I had the pleasure of spending my Friday at MA-NASPA, MCPA, and BACHA’s Entry Level Professionals Workshop at Fitchburg State this past week. In addition to the opportunity to catch up with colleagues from other schools and to present a session on harnessing office creativity through design thinking, I had the opportunity to see colleagues and friends present their ideas, and I’m so glad I did!
I am incredibly thankful to Mike Lynch for his thoughtful presentation on supervising student staff, a process I’m always seeking to learn more about. Knowing full well that student employee roles can fast turn into a mill to create junior administrative assistants (or worse, a paid space to do homework), I constantly look for ways to make the process more constructive.
Now, my crusade against the needless ubiquity of the short-sighted term “millennial” gave me understandable pause as Mike started his presentation, but I was pleased to see that my worries were directly managed by the structure of his presentation- informed by Managing the Millennials, a book by Chip Espinoza, Mick Ukleja, and Craig Rusch written specifically to turn the ugly stereotypes and assumptions about the millennial generation on their respective ears. So thank you, Mike- I needed this :) Check out his slides here- slide game recognize slide game.
As I listened intently to what Mike shared, taking in comments and questions that presenters asked, I couldn’t help but think about the student staff that I work with each day. Some, in our office (including my own), work in a project-based capacity: there are certain ongoing tasks, hopefully associated with their major or areas of interest and developed competency, that guide the work they do. Others do do the work that supports our administrative professionals, providing an extra hand where needed. And still others never really seem to land on defined tasks of any sort- perhaps for their own reasons, but also possibly for ours.
Think for a moment: are there tasks in your office that are off-limits to students? Cash-handling, parent conversations, database access?
A follow-up question: why?
Legal issues like liability or confidentiality may be the answer in some cases, but in others…maybe we don’t know that we can trust them. Or we feel like they’re outside their level of competence or understanding.
Of the nine perceived orientation traits that Espinoza, Ukleja, and Rusch identified (See Slide 11 above) and that Mike shared with the group, I feel like three inform our fear (yep, fear) of handing over control:
- Self-Absorbed (leading to a need for attention);
- Unfocused (leading to a tendency to multitask); and
- Indifferent (leading to a search for meaning)
We worry that students will be too self-absorbed to care about the work they’re doing, too unfocused to carry the task through, or too indifferent to do work that doesn’t mean something to them. The result is students who are insulated from the challenges associated with meaningful and challenging work- not unlike how we pack glass ornaments in newspaper or tissue to protect them from the elements that could crush them.
But in a world now finding a need to impart lessons of resilience to its future leaders, I see an opportunity to do just that, in real time and in practice. To sum up the thesis of the article shared above:
We have raised a generation of young people who have not been given the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems. They have not been given the opportunity to get into trouble and find their own way out, to experience failure and realize they can survive it, to be called bad names by others and learn how to respond without adult intervention. So now, here’s what we have. Young people,18 years and older, going to college still unable or unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, still feeling that if a problem arises they need an adult to solve it.
The question is: how can student employment help solve this issue?
In her latest book, Mindy Kaling alludes to the importance of associating work with a named “plague” of millennials – entitlement – to buffer the worrisome lack of resilience we see so often:
People talk about confidence without ever bringing up hard work. That’s a mistake. I know I sound like some dour older spinster chambermaid on Downton Abbey who has never felt a man’s touch and whose heart has turned to stone, but I don’t understand how you could have self-confidence if you don’t do the work.
So in Mindy’s estimation, and I’m inclined to listen to her, there are elements of resilience that are tied up in doing work. Not failure-proof, insulated, relatively impactless work- but real work. Work that solves problems. Work that serves others. Work that allows them to “bounce”, or find moments where they’re on the ground and have to find their way back up. Like rubber.
When I think about who on campus utilizes their student staff the best, I am drawn to two nontraditional areas- Facilities, and Information Technology. In both cases, I have found that work orders or troubleshooting requests are responded to not by full-time staff members, but by student staff. They are armed with the tools to solve problems, the resources required to answer questions, and (this part’s important), the rightfully placed confidence that their task is achievable. Implied in that last bit is something else essential to building resilience- an understanding that not all problems have simple solutions, and the resources to fill in knowledge gaps or procedural failures. They are encouraged to be attentive to the task at hand, oriented in the moment, and asked to interact with the beneficiary of their tasks.
Where can you allow students to “bounce,” rather than wrapping them so tightly that they can’t break?
- Simulatory training: scenario-based training like Behind Closed Doors, skit development/response, or “Secret Shopper” experiences let you find the struggle in practice (rather than theory), and respond accordingly.
- Prompt and detailed feedback: when you embark on initiatives like this, you will need to be timely and specific in your feedback- when performance is poor, but also when its effective. This will allow students to course correct in the moment, and get used to reviews of their experience.
- Peer-led transition: while students may shy away from getting feedback and struggling with us, they may have an easier time hearing these things from friends, who will generally value them as individuals regardless. Create opportunities for students to train one another. This values the growth of the more experienced students, and eases the transition for the less experienced ones. Their friends and peers can help pick them up when they fall, in a manner that professionals may not be able to.
