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Entries in passion (1)

Monday
Dec312012

Shhh...Introverts Uniting

When I tell people what I do for my full- and part-time jobs, my enthusiasm often prompts the response, “Oh, you’re so lucky that you have your dream job.” The tone of their voice flattens by the slightest note, and I find myself hastily assuring them that the hours are long and the pay not great.

How I procured my full-time job—technology editor for a national magazine—dovetails with a book I recently devoured in small bites during my subway commute. Reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, was like learning that I’ve been wearing my shirt inside out in a room where everyone else has forgotten to wear one, period.

As a child, I was breathlessly shy, a trait patently shared by my family. As I grew older, I weaned myself away from the isolating comfort of shyness. After reading Quiet, I realized I was a highly-functioning “socially-poised introvert.” I enjoy public speaking when I am thoroughly prepared—which means I’ve rehearsed the presentation at least five times. I like meeting new people but keep a small, close circle of friends. During work meetings, I speak up when I feel I have something valuable to contribute, have internally edited and reviewed the most succinct way to say it as not to take up floor time, and then fret afterward on how others perceived my participation.

But I continue to struggle with incorporating the “extrovert ideals” that Western businesses value: a passion for networking, speaking up in public, and closing out bars with colleagues.

The most surprising takeaway from Quiet was learning that not everyone experiences the same pangs of social anxiety that I do. Some people love jumping into a pile of strangers, talking loudly and at length about themselves, and simply not worrying how others perceive them—such as the shoppers with 54 items in the self-checkout line, brazenly oblivious to the queue of people sighing behind them. Actually, I don’t want to suggest that extroverts are inconsiderate.

The book is a great read if you suspect that you are part of the 30 percent of the population who are introverts. You are not alone if your recharge method of choice include pajamas and Netflix over pumps and cocktails. Incidentally, my alma mater recently surveyed their undergrad and grad students and found that on average only 33 percent of respondents classified themselves as extrovert. The breakdown by major is particularly fascinating.

Pressure Survey by The Tech, MIT

Though Quiet is not a self-help book, it contains many notable points, including:

“[Introverts] listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and…express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They…dislike conflict.”

“While extroverts tend to attain leadership in public domaines, introverts tend to attain leadership in theoretical and aesthetic fields.” (Quiet quoting from Leadership Development for the Gifted and Talented).

“Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality—neither overstimulating nor under stimulating, neither boring nor anxiety making….Your sweet spot is the place where you’re optimally stimulated.”

I am content with my creative and individualistic profession. I will probably never be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or speak at a TEDTalk; reading Cain’s description of an introvert’s perspective in her section “The Myth of Charismatic Leadership: Harvard Business School and Beyond” as well as her chapter on Asian Americans resounded heavily on my empathetic introvert nerves.

How does my plug for this book relate to identifying your dream job? Cain offers three points toward this goal, summarized here:

  1. Remember what you wanted to be when you were growing up. The specific answer may be unrealistic (“a mermaid!”) but the “underlying impulse was not.”
  2. In your current position, toward what opportunities and tasks do you gravitate? For example, recruiting, mentoring, peer review, programming, design, etc. Even if meeting strangers uncomfortable, the task of bringing on prospective hires may make it worth the discomfort.
  3. “Finally, pay attention to what you envy.” I always cheered when I hear of friends passing their engineering licensure exams, but the people I really envied were those whose names appeared on the mastheads of the technology, design, and art magazines I loved to read.

Of course, though my name will soon appear on the mastheads of five magazines, I’m too much of an introvert in my humility to even look at it.

The Scotland Highlands: A dream recharge place for introverts.