Entitlement to be yourself

Occasionally I will read a piece and think “these words were written for ME.”  I felt that way about Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. 

Backed by research, personal stories, and interviews, Cain argues that modern western culture undervalues and misunderstands introverts. But her book isn’t a rail against western culture so much as it is a rally for introverts.  She holds a magnifying glass up to the personality and lifestyle of introverts, offers a compelling description of the gifts introverts have to offer in the home, workplace, and community, and suggests strategies for introverts to employ in order to thrive in a talkative world.

In Cain’s introduction, she writes, “If there is only one insight you take away from this book, I hope it’s a newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself.”  I certainly finished the book with a greater understanding and acceptance of myself, and here are a few reasons why:

  1. Cain normalizes the fear of public speaking.  Not only did the feelings of dread that I always experience before giving presentations, making announcements from the pulpit or even introducing other speakers used to make me miserable in and of themselves, they also sparked further feelings of guilt and embarrassment.  I would think, “Speaking in front of others is a normal, adult thing to do; feeling this anxious is immature and unreasonable.”  By sharing her experiences of not being able to sleep before a big presentation, and of having to practice for hours and hours before feeling comfortable with the content for a talk, Cain helped me to see that failing to relish public performance is not a reflection of my maturity, ability, or mental health (or lack thereof, in each of those categories).  It’s just an aspect of my personality type. 
  2. While encouraging me to accept the fact that I prefer being out of the spotlight, Cain also helped me see that I’m capable of being in the spotlight.  She writes about Free Trait Theory, the proposition that we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits — introversion, for example — but we can and do act out of character in the service of “core personal projects.”  In other words, “introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.”  The reminder that I can do things (and can do them well!) that I don’t necessarily want to do is empowering.  I may just need extra practice, training and support throughout the process. 
  3. Cain gives introverts permission to fortify themselves to operate in an extroverted world with restorative practices and behaviors in their homes and personal lives.  As she suggests to introverts that stepping out of our comfort zone in order to advance “core personal projects” will bring us satisfaction in the long term, she also warns us that it will be challenging and tiring at times.  She reminds introverts to be intentional with where and when we choose to stretch ourselves, and advises that we allow ourselves to lean into our introversion in all other circumstances.  My favorite example that she offers: “Cross the street to avoid making aimless chitchat with random acquaintances.”  This is something that I have done many times, and have always felt a little bit funny about.  Cain validated a behavior that helps me, and I really appreciated that. 
  4. Cain highlights the qualities of introverts that make them valuable members of the workforce, political scene and humanitarian realm.  While noting that modern culture is enamored with extroverted qualities such as charismatic leadership and outgoing sense of humor, Can reminders her readers that there are other ways to lead and have an impact.  She writes of the less glamorous qualities of persistence and reflectiveness that I identify with (much more than charisma and sense of humor!) and emphasizes that introverts can use these qualities to share ideas powerfully, if quietly.  She writes, “The trick for introverts is to honor their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.” 

 

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School of Life

Some lessons you have to learn the hard way.  Some lessons you have to learn the hard and expensive way. 

My dad describes these lessons as having “high tuition in the School of Life,” a metaphor that has at least made me smile through the tears as I’ve lamented to dear-old-dad more than one expensive error in the past. 

Recently, I have made a few pricey and extremely frustrating mistakes.  I misread a text from an airline notifying me of a delayed connecting flight, and ended up missing the first flight.  I didn’t realize that a magazine subscription was set up for automatic renewal on an old (but not-cancelled) credit card, and so I missed a payment and had my first-ever late fee.  I backed into a fire hydrant, majorly denting my bumper, while making a seventeen-point-turn to get out of a dead-end street. 

What bothered me most about each of these situations — more than the toll they took on my bank account — was how sloppy they made me feel.  With each mistake, I found myself baffled by the fact that they were happening, and inwardly revolting: I’m not the type of person who misses flights and neglects credit card payments and drives badly.  I’m responsible!  I’m organized!  I’m careful!  I hate to be melodramatic, but the blunders messed with my sense of identity.

Education is an investment of resources, financial and otherwise, and this is as true for the School of Life as it is for grammar school, secondary school, college and graduate school.  As with any kind of investment, the hope is that the value gained exceeds the expenditure.

