Thanksgiving Week Book Sale!

As a treat for you all to celebrate my next steps, and to provide a discount at the end of the year when money is tight, I’m pleased to announce that both of my books are on sale this week! Head to Createspace for a 30% discount on paperback copies of THE I’S HAVE IT and LIGHT IT UP!

THE I’S HAVE IT coverThe I’s Have It: Reflections on Introversion in Student Affairs

Use the coupon code CWJY73KE to get 30% off here.




light it up front cover artLight It Up: Engaging the Introverted Student Leader

Use the coupon code BHZ682KX to get 30% off here.






Enjoy your holiday, and happy reading!

We’re ALL Ambiverts Here…

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice.

“Oh you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad, you’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” asked Alice.

“You must be,” said the cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Just over a week ago, I had the pleasure of presenting for the first time at the Lead365 National Conference, on supporting introverted student leaders through program design and stylistic change. This session went far differently than any other I have conducted on the topic in some very interesting ways, but I know several people walked away with good ideas on how to approach processes like recruitment, selection, advising, and evaluation.

At the close of the session, I received a question that I’m starting to get more and more lately: “what about ambiverts?” For those unfamiliar, ambiversion is very much what it sounds like- the ability to respond well to situations, regardless of the amount of stimulation they provide. In a lot of ways, ambiversion seems like the best of both worlds: social or high intensity situations take little from energy stores, and low-key or solitary scenarios are equally well tolerated.

However, while I don’t want to diminish the very real questions that are coming up about this hybrid of introvert and extrovert tendencies, my response to this is much like the cat’s above: we’re all ambiverts here.

“There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.” -Jung

From a purely biological standpoint, the determination is made by if your brain responds more favorably to dopamine (the neurotransmitter that shows up in higher quantities in extroverts) or acetylcholine (the neurotransmitter that shows up in higher quantities in introverts). But the fact of the matter is, everyone has both. Everyone needs both. Even the most social and effortlessly gregarious person you know likely needs to take time at the end of the day to recharge, and even the most retiring or otherwise reserved person you know has moments of seemingly uncharacteristic liveliness.

What’s more, the activities that we tend to ascribe (at times wrongly) to each type, are by no means out of bounds of either type. I am just as troubled by assertions that extroverts are less insightful or thoughtful counterparts, as I am by ones that imply that introverts like people less than their extroverted counterparts. A common refrain from me on this topic: “No skill or ability is out of bounds for either type.” The only difference is energy.

There are activities and circumstances that pull more energy from some people than others. For extroverts, it takes a great deal of energy to do things in solitude or less energizing places, energy stores that are restored when they return to stimulating environments- loud places, places with people, places that they can pull energy from. For introverts, it takes a great deal of energy to operate in spaces that have more going on- often the very same circumstances that give energy to their extroverted counterparts. But at the end of the day, the need for both stimulation and recharge is common…and every person needs both.

So what does this mean for students who are finding their space within what seems like an unforgiving binary?

Regardless of what type students identify as, encourage them to monitor the spaces in which they feel the most focused, productive, and successful. These are likely the spaces that either give them energy, or don’t tax their energy stores as much. Comparatively, encourage them to monitor the spaces in which they feel tired, worn down, or otherwise depleted. These spaces are the ones that are taking energy away from them, ones that tax their energy stores excessively.

Then, help them brainstorm ways in which they can learn to moderate their energy when going about these activities. For example, ask extroverts how they handle expectations of restraint in classrooms, or how introverts  speak publicly if it’s something that doesn’t come naturally. While I write often about managing energy as an introvert, there is also a need to teach extroverts their version of these skills when they’re in spaces that might pull energy from them. Developing these skills is essential for preventing the pigeonholing that can often result from identifying as one type or another. And these practices are beneficial for everyone, no matter what’s going on (literally!) in that head of yours.

Presentation Review: Hiding the Orange Power Cord

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of presenting at MCPA, MA-NASPA, and BACHA’s Entry Level Professionals Workshop. I always love events like this, when I and others have the opportunity to share wisdom with graduate students and professionals new to the field of student affairs.

I selected a topic based on a concern I hear often from professionals who have spent a short time in offices: “I thought I’d have the chance to be more creative.” I understand the worry, and have absolutely felt it before. And why not? Many of the new professionals that enter these offices, are leaving graduate programs that praise highly the potential students have to make change in their offices- the difference you’ll make! The change you’ll inspire! The good you’ll do! They come in guns blazing, armed heavily with these platitudes, ready to use the innate gift they have to revolutionize everything around them.

But the reality is, good or bad- this isn’t always what new professionals get to do. Recognizing that this was a relatively common struggle, I wanted to head it off early for those in the room- with the help of IDEO’s Design Thinking principles.

