1. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do other people see you?
Gretchen: I can never decide if I’m an introvert or an extrovert. I need a lot of solitude, but I also need a fair amount of social interaction. I like parties, which I find both energizing and draining, and I also like spending the day by myself. I’ve noticed that I work best in an environment that strikes a balance: I often work in the study room of a library near my apartment, where I write undisturbed and in silence (you get in big trouble if your phone rings or you forget to mute the start-up tones on your laptop), but also surrounded by the quiet, industrious company of other people.
2. What did you want to be when you grew up, and why?
Gretchen:I never thought about this question growing up! A big mistake. So what did I end up doing after college? Law school.
3. Tell us about someone you admire.
Gretchen: I admire Benjamin Franklin. He is a patron saint of anyone doing a happiness project, because he believed so firmly in the idea of self-examination and self-improvement. He was funny, inventive, a great writer, a Founding Father, and in his free time, invented bifocals and founded a public library. What a model! Also Winston Churchill, St. Therese of Lisieux, Samuel Johnson, Julia Child…right now I’m reading the letters of Flannery O’Connor, and I admire her tremendously.
4. When you feel afraid, how do you embolden yourself?
Gretchen: Years ago, my husband worked at a law firm for a brief period. I remember that one day he came home and remarked, “Well, I don’t know if I’d make partner at that law firm, but I know now that I wouldn’t be the dumbest partner in that law firm.” I laughed for ten minutes, and I often repeat this line to remind myself, to remember: I know as much as most people, I can do a decent job at most things I attempt.
Also, as I write about in Happier at Home, for years, I was a very fearful driver, and I basically quit driving (which is possible in New York City—part of why I love New York City!). I decided I wanted to conquer this fear, and now I am driving—but I still hate to drive. I wanted to get over this dread of it, and I told a friend, “I wish I could love to drive, so many people do.” And she said, “Well, you may never like to drive, but that’s not the same as being afraid to drive.” This was enormously comforting to me. Sometimes, I’m scared to do something, but I can still do it, and it’s okay if I feel anxious, as long as I don’t let those feelings limit my freedom.
Your New York Times piece about being scared to speak at TED reminded me of this, Susan. You were extremely anxious, but you forged ahead anyway. We can’t choose what we like to do, but we can choose what we do.
5. Quirky or mainstream — which adjective suits you better, and why?
Gretchen: What an interesting question. I think…quirky. But probably everyone considers themselves quirky, so perhaps it’s mainstream to think so.
6. What is your absolute favorite way of spending time (other than with your family)?
Gretchen: Reading in bed.
7. Gandhi said: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” If you could shake the world gently, what would you do? (Please don’t feel the need to say something like “End world hunger” or “Create lasting peace.” We’re more interested in your own signature contribution to the world.)
Gretchen: I wish I could prod everyone who believes in organ donation to sign the organ-donor registry. Live your values! It takes one minute!
Really enjoyed this interview with two fantastic authors! Have elaborated on your questions in a blog post. http://brainysmurf1234.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/a-few-thoughts-on-introversion/