Archive for introversion


Year of Yes (book review)

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Year of YesShonda Rhimes, the prolific creator and producer of ABC’s hit television shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, was not as confident in herself as you might think.  “I am an introvert. Deep. To the bone,” she writes early in her new book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person.  A chance conversation with her sister while preparing Thanksgiving dinner shook her world.  “You never say yes to anything,” her sister Delores told her that day, remarking on Shonda’s tendency to keep a low profile.  “You are your own boss – your job is only as busy as you make it.  But you never do anything but work.  You never have any fun.  You used to have so much fun.  Now all of these amazing opportunities are coming your way – once-in-a-lifetime opportunities – and you aren’t taking advantage of any of them.  Why?”

Soon thereafter, Shonda relates, she is given a seat in President Obama’s box for a Kennedy Center Honors event.  Intimidated by this, she has no choice in the matter – she is going.  She ends up having a wonderful time that evening, chatting with the Obamas and enjoying the performance.  Her sister’s words then come to mind.  “If they had asked me, I would have said no,” she recalls.

Shonda is very open in revealing her fears in Year of Yes.  But she decides not to let those fears stop her.  Inspired by her sister’s counsel she writes in her journal, “(I) am going to say yes to anything and everything that scares me.  For a whole year.  Or until I get scared to death and you have to bury me.

Yes to everything scary.
Yes to everything that takes me out of my comfort zone.
Yes to everything that feels like it might be crazy.
Yes to everything that feels out of character.
Yes to everything that feels goofy.
Yes to everything.”

Shonda leads the reader through her many challenges in those 12 months, such as giving the commencement speech at Dartmouth College (her alma mater), appearing on the Jimmy Kimmel show, and being interviewed by Oprah.  I liked the book’s conversational style, and the author’s sense of humor.  I had never seen any of Shonda’s hit TV shows and I did not know who she was until I read the book.  I could relate, however, to the challenges she faced as an introvert putting herself out there in the world.  If you liked Susan Cain’s “Quiet”, one of my top book selections of 2012, you’ll love Shonda’s many entertaining stories of overcoming her introvert nature to not only survive, but thrive.  “The point of this whole Year of Yes project is to say yes to things that scare me, that challenge me,” she writes,  “So in order to YES a problem, I have to find whatever it is inside the problem that challenges me or scares me or makes me just freak out – and then I have to say yes to that thing.”

I’ve been noticing my own tendency to “never say yes to anything” lately.  Shonda’s words encouraged me to say my own “yes’s” to opportunities I may otherwise have skipped.  Like snowshoeing for the first time (“what if I fall and I can’t get up?!” said my voice of fear.  I did it anyway and had a great time).

Especially if you are an introvert, I recommend reading Year of Yes.  Then you may tell yourself, as Shonda does at the end of her book, “I am now almost afraid to say the word no.  I can no longer answer any challenge with no … The year was done.  But I was not. Which is how the Year of Yes went from twelve months to forever.”

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Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 1.47.06 PM“Activate your inner Beyoncé,” minister Cynthia James encouraged us to do in a talk I attended awhile back at Mile Hi Church in Denver.  Reverend Cynthia wanted us to express ourselves to the fullest.  “Don’t restrict it – Beyoncé holds nothing back!” she said.

Until yesterday’s Super Bowl I had never seen Beyoncé perform.  Wow!  Talk about being uninhibited.  The extroverted Beyoncé electrified the crowd in a 15 minute dance filled, pyrotechnic enhanced show.  “Beyoncé will go down in history as giving the best halftime performance of all time!” writes Christopher Rogers of Hollywood Life.

Yet there was another person who fully expressed himself yesterday in a much quieter way.  Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, the game’s most valuable player, had a phenomenal day – throwing for three touchdowns in leading his team to the victory.  Flacco said after the game in an interview with NFL Network “I hope I can stay somewhat by myself (tonight) so I don’t have to take all kinds of pictures and stuff.”  Not quite as flamboyant as Beyoncé!  Or like past Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who enjoyed the spotlight a la Joe Namath.

But Flacco was equally impressive as Beyoncé in staying true to his character.  The introverted quarterback had the reputation of giving a “boring interview” by broadcasters covering the Super Bowl before the game.  Flacco did just fine in his post game talks, giving his in depth analysis of the game and his teammates before retreating to the solitude he preferred.  “I’m always like that – always pretty calm,” he said when asked how his quiet demeanor helped his team win the game.

