5 Ways to Love Your Open Office

This post was previously published with Keep Calm and Dream: For Introverts, By Introverts.

To those that value an environment that inspires them to do their best work, the idea of an open plan office may sound like a nightmare. At first. I wrote in my book The I’s Have It about the challenges that an open-plan or cubicle formation can pose:

Yes, equating a door with prestige originally fueled some of the desire I felt for a door. But secretly, I longed to have a door so I could close it. To most introverts, a closed door means time to relax, decompress, and to keep the “hot water” from getting in. Cubicles and open office plans are designed with the good intentions of keeping employees connected to each other, encouraging a collaborative and collegial spirit. While these elements can be fostered in an open environment, it wears on introverts a great deal.

But there are ways to keep your workspace from draining the energy out of you. And you can do it without shutting out the people around you. How?

Make your own time.

Is it possible to set your schedule in such a way that you can arrive a little before, or a little after the rest of the crowd? Sometimes, having these quiet moments to set your routine for the day and work on some “deep-dive” projects can help you rest easier through the rest of the day, when this uninterrupted time may be harder to come by.

Block it all out.

Depending upon the nature of your work, check in with your supervisor to see if it would be okay to wear headphones or earplugs as a means to drown out some of the smaller distractions that could throw your focus and deplete your reserves. If this doesn’t work, even the low hum of a white noise machine or desk fan could draw attention away from the noise in your surroundings.

Set boundaries.

Introverts and interruptions do not mix. And while some of these interruptions are logistical- phone calls, meetings, “calls of nature”- some are humanmade. If “pop-ins” are making it difficult to get work done, make an agreement to chat for a given amount of time (5 minutes, 10 minutes, your call). Then, cut the conversation short to get back to your work. The reason doesn’t matter; as long as you are gracious, you are well within your rights to assert yourself and protect your own time. The best advice someone ever gave me, that is invaluable to introverts: “No is a complete sentence.”

Work on location.

Again, depending on the nature of your work, it may merit asking if you can occasionally work on location from a more secluded place in your office (I work on a college campus, and sometimes I retreat to a carrel in the campus library), or even telecommute from home. The chance to work somewhere quieter, or more comfortable, can lower the stimulation levels that leave you exhausted by the end of the day in your regular office space. This approach is generally more appropriate for project-based work, but could be adapted to other sorts of tasks. If you elect to take this route, make sure that you create an arrangement with your supervisor that erases any suspicion of loafing. If you prove productive and attentive, who knows- it could become a more frequent arrangement?

Spread the gospel.

As a writer and researcher about introversion, people are well aware of my work style and tendencies- as well as why I am that way. But few inform those around them about their temperament and how they approach their work. I want to challenge you to talk to your supervisor and coworkers about not just introversion as a concept, but how it affects your work style and what office traditions or traits make work difficult for you. If you have good connections with your staff, they will do their best to ensure that you have what you need to be successful. And if for any reason they aren’t receptive, do your best to double down on the four previously mentioned tips.

Introversion: Now in Four Flavors?

When speaking about introversion, I spend a lot of time managing assumptions. We (literally) throw ideas, myths, and knee-jerk assessments out into the open, uncover them, and say them out loud before addressing the science, psychology, and other research behind temperament that fills in that knowledge. And indeed, our assumptions about what we think introversion and extroversion mean are affecting our ability to impactfully talk about temperament – and our ability to meaningfully interact with one another.

Even once individuals find out what their type is, it is easy and tempting to fall into the “You’re an extrovert, so you should [fill in the blank],” or “You’re an introvert, so you can’t [fill in the blank]” trap. And I find that trap, particularly for introverts, is based in broad assumptions and mental shortcuts about what their type really means. As it happens, psychologists are seeing this too. And in 2014, a trio of Wellesley psychologists set out to do something about it.

The problem? As The Science of Us puts it, “the way many introverts defined [introversion] was different from the way he and most of his academic colleagues did.” As lead researcher Jonathan Cheek said to them, “many people do not feel identified or understood by the label introversion as its used in the culture or by psychologists. It doesn’t do the job – it helps a little bit, but it doesn’t get us very far.” And as Shana Lebowitz elegantly sums up the challenge at hand: “The goal is to change the way personality psychologists talk about introversion, so they see it as a starting point to understanding personality as opposed to an endpoint.”

With that said, let’s look a little more closely at the subsets of introversion that Cheek and his co-authors Jennifer Grimes and Julie Norem came up with. As with being shy versus outgoing, these measurements can intersect, and all individuals will have elements of each in their temperament profile. I’ll also be sharing challenges that each type might present in a workplace or organizational capacity, and how the culture can adapt to best access the benefits of each type.


Social introversion likely comes closest to what many think of when determining if someone’s an introvert or not: preferring the company of small groups versus large ones, and at times no company at all. Is this a hallmark of some introversion? Absolutely. But as Quiet author Susan Cain puts it, “even people who understand introversion still imagine that it’s really just about ‘would you rather be on your own or with a close friend?’ In fact, there’s so much more than that.” This desire to limit social circles is not to be confused with shyness, which is an emotion borne of fear. Rather, social introverts limit interactions with large groups or highly energetic counterparts to avoid being sapped of their own energy.

Strengths of Social Introverts: When placed in deliberate interactions with small groups (intentionally developed committees, one-on-one meetings or client work), they’ll excel at listening, contributing meaningfully, and guiding the group toward their desired goal.

To Be at Your Best: Provide opportunities for them to get to know those who they’ll work with frequently in low-stakes, relatively low stimulation environments. In the event that they’ll need to be effective in larger groups than comfort would allow, provide space and time for them to prepare for those interactions. Social introverts, when coming to these spaces, seek to provide your insight and contributions early. The conversation will be able to develop around your input, and you’ll have expended your energy early and can rebuild it by listening and observing in later parts of the gathering.

Thinking introverts are characterized less by their social interactions, and more by their desire to engage in introspection, deep thought, and self-reflection. These are the visionaries of your group, who come with an idea that seems to have sprung fully formed from their mind. In reality, that idea was likely the result of considerable contemplation, refinement of how to present the idea, and an exhaustive analysis of what could go wrong and how to fix it. I love Cheek’s explanation of it, using Harry Potter terms: “think the dreamily imaginative Luna Lovegood, not the socially awkward Neville Longbottom.”

Strengths of Thinking Introverts: They’re excellent troubleshooters, and can likely be an asset when trying to weigh multiple courses of action. Whereas a need to move fast can often lead us to overlook prospective challenges or missteps, the thinking introvert on your team will encourage you to slow down, weigh options, and find issues before they arise.

To Be At Your Best: Provide thinking introverts what they need to work deeply. This may mean a workspace that minimizes distraction. This may be the flexibility to work from home now and again. This may mean a longer timeline than might be convenient, allowing them to take their time and analyze a lot of information or input thoroughly. And if you are a thinking introvert, make liberal use of the phrases “let me think about that a little bit and get back to you,” or “can we come back to me? I’m still thinking about that.” Learn them, practice them, deploy them often. Knowing that your input is best when considered over a longer period, and acting on that knowledge, will allow you to contribute in a manner that best suits you.

