The Magic Behind Creativity  …. and Why it Needs Protecting!

As a child, I was a prodigious daydreamer…. a  GOLD MEDAL WINNING daydreamer!

This often got me into trouble. Resulting embarrassing stories  became part of our family folklore.

…. Like the time (aged 6) that I walked out of my brand new sneakers on the beach (and never went back for them) because I was watching the sun setting over the sea (And could do that better barefoot?!)

…. Or the time (aged 20) when I took the bus back home from shopping in town because I had ‘forgotten’ I had a car!

‘Dolly Daydream’ was a common pseudonym. Not one I liked.

To me though, daydreaming was never a waste of time…..

Wherever I was, however tedious or boring, (dentists waiting rooms, visits to great aunts) I had the patience of a saint!  – I could escape somewhere more exciting in my head, incubate ideas, imagine other lives and outcomes.
I was never bored. Like Alice, I could bolt down my daydream tunnel in pursuit of countless white rabbits whenever I wanted.

As a child, that daydreaming often led to creative ideas too.
Lots of story-writing and poetry (in varying degrees of merit and awfulness).
On long car journeys I was never one of the “Are we nearly there?” brigade. I often preferred the journey to the getting there.
I could think, uninterrupted, let my mind wander wherever it wanted to.

The upshot was often an urgent shout-out to stop at a petrol station an hour into the journey to buy a notepad and pen because I had ‘a story coming’.
Those stories were always better than the ones I had to write during timetabled school ‘Composition’ lessons.

 

However this tendency was rarely seen as positive by those around me.
It was held to be a waste of time,
a childish preoccupation,
a reason to be teased, an eccentric (though endearing) habit I ought to be schooled out of;  dragged kicking and screaming into the harsh glare of ‘The Real World’.

Naturally, I got to feel embarrassed about daydreaming.
And yes, at times my daydreaming did leave gaping plot holes in the everyday drama going on around me, but the story in my head always seemed so much more engaging!

So, as I grew up, I tried to squeeze myself into an acceptable ‘Practical Persona’.

I began to avoid situations where I might daydream. I tried very hard not to be seen to be ‘wasting time’.

I learned how to be productive.
I learned to quash the urge to daydream.
The 9-5 grind,  bringing up children and the maintenance of everyday life tend to drive it out anyway. However….

 

I also stopped up the well of creativity that was my birthright.

Recently I came across this (from Mary Oliver, courtesy of the wonderful Brainpickings site):

‘The most regretful people on earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time.’   

That stopped me in my tracks..

No. ‘Stopped me in my tracks’  isn’t really how it felt … more like:

SOMEONE JUST WALKED OVER MY GRAVE.

The message is clear :

“Take your creative side seriously. Give it your time, give it nurture! Don’t dismiss its’ callings like a child you haven’t got time to play with because you need to do the ironing.
It won’t whisper to you forever. Eventually…

Time. Runs. Out.”

Sobering, isn’t it?

Does it sometimes feel in life as if you’re pulled in opposing directions?  ….

Towards Duty, Tasks, Responsibilities;  the ‘world out there’ …. and a creative pull that feels playful, (sometimes irresponsible), joyous and free, but demands paying attention to the ‘world in here’. (Where we introverts tend mostly to live).

Can you guess which side normally wins?

Yup… the duty, tasks, responsibility, ‘world-out-there’ one!

Because its’ demands are RED HOT!  Ignore them and the tax man is at your door, the children go hungry, the rent isn’t paid.

Ignore the ‘world-in-here’, and no one dies.

 

Except maybe you, or your soul , a little more each day.

 

We see time as a commodity, a resource to be well used.
We say we’re ‘killing’ time when we’re not being purposeful, as if the point of all time given to us, (indeed of all existence) is PRODUCTIVITY (measurable productivity).

We were born to be productive surely, to be purposeful … intentional.
To do works of relevance and note.
We can hardly argue with that can we?

Not only are we born to be productive , but our merit seems to depend on HOW productive we are. (Or seen to be, and in a short timespan too)

Being SEEN to be busy signals value and significance.

We march unthinkingly to the tune of the Productivity Police.

Hold on though ….

Maybe we weren’t created to be PRODUCTIVE, maybe we were born to be CREATIVE.

A factory assembly line can be productive …. but it doesn’t deliver the Mona Lisa!

