THE I’S HAVE IT Flashback: The Introverted Grad’s Guide

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!

BoJack Says the Darndest Things

Since last October, when standup comedian Hannibal Buress told a crowd at Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theater to look up the allegations of Bill Cosby’s sexual misconduct, it was a matter of time before popular culture decided to take on the topic. An unlikely candidate stepped forward to address the controversy with humor and gravity- Netflix’s BoJack Horseman (season 2 now streaming).

IMAGE CREDIT: USA Today

Episode 7 of season 2, “Hank After Dark,” features journalist Diane Nguyen (voiced by Alison Brie) accidentally derailing a book tour by mentioning that personal transgressions rarely hinder commercial success. She goes on to cite several real actors – Christian Slater, Mike Tyson, Woody Allen – before mentioning the show’s approximation of Cosby, variety show host Hank Hippopopalous (voiced impeccably by Philip Baker Hall). Just as with the aftermath of Buress’s charge, people (and animals, as is the show’s custom) seek out the information and are appropriately outraged…before they seek to ignore or discredit the claims. Subsequent approximations of real dialogue feature Diane’s interview with a news pundit (an emotional whale voiced by Keith Olbermann) who vocalizes dismissals of victim testimony in the same way many real newscasters did as the story broke:

TOM JUMBO-GRUMBO: Everyone says he’s a really nice guy.

DIANE NGUYEN: That’s exactly the problem. Because he’s so nice, people don’t wanna think he’s capable of awful things, so they let him off the hook.

TOM: We don’t know what happened. It’s a classic “he said, she said.”

DIANE: “He said, they said.” It’s eight different women. Are they all lying?

BoJack Horseman has earned acclaim since its first season for its combination of realistic darkness and profound humor; while it didn’t seem immediately obvious at first, its premise (following the life of a washed up nineties television star) seemed the perfect setting to address a storyline such as this. Cosby’s peak of fame came in the nineties with The Cosby Show, and the show opens with his BoJack equivalent winning a 1994 Animal Choice Award (a few short years after Cosby ended, and a few years before his revival of Kids Say the Darndest Things). The show is especially adept at showcasing the denial of those who idolized the iconic accused, through the character of Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tomkins), a man (dog?) torn between his career support for Hippopopalous, and personal support of Diane, his wife.

BoJack’s choice to have the revelation made by Diane is an important one; choosing to have the lone lead female with a reputation for being an intellectual creates a rich narrative that differs sharply from the one we saw play out in real-time. Her broaching of the topic, combined with subsequent public dialogue, seems to be a composite of roles that Buress, Judd Apatow (who has spoken vehemently against Cosby since the news broke), and even, albeit to a far lesser extent, Tina Fey (who notably reported on SNL’s Weekend Update on the 2005 deposition when it was taken). But unlike Buress and Apatow, Diane suffers considerable backlash from her comments- making a statement about how we treat the female whistleblower. Comparatively, Apatow’s and Buress’s careers have been relatively unscathed for their involvement with the scandal. In fact, each of them has had their celebrity rise since (Apatow with the recent release of his book Sick in the Head and film Trainwreck, and Buress with the start of his Comedy Central show Why? with Hannibal Buress).

And how does it end? On the show, Diane decides to pursue a new chapter in her career; as she awaits an airplane, she spies an interview with Hippopopalous and Jumbo-Grumbo that all too accurately represents the state of our rape culture:

TOM: Hank, I have to ask, did you do it?

HANK: No, I did not.

TOM: Well, that’s good enough for me.

The episode ends with popular media, and all the people who trust it for validation of their own wishes and desires for their admirers, taking the accused for his word. BoJack’s writers had no way of knowing that a few short months later, we’d be forced to take the opposite stance for the same reason. But the streaming cartoon’s willingness to tackle this controversial topic, and to do so in a way that highlights additional problems with our culture, was especially prescient on a weekend that Cosby’s long-looming descent is most assuredly sealed.

 

THE I’S HAVE IT Flashback: Cultivating Resilience

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 6, a little something on cultivating resilience.

Because introversion is an internally focused concept, it necessarily creates a kind of insulation between the individual and the rest of the world. It’s difficult to peek out from behind that insulation; it takes a tremendous amount of trust and energy to do so. And in the event that this leap isn’t rewarded as we expect, we struggle to recover. Criticism that might roll off the back of less internally critical individuals sticks with us, rumination over how we might salvage a bad situation goes on longer than it would for extroverts.