Anxious introverts first and foremost, is not a redundancy in terms. I get asked a lot if there’s an explicit connection between anxiety and introversion. There is not, so much so that the latest version of the DSM (the Bible for psychological disorders) has removed introversion as a symptom of anxiety and several other disorders, where it sat for many years prior. The two are not connected directly, but some (such as myself) do experience both. “Anxious,” in this case, is tied to a tendency to ruminate, or fixate on a thought and turn it over and over in the mind. It’s an ongoing anaylsis of an idea or scenario that analyzes and fixates on “[what] might or could or already have gone wrong.”

Strengths of Anxious Introverts: When positioned properly, this ruminating tactic of anxious introverts can be deployed to achieve organizational improvement. Have you misstepped as a department or institution recently? Having a hard time figuring out why? Put a ruminator on it; they’ll find you an answer. In a manner similar to the thinking introvert, anxious introverts can use their highly analytical tendency for good, finding the root of the problem at hand. Combined with the powers of the thinking introvert to find a solution for next time, this seemingly troublesome tendency can actually be a help.

To Be at Your Best: Be open with information as much as you can. Ruminating becomes dangerous when based in assumptions, misinformation, and things we could never know. Bad rumination, as someone who engages in it often, is rooted in a lot of “What if?” or “What about?” questions. With the information necessary to answer those questions, rumination takes on a very different form- organizationally, that can mean a more productive form. And to the anxious introvert: if you find yourself ruminating about things without the information you need, I’d encourage you to schedule it. That is to say, if you’re worried about the outcome of a meeting or decision and can’t fill in the informational gaps you need to feel at peace, put it off. “Today’s Monday, I’ll worry about this on Thursday.” As it pops up in your mind, put it off. Then, when you reach your allotted time, fret away- but only for that designated amount of time. Compartmentalizing that type of worry can help you be productive in the interim, and sometimes you’ll find that when the time comes to worry…you don’t need to!

Restrained introverts are sometimes also referred to as “reserved introverts.” They operate at a pace that, comparatively, may seem slow or delayed. This can make itself evident conversationally, where they choose words carefully before speaking; or it can even manifest itself physically, in taking a while to get going in the morning (hi, yes, this is me) or after a period of rest. They tend to be more risk-averse, and a packed or busy schedule likely hinders them more than it helps them. As Introvert, Dear’s Jenn Granneman puts it in The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, “to relax, they like to slow down and take it easy, as opposed to seeking out new or exciting experiences or sensations.”

Strengths of Restrained Introverts: They’re unlikely to get carried away in the frenzy of an unexpected or emergency situation. Flustered? Maybe. But they’ll deliberate on the correct course of action before speaking up and offering a contribution, less likely to be moved by the flurry of activity around them. This cool head is essential as we societally aim to slow down the deluge of work and seeming need for lightning-fast solutions.

To Be at Your Best: Restrained introverts may also benefit from the flexibility afforded thinking introverts. If they’re not at their best in the morning or early on in a week, is it possible to alter their work schedule to be later in a day or start later in a week, to take advantage of their best performance times? Additionally, the need for deliberation before sharing makes a case for multiple forms of contribution. If anyone on your team- irrespective of temperament- needs more time to weigh in on a topic, is it possible to extend the decision-making time a few days? People can use the additional time to compose emails on their thoughts, set up one-on-one meetings, or other forms of communication. With the understanding that all forms of contribution will be weighed equally (no extra points for being first), we can change the way we make decisions. And restrained introverts: don’t rush the magic. You know yourself well enough to know what it takes to get you moving. Stick to doing those things, your best work will come when it comes (within the good taste of deadlines and other people’s needs, of course).

Indeed, that last tidbit of advice should hold true for all flavors of introvert. Becoming aware of who you are and how you work, will allow you to better advocate for yourself and find your best place at work. Make your mark in the way that most looks like you; you do have amazing things to offer! And if you’re curious about where you fall in each of these types, take the quiz at Science of Us!

7 Great Questions to Support Your Local Creative

I’ll admit it. Sometimes, the well meaning queries of “how’s it going?” or “what are you working on?” are hard to swallow. And I’ve written previously about how difficult the “hope it works out for you” mentality of wishing friends and colleagues well can be to hear.

Does it seem petulant to try and dictate how others support you? At first glance, I’m sure it does.  However, I’m a tremendous believer in teaching people how to treat you. 2018, thus far, has been my year of “putting things out into the universe.” I’m often guilty of holding on to a thought or idea, then getting frustrated when those I work with or am surrounded by, don’t just get it. #introvertproblems, I suppose. It’d be far more effective, I see now, to help those close to me be supportive. And, I would imagine, help other creatives accustomed to working alone and incubating ideas in their heads.

For this reason, I’m starting the year with a series of questions you can ask them when they come out of their heads and into the “real world.” Driven by my Cultivating Creativity framework, they help you address specific facets of their work- something more substantive than “what are you up to?” These questions are designed to be constructively challenging, convey their support system’s desire to help, while minimizing perceived pressure or misunderstanding. Support your local creative constructively, compassionately, and in a way that helps drive their work forward.

Allies/Advocates/Activators: Do you have anyone helping you “kick down doors”? Can I help you find someone?

Good ideas need launchpads to help them take off. Sometimes those creating big ideas have access to said launchpads, and those who guard them. But sometimes they don’t. In the event of the latter, help will be needed- and this is a part of the process where you might be able to provide it.

As a creator, I sometimes have the confidence to run with an idea. I often have the energy to do so. But when it comes to the courage and humility that comes with asking for help? That’s often less plentiful. This isn’t a rare disparity in the creative community. Which means offers for help, especially constructive and targeted (that means “let me know how I can help” often doesn’t count), make a world of difference in our ecosystem.

This doesn’t have to be a time or labor intensive process. Bruce Kasanoff advises going into interactions with the mantra “first, help this person.” Adam Rifkin is notorious for the notion of the “five-minute favor.” Even a quick intro email can make all the difference in the world. Believe it or not, your small moment of effort (when accepted by the creator- no one likes help forced on them) could be the start of something big.

Broadmindedness: I saw this article/video/podcast that your idea reminds me of. Have you seen it?

Preemptive answer: to those wondering, yes I have read Quiet by Susan Cain. I get asked a lot. But I love that people ask. Why? Because it shows that they’re trying to understand some of the work I do, and can draw connections to things they know.

The ability to draw said connections is at the heart of broadmindedness. What other resources out there in the world could enrich, challenge, or deepen my knowledge? Even being an avid reader, I’d never find them all. And I’m hopelessly behind on podcasts.

Applying broadmindedness to your local creative’s work requires deep listening when they talk about what they love and are working on. And even if nothing comes to mind right away, my heart always flutters when I get an email, text, or IM from a friend or peer saying “have you seen this?” Your suggestion could lead to a breakthrough for the person, so don’t hold back if you see or think of something that could make a difference! And even if it doesn’t, making these thoughtful connections is a sign that person can hang on to: “this person in my life understands (or wants to understand) the thing I’m working on.”

