Talk to Think (or) What it’s like to be an extrovert

One characteristic of extroverts I’ve recently learned about is their tendency to “talk to think” while introverts “think to talk”. It’s possible that this is the trait of introverts that I most deeply envy. If you didn’t know, I fall WELL on the extroverted side of that scale. Way over there in the E category. Completely. Name an extroverted trait, and it’s one of the strongest guiding traits in my life.
I’ve seen a number of posts on the benefits of extroversion lately. Introverts wish they were more outgoing. Social behavior is praised. These things irk me. They often very nearly make me crazy. Extrovertedness and being social are not even close to the same thing. The only commonality is that extroverts are recharged by social behavior. Interacting with others is instantly rewarded by the boost of energy, engagement, awareness, and brilliant light that we feel. A conversation is a strong charge. A hug is a lightning bolt of energy. I am social because I am an extrovert.

Introverts are social, too. People are social by nature. Social interaction can just be a draining activity for the strong introvert. The gratification is not instant. The reward is less obvious. That does not mean there is no impetus, however. It’s just a less-strong drive. So?

There was a very long span of time in my 20s where I wanted to call a friend. “Come over, hang out, we can talk. I’ll tidy the living room and catch up on dishes.” I was living my myself, and it was utterly draining. I just wanted someone to hang out and keep me charged while I was performing these mundane tasks. Without that, things weren’t getting done. If I wanted a glass of water or a bowl of cereal, I’d have to get the cup or bowl from the dirty dishes and wash it to use it. I’m not flattering my 22 year-old self by sharing this, but it’s absolutely true. I took a job in a restaurant, not because I needed the money, but because I needed the interaction. My day job was too boring and isolated.

In this way, extroversion can be crippling. It’s like Superman being denied the rays of the yellow sun. And now there’s the talk to think concept. This is brutal. Extroversion should not be anyone’s goal.

Talk Stupid, End Smart

Introverts think to talk? That sounds AWESOME. Imagine a world where I could sit here, think all sorts of smart thoughts in my head, and then occasionally say a profoundly brilliant thing. What a dream. I’d be a skinnier, less hirsute Silent Bob. Instead, I’m the jackhole Jay, constantly flapping my gums, rarely saying anything of real consequence. And when I do finally produce a worthwhile sentence, no one is listening because I’ve been prattling on for so many ages that they’ve tuned it out.

My signal to noise ratio is crap. I say unkind things far to often (not intentionally, but because I start talking before I’ve sorted out my thoughts.) I react poorly and strongly. I usually hate quiet time. I’m incessantly needy.

My saving grace is that I rarely come off as something better than I am when you first meet me. I’m talking to think in our very first conversation, so you know what you’ll be dealing with later. Consequently, I have very patient, understanding friends. My wife, of coruse, is the most patient and understanding of all. And my son, of course, is a constant source of energy for me now (even as he drains it).

At work, things are slightly funnier. I have a picture of Spider-Man as my wallpaper on the computer right now. I work with a team of introverts (of varying degrees) who understand what a needy wreck I am. So they gave me Spider-Man to talk to so I don’t have to ask them questions I can answer myself (as long as I have the opportunity to talk myself through it). If you’re like me, you already understand what I mean. If you’re not, I don’t really know how to explain. Since I talk to think, I talk my way through problems. This often manifests in the form of me asking you a question and then answering it myself. For you, it can be extremely frustrating, but it looks like I just wasted your time. (The first time, not so much, but the eleventh time that day is slightly more tedious. At least that’s what your expression is telling me.) For me, you were instrumental in that process. I truly could not have done it without help. I don’t care if it LOOKS like you helped. You did.

It has taken me years to learn to cope with these things, and I’m still trying to find my way. I used to think I had Adult ADHD. I used to think I was lazy, too. I used to think I was a complete failure of a headcase. I thought I was a lost cause. I no longer think any of those things, but I am coming to the conclusion that extroversion is a disorder. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

This post may seem disorganized to you, but it’s done wonders for clarifying my internal thoughts. Type to think.

4 thoughts on “Talk to Think (or) What it’s like to be an extrovert

  1. Brent

    ehhh nowhere near as disorganized as my own thought process… you may have add, who knows.. to be honest i’ve taken my own adhd as a strength (with the exception of the whole interruption part.. that comes off as rude though i really do care what people are saying/thinking.. i just get excited by their ideas easily).

