I just finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. I initially decided to read it because I have a couple of classic introverts working for me, and I wanted to better understand their style of work.
I have always considered myself an extrovert, so I didn't expect the book to tell me much about myself. I was wrong. As I read the book, I was surprised to recognize myself in some of Cain's descriptions. It turns out, I have two attributes of extroversion: I don't mind meeting new people or speaking in public. I certainly would not strike anyone who met me as an introvert. However, I have several characteristics that Cain identifies as being part of introversion or as often coexpressing with introversion: I dislike conflict. I dislike small talk and prefer conversation about weighty topics, even with people I've only just met. And most importantly, I find being in large groups and public speaking to be draining, not energizing. If asked what I want to do for relaxation, I certainly would not say "go to a large party" or anything like that. I like parties (in moderation!) but I usually want some downtime afterwards.
I thought a little bit more about that last part, and I realized that I find the following parts of my job the most tiring: running meetings, negotiating agreements with other groups, and handling disagreements and conflict. I find the following parts of my job the most energizing: breaking down a problem and brainstorming possible solutions, analyzing options and deciding which one to implement, implementing solutions. Hmmm. So the people-oriented parts of my job are tiring, and the analytical and problem-solving parts of my job are energizing. This shouldn't surprise me. If I'm asked to say what motivates me in my work, I will invariably answer that I like learning new things and solving hard problems. I have never once answered that I like working through competing viewpoints to find a path forward that is acceptable to all parties or monitoring/gatekeeping other people's work loads so that they can get their most important tasks done somewhat on time.
And yet, as I've advanced in my career, my jobs have gotten more and more people-oriented and less and less analytical. I spend the majority of my time on the negotiating and gatekeeing and have to work hard to protect time for analysis and problem-solving. Oops.
I feel a bit unmoored by this discovery. It casts a new light on my recent career concerns. If I steered my career to such a serious mismatch between my job requirements and the things I find most energizing, what is to say I won't do it again with any changes I make?
I am unsure of what to make of this new realization about my personality. Obviously, personalities are more complex than a simple introvert-extrovert scale, and Cain makes that clear. She also mentions ambiverts (people who are in between extroversion and introversion) and discusses pseudo-extroverts (introverts who are able to act like extroverts despite the drain on their energy this causes). So what am I? An ambivert? A pseudo-extrovert who fooled even herself? Something else entirely? The correct label for me doesn't really matter, of course- but having an accurate label would at least give me something to go research as I attempt to figure out what to do next.
As it is, I'm in a muddle. How much of my current churn is due to a mismatch between my job and my personality, how much is the from the collateral damage from 15+ years of dealing with sexism (for instance, today I discovered that my recent misstep in the labyrinth continues to cause damage), and how much is just a garden variety midlife crisis?
I've also found myself surprisingly short-tempered with my family lately, and I wonder if some of that is just too much energy-draining people stuff at work colliding with having a mommy-centric 3.5 year old and a delightful, energetic but sensitive 6 year old at home. Maybe my reserves are just depleted. It makes me sick to think I'm wasting all my patience on coworkers behaving like 3.5 year olds and yelling at my sweet, wonderful, and frustrating actual 3.5 year old. I have to fix this.
So I looked at the complexity of this ball of issues, and decided I need some help. I found a counselor in my work area whose areas of expertise seemed to match my issues, and I've reached out to set up an appointment. I'll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, I can wholeheartedly recommend Quiet as a very thought-provoking book, even if you think you're an extrovert!