It’s an extrovert’s world

I’ve just finished reading a well-known and well-reviewed book on introversion. It’s funny how I can’t imagine saying directly to anyone that I’m an ‘introvert’ – the word just sounds negative and abnormal due to our culture – but I would imagine that someone could quite easily describe themselves as an ‘extrovert’ with a much more positive reception.

I’ve heard people argue that you can’t separate everyone into one of two categories, yet I think doing so helps us to understand and accept that there are people on both sides of the spectrum and both should be treated equally, without pressure for the quieter ones to conform with the louder majority. Something needs to change in western culture, and I hope that this book is the start of that.

quietWhy we don’t all need to be ‘all-rounders’

(Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, by Susan Cain)

Such a well-researched and well-organised book, and a very interesting read. Some great ideas on different kinds of leadership and work environments – the suggestion that extroverted leaders are better when staff are passive but introverted leaders are better when staff are proactive is a really interesting one, and I personally hate open plan offices as I need my own space.

Cain also covers the nature-nurture debate, explaining how some people are simply born more sensitive to what’s going on around them, and although they can learn to think and act differently as they grow older, those in-built sensitive reactions are still present.

The book also covers cultural differences in personality, specifically comparing America and Asia. While obviously you can’t stereotype whole nations, Americans do seem to prize charisma and speaking out while Asians tend to value quietness and thoughtfulness much more highly as an indication of wisdom.

We definitely need extroverts, introverts and all those in-between; we just need to make sure that all of them are heard and accepted for who they are without pressure to conform.


Dream BIG

I was on a course last weekend and somewhere near the start we were standing in a circle completing the sentence “If I won the lottery I would…”. I froze. On the spot I didn’t have a clue. What was wrong with me? Where are my dreams?

There are lots of things I want to do in my life, but I wouldn’t want a lack of money to stop me from doing them. There’s very little that I would like to have/do/experience that’s so expensive it would require a lottery win.

I guess I’m reluctant to share my dreams in case they don’t happen; in case I’m not brave or determined enough to make them happen.

be-a-free-range-human7. Escaping the 9 to 5

(Be a Free Range Human: escape the 9 to 5, create a life you love and still pay the bills, by Marianne Cantwell)

This is such a positive book, full of ideas and inspiration written in a really friendly, chatty style. In essence the message is that you won’t be able to find your perfect job, but you could create it for yourself.

It’s about taking action, starting small but actually doing something rather than just sitting around thinking about it (the latter is something I’m very guilty of!). There are lots of case studies of ‘free-rangers’ (basically entrepreneurs who aren’t tied down by location or lack of funding), and the book is divided up really nicely into different sections, the first of which is about dreaming big.

Too often we over-analyse ideas before we even start, which ends up putting us off going anywhere with them. There’s the idea that you have to face reality and have a perfect business before you even start, and, at least as far as this book is concerned, you really don’t.

I guess it’s the same with choices. It’s about trying things out and testing the water before committing to something, rather than just analysing it until you end up either not making a decision at all or making one you later begin to question.

Go with the flow

One of our school mottoes was ‘Destiny is choice, not chance’, and this is something I feel like I’ve stuck to, a little too well. While I do try to take advantage of chance opportunities, I always feel the need to make actively thought-through decisions.

Basically I’m a bit of a control freak.

The following book was mentioned to me through a comment on a previous post, and it was definitely a good recommendation (thanks David Lindskoog). It’s not only helped me to clarify my thinking on taking advantage of chance events, but has also helped to convince me that I really don’t have to commit to long term career goals.

luckisnoaccident6. Coincidence or fate?

(Luck is no accident: Making the most of happenstance in your life and career, by John Krumboltz and Al Levin)

This book basically describes life, or how life should be: trying things out, meeting and speaking to different people, and discovering opportunities through networking. It’s easy to forget how small efforts, such as attending an event or chatting to a stranger, can lead to significant links, connections and opportunities, whether immediately or sometime in the future.

I love the idea of flexibility and ‘going with the flow’; the idea that it really truly is ok to make mistakes, that you can always change your circumstances and goals and that there is no right or wrong answer as long as you’re exploring and experimenting. I realise this probably all sounds like common sense, and it is, but it’s easy to forget. There are some great quotes and loads of great examples of different people’s career paths throughout the book.

One particular quote stood out to me: The question that I hate most that we ask of young people is, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” And the truth is, I still don’t know at age 45 – Michelle Obama. Maybe there’s a feeling that you’re a bit ditzy if you don’t have a career plan, that you don’t care enough about your future and making the most of your talents, but this book has taught me that’s there is no shame at all in exploring your options.

You never need to decide what you are going to be in the future (a great sense of relief to me!). Unplanned events will inevitably have an impact on your career. Reality may be offering you better options than you could have dreamed. Expect to make mistakes.

Reassuring? I think so.

