We’ve been talking for a while about launching a Book Club on this site. It’s time finally to get started! Every month we’ll choose a paperback book, and give ourselves three weeks to read it. During the fourth week, we’ll meet back on this site, or perhaps on my Facebook page, for a great discussion.
If you want to participate, please be sure to “sign in” to the Book Club here. This way, you’ll get an email letting you know the “Book of the Month” and the scheduled discussion hour. I’ll post that info on the blog too, of course, but you won’t have to worry about missing the post. Also, I’ll send Book Club members other tidbits of news and info as we go.
For today, please let me know which of these three books you’d be interested in reading (you can choose more than one):
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
“…[T]he interior mentality of the engineer…is very truth-oriented. When you’re dealing with machines or anything that you build, it either works or it doesn’t, no matter how good a salesman you are. So engineers not only don’t care about the surface appearance, but they view attempts to kind of be fake on the surface as fundamentally dishonest.
[In the movie, “The Social Network,”] Aaron Sorkin was completely unable to understand the actual psychology of Mark [Zuckerberg] or of Facebook. He can’t conceive of a world where social status or getting laid or, for that matter, doing drugs, is not the most important thing.”
-Marc Andreessen, New York Times Magazine, July 10, 2011
Here’s an excerpt from a wonderful piece in Feministing by intellectual powerhouse Courtney Martin, questioning whether contemporary feminism makes room for shy or introverted girls. Courtney articulates something I’ve worried about for years – in our efforts to instill confidence in young women, are we promoting an ideal of sassy outspokenness that’s just as confining as the 1950s model of docility?
As I make the rounds of girls’ leadership development programs and camps this summer (I’m thrilled to be headed to The Girls Leadership Institute next month, co founded by one of my favorite human beings, Rachel Simmons), I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of leadership model we are pushing for young women. I fear that too often we present leadership as something necessarily loud and a leader as someone who must seek the limelight. It’s understandable, of course, that the pendulum has swung in this direction; after all, we’re facing up against centuries of the reverse socialization–the ideal woman as demure, quiet, and in the shadows. We’re doing our damnedest to convince the next generation of women that they don’t have to shrink from opportunities just to feel feminine or keep quiet so as not to offend the, assholes, I mean traditional leadership structure.
But, sometimes I fear that in our well-intentioned advocacy for more assertive, more outspoken girls, we’ve sometimes made those whose style is naturally quieter and less showy feel as if they aren’t bonafide leaders…
What do you think? Is there a way to encourage girls to speak their minds without making them feel they have to be natural extroverts?
(By the way, I consider myself a feminist, and am posting this out of concern for the strength of feminism, rather than as an outsider eager to critique its flaws.)
Please join the conversation!
*Courtney is a writer, teacher, speaker, and lover of dance parties and brussel sprouts. You can see her talk at TED Women here, and read more about her work at her website.
Here’s your chance, inspired and supported by other readers of this blog.
As many of you read last week, we’re launching the QUIET Revolution, in which readers of this site work together to make concrete changes in our personal lives — changes that will enable us to live more creatively and authentically.
Many of you said that you were interested in public speaking, so we’re hereby kicking off with your own personal Year of Speaking Dangerously. (You can go here to read about mine.)
(For those interested in working on projects other than speaking (for example, writing, another favorite among this blog’s readers), stay tuned. More to come.)
Your assignment for today is easy. All you have to do is is find two Toastmasters clubs near you, and make an appointment to attend each as a guest. Your only job is to decide which club you like best.
Next Monday, I’ll check in again with your next assignment, and you’ll have a chance to discuss your experiences to date.
Here’s a link to Toastmasters International. The website explains how the clubs work. On the left hand side of the home page, there’s a “Find” button that tells you how to find clubs located near you.
And to inspire you, here’s a guest post from Tim Larison, a frequent reader of this blog, on how Toastmasters changed his life. Tim will be available today (Monday, July 11) to chat with you via the comment stream:
I’m a 55 year old small business owner who frequently gives speeches to promote the travel agency my wife and I run. I enjoy speaking to groups. I am also an introvert. Yes, an introvert can enjoy public speaking! But I wasn’t always comfortable giving presentations. Here’s my story of how joining Toastmasters changed my life:
In my early years I was TERRIFIED of public speaking. As a painfully shy teenager, I remember one incident in a public library where I was afraid to check out a book because I would have to talk to the librarian. It didn’t get much better in college. I earned good grades, yet avoided any classes that involved giving presentations. In one class, my teacher said we would have to talk about our class projects during the last session. Having done well on tests I knew I had a sure “A” in the class without needing to endure this public torture. I didn’t show up.
