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Confessions of a closet introvert

Filling Exam/questionnairePhotograph by Getty Images

“You are not an introvert!” my friend Lesley Stahl chided me over dinner last week at Loi Estiatorio, a Greek restaurant in Manhattan. “I’ve seen you with groups of people, I’ve seen you on stage, I’ve seen you…and there is no way you’re an introvert!”

The more I protested, the more the 60 Minutes correspondent accused me of misrepresenting myself to her. You see, Stahl and most other people who know me — including Fortune editor Alan Murray, my boss, who calls me “one of the least quiet people on staff”—think I’m an extrovert.

But appearances are often deceiving. Quiet Revolution, a startup led by Quiet author-turned-entrepreneur Susan Cain, created a five-minute quiz to determine where you fall on the introversion-extroversion scale. And my test results prove my point: With a score of 39 out 50, I am a closet introvert.

Most people don’t realize that your identity as an introvert or extrovert (like my boss, Murray)—or ambivert, a mix of the two, which describes Stahl—relates mainly to where you get your energy, not how you behave. So, outgoing and highly social people who are comfortable even in crowds of strangers may be introverts. That’s me to a T. I love to meet new people; I have a healthy social life and lots of friends. I’m also a front-row girl who wants to be at the center of things, and I am in my element on stage at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women events.

But no matter how fun and enjoyable, spending time with other people expends my energy — and typically, like a race car that has zoomed down the track, I need refueling. Those that know me best know that I refuel and tune up away from it all.

An only child born to older parents, I was once painfully shy. But I grew out of that and became a journalist — a profile writer, primarily — because people fascinate me. Susan Cain told me I’m not so unusual: “I have met many people like you, who present as extroverts but require lots of recharge time — particularly in journalism.” Research shows, Cain says, that most people — introverts and extroverts alike — become more introverted with age. “This is probably because introversion stems in part from sensitivity to stimulation, and for many people this sensitivity increases over time,” she says.

I’ve come to embrace my introversion: I love spending time alone and on the outside, looking in, with space to assess what I see — especially in New York City, my home. E.B. White explained this better than anyone in his in classic Here is New York, my favorite book: “New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation; and better than most dense communities it succeeds in insulating the individual (if he wants it, and almost everybody wants or needs it) against all enormous and violent and wonderful events that are taking place every minute.”

After the Quiet Revolution quiz branded me an introvert, I sent the test to my cousin Carole Napolitano, an executive coach who first told me the truth about introversion — that it’s about how you recharge. “No one in New York can believe you are introverted, probably because of the high level of interaction your job requires of you,” Carole wrote to me in an email. She recalled that once when her husband Stephen, a doctor, and his partners in his northern Virginia medical practice took the Myers-Briggs personality test, the facilitator asked each of them to guess the others’ preferences prior to viewing their reports. “Every one of Stephen’s partners guessed that he was extroverted, largely because of the roles he played as founder of the practice.

“At play with both Stephen and you,” my cousin noted, “are assumptions people make based on what they observe in one context without being aware of what each of you do to restore energy.”

She’s right. Carole, who scored 19 on the Quiet Revolution quiz, is a classic extrovert who refuels by bonding with family (her three kids, her grandkids and her six siblings) and her friends — even though she says she loves some of the qualities that describe the introvert. “The growth work for each of us,” she says, “is to cherish the gifts of our natural predisposition and cultivate some of what is desirable about the opposite predisposition.”

As an ever-evolving introvert, I couldn’t have said it better.

To find out how you score on the introvert-extrovert scale, take the five-minute Quiet Revolution quiz here.