Some may wonder how introverts like me end up in people-centered jobs. If working in health care requires strapping on a daily social mask, how in the world did I get there?
After reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, I’m one step closer to understanding. In my bible—er, Cain’s book—she mentions Brian Little, a prized and well-loved college professor. Dynamic and outgoing, his enthusiastic teaching style entertained as much as it educated. By all appearances, he was an extrovert. After a lecture, however, this popular figure retreated to a bathroom stall, propped his feet up on the wall, and hid from the rest of humanity.
So how could an introvert like Professor Little appear so outgoing to others? Because of a phenomenon he called Free Trait Theory. He suggested we all have fixed traits (in his case, an introverted personality), but we also have free traits, and together these traits coexist and allow us to pursue careers that align with our “core personal projects.”
In other words, like an orgasm, we can fake the heck out of it for work we consider important.
And that, my friends, is how I can function like an extrovert in public and then hide in my car like a hermit whenever the walls start to crumble.
Core Personal Projects—How Do We Find Them?
So how do we identify our “core personal projects”? The search is not always easy, and introverts risk flubbing it up. They’ve spent so much time “conforming to extroverted norms” that they often ignore their own career preferences.
To identify your core personal projects, Cain proposes three steps:
1) “Think back to what you loved to do when you were a child.” When someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what did you answer? Although the specific occupation may have been off-base, the underlying desire probably wasn’t.
In first grade, I wanted to be a librarian.
Hmm, a person surrounded by books…
2) “Pay attention to the work you gravitate to.” At work, which tasks do you prefer? What do you find yourself most often doing?
I gravitated to the academic—teaching, reading medical literature, solving diagnostic puzzles.
Ahh, the plot thickens…
3) “Pay attention to what you envy.” If you envy something, you likely want it pretty badly.
Until I started writing, I never experienced envy. I believe—to a degree, of course—that we make our own luck. But then I wrote my first novel. Suddenly, news of published authors rendered me green. Not pretty.
Bazinga! And yet another introvert gets her wings…
So What’s My Point?
Perhaps I misidentified my core personal projects when I toppled down the career chute. Don’t get me wrong—I love science and pediatrics and medicine. But I feel more at home when I write.
Was I meant to be a librarian, after all?
Perhaps this is all a bunch of hooey—yet another excuse for discontentment. But just for fun, give it a try. Walk through these three steps. Are you what you always wanted to be?
All images from Microsoft Clip Art