Thoughts & Observations

Using Envy for Research and Discovery

I was reading something the other day that mentioned observing what you envy as a good way to figure out what’s most important to you and what you really want in life.

If our desires were purely ours, I would agree.

But what does the advertising industry do other than create desire (and therefore envy) where there previously was none?

What we find we are jealous of is largely manufactured. It’s us trying to keep up with the Jones’, whoever the Jones’ are to us. So if we take a surface look at what we envy, we’ll get a murky picture clouded by someone else’s desires, not ours.

Did a little deeper though, and deconstructing envy can end up being an important research and discovery tool. Do you feel a bit of jealousy or envy, for instance, anytime a friend gets press coverage? That could be societally induced, but it could also tell you that you have a strong need for public validation for what you do, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just something incredibly important to know about yourself.

When someone wins a sports tournament, or gets an award for singing, or writes a popular book, or cooks an amazing meal, which of those things send a pang of envy through your body? If you get jealous over a perfectly made turkey but not over a winning goal scored in the soccer game, ask yourself why. It really doesn’t matter which one you are, just that you know the difference.



Thoughts & Observations

Author of Your Own Ambition

It is incredibly easy to have your ambitions, your ideas of what success looks like, driven by everyone but you.

We worry about how we’ll be perceived when we have to tell someone what we do at a cocktail party or when we run into an old colleague or schoolmate who hasn’t seen us in years.

We learn intuitively as we grow up, without anyone ever having to tell us, what our community deems as successful. We may be applauded for becoming a doctor, but not so much if we become an auto mechanic or a barista, no matter how great we are at the job.

As we scroll through status updates on Facebook and Twitter, we’re constantly confronted by other people’s ambitions and often can’t help but to use their success as a measuring stick of our own.

In this great TED talk, Alain de Botton implores that we ask ourselves a question that I think is essential to getting ourselves out of the habit of subjective success measuring: are we “truly the authors of our own ambitions”?

Thoughts & Observations

Quiet: A Book Recommendation

I just turned the last page of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain and with tears in my eyes, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

For most of my childhood and young adult life, I had a nagging sense that there was something wrong with me. I could never place exactly what it was, but it seemed to come up everywhere, from my choices of what I did with my time (I loved to read by myself or hang out with my mom) to the classroom (where my more vocal classmates always spoke ahead of me). I spent a tremendous amount of time trying to fix what was “wrong” with me by forcing myself in any way that I could to fit in with everyone else, from joining a multitude of clubs in high school to a year-long stint as a member of a sorority in college. None of it ever worked.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered that there was in fact, nothing wrong with me. I was sitting in a meeting at United Way, and the new head of the organization was introducing himself. He spent time telling us about his professional background and then shifted to telling us more about his personal life. At the time, it seemed a little bit out of place – I was not used to someone in a business meeting delving so deeply into his life and personality.

It was one of those moments though, that ended up being a pivotal turning point for me. As he described himself, he unabashedly called himself an introvert. I had heard that term before and knew that I technically fell into that category on personality scales like Myers-Briggs, but I had never really understood what the term meant and usually felt that it was given a negative connotation (like being incredibly shy or anti-social). The way that he explained the term introvert, though, was different: Introverts and extroverts get their energy from different places. Extroverts tend to get energized by spending time in large groups and being with other people. Introverts, on the other hand, tend to gain energy by being alone or with a close friend.

That was me. I did like people (in fact, I loved a core group of people incredibly deeply. I was empathetic, caring, and put a lot of effort into helping people that I cared about). But if I hung out in a large group or with a group of strangers, I lost energy quickly. Part of it was that I found small talk challenging – I had an innate preference for talking about deeper, more serious subjects and often felt awkward trying to dive into a conversation that didn’t feel substantive right away. I also tended to be a private person, keeping a lot about my personal life to myself except with people I knew well, but sometimes made me come across as snobby or inaccessible.

Over the years, I did what many introverts do when they’re working on something they’re passionate about: they adopt somewhat of a public extrovert personality. I figured out how to get good at (and even enjoy) things like public speaking and mingling at cocktail parties because they were in service to something much bigger that I cared about, but I have never lost those key qualities that make me an introvert.

Since I first heard the explanation of introversion and extraversion at that United Way meeting, I’ve read a lot  on the subject, but Quiet is the first book I’ve read that didn’t end up making me feel like introversion is something to be fixed. And it also didn’t come across as one giant cheer that ends in “Goooooooooooo Innies!!!”

Quiet provides a scientific, historical, and cultural context for introversion and extroversion, which not only illuminates the topic, but provides a clear argument for why we need both introverts and extroverts in order to make the world work.

I hadn’t realized until I was reading Quiet how much I still carry around a tremendous amount of guilt for not always being like the rest of the world and for needing things that the rest of the “normal” world doesn’t seem to want or need, whether it’s needing to hide out in the bathroom for a couple minutes so I can have a moment of solitude in a busy day or wanting steer away from small talk and always delve more deeply into conversations.

Quiet explains pretty much everything I never understood about myself. I cried as an 8th grader because I couldn’t figure out how to be like everyone else. I finally realize, deep in my gut and without guilt, that that’s not the point.