Collaboration: Do you have anyone sharing the load with you? Can I help you find someone?

There is a loneliness that comes with creating. It can be particularly important for solo creators to develop relationships with other creators- be they as collaborators, sounding boards, or even simply cheerleaders- in order to help give them peace of mind and reassurance as they set out to do something hard.

Perhaps you, as an important person in that person’s life, don’t have the skill or insight to fill that role. Think, instead, of who you know. Do you know someone who could serve as an investor? Mentor? Source of constructive criticism? Similar to the counsel shared above, one of the most important assists you provide may be introducing people who go on to make a significant impact in concert with one another.

Determination: How can I help you when it gets hard?

This is a hard question to ask, and a hard one to answer. But it matters. The reasons that questions like “how’s it going?” or calls like “let me know if you need anything” are challenging is because they are hard to address when things are difficult. No creator wants to report that things are going poorly; no one wants to feel as though they have to grab a life preserver, because they first have to admit that they’re drowning.

But by being willing to make an overture, you may be the person that gives them the fuel to keep going.

Sometimes the person may not be able to identify the answer to this question either. That’s okay. A quick note to let them know you’re thinking about them, or a nice gift that made you think of them, will go further than you might expect. I’ve gotten many a “just because” card or gift in the mail that helped me break through a creative rut; I’ve also sent many a gift to that effect. Asking the right questions toward determination means knowing those you’re supporting well enough to lift them up in the moments where they might need you.

Execution: Is there any part of the project you’re having a hard time getting your head around?

Much of the above applies when supporting someone through an execution problem. Essentially, this is being there for someone in the moment when they’re having trouble moving an idea from their head out into the world. The solution to this is often being there to let someone talk through an idea, absent judgment or even absent willingness to try and solve the problem.

As with the above, there is a tremendous bit of vulnerability involved in posing and answering this question. Honor that by being accepting if an answer is difficult to come by, or doesn’t come to mind at all. An earnest offer can be enough, particularly if you’re able to articulate that you’ve heard and understand other elements of their project.

Flexibility: Have you learned anything cool in the process of putting all of this together?

While they might be painful in the process, missteps and setbacks will happen over the course of the creative process. They will happen. But the best and most successful creators are able to transform those moments from painful to educational. After a suitable period of “mourning,” allies and supporters can be valuable sounding boards for creators by helping them find the learning from those moments.

Finding ways to articulate the learning that comes from unexpected changes to the plan at hand, can be important in clarifying the path toward the next plan of attack. Being the person who helps clear that path can be incredibly powerful.

Heart: What good do you envision your final product doing?

I’m often vocal about the idea that the things we set out to create should do the most good they can, while also minimizing the harm they do. Regularly interrogating the things we create, and the perspective of those creating them, is one way to ensure that this balance of power is preserved.

In a lot of ways, other essential elements addressed in Cultivating Creativity can help clarify how the heart of a project is reached and continually reaffirmed. Aligning creators with willing and principled allies/advisors/advocates and collaborators means that their work will be supported by people who want to do good work- and good work. Broadminded thinking hopefully means that resources will come from a number of places, but will also seek to address the needs of a diverse slate of users or stakeholders. And determination, execution, and flexibility will serve well if the scope needs to be widened after initial attempts fall short or do harm.

I’ve spoken previously about the heart question being among the most important a creative can answer; as a supporter of impactful creative work, this may be the most important question you can ask. Setting an expectation that heart-filled work is imperative, helps creators prioritize it. And being supportive while also prioritizing good work can help creators align their efforts with this essential goal.

Want to know more about the essential elements of creativity, how they impact problem solving, equity and inclusion, and career advancement, and why it matters to cultivate creativity at all? My newest book on the topic is now available!

For the creators out there: what has been the most impactful way someone has supported you in achieving a goal? And for those seeking to support creatives: what questions do you have about doing so effectively? I’d love to address them for you!

My Best Laughs of 2017

For the second year, I’m sharing a list of some of my favorite laughs of 2017. Comedy specials, live performance, movies, and TV all made the cut this year. Please note, these were far from the only things that I laughed at…not even close. But they were the ones that, when I look back on the year, stood out most clearly.

American Vandal (Netflix)

Between not having been a “Serial” person, and having missed the flurry of excitement over Making a Murderer, I wasn’t sure if I was going to “get” this spoof of investigative true-crime documentaries. Oh, but I got it. It’s pitch perfect: from the style of the interviews, to the systematic disqualification of suspects, to the deliberately vague ending…it’s all the trappings of the form, but you get to giggle about dicks. What more could you want?

Rhea Butcher, Back to Back Tour (live/iTunes)

Sadly, this year marked the end of Butcher and Cameron Esposito’s Seeso show Take My Wife, but I am pleased they took the show on the road. After riffing together for a shared set, each comic got their own set. Butcher’s, in particular, impressively addressed our current political climate without being preachy, and detailed their struggles with gender dynamics in society in a way that felt emotional and hilarious at once. The special is now available on iTunes, so go get it if you missed their tour stops!

Cristela Alonzo, Lower Classy (Netflix)

I’ve had a special place in my heart for Cristela since her explosive appearance on the NACA National stage in 2014. So anytime she’s winning, I’m smiling. Her first hour was a delight, as she spoke about her love of football (albeit for a shitty team), her upbringing in a poor family, and even the passing of her mother. Between Lower Classy and her turn as Cruz Ramirez in Cars 3 (I bet it was a left turn- HA), it’s been a great year for Alonzo- here’s to much more of her in 2018!

Detroiters (Comedy Central)

I’ve described this show as “Broad City, but with boys,” and yet I think that diminishes what longtime friends Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson have built. As local ad men Sam and Tim, they managed to hit several things I love: advertising on TV, the silliest moments of friendships, and the earworm of a jingle that is “Devereaux Wigs” (sing/screech along if you know it!). If you haven’t watched it yet, catch up before we get season 2 in April 2018 (pro tip: “Happy Birthday Mr. Duvet” is the closest to a perfect episode of television I’ve seen in a long time). And don’t ask me if I can do anything that month- I’m busy.

Hamlet (Public Theater)

Stay with me on this one. Despite being a drama, and one of Shakespeare’s sadder ones, there’s a consistent lightness to Shakespeare’s writing that often gets overlooked in dramatic stagings of the play. While you might expect the levity in this production to come from Keegan-Michael Key, it was actually Isaac who managed to find and put on display the humor inherent in Hamlet’s character. Isaac’s comedic timing is stronger than we generally give him credit for- can we please get him in a comedy next year?

Manny Jacinto as Jason Mendoza, The Good Place (NBC)

I have said multiple times, and will continue to harp on this for as long as it applies. While The Good Place is a great show in its own right – one of the smartest on TV right now – Manny Jacinto is doing something VERY special as Jianyu/Jason. The Buddhist monk “turned” Jacksonville party boy provides the oddest and most welcome comic relief to this band of misplaced misfits; in this second season, he’s managed to elevate the humor as a partner and foil to the occasionally stuffy Tahani (Jameela Jamil). Still holding out for a flashback to a performance by Dance Dance Resolution: We Resolve to Dance; Manny, in the highly unlikely event you’re reading…let me know who to ask about that.

