- At the start, you have to answer 3 key questions: Where am I going? Who is going to be there? And do I want to be there too?
- When you finally commit to a place, you must brace yourself for a long ride.
- You know you will have to battle eager crowds trying to get to the same spot.
- En route, you feel yourself getting frustrated and tired. You begin to think is this really worth it?
- Then you remember…they will feed you! You get excited again.
- Finally, the effort pays off. You are at the door.
- You put on your best happy face. Then you proceed with the meet-and-greet.
- The table is all set up, but you still have to make your rounds.
- Finally you sit down.
- It’s time to make conversation!
- (Psss…it’s a dialogue, not a monologue…). Ah, yes! QUESTION: Can I offer some help?
- Let me think…well, ok. Are you good at carving?
- I am the best! I began carving when I was one, as soon as I could hold the knife, and I have carved every year since!
- Wow, that’s impressive…well, enough talking, I need to digest…
- Me too. LOVED everything! THANK YOU!!! (This place is amazing. There were even 2 pies for dessert!)
- Whew, it’s over. Comatose…
- Just one thing left to do. Relax and dream away!
The fall has finally arrived, and with it, the need to re-organize my closet. Every year at this time I carve out some time to put away the shorts, tank tops and dresses, and pull out the cozy sweaters, leggings and jeans. The crisp air outside motivates me not to delay.
Yet, I can’t say that I particularly enjoy this process. Yes, this is a great opportunity to re-evaluate my wardrobe and to get rid of things I no longer like. I know the 80/20 rule – that most of us wear just 20 percent of our wardrobe 80 percent of the time. In my case, it’s more like 10 percent of the wardrobe 99 percent of the time. But still, for one reason or another, I hesitate to minimize.
It’s tedious. It’s time consuming. And most of all, there is that perennial question that hangs over my carefully curated closet…what if?
What if I change my mind? What if I come to regret it? What if I grow to like this piece again? What if? What if? What if?
It strikes me that in some ways this process of decision-making is similar to the way that many career changers approach their transition.
You know that the career you’ve chosen to pursue is no longer working. Deep down you know it’s time to make a change. Yet this realization remains just an inkling while you rationalize to yourself why you shouldn’t.
Last week, I attended a panel on career transitions, where a room full of want-to-be career changers listened to sage advice and insight of those who already found their career holy grail.
The number one take-away?
Waiting, and then finally taking the plunge towards a new career, months, or sometimes years later, seemed to have been the common thread in all the stories shared that evening.
Someone waited because they felt they invested too much time and money into their education. Someone waited because they wanted to finish the degree they already knew was not the right fit -- but they had only one year to go in school. Someone waited because they didn’t want to move – moving ended up leading them to a network of new connections and ultimately, discovering how to blend their interests into a profitable business. Finally, someone waited because they didn’t know what else to do. They had been following the safe path of getting a good degree, finding a good job, and making good money.
All the panelists ultimately woke up and realized they’ve been waiting long enough. The time had come to make a change.
In hindsight, they all were acutely aware of the passage of time – the time they spent waiting vs. the time they spent actively in transition – one period marked by uncertainly, hesitation, depression, and rationalization; the other period marked by empowering decisions that brought them closer to their dreams.
The take-away was not to wait. Even if the only thing you knew with certainty was that you didn’t like what you currently did.
At the end of the event, the moderator turned to the audience. Any last questions?
There was one.
What signs do I look for as I try to identify what I should do next?
Look for things that bring you joy was the response of one of the panelists. What are the things you gravitate to over and over again?
What are the favorites in your closet? Everything else can go or take its honorary place in the back.
When was the last time you gave thought to what you value most?
Our values lie at the core of who we are – they define what we deem important in life and in work -- but they are very infrequently verbally expressed. Instead many of us choose to communicate what we value through our behavior and actions.
We are content and at peace when our values and our actions align. On the contrary, when we experience tension, anxiety and unrest, it is a sign that our beliefs and our actions are out of balance.
