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Meet Elizabeth Wagele, Happy Introvert

Published in the former Lime.com Internet magazine.
By Paul Freibott

In her new book, The Happy Introvert: A Wild and Crazy Guide for Celebrating Your True Self [1], author Elizabeth Wagele seeks to inspire quiet, thoughtful types to have more self-esteem—and fun. Using her own playful cartoons, Wagele dispels the notion that introverts are always depressed, and illustrates the humorous differences between the two personality types and the inevitable miscommunications that result. She tackles parenting, adolescence, relationships, and other practical topics, and for good measure, gives extraverts a (gentle) ribbing for assuming that introverts are trying to be just like them, but are simply “not doing a good job of it.”

LIME recently chatted with the writer, cartoonist, pianist, and original Happy Introvert.

LIME: Why did you write The Happy Introvert?

WAGELE: I felt I was on a mission to tell introverts about themselves, and to tell extraverts about introverts. I felt people just didn’t understand each other, and it would be great if they did.

LIME: Can you define what an introvert is?

WAGELE: To begin with, we all have introversion and extraversion in our personalities, and we couldn’t get through one day without using both. It’s a continuum, but you can sort of tell people who are basically more introverted or basically more extraverted.

What surprised me when I looked into it—it’s a neurological difference. Introverts have naturally very busy minds, and we guard ourselves from being overwhelmed. We don’t like loud noises. We don’t like big crowds. When we’re little tiny children, it’s hard to go into a huge nursery school with tons of children. They might frighten us. Extraverts go into a loud nursery school, and the louder the better for some of them. They’re socially a little more gifted.

One thing that goes with being an introvert is that we have rich inner lives. Introverts love other people, usually, but they don’t need a whole day full of them. In fact, being with other people tires them out after an hour or two—even though they like them.

LIME: What about being around other people without conversation? Can introverts enjoy people’s company in silence?

WAGELE: Yes! I love to watch other people. And sometimes people will feel sorry for you, and they’ll say, “C’mon, why aren’t you here doing this activity with us?” [I’ll think] I didn’t want to do that; I was very content watching, but extraverts don’t understand that.

There’s another explanation of what introvert means. You and I are having this conversation; when I’m talking, you’re doing an introverted activity by listening. That’s what introversion is. It’s the preparation. Watching a group of kids or adults is an introverted thing to do. And the activity that you’re watching, say, a volleyball game, is an extraverted activity.

LIME: So in some ways, it’s just defining everyday sorts of behaviors.

WAGELE: It is.

LIME: I think sometimes when people hear the word introverted, they think of it as a synonym for antisocial.

WAGELE: Yeah, or cantankerous, or nerd, in the bad meaning of that word. Naturally, we might be nerds because we get interested in a subject in depth. That’s another thing that introverts are really good at: concentrating. Einstein was an introvert. Getting people enthused about things—extraverts are usually better at that. I’m proud of being an introvert. It’s fun!

LIME: I love parties, and I love being around people, but that’s not the way I was growing up. I think I have a 50/50 personality.

WAGELE: I know an introvert, and he’s definitely an introvert, but he calls himself a party animal—so I’d like to emphasize about my book and about the whole subject that it’s very complex. It’s good to be flexible, because you can still love parties and be an introvert, or you can still be a bookworm and be an extravert.

LIME: You mentioned that there’s a neurological basis for introverted or extraverted personality, and I’m wondering if that means that you’re sort of stuck with what you’re born with.

WAGELE: Well, you can’t completely change the wiring in your brain, but you can change a little bit. I can’t really become an extravert. I’ve tried a little bit. When I was much younger, I couldn’t give a speech. And I had to give speeches because I wrote books! And I actually learned how to do that by going through the fear and just doing it. Environment and neurology work together. You can’t completely change what you were given, but if you’re highly motivated to say, change one characteristic of yourself, you should feel optimistic about it.

LIME: One quote in the book that grabbed me was, “The creative spark takes place at the point where introversion and extraversion meet.” I think the common perception is that you’re either creative or you’re not, but you leave some room for everybody to be creative.

WAGELE: I think so. Whatever you are as a young person, you might become the opposite as you age. In midlife, the Jungian perspective is that you catch up on the things that you didn’t do in the first half of life. But then maybe as you’re even older than midlife, you have to slow down because you’re getting closer to death. And creativity means looking at life in a new way.

LIME: You describe the 40s in particular as a very creative time of life and almost like a second adolescence. I’m 37—what should I look forward to?

WAGELE: I think maybe it would be interesting for you to look at my last chapter on the Myers-Briggs [Type Indicator, a personality test [2]]. That’s what I would think about, your sensate and intuitive and feeling and thinking sides, and developing what you aren’t, catching up on the things that you’ve left out so far. Have you studied the Enneagram [3]? That’s another way to do it.

LIME: You’ve written several [4] books [5] on the Enneagram [6], but it didn’t seem to play a starring role in this book.

WAGELE: I didn’t want to confuse things by putting very much of the Enneagram in this book, but studying the Enneagram and trying to incorporate all nine types in your personality is very helpful. And nearing the 40s, it’s incredible what that can do.

LIME: One danger in typing yourself is that you can see it as a limit and say, “This is all I can be.”

WAGELE: To me, it’s totally expansion, not diminution.

LIME: Do you think an introvert/extravert relationship is possible? Or easy?

WAGELE: You know what happens if you have two introverts? One becomes the extravert relative to the other. In a way, every relationship is an introvert/extravert relationship.

LIME: Your cartoons lend the book a lot of its personality.

WAGELE: They’re much more subtle than anything I can write. I went through a period in my life when I was drawing every dream. In all my books, I use cartoons. I can’t imagine writing without them. Talk about introversion: you can’t get much more introverted than to use a cartoon that came from a dream!

[One cartoon on p. 22 shows] how introverts and extraverts process, which I find very helpful, where the arrow goes in and spins around for the introvert, and doesn’t spin around for the extravert; it’s one of the major differences, how information is handled. And that’s a neurological difference that we can’t change. Like, if I buy something to wear, I can’t wear it until a few days later because it doesn’t feel like it belongs to me. It’s so strange. It’s crazy, actually. But I feel like it has to process through my unconscious until it belongs to all the other clothes in my closet! (laughs)

LIME: What else is essential to know about introverts?

WAGELE: Extraverts have more confidence, and I would like to see introverts be more confident. Extraversion is thought of as so desirable in our culture, in general, that a lot of introverts try to be extraverts. It’s always best to be your true self.

LIME: What can non-introverted people learn about themselves from introverted people?

WAGELE: How to be quiet sometimes. There are always times in our lives when we have to be quiet, if we have an injury or illness, or if something sad happens. If you need somebody to hold your hand for something. Those quiet times, that’s the gift of the introvert. We were probably the shamans a long time ago.

[1] The Happy Introvert Amazon.com
[2] Enneagram Made Easy Amazon.com
[3] Are You My Type, Am I Yours? Amazon.com
[4] The Enneagram of Parenting Amazon.com
[5] Finding the Birthday Cake Amazon.com
[6] The Beethoven Enneagram Amazon.com
[7] The Career Within You Amazon.com
[8] The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear, and Dying Amazon.com

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