From backstage, you hear a crowd beginning to gather. As the hum of conversation grows, your confidence begins to ebb. Within seconds, your mouth is a desert, your heart is a hummingbird and your mind is a forest of doubt. You're much more comfortable talking to people one-on-one, and the prospect of walking on stage is a veritable nightmare. Then you take a deep breath and do just that.
Later, you're relieved that your performance went off without a hitch and feel briefly energized, but spend most of the next day recharging in solitude.
It's a familiar scenario for people like Dan Nainan, a comedian and self-described ambivert. "I perform on stage in front of thousands of people, but offstage, I'm pretty much a bookish nerd," says Nainan. "I'm the kind of guy you see on the wall at a club or social function."
An ambivert is defined as a personality type that lies at the center of the introvert/extrovert spectrum. People who are ambiverts are known for their chameleon-like ability to relate to others, including die-hard introverts and extroverts, says Andy Johnson, an author, executive coach and organizational consultant who specializes in working with personality types.
If you think ambiversion seems like just about everyone you know, well, you're right. While most people tend to gravitate toward a certain range, such as introversion, their behaviors are affected by a variety of internal and external factors — and will land all over the continuum.
"People can be considered 'extreme' extroverts or introverts if they fall very far on either end of the spectrum," says Kali Rogers, who earned a master's degree in counseling before founding Blush, a life-coaching site for young women. "Or they can fall closer to the middle and have a hybrid of comfortable behaviors."
This hybrid is precisely what makes ambiversion difficult to define. "There is, finally, a third group, and here it is hard to say whether the motivation comes from within or without," wrote Carl Jung, alluding to the ambivert personality trait in his 1921 work "Psychological Types."
The ambivert concept was first mentioned in sociologist Kimball Young's "Source Book for Social Psychology" in 1927. Few mentions followed in the ensuing decades, while researchers focused on the personality spectrum's extremes.
And though the definition of an ambivert can be vague, experts do believe it's a valid category, even if hazily outlined. "What's so difficult about this topic the definition," says Johnson, "and when it comes to ambiversion, I don't think anyone's really an expert. The research is slim. As an area of study, it's barely beginning. I think there's a whole lot of misunderstanding around the topic."
While research lags behind a bloom of "Are you an ambivert?" online personality quizzes, there are still a number of practical benefits that come with possessing a not-quite-introvert/not-quite-extrovert personality.
Ambiverts, says Johnson, "are great anchors and collaborators who can be masterful at bringing together opposing opinions and perspectives."
For Dan Nainan, being an ambivert allowed him come out of a shell created by a childhood filled with bullying. "I was a total outcast," he says. "My parents were wonderful, but I was terrified to go to school and that didn't really get better until college."
After college, Nainan landed a job at Intel, but was still dogged by self-doubt. "My job was to travel the world with the company's senior executives, doing technical demonstrations on stage at events, and I was incredibly nervous about speaking on stage," he says. "I took a comedy class to get over the fear, and the comedy kind of took off."
Nainan went on to perform at two Democratic National Conventions, a TED conference, presidential inaugural galas and other high-profile events. He recently returned from an international comedy tour, something that would not have been possible had he not explored the depths of his traits as an ambivert.
"There was no way to predict this was going to happen when I took that comedy class," he says, "but it did."
So is ambivert a meaningless term that just refers to most of us, who are mostly in the middle? Well, all words and categories are human constructs, but ambivert's no more meaningless than using "temperate" to describe a type of non-extreme climate, or "moderate" for political beliefs that don't veer to far from the middle of the bell curve. Now get back to clicking those quizzes.