WHEN WE HONOR OUR VALUES, WE MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON CLEARLY DEFINED PRIORITIES. WE ARE PURPOSEFUL WITH OUR CHOICES AND WE FEEL A SENSE OF WHOLENESS AND FULFILLMENT. WHEN WE ARE OUT OF TOUCH WITH OUR VALUES, WE HAVE NO INTERNAL COMPASS TO HELP US MAKE DECISIONS. WE TEND TO PRIORITIZE THE WRONG THINGS WHICH CAN LEAD TO UNHAPPINESS AND DISSATISFACTION.
Often, we’ll have a vague recognition that something is wrong, but won’t take steps to delve deeper until a change in circumstance, such as starting a family, or a more negative event like a job loss or a family illness jolts us to action. Those events can serve as important wake-up calls, but should they be the only time we open ourselves to taking stock of what’s truly important?
Today is as good as any other day.
DEFINING OUR VALUES CAN HELP US MAKE IMPORTANT LIFE DECISIONS AND ANSWER IMPORTANT QUESTIONS.
- What type of job will I find fulfilling?
- How can I prioritize my personal and professional goals?
- Where should I live?
- What kind of role model do I want to be to my kids?
UNDERSTANDING WHAT YOU VALUE MOST IS THE FIRST STEP IN CREATING A ROAD MAP TO LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE. ALTHOUGH OUR CORE VALUES ARE GENERALLY STABLE, SOMETIMES AS WE GROW OR OUR SITUATIONS CHANGE, WHAT WE ONCE DEEMED IMPORTANT SHIFTS. OFTEN, WE WITNESS THOSE SHIFTS IN THINKING AFTER BIG LIFE EVENTS.
Keeping a check on our values is therefore a lifelong exercise. Taking some time to revisit what you value can help you stay on the right course, clarify your priorities and re-balance your life.
Think about the times in your life (starting childhood through present) where you’ve felt happiest and most fulfilled. What were you doing (personally, professionally)? Who were you with? What goals were you accomplishing?
Write down any common themes. For example, you notice that you feel happiest and most fulfilled when you are entertaining others, spreading joy and laughter, putting on formal or informal performances, and being the life of the party. Or, you may be most fulfilled when you are helping others in need and providing a service that helps other people improve their circumstances. You like to provide help in times of crisis.
Read through the list of values below. Go through the list once and cross out any values that clearly don’t match with what you deem important. For example, if you enjoy solitude, reading and quiet walks by yourself or a close friend, then socializing is probably not your most important value. Cross it off the list. Do this until you’ve narrowed down to 30-40 values.
Next, look through the remaining values and group together any values that overlap. For example, Honesty, Integrity, and Lack of Pretense would go together.
Keeping in mind your reflections from Step 1, compare the remaining values/buckets of values. Which of the remaining values do you consistently honor in your life? Which would you like to prioritize more?
You are trying to identify your top 10.
It may help to pick two at a time and think about them side by side. Your goal is to re-order them from least important (at the bottom) to most important (at the top).
For example, if you are comparing Achievement and Adventure/Fun, you may think of a situation where you are given a last minute opportunity to travel to an exotic place you’ve always wanted to explore. Perhaps it's a friend's destination wedding. At the same time, you are on track for a promotion at work, but know that taking time off would set you back and/or possibly cost you the promotion. How would you resolve the conflict? Would you choose Adventure over Achievement or vice versa? Re-order the values accordingly.
Prioritizing like this will take some time but it is a worthy exercise.
WHEN YOU CAN CLEARLY DEFINE AND EXPRESS YOUR VALUES, YOU'LL FIND YOURSELF LIVING A MORE PURPOSEFUL AND CONTENT LIFE. YOU WILL FIND IT EASIER TO MAKE IMPORTANT DECISIONS AND WILL FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH THE CHOICES YOU MAKE. LIVING A LIFE IN ACCORDANCE WITH ONE’S VALUES MAY NOT ALWAYS BE EASY, BUT IT WILL ALWAYS GUIDE YOU IN THE DIRECTION THAT'S RIGHT FOR YOU.