Take, for example, the student event that our office hosts that draws twenty students instead of two hundred. The proposal we present to our boss that gets declined. The student who shows anger at our enforcement of College or University guidelines. Any or all of these situations are uncomfortable for us as professionals. A gap between our expectations and reality is always difficult to overcome. But for introverts, the chasm between our hopes and a less than fulfilling final result is especially difficult to cope with. Why?

sandcastle suedleWell, think back to your younger days, to a time when you built a sandcastle. If you never did, think of any children you saw doing it on TV or in a movie. These structures take meticulous planning and a great deal of time to set correctly. Grand plans are made in our heads about them standing the test of time, and exceeding our wildest dreams. Now imagine someone knocked down your castle before you were ready. It could be an angry sibling, a careless passerby, or even nature asserting herself in the form of waves breaking on the shore. It’s a crushing blow to feel as though your time and work were wasted, as though your efforts weren’t appreciated as they should have been, and as though your confidence is shaken at the sight of a crumbling construction. That feeling can consume an introvert when expectations change or the sting of rejection is felt, particularly to those introverts who are also classified as highly sensitive (the Myers-Briggs “F”s, for those who measure temperament by that scale).

But just as there is a great deal of confusion about showing too little interest in social endeavors, there is considerable confusion from extroverts about why these, in their eyes, easily navigable setbacks are felt so deeply by their quieter counterparts. Just as we glorify the virtue of charisma, we also glorify the virtue of resilience. And just as with charisma, the appearance of effortless resilience isn’t easy. Here again, the application of our operative phrase for the mask of introversion, ease, returns to prominence. Moving on after a disappointment is hard for all of us. But rebounding quickly is even harder for introverts.

So how do we soften the blow of these disappointments in a moment where it may not be possible to fully process them?

  • Restore equilibrium. For all your efforts to temper your reaction to a disappointment or letdown, it may still take you a moment to return to equilibrium. Take that moment. Trying to suppress it or push it off will only place you further off balance, making you more uncomfortable. If you need to adjourn to the nearest restroom, your car, or some hidden place on campus, do so to regain your composure. There is nothing wrong with feeling an emotion fully; allow yourself to do so, with the aid of the other tips listed here.
  • Adopt a mantra. A mantra isn’t going to fix the deep pain, frustration, embarrassment or shame that you feel in the moment after you’re hurt, but it will help you to restore composure until you’re in an environment where you can truly allow yourself to feel. This mantra should acknowledge what you’re feeling, advise you to momentarily put the feeling away, and reassure you that you will overcome what troubles you. One of my go-to mantras to help divert my frustrations is: “This is uncomfortable right now. But you know it’ll pass. You can do this.” A series of short sentences, as simple as that, can keep you from the rare but significant outbursts introverts can have when overwhelmed.
  • Recall triumphs. Because introverts find it so easy to retreat to their own thoughts, they have long memories. But all humans, regardless of temperament, hold bad memories more tightly than good ones. The result, for introverts, can be a loop of bad experiences and disappointments. When you’re feeling low or defeated, challenge yourself to recall the good memories. Chances are, you have had positive experiences as often (or more often!) as you’ve had bad ones. Find the good, and allow those moments to fill your thoughts. Don’t discount the lessons that can be learned from your mistakes, but don’t take the occurrence of a mistake to mean that you’re incapable of success either.
  • Take to the paper. One of my favorite presidents, and a noted introvert, is Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a master of the unsent letter. In Lincoln on Leadership, Donald T. Phillips spoke of Lincoln’s habit of venting frustration through “extended letters of refutation.” Phillips noted that the act itself provided the necessary catharsis; “he felt better for having stated his case but did not want any of his angry or emotional remarks made public.” A great gift of the introverted mind is its ability to brilliantly and vividly express itself in writing. In times of frustration, high anxiety, or sadness, carry these feelings to the page. Don’t worry about grammar, convention, or wording- just express yourself. The ability to express your feelings without judgment or interruption will likely help you calm down, easing your return to equilibrium.

 

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!

Flake-Free, The Way to Be

Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.

IMAGE CREDIT: TheDailyQuotes.com

This past Wednesday, I met a BU student interested in marketing, who may be able to help me with a few independent projects, at a indie press panel. It was a pleasure to see her raise her hand to answer a question I had about expanding the reach of my writing. But this chance interaction, one that I hope will be fruitful in the months to come, almost didn’t happen. And it’s largely because of a persistent flaw- my flake factor.