Maybe we need to tweak the concept of ‘valued output’ in our lives.

My ‘output’ can’t be measured in the same way as that of my wrist watch.
Never missing a beat.  My watch is designed for one purpose and one purpose only.    To tell the time. It’s a machine.

But we are not machines, we are living organisms.
Our “purposes” are many and complex.
Unlike machines, We don’t run regularly to the same pace.
We follow unseen inner rhythms.
An efficient machine wouldn’t be designed for a quarter of its working life to be on ‘re-charge’ as we are when we’re sleeping!
That’s inefficient. It’d be scrapped.

 

Quite apart from the sleep we need, research suggests that we are only fully ABLE  to focus productively for around 90 minutes before we need more down time.

And this ‘slack time’  is not a luxury bolt-on that we should be able to do without. Neither is it ‘recharge/recovery’ time.  It’s ESSENTIAL if we are to be fully productive, fully creative. It seems as if that is when our brain is able to process the input. It does this when we’re asleep … and (more interestingly) when we’re ‘idling’.

(If you’re keen on the research, look up Kleitman’s studies on sleep, ultradian rhythms and the basic rest-activity cycle)

No rest, no productivity (or creativity).   Simples.

 

The problem is that we tend to regard our need for rest and sleep as a necessary evil.
We forget that we are organisms, not machines.
We confuse productivity and creativity.

We’re developing hothouse lives, without deep roots.

We’re euthanising creativity!

 

And who do we hurt most if we shame out daydreaming, quiet reflection, pottering and ‘time wasting’?

Introverts (because it’s our life-blood!) – and introverted creatives in particular.

There’s been a lot of interest recently into what specific environments and behaviours FEED  creativity.  And what’s coming out of that research is really exciting.

Again, if you get fired up by research, here’s a sample of current goodies to dip into:

Baird & Schooler: ‘Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation’ in Psychological Science.
‘Imagine: How Creativity Works’ (Joseph Lehrer)
‘Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind’ (Kaufman & Gregoire).

It seems that we’re discovering that creative thinking is generated by:

‘Idling.’    ….   or mental ‘pottering’ whilst we’re engaged in a task that doesn’t require too much effort or concentration, (like going for a walk or taking a shower.)  It seems this non-specific, non-analytical focus is what helps us to process information, think outside the box, play with creative alternatives within a non-pressured environment.

‘Solitude’ –  to prime the creative pump requires occasionally shutting out the world!    It involves being solitary, alone. In their recent work ‘Wired to Create’, authors Kaufman and Gregoire cite ‘solitude’ and ‘daydreaming’ among the ten defining attributes of highly creative people.

‘Rhythm Dance’ –  We need to work within our natural rhythms of rest and activity. To prime Creativity, what’s needed is a rhythm dance of intense focus, followed by restful incubation (daydreaming). Focus  … daydream …. Focus …. incubate.

 

Creative work  (it turns out) grows best from a bedrock of quiet, non-focused contemplation.

As creative introverts it seems we NEED to ‘waste’ time. This can’t happen when we’re in the arena.

We need to protect slack time, “wasted” time. That’s where we  ‘grow’ ourselves, and every dream, idea, theory or work of art flows from this.

 

It’s when I’m pottering, idling along, walking the dog, taking a bath, peeling potatoes that the creative whisper comes.

Or maybe I’ve just got quiet enough to hear it.

 

So let’s stand in the gap and protect “wasted” time. Schedule it into our diaries and give it as much importance as committee meetings and doctors appointments.

 

Don’t kill your creativity on the busy altar of Productivity.

Learn to lay out the quiet ‘Welcome’ mat instead.

‘For some have thereby entertained angels unawares’

 

Don’t know about you, but I’d be happy for a few angels to stop by every now and then….

 

‘Til next time

Blessings

Lynne  🙂 x

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When Breaking Rules is good for the soul …. 

Are you feeling discouraged (adrift even) at the start of 2017? 

For many, the world may feel a little less safe, a lot more unpredictable, uncharted even, as we navigate into this new year.

diy all things quiet

At the start of 2016 I posted ‘On the Road Not Taken’, where I looked at the regrets we might feel for the choices we didn’t make in 2015. It seemed to resonant with many of you. 

I still feel it’s relevant. 