A resume is one of the most important tools in your job search toolbox. Without a strong stand-out resume, it is virtually guaranteed that your application for a job will be overlooked by the prospective employer.
Even if you have networked extensively and have an established connection at the company you are seeking to work at, you cannot underestimate the importance of a well-crafted resume.
Your resume is the prologue to the story you tell the employer about yourself and your professional background. It tells the employer where you’ve been and where you want to be headed next. It lays the setting for further conversation.
And you know that in today’s competitive job market, you can’t afford to showcase yourself in any but the best possible light.
Which is why, I recommend that you spend a good chunk of time editing and updating your resume before clicking ‘send’. This is particularly important if it’s been a while since you’ve updated the document and/or are considering switching careers.
Below are 7 tips for drafting a stronger resume:
Make Sure the Formatting is Consistent and Resume is Typo-free
Tiny details often tell a much bigger story. Formatting may seem less important that the substance of your resume, but make no mistake. If the formatting is not consistent throughout the document, it says one thing about you: you rush to get the job done. No employer wants to see quality sacrificed for speed. The same point applies to typos. Take extra time and read each bullet point over at least twice to make sure there are absolutely no errors or inconsistencies.
The Resume Length Should Be 1- 2 pages
Unless you are an academic or a scientist and have a long list of publications to list, it is not generally recommended that your resume exceed 2 pages. For young professionals without an extensive job history, the ideal length is 1 page.
In today’s competitive job market, it’s not unusual for an employer to receive hundreds of resumes for one position. A hiring manager will likely spend only a minute, if that, reviewing your resume before deciding whether you make the cut for an interview or not. They want to quickly assess your qualifications and appreciate a concisely crafted document.
Use a Chronological Format
You have likely come across two different formats for a resume: chronological and functional (or sometimes a mix of those two). In a chronological resume, as the title implies, you list your experience chronologically, with accomplishments as they pertain to each job experience. In a functional resume, on another hand, you highlight your abilities and categorize your skills instead of creating a timeline for your work experience.
If you are a career changer, are re-entering the workforce, or have gaps in your resume, you may prefer the functional format because it takes the focus off the gaps. You may think that works in your favor. And there are times you may be right.
However, when a prospective employer picks up your resume, she wants to quickly understand your work history. Functional resumes typically take longer to piece together, and the hiring manager may simply choose not to take the time to do so. It may also seem that you are trying to hide the gaps, rather than focusing on your skills and abilities, and your efforts can backfire.
So, why not play it safe and use the more popular chronological format? Then spend some time drafting a good cover letter where you tell your story and summarize your skills.
List any Gaps in Employment
This point is related to the recommendation above. Yes, you may be concerned about putting down gaps in your resume, particularly large gaps, however it is better to be upfront about them than seem like you are trying to hide something.
If you have taken time off to raise a family, as one example, put that down. Took time to travel? List that as well. If during the “break”, you did consulting or freelance work, be sure to list those projects. Any volunteer experience during the gaps should not go in the work experience section, but in a separate volunteer section.
Tailor Your Resume to the Job Description
The days of the standard resume are gone. You can no longer send the same resume to multiple employers and expect that you will be rewarded with a call back. Want to show you are genuinely interested in the job? Then take some time to tweak your resume and customize it to fit the job to which you are applying.
How can you tailor for best results?
First of all, create a compelling narrative throughout the resume that shows your work history and prior experiences are a good fit to the desired position. You will have to show you have built a set of skills in your prior roles that will be transferrable to the new position. Put emphasis and highlight the type of work that’s relevant to the new job. Delete or minimize any work or other experience that doesn’t directly apply.
Use keywords listed in the job description. This point is important! Many times your resume may not even make it past the employer’s applicant tracking system, if the wording within the resume does not match with the specific skills and qualifications listed in the job description.
Scan the job description carefully to make sure you understand the requirements of the position. Then, identify your past work/projects that match those requirements and use the same vocabulary used by the hiring manager to describe the experience in your resume. But no embellishments or exaggerations! Those can become obvious down the line and will surely backfire.