So, I am issuing a challenge to you: your students are made of rubber, not glass. Except in extremely rare cases. What are you going to do today, this week, this semester, to let them bounce?
As the release of Light It Up continues to sneak up on me (aiming for October 5th, and you can pre-order for Kindle now!), I want to continue to share previews with you. This week: an A League of their Own reference that I’m very excited to be able to make :)
Before we dive into the strategies and systems that can help introverts (and extroverts alike!) get the most out of their student leadership and involvement experience, I want to ensure that we are on the same page as far as what introversion is, and what it isn’t. At the time of publication of this book, introversion is both highly visible and highly misunderstood. It is recognized as a more common trait than ever before.
I want to provide an illustration to demonstrate what many think about introversion versus what it actually is. And, true to form, I’d like to use a movie to do it: 1993’s dramatization of the All-American Women’s Baseball League, A League of their Own.
In A League of their Own, there was a character named Marla Hooch who I’m convinced serves as the archetype for introversion in most people’s minds. She spoke little, had relatively few close relationships (with her father, and later her husband Nelson), but was outstanding at what she had chosen to focus on for so many years. I think you’d agree that there are relatively few people in our lives like Marla; in fact, introversion is only proving to be more and more common and is shown to be valuable at the helm of successful companies like LinkedIn, Apple, and Campbell’s Soup. And yet, it still evokes images of trembling before parties or networking events, declining to speak up at meetings or in front of groups, or avoiding it altogether and taking on the role of recluse.
Sometimes a good way to focus on what something is, can be to focus on what it isn’t. To that end, I want to focus on busting some myths associated with introversion (and for that matter, its counterpart in extroversion).
Introverts don’t like people. This is perhaps the most pervasive myth haunting introverts. In reality, I know as many extroverts that don’t care for people, as I do introverts. Their seeming dislike, however, is rooted in different things. While introverts don’t, by nature, gain energy from social situations, that doesn’t mean that they don’t care to be around people. In fact, when in relationships with people they trust and care about, introverts are the most caring and even energetic people you may meet. They simply recognize that social situations don’t give them energy in the same way that it does for extroverts. Introverts require time and considerable energy to warm up to people- when allotted that time, and when around the right people, they can flourish.
As a follow-up, I want to bust the myth that temperament (both extroversion and introversion) are grounded in social factors. Adam Grant says it best when he too busts myths about introversion:
If you’re an introvert, you’re more prone to being overstimulated by intense or prolonged social interaction—and at that point, reflecting on your thoughts and feelings can help you recharge. But introversion-extraversion is about more than just social interaction. Extraverts crave stimulating activities like skydiving and stimulating beverages sold at Starbucks. Introverts are more likely to retreat to a quiet place, but they’re very happy to bring someone else with them.
That form of stimulation that energizes extroverts and drains introverts could be the result of many things- social interaction, temperature, even caffeine or hunger!
Introverts are shy. Closely related to the previous myth, many people (introverts included, at times!) are of the belief that introversion and shyness are one and the same. Not so. Susan Cain puts it best in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking when she notes that introversion is a preference toward ideas, while shyness is a fear of social situations. The former is tiring, while the latter is painful. It’s also worth noting that while shyness refers to social situations, introversion comes into play with any form of excessive stimulation (including temperature, pain, or even hunger).
Introverts are quiet. Is this a myth? Is this true? To quote one of my favorite professors, “it depends.” Introverts who are shy, will be prone to long periods of quiet. But as we just learned, this quiet is symptomatic of shyness, not introversion. Social introverts (yep, that’s a thing!) and introverts in situations that draw less energy from them are not as quiet. In fact, they may appear to “extrovert” (more on that later) better than most. But look closely- they may maintain that level of energy for a shorter period than others. Some introverts are quiet, but so are some shy extroverts (yep, also a thing). Look deeper before assigning this label.
Introverts can’t lead. In early research on introverted student leaders, I met some resistance from colleagues who insisted that such a term was an oxymoron. But as we dug deeper and talked to students in leadership positions, we learned it was far more common than most would imagine. Society is starting to recognize this fact, as leaders like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner and even President Obama are gaining attention for the leadreship they provide while honoring their introverted tendencies. Introverts may not always appear at the front of a room with boundless energy, but they can have influence when in the right spaces and supported by good people. In fact, Grant, Gino and Hoffman found that in some cases, introverts can be better leaders than their extroverted counterparts!* So if you’re looking to bring someone into power, don’t overlook introverts! And introverts, if you’re nervous about going for it- take a chance. You could be great!
Introversion is cultural. Introversion isn’t the dominant culture in the United States; that said, it is more common in different cultures. Many Asian cultures revere qualities associated with introversion, for example and with that comes more acceptance in those countries. However, that doesn’t mean that all Asians are introverted, any more than all Americans are extroverted. Introversion and extroversion exists in varying levels of abundance around the world. This myth is a good one to remember when traveling, so as to calibrate your behavior based on how the culture behaves, but is not to be wielded as a means to generalize about people.