At first I thought that I might just repost it. (I know, ‘bit lazy’!)

But then along came Brian Gresko’s article ‘In Defense of Small, Quiet Accomplishments’ on the Quiet Rev website. I read it and my heart sang! 

Please, quiet people, make yourselves a hot drink, find a cosy corner and read it. It’s warm, human, wise – life as we know it. 

And it really made me think.

It made me think about where we get our validation as introverts.

It made me realise that SOME RULES ARE THERE TO BE BROKEN! 

Here’s why … 

Brian writes about those moments of self doubt that assail us (particularly at the consumer high points of Christmas and New Year) – those insidious inner voices that whisper to us that

We’re ‘not enough’ …

We’re ‘no great shakes’ … 

That we didn’t do anything of real significance in 2016 … 

That we don’t  match up to the shimmering icons of cultural success that trumpet everywhere from social media outlets.

He tells of how those messages (if we let them in) can bring us down, make us doubt ourselves, sap our confidence, when we’d previously been content living a life of serene and quiet triumphs. 

Marching to our own particular drum.

I felt for Brian, as he told of his heroic trek to the Mall one bitter morning, alongside a cast of thousands,  trying to get THE Christmas gift of the year for his son. (Echoes of ‘Jingle All The Way’ anyone?) 

When my children were young we were living on a church pastor’s salary. 

A little had to go a long way. 

I still remember our ‘Hunt for Leonardo’ (hero turtles first time round anyone?) and the hours I spent trekking the stores, (pre-Internet), fearing that I would have failed as a parent  if I couldn’t get the wretched little green amphibian for my son!  

A lovely friend managed to track one down from the States.  It was 20x  bigger than the ones in our stores, but at least it was a hero turtle.  

And, as in Brian’s story, our son was just as thrilled with the many humbler gifts he received. leonardo-1

(We still have Leonardo by the way!) 

But the real question remains …

How do we defend ourselves against the temptations to compare and feel demoralised? How do we get back to feeling good about the counter-cultural way we do life as introverts? 

Brian’s article resonated with me, because I know I’ve felt like that, but it also made me think about the times when I’ve managed to shut the door on those destructive voices, and found my composure again. It made me stop and think about how I got back to my happy place again. 

So, here’s a story for you …. it’s the story of ‘My Flat pack Furniture Disaster’. 

Believe me, it’s relevant!  (and more than a little embarrassing). 

I’d just moved to London for my first job after uni. 

First flat, first pay cheque, first flat-mate, and now : first furniture (Flat packed.  Cheap). 

My flat-mate and I were trying to be two independent career women not in need of ‘a man with DIY skills’. 

(Actually, we didn’t need a man – a fairly knowledgeable Labrador would have been more use than we were!) 

dog

We laid out both sets of flat pack furniture, instructions and screwdrivers and set to work. Everything seemed to be going well. Some of the wooden pieces needed extra brute force to fix together, but we put the difficulty down to being weak and feeble women! 

Wrong on so many levels! 

When we finally looked up amidst the forest of wooden pieces at the half-assembled bookcase and chair, it was obvious something was wrong. Our high-backed chair was decidedly lopsided and wouldn’t stand level. 

We got back to the drawing board. 

And there it was!  Plain as day. We had confused a flat pack piece that should have been part of our bookcase for one that was part of the chair (in our defence, they were quite similar!). 

It was such an effort to fit the piece in, not because we were weak women, but because THE PIECE DIDN’T BELONG THERE ANYWAY! 

To put this woeful tale in context: all furniture is not the same. 

Chairs and bookcases are not put together the same way. 

All furniture doesn’t serve the same purpose.  

It’s the same with people. 

Are you judging yourself as faulty and lopsided against the wrong set of instructions? Someone else’s instruction manual! 

cat-diy

Studies show that introverts are motivated very differently to extroverts. Broadly speaking, extroverts work from extrinsic motivation (an inbuilt desire to seek external, visible indicators of success). Introverts are motivated more by intrinsic motivators (the acquisition of knowledge, the pursuit of a personal goal). Nothing right or wrong with either. Just different. 

So, believe me when I say there are some ‘rules’ worth breaking, worth ignoring. 

silly-sign

These aren’t the rules laid down in the statute books or in the 10 Commandments. (Best to keep these!).

No, these are rules that are laid down in no legal document, but can be just as binding on our behaviours and attitudes. 

