It’s 10 PM and the party is just getting going. The music is getting louder and everyone’s moving towards the dance floor. The drinks are flowing, everyone’s smiling and laughing – they’re having a great time.
But as everyone else is revving up, my energy is fading and I want to go home.
For the longest time this was a real dilemma for me. I didn’t understand why I was always the first one to leave a party.
What was wrong with me?
I have lots of friends and I enjoy being with them. When I get an invitation to a party, I’m excited. But as the date draws nearer I’d find myself wondering if I had the energy to go – knowing it would be a late night and how exhausting it would be.
Then one day I came across an article about ambiverts. I was thrilled – this was me… I’m an ambivert!
Contrary to popular belief no one is 100% introverted or 100% extroverted. Carl Jung who popularized these terms said “such a person would be in an insane asylum.”
All my life I considered myself to be an extrovert and that meant no room for anything else. So when my extroversion would turn into introversion, I struggled to understand it.
Scanning the Brains of Introverts and Extroverts
Researchers have found several differences between the brains of introverts and extroverts and the crux of it comes down to how you gain and lose energy.
Extroverts get energy by being with other people. They need to be around other people in order to feel good and that’s because their brains are less sensitive to the neurotransmitter dopamine. They need LOTS of dopamine in order to feel good, get energy and be motivated. When they are alone or not doing anything very exciting, their dopamine levels drop off leaving them feeling drained and deflated.
Introverts, on the other hand, lose energy being around lots of people and are easily overstimulated. It doesn’t take a lot of dopamine for them to feel the effects and too much can leave them feeling overwhelmed (once again, too much of a good thing can be bad – even our beloved dopamine).
The brains of introverts prefer a different brain chemical, acetylcholine, which makes them feel calm, relaxed and content. Acetylcholine can act as an inhibitory neurotransmitter (depending on the adjoining cell it can also be excitatory) and acts by dampening down the effects of too much dopamine and other excitatory neurotransmitters. Introverts refuel in quiet, often solitary environments, basking in the calming feeling of acetylcholine.
Ambiverts, as the name implies, are a bit of both. We like the burst of dopamine and the good feeling of being stimulated, but not for very long. That initial boost of energy that made us feel good will fade. We will then become overstimulated and our energy levels will drop. At that point we don’t want more dopamine, instead we want the comforting effects of acetylcholine to bring us back into balance and restore our energy levels.
The Ambivert’s Dilemma
I have a good friend who is as close to being a full extrovert as you can get. I remember her saying once that she never said no to any invitation as she “didn’t want to miss out on anything.”
As an ambivert I wrestled with this for a long time, I don’t want to miss out either. So while the extroverted side of me wants to say yes, my introverted side is calculating the energy costs and starts screaming no!
No matter how much fun something seems like it’s going to be, if I don’t have the energy, I’ll be miserable. It took me awhile to fully embrace this.
I now know if I have a busy day, packed with meetings and clients then I need a quiet evening. But if my day is relatively quiet, then going out for dinner with friends sounds great.
I no longer feel “I’m missing out,” by leaving the party early or not attending at all. Maintaining a positive balanced state of mind is my priority and I have a much greater appreciation for how that’s maintained.
Embracing Your Temperament
Wherever you fall on the extrovert/introvert spectrum, it’s important that you know where you are.
If you’re an introvert, don’t despair and feel like an outsider – some of our greatest minds are/were introverts: Einstein, Warren Buffet, Ghandi and Eleanor Roosevelt. Do you think Einstein would have come up with the Theory of Relativity staying out late, partying with all his friends?
For my extroverted friends – you don’t need a whole lot of comforting about your gregarious nature; extroverts have always gotten the best press. But it’s still helpful to understand how your energy needs are met and why being alone is not an ideal situation for you.
Ambiverts on the other hand have the best of both worlds. We can step into any social setting and make new friends easily. But we don’t need the company of others to feel good – we can be just as happy being alone. We are good talkers, but equally important good listeners – a necessary skill in almost any profession and particularly needed in leadership positions.
Being an ambivert is a big advantage in life, as long as you know when it’s time to switch gears.