Doing Work You Love

I’ve been a faithful reader of Susan Cain’s blog, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” for some time now (Cain has a book coming out soon). As an introvert myself, I’m fascinated with work that explores the ways in which introverts experience and cope with the world.

Cain’s post today really resonated with me. She posits that introverts might become so used to conforming to extroverted norms that they choose careers that don’t really mesh with their introverted qualities. (I considered becoming a journalist, but figured out soon enough that I simply would not be able, on a daily basis, to approach strangers and ask them questions!) In today’s post, she posed four questions to help introverts (and others) figure out what career path might be best for them. The questions are:

1. What or whom do you envy?
2. What did you love to do when you were a child?
3. What work do you gravitate to, even when it’s unpaid or unnecessary?
4. What makes you cry?

These questions suggest that a career is something that you are drawn towards, or maybe even called to, rather than something that is a rational, deliberate choice. I think my mistake in my early 20′s was thinking that I could “choose” a career, and force myself into an externally defined profession; ultimately that didn’t work for me. In the end, I find I can only do what I am drawn to do: to write, to teach, and to use my skills to help others whenever possible. Those are the things I find myself doing over and over, even when I’ve sworn not to! I seem to be constitutionally incapable of fitting into someone else’s corporate or institutional structure (or perhaps I should say, I am lucky enough that I have been able to survive without doing so).

Of course, many career choices are made out of pragmatic or economic concerns, and it is probably only the privileged who can choose based on affinity. But it’s worth considering, at turning points in our lives or times of reassessment, whether our career paths resonate with who we truly are.

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7 Responses to Doing Work You Love

  1. Susan Cain says:

    Hi Kristi! I could have written this sentence myself:

    “In the end, I find I can only do what I am drawn to do: to write, to teach, and to use my skills to help others whenever possible.”

    Also just wanted to say, if you are indeed still thinking journalism — you CAN do the thing of approaching strangers. It’s actually easier from behind a journalist’s notebook. And you just have to live with the initial nervousness you’ll feel before every interview, but it’s so worth it. You’ll see when you read my book how much reporting I did to write it, and it was a great experience.

  2. Kristi says:

    Thanks, Susan! I have actually come a long way in that regard and I’m sure at this point in my life, I could probably learn to cope with that nervousness — but it may never be one of those things I naturally gravitate towards! I look forward to reading your book; your perspective in the blog has been so enlightening and useful.

  3. Courtney says:

    REALLY great questions as i’ve begun evaluating the (paid) work I do and where I want to go next…the corporate structure I work in now often depresses me and makes me feel bad about myself but I value the work I do – I think these questions are going to help me as I figure out my “next step.”

  4. Kristi says:

    Courtney, I hope you find the right path for you! One thing I was thinking, I might not have been able to really answer these questions when I was in my 20′s, or even early 30′s. It seems to take some time (at least for some of us!) to really separate what we truly want from all of the “static” out there coming from so many sources… family, peers, school, etc…

  5. I think it’s important to know what’s right for you, and that usually takes some experiments to figure out the answer. But I also think that self-definition shouldn’t become a restriction. For example, I’m certainly an introvert, I definitely was a geek in high school (very few friends, mostly those who shared my peculiar obsessions with particular obscure music or TV shows), but I went on to be a musician, performing on stage quite often, and at work I’ve conducted training classes in front of 80-90 people. I’m still an introvert, I guess, and those are not obviously introverted activities, but that’s how it works out sometimes. People are always too complex to be easily summarized.

  6. Kristi says:

    Very true that you can’t let self-definition hold you back! Also very true that introverts often take on seemingly “extroverted” roles. I think it’s about recognizing what you are drawn to do and not being overcome by external voices…

  7. Did I not comment on this? Weird! “What work do you gravitate to, even when it’s unpaid or unnecessary?”

    Hmm. Good question.

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