Kearns. “But we are multidimensional people and you have to understand the full complete person: their personality and their abilities.”
It's important to remember that introversion and extroversion are just one of the many ways to describe one's personality. Being an introvert doesn't mean you're just like all other introverts, and, consequently, it doesn't mean you will only succeed in jobs that seem suited to the introverted type. Assessing what brings you satisfaction, what fits with your lifestyle and what your strengths may be are more important than fitting a certain type or living up to a label. You define your personality, don't let it define you.