I think we saw the best of extroverts and introverts on Super Bowl Sunday.  Beyoncé and Flacco, in their own ways, stayed true to their basic temperaments and shined because of it.   That can be a lesson to the rest of us.  Don’t try to be like somebody else.  Be yourself.  And bring all your passion, like Beyoncé and Flacco did yesterday, to whatever you do.

Beyoncé photo courtesy of nfl network.

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More On Introverts

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Last month I reviewed Susan Cain’s excellent book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking “ .  Not everyone is into books, though, so I was glad to see Susan Cain this week on a TED Talk summarizing the key points of her book:

Most of the comments on the TED site were positive in response to Susan’s presentation.  One critic, however, posted, “Typical introvert. Claims to love extroverts and the appearance of equality, but somehow in her mind believes that introverts are “better” and offer far more to the world. She’s a bit deluded, isn’t she?”

That is exactly what Susan Cain is not saying.  Her message, I think, is to get people to appreciate both introverts and extroverts.  The World is a better place when people are free to be themselves, whether it be introverted, extroverted, or a mix of the two.  The talk raises the awareness of the strengths of the introvert personality type, but not at the expense of extroverts.  Cain encourages all personality types at the conclusion of her talk “to grace us with your energy and joy”.

More voices for introverts that I discovered through Twitter are Barbara and Greg Markway, who have a regular column in Psychology Today.  In this column Greg Markway tells of an introverted 18 year old, Adam, who had trouble getting a job because most employers are looking for extroverted qualities from an applicant.  “We live in a culture that rewards the outgoing,” Markway writes,  “even when the introvert may be more knowledgeable and skilled.”

The story of Adam reminds me of my twin 18 year old sons.  One is more outgoing than the other. He got a job after his first interview. The second son, an introvert, was rejected in interview after interview by businesses looking for more “perky” teens.

I kept encouraging son #2 to keep trying, as I had been rejected in countless interviews myself over the years. Eventually he found a health food grocery store that was willing to give him a chance. He’s still on that job one year later as a bagger. He was hired with 7 other baggers – all but one other has since quit. When I go into the store one of the managers tells me what a good conscientious worker my son is, and how happy they are to have him.

Adam, like my son #2, will eventually find a place that values his skills. It seems introverts have to work harder to get in the door sometimes, but once in they often thrive.

Thank you to Susan Cain and the Markways for stepping out of your own natural introversion to promote the positives of the “quiet” temperament.  You encourage other introverts like me to step out, too.

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Toastmasters: Like Father Like Son

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I have mentioned in the past my guest blog post on Susan Cain’s Power Of Introverts site about my positive experience in Toastmasters.  I overcame my fear of public speaking thanks to Toastmasters!  I am not sure if my blog post encouraged anyone to give Toastmasters a try, but I know of one person it influenced – my son.

Josh is an introvert like me.  For his senior class project he was asked to come up with a proposal that would be a stretch for him.  After hearing of the impact Toastmasters had on my life Josh decided to take a similar step.  “I often have trouble speaking in front of even a class of people, and I want to overcome that fear,” Josh wrote.  “I also know that speech and communication skills are necessary for almost any possible career path that I can enter.  In the future, when I need to make a presentation or lead a group of people, I am
certain that the skills I learn from this project will aid me immensely.”

Josh found a nearby Toastmaster club, visited a couple of times, and joined right after his 18th birthday.  Walking into a club of 20+ adults must have been scary at first, but Josh was warmly welcomed.  He got his first taste of speaking in front of the group with a short one minute impromptu speech.  That went well, but the big test was to come – the 5 to 7 minute icebreaker speech!

Josh was nervous the night before the speech.  “Write a blog about it,” I told him.  “Say exactly what you are feeling before the speech in words, and then right after the speech tell people how it went.”  I told him of another introverted high school student, Brittany Wood, who described her Toastmaster experience in her excellent blog The Shyness Project.

Josh’s first speech was a big success!  He came home smiling and telling us how the speech went much better than he thought it would.  He received many evaluations (pictured above) with words of encouragement and constructive criticism on how to improve.  And Josh did take my suggestion to write about the experience – you can read his before and after first speech thoughts on his Mastering Toastmasters blog.

“This project is a learning stretch for me because I am in no way comfortable right now speaking in front of a large group of people.  I have done (school) presentations and similar speeches, but I have always been nervous beforehand and not satisfied with the end result,” Josh wrote in his class project  proposal.  “This project will bring me way out of my comfort zone by putting me in front of a group of people that I don’t even know to give speeches to.  It will be a hard transition, but I know that in the end my leadership and communication skills will be miles better than they are now.”

