Let’s begin with the introvert or extrovert question. We tend to be one or the other—or at least lean toward one or the other. Being either is not a problem, but it does impact how we handle life. Extroverts are likely to say that introverts are too quiet and introverts that extroverts are too noisy.

In her book Quiet, Susan Cain lists some differences between extroverts and introverts. These differences include the level “of outside stimulation they need to function well. Introverts feel ‘just right’ with less stimulation (think a quiet cuppa with a close friend, solving a crossword and reading a book). Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities (think meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes and cranking up the stereo).” She illustrates with introverts holidaying with a good book on a beach while the extrovert is probably partying on a cruise ship.[1] Cain adds that introverts “may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pyjamas.” Extroverts “are people who will add life to your dinner party and laugh generously at your jokes.” Extroverts tend to be assertive and dominant, and in great need of company…They’re comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude.”[2]

Where do you fit?

Therapist Chelsea Connors warns that there’s “so much middle ground…where we’re now seeing people describe themselves as introverted or extroverted, et cetera. It’s OK to be somewhere in the middle here and to not feel that you fall in one distinct category.” That shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider the huge range of people and personalities we come across. It isn’t hard to imagine introverted extroverts and extraverted introverts.

Where do you fit? From these brief outlines you will probably see yourself more as one or the other. That’s good, because it allows you to understand yourself better. It also helps to understand that if you’re an introvert, you can act like an outgoing extrovert when the situation demands it, but you will probably need time and space to recover. Likewise, if you’re an extrovert you can act like a reflective introvert when needed, but you will probably want to do something active after—something that’s more in character with who you are.

The pressure of the ideal

In a broader vein, working out where you fit becomes complicated when you’re “constantly fed pictures of what an ideal life looks like: what we should wear, what foods we should buy and what we should look like,” as counsellor Beth Roberts says. That can include being the perfect parent, having a full-time job, exercising three times a week, “and still have time to do charity work and cook a vegan meal from scratch.” Unfortunately, “what we are told we should strive for may not be what we really want. It takes great self-awareness and strength to say no to these images and to say no to family and friends.” (See her note in the box within this article if you want to explore this area further.)4

The value of finding yourself

John Kim, the self-titled “Angry Therapist”, writes about the value of finding yourself but warns that “finding yourself is a continuous journey of self-discovery. It’s about exploring, learning and evolving as you navigate through life. Embrace the process, be patient with yourself, enjoy the adventure of uncovering your true self.” He has several suggestions:

Embrace your story. It’s your story that makes you unique and you should take time “to reflect on your life experiences, both positive and negative. What have you learned from them? How have they shaped you?” Embracing it means accepting it as your story, even the challenging times. Those experiences help you understand you.

Live authentically. Going deeper, be “true to who you are at your core” is Kim’s message. This includes recognising your strengths and weaknesses and “showing up in the world as your genuine self.” That doesn’t mean that you’ve “made it” but shows where you are on your journey.

Discover your purpose. “By understanding your values, passions, and unique gifts, you can identify the path that brings you the most fulfilment and meaning. Your purpose gives you a sense of direction and guides your decisions, leading to a more purposeful and satisfying life.”

Shift your focus from yourself to others. This not only helps you become aware of the needs of others, but as you act on those needs, it will also help you feel a sense of purpose.

Create meaningful relationships “based on genuine connections and mutual understanding.”

Embrace change and growth. “Remember, it’s in the moments of not knowing and feeling lost that our true potential emerges.” This is a time to take up challenges that take you out of your comfort zone, that stretch you and really do help you grow.

Finally, knowing who you are is important. Kim says, “Knowing yourself helps you make choices that align with your values and aspirations.”

Life is about choices: your life—your choices

You and I—all of us—must choose what we do with our lives. That freedom gives us the opportunity to plan who we want to be. Therapist Robert Taibbi suggests that the best way to be intentional about who we are is to also be intentional about who we want to be. That could be by asking yourself what you would like people to say about you 10 or 20 years from now. This could be in your profession or in your personal life, within your community or in your extended family. This is not only about your reputation, but also about being the person you are and want to be.

Ask yourself: What represents your best you? “Usually there are one or two [attributes] that take centre stage, that represents the best of you.” The question is, “What about you do you appreciate and admire the most? How can you bring these to the forefront of your everyday life? What have you overcome? Is it a big thing—an addiction, perhaps? A medical challenge? A fear?” Take time to give yourself credit for your success in overcoming these issues. This acknowledges your ability to tackle and overcome life issues. Sharing your story may give you a chance to be a role model.

Here’s a question to chew on: “When you step back and look at your personality, passions, talents and challenges, what is your life telling you about what you were destined to be or do?” The answer may be clear and immediate, or for too many of us, it may be the smallest wisp of passion that you have felt but too quickly overlooked.”

Knowing what you know, are you living a purposeful life that fits you?

As adults, we get to create our lives, we get to choose who we are. “It is the creating and choosing that is important.” It’s about “actively deciding who you want to be and become.” Ask yourself, “What are the five core values of my life?” That will help you make life choices, including who you want to be and how you want to treat others.

Then, what do you want your epitaph to be? How do you want to be remembered? What do you want to accomplish in the “short span that is your life”? “This is the ultimate point of it all,” says Taibbi. “Reflect, drop down into your passions and dreams and see what you discover.”

Taibbi gives a challenge: “Be you, the you, you want to be.” And being the you that you want to be is in your hands. It’s something only you can do.

Bruce Manners is an author, retired pastor and former editor of the Australia/New Zealand edition of Signs of the Times. He is based in Lilydale, Victoria. A version of this article first appeared on the Signs of the Times Australia/New Zealand website and is republished with permission.

[1]“Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That can’t Stop Talking, Penguin Books, Melbourne, 2012, page 11.”
[2]“Susan Cain, Op cit.”

“Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That can’t Stop Talking, Penguin Books, Melbourne, 2012, page 11.”
“Susan Cain, Op cit.”