So, here’s to finishing these particular courses in the School of Life with good notes and significant insights!  Here are some key lessons that I’m taking away from a missed flight, late fee and a dented bumper:   

  • Read any text with important information twice.  Or three or four or five times.  Read it out loud.  Read it to a friend.  Do whatever it takes to make sure you really take in the information.
  • Don’t set up automatic renewals for magazines. 
  • Cancel old credit cards (or that one old credit card). 
  • When backing up, anytime, look very, very carefully. 
  • Don’t be afraid to tell a passenger that you need a moment of silence to concentrate. 
  • Remember: there isn’t a type of person who makes mistakes.  We all make mistakes because we are human. 
  • Give grace and hugs to people when they make mistakes.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Broadcasting/Narrowcasting: Summer Reading

I once caught the end of an NPR interview in which the speaker commented that the news is no longer broadcasted, but is instead narrowcasted.  He explained that news’ sites, shows and programs do not offer a breadth of stories and perspectives that is representative of the world in which we live, that their content is narrowed to reflect the ideas, leanings and priorities of a particular set of hosts and listeners. 

While this interviewee certainly wasn’t the first person to claim that the media is biased, I hadn’t heard the broadcast/narrowcast turn-of-phrase before, and his word-choice struck a chord with me.  I can’t remember the name of the interviewee or the interviewer, let alone the broader topic of their conversation, but this idea grabbed my attention because I see it at play within my life.    

It concerns me that, like a particular channel or anchor, I narrowcast the input of stories — and therefore, the output of opinions, ideas and beliefs — within my life.  For work and leisure, I read and listen to not only a certain type of news and theology (read: liberal), but literature and even fluff (i.e. lifestyle blogs) as well.  I typically don’t expose myself to content with which I fundamentally disagree.

Noticing this inclination, I decided to make a concerted effort to read one book (starting small and not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good!) this summer that is off my usual beaten path.  I chose Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, because it’s one of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s favorite books, and Ryan isn’t the first person I’d ordinarily go to for reading recommendations.  Additionally, Ayn Rand is one of those names that comes up again and again, and I like the idea of being well-rounded and able to understand references made to her work. 

A few observations about Rand and Atlas Shrugged:

It’s a good thing I borrowed Atlas Shrugged on my kindle, because I probably wouldn’t have persisted in cracking it open if I had known that it is 1,168 pages. 

It was really hard to get through the first half of the novel, but starting at about 60% on my kindle progress report, I found myself actually enjoying the book.  There is something to be said for a riveting plot line and likable-ish characters.   

Rand does not convince me that laissez faire capitalism is the golden ideal, mostly because I can’t get behind the premise that “good people” will rise to the top if they work hard enough.  In a culture plagued by systemic racism, sexism and xenophobia, I don’t subscribe to the myth of meritocracy.  But by offering me a glimpse of the world through the lens of a laissez faire capitalist, Rand does help me to understand why so many politically conservative individuals feel the way they feel (and disdain public assistance programs and government imposed business regulations). 

I think it comes down to whom a person is willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. 

Rand (and her type) gives the benefit of the doubt to the capitalists, assuming that work ethic and integrity enable them to make profit; therefore, they should be able to enjoy the full fruits of their labor.  I give the benefit of the doubt to all the men and women whom I believe are at their core as capable and intelligent as the capitalist, but through the harsh cycles of poverty and oppression, have not been granted the opportunities and privileges to rise and thrive.  Ultimately, we’re going to “side with” the people to whom we give the benefit of the doubt, and support policies and laws that support them.  For Rand, this is the capitalist; for me, this is the vulnerable.

In short, Atlas Shrugged wasn’t the total chore to read that I thought it might be, and it did broaden my perspective (which is what I hoped it would do; I didn’t expect conversion).  I also found some common ground with Rand, which came as a surprise to me.  We both distrust the “men is Washington” (her chosen delineation for politicians) who make the decisions and laws that impact both the individuals benefitting from capitalism, and those benefitting from public assistance.  I’m not rushing to borrow Fountainhead but I’m glad I challenged myself to step outside my ordinary reading zone and try something new. 

Other Books That I Read This Summer

Sisterland: A Novel, Curtis Sittenfeld

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo

The Book that Matters Most, Ann Hood

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain

The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy

Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Up a Road Slowly, Irene Hunt

Photo by James Barker on Unsplash

Hard before easy

Recently, during the Sunday morning Coffee Hour at the church where I work, I had a conversation with a parishioner whom I hadn’t seen in a while.  It turns out that she had been on sabbatical from her job teaching at a local university, and had spent the last several months abroad doing research for an upcoming book. 