I’m the first to admit, I’m often guilty of perpetrating the quote listed above. I love scrolling through Eventbrite, RSVPing to events in the area that look interesting. Niche trivia nights, networking events, leadership lectures- I’ve indicated interest and attendance to all of them and more. And yet, there are some days that I just…don’t go. I’ve even decided mid-trip that I wasn’t into it, turned around, and gone home.

I know it’s rude, and I know it’s frustrating. But for the introverted reading, you’ll probably recognize the feeling- if not the actual notion- as symptomatic of drained energy. I wrote about the challenges of faithfully keeping these sorts of commitments in my 2014 book The I’s Have It:

Because extroverts gain energy from the very activities that drain it from introverts, they are quick to equate a refusal of an invitation, with a personal judgment. Not so! Well, most of the time. Introverts don’t separate themselves from a crowd as a function of judgment, disdain, or boredom. It is equally important to note that refusing an invitation isn’t necessarily done out of fear or anxiety, either. More often than not, that battery gauge that reflects their energy level is registering zero and they don’t wish to overexert themselves. As we discussed in previous sections, the pleas and guilt trips of friends and colleagues do little to prevent this drain.

With that said, catering to my own comfort isn’t conducive to building strong relationships, social or professional. This is an instinct that I need to fight, and am actively working to combat. Some tips that I plan to employ in this self-improvement project may also be helpful for others, so I’m holding myself accountable by sharing them with you here.

Take note of where your energy soars, and where it sags. Using a calendar, notebook, napkin, or other tracking venue, take note of your energy for 1-2 weeks. On the days that you arrived home with bounding energy, pay attention to what you might have done that day. Conversely, if there’s a day that feels particularly trying? Take an inventory of what you might have done that day.

Odds are, the days that energized you featured opportunities to take part in activities that energized you, or provided moments to recharge organically. The days that wear on you, were likely lacking those opportunities.

Build in more elements of your energizing days into your schedule overall. Presently, I don’t take meetings on Friday mornings. And some of those mornings, I don’t work in my office. Instead of spending the appointment free time anticipating interruptions from coworkers or students, I’ll retreat to the library and work on more energizing projects like writing, editing, or developing and tweaking training pieces. Ensuring that this sort of work can happen uninterrupted once a week (a) keeps me from worrying about when it’ll get done, which is a surprisingly draining activity, and (b) provides a much-needed energy boost ahead of the weekend.

Do you have times on your calendar that you can block off for larger projects, energizing conversations with coworkers, or even just to take a few deep breaths or take a walk? While it may seem as though scheduling time to do less will hurt your productivity or bottom line, you may find that it gives you more energy to power through those tasks effectively and with focus.

When committing to new things, strongly ponder how they’ll fit into your current schedule. I’m a strong advocate of the “I can’t do a thing today, I did a thing yesterday” theory. That is to say, if I go to an event or outing one night, I know I won’t necessarily be at my best if I try to make a repeat effort the following night. Sometimes this means exploring when a class or workshop will be offered later, or turning down well-intentioned but less exciting opportunities. Why do this, when I could miss good information or connections?

Again, I’ll turn to The I’s Have It for a prospective answer:

A hangover from alcohol or sugar (and yes, a sugar hangover is real) comes from the consumption of an excess amount of something that, in appropriate amounts, has few ill effects. But after we reach a threshold that our body can handle, we start to feel ill. The introvert hangover is our body’s response to excess- irritability, short temperedness, and a loss of focus. When we look back on some of the negative characteristics associated with introversion- assumptions of judgment, self-centeredness, and aloofness – one starts to wonder if these conclusions were drawn from introverts who were, as Chris says, hungover. These characteristics generally aren’t true from a “fully charged” introvert, but could certainly be mistakenly assumed of an introvert in dire need of a recharge.

I’m reluctant to present myself to people for the first time when I’m at low charge. Just as I wouldn’t attend an optional gathering hungover, for fear of how I would come off to others, I don’t wish to do the same if I’ll make a first impression that is unfocused or agitated. By building a schedule that allows you to sidestep these moments, you can come closer to presenting yourself as desired.

If wavering when determining your attendance, visualize the “best case” scenario. As I pondered whether or not to go to the book panel, lots of thoughts entered my mind that could have easily sent me home after work instead of to the bookstore.