After graduating college and entering the business world, though, I started to notice how my lack of speaking skill was negatively affecting my career. Management didn’t know who I was. I had to do something. I was invited by a co-worker to join a Toastmaster club that met during the lunch hour once a week. I summoned up every ounce of courage I had and joined. In talking to my Dad about this decision, and telling him how nervous I was, he said, “You can talk to me, can’t you? Speaking in front of groups is no different. You’ll see.”
In Toastmasters the first speech is called “the icebreaker”, where you tell your life story in a 7 minute talk. I couldn’t just talk about myself for 7 minutes! I needed a diversion. I came up with a plan to make up newspaper headlines about different milestones of my life. “The audience will be looking at those headlines, and not at me,” I thought, while I spoke on the story behind each headline. The speech was a big hit! With every Toastmaster presentation you receive an oral evaluation from one other member. My evaluator that day said the speech “was the best icebreaker she had ever heard, and also the most expensive!” (she was right - getting those fake newspaper headlines made was not cheap!) I also received positive written evaluations from club members.
After that encouraging Toastmaster debut, my confidence slowly grew, speech by speech. I earned my CTM (“Competent Toastmaster”) certificate after 15 talks. I earned my ATM (“Able Toastmaster”) certificate after 15 more. I once entered the club humor speech contest. Much to my surprise I won, and then went on to win a competition against 6 winners from other clubs at the next level. I have a dry sense of humor which I enjoyed surprising people with in speeches. I was even asked to give my winning humorous speech to the annual State Toastmaster convention. There I was in front of a room of 200 people giving my Bachelor Housekeeping talk. And I thought to myself, “you know, this is kind of fun!” I was in Toastmasters a total of 10 years, and joining the organization was one of the best decisions I ever made. Not only did it help me with prepared speeches, it improved my ability to speak off the cuff (in weekly impromptu speaking sessions called “table topics”) and in giving and receiving feedback in evaluations.
So if you have a fear of public speaking and you are considering joining Toastmasters, I encourage you to take the leap. Here are a few suggestions from someone who made the slow transformation from fear to confidence in public speaking:
1. If you are a good writer, you will be a good speaker. Speaking is all about telling compelling stories. I already could write well, I just had to get over the nerves of delivering my message to a group. Your writing skills will be a wonderful aid as you take those first tentative steps in public speaking.
2. The more you speak, the easier it gets. The beauty of Toastmasters is that it requires you to give some type of talk in front of your club at EVERY meeting. While you may give a 7 minute speech once every 3 months or so, there are many lesser roles where you speak in front of the group each week. The table topics and evaluations I mentioned are two such roles, and even simple tasks like explaining the timing procedures are asked of you. It is a well designed program to get club members speaking at each meeting in one form or another.
3. After you get over those initial nerves, keep pushing yourself. For me I became comfortable speaking in front of my own club after a few speeches. Those people became my friends. Speaking in a contest was another matter. When I won our club contest I thought “oh no - now I have to speak in front of a bunch of strangers at the area contest!” But i did it, gaining confidence along the way. Toastmasters gives you the opportunity to visit other clubs and speak, too, which I took advantage of.
4. Once you become comfortable speaking in front of groups, you won’t suddenly turn into an extrovert. I’m still an introvert! There are times when I am in a conversation with a bunch of extroverts where I will hardly say a word. The way I process information is to think before I speak, and sometimes I find just when I am ready to add my two cents the conversation has moved on to another topic. But that’s ok. I’m learning to accept that part of myself.
You know, my Dad turned out to be right about public speaking. Giving a speech is like a conversation with a friend, only in front of a lot more people. If you are reading this thinking “Toastmasters worked for him, but I could never do this. I’m just not good at talking in front of an audience” I urge you to reconsider. Take the risk and join a club near you. The World is waiting for the gifts you have to share.