Michelle Wolf, Nice Lady (HBO)

Michelle Wolf, Nice Lady (HBO): near the end of Wolf’s debut hour, she relates a story about dating a trainer from her gym and the resulting text thread. She has an audience member check her phone to confirm the texts are real; I played that role at a Providence show. Like the texts, Wolf’s show is refreshingly real about the uncomfortable parts of womanhood. Shrill voices, the grossness of balls, and needing to be “nice” are all fair game with Wolf’s trademark perspective. When I talked with her for the IBang ahead of the special’s release, she mentioned her goal was to share things that men normally talk about from a female perspective. That viewpoint was welcome, and resulted in one of my favorite specials of the year.

Roy Wood, Jr., Father Figure (Comedy Central)

We have no shortage of comedic content in this world right now, which I love BUT also means that a rewatch is a rare occurrence. This special got one. Wood’s Comedy Central hour, centered around the advice he wants to give his infant son, provides an insightful and hilarious look at Blackness in our present society. From how he imagines Oprah got smacked in Selma, to the best time to go to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the special carries a welcome amount of Wood’s wit that has been so welcome on The Daily Show. Well, apparently, not quite enough because I needed a second round of it.

The Standups (Netflix)

Netflix gave us at least an hour of comedy every Tuesday in 2017. On July 4th, they gave us three, built by six comics on the rise. This series gave us tastes from club comics like Nate Bargatze and Nikki Glaser, adept writers like Beth Stelling and Dan Soder, and from TV actors and standups like Fortune Feimster and Deon Cole. I like this format as a means to introduce viewers to “new to them” comics, and am excited it’s coming back for more in 2018. This sextet turns in hilarious sets; I’d seen five of the six comics live before, and yet still found new things to double over at. Keep an eye out for the second installation, and give these a few watches while you wait!

Thor: Ragnarok (Disney/Marvel)

Marvel, let Taika Waititi touch ALL your stuff. In a genre that takes itself very seriously, the director’s comedic take on Thor’s latest chapter drew me in from the first trailer. Previous installments touched a bit on Chris Hemsworth’s comedic talents; Ragnarok harnessed them beautifully. If the end of the world is coming, I hope we’re able to find humor in it the way that this movie did.

Wayne’s World 25th Anniversary Live Reading (Clusterfest, San Francisco)

My “what I did on my summer vacation” essay would prominently feature this three day comedy festival, the inaugural effort from Comedy Central. If I’m honest, this full reading, gender-bent and complete with live performances from Tia Carrere and Crucial Taunt, was truly worth the full cost of admission to the festival. Ilana Glazer as Wayne. Abbi Jacobson as Garth. RON FUNCHES AS STACY. I would have been supremely disappointed if I missed this, as Wayne’s World is one of about eight movies I know every word to. Didn’t diminish this experience in the slightest.

And, because I can’t ignore my own entry into the genre this summer, my grand debut from this past August:

What’d you laugh at this year? Anything you’d add to the list? Anything I should be looking out for in 2018?

My Best Reads of 2017

This is my second year condensing all of the reads from 2017 into one easy-to-peruse “greatest hits collection.” As you may know, I spent much of February deliberately reading books that highlighted the perspectives of writers from marginalized communities (women, people of color, immigrants, refugees, etc.). That impulse felt good, and so I carried it through much of the remaining year- and plan to keep it going! Check out the slideshow, or read on to see my notes in full.

Of the over seventy books that crossed these eyes – and, for the first time, ears! – in 2017, here are my favorites:

 

Between Breaths, Elizabeth Vargas

Vargas’ Between Breaths is one of the first books I read in 2017, and the first memoir on addiction I read since giving up alcohol in late 2016. Vargas details her own relationship with alcohol, anxiety, and the journey toward sobriety with visceral detail. Her story is told frankly, openly, and without dismissing the struggle that she continues to live with. As a frequent memoir reader, I have a high bar for what’s deemed “exceptional” in the form, and Between Breaths clears it easily.

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

Buoyed by a stellar writing staff and supporting cast for The Daily Show, it might be easy to overlook or forget Noah’s strength as a writer. Born a Crime gives him the opportunity to stretch his legs and tell his own stories; he doesn’t waste a second of the opportunity. In a targeted memoir that is revealing, challenging, and – yes – funny, you walk away with a sense of the formative experiences that followed Noah to the US and informed his rapidly ascending star in the US.

Difficult Women, Roxane Gay

I managed to speak to Roxane Gay twice in 2017 without vomiting, crying, or passing out; this is an achievement I cannot overstate. How is one expected to hold her composure in the presence of such a singular writer? Difficult Women is one of two books Gay released in 2017, and full of a variety of women. In a year that so many women got to assert their power and influence, Gay gives so many of them strong, clear, and difficult voices.

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere was released in 2017, making her debut novel not the most timely pick for this list, but her debut novel is still a captivating read. Told from the viewpoint from all five members of a Chinese-American family, it deftly weaves together the quintet of perspectives to create a gripping story. This was one of very few books this year that I had a hard time putting down once I started, and I look forward to doing the same with her new release in 2018!

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World, edited by Kelly Jensen

I spent International Day of the Woman with Here We Are. That is to say, I sat on the couch with this comprehensive and beautiful compilation and didn’t get up (pee and snack breaks aside) until I was done. While targeted toward a YA audience, I learned something from every voice shared. Prose, poetry, and comics intertwine to create a truly inclusive picture of what feminism looks like. I can’t recommend this book enough to folx of all ages wondering what there is to know about Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year.

Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, Kevin Kwan

So yes. This is three books. But they were a trio of fun reads that showed a family of protagonists unlike anyone I’d ever read before. The first book, Crazy Rich Asians, will be released as a film next fall, and I am immeasurably excited to see it come to life. The feat it achieves in changing how Asians are represented in literature is considerable, and as someone who often doesn’t make time for fiction, these books held my attention and made me smile many times over.

Startup, Doree Shafrir

My absolute favorite part of Doree Shafrir’s debut novel? The deliberate mentions of “bro gingham” peppered through it. But in all seriousness, the startup world is one I spend just enough time in to have opinions; Shafrir’s novel plays with those assumptions, plays realistically beneath those surface assumptions, and creates genuinely compelling twists and turns in the process.

The Hate U Give, Angie C. Thomas

The mark of a strong read for me is if I check it out of the library and then buy it for my own (too big) collection. I knew before the end of the first chapter of Angie C. Thomas’ breakout YA novel of the Black Lives Matter era that it’d find a permanent home on my shelf. Thomas covers so much ground between this book’s covers- our assumptions about victims of police brutality, how these issues are talked about in interracial relationships, when and how to use our voices to create change…this book took my breath away dozens of times, and I’m already emotional at the forthcoming film adaptation. Seriously, cried thinking about it a few weeks ago.