I don’t want to talk to anyone. Can I just connect with them later? I’m just tired

It’s easy to allow yourself to get bogged down in worst case scenarios- getting trapped in awkward small talk, feeling trapped or pressured to stay longer than you’d like, reaching your dead battery in public. Resist the urge, and instead think about what you could gain from the experience. In a scenario where you’re on the fence, this subtle shift in thinking could make all the difference in motivating you to try something new.

What got me there? As someone who is in the early stages of writing a second book, and am in need of advice on how to go about this process differently from my first time around…I needed the information. I needed the connections. I needed to go. And as I’ve mentioned before when advising introverts on networking: I am capable of setting my own goals for networking. If I speak to even one person, or ask one person, I can count that outing a success. The opening paragraph indicates, I did precisely that.

I know I’m not going to be perfect in fixing this flaw. But being aware of it is the first step, and enacting a plan is the second. If this is an affliction you suffer from as well, I hope that these tips could be helpful for you as well.

How do you stay “flake-free” in your social and professional life?

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!

Around the Web: June Blog Roundup

As many of you may know, my writing isn’t just confined to this space. Today’s post is dedicated to sharing highlights of other pieces I’ve written elsewhere.

I parlayed my love of PBS Kids’ Curious George into a series of lessons for the Lead365 National Conference blog:
Leadership Lessons from Curious George

Also for Lead365, I looked back to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and a lesson on quiet but impactful leadership:
Standing Up for the Gold

This month’s Niche Movement post focuses on Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin:
Reframe and Recommit
(I’m also excited to announce that their first book, which features excerpts from some of my NM posts, is now available for purchase! Congratulations Kevin!)

And for Talking Points Memo, I explored the need for a majority protagonist on Orange is the New Black, in light of strong storytelling and a current events narrative that has made these stories more accessible:
Does Orange is the New Black Still Need Its Blond, White Star?

For a better look at what I’m up to and where, check out the Writer page!

The CATASTROPHE of Creative Relationships

I spent three hours of my past weekend laughing at the smart and wickedly funny Catastrophe (now streaming on Amazon Prime). Starring a comedian I have expressed my appreciation for previously, Rob Delaney, and Sharon Horgan (of the UK’s Pulling, IFC’s deliciously awkwardThe Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, and a cameo on Moone Boy), it tells a sweet and quietly hilarious story of an ad executive and a teacher brought together by an unexpected pregnancy.

Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan

IMAGE CREDIT: The Guardian

I love this show a great deal, six episodes in (Britain, we have GOT to talk. I need more now please). But what I love even more was how it came about. I recently finished Powers of Two, Joshua Wolf Shenk’s meticulously researched and insightful chronicle of creative partnerships, and I couldn’t help but draw connections between his stages of collaborative work. Both Delaney and Horgan are brilliant in their own right, but together? They’ve created something equally emotionally and wildly funny.

Stage One: Meeting

As someone who has used social media to make many meaningful connections professionally and personally, I love that this collaboration started in much the same way. Delaney, once named “the funniest man on Twitter,” reached out to Horgan largely as a fan of her work. The relationship that they cultivated as a result of that initial outreach led to talk of collaboration, development of a pilot, and now a show- currently filming its second series in London. My takeaway from this? Reach out if you like someone’s style, or admire someone’s work. I’ve mustered the courage to do this a few times, and am so pleased with the results that the strategy has provided.

Stage Two and Three: Confluence + Dialectics

Shenk talks about starting the process of creative partnership by identifying your “person.” He says, “find a stranger who gets you or a friend you think is strange.” If you’re familiar with Delaney or Horgan separately, you’ll find that their senses of humor are (a) very different from their contemporaries, and (b) very different from one another. But their confluence on the show yields a beautiful mix of frankness and sweetness– caring without seeming artificially constructed, and truthfully funny without seeming gimmicky. Be they mutually understood strangers or strange friends (I suspect the former evolved into the latter), the resulting relationship created a tone for the show that is unlike other shows of the same ilk.