    People either like you or they don’t…. and if they don’t then why spend any time worrying about it. Personally I love to talk. Not to hear my own voice, but just expressing whatever might be on my mind at the time to get the opinion of what others think about whatever random idea i might be in the middle of. While you were calling people to come over what I found myself doing was taking on any project that I thought seemed interesting, or working on other people’s problems/projects….it was my way of staying ‘involved.’ I guess we deal with it in our own separate ways….nothing wrong with that. In fact your way was probably better off than mine as I ended up going a little over-board as a way of coping with a family matter a while back…but still…..even though i’m writing this from a crowded library (I love the denver library btw), I just offered to help a very old friend from ATL setup a forum for his site (….why? I actually don’t know…..he’s an accomplished programmer/designer/creative director who now is a pro-blogger. He just doesn’t know the platform that well (and i was forced to use it in a previous project inherited via a client). In between writing this i’m also making random social commentary with the guy across from me regarding certain individuals who look like they ‘might’ be looking up porn on the public computers… Extroversion isn’t a disorder. I don’t know a single person who would speak badly about you.. in fact you’re known for being ‘the hugger’…. which is a lot more than people would ever say about me.
    Don’t look down on how your personality has turned out… it’s what has made people appreciate your friendship + enjoy hanging out/chatting with you (perhaps with the exception of those coworkers). Plus you’re one of the few people who i can have a conversation with for 20 minutes, cover 15 unrelated topics and still not miss a beat. I’d be willing to bet good money your coworkers would give up, tell me to slow down, etc.. so as my dad would probably say ‘you only need people to like you enough to want to work with you. To do that… you just do the work. They’re the ones missing out when they don’t get invited to your bday party”

    cheers (and lets grab lunch later this week)

    1. tcabeen

      Brent, you’re a trip. Thanks for the comment. :D

      I’m glad you don’t know a single person who would speak badly about me. That means those people aren’t raising a big stink about it or posting billboards. They’re out there, though. The good news is that I’m not terribly worried about it.

      The point, really, is to maybe help some introverts understand us a little better, and to have at least one small contrary voice out there against that silly argument that extroversion is somehow better. Bah.

      Lunch would be splendid. Maybe I’ll come your way (as if you’ll be at the library all week) and we can hit Taki.

  2. Jamie

    I am so scatterbrained right now that all I can respond right now is !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I have so much to say. I don’t even know where to start. Who knew you and I were alike in this case. I read this post wondering if I had typed it…but the web address kinda said otherwise. Wow I had no idea you suffered from all this stuff too!

    I talk to sort out problems too. I’ve considered a second job to fill up time. I live alone and talk to myself. I also need ears that let me (without judgement!) rant, vent, talk, philosophize (I do that A LOT) or just speak in hypotheticals. I react strongly and cruelly too. :-/

    So glad I’m not the only loser. :D Wait….that came out wrong. Dammit think to talk fail!

    Seriously though, extroversion is not a disorder. Why would you focus on the negatives about it? I don’t see it that way and I’m a pretty negative person. :D I like that I’m verbal and vocal with everything. Sure, people dislike me or think I’m a bitch sometimes but if I didn’t speak my mind, I think it would explode. I’m not even kidding. How many characters can I put in th

    Just kidding.

    Growing up, I was Silent Bob. Only spoke to add something witty or sarcastic (that part never changed about me through the years)…as I got older, I realized how much I needed to speak up! Sometimes I still don’t speak up when I have to….but it’s more about timing than content. I think THAT’S the bigger question to tackle – WHEN to speak up.

    Forget all that “I’m cursed”, disorder, coping with extroversion like it’s some STD you caught from a ho, you can totally use this to your advantage! You just have to use it wisely and tactfully. Work on that and you’ll be fine.

    I still haven’t mastered that part. I speak up which is GREAT but need to work on timing. Sometimes I speak up too late….which ends up being meaningless b/c that window has passed.

    I digress.

    You rock and you know it, you big mouth you! The End. Oh wait, am I one of those patient and understanding friends? Probably not, maybe it’s more empathetic? I think I need a Spiderman on my desk too.

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