Trans* in College, Z Nicolazzo

These lists don’t tend to have space for “work reads,” but this book – like Z – is exceptional. Framed by the experiences of six trans* students who Z worked with over a year and a half, it reveals the myriad challenges trans* students face on campus, how they navigate and cope with them, and what they need from the professionals charged with educating and supporting them. Z’s take on the topic challenges me to think about how I do my work, and invited questions in a way that few “work reads” have in recent years. Go get this book. Read it. Learn from it. And carry what you learn into practice. Your students (ALL of them) need you to.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Samantha Irby

I’ll admit, I don’t tend to put books on this list if I haven’t finished them. But this book has already exceeded sky-high expectations…four essays in. Irby writes with a refreshing and relatable voice that grabbed me early and hasn’t let go in a manner similar to Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair did from last year’s list. Irby is equal parts hilarious and brutally honest, making this collection a vulnerable and yet approachable read. I can’t wait to finish…and my own copy is making its way to my shelf VERY soon.
*Update: I finished. My opinion is unchanged, even strengthened. An incredibly strong essay collection that challenged me and endeared me to its author in a huge way. Samantha, anytime you want a buddy to hang out inside with and do nothing? I’m up for it…despite the aforementioned assertion that this will, literally, never happen.

The Introverted Entrepreneur, Pt. III: Finding the Temperament to Toot Your Horn

In this final part of “The Introverted Entrepreneur,” we’re talking about singing your own praises. Did you miss part 1 (on networking as an introverted entrepreneur)? No problem, it’s right here. How about part 2 (on teamwork and collaboration)? Gotcha there too. Not sure what we’re doing? Start here.

It feels like tradition now, so let’s address a third myth that can often plague the introverted: temperament has no direct correlation to confidence. That is to say, just because someone is introverted or presents as reserved, doesn’t mean they’re not confident in their skills or abilities. An individual can appreciate their accomplishments, and yet find themselves struggling to articulate them adequately. This final edition of The Introverted Entrepreneur will address that quandary, while also sharing a few tips on how to manage it.

Penny (or Far More) For Your Thoughts?

I know the answer to “So, what do you do?” I know it. It’s not always easy to articulate, but I know the answer. The question, however, is “why is it so hard to articulate?” As it happens, there’s a physiological answer to this. I’ll try to explain simply:

There are two neurotransmitters that have been tied to temperament: dopamine and acetylcholine. Brains have both present, but they respond to each differently. Scientific studies have demonstrated that extroverted brains respond well to high levels of dopamine, while introverted brains tend to be more sensitive to it. These brains tend to respond better to acetylcholine, which runs along a longer neural pathway.

Why does that matter? Because it amounts to a thought literally taking longer to get from your brain to your lips. It’s not that I don’t know the answer to the question someone has posed, it just hasn’t arrived at its final destination yet. As a timely person in a family of “late-ies,” this frustrates me about myself at times. But it’s my reality, and I suspect it’s the reality of several others.

For entrepreneurs, this can be challenging because so much of business culture depends on being able to effortlessly talk a good game. Competence is often gauged on being able to make people feel good about what you have to offer, and we’ve culturally decided that elevator pitches, presentations, and a dazzling presence at networking events (see Part 1) is the best way to measure this. To be clear, I don’t say this to imply that introverts are inherently bad at these things. Rather, I want to draw attention to the idea that they relate to these scenarios differently. With that in mind, I want to share a few tips to make them easier.

Aim for Carnegie Hall- Practice, Practice, Practice

“I’m a higher education speaker and consultant, and I’m also a writer. I do both on a freelance basis.”

I don’t have an answer to how many tries it took me to boil down my answer to “So, what do you do?” to this. A bunch. But I had to practice saying it, until it came naturally. In some ways, the process mirrored my former life as a distance runner. I couldn’t get up and run nine miles from the start- I worked up to it from a huffy and stitch-inducing four blocks. In that transformation, I built an endurance that allowed that four blocks to eventually take less energy from me. For introverts, easing into these situations with practice isn’t unlike gearing up for a distance run. Both scenarios are ultimately geared toward making something potentially tiring, require less exertion.

Practice in the mirror. Practice with your pets. Have close friends, family, or mentors practice with you. Like memorized lines for an actor or memorized verses for a singer, eventually your answers, pitches, and cases made for your business will become second nature.

Show Your Work

I’m not always able to tell people what I’m “working on these days,” but I’m lucky to have a platform where I can show it. Jennifer Kahnweiler has cited social media as a strength of introverted leaders, and this is one of many ways in which it can be a source of power. I can stumble through trying to explain the outlets I write for, or I can direct them to a selected list of my published pieces.  I can share that I’ve committed to writing jokes on a semi-regular basis, or I can direct them to the #ammahaha hashtag. If actions speak louder than words, then why shouldn’t the results of my actions take center stage?

If you haven’t already found a way to show the impact of that thing you’re trying to build, know that it will speak for you in ways you might not be able to. Whether it takes the form of videos, publications, or customer testimonials, “showing your work” can help fill in some of the gaps that may widen if you leave a point out of a pitch or can’t quite find the words for something in the moment.

Schedule Your Bravery

While I didn’t create this tip – I have to give that credit to Paul Jarvis – I love it as a piece of advice for introverts. He writes:

I schedule sharing when I’ve got the energy and am feeling amped up to do it. That means putting newsletters in the cue [sic] sometimes weeks before they go out, pre-publishing blog posts to go live at later dates, and even scheduling tweets way ahead of time (I try to schedule the tweeting of articles I’ve written to go out at least once a day).

I like to do this when I first find out that something I wrote has gone live online, or when I’ve had a triumph in something I’ve worked on. Those scheduled shares, fueled by a natural energy burst, will then be parceled out over time, including times when I’m a little less energized. I can trust that people will hear about my availability for spring speaking dates on a regular basis, without feeling wracked by “they’re going to get sick of me” doubts with every press of “send.” That feeling of doubt isn’t exclusive to introverts, but it does tend to dampen their energy more than their extroverted counterparts.

Budding entrepreneurs who depend on awareness and exposure can employ this strategy to keep their name on the radar of interesting folks- but use it thoughtfully! Nobody likes a spammer/”robot”/carpetbomber. Keep it tasteful and moderate, but impactful.

Befriend a Megaphone

We’re often able to look at the accomplishments of others more objectively than we can our own; harness that power for yourself and someone whose work you believe in. As with part 1, I’d encourage those who have a hard time promoting themselves to find a willing hype-human to keep in their stable. It can be so much easier to promote the good work of friends, collaborators, or colleagues than it can be for ourselves. If that’s true of you, ask yourself: who can you create a mutually beneficial broadcast system with?

We’re often comfortable with people who can be vouched for, so it creates an additional level of trust for whatever you might be working on. And if you can do this for someone you’re hoping to work with more closely, it will likely endear them to you- when done in earnest. Keep that caveat in mind: we are operating in a world where BS detectors are (rightfully) turned all the way up. Avoid setting it off by engaging in these practices genuinely. Doing so falsely or with a solely self-serving goal will make you memorable for all the wrong reasons.