How to control your emotions

I won’t be sharing my New Year’s resolutions, though I have tried to make them realistic enough that hopefully I’ll be able to achieve most of them by the end of the year. I’m already onto reading another book and have two more lined up, so back to the book reviews… (starting to veer towards personal development though still related to decision making)

chimpparadox5. Managing your inner Chimp

(The Chimp Paradox – The mind management programme for success, confidence and happiness, by Dr Steve Peters)

I bought this book based on great reviews on Amazon, and I haven’t been disappointed. A handful of reviewers criticised it for being too simplistic, patronising even, but I just found it refreshingly clear, simple and fun to read. One of my teachers at school used to remind us to KISS – keep it simple, stupid, and that’s exactly what this book does, to great effect.

Steve Peters is a psychiatrist who has worked with world-class athletes. He uses a lot of metaphors, dividing the brain into three parts: the Chimp, the Human and the Computer, and describing the ‘Psychological Universe’, made up of different planets and their moons. I personally find the imagery really helpful for remembering his concepts and advice. A lot of what he says could be said to be common sense, but he explains it in such a memorable and creative way that seems really useful for taking practical action.

Essentially the book is about controlling the Chimp (emotional) part of your brain. The book suggests simple techniques to do this, and also discusses ways to change your thoughts and beliefs as well as your behaviours.

Relating this back to decision-making, what stands out to me is the emphasis on making rational Human choices, rather than irrational and emotion driven Chimp choices. It’s important to acknowledge and accept your emotions and the important things they are telling you, but then to think and act rationally to achieve long term goals, rather than simply acting to remove short term stress.

The great balancing act

So I’ve now finished my fourth book – unfortunately I’m not going to be able to keep up with reading books at this rate but I’m going to try to keep blogging regularly anyway! The main thing I’ve learnt from this book is that I’m not alone. Indecision affects so many people, and this book focuses particularly on women, whose freedom of choice hasn’t always been so great.

4. Compromise – you can’t have it allundecided book

(Undecided: how to ditch the endless quest for perfect and find the career and life that’s right for you, by Barbara Kelley and Shannon Kelley)

I’m discovering a lot of contradictions in my search for solutions. Settle for good enough, be content with what you have, versus follow your passion, keep searching for what’s right for you. Plan ahead, think about how you can fit in family plans with career plans, versus live in the present, not in the future. I guess it’s just a case of balancing all of these things.

Feminism is a significant part of this book, with a lot of discussion about how women’s lives have changed, from times not so long ago when the majority of women were (and were expected to be) housewives and mothers, to the present day when women seem to be expected to do it all, from having an amazing career to keeping up their appearance, looking after the kids and running the home (obviously this is a stereotype and there are a lot of men who are just as involved or even more so in bringing up children, cooking, washing, cleaning etc.).

I hadn’t realised how much of an issue gender equality still is. These authors argue, and I tend to agree, that the working week is designed to fit the lifestyles of men who have wives to go home to who take care of everything for them and have their dinner on the table. However this is no longer the case for most people, and both men and women want to be able to spend more time with their families and pursuing other interests and hobbies. It’s this whole idea of work-life balance (or work-life fit, as this book argues there really isn’t any balance – everything is a compromise and you always have to prioritise some things over others).

Some things I’ve taken from this book:

a) Let go of some dreams and hold on to those that are most important – If you can accept that you won’t be able to do everything, and choose a few things to focus on (at least for now), then you can let go of feeling you need to do it all.

b) Any kind of meaning or purpose, whether in or outside of work, can lead to contentment.

c) Remember that happiness isn’t as good as contentment. Happiness is short-lived and wears off; contentment is constant.

I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it. It’s written in a style almost similar to a blog, rambling narrative with lots of different examples and quotes thrown in, but I think that helps to make it interesting and easy to read. Essentially it says that there aren’t any real solutions – the key message is that you can’t have it all but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Compromise and contentment are both really positive.

Happily explore the options

I’ve decided to take a little break from reviewing books on decision making. The three I’ve already looked at were the main ones I wanted to read. The first was recommended to me by my uncle after I made a big decision (which I’ll explain in a few posts time), and the second and third had good reviews on Amazon and covered contrasting ideas. I recently came across a blog called Undecided, and found that the authors had written a book, so I now plan to read this and review it in my next post.

I’ve also recently come across some interesting blog posts on the phenomenon that is ‘the quarter life crisis’. (See posts by mundaneadventurer, writergirldiary and davidlindskoog, and there are many many more out there!). I for one definitely think it exists, and it’s an interesting concept. Young people have so much more choice now than they would have had in the past, and this makes it increasingly difficult to make career and life choices that they are content with.

We’re always being told to ‘aim high’ and ‘follow the dream’, but can this lead to discontentment? How do you work out what your dream is?! And how do you balance idealism with realism? I’m an idealist and an optimist at heart, and I believe you’ve got to be to achieve anything great, after all, Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right – Henry Ford. But aren’t happiness and contentment great goals too? I think the key to this is in the quote There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way – Thich Nhat Hanh. Finding a way to be content and go with the flow while still exploring your options and holding on to your dreams has to be the best solution. Though I also know that I need to remember that there is no perfect option.

I always think that if I knew where it was I was aiming for, what the ultimate goal was that I wanted to reach, then getting there would be no problem. It’s feeling so unsure about what I want to do that’s the issue.