Quantify Your Achievements
When you talk about your experience, what do you want the prospective employer to remember? That you worked on some project they’ve never heard of, or that you can produce results? Likely the second. You are an attractive candidate because you have proven time and time again that you can deliver by increasing sales, revenues, or by creating more efficient processes. Show and quantify those achievements for each role you list on your resume. Talk about any improvements that you were responsible for.
Use Strong Language – Action Verbs and Keywords
If your Experience section is packed with words like “managed”, “led”, or “oversaw”, perhaps it’s time to update it. Although common, these words have become so overused that they risk obscuring and minimizing your true accomplishments. Worse yet, instead of highlighting your uniqueness, you’ll seem like everybody else.
So, why not be a bit creative?
Start out each description with strong action verbs instead. Try “headed”, “planned”, “executed”, “organized”, “built”, “created” or “implemented”, as just some examples. Don’t stop there. Look up action verbs for more great ideas.
And don’t forget to sprinkle in the all-important keywords. As mentioned before, hiring managers search by keywords to find resumes that match the skills and qualifications listed in job description. Make sure your resume includes those keywords.
Use Bullet Points
This may be an obvious point, but it can’t hurt to repeat it. The clearer your resume, the easier it is for the prospective employer to get a quick grasp of your history and identify your key leadership roles, contributions and accomplishments. Use bullets to communicate your information clearly and effectively. When you show that you can create a well-organized resume, you will be sure to stand out from the crowd.
A couple of weeks ago, for my daughter’s birthday, a family friend sent her a gift: a book called “The Most Magnificent Thing.” It’s a story of a girl with an idea.
It’s the most magnificent idea. Just what will it take to make it real?
“She knows just how it will look. She knows just how it will work”, the story goes. “Easy-peasy. But making the most magnificent thing turns out to be harder than she thinks. She measures, hammers, fastens, and adjusts again and again, but the thing just keeps turning out wrong. If only the thing WOULD JUST WORK!”
She tries and tries again. But it is still wrong. The girl gets mad. Mad enough to want to quit.
“I am no good at this,” the girl says.
What happens then? Does she persevere? Or give up? How does she respond when she encounters a challenge?
In 2006, a psychologist and a professor at Stanford University, Carol Dweck, Ph.D., wrote a book called “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” In it, she introduces the idea of mindsets, or beliefs about yourself.
As a scientist and researcher, Dweck discovered in the course of her career that people are predisposed to holding two separate mindsets, the fixed mindset and the growth mindset, and that the differences in how people think are already apparent in early childhood.
These differences are particularly evident in how people respond to failure.
People with the fixed mindset believe that their success or failure is a direct reflection of their innate abilities. In other words, if they succeed, it’s proof that they are smart and capable. On the other hand, if they encounter a particularly difficult challenge, it’s proof that they are lacking in ability. They are less likely to try again after a failed attempt, because they are afraid of being perceived in a negative way, by themselves and others.
Those with the growth mindset, however, see the results of their efforts not as a reflection on their ability, but as evidence of how hard they worked to solve the problem. They approach problems with enthusiasm and see them as an opportunity to learn and get better. If they meet with a challenging problem, their confidence in themselves does not deteriorate – but their resolve to find the solution grows.
According to Dweck, the two mindsets lie on a continuum – the way you think is not a black-and-white dichotomy. She argues that with effort and awareness you can put yourself into the growth mindset even if you start out with the fixed.
And that’s what ultimately happens with our little heroine from “The Most Magnificent Thing.” She goes for a walk, and with the help of a friend, she is able to gain a new perspective.
Her previous failed attempts are no longer ALL WRONG. “There are some parts of the WRONG things that are really quite RIGHT. The bolts on one, the shape of another, the wheel-to-seat ratio of the next. There are all sorts of parts that she likes!”
She gets back to work. By evening time, the girl is finished.
She’s made The Most Magnificent Thing. And best of all, she gets to enjoy it with her friend.
We’ve all been there. After weeks, or sometimes months, of networking, you finally score an interview. You are now one step closer to getting the job you’ve been aiming for, and you are excited. You begin to visualize yourself in your dream job and it feels so right. You belong there, but your goal is still only a dot on the horizon.