As an example, consider its British contemporary Pramface, a show with a similar premise but younger characters. Setups and tropes that bring the characters’ families together and challenges the main protagonists’ romantic relationship are noticeably absent on Catastrophe:

“I think that [normal romantic] stuff makes our hair stand on end, and it’s about finding ways to show the romance without hammering it home and the way you can do that is sneaking it in or using more creative ways”

-Sharon Horgan

In their place is a more realistic portrayal of what could be happening in these characters’ lives: when you move for a relationship, who do you hang out with and how do you work? What do your current friends think about your relationship? When an unexpected event brings you together, how do you sort out what you mean to each other? These are next-level questions that most comedies address in a more flippant way. But much of the emotional heart of the show comes not from standard sitcom setups, but the questions that most comedies in this genre simply fail to address. It’s a unique conversation that was an agreed upon principle that the show has excelled at. As you aspire to collaborate on creative work, think about how you can make the conversation around your chosen pursuit, a unique one.

Stage Four: Distance

As with any relationship, time apart is healthy- Delaney gets his through nationwide tours and standup, while Horgan gets hers through acting and writing on other projects. The distance and difference of background, as well as diversity of experience while creating the final product, makes the work richer and allows inspiration to seep in from a number of places. Just as solo work benefits from closing the laptop and walking away for a few hours (or days…or weeks), creative partnership is better for the other pursuits that each party elects to engage in. Horgan and Delaney both admitted to mining their respective lives for material to inform series one. So Rob, Sharon, in the highly unlikely event that you’re reading this…you have my (unsolicited and unneeded) permission to take the time. Series two will be better for it!

Stage Five: Interruption

Presently, interruption isn’t in sight for Horgan and Delaney. Series two is in production right now, so we’ll be getting more Catastrophe. However, this is not the case for all shows. I think about partnerships that have ended acrimoniously (as with Neal Brennan and Dave Chappelle, a creative pair that eventually could no longer collaborate), as well as ones that came to a natural end (more so the case for John Lennon and Paul McCartney, despite persistent rumors). But if I had to speculate how Catastrophe would come to an end, I feel like the creative pair responsible for its creation, will have as much control over its conclusion- and will end it on their own amusing but touching terms. In the meantime, as you examine your own creative relationships, I would encourage you to take similar control over your own fate. Some partnerships will reach a natural conclusion, and can end without contention or explosiveness. Take stock of the work, take stock of the relationship, and decide if you have one more in you. Odds are, the world needs it just as much as I needed the three hours of laughs that Catastrophe gave me.

Who are your creative “better halves”? What are you working on? And have you watched Catastrophe? I need someone to talk to about it!

Make Your Failures Funny

If your girlfriend dumped you for a magician, how many people would you tell? How long would you talk about it? Most people, finding it embarrassing (sorry to my magician friends), wouldn’t tell anyone. But when I saw Brent Morin last week, man, he was telling everybody. And yet, most of us would never spend an hour discussing our failures with anyone who wasn’t paid to hear them.

Comedian Brent Morin, onstage at Laugh Boston

Try and tell me this kid’s Undateable. I mean, seriously.

The Undateable comedian (this is the name of his show, not the state of his prospects) brought to light something very important for me last week in interviews promoting his headlining weekend at Laugh Boston: “comedy is about failure.” And, in a great many ways, he’s absolutely right. Consider the alternative for a moment: Christian Finnegan, after an 80+ lb weight loss, has no jokes about it in his act and says often “Success, in general, isn’t funny.” Or consider my other comedic encounter of the week, Kevin Hart. Few would argue things are going really well for him. Despite his recent (albeit absolutely deserved) blockbuster success, most of his stand-up is about him being embarrassed- by his parents, his friends, his children, and even once a raccoon.

But back to Brent. Why does his take on comedy as a means to express failure matter?

Because comedians have found a way to talk about failure in a way that most of us haven’t.

This isn’t about encouraging people to fear failure less, or to actually fail more. Most of us already find ourselves failing often. In fact, by the numbers, we have to fail more than we succeed. We have to apply for more jobs than we will ultimately be offered. We will date more (in some cases, far more) people than we choose to settle down with. We will meet more people than we will ultimately choose to keep in our friend circle. We will be bad at lots of things before we find what we’re good at! And yet the majority will balk at the idea of discussing this perfectly normal and incredibly common phenomenon. As so many of us are learning, this practice is disingenuous at best and dangerous at worst.

So what’s the alternative? Borrow a page from the playbook of so many comedians before you, and find a way to make your failure funny. Joke about it. Laugh at it. Giggle so hard mid-story that the shame, guilt, or embarrassment is replaced by an understanding that failure is a part of life.

Accept it. Yep, it happened to you. No avoiding it, no wishing it away, it happened. You failed. I don’t minimize this step by any means- after all, acceptance is the last step in the five stages of grief for a reason- but I place it first because nothing constructive can happen before it.