This guide is in so many ways a means of scratching the surface on this topic. What tips do you have that I should think about adding? What challenges might I have missed? Would love to hear from you!

Further Reading From Me:

The Introverted Entrepreneur, Pt. II: Temperament-Friendly Teamwork

In this second part of “The Introverted Entrepreneur,” we’re talking about embarking on the exercise of teambuilding and teamwork. Did you miss part 1 (on networking as an introverted entrepreneur)? No problem, it’s right here. Not sure what we’re doing? Start here.

As with this series’s first part, I feel compelled to start by dispelling a myth: introverts don’t hate people. An appreciation of solitude and occasional need for individual time has sown this nasty rumor, and I’m here to put it to rest.

Introverts (a) are capable of, and (b) truly enjoy, deep and purposeful relationships; this can be all the more true when these relationships are grounded in a common goal, interest, or objective. This means that once they find teammates and collaborators who they can work with well, they’ll be invaluable members of a team. We addressed a bit of the prospective synergy that introverts and extroverts can provide to one another in last week’s post; this week’s edition will allude to that as well.

How Do I Find These Folks?
In order to build substantive relationships that can not only fulfill you as a person, but also sustain the inception, growth, and development of a business, you have to find the people who would best fit your needs. This isn’t always the easiest, as we’ve already talked about. So I want to dedicate this portion of the post to other venues where these connections can be made.

First, my favorite, sending fan mail. I wrote with AND.CO earlier this year about the topic, and shared:

People love getting mail that isn’t bills, especially if those messages aren’t spam. After all, it’s always nice to know that your work is appreciated! So if you have a photographer that you follow on Instagram whose work always catches your eye, an artist whose work sparks something in you, or perhaps a blogger or columnist whose pieces resonate with you, send them a letter!

Now, it’s not a given that this piece of fan mail will yield an offer to work together. In fact, it’s pretty likely it won’t—but they do have the potential to start a relationship. Unlike the fan letters we used to send to heartthrobs as kids, these letters stand a stronger chance of standing out and making an impact. Relating on a professional and personal level could uncover commonalities that would be a natural fit for a joint project.

And ultimately, that’s the deeper purpose a collaboration is designed to fulfill. Whether the final product ends up being a podcast, joint article, shared promotion, co-taught class, or anything else you could choose to team up on, it’s about making the [entrepreneur] world feel a little less lonely. Even when we know the work we do is important, it can be hard to feel that way with little interaction or feedback. Consider collaboration as a way to keep your work fresh, original, challenging, and rewarding.

A preemptive note to this: fan mail should not be sent as flimsy pretext to ask for something. Trust me, the recipients can tell the difference. Genuine and earnest overtures of appreciation can get you somewhere; calculated openings for asks likely won’t.

Interested in the community of an online forum? Strategy or mastermind groups are possible and fruitful in spaces like Facebook, via Twitter using hashtags, and can even be conducted more intimately on platforms like Snapchat, MarcoPolo, Slack, or GroupMe. The key in these spaces is to watch (or “lurk”) as you enter, contribute knowledge where possible, and monitor the norms and expectations of a group space before making asks. Again, the asynchronous nature of those groups eases the burden of conversation, allowing introverts to take their time in contributing to a conversation or providing a response to a tough query. What’s more, an accessible archive (save Snapchat-based groups) means that you can come back to a topic or exchange later on- this isn’t always a comfortable thing to do in in-person conversations!

And finally, you can flex your connections with current friends and colleagues. While reaching out cold to folks might feel intimidating (a truth regardless of temperament, I want to make clear!), doing so with an assist from someone you already know can bear fruit in ways you might not have expected. For the last two years, I’ve hosted a blog series called The Defectors; as my existing connections run dry, I turned to previous contributors to help me find my next set of collaborators. These recommendations, coming from people who know me and who I trust, can strengthen “weak ties” (as in “I don’t know them, but I know of them”), remind me of strong ties I may have overlooked (“oh yeah, I could ask her!”), or create new links altogether (“this person sounds great, please connect us!”). This strategy, used on previous projects, led me to my current podcast hosts, a founding member of my current mastermind group, and several other frequent collaborators. Whose existing ties could lead you to the next great breakthrough for your business?

At the same time, it is essential to remember as an entrepreneur that your circle of friends and circle of professional connections don’t always intersect in a way that’s productive. What we’d hope would be a large intersecting area in a Venn diagram, might instead turn out to be only a sliver. That’s okay, often to be expected, and the best reason to employ several of these strategies together.

How Do We Create The Best Version of A Working Environment?
As someone deeply interested in temperament and how it affects how we work and live, adages about lapses in communication being the cause of conflict (“10% of conflict is due to difference of opinion, and 90% is due to tone of voice”) resonate as incredibly true to me. And in my work as a facilitator with teams and organizations centering around conflict, I see several versions of this in practice. When we parse it out as a group, I typically narrow it down to two dynamics: tending toward being quiet versus tending to talk things out; and preferring solitary work versus working in a communal/open environment. Recognizing, of course, that there is nuance in these classifications, it nonetheless works to help participants understand the differences that often accompany temperament.

The exercise encourages participants to share their first assumptions about why their “opposites” behave as they do, and then the true motivations behind those actions are shared. The result? The next time someone doesn’t contribute as expected in a meeting, or opts to work with their door closed, someone who works differently has the context to push past their assumptions- recalling and therefore revealing the actual motivation for that action. “Francisca wasn’t not listening, she just needs a bit more time to think about what we posed in the meeting.” or “Jarvis isn’t mad that it’s so loud in here, he just needs the quiet to access his thoughts.”

I say all this to encourage you, as a business owner and in turn as a custodian of a budding working environment, to prioritize understanding the work style and work preferences of those who you work with. How flexible are you willing and able to be? What are your organizational expectations and, for that matter, dealbreakers? And in the work environment that you’re building, do people have the opportunity to know one another well enough to distinguish temperamental differences from quirks at best (and character flaws at worst)?

What Happens When Conflict Arises?
As I alluded to above, a better understanding of what communication styles might represent is essential when trying to mediate and resolve conflict. In fact, I recommend setting ground rules during “peacetime” for how conflict will be handled. These ground rules can be based in individual challenges, and serve as an aspirational way to improve our typical communication patterns.

For example, while I am incredibly slow to anger, I will sit on small annoyances…only to see them explode on my friends, coworkers, or loved ones after they accumulate. So a ground rule I would set for myself would be to tell a person when something is bothering me, in a timely fashion (24 hours or fewer). Someone who seeks to deflect blame toward others might set a goal of taking three breaths and examining the multiple sides in a conflict; an individual who struggles to engage in conflict at all might aim to reflect on feelings before sharing them with others. In all these cases, creating a strategy that allows improvement upon our occasionally unproductive instincts, can change the way we engage in these issues.