For now, though, you have to ace the interview.
The stakes are high.
You need to perform at your best, but how do you handle such a high pressure scenario? You are about to be evaluated and judged, and as if on cue, the feelings of anxiety and insecurity start creeping in. Yes, this is your chance to evaluate as well – the fit, the culture, the team. But, there will be time for that later.
For the time being, though, how can you maintain the confidence needed to perform at your best? How do you stay in the moment, instead of experiencing self-doubt and imagining the worst outcome?
Conventional wisdom will tell you to thoroughly prepare. And it is true that preparation helps to reduce anxiety and boost self-confidence. Researching the organization before the interview, thinking through potential questions, and having prepared answers, especially for any tough questions you might expect or fear, will most likely make the difference between being chosen for the next round or not.
But, let’s say you have done your best to prepare, yet the anxiousness remains. Or, you are confident the day before the big interview, but as you step into the waiting area your heart begins to race and your head starts playing tricks on you. Suddenly, your mind goes blank and your worst fears begin to materialize.
Are you about to fail? What can you do to recover, to master your insecurities, to get back to your place of calm? Is there a way to become more present?
Turns out there is. Perhaps you’ve heard of a technique called power posing.
Power posing was introduced to the mainstream by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and an associate professor at Harvard Business School who studies how nonverbal behavior influences people’s judgements. She is most known for her widely popular 2012 Ted Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”.
In her talk, Cuddy introduced the idea that our body language can influence how we view ourselves, and in turn, how others view us. Basing her talk on prior research conducted with colleagues from the University of Berkeley, Cuddy shows how by adopting “power poses” for as little as 2 minutes we can affect our thinking and self-perception.
Cuddy describes how our bodies have a biological response to “high-power” (open, spread out arms, arms on hips or stretching behind your head etc.) vs. “low-power” (hunched down body, hands covering neck or hands crossed over body etc.) poses.
When we hold “high-power” poses, our bodies react by increasing our levels of testosterone and decreasing our levels of cortisol, both of which are shown to lead to higher confidence and decreased anxiety.
Those effects then carry over to our interactions with others. Our higher levels of self-confidence allow us to put our best foot forward in situations that require it most, if only for a short while.
Cuddy calls this a mind-body hack.
Sounds a bit illicit, right?
Hacking others’ systems may be considered a suspect pursuit. But hacking your own?
Centuries ago, the indelible Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu referred to this concept a bit differently. “Mastering others is true strength, mastering yourself is true power” said Tzu, and these wise words still resonate today.
Perhaps his teachings gained ground before hacking came into vogue, but which one of us will disagree that a two-minute hack to get some personal power is not a bad short-term solution, especially when you may be still working towards lifelong self-mastery.
In a couple of weeks, colleges and universities around the country will wish farewell to thousands of eager new graduates. In a span of a few hours, this new cohort of grads will transition from a comfortable safety of school to the vast and uncertain terrain of the current job market.
Those that are lucky have a position already lined up. But for many, the competitive job environment foreshadows a tough uphill struggle to land their first job. Although the overall outlook of many new grads is one of optimism and hopeful expectations, current realities suggest that it would be wise to mix idealism with practicality.
Although employers will always be drawn to applicants with strong academic records and a toolkit of technical skills, companies are showing a heightened preference for industry experience even for entry-level jobs. This has been particularly true in recent years as the applicant pool has swollen to include those who were laid-off in the downturn and the underemployed looking for more work.
In addition, increased appetite for more non-traditional candidates suggests that employers are starting to recognize and value the backgrounds and qualities that are the linchpin of these applicants.
Companies like Deloitte, PwC, Goldman Sacks, Bloomberg, PayPal, and many others, are starting to bring on board hundreds of women (and men) who are returning from a career break. Google, as just one example, has hired candidates with entrepreneurial backgrounds (and without college degrees), who can compete effectively in their application process.
What this suggests is that today’s employer is seeking an expanded set of qualifications and skills, from what was traditionally considered desirable.