Introverts and extroverts can’t get along. With differences in lifestyle, social preference, and energy, it may seem as though a harmonious union between these two types. Introversion reearcher (and extrovert!) Jennifer Kahnweiler believes differently. In her book Genius of Opposites, she dedicates her pages to demonstrating how introverts and extroverts are the perfect business partners. In her mind,
The sooner that introverts and extroverts learn about each other’s different languages, the quicker they can get to results. We would together in offices, on conference calls, and through text messages. Yet it often feels like we introverts and extroverts are speaking entirely different languages. We need to learn how to glide seamlessly in and out of these conversations with as little stress as possible. Being able to do this not only gets results but is also personally gratifying.
For my part, one of my best friends is an extrovert, and he’s wonderful at encouraging me to think bigger on projects when I need ideas. Conversely, when those ideas need to be focused and narrowed down, I really excel. Whatever type you lean toward (keeping in mind always that everyone has elements of both!), the odds are good that having a friend or significant other in the opposite camp can make you stronger and more well-rounded.
Introversion can be faked. I hear all the time that introverts feel as though they have to “fake” extroversion in some situations. It always bothers me when I hear someone “faked extroversion” to get through a big speech or a long party. Conversely, friends of mine who have to spend more time alone or have to sit quietly will sometimes claim they’re “faking” introversion. But I don’t see it that way.
In my mind, behaviors aren’t introverted or extroverted, people are. And no behavior is outside of the bounds of anyone’s ability. But, activities like parties or other social situations are easier for extroverts because those situations give them energy. Similarly, being alone and reflection tend to be easier for introverts because they get a charge in those moments. So no one ever “fakes” one temperament or another; rather, you give off the appearance that a less energizing activity is easy.
Introversion can be “fixed.” This is actually a relatively new myth to me, that I saw in the comments of a TED talk about introversion. One rather vocal commenter claimed to have “learned” to not be introverted anymore, and that those who still owned the title simply weren’t trying hard enough.
Believe it or not, there may be something to this one. Not much, but some.
As I mentioned before, introversion isn’t about not being able to do “extroverted things,” but rather being able to convey that these things are easy. Indeed, some elements of life that can challenge introverts (like public speaking, or breaking into new groups of people) can be made easy when we learn the best way to do them for ourselves without them draining our energy. This has been true for me with public speaking- anything that we’re used to, gets easier. And yet. The need, the natural tendency, the physiological need to turn inward in order to get our energy back…never goes away. Even the most comfortable social situations won’t give you energy, they’ll simply deplete it at a slower rate. So introverts, you can “train” to operate out in the world, but your introverted ways will never go away. Spend the time learning how to make the world work for you, and you’ll shine just as brightly- albeit differently- as your extroverted counterparts.
I want to dedicate this book to changing the image that comes to mind when you think about an involved introvert. It shouldn’t look like A League of their Own’s Marla Hooch anymore, struggling painfully to endure a baseball season by hiding behind her hair. Instead, I want you to think about her teammate Dottie Hinson. As most people do when considering what introversion look like, you may have discounted her introversion. But look a little closer: she absolutely fits the bill. Dottie took the time to get to know people, had a few close relationships, and did her job well (including being an inspiration for the team) without much fanfare. Even when the spotlight was turned her way, she shied away from it or sought to turn it toward other people. All of these, and not Marla’s timid shyness, are realistic hallmarks of introverts in control of their style. Seek to inspire a legion of Dotties, able to manage their energy and shine bright on our campuses and in our organizations. The pages ahead will show you how.
After the reception that my post on being seen as an introvert received, I realized that it needed a companion piece, digging deeper into other causes for the dreaded “introverted hangover.” The overstimulation that comes from not social situations, but the anticipation of a series of social situations, is a real energy spender for those of the introverted persuasion. This understanding ties in with one of the biggest misconceptions that persists about temperament: that it is based solely on reactions to social stimulation.
But as Adam Grant recently dispelled in his Psychology Today piece about introversion myths, it’s far bigger than just the people around us. The world is loud, and there’s more competing for our attention than just our peers, coworkers, and others we interact with on a daily basis. So today, I’m devoting this space to demystifying five things besides people that wear introverts down over the course of a given day.
But first, a primer: Jerome Kagan of Harvard University exposed infants to a variety of strong stimuli to gauge their reactions; test scenarios included recordings of voices on tape, the sound of popping balloons, colorful mobiles, and isopropyl alcohol with its trademark acrid scent. The reactions that the infants had were categorized as high-reactive (yielding screaming and vigorous arm waving), and low-reactive (calmer and less affected overall by the changes to the environment). You can read more about this study and its results in Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012).
Now, which reactions would you ascribe to which group? I’ll give you a moment.
Contrary to how they may be as they grow, the louder and more demonstrative babies, the “high-reactives,” were more likely to be characterized as introverted later on; their low-reactive counterparts were more likely to be extroverted. Why? The high-reactives had a more violent reaction to these disturbances to their natural environment, were more affected by what was invading their comfortable space. Comparatively, low-reactive extroverts managed that disruption better because it bothered them less and the energy required to manage the change was less.