What about confronting the conflict itself? A good rule, irrespective of temperament, is to face as much of the situation face to face as possible, but allow any time that is needed to de-escalate or reflect on the issue at hand. This dual-pronged strategy prevents some of the ambiguity of tone that can come from asynchronous communication, but also allows each party the time and space to choose their words intentionally. It also addresses each “type”‘s challenges with care. While introverts can sometimes struggle to articulate their challenges in real time (especially during points of high stimulation), having the grace of “let me think about how to say that” can yield a more cogent argument when it comes to them. Similarly, while slowing down might be difficult for individuals who talk and think nearly simultaneously, the challenge to slow down and choose words more intentionally might prevent some of the hurt that can come from speaking extemporaneously.

Recognizing that the nature of entrepreneurial culture means that the people with whom you’re in conflict are likely both your colleagues and your friends, it can seem dismissive or trite to encourage a separation between personal issues and professional ones. But I promise you, it’s possible. Ad hominem (“to the man” in Latin) attacks, or ones directed toward a person rather than the issue or challenge at hand, can destroy key relationships. This means preparing to tackle a situation with an understanding of what’s really upsetting you or causing a problem. To be clear: this is not always easy to do. Drilling down into the issue with a “five whys” approach (starting with what you see as challenging, asking “why,” and being honest; after five “whys” the problem often looks very different) may help you gain some clarity on the root issue, and not just the symptoms that may finally be starting to flare up. Once you’re at the root cause, any healing remedies you elect to put in place – together – will have a better and more lasting chance of yielding a cure.

This guide is in so many ways a means of scratching the surface on this topic. What tips do you have that I should think about adding? What challenges might I have missed? Would love to hear from you!

Further Reading From Me:

 

 

The Introverted Entrepreneur, Pt. I: Working the Room, Your Way

In this first part of “The Introverted Entrepreneur,” we’re talking about the frequently discussed challenge of networking. Not sure what we’re doing? Start here.

Let me get this off my chest first so we can dispose of the myth: discomfort with networking is not a purely introverted trait. Frankly, most people hate it. And I get that. The idea of making conversation toward either a specific professional goal, or as a means to be “memorable,” is an arduous task for most people.

However, the need to network efficiently and effectively is especially crucial for entrepreneurs. Building a business can be isolating, and getting to know others who have embarked or are embarking on the journey can be comforting. And from a more utilitarian perspective, it is these connections that eventually lead us to our occasional collaborators, co-conspirators, or co-founders. So yes, while there is some dread associated with leaving our physical cocoons (home or the office) as well as our mental and emotional cocoons (“do I have to go?”), there is undeniable value in making the brief journey out of that space.

That “do I have to go?” dread is real. And as I’ve shared previously in a move of accountability to stop me from whining about this, “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.”

So, how can you make these events work for you when you’re in need of the connections that your personal energy stores may not always welcome?

Go in with a plan. I tell people I’m coaching or working with often: it is often neither productive nor feasible to leave rooms like these with everyone present knowing your name. What’s more, as energy stores flag, you might find that those you met at the beginning and those you met at the end may see different versions of you. I’ll elaborate, using a snippet from my 2014 book The I’s Have It:

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 [my friend] 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 remember very vividly hitting this point during an information fair for my graduate program; my first interview with a prospective assistantship supervisor was upbeat, well-informed, and conversational. My seventh? Well, it was…not. Nearly ten years after the fact, I remember sinking heavily into the chair, the words “I’m so sorry, I’m so tired” tumbling out before my brain had the time to stop me. I did not get that job.

If I were pitching support for my business to that last assistantship supervisor, there’s no way I would have gotten their support. And indeed, for entrepreneurs these interactions carry an additional burden. How do you put your best foot forward when not just you, but the merit of the idea you’re seeking to build, is being judged by the quality of these interactions?  With a plan. With notes. With a “cheat sheet” of your own design.

If you’re able to access an attendee list beforehand, take note of who you might be sharing the space with that evening. If you’re unable, perhaps take an initial pass through the room in search of familiar faces. The goal with either maneuver is to identify where your energy burn will yield the strongest outcome. This is an essential bargaining move when the time and energy you have to be the best version of yourself, is being depleted over the course of an evening or an outing.

I often use a cell phone battery to help articulate this idea; if your phone’s at 40%, that’s not the best time to think about streaming a movie or documenting something via Snap story. But reading an article, or maybe a 22 minute TV episode? That creates less of an energy burden, and doesn’t push you to your “red zone” as quickly. Plans, goals, and a deliberate plan of attack slow your time to your red zone. Use them liberally to make the most of these opportunities.

Take the assist where needed. We all need a “wing-human” to help us be our best in moments that challenge us. Whether those moments take place in sticky-floored bars on ladies’ night, or in the Atlanta Marriott’s harshly lit Salon D, going in with a partner can help make a difference in how we approach these potentially draining scenarios.

Picking a wingman as an entrepreneur carries an additional wrinkle; select someone who knows you well, but also knows your enterprise well. If you, for any reason, leave something out in conversation, who in your “squad” can jump in with the assist to make you look good? Who will speak well of what you do on your behalf? Who can answer that “so what do you do?” question for you the tenth time, because the first nine have just taken it out of you?

To that end, there’s a version of the assist that isn’t a person, but rather an action: how can you schedule your day in a way that helps you come to these events – to extend the cell phone metaphor – at 100%? For an example, if I’m headed to a conference where I’ll be expected to be present at a booth for two hours and chat with attendees, I’ll make sure the preceding hour or two is mine alone. That “assist” is akin to plugging myself in on a charger, switching myself to “airplane mode,” and powering up before high demand on my energy stores.

Whether the assist comes from someone else, or from you, the goal is the same: to give you what you need to present yourself well. Which reminds me…there is what I call “a kill-switch” moment, where you know you’re spent and that any further stimulation would lead to diminishing returns. You know when it’s arrived, you feel it. Strongly. Take that cue when it comes, and help your wing-humans recognize it in you. Whether you need to excuse yourself politely, or someone in the inner circle needs to identify a “signal” and step in, know that honoring this need isn’t quirky, selfish, or shameful. Rather, it is your body’s way of signaling you that it has had enough, and that with some rest you’ll be at your best again soon.

Let social media “hold you to it.” Even with the best of intentions, I don’t always hold myself accountable as I should to productivity at networking events. This can occasionally surprise people who have interacted with me via social media, and find me to be self-assured in those shared moments. And indeed, Jennifer Kahnweiler has recognized that a considerable strength of introverted leaders lies in their use of social media. The option to communicate asynchronously, with multiple media (I’m partial to GIFs myself), and the time to contemplate responses where needed, make a difference in how introverts can present themselves congruently.

Connecting this point to the earlier one of making a plan, I like to put out a call via Twitter or LinkedIn ahead of events I’m apprehensive about. It helps me see who in my networks I might see in that initial pass of the room, or who these people might know in those rooms. Even a quick “hope to see you there!” holds me accountable to stopping that vaguely familiar face and saying hi, or enlisting that friend who’s also going as my wing-human for a “scarier” encounter, like approaching a panelist or a prospective investor or collaborator.

