Awake at the Wheel

Exploring the intersection between work, play, and the creative process.

Flipping the Extrovert Switch

Curious, what's your interaction M.O.?

I just had lunch with a former yoga student who's now a teacher at my old studio.

She mentioned she sometimes gets what she considered a great compliment, that her teaching presence reminds people of mine. She then described me as being very "charismatic" when I taught.

Insert spit-take. It's funny for two reasons...

One, I'm not (and, no, I'm not fishing for compliments). I don't have a high-energy, motivational speaker style, but more of a chill storytelling, bordering on snark approach. When I taught yoga, I did it in old jeans and a t-shirt. It was always more about the content and conversation.

I like campfires over hoe-downs.

And two, when you meet me "off-stage," I tend toward introversion. For those who like data, I'm an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Index, the "I" standing for introversion.

One of my more recent discoveries is that I love to speak. After I'm done wanting to throw up in the minutes before I go on, I feel very alive on stage. Something happens and I get lost in the moment. Not always, but often.

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That used to happen all the time when I was teaching yoga, too. Ninety minutes would pass in the blink of an eye. I could have a raging headache before I taught, but once I was in the room, interacting, playing, dancing, ranting, chanting, storytelling, occasionally swearing, asking and answering questions, all was good in the world.

And in that moment, whatever the setting, it's literally like someone just flipped my extrovert switch.

But, here's the thing...when I'm done, I'm done. Cooked.

I don't want to work the room. Just the opposite. I need to steal away for a bit, ground and reconnect to the source. Away from people, if possible. If I'm near water, a walk along it is where you'll find me. Maybe with a friend or two, but more likely alone. I'm capable of staying public for a time after, it's just not what fills me up.

For a long time, I viewed this as something that needed fixing...

I thought I needed to find a way to find and then flip on my extrovert switch, be the life of the conversation not just during, but all around those short bursts of mass-engagement. That's where "real" success, big deals, killer influence and impact, big things come from.

There's so much mythology built around the need to "get out there and be a blazing ray of light" as fundamental element of success. I'm guessing that's due, at least in part, to the fact that, classically, the people most of us associate with massive success are the ones who are the most fun for the media to cover. They get the most ink, air and screen time, so they're the most in our faces.

But, they don't speak for all people or represent that entire class of people out in the world doing great work, making great things and living well in the world. As a mounting wave of counter-culture freaks, geeks and technology stars, many of whom tend strongly toward introversion, take an increasing share of the public's attention, it seems the age-old assumed relationship between extroversion and success is beginning to degrade.

Still, for so long, I wanted to be the eternal glow in the room. But every time I tried to go to and then stay in that place longer than I should've been there, I'd end up feeling like someone just stuck a massive life-force hypodermic into my soul and sucked every ounce out.

It's taken years, but I'm finally making peace with the idea that it's okay to jump out into the spotlight for a bit, long enough for me to connect, share ideas, make a difference and love the experience, then retreat to refuel and spend the larger part of my time not with large groups, but either with one or a small number of people. Or even alone.

Because that's who I am. And, like the great sage Dr. Seuss once said, "those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

Curious, what's your interaction M.O.? Your experience with the limelight, big rooms or small groups?

Do you believe that the biggest successes most often go to the biggest extroverts?

Does working the spotlight fill you up or empty you out?

And, if the latter, what do you do to refuel?

 

Jonathan Fields is an attorney turned serial-entrepreneur, business strategist, speaker and author. He writes about the creativity, innovation, embracing uncertainty, leadership, entrepreneurship, mindfulness and lifestyles at JonathanFields.com. Jonathan's latest book,  Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance, is due out in September 2011 from Penguin/Portfolio. When not deep into the process of creation, you can usually find him dancing around his living room with his wife and daughter.

Jonathan Fields is an attorney turned lifestyle-entrepreneur, speaker, and author of Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance.

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