Before the pandemic, Kari Willey embraced an uncommonly wide range of activities.
A season-ticket holder for the Minnesota Orchestra, she went for gambling weekends at Wisconsin casinos and made a habit of attending the Minnesota State Fair, which she called her "obsession, my heaven on Earth," every day of its 12-day run.
"The one thing they [the activities] all have in common is that I do this stuff with other people."
But since March 2020, the health care consultant hasn't been out much. The only people she's seen — clients, co-workers, friends — have been via computer screen. Other than her wife, a therapist who also works remotely from their St. Paul home, Willey has been isolated.
Much to her surprise, it hasn't been half-bad.
"I always defined myself as a total extrovert, but now I wonder if I will want to leave my house," she said. "We've been cut off, but there's comfort in not being around anyone but the person I live with. When I even think about going even to someplace like Costco, I feel anxiety."
After a year of isolating, Willey wonders if her personality is "recalibrating."
Whether you're extroverted (defined as naturally outgoing, talkative and seeking the energy of others) or introverted (more emotionally reserved and preferring to recharge by being alone), the pandemic has likely changed how you interact. It may also have you reexamining the way you identify yourself.
Being outgoing or reserved is at the core of personality.
"It's the foundation of what we understand about people," said John Kammeyer-Mueller, professor of industrial relations at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.
Carl Jung, the founder of analytic psychology, first described introverts and extroverts in 1921. Even as Jung developed this theory, the influential Swiss psychiatrist noted that few people can be defined as one type or the other. Psychologists and academics today agree.
"The reality is that there's a continuum," said Kammeyer-Mueller. "Most people sit somewhere close to the middle; they are somewhat introverted or extroverted. There's some evidence there's a genetic component to this; it's how people are hard-wired."
Kammeyer-Mueller, who's studied the personality types for years, suspects that many people are finding that they've moved up or down on the introversion/extroversion continuum because of the pandemic.
Chuck Olsen quips that he's gone from introvert to being a mountain hermit. Last fall, Olsen and his wife moved from northeast Minneapolis to the North Shore.
"As a lifelong introvert, I was well-suited for the [pandemic] isolation when this all started," said Olsen, 49. "Our long-term plan was always to move someplace rural. We thought we'd do it when we retired, but COVID accelerated that for us."
The owner of a virtual reality technology company, Olsen was thrilled to close his office and shift from connecting with potential clients at trade shows to making sales calls online.
"Now I don't have to stand in front of a table with a banner. Putting myself out there like that is very taxing and draining for me. I do better when I'm one-on-one," he said.
An accomplished nature photographer, Olsen relishes his solitary hikes in the wilderness near his new home on the edge of the Superior National Forest. He's using Instagram to share his pictures of Northern Lights and ice caves and to connect with a community of other North Shore photographers. He expects to meet them in person someday, but he's in no hurry.
"More people lived on our block in Minneapolis than are within miles of where we live now," he said. "I see more owls than people on my excursions. For better or worse, I've become more introverted."
Needing to reach out
In forums and on social media postings, many extroverts have expressed their sometimes intense thirst for physical companionship, even the presence of strangers.
"Extroverts get a charge out of large and frequent group interactions. They need to find strategies to cope when they're not around that external stimuli," Kammeyer-Mueller said. "Even when they're working by themselves, they crave that stimulation. That would drive an introvert to distraction."
It may have been easier for introverts to accept the isolating, social distancing and social downsizing caused by COVID-19. But that doesn't mean they've had an easy time of it.
Carlson School Prof. Connie Wanberg has heard a note of caution from the introverts she's interviewed for an ongoing study.
While introverts may not have reacted negatively to having less interaction with others, some said they "feel like 'it's good for me to put myself out there, and I don't get that opportunity now,' " she said in an e-mail.
That's why Wanberg recommends that individuals who are highly introverted "make sure they are keeping up their connections."
New or old normal
For her part, Willey wonders if the change she's noticed in herself is permanent. She's curious if she will seek out the large-group activities she's always favored once they can be safely staged again.
"Once we are all vaccinated and the masks are off, I wonder if I will change from the new normal back to the old normal."
Kammeyer-Mueller suspects the changes wrought by the pandemic aren't permanent.
"I'm speaking outside the data, but my sense is that permanent personality change is pretty rare. We are all adaptable," he said. "People may alter their habits, but it's probably a temporary fluctuation."
And that means if the State Fair gets the green light, Willey will likely walk through the gates on opening day.
"I feel like I'm a dried out raisin," she said. "Will I plump back up? I hope so."
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.