You are well on your way to becoming a good speaker, Josh!  And it brings a smile to this Dad’s face to see his son have a positive experience with Toastmasters just like I did 30 years ago.

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“Don’t hire introverts!” the workshop leader said to a group of travel agents at a conference I attended in 2002.  He was giving advice on how to run a successful agency.  “Oh great,” I thought.  I had just left a 21 year career as a very introverted software engineer to enter the field of travel.  The prospects of me succeeding in this new venture seemed slim as I am by nature a quiet person.

I wish back then I had Susan Cain’s excellent new book “Quiet: The Power Of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”.  While that workshop leader and many others may think this is an extrovert oriented World, the number of introverts could surprise you.  “Depending on which study you consult, one third to one half of Americans are introverts—in other words, one out of every two or three people you know,” Cain writes. “If you’re not an introvert yourself, you are surely raising, managing, married to, or coupled with one.”

“Quiet” reveals the value of the introvert personality type.  Cain says it took her five years to write the book and it shows.  “Quiet” is one of the best researched books I have ever read.  Cain draws from history, biographies, interviews she conducted, and her own personal experience to paint a rich picture of the quiet temperament.  I could relate to one passage about Stephen Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computer.  Cain quotes Wozniak in his book iWoz, “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me—they’re shy and they live in their heads,” Wozniak writes. “They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artist, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.”  Cain’s book is filled with little vignettes such as this, inspiring introverts like me.

More than a bunch of facts about introverts, Quiet is a fun book too.  I liked Cain’s conversational writing style.  “Introverts .. may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas,” Cain says.  Isn’t that the truth! (as I write this review in my pajamas :-))  In chapter after chapter, Cain nails the introvert character type. “They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

If you are an introvert, “Quiet” will give you a better appreciation of your personality type, and insights on how to use this temperament to your advantage.  I especially liked the tips on how to avoid overextending myself in social situations.  If you are an extrovert, “Quiet” has value, too, as you will gain an understanding of the introverts in your life.

On a personal note, I first became aware of Susan Cain through twitter, and participated in discussions on her website.  This led to me to write a guest blog post on her site about my Toastmaster experience, which you can read here.  I am also doing quite well in the travel industry, thank you, despite my introverted tendencies.  I run a successful agency with my wife Anne, also an introvert.


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Dancing in Church? Ugh!

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This past weekend I attended a church workshop about being “Set Free”.  The event was a transformative experience – I received insights on forgiveness and I stepped out of my comfort zone as I participated in many exercises interacting with people I did not know.  It was all good … until the end.

For the closing ceremony the workshop leader, an extrovert, turned up the music and said “I want you to dance with as many people as you can!!!”

Ugghhh!  I have always had this aversion to dancing.  I stayed in the corner watching others dance, when suddenly a woman grabbed me and had me do a swing dance with her.  Was it fun?  No!  I wanted to run.

After my little dance I quickly got my coat and exited.  On the drive home I didn’t feel good.  “I must not be free,” I thought, since I wasn’t enjoying the dancing as my other classmates appeared to.

After a day’s reflection I had a different take on what happened to me that day.  I am an introvert, and I think what I was feeling at the end had more to do with my basic temperament rather than not being “free”.  Here’s what I concluded:

1. Introverts draw their energy from inside.  Extroverts are energized by interactions with other people.  It’s not that introverts are social misfits (I love talking to people), it’s just that after a day of social interaction an introvert may need some alone time to recharge his or her batteries.  On this particular day I was doing “extroverted” types of things for 8 hours.  My batteries were drained.  I just wasn’t up for a mass dance with strangers.

2.  This is not to say introverts cannot benefit from doing extroverted activities, and vice versa.  One of the best experiences I have had was participating in Toastmasters, as I wrote about in a previous blog post. Giving speeches is a very extroverted activity, and adding that skill to my repertoire was a good thing.  Loosening up a bit to work on my dance moves probably would help too.  But it’s not going to change my basic personality type – I’m still an introvert!

3.  I say let people have the spiritual practice that feels right to them, whether it be introverted and extroverted. If people were enjoying dancing at the end of my workshop – good for them!  I wish the introverts in the group would have been given the option to not participate without feeling like outcasts.  We introverts need to be careful, too, in thinking our quiet, reflective style is the “right” way for everyone. Any church can benefit from a good mix of introverts and extroverts without each type imposing their style on the other.

I was telling a counselor at the church about my experience in the workshop.  “Can’t quiet people be free?” I asked, relaying my discomfort with how the day ended for me.  “Of course!” she said.  “I never was much for the dancing at the church, either”.

For more insight on introversion check out The Power of Introverts website.

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