We got to talking about the writing process, and I asked her if embarking on a book project feels daunting.  By this point in her career, she’s done it many times.  She smiled and replied, “It’s much easier now that I have something to say.”

Of course writing is easier for her now that she’s been researching, teaching, exploring ideas, and formulating fresh insights for several decades.  How could it have been easy when she was fresh out of graduate school and still a novice in her field of study?  But, as life would have it, in order to get to this point in her career when ideas are forthcoming and she has done the research necessary to confidently take a stance on an issue or topic, she had to publish books.  She had to say things before it was easy, in order to arrive at a place when writing wouldn’t be so hard.

In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Everything is hard before it is easy.”

I think that this idea is true, in one way or another, for all of us. 

I remember coordinating service projects during my first year working at the church; each time I brought a group of students to a different service site, I had to navigate a new and often complicated parking situation, meet the site’s volunteer coordinator for the first time, and answer students’ and parents’ questions based on what I had been told versus what I had experienced myself.  Each service project was a basket full of unknowns.  The same was true of the Confirmation classes that I taught, the retreats I led, the Peer Minister and facilitator trainings I offered and the prayer services I coordinated.  The newness of everything made my first year very hard.

Short of a fast-forward time-machine invention, there is no way around the particular set of challenges that newness brings.  The value in Goethe’s words is that they normalize the feelings of struggle.  They don’t hasten the ease, but they help me remember: this isn’t hard because I’m incapable, or unsuited for this kind of work.  It’s hard because it’s new, and everything is hard before it is easy.  Goethe’s words remind me that if I stay persistent, whatever I am working on will become easier.  I find this sentiment extremely comforting and validating; it enables me to embrace the “hard” and welcome the accompanying opportunities for growth, learning, a sense of accomplishment, and joyful surprise. 

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

September is the other New Year

“January is the official start of the new year, and I always get a burst of renewed zeal at that time, but September also gives the same feeling of an empty calendar and a clean slate. The air seems charged with possibility and renewal.” – Gretchen Rubin

I’m with Gretchen Rubin: I always get a burst of renewed zeal in September, as well as in January. (I get the same feeling in my birthday month of March, too, and come to think of it, in June, when summer begins.)  Each of these times of year feel replete with potential and a spring is added to my step when considering goals, habits, and plans.  Oftentimes, I set a fresh batch of resolutions during these clean-slate moments, but I also like to use the months as opportunities to check in on myself and the goals that I set in one of the previous “new-year-periods.” 

A little over halfway through the calendar year, September feels like the perfect time to see how I am progressing with my 2017 resolutions: to celebrate what I’ve accomplished, to recommit to goals behind which I may have lost momentum, and to decide where to focus my goal-meeting energies in the last few months of the year.

Celebrations

  • Decrease sugar consumption — dessert is definitely a treat, not a habit, at this point.  This is probably the first time this has ever been the case for me, at least since I was a child and my mom had the keys to the cookie jar.
  • Complete 12 weeks of Kayla Itsines’ SWEAT workouts — done!  I’ve kept up with her workouts or other ones since completing the round.
  • Sibling connection — I’ve talked to each of my siblings at least once each month since setting this resolution. 
  • One adventure per month — going strong, and I just need to continue.
  • Get organized with “giving.”  Caleb and I have figured out which four charities we’d like to donate to annually, one per season
  • Meeting with a Spiritual Director monthly has been a great source of strength and joy

Areas requiring some recommitment

  • Flossing daily.  I was so, so good with this one…until we went abroad for the month of June.  Something about travel and flossing just didn’t seem to click for me.  But I’m recommitting now, and am going to do what I did for the first five months of the year and not miss a day.
  • Acknowledge birthdays.  Ditto on flossing story and recommitment. 
  • Blogging one time per week.  Ditto on flossing and birthdays.  Clearly, our European adventure messed with some of my resolutions!  It was totally worth it, but now that we’re back, it’s time for me to get back on track.

Still to do

  • Read Middlemarch
  • Cook or bake a recipe from the cookbooks I have yet to try something new from

A few new goals

  • Tidy up the house each night before going to bed
  • Meal plan and schedule exercising at the start of each week (or few week period)
  • Pray the daily examen each day
  • Listen to the news one way of my commute each day.

Do you think of September as a sort of new year?  How are your 2017 resolutions progressing?

 

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash