The Strengths of Introverts

 

You’re in a meeting with the rest of your team.

Someone starts off with an issue they are having, and how they perceive it should be addressed.

Then the person to your left chimes in with their solution, and how the first speaker’s idea was wrong from the start.

But that gets questioned by a third team member, who jumps in on the conversation before the proceeding idea was even finished.

Back and forth the conversation goes, with most of the members talking over each other to be heard, and you try and take it all in as best as you can – listening to everyone’s opinions, finding the strings of clarity and good ideas in everything that is being said.

Before you know it, the half-hour allotted to the meeting is up, and everyone starts packing their things up to head out. But there’s one problem – you hardly spoke a word the entire meeting.

You listened intensely to what was being said, and have a great handle on what went on in the meeting: what went right, what can be improved, and how to synthesize that information into a direction the group should take next.

But that was never expressed to the team, and you are now perceived as a passive member who they should just delegate tasks to, instead of being seen as a contributing thought leader.

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Introverts often get a bad rap. They’re viewed as passive, nerdy, not communicating well, and even having low confidence and self-esteem. These assumptions are mostly based off of common characteristic traits of quiet people that get distorted through today’s popular lens of extroversion, and are viewed as weaknesses – traits that hold reserved people back, getting in their own way of continued personal growth. 

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The Importance of Reading

 

Quiet ReadingReading

It was one of the easiest things you could do as a kid to get banished by your classmates to the corner of the cafeteria. It was what your mother constantly harped on you to do more often.

It was definitively not cool.

Only geeks read books for fun, let alone reading for class. But personally, I loved it (geek?). I read everything I could get my hands on, and although it was mostly science fiction/fantasy (geek), it set the groundwork for my reading habits today.

In fact, some of history’s greatest leaders were avid readers at a young age.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a voracious reader as a youth, often skipping meals to save money to buy more books, and frequently skipping out on activities with his classmates to “read everything that he could about the most ambitious leaders of the ancient world” (Napoleon: A Life). He copied many of his leadership tactics from what he read about Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, and even packed up over 100 books to take along with him in his Egyptian campaign to study and learn more about his upcoming adversaries.

Other historical readers include Theodore Roosevelt, who would read hundreds of books a yearThomas Jefferson donated his personal library to the Library of Congress it was so big. And Abraham Lincoln schooled himself as a youth by waking up early every day to read before he started his chores around the farm.

But it’s not just our past leaders that read to get ahead; the titans of our current era are also enormous proponents of reading. Warren Buffet, one of the richest men on Earth, has said “Of all the investments I ever made, buying that book [Intelligent Investor] was the best.

Mark Zuckerberg has a goal of reading one book every other week (2 books/month), and even started a book club for people to join him along the way. And studies show that the average Fortune 500 CEO reads about 4-5 books a month, or one book every week.

Turns out, reading is the single best thing you can do to succeed in life. There is nothing better you can do for yourself and your self-improvement than to read. Prodigiously.

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Reading opens up your mind to new ideas, allows you to study some of the great figures in history (and today), and serves as astimulus for your own mental creativity and development. Some of my best ideas have come to me while reading a book, ideas that I never would have come up with on my own.

Reading has changed my life completely. It hasn’t directly changed my circumstances, but it has changed how I think and feel about those circumstances. It’s made me bolder, more self-aware, better at critical thinking, and all around a better human being. It has allowed me to realize my ambitions, and it’s why I created this page in the first place.

This page is dedicated to becoming the best ‘you’ that you can, so that you can make a difference in this world. Inherent in this idea, is that in order to become the best you can, you must keep learning.

Your Personal Education

Reading is about developing your mental prowess. It’s about the long game. It’s an investment in your own education and in your future.

Reading is the education you choose for yourself. No one teaches you in school how to leverage being an introvert. Or how to build a company from scratch. How to prioritize your day, or how to best invest your money. When you read, you get to set your own coursework and decide what you want to learn about.

School teaches you the technical knowledge you need: where to put commas, how to add to 100, how combustion occurs. It teaches you how to study and prepare, and of course there is the social aspect. But it doesn’t always teach you the philosophies, strategies, and tactics you will need to thrive. It’s that soft knowledge that sets you apart from the pack, and its knowledge that you can only ever acquire from either a mentor or a book.

Or, your book can be your mentor.

Your Personal Mentor

The best way to get up to speed on a new topic is always to learn if from someone who has been there before. The bad news is that finding that person at the moment you need them can be very difficult, let along convincing them to distill all of their knowledge down for you.

The good news is that everything has been done before. Someone has gone through the exact thing you are struggling with or want to learn about, and at some point someone wrote down what they did and learned in a book.

“The biggest reason people don’t succeed is because they don’t expose themselves to existing information”

– Jim Rohn

For the most part, this is knowledge and information you can trust. People can be full of it sometimes, and you have to be careful with what advice you take from people you meet. But by nature, books force authors to explain their thinking in a clear, conscience manner, or else it won’t get published. This third-party verification system means that you are getting the best of what someone has to offer, generally speaking. I’ve definitely read some texts that don’t fit this description – but those are the exceptions, not the rule.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or always go to the horse’s mouth.