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.
-Tim Brown, IDEO CEO

IDEO’s design thinking model can help harness this creative impulse, force it through a set of steps that encourage it to slow down and consider external factors that the nature of inspiration often ignores. Simply put, it forces you to consider the “box” from which you’re working, and how to best prevent needlessly punching holes or knocking down walls. As the title implied, I likened this process to the story of the “orange power cord,”(meaning solutions designed to solve a problem that also create new problems in the process) one shared in a 2012 Forbes article that changed the way I thought about weaponizing my ideas as a young professional:

I ask [new hires] to keep a notebook and write down all the orange extension cords that they can see, even if nobody else does. In fact, especially if nobody else does. I want them to point out all the unsightly items, processes, and practices that don’t fit or don’t make sense.

I tell them that is why we hired them. To bring a fresh perspective to make us a better company.

I warn them. Point things out now, write them down, and stick to your guns to fix them or improve them…

Because in 6-8 weeks, you won’t see them anymore either.

Are you looking to solve a problem in your office, but feeling some worries about how the proposal will go? This walk-through of the IDEO Design Thinking process might be helpful for framing your plan of attack.

Stage 1: Discovery


Even the best-dressed entry is ruined with a trip. IMAGE CREDIT: Popsugar

At this stage, you’ve seen the orange power cord. You may have asked questions about it and not been satisfied with the answer, or maybe you’ve tripped over it a few times in a meaningful way.

But more than just noticing the problem, you have decided you’re the person to solve it. I remember hearing back in 2007 at a conference (and I’m very sad that I can’t remember who was speaking when I learned this tidbit): never report a problem without a potential solution. Even if you’re not sure if it’ll work, the prospect of playing a part in a solution moves you from despondence to action. Good employees, team members, and assets are action-oriented, so the “I have an idea” piece is crucial to seeing this process through.

Stage 2: Interpretation



Once you’ve identified a problem, the interpretation stage is key because it encourages you to answer the questions: for whom is this a problem? For whom is this not a problem? Seeking to answer this pair of queries can provide insight as to why a problem hasn’t been solved- what roadblocks exist? What procedures would change if your proposed solution is implemented? The answers to these questions may hold some weight as you debate how to operationalize your solution.

The fact of the matter is, even the smallest colleges, universities, or companies are slow-moving ships. They have a lot of pieces that have to be moving in the same direction in order for them to succeed. This is a good thing, because it means that they can do a lot and produce high quantities of work. However, large ships are difficult to turn. If all the pieces aren’t moving toward the same goal, if unknown obstacles or barriers exist, or if members of the captain’s staff aren’t in agreement, disaster can strike. To help change direction, all the parties associated with the potential change need to know to lean into the turn.

New hires are uniquely equipped to answer these questions- a fresh perspective and a need to learn the operations of a new place means the questions you may need to ask, may be received differently from campus veterans. Use this newness to your advantage! Skipping the step of finding and utilizing allies can be the downfall of any collaboration that may have previously been taking place.

Stage 3: Ideation

Armed with not just your perception of the problem, but also the perception of those who may additionally be affected by a potential solution, you can seek to create a fix that is less likely to trip others up. Create a number of solutions, each one aiming to remove tripping hazards for as many individuals, offices, or constituencies as possible.

Novices in workspaces jump to this step from step 1, skipping step 2. Again, I must caution against this. If the interpretation step is skipped, the solution that you arrive at might create more orange cords, or bigger and more disruptive ones. And as an additional word of caution: people are always wary of proposals that start with “at my old school” or “at my undergrad.” Even if there is merit to your proposal, it may be viewed as a short-sighted attempt to replicate your prior experiences. As an alternative, include your institution’s initiative in a broader benchmarking/research effort. This will help others know you’ve explored deeply…and let you know there’s more to change than creating clones of “best” or “common” practices.

Stage 4: Experimentation

IMAGE CREDIT: Letters of Note

How will your solution work in real time? Deploying something that changes how students will interact with a process, or how other staff members will complete their work, will require some experimentation. Can you test the solution under different circumstances? Can you seek out feedback in advance of launch?

Having an idea of where your solution might fail or cause confusion, will help you respond better when struggles do arise. No solutions are airtight, but this process will reveal where leaks are, and how easy they are to respond to. Another way to curry favor with this prospective change: find out what constituents your supervisors and higher-ups most seek the approval and understanding of (e.g. students, alumni, faculty), and ensure that they are consulted as you prepare to launch.