They are cultural and social ‘norms’ that we (often) unquestioningly accept, taking them in like the air we breathe, feeling governed (and evaluated) by them, though we may never have signed up to them!  

Unspoken rules like ‘being successful means having visible status : the big salary/house/car/following’ , etc. 

As quiet people, we really need to step out from under their tyranny. 

We need to stop feeling a compulsion to follow these rules, even if others do. 

If we haven’t signed up to them, 

If our hearts don’t see their value, 

If it’s not in our being to chase after them … then why should we feel judged and evaluated by them? 

Brian concludes that (when he manages to silence these ‘should’ voices) he’s actually pretty happy with his life and achievements… So how can we silence the voices…..? 

Well, this is what helps me. These are my 4 keys ( .. Allen keys if you like!) to getting my contentment back… They’re simple, but simple is often the best (and most overlooked) way. And they work.

  1. Recognise your own personal values.   What really matters to you.  Maybe you’re not the CEO of a big company by the time you’re 40 – but was that ever really important to you? Was that ever your goal, your instruction manual, or is its somebody else’s idea of success, that you’re allowing to judge you. Maybe your goal was more relational (but no less challenging) – to be the best dad or mum you could be, to develop your children, to work for justice in your community, to discover and live happily with who you really are. We choose goals that fit our values, our personalities and abilities, our priorities. My goals may not be yours. So let go of that judgment…. You haven’t won, but you may never have meant to enter that particular race. 
  2. Stop comparing!   You’re on your own journey. All that really matters is how you’re doing with that. Your map (and destination) are your own. Those runners who turn to look at others as they run, lose their momentum. Keep focused on where you’re going. 
  3. Have a social media fast.   Honestly!  What’s out there on social media isn’t real life. It’s everyone’s shop window, where we put our shiniest, best goods on display. You won’t often see folk parading their second-best, their failures, struggles or self-doubts. So don’t compare. It’s not real. It’s photo shopped life. 
  4. Practise Gratitude.  The sacrifice of gratitude delivers the simple gift of contentment. Not in a twee, Pollyanna-ish way… But when we give way to those siren voices of insecurity, envy and shame, we really do lose sight of all the treasures we already have. We may even lose them because we fail to recognise or cultivate them. A bit like Aesop’s dog with the bone. 

running-butt

So, thank you Brian for the article. Thank you for reminding us that ‘a quiet life can be its own reward’.    That really is something worth signing up for. 

‘Til next time

Blessings

Lynne x

The Fish, the Bicycle and the Introvert……or ‘why we need extroverts’

Goodguy bad guy

When I first started this blog, I got some interesting reactions, ranging from bemused curiosity ‘Why are you doing this?’ to guarded suspicion…’Are you going to start lynching extroverts then?’ … I have to say that most of those comments came from extrovert friends.  And I totally get those reactions.

Sadly, the reason for the suspicion and guardedness isn’t far to look.

Amongst the recent groundswell of introvert voices, I’ve occasionally noted some that have seemed to cast extroverts as ‘public enemy no 1’.

This is neither fair, nor true…nor does it serve anyone’s cause or best interests. An ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality never brings real or meaningful change.

Recently, I saw the movie ‘Suffragette’, and much as I enjoyed some of it, I felt irritated by the black and white portrayal of men and women’s roles. I was particularly frustrated by the ‘token supportive male’. This is not to underestimate the immense and sacrificial effort of the women campaigners, but great changes are brought about by collaborative working, often with the support of those who (should change come about) will not be the chief beneficiaries.

I believe this to have been the case with the fight for women’s suffrage, and also within the Civil Rights Movement.

I grew up with the familiar feminist mantra ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ ….which (even though I had it scrawled on my school pencil case) struck me as faintly ludicrous even then.  The relationship between a fish and a bicycle in no way equates to the relationship between a man and a woman. It was simply a memorable way of saying ‘we don’t need you’.

But we do need each other, and not simply those who are like us, but more importantly, those who are not like us too. We’re all in the boat called life, and we’d better start pulling oar together.

I used to love watching old films as a child. We always had to ask who the ‘goody’ or the ‘baddy’ was, though in westerns it was pretty obvious… The good guy rode a white horse, the bad guy rode the black horse!   Knowing who was ‘good’ and who was ‘bad’ absolved you of knowing anything else about the characters. You could just cheer or boo accordingly. Usually, the bad guy (or woman!) got their just deserts by the time the credits rolled.

Simple days, simple pleasures!

That early need to know who was on the ‘good’ side (and hence who was on the ‘bad’ side!) doesn’t end with childhood though. It gets more complicated, more subtle  (and much more problematic) as we enter adulthood.

Choosing a side gives us a feeling of belonging, a sense of ‘tribe’, of supporting and being supported by a larger body. That’s good surely? Well, yes and no. It also means that anyone who isn’t seen as part of our tribe, might become the ‘enemy’ if our identity, values or even survival is seen to be threatened. We don’t need to look too far to see the implications of this, both currently and throughout history. All too easily and too often, those who aren’t ‘on our team’ can become stereotyped, demonised.
Worse.

When I was very young, my family moved from our home in Scotland, to live in England.
It truly was ‘another country’.
We carried with us all our Scottish heritage, incomprehensible accents, love of the bagpipes, kilts, haggis, whiskey and Hogmanay….and with all this, the bitter legacy of Culloden and Butcher Cumberland (nothing to do with the sausage, Dear Reader).

I lived and went to school in England, but my heart was to remain in Scotland. I was not encouraged to see England as my home.
And I was NEVER, EVER to marry an Englishman!

But, of course, you can’t legislate life. Inevitably, I got to know English people and discovered that they weren’t all armed to the teeth with muskets and bayonets, intent on eliminating every Scottish person on the planet!

And yes, Dear Reader, I married an Englishman.

But what has any of this to do with finding your voice as a quiet person?

Well, if we have a right to our voice, and to finding that voice, it never comes at the expense of another’s voice.

Voice 1

Jung’s original comments on psychological type outline very clearly that none of us are wholly introverted or extroverted ( or we’d run mad). We are all on a spectrum (and that spectrum can vary depending on the exigencies of the moment, although our preference remains constant). We alienate those we wish to influence, risk weakening our cause and becoming marginalised if we go down the ‘goodies and baddies’ route.

Some of my best friends are extroverts.
Dang! Some of my CHILDREN are extroverts!

I suspect this is true for many of you too.

Like it or not, we need each other. John Donne spoke truth when he wrote ‘No man is an island, entire of himself’.

I love it when I see collaborative working happening across disparate groups.

The leadership team of Quiet Rev and Emma Watson’s ‘He for She’ campaign are two such notable examples.

It’s no good judging extroverts for not being quiet and reflective!  Isn’t that just the same as extroverts expecting introverts to be more gregarious and social?

Trench attitudes!

Let’s value, honour and respect our different strengths and work together to the benefit of all.

voice 2

Vive la difference!

Til next time…

Blessings,

Lynne x

‘On Being Seen’

OPEN THE DOOR

The last post I wrote was about being invisible.

It was about how introverts or quiet people are ‘seen’ ( or more truthfully, not seen) but also about how that affects how  we then perceive ourselves.

This post is about the flip side: how we present ourselves in the world.

But first, I had some interesting responses to my ‘four word challenge’ (Describe an introvert in four adjectives!) I hope you did too if you had a go. I’d love to hear how you got on!

Here’s some of the responses I got:

‘shy, reserved, inward-looking, good listeners, quiet, over-analysers, thoughtful, knowing, withholding, accepting, threatening, retiring, lacking in confidence, don’t like parties!’

I’d guess if we did a word count, that ‘shy’ and ‘quiet’ would be the most frequently occurring descriptors. I wonder if you found that too?

There are some good, positive attributes here – thoughtful, accepting, good listeners….but what about ‘threatening’? What’s that about?

 

One of the best teachers I had at school was clearly one of life’s quiet people. She was quiet and reserved, though never shy, dedicated to her subject, immensely knowledgeable, but didn’t do reassuring banter or chit-chat with us.

She was the one who frightened us the most!

We didn’t want to displease her, mostly because we didn’t know how that would turn out.

Most of our other teachers brought in the big guns every time you crossed them…it was all bluster, shouting, board rubbers flying and detentions…but once that was over, so was their ammunition!

But you never knew what this lady might have in reserve, and that could be scary.  A bit like swimming into the deep end of the pool and suddenly realising that the water is darker here and that you can’t see the bottom.