It is no longer sufficient to have a high GPA, and the name of a good school on your resume. To get your foot in the door, you will also need to show that you possess:
1. Real-world experience
Work-study and summer jobs, internships and industry volunteer experience provide an opportunity to “try-on” a job. They are a great way to get hands-on experience in a particular role, learn technical skills and gain understanding of what it’s like to work within an organizational culture. Employers are increasingly looking for this type of real-world experience because it helps them identify previously vetted applicants, and bring on board candidates that have shown the desire and the ability to work within a particular role.
Resilience is the ability to quickly get back on your feet after failure or set-backs. Frequently, years leading up to and through college present a protective shell designed to help students thrive and explore freely, but provide few opportunities for taking risk, and thereby truly experiencing set-backs. Failing, and most importantly, persevering through set-backs, is key to continued growth and development. Today, companies are on a mission to hire individuals who can show that they can quickly overcome hurdles and learn from mistakes while continuing to improve their performance.
3. Ability to think independently and creatively
Although organizations will cite “being a team-player” as one of the key criteria for their new hires, at the same time they seek individuals who can show that they can be autonomous and think outside-the-box. Can you make your own decisions, and come up with unique strategies and solutions that improve internal processes? Can you be given a wide bandwidth within which you can do your job? Do you have potential for leadership within the company? These are some of the questions an employer will be considering during the interview process.
4. Listening and communication skills
Employers know that individuals who communicate clearly can build and maintain relationships more easily, than those that have not developed those skills. As a result, these individuals are easier to work with and manage, and are able to perform well in group settings. Listening and being able to accurately interpret what others say, as well as synthesize information, are the linchpin of good communication. Employees also need to be able to express themselves clearly, both verbally and in writing. This is particularly true in our technological age, where face-to-face communication is frequently replaced with virtual. Can you show that you are a strong communicator? Employers will love to talk to you.
If you ever saw the movie “Three Kings”, you may remember this great scene with Archie Gates (George Clooney) and Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze), where they talk about courage. American soldiers stationed in the Gulf at the very end of war, they are about to attempt to rescue their friend from an enemy bunker. But Conrad expresses concern.
Archie Gates: You are scared, right?
Conrad Vig: Maybe.
Archie Gates: The way it works is, you do the thing you are scared sh!tless of, and you get the courage AFTER you do it, not before you do it.
Conrad Vig: That’s a dumb way to work. It should be the other way around.
Archie Gates: I know. That’s the way it works.
It would certainly be easier if it was the other way around. If all of us had this magical stockpile of courage, we could easily do what we were most scared of. Arguably, then, everyone would be living their best, most expansive life. Or at least, attempting to.
But that is not how it works…
We have to take conscious action to overcome danger and face our fears. But even before we decide what action to take, we have to make another fundamental choice. We have to decide whether we allow the experience of risk and fear into our daily lives.
Most of us don’t have to put our lives on the line in battle. We don’t have to showcase courage by doing something heroic. We have the luxury to wake up each morning, feeling generally safe, and go about our days choosing to act in a way that doesn’t put us at risk. We can ignore our fears and avoid going outside our comfort zone.
We don’t really need to be courageous.
Facing your fears means feeling discomfort. It means possible failure. And not everyone wants to feel discomfort. Very few of us, if any, want to risk failure.
I recently came across and watched again the now famous 2005 Stanford University commencement speech by Steve Jobs. The three stories from his life that he shares, about 1) connecting the dots after taking an unconventional path of dropping out of college, 2) having to start over after a very public failure (getting fired from Apple), and 3) his cancer diagnosis, all converge in one powerful underlying message:
Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
That is a wonderful, inspiring message. But what if you don’t feel courageous? What if you are terrified of change? What if you don’t want to seem a fool? What if you are struggling to make this harder choice?
“I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love,” Jobs says.
Jobs was by any measure fortunate – he found what he loved when he was young. But he was also not immune to self-doubt in the face of rejection and had to overcome many obstacles and failures before he ultimately regained his footing and built a company that is now an icon around the world.