I can absolutely see myself in the screaming, arm-pumping anguish of the infants Kagan describes in his study. And if you ever doubt this, I invite you (read: please don’t ever do this) to pop a balloon near me. But there are far less dramatic things that prove disruptive to my, and other introverts’, natural energy flow. Here are four of the most common ones:
I was delighted to see Michaela Chung cite decision-making as a major introverted energy drain, a stimulus that I try often to explain to others but words fail me. Michaela, I’m so pleased that words did not fail you!
Normally, picking a restaurant to eat at is fun. But when you’re doing so three or four times a day it can feel overwhelming. This is because every decision we make takes mental energy. The hamster only has so much juice, so the more energy we sink into making choices, the less we have for other things […] This is why so many introverts (myself included) love routines. Routines and rituals eliminate choices. They put certain parts of our day on cruise control, allowing us to free up mental space for other more important things.
As I often say, a lack of ease in such an activity should in no way excuse someone from having to do it. Michaela didn’t just decide to not eat because the decisions were hard. But recognition of such a challenge simply means finding ways to manage the energy associated with the activity. I do this by doing as much research as possible leading up to a decision, as well as asking around amongst people in the know (rather than consulting my social circles for opinion-based answers) to get as much information as possible.
Yeah, this one bummed me out too. I thought the reason I wanted to move a house twenty minutes after a cup of coffee was because I’m a small person, but it’s far more serious than I could have imagined. Jessica Stillman wrote in Inc about how introverts should carefully time (though not swear off, thank heaven) their java because it hits them harder than it does extroverts, who are better equipped neuroscientifically to endure the rush of energy that caffeine provides.
Fun fact: I carry a set of high-fidelity earplugs on my keys. I keep them on hand mostly for concerts, but they also come in handy on public transit or walking in busy areas, particularly after I’ve had a hectic day. I’ve always been sensitive to loud noises (see also: the balloon thing, non-choreographed fireworks), but never fully understood why. As with so many other things in this post, I learned later that it was an issue of overstimulation- this time from Arnie Kozak (and Hans Eysenck):
Another experiment had extroverts and introverts play a difficult word game while listening to headphones that produced random noise. The participants got to adjust the volume of these noises and, not surprisingly, the introverts preferred a lower volume (55 versus 72 decibels). Both groups performed equally well on the task. When the volumes were switched, performance decreased for both groups dramatically. The overstimulation of the loud noise led to lower performance by the introverts, presumably because they were overwhelmed. The extroverts too, had difficulty performing, presumably because they were understimulated and bored.
I like this example in particular because it paints extroverts not as the stronger side of the introvert, capable of handling more than their weaker counterparts, but as beings equally dependent on energy management to thrive. Just as introverts must be careful of situations that provide too much stimulation, extroverts must be equally attentive to existing and cultivating scenarios that don’t leave them with too little stimulation.
Hunger (and Temperature, and a few more!)
Marti Olson Laney, author of several books on introverts (including specialized books about introversion in children, and introversion in romantic relationships) explains this best, and I’m incredibly grateful to her for it:
Introverts use an entirely different neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, on their more dominant pathway. Acetylcholine is another important neurotransmitter connected to many vital functions in the brain body. It affects attention and learning (especially perceptual learning), influences the ability to sustain a calm, alert feeling and to utilize long-term memory, and activates voluntary movement. It stimulates a good feeling when thinking and feeling. Introverts require a limited range of not too much or too little dopamine, and a good level of acetylcholine, to leave them feeling calm and without depression or anxiety.
The activation of the parasympathetic nervous system means that introverts:
- May have trouble getting motivated or moving; might appear lazy
- May be slow to react under stress
- May have a calm or reserved manner; may walk, talk, or eat slowly
- May need to regulate protein intake and body temperature
- Must have breaks to restore energy
So what did I get from all this? In addition to being a justification for (a) my otherwise inexcusable angry-hunger and (b) my extensive cardigan collection, I learned when reading Laney for the first time (and again, later, as I put together the neurological explanation of introversion for my own book) that what’s going on in my head is entirely different from many of the individuals who I surrounded myself with yet occasionally failed to understand. It’s a wonderful relief to feel understood, and my extensive reading of Laney’s work helped me get to that place.
So there you have it. To supplement Cain’s book title, introverts are seeking to find their power in a world that can’t stop talking, or caffeinating, or presenting choices, or being loud. What methods have you found to help yourself manage these moments of high energy expenditure? And to my E’s reading, what are you doing to make these moments easier for the “innies” among you?
I love the idea of a new school year. It’s a chance to see everyone who we do our work for, and it means that all the preparation and planning we’ve done over the summer will finally be executed. But, as with previous years, I’m having a lot of trouble finding joy in the execution.
As I write this, I am recovering from the second day of a new semester. This time yesterday, I shared the following tweet before sliding gleefully into my pajamas:
I cannot guarantee that today’s dose of Cheerios won’t be eaten with melted ice cream. What. A. Day. pic.twitter.com/XP0VAHEUlA
— Amma Marfo (@ammamarfo) September 2, 2015
Some may have read this as me having had a bad day. Not true. It was a great day welcoming back students new and old, conflicts I anticipated as being acrimonious were actually pleasant and well-reasoned, and I received appreciation for good work from colleagues and students alike.
