Tag Archives: Susan Cain

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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