In reality, she was gentle but firm, amiable yet disciplined and always expected high standards. But what we didn’t know about her (because she was reserved), we made up, we guessed….we filled in the blanks.

We constructed a dragon that didn’t exist.

How did that happen?

 

One of my favourite films is the 1993 version of ‘The Secret Garden’. it’s a wonderful film on so many levels, but some of the dialogue is pure gold. There’s a scene where Mary Lennox (the spoilt, brattish heroine) tells Colin, the (equally brattish) boy she finds hidden away in Misselthwaite Manor, an Indian tale that she remembers her Ayah telling her as a small child in India. it’s a story about the young Hindu god Krishna.

Mary tells Colin that when Krishna was a small child, he looked like a normal infant from the outside, but when you looked inside his mouth, you could see that inside him lay the whole world, an immense universe.

Excluding the god analogy, it can be a bit like that with introverts!

As introverts, we can live very happily with a full, three-dimensional understanding of ourselves, particularly the inner landscape, but others may only get to glimpse a quarter of the real person. The well-known analogy of the iceberg is a good one. A quarter is on display, three quarters hidden from sight. it’s also of course (like the iceberg), the bigger part of us (the inner world) that’s unseen. Judging from the usual quiet exterior, few would conceive of the busy inner world and its workings, with all its myriad connections and rabbit warrens of neural pathways, imaginings and conjectures. This is where the introvert most likes to live. There’s only so much energy, time and attention to go round, and for the introvert, the inner landscape wins a lot of the time.

And in a way, that’s the problem. Because where we aren’t ‘seen’, there lies the space for others to jump in and construct or imagine a story around the unseen part.

….Making a dragon out of a unicorn.

 

So, if not putting up our stall in the market place invites misinterpretation, why do we keep so much ‘hidden’?

Surely it would be better to let others know what we’re thinking or feeling readily. It would reduce the risk of being misunderstood, stereotyped, or just plain not seen for who we really are.

 

There are probably as many reasons for the iceberg/snail analogy as there are introverts, but (please note), they are usually related to personality preferences, not to pathology. The concept of consciously ‘hiding’ within ourselves is often also an extrovert construct. Introverts may be naturally reserved, but we are not necessarily shy, withdrawn, hiding or self-conscious.

Why don’t we share more of ourselves, more of our stories then?

*        Life and what we make of it, is often a work in progress (extroverts share process, introverts share results. The processing is initially done internally and privately, not via group-think). if the baking ain’t finished, why take the cake out of the oven? (a ‘half-baked idea’ was probably originally coined by an introvert!)

*       We don’t feel the need to share everything about ourselves, unless it’s really relevant. We don’t do sharing for sharing’s sake. It feels superfluous. Worse, it feels like stripping naked in the shopping centre!

*         Maybe we’ve had previous negative reactions when revealing our inner stories – indifference, criticism, mockery. Fear and shame can then keep the doors closed further. (This isn’t solely an introvert experience of course, though there are some links between introversion and high sensitivity).

*       Sharing of every part of our life to anyone who drops by is not something we do. Our internal landscape is very private to us….to get the key, you have to earn the trust. It doesn’t come lightly.

 

Sadly, sharing (or over-sharing) is now seen as a social (or social media) necessity, and those who don’t participate are seen as having trust issues, or are psychologically inhibited. This is a recent social construct. It wasn’t always so and (hopefully) it may not be so again in the future. Carefulness as a valued trait needs rediscovering.

Time, I think, for a story..

I call this one: ‘The day I was mistaken for Hitler’.   You’ll see why.

Not long ago, I attended a day’s training with a small group of people I hadn’t met before. Despite my apprehensions, I enjoyed the day and although I didn’t feel I had participated much, I had learnt a lot.

Towards the end of the day, we were asked to do an exercise to identify some of our core values, things that we wanted in our lives.  We were asked to prioritise 30 cards and select and share our top three. Amongst the cards were ‘wealth’, ‘family’, ‘holidays’, ‘security’, ‘fun’ and many others. It was really difficult to put them all in order, and then select a top three, but I had a go.

One by one, people began reading out their top three cards – family, health, friends …. all good, personable qualities.

Then it came to me.  I innocently trotted out my top three….

Communication.      Persuasion.       Control.

I noticed the room had fallen strangely silent, so looked up to be met by looks that were both astonished and amused. Eventually, the trainer voiced what everyone must have been thinking..

“Ok, so when did Hitler enrol on this programme?”

You see, it’s easy to be misunderstood. We need a context, a backstory to see the full picture. We need to see more of the iceberg.

The truth is, I have no wish to control anyone! However, like many introverts, I work most happily in environments where I have as much autonomy and freedom as possible. I wither when over-controlled.

I have a passion for communication (and sharing a message, which is the persuasion bit I guess, though I’m no salesman!) This is contrary to the usual introvert stereotype, but introverts can make passionate communicators, speakers and writers.

Easily misunderstood.

The really interesting part of this story though is that the core values I chose are strong values.

Essentially ‘extrovert’ values.

The real mismatch for those in the room was that those values didn’t fit with the introvert image that they had projected onto me from the little knowledge of me that they had.

So, is there a solution?

Maybe.

I really believe that we have to get comfortable surprising people.

We need, wherever we encounter it, to challenge the introvert stereotype. whilst being true to our quiet natures.

We need to risk ‘being seen and being known for who we truly are’.

It’s to do with knowing, honouring and embracing our stories and letting the world hear them. Go on over to the Quiet Revolution site and read Susan Cain’s inspirational article on ‘Telling our Stories’.

I’m sure you’re thinking, but how can we begin to reveal more of ourselves without running counter to our true selves?

Well, I think it’s essential to stretch ourselves out of our comfort zones occasionally, so long as we’re not pretending to be who we’re not. We have to be adaptive at times, whatever personality type we are. And surely it’s worth it, if it means we are being ourselves in the world, and not just behind closed doors?

Here’s some things we might try:

  •  Drop little crumbs of information about yourself that will allow the strength, the ‘light’ to shine through, without feeling that you’re oversharing or tooting your own horn, or being untrue to yourself. if no one knows you love public speaking, how are they going to think about inviting you to speak?  If they don’t know that you love to sing or perform at the weekend, they won’t think about you when the auditions roll round. It’s not bragging – it’s just giving people the opportunity to see the more complete picture.
  • Surprise people!  Show the world what you’re passionate about, show them your brave, proactive side. it’s there, you just need to let them see it in action.
  • Gently challenge the introvert stereotype, whenever and wherever you hear it. Particularly the one that suggests that introversion=shyness. This one is damaging. This one excludes and limits people.

As we do this, we challenge, we lessen the power of the stereotype.

We begin, even in a small way, to open the door to others seeing us differently (more three dimensionally) …

And with that, we invite and encourage wider opportunities that resonate with our hidden introvert strengths…

And that enables us to have a contributory voice in the world and play our part in it.

 

So, open the door a little, let your light shine!

See you next time,

All blessings,

Lynne x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cloak of Invisibility

Do I existDon’t you love it when weird things happen to you, and you look back and realise that hidden amongst the weirdness, life was telling you a bigger story?   A MUCH bigger story.
And you keep reading, because you don’t know exactly where the story is going or how it will end. Does that sound familiar?

Have you ever been so suddenly freaked by something that your heart started kicking inside you like a bucking horse and you literally felt your blood run cold?
It’s an awful feeling. As if your body has a will and mind of its own, and it wants out of there!   Fast.

It’s only happened to me twice.

The first time was when I was a child, and I thought I’d seen a ghost.

The second time (the one I’m going to tell you about here) was a few years ago, when I thought I’d become one!

This is what happened:

It was a very ordinary day and I was out shopping in my local department store.
I went to visit the Ladies Powder Room to use the facilities (as you do). There was a sign on the door informing us that the facilities were closed due to redecoration, but that we could use the ladies staff toilet on the ground floor instead. I duly made my way there.

The horror began to unfold once I exited the cubicle.

I washed my hands at the wash hand basin then glanced up as always at the mirror in front of me in order to tidy my hair and make-up.
That’s when my heart went ballistic and my mind turned to candy floss.

I had no reflection.

You could see RIGHT through me!

There was the reflection of the cubicle behind me, and the reflection of the wash hand basin in front of me, but of me? Nothing.

I felt sick. My legs turned to jelly. My stomach lurched downwards like a broken elevator. I can’t for the life of me tell you how long I stood there staring paralysed with horror and disbelief, desperately willing my reflection to appear. It can’t have been that long, but it felt like a lifetime.