Normalize it. Most of the time, we find shame in failure because we think “Who does this?” or “Who does this happen to?” The answer, at least for now, is you. But chances are, the answer is “also, a lot of people.” Tripping in public, getting turned down for a job or a date, or even fumbling a speech (or hell, a comedy set!) in front of others can- and does- happen ALL the time. The first step is to recognize that fact. You won’t see it as a top story on Facebook, or adorned with hashtags on Instagram, but those moments are very real for everyone. Recognize that and you’re well on your way.

Step back from it. Notice I don’t advocate “running away from it.” But step away, and don’t hold it so tightly. That tight grip is often where a lot of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and instinct to hide lies. Once it’s loosened a bit, you can see it with the benefit of hindsight. You’ll see that in the grand scheme (“will it matter in ten years”) it will likely be a blip on the beat of your life, and you’ll perhaps even see that it could have happened to anyone. If it helps, imagine it as having happened to someone else! A friend, a famous person, or a fictional character known for similar missteps. This may take some time- there is such a thing as “too soon?” to laugh at something, but this step away will help move the process along.

Now, laugh. It’s next to impossible to identify why something is funny and something else isn’t. But I really like Peter McGraw’s “benign violation” theory, which ultimately means that the best jokes are ones that identify something out of the ordinary or unexpected, without being too dangerous or disturbing to laugh at. As an incredibly odd example: Raisins aren’t funny, aside from these ones. Cancer also tends to not be funny. However, finding a “mole” on your skin and being nervous that it’s cancer, but finding out a moment later that it’s a raisin? That has more potential to be funny. Examine your situation to find the intersection of everyday and a little weird, and see if a smile doesn’t at least cross your lips when you find the sweet spot of normal (as failure is) and unusual.

How will you laugh through your next failure? What makes you laugh? And seriously, who wouldn’t at least try to date Brent Morin? Just look at him.

DWI: Dating While Introverted

If you ask me as a highly nonprofessional medical authority, I had two small strokes en route to a date last week. This probably isn’t true, but that’s how I felt. As I told a friend of mine who found this fact hilarious, I didn’t get a public speaking fear, or a fear of heights, so somebody up there said: “Make her terrified to date! Really make it tough!”

In truth, it may not actually be a fear. I don’t date often, so most of my trepidation is likely a lack of exposure. But, as importantly, a great deal of the early dating experience runs counter to the honored tenets of introversion- deep conversation, time to process thoughts, and energizing scenarios. First dates, unless truly outstanding or designed accordingly, don’t have much of that. They’re hotbeds of fumbling small talk, stating of benign opinions, and generally one-on-one (not in and of itself problematic, but tougher with people we don’t really know). For those who can find energy in the process of meeting new people, this can be a hard space to operate in. But I’m starting to learn what I need to operate in this space, and offer a few tips to those that may find themselves similarly ill at ease when dating.

Friend-approved can help. If I had to pick a way to fall in love, it would be with someone who I was friends with first, and then the relationship gradually evolved into a romantic one. I’ve picked apart why this strategy is preferable, and recognized that the energy expended to get to know someone is subject to a kind of sunk-cost bias. I value the relationships that don’t force additional valuable energy, and so these types of relationships are literally easier to enter into.  Similarly, I find that I treat dates that are with “friend-approved” individuals to be far less stressful to enter into. Someone I already know and trust likes you? I can rest a little easier. With that said, these situations are only eased if the company you keep is high-quality. So, y’know, watch out for that :)

Seek home-court advantage. If after all the fumbling of “where do you want to go? don’t know, where do you want to go?” you get to pick the site of the first encounter, it can be a tremendous point in your favor. Being somewhere that you’re comfortable, or at least have been before and can minimize the stress points (What will I eat? Where are the bathrooms? In extreme cases, where are the quick exits?) that are already accompanying a highly stimulating time.With that said, this does not mean a place where you’re a “regular.” That can create a power differential for one person that could make the other person [more] uncomfortable. It can be a welcome bonus if you’re dating a fellow introvert and its somewhere you’ve both already been.