Others may have read this as a sort of exhaustion that put me right to sleep. Also not quite true. Aside from a brief “eye rest,” I went to bed at the normal time. This exhaustion wasn’t the same sleepiness that comes from waking up too early, but the kind of fatigue that comes from having the life drained out of you. And by the way, this isn’t Victorian-era “I’ll get the vapors if I have to talk to you” tired. This is blinding headaches, muscle pain…beyond tired into painful.
I counted on the spreadsheet that our commuter registration system pulls- 154. In six hours, I spoke to over 150 students. 25 students an hour. That’s roughly one every two minutes. For each one, I had to serve their needs, while also answering questions, troubleshooting worries, and encouraging patiences when lines got too long or questions didn’t have easy answers. Add to that fact that ticketed events, another area I oversee, will kick off next week, and…well…Urkel gets it.
In all of those maneuvers, I realized what it is that’s taking so much out of me: there is an element of performance embedded in each of these encounters, a feeling of being seen. As I get older and learn more about myself, I’m realizing how difficult that is for me. It’s hard to be seen, and it’s even harder to be seen when you don’t necessarily like or want to be seen. It’s a complicated emotion to understand- can you be recognized for good work, without being noticed and set apart from others? Can you do a job on the front lines when you serve as a gatekeeper? And does it make sense to want to have an awesome Halloween costume, but still feel uncomfortable when people comment that they love it?
(As an aside, I hope it does make sense…as this is my dilemma every. single. year.)
One of my favorite lines from Sophia Dembling’s The Introvert’s Way addresses an element of this dichotomy: “I accept attention, sometimes I invite it, but I don’t compete for it.” For me, a great example of this aversion to attention is in the start of my book chapter about recognition and rewards for introverts in the forthcoming Light it Up, as I sought to hide on a bus from a horde of college students singing happy birthday to me:
Did you know that a (nearly) full-sized adult can fit under the seat of a school bus?
I learned this from experience on August 23rd, 2006.
I wasn’t hiding from danger, or embarrassment, or from bullying or teasing. I was hiding from a chorus, sing-screaming “The Birthday Song” at the top of their lungs. I was further startled and shaken by a head poking down next to mine, my friend Sami, to make sure I heard every word.
This isn’t the first time that such recognition brought my insides to the brink of curdling. As it happens, it generally involves being sung to on my birthday. But I’ve also learned in the years since that this reaction to being pushed into the center of attention, is by no means uncommon for introverts. While many care deeply about being appreciated by the people around them, few will revel in the opportunity for that appreciation to be shown in a public forum.
In The I’s Have It, there is a section about what happens when introverts are pushed past their threshold of stimulation- this can happen from anything that saps you of energy- social interaction, yes, but also temperature, volume, emotion, or even hunger/hanger. A mentor and contributor termed it the “introvert hangover,” and in its most severe cases, it can be painful (including the symptoms I descrived before). Another one of the factors that can contribute to the overconsumption that causes a hangover? Being “on” for too long, as being seen may sometimes require.
Now, if we accept that being seen is okay sometimes, but not others, then the question remains…when is it okay?
Speaking for myself: I’m okay taking the stage for myself, when it’s a means to share my ideas.
This is how I reconcile my acceptance, even excitement, with public speaking in support of ideas I care about. It energizes me to talk to students and staff members about topics like creativity, humor, and energy. These are topics I know well, and I am galvanized by a trust given to me to address these topics with competency and my own personal style. I’m okay being seen in these instances, because it provides a means to elevate ideas I see as important. As you may imagine, being present in my office six hours a day to sell a student a locker or distribute a sticker doesn’t fill me with the same inspirational energy.
With all of that said, now what? What to do to balance the need to be effective, with an aversion to feeling “seen”?
Acknowledge that this is who you are, where you are, and how you operate. A few years back, I went through a week of orientation, believing I had an ear infection. I found out that first weekend that I didn’t have an ear infection, I just had clenched my teeth for five straight days. As my jaw relaxed, my ears stopped hurting.
Pay close attention to how you respond to certain scenarios. You’ll come to realize what scenarios are testing you, and which ones actually give you energy. Further, accept that there are times of year, tasks, and environments that will challenge you. This is a great example. My whole year doesn’t look like this first six weeks will, and that makes this crush of activity harder to work through. Todd Henry puts its beautifully in his most recent release Louder than Words:
On occasion, growth requires a sprint. While your slow, steady, deliberate progress will be enough to get you moving in the right direction, you also have to be prepared for those moments when the work will demand everything you have for a season. This is not (necessarily) unhealthy if it’s part of a natural rhythm, or ebb and flow, of your work […] Sprint when necessary, but if you are being intentional and deliberate, your work should require occasional sprints, not an all-out footrace.
Once you’ve acknowledged the sprint, build in walk breaks. Anytime that your task outpaces your ability to do it, time to slow down is necessary. For introverts, that may mean finding small moments to recharge as best you can. I do this by setting hours where I’m available- and setting hours when I am not. This can mean taking full lunch breaks, away from your desk; dedicating time to work on other tasks so this sprint doesn’t leave you gasping for air in other races; and ensuring that your downtime and out-of-office time is truly yours.
