How should introverts approach their college experience and prepare for a career?
Over the next few weeks I am going to review a book called Quiet by Susan Cain. Ms. Cain writes very eloquently about the situation in which introverts can find themselves in today’s society. I hear echoes of Stephen Covey in her conception of the character ethic and the personality ethic. I do not know if she was influenced by Covey and I find the idea compelling that she came to the independent conclusion that we have moved toward a personality driven, surface oriented society. Ms. Cain has produced a TED talk which I find very informative. It was on the basis of this talk that I purchased the book. Here is the key question to which I hope the book suggests an answer – what sorts of goals and careers will sustain an introverted professional?
There are two themes that I see emerging in the book that I think will help address this issue. The first theme is that of the character ethic and how important it is. The second theme is the role of the introvert in a society that is largely bullshit oriented. What I mean by this is well described in a delightfully funny article at cracked.com. Briefly: as virtual goods and amorphous intellectual property become more dominant, the perceived social value and the sales techniques become more important than the “survival value” of a given product. Introverts may face some challenges adapting to a sales oriented economy.
Extroverts are probably more naturally oriented to selling
I suspect that the extroverted, sales oriented mode of thinking will more naturally lend itself to creating this perception-value. High end designers create a set number of expensive items like handbags. Supposedly, those items that remain unsold at the end of the year are destroyed. The value of these items is not in the physical item. The value of the item is exclusivity. This probably seems obvious to the extrovert. The value of these items is in the methods by which they are sold, not in the items themselves.
Personality sells, but what of character? As such concerns dominate the economy, I hope that this will not marginalize the introverts. If the introvert is more amenable to introspection and character development, how does this fit into the new economy?
Introverts may need to train themselves think like business people
The introvert has a special role to play in caring for people who need a listener and an understanding here. This might fall into the category of therapy in nursing, but might just as easily fall into massage, custom furniture, engineering, or any artistic/creative pursuit done on an peer-to-peer basis. Building a business on the sort of platform may be challenging, but I think we need to consider the notion of lifestyle businesses as well as the rock star startup scene. Should that influence the choice of a student’s major field of study? Maybe: if you can’t imagine starting a business and making a living as an independent contractor in that field, consider carefully. The big trend I see in the media is that introverts are going to have to learn to be businesspeople whether they like it or not.