Are You What You Always Wanted To Be?

I’ve given you poo talk; I’ve given you lubricant talk; now I’ll give you serious talk. Mostly.

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?

The Answer?

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


198 Responses to “Are You What You Always Wanted To Be?”

  1. acflory

    I think the question is not whether we are introverts or extroverts, but whether we are communicators or not. Extroverts communicate by performing. Introverts communicate by writing. IMHO.😉


    • Carrie Rubin

      Excellent point. I definitely prefer the written word. Then again, when I get on a subject I’m passionate about, I won’t shut up. Just ask my husband… (Of course, that only happens when I’m with only one or two people that I feel comfortable around. If there’s a group of people, I’ll be a silent little clam.)


      • acflory

        lol – I’m the same… unless I’ve had one too many. After that it’d take a herd of elephants to pull me from my soapbox. Wine gives me sinus headaches now so I’ve stopped being an embarrassment at parties.😉


  2. Kylie

    Aha! The commenting loophole! I debated between becoming a librarian and a public health wonk. And now what I’m happiest doing is writing. Hmmm. Much to figure out.


  3. talesfromthemotherland

    While not new to your blog, I wasn’t reading yet in Oct. So this is new to me, and very interesting! I’m learning that I’m much more introverted that it once seemed and this post struck a chord. Glad I found it! It is also, interestingly tied to my own post for this week… Could I have Been Anyone Other Than Me? Isn’t that what we’re both asking?:-) Enjoy your hiatus Carrie, even if we miss you terribly! xo


    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you!

      If you haven’t read Cain’s book about introverts, you should add it to your list. Very interesting read. Opened my eyes and made me realize I wasn’t as weird as I thought I was–I was just an introvert. Okay, maybe I’m still a little weird…


      • talesfromthemotherland

        But it’s a wonderful weird…😉 I’ve seen that book around. As no one sees me as an introvert, I did not read it. However, I think there’s an interesting point in who we might have come into this world as (shyer) and who we had to become to survive in the world where we landed (introvert). I’ve spent most of my life way out there, extrovert for sure. But inside, I’m realizing I crave a lot more quiet and solitude. I am often burnt out after days of socializing… so I may check that book out after all.


        • Carrie Rubin

          They say that’s the best way to differentiate introverts and extroverts. Extroverts are energized by social contact; introverts are drained by it.


  4. Anastasia

    Soul sister…. I love these kinds of posts (and loved Quiet, as you know). I just signed up for coaching from career coaching with the kind of format I can respect. Finally. It’s nice when things click, isn’t it?


  5. Xaeyruudh

    I guess this is kinda late to be commenting on this, but it caught my eye. I discovered personality tests at a fairly young age, as a result of my mom leaving books like Please Understand Me laying around. I enjoyed them, and I noticed that my results didn’t necessarily change over time but rather they depended on which parent I was currently spending time with. When I was with mom, my “profile” showed an extremely introverted thinker. When I was with dad, even just for a weekend, I appeared to be a somewhat extroverted feeler. This has always puzzled me a bit, because I was careful to answer the questions according to what I felt/thought/whatever… not the way I thought I “should” answer them. My only conclusion was that I (or children of dysfuntional families in general) have to have a bit of chameleon… which is all a longwinded way of saying this post is interesting and illuminating for me. The free trait theory and my early “chameleon” explanation seem to be compatible. Being like dad wasn’t something I wanted, but avoiding his judgement (and attention for that matter) was. I was faking it, sure, but it was subconscious for me, not an active thing. Thanks for posting this.


    • Carrie Rubin

      I think your description of being a “chameleon” is apt. I suppose most people feel that way at times, but I think perhaps introverts experience it even more. We are most comfortable alone or with our inner circle of family and acquaintances, but we can put on a good front when need be. We’re just a little exhausted afterwards. I would also suspect that your ability to be a chameleon means you’re pretty adaptable–always a good thing.

      Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I appreciate it!


  6. Main Street Musings Blog

    I was surprised to read that you were at a work conference. Somehow I had assumed that you had take a hiatus from the medical profession because you seem to accomplish so much–raising kids, writing a blog, publishing a novel (just to mention a few . . ) ! I’m thinking when you were four you wanted to be wonder woman . :)


    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh, no, I haven’t been in clinic for 6 months. I’m taking a hiatus. I was just about to enter a non-clinical tract, and then I decided to take a year to focus on the writing. So no wonder woman here. But I still keep up my educational and licensing requirements. One never knows what the future holds.


      • Main Street Musings Blog

        Ah! But you still have wonder woman qualities to me.:) Always wise to stay current and have options.


        • Carrie Rubin

          Most definitely. I’ll need somewhere to return to with my tail between my legs when my book ranks 1.5 million out of 1.51 million Amazon books.


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