Tag Archives: personality types

To thine own self be true (The Free Trait Theory)

I’ve been adding to my collection of meaningful quotations as of late — you know the kind, the ones that stir something within you, make you smile, or simply make you nod your head in silent appreciation and share them online. The first one has been at the bottom of my e-mail for the last few months, and the other has recently come from, yep, you guessed it…Susan Cain’s Quiet. I’d like to share them now:

Quote 1: “…all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Quote 2: “To thine own self be true.” ~ William Shakespeare

Now how do I imagine these two offerings of advice relate to me? Well, after having reading the section about Free Trait Theory (covered in chapter 10), I feel these two quotes describe what it is I am trying to be (quote 1), in life, work, love and all other relationships, and quote 2 is what I am actually being. Being unreasonable is the process helps me stay true to myself and my beliefs; I’m constantly learning the difference between “being unreasonable” and cowtow-ing to popular opinion. I even went through a phase of pushing against so much of what my friends and family thought I should be that my actions didn’t have the greatest return of happiness – in fact I felt a lot of pain through that opposition, but at the same time it showed me the opportunity for growth. It still means something for me to stand up for what I believe in; it’s that extra ounce of courage that’s required to say “yes” or “no” and trusting myself that things will be okay after whatever passes. I’m being even more unreasonable through my requests of what I need from those around me. The support I seek, the understanding I wish to have, and through that, an increased feeling of depth, love and trust.

So what is Free Trait Theory? According to Cain, it is a new field of psychology, developed by psychology Professor Brian Little. An introvert himself, Little is also known (via the book) as an engaging and dynamic speaker, not only in his lectures at Harvard University, but also during his public speaking engagements, which he gives to large businesses (and in the book the US military). I love wondering how this is even possible, and Cain clearly does too. Even though Little describes himself as strongly introverted, he’s able to make these “performances” stick by taking the necessary time away from these engagements either before-or-after they have taken place. Think of it as recharging the batteries. How many of us have slipped away quietly, sensing a low ebb during a social engagement, or found a quiet conversation more restorative then buzzing around “networking” with people you may only ever meet once in your life? Or alternatively, if you’re an extrovert, finding a surge in spirit by surrounding yourself with more people? I know I prefer the first two options nowadays and so does Professor Little!

At the same time we can perform in opposition to our true natures just long enough before we need to excuse ourselves, and this is down to the fixed traits and free traits that co-exist within us. This is the principle of Little’s theory, insomuch as I understand it: we all are “born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits … but we can and do act out of character in the service of ‘core personal projects’.” (Cain, 2012) At last! An explanation as to why I feel charged up in certain situations and not others, and feel the opposite way, at a similar event (that may normally drain me) after I’ve had ample time to recharge! It makes total sense. If I have enough “down time” I can be ready and willing during the “up times” – those events I selectively chose to attend.

Take my current career path: Publishing – it’s all about the “networking”. Particularly when you’re looking for information. And it usually comes down to who you know, not what (or a combination of both). The publishing community in Oxford  offers up a lot opportunities to find out what everyone is up to through these seminars like these, the annual trade fairs and book launches. I can’t say I attend many book launches, but I do go to most seminars and recently attended one on book discoverability. Before the talk started however, there was the “wine and nibbles” phase of the event. And during that 30-40 minutes of “small chat” I increasingly noticed how much more of my energy it takes to stand there and chat with people I hardly even know, but when the talk starts I’m usually keen and interested to learn again. When it’s all over, however, I need to get straight home and re-charge, and sometimes that’s not always up to me as I’m dependent on other people for that important lift home (even making small talk in the car feels tiring!) So I have to choose carefully and have my exit strategy planned ahead of time.

Finally,  my social media presence seems to be in a state of oppositional flux when compared to the “networking” I do in person. If you happen to follow me on Twitter, you might think I’m a pretty active tweeter. I post, re-tweet and reply to as many conversations I can on all matters related to publishing (making my focus on digital topics like e-books, e-readers, XML, etc.). I’ll even live tweet from those seminars I attend too! So I suppose I could appear more extroverted online than I am in person. Does anyone else feel like this?