Had the whole of my life been a dream, some sort of alternative universe, and I didn’t really exist?   How long had I been invisible? Could anyone see me?  How had this happened?  And even worse than this ‘existential horror’ was the creeping realisation:

WASN’T IT VAMPIRES THAT HAD NO REFLECTION?

Right then, just on cue, a staff member casually strolled in and seeing my obviously stricken face remarked,

‘Oh, it’s alright! They all do that, lovey. There’s no mirror there!’

Feeling excruciatingly sheepish, I looked again with a hard, practical stare. Reality was slowly seeping back and with it, a sharp sense of focus.

Sure enough, the room was a mirror image of itself. Cubicles pressed up against facing walls, and back to back wash-hand basins in a row across the middle of the room. No mirrors. No ghosts.

Phew!!

Overwhelming relief and deep embarrassment ensued in equal measure.  I abandoned the rest of my shopping list for the day and went home to hide under the duvet!

But then I started thinking….
or more truthfully, that inner narrative started unspooling in my head. Connections began to form and the bigger story began to write itself…

And this, dear reader, is ‘The Bigger Story.’..

Isn’t that’s just what it feels like sometimes as an introvert in an extrovert world..
..that we’re invisible? That we don’t exist? That no one can truly see us as we really are?

…..or perhaps more specifically, that WE don’t really know who we are, or what we look like…..there’s a problem not only with feeling invisible, but with knowing our own identity, and recognising, embracing it?

Bear with me if this all seems a bit fluffy and philosophical….

In the world of psychology, we now know that in order for children to develop healthy self-esteem and  a sense of their own identity and uniqueness, their parents or care-givers need to ‘mirror’ back to them as infants, that ‘they are lovely, and loved, just as they are’,  so that this knowledge and acceptance of themselves as ‘ok’, (albeit not perfect), becomes part of the child’s psychological DNA and helps them to be resilient and confident in the world, knowing who they are.

Mirrors are important.

What reflects back to us from others….and from the world out there, in some ways creates who we then become.

But it isn’t just parents and care-givers who act as mirrors.  it’s our culture and its unspoken biases and expectations as well.

Which brings us back to introverts…..

What if, instead of that ideal affirming mirror, you have a critical cultural mirror, that reflects back to you that you don’t meet the standard…
Or a silent mirror, that leaves you feeling ignored or sidelined … Invisible.
Or a distorted mirror, like the ones at fairgrounds, that makes you look ‘weird’, an object of ridicule?

What happens then?

You might feel you have to try and change. Not be yourself, but be like someone else, someone more extroverted, in order to be accepted…. To do that though, you first have to get rid of who you really are. The result of doing that could be that you’re not too sure of yourself, or the decisions you make. You might have a sense that you don’t really know who you are now.  You might feel that there’s something wrong with you. That you’re not ‘ok’.  It would be very hard to walk confidently in the world if you were always having to look at yourself through those kind of mirrors!

This may not be as far fetched as it seems…. This feels like an issue not just at the level of family dynamics, but of the wider social dynamic too. The mirrors that society has held up to introverts over the last few generations have not been helpful, either to introverts or to society as a whole, and that has to change.

These cultural mirrors might have less of an impact if you were accepted and nurtured as an introvert within your family. That would make you more resilient to the societal bias. However, cultural values affect and steer family values too, and families have to rub along in society….so it’s unlikely, if you’re one of life’s quiet people, that you’ve been totally unaffected.

So now for a little experiment… I’m going to be doing this, and I’m going to post up the results in the next blog post (Yay!).  I’d really like it though if you’d join me. It’s not hard, or time consuming (much). In fact, I think it’s quite a fun thing to do. Maybe that just makes me a little bit nutty!

But if you want to have a go, select four people. They can be work colleagues, neighbours, friends….but try and make sure they don’t know you really well, or are all card-carrying introverts, or they’ll guess what you’re up to and skew the results. This isn’t world class research, but it’ll tell you something interesting nonetheless.

Ask them to write down the first four adjectives that come to mind when they hear the word ‘introvert’. Don’t let them ponder it for too long…it’s first impressions! Collect them all, and see what you’ve got.

See you back here next time…  Can’t wait!

Blessings,

Lynne. X