The Ups and Downs of Being an Extroverted Introvert

The Thinker; My Favorite Introvert

Rodin’s “Thinker;” My Favorite Introvert

As embarrassing as it is to admit, prior to pursuing my passion for architecture I had a brief stint as a politician.  In high school, my tasks were not design-driven, but rather, planning and organization-driven.  Who knew that so many events in life had to be planned so that teenagers could be put in deliciously awkward social situations?  Perhaps it was because we didn’t have Face Chat or Ipads yet.   When I wasn’t playing soccer or doing homework, my after-school hours were spent figuring out how to create successful environments for adolescent “socializing” against the ever-familiar backdrop of school proms, homecomings, and seasonal fanfare.

After working my way up the political ladder and being elected class president for several terms, I found myself as “School President” during my senior year of high school.  While this may have seemed thrilling at first, I quickly found myself spending more and more time in the art room and less time with my advisor/global studies teacher/David-Duchovny-X-files fanatic.  With imminent pressures of fundraising (FYI-the idea of a prom in a school gym rather than a hotel is unacceptable to people between the ages of 15-18!) and a failed attempt impeachment by a competitive classmate, I found my best time to think, strategize, and/or clear my mind came when I was behind an easel with a paintbrush with quiet time.  At the time, it seemed that any political dilemma could be solved with an hour of concentration, creating, and the opportunity for uninterrupted thought.

Fast forward several years (and then several more years after that) and I find myself in a similar but different place.

Thankfully, I gave up on my political aspirations to pursue art and architecture (that epiphany is another embarrassing story best told at a later date), but lately I’m reminded that regardless of what profession one might choose, as responsibility increases, so does the need to plan, organize, strategize, network, meet with clients, and.. well.. collaborate.  A lot.

I unabashedly love all these aspects of being an emerging professional and a young architect.  With each presentation and client meeting, I feel a little more confident about how I might best express ideas related to conceptual thinking, design intent, and project approach/process.  With each project, I’ve become consistently more involved in the documentation, coordination, and construction administration process. These tasks take me out of the office and into the field.  Almost daily, I find myself observing, guiding, and discussing things in ways that balance learning with a sense of the “small victory” when something I helped design becomes reality.

With that said, I find myself a little sentimental about carving out enough “thinking time” in my day and professional life, which is why I’ve been reading and studying the work of Susan Cain.  Lately it’s hard not to stumble upon her writing and speaking engagements, in which Cain discusses how today’s culture equates extroversion as being paramount to success, while introversion may often have a negative connotation in professional environments.

To understand this issue further, I direct you to her TED talk.  While it’s past its initial Internet sensation expiration date, her message remains extremely relevant. In her talk, she discusses the importance of introverts in the workplace and the value added to both thought leadership and creativity when people are given time dedicated to independent thinking and creating prior to collaborating.  “Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.” She also talks about how today’s professional environments have (in some ways) had an adverse effect on the people in society we’ve labeled “introverts,” and how constant collaboration and interaction is (wait for it) not the only means of spurring innovative, creative thinking.

As a self-diagnosed extroverted introvert, I wrestle with this dialogue more than I’d like to admit.  While architecture is an extremely collaborative profession (there are very few projects that won’t require the input of a client, the coordination with engineers, city officials, etc., and often the balancing of a design “team”), it is also a creative profession.  And as Susan Cain insinuates, creative professionals are often, at heart, introverts.

While I’ve already written about finding a balance between technology and analog ways of thinking and making in the workplace, I also think there’s something to be said for prioritizing independent, creative thinking and idea generation in architectural offices prior to collaboration.   While not everyone needs an hour of tai chi prior to participating in a charrette, a friend recently told me their firm gives its employees mandated hours of “creative” time during the week.  During this time, employees are tasked with researching or doing things that they find creatively stimulating.

This isn’t the only solution for balancing the demands and collaborative culture of many architectural offices with the need for quiet, creative brainstorming time, but something to consider and potentially discuss/implement with your team or project manager as a means of ensuring your thoughts are given the space and time needed to become fully-formed, relevant ideas.

3 thoughts on “The Ups and Downs of Being an Extroverted Introvert

  1. Great post! I also think Susan Cain has a lot of GREAT things to say. As you mentioned, I believe that independent thinking needs to be prioritized in architecture firms before collaboration should occur.

    P.S. – I call myself a “very outgoing introvert.”

  2. Beth, I loved this. From beginning 🙂 to end.

    I love the idea of carving out time for creative planning– and love the idea even more that some companies are carving out specific time in the work day for their employees. Sometimes as a teacher I wish I had more time built into my day for creative planning– lots of our down time/ planning time is devoted to professional development, and while I think it’s valuable, I would love time alone (and not always on my own time before and after school) to let my creative juices really come alive.

    Keep up the great writing! You inspire me! 🙂

  3. Thanks for your insights Anna. As children we spend so much time fostering creativity, it seems like it would only be natural to carry that through to adulthood.. I think talking about prioritizing time for idea generation, uninterrupted thought, and different opportunities for creative expression are dialogues we should continue to have regarding our workplace– regardless of the trade or discipline..

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