Perhaps Jobs found the winning formula for being and staying bold. Going towards challenges, embracing risk and confronting fear will never be as easy as staying in your comfort zone, at least on the surface. But it is a much easier choice to make when you do it in the service of what you love.
Get on the elevator, fancy a job
On the seventh floor
You are going to the top
Stop. Doors open
You are only on two
In walks a woman in a suit. Looks at you
Speak, your brain says. She’s important
But your mouth feels numb
Sticky, gooey, like you’ve swallowed gum
You have only one chance to impress
Or hold your peace
What will it be? Fight or flight
Calm and serenity wash over you
Eye contact. Hold
You’ve already spoken volumes
And you are only on four
Then a little voice says, don’t try so hard
Be yourself, and if it’s right
The connection will bloom
You will know you’ve made it quite soon
Relax and enjoy
It’s a short ride to seven
So different from the work you must do
To get way up to heaven
Have you ever spent time hiding out in a bathroom stall in between work meetings, or social events? Has the thought of continuous social interaction throughout the day without time to yourself caused you anxiety or stress? Do you find yourself regularly needing to re-charge with a quiet activity? If you are nodding your head in agreement, then perhaps you are an introvert.
When you Google the word introvert, the first definition that pops up is “a shy, reticent person.” Beyond this abridged and somewhat inaccurate description, you will get more researched, nuanced responses, such as “a person who tends to turn inward”, or “someone who is more energized by time alone than in large groups.” Still, these responses do not come close to how well the writer Susan Cain captures the mind and the motivations of an introvert in her fascinating book “Quiet.”
If you do a quick scan of your network, you’ll likely be able to point out a textbook introvert and a textbook extrovert. One is quiet, withdrawn, enjoys solitude and is somewhat socially awkward. The other is gregarious, open, talkative, and the life of the party. Yes?
The reality, as Susan Cain so thoughtfully illustrates in her book, is much more nuanced. And while she reiterates the widely-held notion that none of us can be neatly assigned to distinct personality buckets, she also takes it a step further.
Through many real-life examples, she shows how we can easily misidentify an extrovert for an introvert and vice versa. Even more importantly, she illustrates how we can be mistaken about our own individual preferences.
One of the fascinating stories in her book is about Brian Little, a popular former Harvard University psychology professor. At the time of his tenure at Harvard, his lectures were considered legendary – delivered and performed like the best of Hollywood – often ending with standing ovations. To anyone in his lecture hall, he would appear to be an obvious extrovert.
But getting to know Brian more closely, you would learn that his extroverted persona was situational. While acting highly extroverted at work, in his free time Brian preferred to read books, listen to music and engage one-on-one with family and friends.
If he was a true introvert, why, then, did he choose a profession that required him almost daily to expend such a huge amount of social energy?
Brian knew his limits. Brian also knew what he himself calls his “core personal projects.” And he was willing to stretch himself in the service of those core – meaningful to him – projects.
Because of his popularity and success, Brian was frequently invited to do lectures and speeches at other colleges. During one of these visits, at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean on the Richelieu River near Montreal, he was asked to join the leadership of the college for lunch after his presentation. Brian had to think quickly on his feet. He had to do another presentation in the afternoon, and knew that if he accepted the invitation, he would be too tired to perform at his best later in the day. The small-talk at lunch would wipe him out.
Politely, Brian informed his host that one of his passions was ship design and that he would be thrilled if he could spend his lunch hour admiring ships on the Richelieu River. He then spent the lunch hour walking up and down the river all by himself, re-charging before his presentation.
Years later, the college moved campuses and was no longer located by the river. Brian, who kept receiving the invitations to lecture each year, could no longer excuse himself before the afternoon lecture to admire the ships. Instead, he resorted to hiding out in the bathroom stalls.
Brian found a way to combine his passion for educating his students and the social demands of his work in a way that didn’t burn him out.
Had he avoided doing work that was important to him, and had he not understood his need to regularly re-charge, he would have not only grown to be unfulfilled but also likely severely stressed over time.
Brian knew his preferences and understood how to deploy them in service to his passions.