I saw a friend on the subway this morning, but intentionally avoided him so he wouldn't see me (sorry, dude).
I'm not an antisocial person, but while I'm on my way to work, I don't want to speak to anyone. I just want to put my headphones on, open a book and zone out.
If I'd made eye contact with said friend, I would've felt obligated to talk to him. This wouldn't have ruined my commute, as I generally love being in the company of friends, pals, companions, compadres, comrades, amigos, what have you... but sometimes I need time to unwind and live in the moment on my own terms, perhaps more than I often realize.
Solitude is vital to our mental health and general well-being. Even if we can't achieve it in a purely physical sense, it's nice to seek it out cognitively.
But many people who know me might find this strange. After all, at the end of high school my yearbook superlative was "Most Likely To Say Hi."
For as long as I can remember, I've been characterized as a chatterbox. And, to be honest, it's a pretty fair description.
I love to talk, and I've always found conversation intoxicating. I've been perpetually drawn to other people because, quite frankly, they're fascinating.
Ostensibly, I'm your stereotypical extrovert.
At the same time, I possess a number of introverted traits. I don't always need or crave the presence of others, and I find great fulfillment in solitude.
Sometimes I spend entire weekends by myself in perfect contentment. I've traveled to other countries alone on several occasions, gone on numerous solo hikes and sometimes head to the movies without any companions.
But I've never felt depressed or self-conscious about any of it because I genuinely enjoy the time I spend in my own company.
Indeed, I possess both extroverted and introverted attributes.
In other words, I'm likely an ambivert -- a hybrid personality that combines elements of introversion and extroversion -- but perhaps not as much as others.
Ambiversion, first designated by social scientists in the 1920s, is a frequently overlooked personality type a lot of people would likely identify with.
If you happen to fall into this category, chances are you're a strong communicator, extremely adaptable and comfortable in a wide variety of social contexts.
For all of these reasons and more, you have a high probability of achieving success in a number of arenas.
People are too dynamic to be placed in boxes.
Human beings love to separate things into distinct categories. We take people and, in spite of all their idiosyncrasies, stamp broad labels on them.
But none of us are that simple. Not all extroverts and introverts are respectively identical in personality and behavior.
The world would be a decidedly boring place if humans were accurately defined in such absolute terms.
With that said, some of us are clearly more extroverted than introverted and vice versa.
As the Wall Street Journal puts it:
The personality traits of extroversion and introversion fall on a spectrum. Ambiverts have introverted and extroverted traits, but neither trait is dominant. As a result, they have more balanced, or nuanced, personalities.
Introverts are typically very introspective individuals who need a great deal of alone time to recharge.
They're not necessarily misanthropic, they simply thrive in solitude. They listen more than they speak and are usually less impulsive.
Extroverts are extremely outgoing people with an insatiable appetite for the company of others. They revel in being the center of attention and are seemingly indefatigable.
Ambiverts get the best of both worlds: They're excellent at reading situations and adjusting their behavior accordingly.
As Daniel Pink, author of "To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others," told the Wall Street Journal:
It is like they're bilingual. They have a wider range of skills and can connect with a wider range of people in the same way someone who speaks English and Spanish can.
Ambiverts possess perhaps the most vital characteristic in life: fluidity. They're flexible people who are comfortable in essentially any context.
Success is largely a matter of knowing how to go with the flow, which is why ambiverts are often very accomplished individuals.
Success in life is about finding balance.
Many people might assume extroverts have an inborn advantage in the world, particularly in business and sales, because of their convivial disposition.
But, as the Washington Post highlights:
Extroverts can talk too much and listen too little. They can overwhelm others with the force of their personalities. Sometimes they care too deeply about being liked and not enough about getting tough things done.
Evidence from social science studies appears to confirm this.
Dr. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, has done extensive research on this subject.
His findings suggest over half of the population, or around two-thirds of all people, are ambiverts. The rest fall more distinctly into the categories of introversion and extroversion.
His research also showed ambiverts are natural salespeople. In a June 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Science, Grant observed 340 outbound call-center representatives.
To begin, he employed a frequently-utilized personality assessment to determine whether these individuals were extroverts, introverts or ambiverts.
Subsequently, he monitored their work performance over the next several months.
Ultimately, he found the ambiverts were decidedly more effective at sales.
They generated an average of $208 per hour in revenue. Comparatively, the average for the entire study was $138.
The study states:
Because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale but are more inclined to listen to customers' interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident.
In other words, their balanced personalities made them far better-suited for interacting and conversing with others.
Grant's study reveals a fundamental truth about life: Success is achieved by maintaining a healthy equilibrium in everything we do.
The most accomplished individuals and the greatest leaders all understand this.
They're deliberate and decisive when necessary, but also adept at recognizing when to tone it down and take a step back.
Most of all, they're great communicators, in the sense they know how to talk and listen.
Conversation is a dance, you don't want to step on other people's toes; it has to be give and take in order to flow smoothly.
The loudest one in the room is not always the most powerful, but the quietest one isn't always the most intelligent.
There are shades of grey in everything, and ambiverts are a manifestation of that undeniable fact.
When it comes down to it, we all have the capacity to be ambiverts (most of us already are). It's simply a matter of learning how to recognize and respond to context.
To borrow from Bruce Lee:
Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless — like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.
The key to survival is adaptation. Be flexible. Bend but don't break. As Bruce Lee aptly put it, be like water.
Life is far easier when we can find the middle ground between two extremes.
Citations: Not an Introvert Not an Extrovert You May Be An Ambivert (WSJ), Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal The Ambivert Advantage (Psychological Science ), Why extroverts fail introverts flounder and you probably succeed (Washington Post )