As a bonus, experimenting in daylight underscores a principle Austin Kleon calls “showing your work.” When people are privy to the details behind creating processes or solutions, it humanizes something that otherwise might seem mysterious or impersonal. The result? As mistakes or missteps occur, users have some idea of what it took to get to where you are, and these wobbles are more easily forgiven. Choose which elements of the process you’re comfortable sharing with those that will be affected, and it could ease the reception later on.

Stage 5: Launch + Evolution


At long last, your solution- your means of stowing the orange power cord- is camera ready. Celebrate this launch, and the idea that you’ve made an impact. But watch how the launch goes. Be prepared to address any concerns that may create calls for a return to the old, unsightly way. Practice responding to these worries by reinforcing the strength of the solution, and don’t allow yourself to become discouraged! The reason that the second half is “Evolution” is because tweaks and alterations are expected.

If you identify that change is needed after the solution has been deployed, the end is just the beginning. Enter the cycle again. Talk to other parties about how the change has gone, start creating possible solutions, experiment with them, and debut as needed. Change like this is iterative; a one-time shift will be insufficient to keep you going. But with a spirit of creativity, blended with attention to garnering buy-in, will provide the fuel needed to continue making an impact.

What changes have you made in your office since arriving? What did the process look like for you? 

Coming Next Month: YOU, IN PRINT

I’m so excited to share with you my next project, and I hope it’s one you’ll be interested in joining me on.

I published my first book, THE I’S HAVE IT, in January 2014 after a whirlwind year or so brainstorming, researching, writing, preparing, and marketing. Somehow, the whole endeavor didn’t put me off the idea and I decided to do the same again in October 2015. As I’ve done this, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the process: how do you make time to write? Where do the ideas come from? What do I do to get the word out once I’m done?

I want to help answer all of those- both in conversation, and in small sound bytes that can be returned to later on. For that reason, I created…

You, In Print Promo Image

Registration opens today, and the class itself is a six-week “email drip” course that will arrive in your inbox each week with steps in the writing process, additional resources, and prompts to move you along.

Course Syllabus

  • Pre-Work: Introduction to Indie Publishing
    • Definitions, Options, and Considerations
  • Week 1: Starting With a #sixwordstory
    • Clarifying What Will (and Won’t) Be On the Pages
  • Week 2: Where Does The Inspiration Come From?
    • Content Sources
  • Week 3: “I Don’t Have Time to Write A Book!”
    • Content Development: Time, Place, + Manner
  • Week 4: Who Will Help You?
    • Finding and Building Relationships with Contributors
  • Week 5: What Do I Do With This Thing?
    • Getting the Word Out and Selling the Book
  • Week 6: Wrap-Up, Final Lessons and Instructions for Scheduling Follow-Up Calls

Additionally, I’ll be holding “office hours” each week that will allow participants to call in and ask me questions, while also going into more detail about the points that may have surfaced over the course of the week.

Lastly, because I know each project is unique, this opportunity will include an individual call with me to go over your goals for your project, unique obstacles you may face in your process, and to bounce ideas through another mind.

To keep the process manageable and personable, I have limited spots in the inaugural run of this course to 30 people, and it starts hitting inboxes the week of November 15th.

Register for You, In Print Today!

Read365: Amma Marfo Reviews GENIUS OF OPPOSITES

Amma Marfo:

This week I want to share with you a review of Jennifer Kahnweiler’s new book, GENIUS OF OPPOSITES. It is the first book of its kind, prescribing ways for introverts and extroverts to coexist in the workplace. I am so pleased that Jenn has reached out in appreciation of this review, creating a connection to a wonderful author doing great work to bridge the temperamental divide.

Originally posted on The Official Blog of the Lead365 National Conference:

As our more frequent readers already know, we at Lead365 believe that reading is a fundamental piece of the leadership development process. Today, our Director of Educational Development shares a book that’s caught her attention- GENIUS OF OPPOSITES by Jennifer Kahnweiler, about the interplay between the leadership of introverts and extroverts.

She will be speaking on this topic at the November conference- there’s still time to register to see her, and 15+ other speakers in Orlando! But in the meantime, watch her quick review below.

View original

Lorne Michaels, Reach Over the Line

As I write this, I am currently burning time in my sister’s apartment while she does homework, before we strike up our version of a tradition started with our parents over twenty years ago- watching Saturday Night Live together. If we were home on Saturday night at 11:30, it would take all of 30 seconds for my mom to shout from wherever she was, “Is Saturday Night Live on?”

Most of the time, it already was.

