On this day, two years ago, I was walking the streets of Venice, trying on carnival masks, riding gondolas, and feeding pigeons, when I came across a beautiful little stationary shop. A longtime collector of notebooks, I bought a handmade one bound in antique staff paper. Of course, such a specimen was too good for my run-of-the-mill journaling, and as such I deemed it my Book of Imagination. In it, I would write about my day as if everything I wished would happen actually had, transforming my humdrum life into a fantastic dream.
I wrote only three pages before giving up in the face of the great gap that was the disparity between my real and imagined life. So much for dreaming! Since then it has sat, abandoned in the corner gathering real-world dust.
The only reason I mention this, is that while my little Venetian notebook is somewhere over the Atlantic ocean right now, along with the rest of our household goods, I’ve started mentally writing in it again. This time, going out on an imaginary limb, I decided to imagine my perfect morning: waking refreshed after a full night’s rest to a room awash in sunlight; no need for an alarm because the day’s work, exciting and meaningful work, is calling, and I can hardly wait to get started.
Why this sudden far-fetched reverie? It turns out it may not be so impossible. In fact, a few insights I’ve gained from psychology by reading Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” have made me realize that such a dream might not be far off for any of us. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, there is an art to knowing and finding your own “sweet spot”, both in your life’s calling and in moments day to day.
Let’s start with the day to day. Imagine this: It is the fourth of July and you are sitting on a balcony engrossed in a book, fully entertained and hardly noticing the passage of time. However, after two hours you find yourself checking your watch, fidgeting in your chair, and feeling the need to get out of the house. When a good friend calls to invite you to dinner, you immediately drop your book and go to join him. At dinner, you laugh, tell stories and listen to one another attentively, energized by the company of a close friend. Afterward, you invite all the neighbors over for a party to watch the fireworks, but between the sudden explosions, blaring music and conversations with multiple strangers, you quickly wear out and want nothing more than to retire to your bedroom with a cup of tea and book of poetry. Once the party finally finishes, you do just that, having recovered your “sweet spot” yet again.
If you are extroverted, your “sweet spot” may be quite different from that described above, but regardless, being aware of which activities drain you, and which recharge your batteries, can help you plan ahead and maintain your equilibrium.
On a grander scale, it’s worth the effort to find a profession that complements and resonates with your personality. As my husband always says, the luckiest people are those who say TGIM, “Thank God it’s Monday.” To better picture what that might mean for you, here are three very helpful questions that Cain suggests in “Quiet”:
1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? While not always consistent, what you dreamed of doing before you learned about salaries and practicalities can be pretty telling. Remember that there were probably good reasons behind even your “silly” jobs, even if you couldn’t articulate them at the time. For example, I remember wanting to be a CIA officer, which I now recognize in myself as a desire for travel, learning languages, and saving the world (I also wanted to be a dog trainer, although I’m still trying to figure that one out).
2. What kind of tasks and activities do you gravitate toward? When someone gives you an assignment, what do you look forward to doing, and what do you dread? As an intern at our church one summer, I loathed sitting at the desk and answering the phone, but I loved writing up Bible study guides.
3. Whom do you envy? Often a telling question indeed! While “envy” is a strong word, we envy those we admire, perhaps with good reason. What kind of person do you envy, and what are they doing with their life?
Of course, it’s rare, and perhaps impossible, that interests, personality and opportunity all match up perfectly. An introvert might find herself in a job where she needs to act the part of an extrovert on occasion, or vice versa. Imagine the reserved author who must address fans at a book signing occasion, or the outgoing performer who must spend great stretches of time alone in hotels and planes while touring. However, at the end of the day, if you care about your work, and find it meaningful and significant, acting outside your comfort zone is but a temporary and worthwhile sacrifice. Besides, if you are like me, you can always reward yourself for your social efforts later with a good book and a quiet cup of tea.