We’re having a team planning day at my work tomorrow, and in preparation we were asked to complete the Myers Briggs personality test. Mine came out almost the same as the last time I did it a few years ago, swapping from INFJ to INTJ. I think I’m a fairly self aware person so that doesn’t surprise me. What is interesting though is that I’m becoming much more aware of what the ‘I’ means in the context of my work.
I stands for Introvert. When it’s come up in conversation with friends in the past they’ve disputed that I’m an introvert because I “can” be very outgoing and am usually the one in a group cracking stupid jokes. But I understand better now that what being an Introvert means is that interacting with others is usually not where I draw my energy and inspiration from. Being introverted means that you do your best thinking and generate your brightest ideas and recharge your batteries being alone, not through interactions with others.
Where I struggle is how to overcome that natural preference for alone time at work. I particularly dread conferences and public events where I’m going to have to “network” with strangers. Actually dread is too strong a term. I love the intellectual stimulation of listening to conference presentations and participating in some of the group activities, but it’s the morning and arvo teas and the lunch breaks that have me squirming with discomfort. I’m the one concentrating way too hard on balancing my awkward little plate of sandwiches and my cup of tea and handbag waiting for someone (probably an extrovert) to come up and say hi. I almost never will initiate a conversation. Once the initial break has been made, I love to talk, and can ‘network’ a charm, but it’s getting the ‘in’ that I find awkward and painful.
I don’t particularly like this about myself. I worry that it’s career limiting, and there have been so many times I’ve regretted not having the courage to approach someone that I’ve always wanted to meet, or someone who is particularly relevant to me in a professional sense, or even rescue one of the other wall-flowers from their obvious misery.
I was moaning about this on Facebook the other day when a friend put me on to this Ted talk from Susan Cains – The Power of Introverts.
It’s really good! In 20 minutes I think she nails what it means to be introverted and makes some savvy observations about the historical context of the shift from admiring people based on the essential qualities of their ‘character’ towards the current trend for lauding big personalities and advocating constant “group think”. Susan was basically advocating for leaving introverts alone to learn and develop in the way they do best.
Although she didn’t say this directly, I think there’s a definite paradox between the trend for constant external stimulation via open plan offices, ‘circle’ style professional development and meetings, and the idea that the team approach is always best, and the simultaneous understanding about the benefits of meditation and other sorts of introspective “me time”.
This doesn’t really help me out with my social awkwardness at conferences and professional events but it does offer a sort of validation, and some reassurance that it’s “ok” to prefer to spend large amounts of time alone, and not want to share my ideas before they’re at least part way formed. Introverted or extroverted, we all contribute.