It remains a big part of my life, as a way to process current events and develop my sense of humor. But as I’ve gotten older and learned more about the history behind it, I’ve learned more and more about the idea that it is not without fault. A tip-off by the lovely Rachel Klein gave me the opportunity to revisit that fact this week, as a new interview with creator Lorne Michaels was released on Morning Edition. He addressed the diversity controversy that has plagued the show over the past few years, making some legitimate points about the process as he spoke:

It started on a website or podcast, and then it was an editorial in The New York Times. And you go, “No, we’ve been breaking those barriers from the very beginning.”

But I understand perception is everything, and I live in a world of perception, and if that was how we were perceived then it had to be addressed, which is what I did. But it didn’t come from any place of intent or meanness; it came from looking every year for the best people we can find.

But one element of what he said in reference to the controversy, troubled me a great deal, a point that also bristled Rachel:

What Lorne said, was something to the effect of “if there are three people, all other things being equal, you pick the one that’s most believable.” [again, I’m paraphrasing- the full interview can be found here] I hope it goes without saying that this stirred up a lot of feelings in me.

I was reminded, most immediately, of the most recent Emmy night- the same Emmy night where Lorne was awarded a ceremonial mug by two of his proteges (Seth Meyers and Andy Samberg), prior to the victory of another one (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). A historic number of actors of color were nominated, but three emerged victorious- and one made award show history. Viola Davis’ acceptance moment was particularly poignant in her explanation of why her victory felt so colossal outside the context of the evening:

‘In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’

That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.

You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.

And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the Television Academy. Thank you.

A tremendous amount of emphasis was placed on the role of opportunity in creating space for women like her, Regina King, and Uzo Aduba, to do what they did that night. And while I don’t generally speak about it often, I live that story.

I am cognizant of the idea that I defy some expectations that may have been set for me. I’ve been asked how I got into the colleges I went to, been asked what I was doing in predominantly white spaces like conferences or rock concerts, surprised people with the observations I’ve made as though I didn’t seem thoughtful or smart enough to say such things, and told literally countless times that “I’m not what people expect.” I have been privileged to operate fairly unbothered in predominately majority spaces- yet those spaces have never been fully mine to own comfortably. And up until fairly recently, I’ve been pretty quiet about all of these things.

Then came “I, Racist.” John Metta’s “sermon” about his stance on talking about race shook up many circles in which I travel. And while the resounding takeaway that I saw people repeat and ponder from the article referred to the chasm between those in the majority, who see themselves as singular, and those in the minority, who are treated as a monolith:

The result of this is an incessantly repeating argument where a Black person says “Racism still exists. It is real,” and a white person argues “You’re wrong, I’m not racist at all. I don’t even see any racism.” My aunt’s immediate response is not “that is wrong, we should do better.” No, her response is self-protection: “That’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything. You are wrong.”

But for me, the takeaway was different. Near the end of Metta’s piece, a single sentence hit me hard enough to shake the way I write, speak, and interact with the people around me.

Racism exists because I, as a Black person, don’t challenge you to look at it.

And there it is. All those times that I’ve been questioned, marveled at, praised for being exceptional when in fact I just work hard in a way that I’m not expected to…I let it happen. I didn’t push back. I didn’t speak up. I allowed it to appear as though it was somewhere between rare and magical.

But in my own gentle way, I’ve started pushing back where I didn’t before. I’ve spent time creating space for students who feel slighted by incidents on campus to speak about their worries. I’ve opened my door to let them speak to me about it in a way that I hadn’t previously done. And in space where I have control, like my social media feeds and in my writing, I’m changing the way I relate to elevate voices and minds of color. Featured images are diverse, new literature explored- even the GIFs I present in response to comments or questions are places where I’m showing that the majority isn’t the only place to find laughs or to express emotions.

The reason Lorne Michaels sees a gap between who his audience will buy as a boss, and his talent pool, is because the view he’s accustomed to- that we’re all accustomed to, including those in the minority- needs challenging. And even through years of watching his program, I’m hurt that Lorne Michaels doesn’t find himself to be in the position to present that challenge. His first cast, 41 years ago, featured a black player where many may not have. He’s right when he says they’ve been breaking those boundaries from the beginning. But to go big, assume you’re covered, and settle back into the old patterns isn’t progress.

Harriet Tubman was right when she uttered that beautiful quote: there is a line. Viola Davis is still right when she evokes the quote today: there’s still a line. My wish for people in power like Lorne Michaels? Reach out. Grab good people. I promise you, they’re out there. Pull them over and let them be great. I promise there are far more people who have it in them than you could ever imagine.

Treat Student Staff Like Rubber, Not Glass

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.

Like Cary Grant in People Will Talk, I’ll continue to ask: why?

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?

Cine-spiration: I’m a Dottie, Not a Marla

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.

IMAGE CREDIT: Huffington Post

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.

4 *Other* Things That Can Overstimulate Introverts

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?