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.

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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.

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.

Satisfaction or analysis?

Following on from my last post, I’ve been thinking about the idea of satisfactory. I guess I’ve always thought of satisfactory as a bad thing. Whenever you rate something the options are poor, satisfactory (meaning ok, not very good really), good and very good. Yet in terms of life and happiness and contentment, satisfaction is pretty great.

I’ve just finished a second decision-making book, and in some ways it seems to contradict the ideas relating to maximisation and satisficing.

2. (Over?) Analysing

(Smart choices: A practical guide to making better life decisions, by John Hammond, Ralph Keeney and Howard Raiffa)

Some good ideas in this book: Framing your decision problem well, looking for creative alternative options, and clarifying your objectives. However a huge amount of detail on qualifying and quantifying and trade-offs and risks and consequences which all seem to point towards maximisation rather than satisficing.

I definitely haven’t actively considered my objectives when making past decisions, and this really is so important. If you don’t know what you want to get from a choice, then you have little chance of making the right one. Another thing I’m definitely guilty of is falling into psychological traps, about which this book gives a great overview.

Some key psychological traps to consider when making a decision are:

1. Over-relying on first thoughts, i.e. getting an idea into your head which then anchors your thinking.

2. Sticking with the current situation because it’s easier to do that than make a decision – ask yourself whether you would actively choose your current situation if you weren’t in it and were comparing it to other options.

3. Protecting earlier choices – something I’m sure lots of people, including myself, are guilty of. It’s really important to see each decision separately without linking it to the past. Decisions only affect the future and you can’t change past mistakes, only accept them and move on. If you’re in a hole, stop digging.

4. Seeing what you want to see – trying only to confirm your own thoughts isn’t helpful, you need to be challenged by contradictions and alternative views. Get someone to play devil’s advocate and see things from a different perspective.

5. Posing the wrong question – framing questions differently affects your thoughts and choices.

(The book goes into more detail about these and more, but the above 5 definitely stood out to me)

Step 2 for becoming an excellent decision maker: Beware psychological traps. Also define objectives and alternatives.

How to make a decision

I am notoriously bad at making decisions. One of my teachers at primary school used to tell me to ‘go and be MAD’ meaning go and Make A Decision. I chose my GCSE subjects, most were obvious choices, but I struggled between choosing history and textiles. I can’t actually remember which I wrote down on the form, all I know is that I got history, begged to be able to join the textiles class, started textiles, then changed back. A moment of confusion? It’s only choosing one little subject at school. Well the exact same thing happened when choosing my A-Levels. Physics or English? Chose physics, swapped to English, swapped back. Clearly didn’t learn from that mistake (though I’ve realised it usually takes me three times to work out where I’m going wrong – I very nearly tried to change university course).

And it’s not just education-wise. I always leave labels in clothes and take an average of maybe 3-6 months before wearing anything new I’ve bought. Just in case it was a bad choice and I decide to take it back.

I always like to try out all the options. Just to make sure I’ve made the best decision. As I’ll explain later, that makes me a maximiser – and that’s not a good thing.

So, in my quest to become an excellent and content decision-maker (and that is my aim) I’m reading some books on the subject, and I thought I would summarise my findings in an attempt to help any other maximisers (see below) out there who struggle like I do.

1. Maximisers and satisficers

(The paradox of choice: why more is less, by American psychologist Barry Schwartz)

Maximisers always look for the best. They want to see and try out all possible options before committing to any one choice. The problem with this strategy? Nothing is ever perfect, and as perfect doesn’t exist striving for it will just make you discontent. This is me at the moment, however what I want to be is a satisficer.

Satisficers look at the available options and choose the best from a limited selection to best fit their goals and needs. They are happy with good enough, however they do have standards and being a satisficer by no means equals settling for something that doesn’t meet those standards. The way I see it after reading the book, this is the only way to be content. You choose to be satisfied with less than perfect, and as perfect doesn’t exist anyway then good enough (or great enough, remember satisficers do have standards) is really the best you can aim for.

What I learnt from this book? The grass isn’t always greener. We have so many options – too many options – that make it difficult to focus simply on what does the job and is satisfactory. And this applies to everything, from food to clothes to technology to cars, houses, careers etc. etc.

Step 1 for becoming an excellent decision maker: Accept that perfect doesn’t exist and there are some pretty great options that will lead to far more happiness than an endless search for perfection.