iStock / sinseeho
Julia Ugarte
April 18, 2016 9:18 am

As an outgoing yet bookish athlete, I’ve never thought of myself as completely extroverted, nor completely introverted. I have always craved solitary pursuits like reading and writing stories, but for years had a solid four-hour practice schedule six days a week for team sports like soccer and gymnastics, and I loved that too. I was quick to laugh and never quiet on the field or in the gym. I invested my heart in these teams, and I wasn’t afraid of standing out. I was five-feet nothing of unapologetic energy.

Somewhere between high school, college, and a career-ending knee injury, those traits — my garrulousness, my silliness, and my fearlessness — were naturally replaced by more workplace-friendly traits. I learned to keep my head down and developed dogged diligence and a quiet calm. These things remained dominant when my first daughter was born. They lent themselves perfectly to my new life working from home, unbothered by awkward workplace exchanges or long commute hours. Plus, I got to be with my new baby — on paper, my life was perfect.

The problems with this new way of living didn’t erupt like an explosion or a breakdown; they seeped in slowly, insidiously, so that I hardly realized they were there until one day, I was deeply unhappy. I worked when my daughter slept, during her midday naps, and after she went to sleep. As I spent the rest of my time adjusting to the monumental task of being a new mom, I didn’t have much time or headspace for social activities beyond learning how to survive Target with a newborn. I almost never saw any other adults apart from my husband. When I was finally done working for the day, it was late at night and I certainly didn’t have the energy to go out. I didn’t think I needed to; it felt selfish when there was so much else to be done. I could make myself happy, right? Right.

This went on for several months, until one morning I woke up feeling gray and miserable, and unable to identify why. No amount of time out of the house to recharge my batteries did me any good. Brunches with my friends and Sounders games with my brother brought me momentarily upwards, but it was always short-lived, and so I thought that these things were not part of a real solution. Throughout that time, I could not put my finger on what was keeping me feeling so out of place in my own life. I was doing exactly what I planned — what I thought I wanted — and I was succeeding, so why wasn’t I happy? I had disappeared into a life that, by sheer force of will, I was making work and deciding I should like it.

Then, one day, my husband sent me a personality test for fun. He said his was spot on and he wanted to see if mine would be, too. I clicked through the questions, didn’t think too hard about the answers, and waited for the site to calculate my results. I fully expected to be an INFP or a similarly bookish introvert label to reinforce that I was living the closest way to make me happy, and life was just hard right now.

To my shock, my result came back as overwhelmingly extroverted. I took it again, this time with more care, and it came out exactly the same. This test said I loved being around people and helping others in any way I could. This test said I thrived on the right kind of attention, and would be frustrated to be stuck alone with no one to talk to. Suddenly, all the things I viewed as happy memories of just being young took on a whole new meaning. Being a part of a collaborative group and a team wasn’t just something that was fun because I was a kid; it was something that helped me be the best version of myself. It was okay to want to go out and be around people, not just because it was nice to see my friends, but because it was what gave me life and energy.

Within a few days of this shift in perspective, I felt the grayness that had clung to my shoulders for so many years finally lifting. Just by acknowledging that I was a gregarious person in need of human contact and social activities, I was already seeing my priorities in a different way, and adjusting accordingly. Soon, my life began to fill back up with color. I found myself laughing more and stressing less. I slept better and ate better. I still love my time to read, write, and listen to the occasional podcast all by myself. However, I’ve also learned I need to push myself to find activities like book readings, writers’ conferences, and perhaps the occasional rec soccer league to make me exercise the skills and traits that make me feel most like myself — the ones where I’m a little bit loud and silly, and I sit down next to people and make them notice me.

There’s nothing wrong with being either an introvert or an extrovert, but it is essential to be honest with yourself about which you are. There’s no stuffing yourself into a box that isn’t really you, because eventually, you’ll discover you just don’t fit.

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