As you seek to raise your energy levels, I urge you: don’t isolate yourself. While I was unable to meet up with a friend that was in town, I was willing to spend time with friends who know me well, ones for whom time spent is energizing. As I’ve said so many times before, introversion isn’t an aversion to people; its an aversion to situations that pull energy away. But I have friends that recharge me too. Alternating this “charger time” between friends, and solo time, keeps me vibrant and interesting :)
And lastly, ask for help. Many hands make light work, I’m finding- and while small schools don’t always have too many additional free hands, you’d be surprised who will lift a finger when you ask. I’ve managed some of the feelings of overwhelm by dedicating to student employees and our administrative staff. By doing that, I can ensure that the students I do see get the best version of me possible. It takes less of a toll on me physically and mentally, and ensures that the many other hats I wear can sit on a head that’s upright, not one slumped over from exhaustion. As I write this, we have several more weeks of Welcome to make it through- but I’m hopeful that the Amma who needs to take center stage this season will be able to do so with a smile.
What other tips do you have for managing that feeling of being seen?
Last week, I shared a tidbit of the new book Light it Up with you all; as of last night, I am excited and terrified to report that the first draft is DONE! Some editing, and the addition of some contributor pieces, will make her complete.
Stay tuned for more details about the upcoming book, I can’t wait to share it with you!
As the completion of my second book Light it Up draws closer, I want to share with you an excerpt- from the “Rewards and Recognition” chapter. I hope you’ll enjoy, and I look very forward to sharing the rest of its pages with you in a few short months!
Did you know that a (nearly) full-sized adult can fit under the seat of a school bus?
I learned this from experience on August 23rd, 2006.
I wasn’t hiding from danger, or embarrassment, or from bullying or teasing. I was hiding from a chorus, sing-screaming “The Birthday Song” at the top of their lungs. I was further startled and shaken by a head poking down next to mine, my friend Sami, to make sure I heard every word.
This isn’t the first time that such recognition brought my insides to the brink of curdling. As it happens, it generally involves being sung to on my birthday. But I’ve also learned in the years since that this reaction to being pushed into the center of attention, is by no means uncommon for introverts. While many care deeply about being appreciated by the people around them, few will revel in the opportunity for that appreciation to be shown in a public forum. Sophia Dembling put it beautifully: “I accept attention, sometimes I invite it, but I don’t compete for it.”
“Wait a minute,” you may be wondering, “doesn’t this vision of introverts reinforce some of the stereotypes ascribed to them?” In some ways, I suppose it does. To say “be careful how you recognize introverts! No surprises! Watch out!” makes them appear fragile, volatile even, like an unstable chemical compound or a jack-in-the-box. But the reason I’m so bullish about making this point is because a lack of care when doing so reinforces different stereotypes about introverts, ones that aren’t so nice. The rush of “power usage” that comes from being unable to effectively manage the energy that an unexpected place in a ceremony, results in an appearance of standoffishness, indifference, or a lack of gratitude- persistent stereotypes and misconceptions that sadly already plague introverts.
At the same time, many of us survive in (and perhaps, whether meaning to or not, cultivate) an environment devoid of recognition. Seeking efficiency and efficacy, we overlook what it may mean to praise the good work of a colleague or advisee. While this move may seem easier on all, few (irrespective of temperament) thrive in this version of a work climate. To halt recognition because “there isn’t time” or because it makes some people uncomfortable, isn’t an effective solution either. We always have time for what we prioritize, and I’m of the belief that showing appreciation and recognition for good work should always be a priority.
Not only do I wish that the landscape of rewards and recognition were better for introverts, but I wish it were better overall. But we’ll concentrate on the former here; I’ll briefly share a few tips on how to recognize the good work and growth of introverted student leaders without sending them retreating to the safety of the underside of a seat. It’s uncomfortable under there. I’ll note that many of these tips apply to recognition in the form of ceremonies; after that, I’ll share a few more private recognition and reward methods that could take the place of a large event.
Change the time of day. As odd as it may seem, it may make more sense to hold some of these recognition ceremonies early in the day. In addition to getting the work day off to a good start, the quieter of your students stand a chance of being better energized early in the day, before their daily routines and other elements have had the opportunity to wear on them. It presents different logistical challenges than a ceremony later in the day, but advance notice can sometimes address that concern.
Let them know in advance. Speaking of advance notice…a quick note to those that like awards to be a surprise: not everyone likes, or works well under, those conditions. And the rush of stimulation that comes with an attempt to simultaneously comprehend a surprise and a surprise space in the spotlight, is an excellent recipe for introvert overwhelm.
By the same token, I’m sensitive to the notion of wanting there to be some semblance of suspense to the proceedings. To that end, I would recommend informing honorees of a nomination, and strongly encouraging attendance. That combination allows individuals to prepare for the inevitability of taking the stage, and presents a bit of the mystique that is so attractive to those that do like surprises.
