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Laurie Helgoe Ph.D.
Laurie Helgoe Ph.D.

Introverts and the Art of the Scam

It's time to have a paycheck and a little peace, too.

I sit here at my favorite coffee shop, sun streaming across my table, munching on a deli sandwich while musing about the writings of Freud. I’m at work. I’m preparing my next lecture for my theory & practice of counseling course. And this is a regular date, a morning off campus on my weekly calendar.

Source: KuniakiIGARASHI/Flickr

My sons would congratulate me for the scam I’ve pulled off. A scam, perhaps, similar to the one I arranged when I traveled to Oahu to study the Hawaiian luau—for college credit. I can explain until the sun goes down how much I learned on that trip, and my husband and sons will nod knowingly. Scam. But, in the nomenclature of my sons, a scam is an accomplishment to be applauded, and they don’t want me to be so humble.

So, okay, I’ll fess up. My coffee shop date is a part of a larger scam I’ve been working on for some time. I teach at a small liberal arts college, and I get paid to study, learn and teach. I get to explore ideas with students. I work hard, but I’ve scammed the resource introverts everywhere crave: time and space to incubate. Call it work-mind balance. And the biggest surprise was what happened when I pulled it off.

I became generous.

When I sit in my nourishing coffeehouse setting, I do my best work. I wrote Introvert Power with the aid of a coffee bar, deli provisions, shelves of inspiring books, and the calming buzz of people I didn’t have to talk to. And the paradox of the scam is, when introverts are allowed to work on our own, we become more available. When I get my off-campus time, I’m happy to field emails as they pop up on my screen, to prepare thought questions for my students that help focus their reading and enrich our discussions, to do some quick research on a question that my committee needs to answer before moving forward. I enter the classroom full, not depleted, and my students feel the difference.

Though my scam involves a coffee shop and generous thinking breaks between semesters, I hear similar stories from introverts who have scammed a solo operation or telecommuting arrangement. It is well known that telecommuters work more hours than office workers, perhaps because they get to pass on the stressful commute, small talk, and office interruptions.

Think of coffee shop time, working in pajamas or a private office as subversive? Consider this: extraverts have been pulling off a scam since the dawn of capitalism: they get workplaces that are bustling, competitive, with teams and company parties. They get to have meetings where focused discussion is bookended by the social exchange they crave.

And this is good. All I’m suggesting here is that the work satisfaction scam is an equal employment opportunity. Extraverts work best in high-stimuli environments, and they enjoy high-stimuli environments. Introverts enjoy and do their best work in quieter, low-stimuli settings—ones that allow them to dig into a topic, consolidate their thoughts, and prepare for action. So is this really a scam? Yes, in the sense my sons use the term. Something that we have learned should be oppressive becomes pleasurable, and it flows. Work generates excitement and feels like play. And the scam expands. Because when work feels like play, we are no longer parsimonious about our hours and gifts. The people we work or provide for find they’ve pulled off a scam as well.

Perhaps using the word “scam” will offend some. But I side with my sons here. We work to live, but we want much more: to learn and create and connect and relax and think and produce and enjoy our lives. Work can be more than a tit for tat relationship between pain and gain. When you have to pinch yourself to believe you’re getting paid for what you do, that’s when you’ve pulled off the king scam. I bow to you.

About the Author
Laurie Helgoe Ph.D.

Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D., is an author and clinical psychologist studying the relationship between personality and culture. She is an Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences at the Ross University School of Medicine.

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