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!