And if I hit my kill-switch beforehand, or for some other reason don’t get around to flexing that connection? Sending another note with an apology and hopes of connecting again soon can help. Some people who I connect with regularly are ones who I reached out online, missed them (or froze in the moment, that happens too!) but stayed in touch and eventually did meet up with. If these are folks you’re hoping to work with or be supported by, these follow-up moments are crucial because they demonstrate commitment and accountability, even when the goal wasn’t met.

I hope this helps you tackle some of your fears, anxieties, and energy drains around the next big “room” you get to sell yourself in. Stay tuned- next week we’ll be talking about how to connect with prospective collaborators, and how introverts can effectively make meaningful overtures toward these goals.

This guide is in so many ways a means of scratching the surface on this topic. What tips do you have that I should think about adding? What challenges might I have missed? Would love to hear from you!

Further Reading from Me:

 

Coming Soon: The Introverted Entrepreneur

A few weeks back, I received a message from someone who had heard my appearance on Hubspot’s The Growth Show podcast. He posed a question that got me thinking…hard.

I’m an introvert myself and someone who really enjoys mentoring and advising tech startup founders. The usual guidance about building startups is all about moving quickly (out of the world of ideas into execution!), getting out and talking to potential customers and building your network (often through meetups etc). All things that I think are especially tough or mentally draining for introverts.
This leads me to ask if you’ve written about, or have any guiding tips, for introverted founders to work through these in building their business? (emphasis added)

I have to be honest, I could have sworn I had covered this at some point.

Turns out, I haven’t. But it’s absolutely true. There are certain machinations that are part of the startup or entrepreneur experience, that drain introverts a bit more than they might extroverts. I haven’t yet talked about the nature of temperament as it pertains to this experience. But I want to. 

I want to round out my year on the blog with an examination of three parts of the founder/entrepreneur experience where temperament often comes into play: networking and connection building, collaboration, and self-promotion. I’ll seek to share examples from my own experience, as well as those from other people whose work I have grown to appreciate. Through it all, I hope you’ll see that success in a founder or creator role can look different from what you might have thought.

Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for my take on the topic, and thanks to Peter Moore of Starteer for the inspiration!

The Defectors, Series 2: A Different Look at “Defection”

(I’ve said much of what I want to say about the conclusion of this series in last year’s closings, which you can find here and here. But there’s a bit more…so read on!)

“Why the word ‘Defector?'”

About a week into this edition of The Defectors, I got this question from my agent Ken, who I appreciate for challenging me to think about what I think and say in new ways. In truth, I liked the confident charge the term implied. Defecting is a decision, a clear choice that someone makes to depart from what they’ve been doing or where they’ve been going. People defect from political parties, from countries of citizenship, from organizations that they call home.

But what Ken urged me to think about, is that defection often happens violently. It frequently comes into play where people are given no other choice but to leave.  It’s seen as less of a confident walk away, and more of a fraught tearing of bonds. Even after looking at it that way…I like that it’s provocative. What’s more, even though it’s provocative, I stand by my decision to use that exact word.

Why? Because I see so much of that assumption grafted upon those who choose to follow the defector path. There are a lot of hurt feelings, confusion, cries to stay, and even after the departure, tinges of disapproval from those who stayed on the well-worn path. There is a difference between the earnest “how are things?” and the one soaked in “do you regret it yet?” Yes, we can hear the difference- and for my part, even when it’s hard – especially when it’s hard – I don’t regret it for a second.

I was reminded of a post I wrote on this topic a few years back, well before my own defection and before I started talking to others pointedly about their own, called “Pull, Don’t Push.” An excerpt:

One of the elements of our profession that I struggle with most is our propensity to shame or look down upon those who elect to leave the field in favor of other pursuits. Being a field of personable people, we take offense at this decision, concerned that its our fault or that we have some duty to keep them “within our ranks.” But, as Chris Conzen illuminated in one of my favorite posts of his, this may have nothing to do with us. We’re typically offended, concerned, or hurt by what we’re seeing as a push. I want us, as a profession, to look at this another way.

The post used the “second act” comedy careers of Ken Jeong (former doctor), Retta (former chemist) and Bill Cosby (former teacher, and pre-scandal of course) to illuminate the idea of being pulled toward a new pursuit or way of working, rather than away from an existing one. I highlighted the element of choice here, acknowledging that this manner of making change is different from those who feel forced out (which, to make abundantly clear- the circumstances around that form of departure also need to change):

There are those who leave the field because the pressures of their role have caused them to seek other options, or because their belief in the field is inconsistent with their reality. I completely understand that this can happen. However, this post is not for or about those people.

I like the choice of “defection” as a means to describe this new world of work that many have chosen to enter, because so many look at it in that traditional way at first glance. The definition of “defect” as a verb is “to abandon a country or cause in favor of an opposing one” (emphasis added). It is my sincere and fervent hope that you’ve learned, over the course of this month – and through season one – that these causes are not in opposition with one another.

So how can we remove the oppositional orientation of these non-campus based roles, and make professionals more aware of their myriad options?

  • For those who “tap” undergraduate students with potential to excel in this field: Speak not just of the on-campus opportunities to affect student development and well-being, but also of the off campus opportunities. How could professional associations be better for their contributions? Auxiliary service providers? Honor societies?
  • For those who advise students through supervision or faculty roles: Speak about these additional opportunities not as secondary or fallback options, but as legitimate parts of a fulfilling path for one’s career. In what ways has your work been impacted by the professionals serving the field in other ways? How have you collaborated with them, and how have they supported your work?
  • For graduate students evaluating their entry into the field: don’t sell non-campus-based positions short. They are not a substandard or “backup” form of engagement in higher education; they’re simply different. No better, no worse…only different. Do any of these different options look enticing? Use your status as a student to your advantage; ask questions, conduct informational interviews, meaningfully incorporate these options into your search if they pique your interest.
  • For professionals looking critically at their next steps: Get creative with how your skills, abilities, and perspective can impact the world of work. Who can benefit from the areas in which you shine? In what other areas of the field could you shine? Several of the Defectors in this year’s series have volunteered their contact information, who might be able to share their story and inform your next steps?
  • And for professionals who are friends, colleagues, or supporters of Defectors: it is, more often than not, not personal. Behave accordingly. Support these folx through their transition into a new form of work. They’re enduring a good bit of change, but it’s likely that the change is borne of a pull toward a new life. Encourage it.

I am immeasurably appreciative of the individuals who chose to share their stories through this series, and to the team at Presence for helping me create a series that could compensate these individuals for their work. If you’re looking for a taste of the Defector lifestyle, I urge you to get in touch with Presence– they are a tremendously supportive organization that has created a wonderful home for several former student affairs practitioners and student leaders, all in service of making the lives of campus-based professionals easier. Let’s please keep this conversation going year-round; it matters too much to leave to one month a year!


If you have defected, and are interested in participating in future iterations of this project (another blog series? A podcast? An limited-run series of on-camera interviews?) please let me know so I can reach out when the time comes!