Your Personal Time

And the best part of all of this, for an introvert, is that you’re good at it. We’re natural readers.

Picking up and digging into a book is something that introverts naturally excel at. It’s a passive exercise. You can sit back, retreat into yourself, not worry about interacting with anyone else, and just think while you read. It’s your quiet time, which makes reading to learn and grow an inherent strength.

A couple of excerpts from Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking:

 

“[Introverts] are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams”
“[Introverts have] been shown to excel at something psychologists call ‘insightful problem solving.’ Introverts think before they act, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately.”
“Introverts feel ‘just right’ with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a  close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book […] your typical introvert would rather spend her vacation reading on the beach than partying on a cruise ship”
“[S]tay as true to yourself as you possible can – starting by creating as many ‘restorative niches’ as possible in your daily life. ‘Restorative Niche’ is […] the place you go when you want to return to your true self”

We know introverts need time to themselves, and through reading, you can find your quiet time, and still learn from some of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. Overtime, you will start to sense your mental perceptions shift. You begin brainstorming your own ideas, connecting themes across books, and relating what you are reading to things you encounter every day in life. It’s a very personal process that you can use to recharge yourself.

Admittedly, reading a book each week, or even each month, is not easy. Becoming the best ‘you’ you can be requires a dedication and consistency of effort. It’s easy to pull up YouTube or Netflix for an hour or two. It’s a bit harder to crack open a book and read about the character of George Washington.

But it’s the hard things in life that are always most worth doing.

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Now of course, the activity of reading is only half the battle. You have to also read analytically– reading for ideas and intellect, not just entertainment. Really internalizing what you read and looking for ways to apply it.

This leads to the second, and largest, part. Eventually, you must do something with what you are learning. You have to use and apply it, or it is all just academic. But before you act, you must know. Action without direction is meaningless.

So you want to leverage your strengths to make a change in your life? How about you start with a book. For as the famous quote goes:

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”

– Harry Truman

The Routine That Got Me Through Grad School

Grad school is a far different beast than undergrad.

Time is short, your to-do list is long. Can you party? Sure. Five days a week? Not advisable.

Particularly in business school, you’ve been working for some time before returning to change gears into a new career. But so have your peers, and so you must bring a focus and determination to succeed that is not always existent in undergrad.

You are only on campus for a couple of years (in my case, only one), and so you want to make the most of it. Classes, clubs, networking, social events, job hunting – there is only so much time in the day, and you’re pressed to use it in the best way possible.

For me, I found that you can’t just manage your time. I had to prioritize, and streamline it to my own personality and psychology to make sure I was as effective with my time as possible.

Some people have the ability to freestyle; to take on projects as they go throughout their day, work on multiple projects at once, and still get things done and retire at night in relative peace. I do not count myself among those blessed individuals.

If you are one of the aforementioned freestylers, this is not a post for you. I love routine. As an introvert and an engineer, I’m a proponent of systems. Optimizing my day to reduce mental fatigue and making sure I’m sticking to a plan that I have pre-determined will get me to my end goals. Continue reading

Your Glass is Always Half-Full

It is easier now than ever to check in on people you don’t see very often. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn; they all allow you to keep tabs on people. You can see a classmate from a decade ago move into the C-Suite, a childhood friend make a viral Youtube video, or an old flame put a ring on it. And this isn’t just limited to people we know. You can literally access anyone in today’s world. But this kind of access can have its drawbacks.

What makes it easier to stay in touch with and communicate with people also makes it very easy to start comparing yourself and your place in life to others, to start shopping around. This proliferates into many aspects of society – dating, job hunting, etc – but in the end you are constantly comparing yourself to others. In the context of this website, this is comparing yourself and your worldly accomplishments, but of course this also effects a broader spectrum.

This instant desire to compare, to compete with people you haven’t seen in years (or maybe not ever) can be extremely dangerous. You start comparing your accomplishments to theirs. You figure, ‘If they can do it, why aren’t I? I must be a failure because I haven’t done what they are able to do.’ Obviously, this leads to a very skewed, dark perception of reality. Yet we all still do it, myself included. Continue reading

Hustle Gang Over Err’thang: On Time Effectiveness

We all want to get things done, and we all want them done yesterday. We want action, we want to kick ass and take names. But very few of us do, or at least not on a consistent basis, and the ones that do get things done seem superhuman to us – how can they possibly accomplish so much? We write it off that they are special, supremely talented, have a team of people working behind the scenes while they sit pretty in their palace chair. And yes, some truly have other-worldly talent. But the rest are just like us – normal people, who are just incredibly effective with their time.

It is often easy to get caught up in the buzz of efficiency and productivity, of always focusing on doing things faster. But it is entirely possible to be extremely efficient at doing a task, but doing the complete wrong task. You have to be shrewd with your time, not just fast.

“Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.”