Create small goals for success. I come off as incredibly guarded on dates, especially early on. Fearing talking too much, I spend a lot of time listening (a natural strength), and less time reciprocating in kind when questions are turned back toward me. But I recognize that this tendency (a) isn’t unique to me, and (b) isn’t particularly helpful in an arena where the goal is to get to know someone. So I try to pick a few stories that I’m comfortable with- ones that are a little memorable, or funny, or unique, and work them in. I don’t have to dominate the conversation, and my whole life story isn’t out there, but I’ve shared what I can and done my best. Just as with networking, I don’t have to meet everyone in the room; a few people is okay. And whoever I’m seeing doesn’t have to know all of me at the initial encounters, but he does need to know enough about me to decide whether or not it’s a worthwhile enterprise to continue. Which reminds me…

Don’t stress the follow-up. This is the hardest part, without question, but stick with me! My next invention (or comedy sketch about an invention) will address the time and stress we as humans place on when you can text people back. How soon is too soon? What do I say? Will they think I like them? Off the bat, with that first one- you liking them, and them knowing it, is the point. So don’t worry about it :) As for timing…I start with a gracious thanks when I get home from the outing, and then maybe something a day or two later as something in my day reminds me of them. But other than that, the rule I’m working to adopt- if you want to talk to someone, just do. No game play, no calculating, just do it. And if the response time on their end is getting you down? Might I suggest the introvert bestie function- game or airplane mode. Your phone’s on, but you can go about your day without waiting for a message to come through. It can be particularly helpful when you’re trying to focus on getting something else done :)

I’m far from perfect at this, and there are likely many more stroke scares in my future. But as I learn more about how I operate in this relatively new-to-me arena, and honor who I am and how I work, I have to trust that it’ll get easier.

What tips do you have for dating as an introvert?

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Seeing I to I

This week marks the launch of Susan Cain’s lifestyle site for introverts and those who appreciate them, Quiet Revolution. In honor of their arrival, I’m electing to write about a topic close to my heart: inter-introverted communication.

I have written at length about introversion for a few years now: how it works in relationships, friendships, at the office, and much much more. But after years of writing on the topic, and a lifetime of living in it, I realized something really important that I had neglected to address.

Most of my writing about introversion, and most writing on the topic in general, shares counsel or an inside look at introversion in comparison to extroversion. While this was a useful enterprise for those extroverts that did need to learn how their introverted counterparts learned, thought, and worked, it may have perpetuated a dangerous assumption that must be dispelled: not all introverts are created equal.

Framing the dialogue as one type versus another implies that there are two monoliths pitted against each other, with unilateral commonalities on each side. But in recognizing that there are differences amongst introverts within their own camps, we must also necessarily recognize that some within the same group may need help interacting with those around them. Further, many introverts have mastered the skills required to thrive amongst extroverts, but have not had similar license to cultivate the skills to authentically interact with introverts in a manner that comes as naturally. Should you fall into the latter camp, I have a few tips that may help you ease into (what I hope is) a more welcoming landscape for our kind:

  • Don’t assume! Just as I often encourage extroverts to make assumptions of how introverts will act; or, conversely, assume certain behaviors imply introversion; I would encourage introverts to not assume that everyone “introverts” the same way they do. Many factors could affect how the common trait of recharging looks from one person to the next: some will choose to replenish their energy in complete silence, while other can do it with a small group of like-minded people, engaged in deep conversation. Both methods can be effective, there isn’t a wrong way to do it!
  • Remain prepared to assert yourself. A common frustration for introverts is that things they broadcast frequently in their own minds, has to be articulated to people that may not think like them. Once in common company, it is easy to assume that those around you will just get it, no explanation required. But remember your own experiences: sometimes it’s easy to miss things when you’re in your own head. And this shared company can be a double-edged sword, for they too will be in their own heads. What does that mean? You may still have to explain yourself. Listening to a fellow introvert’s story may wear you out after a while, but you will still have to tell that person that you need a break or have someone else to be. Even at a lower-key gathering, at some point you still may need to extricate yourself. Shared introversion doesn’t equal mindreading- you’ll still have to voice those needs.
  • Remember these lessons when creating environments for others. Cases are commonly being made for placing introverts in positions of leadership, and we see many wonderful examples of introverted leaders in the forefront today. But a caution must be voiced here: your own leadership abilities will need to work for both the introverted and extroverted people that may be under your employ, supervision, or influence. Think about the things you wished you had when in challenging work situations: quiet workspaces, time to recharge, meetings that allowed for multiple forms of input. Now, seek to naturally include these things as you design and advocate for a work experience that benefits all.

What other lessons do you have for introverts interacting with one another?