Introverts, extroverts, and retirement

A persistent claim about retiring early is that it favors a certain personality type. This rumor started over a decade ago with a survey comparing personality types with financial-management skills. It was an informal query, not a statistically significant study, and the data is self-reported by the (mostly anonymous) participants.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator claims that our personality types can be broken down into 16 different categories. The details of those categories are far beyond the scope of this post, but two of the types are introverts and extroverts.

Both terms have their own positive & negative connotations, but Myers-Briggs defines “introvert” as “inner-directed”. In this context an introvert tends to seek inward rather than outward. It doesn’t imply that they’re shy or antisocial, but rather that they’re comfortable with being alone. They may also be uncomfortable in large groups and could grow tired of the crowds more quickly than extroverts. Extroverts, of course, prefer the stimulation of crowds and thrive on group activities. Each personality type may have difficulty appreciating the other.

The MBTI test has been administered to millions of people over several decades but it’s still subject to controversy as a credible psychological tool. One problem is that it depends on self-reporting and its results can be skewed by a knowledgeable respondent. Another problem is that the results aren’t as highly reproducible as other tests– and people’s types tend to change over the years. A widely reported issue has been employer attempts to use the test results to classify workers into jobs. The test only explores a respondent’s preferences, not their abilities or skills, and it doesn’t predict career success.

Despite its detractors, the MBTI is enormously popular as a self-assessment tool. If the 16 different type categories were evenly distributed then each would account for about 6% of the population and no category would be considered exceptional. However, the U.S. population is unevenly distributed  and the characteristics of some personality types receive more media attention than others.

One claim of the early-retirement study  is that the world population is only 28% “I” while a survey of over six million Internet users averaged about 48% “I”. (I haven’t been able to confirm these results and the data is over a decade old, so it probably doesn’t reflect today’s Internet demographics. However, the claim is a believable stereotype!)  The early-retirement study also found that nearly 90% of the respondents were type “I”. A follow-up survey a few years later  was also heavily skewed toward “I” types.

So what can you conclude from this controversial & conjectural data? Well, if you’re one of the world’s “lucky” few who test INTJ or ISTJ then you may be hard-wired for retirement. (I’m specifically mentioning these two particular types because there can be difficulty understanding why they’ve always wanted to retire early– and often do.) You probably have no difficulty being responsible for your own entertainment. Keep in mind that the test just measures your preferences, not your abilities. As much as you might prefer to retire early, you’re still going to have to work for it.

For the other 14 personality types, pay careful attention to what you expect to get out of retirement. Even if you’re introverted, you’re still going to have to decide whether early retirement is a priority– and then save for it. If you’re extroverted in the military or corporate worlds, then you’re not going to want to retire to a life of solitary contemplation. You may find yourself more interested in volunteering or staying active in busy places with other extroverts. (You’ll know they’re extroverted because the introverts won’t go near the place…) Don’t just leap into retirement but rather try to figure out if it’s really what you want. If you enjoy your current working environment then you may even decide that you’re never going to retire.

Don’t lock yourself into a particular personality stereotype. Re-take the test every few years to see how your preferences change. In your 20s you may test strongly as one type, but by the time you’re in your 40s you’ll have developed your secondary characteristics as well. Even if you still strongly favor a specific type, you’re more experienced and able to handle unpleasant situations with less stress.

No matter what personality type you fall into, learn what pushes your buttons and how to handle your involuntary response. Read about the various types with their strengths and weaknesses.  Consider playing to your preferences and setting yourself up to develop your skills in a supportive environment.  Introverts have received a lot of media attention lately, but extroverts can also learn why they’re so different. For example, enjoy this article on 10 myths about introverts.  The book The Introvert Advantage  has sold over 100,000 copies and been translated into several language. This Atlantic article on introverts  spawned an enormously popular campaign for knowing how to stick up for yourself and how to recharge your batteries. It not only educated both introverts and extroverts but gave them a greater appreciation for each other.

No matter what personality type you may be, learn what brings value to your life– and make those values your priorities. If you design your ideal retirement to appeal to your preferences, then you’ll have no problem figuring out what you’ll do all day. Once you’ve sorted out your retirement goals, then you can use the book and this blog to make them happen!

Speaking of values & priorities, this blog is now one year old and today’s post is #150!  I certainly wasn’t expecting to count that high…

Related articles:
“But… but… but what will I DO all day?!?”

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About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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