I imagine that’s a pretty natural conclusion, but it is down to the fact that my activity on social media is my personal project and I enjoy the online engagement and choose how active I want to be. Choosing those personal projects is a discovery process in of itself…I hope you enjoy finding yours!

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Turning up the volume (on introversion)

I got to spend an hour today pretending I was at a TED conference. In reality, it was the final few days of the Oxford Literary Festival, but more importantly I got to listen (and meet) perhaps one of my newest favourite TED speakers. Next to Brené Brown.

Susan Cain makes a connection that lets my heart sing and my soul shake. Together these two woman touch on topics that I’ve started to find unique and fascinating. Not only within myself, but society at large. They are topics that don’t get talked about all that much, if at all; and in a way touching on the parts of ourselves that we only whisper about and try our best to ignore, but these are conversations we need to have with ourselves and with each other.

Shame, vulnerability and introversion, I believe, when acknowledged can help us all lead more fully-involved, connected and authentic lives. So while the mute button still feels like it is on, the volume ought to be turned up a bit more; and for me personally that is about to end.

I consider myself a closet introvert – who wouldn’t? You’re kind of in the closet already…but if you’re like me, you may have felt a certain way (or taught yourself to get by, by not fully embracing your introvert) when in a room full of people. It’s taken me most of my life to understand that I like solitude. I like doing things by myself, in my own company. It doesn’t really matter what: going to the movies; listening to live music; attending public speaking engagements; or my biggest passion – cycling. But equally I like doing these same activities with friends as well.

So I wanted to write about this “condition” I have. In fact, I know I’m not alone because according to the talk Susan Cain made at this year’s TED conference, one-third to a half of today’s population share this with me.

Society has got us in a catch-22. It shows us that the loudest people in the room, are the one’s that typically get heard the most. But are they the ideas that need to be heard? Would we be in “this mess” (e.g., global financial crisis, unemployment, cuts to public services, etc.) if those leading from the front had been more introverted from the start?

Every aspect of society that we know has been impacted by the “he (or she) who shouts loudest gets heard”, that’s nothing new. But Susan Cain is challenging that precept, with this manifesto, inviting us to join the Quiet Revolution. What are we not allowing to progress if our children, our colleagues, even our leaders in business and politics are told they must be extroverts? Have we disconnected ourselves from solitude, and if so can we re-embrace it?

In my experience “this shouting” lessens the contribution I feel I can make. There have been times in my life where I believed I had something to contribute (an idea, an insight, whatever), but I haven’t done so because someone else was speaking louder than me. My parents always told me that it was rude to interrupt, so while I felt what I had to say may have added value, I was never confident enough  to speak up and I let the moment pass. That’s not to say that I’m not a team player, I feel I am, but the continued need for collaboration and “group think” can get in the way of the time that might be better spent in independent thought. One’s desire to be alone, to have solitude, in a world full of extroverts needs to be recognized. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

A few takeaways Cain made today (amongst many) really resonated with me and my own work:

  1. A sense of community comes later, only after the passion/activity has been found.
  2. The response to stimulation, how it occurs for different people and why there is an extrovert ideal between cultures.
  3. You don’t suspect the introverts around you.

I’m really looking forward to diving into these more with my coach Jeffrey and to begin reading Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”  in detail.

Finally and after getting my copy signed by Cain, I got to ask her further about the idea of dedicated practices, through an introvert’s lens and the possibility of richer integration. The insight she offered me, as I knelt down beside her was that it is one of managed practice, being sure not to take on too much at once. That really clicked with me, because in my own seeking I’ve tried a number of different techniques, but I can serve myself (and my community around me) better once I discover what practices work best for me.

It may only be one, and it may be a few, and I’m committed to finding that out…

Signed Title Page of Quiet

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