Enlist the help of those they’ve bonded with. As we’ve established elsewhere in this volume, introverts take personal bonds very seriously; they serve to ground them, provide a sense of stability in a world that can sometimes sneak up on you. Should you elect to maintain uncertainty or high stimulation in your proceedings, do your best to ensure that there is someone in the audience or nearby who they are comfortable with and can provide a calming presence amidst a scenario that may feel chaotic in the moment.
If your students are allowed to bring outside guests, encourage they bring a close family member or friend to the ceremony with them (another way of signifying, “Hey, something’s going to happen!”); if space doesn’t allow for it, encourage they have a friend or mentor from campus on hand.
Quietly spread the word. David Zweig, author of the book “Invisibles,” expertly unpacked this term as a means to classify those who fit some or all of the following traits: generally ambivalent to recognition, meticulous, and comfortable taking on responsibility. While invisibles are not all introverted (by any means), it is a common station that introverts find themselves in. They don’t work or excel for recognition, but at the same time would like their good and hard work to be appreciated. A great way to do this is to share meaningfully news of awards and recognition.
Consider pairing an award with a press release to be sent to a student’s hometown newspaper, a detailed LinkedIn recommendation or recommendation letter, or a note of gratitude to send to family members (one year, on Student Employee Appreciation Day, I crafted thank you notes to my two students, and mailed thank you notes to their parents). If your campus uses a news dissemination platform such as Merit, ensure that this accomplishment is verified on their profile, so it announces itself without them having to negotiate nervousness about “tooting their own horn.”
Separate your spoons and glasses. Unless you know someone has prepared a speech (to this day, the only time I know of someone having a speech prepared for what was otherwise deemed a surprise, was my father at his 50th birthday party), don’t ask that someone – anyone! – speak extemporaneously when receiving an award. Some of the reasons for this may be logistical, but others are temperamental. In The Introvert’s Way, Dembling draws a connection between introversion and a common trait associated with them, preparedness: “Introverts think carefully before they speak. We can be excellent public speakers because we prepare carefully.” As such, a request for an eloquent speech within moments of winning may be infeasible. Think, after all, of actors and actresses who ascend the stage at the Oscars. Those who don’t prepare speeches rarely knock it out of the park- this could be part of the reason why.
Save it for posterity. How can a few hours of recognition be meaningfully recalled in the years ahead? A hint: it will likely take more than a small bundle of candy or a votive candle. It’s always nice to have something to refer back to as motivation during your tougher seasons; not a souvenir, but something more substantive. Could you allow winners to keep copies of the speeches given at their acceptance? Do you share the nomination letters with them? Is the ceremony recorded? Any of these methods could be used as an additional gift for those who win. To be able to take in the pride and accomplishment of the moment in one’s own time is among the greatest gifts you could give an introvert (or anyone, for that matter!); finding a way to do so would be a wonderful way of acknowledging your appreciation for them.
What other tips do you have for recognizing introverts?
As some of you may know, I’m spending the month of August toiling away at a book project. Today, I want to introduce you to the cover art and premise of this work, which I am hoping (hoping!) to release in October.
I present to you…Light It Up: Engaging the Introverted Student Leader.
In The I’s Have It, I discussed how introversion manifested itself in the profession of student affairs, and how to live a life as a professional that allowed this element of your temperament to display itself naturally. In Light It Up, I extend that desire for natural expression to students, and discuss how to engage and support involved students through five stages of the involvement and leadership process:
- Selection and Training
- Advising and Supervision
- Evaluation and Assessment
- Rewards and Recognition
It will also feature essays from other professionals on how to support students as they seek to buck stereotypes of their temperament, avoid assumptions of shyness, and incorporate creativity into their routines.
When it arrives this October (I just have to keep saying it), it will be available for purchase in both paperback and e-book formats. I’ll be sending along a few updates as I go; if you’d like to know how it’s going and get sneak previews, let me know below!
As this post goes live, I’ll be on day three of my August writing challenge, encouraged by Tyler Knott Gregson. While I’ve vowed that part of that time will be dedicated to writing sketches, a pastime that went by the wayside after I finished classes, I’m also dedicating the bulk of that time to the completion of my second book, Light it Up: Engaging Introverted Student Leaders. But in the meantime, I want to share a copy of the first book ahead of the new school year, The I’s Have It: Reflection on Introversion in Student Affairs.
The I’s Have It is a great way to understand yourself and your own introverted ways, can be an excellent gift for the new graduate student or professional in your life, or could even be added to an office library for colleagues to use!
All you have to do to be eligible to win is to let me know: what will you do to manage your own introversion in the school year ahead, OR what will you do to help an introvert in your life be more effective in the classroom or at work. Be sure to include an email address, so I can be in touch and mail out your copy!
Entries will close on Sunday, August 9th, at noon EST; the winner will be notified by Tuesday, August 11th.
As I continue work on a new project highlighting introversion, I’ve had the opportunity to revisit my first treatise on the topic, The I’s Have It. For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing tidbits that could be helpful as you gear up for the fall. Today: from chapter 7, some “survival tips” for the introverted grad student. Come back next week for your chance at a FREE copy!
Graduate programs in student affairs or higher education can seem particularly daunting for the sorts of students they tend to attract. I remember realizing fairly early in my graduate journey, that my classroom was populated by students who had all been the first to speak up in their undergraduate classes. For a time, I think I allowed that notion to overcome me, and it affected my willingness to raise my voice in class. But as the cohort grew closer and we learned more about one another, I came to a few conclusions. First, we were all intimidated! we all had moments when we weren’t sure if we were supposed to be there. By appealing to each others’ areas of interest or expertise, we created an environment where we were (mostly) free to speak our minds. Secondly, and of equal importance, I discovered I wasn’t the only introvert in the group. Introverts, being prone to internalization, generally believe they are the only ones feeling or thinking as they are. But by finding other kindred spirits who shared my temperament, I built a level of comfort with my classmates that allows me to count many of them among my closest friends today.
Alliances, both like the one I built with Jeff (mentioned in Chapter Three), as well as ones I created with more introverted colleagues, can be helpful when navigating the sometimes intimidating landscape of a practically-based graduate education. So many opportunities lie before graduate students in this field, and we expect herculean pursuit of all of them. Assistantships, internships, practica, publication, presentations, professional association boards…I could go on, but you catch my meaning. The options presented are dizzifying. And not unlike our perspective on the undergraduate experience, we frown upon those who are not in a tizzy of activity during the duration of their waking hours. So how does an introvert cope with a myriad of demands on time and energy that can’t always be relied upon?
Aspire to depth, not breadth. There will be a temptation to overcommit. Fight it. There will be thoughts of inadequacy for not being able to say yes to every opportunity. Banish them. The nature of introversion invites these feelings of doubt because we know more about our perspective than we do anyone else’s. But this deep self-awareness can serve as an asset in this instance. What do you really like? What are you really good at? If you are a good presenter, concentrate on making your impact through presentation proposals and opportunities. If you’re particularly interested in publishing articles on a topic, seek out opportunities to be featured and concentrate on that venue. Focus your efforts toward opportunities that energize and interest you. That depth will serve you as well as breadth could serve extroverts; you’ll be able to effectively harness your natural ability to concentrate meaningfully, and you won’t live in fear of forgetting one of so many commitments.
Explore your interests. A related point to the previous one: take the two years of graduate school to find out what you’re good at. A research mindset and unprecedented access to written resources (sometimes your access to library materials is greater as a student than as a staff member, so take advantage while you can!) creates a powerful opportunity to learn deeply about any topic in the field you might want to explore more. This research could help you realize what opportunities you want to take on before you leave your program, possibly helping guide future research or employment interests.
Seek out the superconnectors. The prospect of putting yourself out there to meet new people or sell yourself with ones you already know, can feel exhausting before you’ve even attempted a connection. But don’t let the butterflies in your stomach overcome your will to introduce yourself. Don’t give in to the butterflies; seek them out. Having an ally in your networking efforts, be it an extrovert or a more comfortable introvert, will help give you a natural entry point into a conversation that introverts occasionally struggle to create. Sophia Dembling calls small talk “the WD-40 of society.” She goes on to credit it for “keep[ing] the gears of society cranking smoothly, mak[ing] the world feel friendsly and protect[ing] our social muscles from atrophy.” Don’t let discomfort or potential exhaustion rust your gears, keep them moving with the help of a friend!
Find your refuge. Even if you love the people you’re taking class with, even if you have wonderful and understanding roommates, even if you pace yourself and don’t get overwhelmed often…now and again, you’re going to need a break. Take the time needed to find your own personal “fortress of solitude”, somewhere that you can sleep, study, or recharge undisturbed. I have a thing about parks, and do my best to find one near my house to unwind. I have been known to pull on my running shoes for a free hour to myself during retreats. I also get a great deal from heading to the beach with a good book and a pair of earplugs. Your refuge could look like any of these things, or it could be something completely different. But the essential element of this refuge is its ability to effectively recharge you. Like I discussed earlier in the book, it must have a real outlet, allow for adequate time to recharge, and be as free of “power shortages” as possible.
Monitor yourself and stand up for your needs. Recognizing your need for a break or recharge, and being able to remove yourself from a situation to act on it, are two very different things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set a time to leave a networking event or outing with friends, only to find myself ignoring my need to rest for the sake of preserving social graces. This is a tempting notion for those who are accustomed to not disrupting the atmosphere of an event. That being said, it’s okay to stand up for yourself and honor your needs. Whenever I find myself struggling with the decision to stay or go, I recall some of the reactions I’ve had to reaching that burnout point in public. It rarely goes well, and can sometimes lead to rude or snippy exchanges that I know I’ll regret. Combat the possibility of an adverse reaction by listening to the inner voice that says “Time to go!” It knows best, I promise.
Building these habits early in your career in this field will go a long way to helping you establish healthy and temperamentally appropriate habits to preserve your sanity and energy in this often demanding profession.
If you’re interested in The I’s Have It, a guide to leading a thriving professional life as an introvert, head here and use the code E8Q5G4QE for 20% off your copy!