– Peter Drucker

This is time effectiveness. Focusing on what is most important and getting that done in an expedited fashion, versus just getting the next thing on your to-do list crossed off (unless, of course, your to-do list is already prioritized, in which case congratulations, you can go ahead to the second half of this piece. No $200). It is a blend of planning and execution, speed and precision. It’s doing the right thing, doing it the right way, and being urgent in its completion. Continue reading

Do Nothing to Do Everything – Meditating and Reflection

How many times do you go to bed with a headache, completely flustered by the events of your day? Only to wake up, check your email, and have it hit you all over again. You wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day, but then you check your email, or Twitter, or whatever else, and immediately let the stresses and concerns of other people hit you, and the headache immediately returns (or maybe you still wake up with all the mental baggage from the day before weighing you down).

In today’s age, its increasingly easy to get lost in the agenda of your day, to let the multitude of things you feel that you have to get done come crashing in on you and wear you down mentally. By the end of the day, you feel exhausted, but at the same time you don’t feel as if your getting anything done. Or maybe you did, but it wasn’t what you wanted, or wasn’t really that important to you. Part of this issue is setting proper goals for yourself, and time management. But the other part is just getting through the daily grind, staying committed to those goals when life gets you stressed out.

We all have the ability to fight this feeling. The ability to stay focused on what it is we want to do, no matter what gets thrown our way. This ability is MeditationMarcus Aurelius calls it ‘retreating to your inner citadel.’ Hosts of other successful people do this exact same thing; putting life on pause, taking a step back, and reflecting. You have to make time for yourself before all else, even if that time is only 5 minutes (as Tim Ferriss says: “If you don’t have 30 minutes to meditate, you need 3 hours”). Continue reading

To Move a Foot, or a Mile

To kick off the new year, I wanted to talk about possibly the most important tool I picked up during the past year: goal-setting. I know it is a bit delayed, being half-way through the first month, but I believe the art (yes, art) of projecting into the future to set your current path is timeless, and is really applicable at any point in the year.

I’m not much of a resolution man. I learned long ago that, like most people, I would find myself picking up the pieces of my shattered intentions by at least March every year. But like I said before, any time is a good time to sit down and assess your progress, and looking forward and setting goals for yourself is certainly more opportune with the mental fresh start of a new year. Also, holidays are often a great time to re-balance oneself around friends and family, with extra time away from your school or office.

Like I mentioned before, goal setting is perhaps the single most important tool I learned over the course of last year, and thats saying something, because tools make up practically 85% of business school. There are two distinct reasons for its effectiveness: Continue reading

Lessons Learned – 2014

Time for the What-I-Learned-This-Year post. 2014 is going to go down in my personal history vaults as the Year of Awakening. It was a year in which I finally seized upon my inner ambitions, and committed myself to following my passions and achieving something greater in my life.

I started the year working at a job that I had no interest in, and am finishing it half-way through Grad school. In between, there were so many things that I learned and became aware of that I either was blind to before or was simply ignorant on. I finally realized that the life I wanted for myself was not going to simply come to me through wishes and good will, and in making that realization and acting upon it, I set in motion a chain of events that will hopefully change my life course permanently and for the better. The jury is still out, but here’s to my high hopes.

As my eyes became opened to more of the world around me and what it would take to actually accomplish my dreams, I became aware of how little I truly knew. And so the bulk of this year has been spent simply establishing a base of knowledge, work ethic, life principles, and habits that I hope to build the rest of my life on (at least for the foreseeable future, nothing lasts forever). Some of these nuggets include: Continue reading

My Action

For no reason at all I am feeling this immense pressure to get my first post ever perfect. Even though I know that very few people will be reading this any time soon. Yet I have this gut desire to refine, and drag my feet until it’s perfect. But novel writer I am not, and so this seemed as appropriate a time as ever to talk about one of the most important but simple concepts I have really come to grasp in the past few months: the need for action.

This first post is simply about getting started, about forcing my hand and putting my first foot forward, whether it is my best foot or not. Fear cannot be a limiting factor if you wish to make an impact on the world, and this first post is about doing just that: conquering fear. If there is anything that I have learned since starting this journey of self-development, it is that to do anything worthwhile requires action. This post is my action.

For many people, this seems glaringly obvious. To get things done you have to act. But to a life-long student such as myself, the actual thought never crossed my mind. I was more focused on learning, being a perfectionist. There are several points that can be spun out of that mentality, but that is not the objective of this first post. This is simply about taking my first step, about putting pen to paper (I’m old school) and taking an action when I would prefer to sit and tinker and make this website perfect before I ever  make it public.

And that leads to the final point I want to discuss in this first creation. I heard somewhere the quote “if you’re not embarrassed by your first product, you did it wrong.” This ties hand in hand with action, and called the Minimal Viable Product. The hardest part of succeeding in anything is simply starting, so just get your prototype out there, and then revise and perfect. Getting started forces your hand, and takes the decision out of your control.

So that’s it. No groundbreaking insight, no Nobel winning thesis. Just a first step, in what will hopefully be a long journey ahead of me. If you somehow read this, I promise it will get better, and hope you stick around for the ride. For this is just the beginning; my action.