Tim Larison today frequently gives speeches at a weekly business group he is a part of. He is also the Colorado director of the National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA), and in that role also speaks in front of groups often. In the past year Tim decided to stretch himself once more by starting a blog where he writes about spirituality and life (www.calmwithin.com) He’s now taking those first tentative steps in his public writing that remind him of his early days in Toastmasters.
REMINDER: Tim is available today to chat with you via the comment stream.
ALSO: After you’ve completed today’s assignment, PLEASE TAKE A MINUTE to let everyone know via the comment stream below. We are here to encourage each other. Thanks!
Reading Ideas for the Weekend: The Inside Story of a Very Shy and Very Brave Photographer (and more)
Hi everyone, before I get to this week’s reading recommendations, I first want to say thanks for the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to the QUIET Revolution projects idea. Look for a kick-off of the public speaking project next week!
And here are three picks for the weekend.
1. How to Spot a Narcissist: An interesting read from psychologist and blogger Scott Barry Kaufman, exploring the inner workings of the narcissist. (For more on the (large) role narcissism plays in our culture, check out Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book, “The Culture of Narcissism.” It’s dated, but still an enlightening read.)
2. Living with Chronic Bitchface: A laugh-out-loud funny cartoon on the phenomenon of walking down the street deep in thought and being ordered to smile. Thx to reader Roxanne for sharing this link!
3. Who Is This Man, And Why Is He Screaming? The Inside Story of a Shy Photographer Who No Longer Owns His Own Face: Here’s the story of Noam Galai, an extremely shy, and brave, photographer. When a rusty steam pipe exploded a building in midtown Manhattan, terrifying the population and exposing craters in the streets, Galai ran to the scene to document the catastrophe with his camera — while everyone else ran away. His photographic self-portrait also became a worldwide inspiration, as you’ll read. (That’s him in the picture up top.) Thanks to reader David Allen Fitts for sharing this link.
The article made me think of one of my favorite Charles Darwin quotes:
“A shy man no doubt dreads the notice of strangers, but can hardly be said to be afraid of them. He may be as bold as a hero in battle, and yet have no self-confidence about trifles in the presence of strangers.”
Have a brave and happy weekend.
The scowling old man nearly bumped into me as he fled the sanctuary.
As I turned to watch him stomp out to the parking lot, I asked a friend if she knew why he’d left before the service started. She replied, “You know how in your sermon last week you encouraged all of us to be more welcoming to newcomers? Well, after five people came up to him to introduce themselves, he blurted “Can a guy just be anonymous when he checks out a new place? I want to be left alone!” And thus concluded his seven minute survey of our church.
It’s not only cantankerous old men with a flair for storm-off exits who are turned off by hyper-friendly churches, however. As I reflected on that event, I realized that I too would be intimidated and overwhelmed by that many strangers approaching me, no matter how genuine and kind they were. As it turns out, our churches are actually teeming with this species of people called “introverts.” I am one of them, as is 50% of the American population, according to our best and latest research.
Unfortunately, owing to a few antisocial types as well as to a general extroverted bias in our culture, introverts get a bad rap. Mainstream American culture values gregarious, aggressive people who are skilled in networking and who can quickly turn strangers into friends. Often we identify leaders as those people who speak up the most and the fastest, whether or not their ideas are the best.
As a result, introverts are often defined by what we’re not rather than by what we are. We’re labeled as standoffish or misanthropic or timid or passive. But the truth is that we are people who are energized in solitude, rather than among people. We may be comfortable and articulate in social situations and we may enjoy people, but our time in the outer worlds drains us and we must retreat into solitude to be recharged. We also process silently before we speak, rather than speaking in order to think, as extroverts do. We generally listen a little more than we talk, observe for a while before we engage, and have a rich inner life that brings us great stimulation and satisfaction. Neurological studies have demonstrated that our brains naturally have more activity and blood flow, and thus we need less external stimulation in order to thrive.
I saw the need for a book on this topic when I realized that our cultural slant had infiltrated some wings of the church, especially mainstream evangelicalism. As I say in Introverts in the Church, entering your average evangelical worship service feels like walking into a non-alcoholic cocktail party. Evangelicalism has a chatty, mingling informality about it, and no matter how well-intentioned that atmosphere is, it can be a difficult environment for those of us who are overwhelmed by large quantities of social interaction and who may connect best with God in silence. Sometimes our communities talk so much that we are not able to express the gifts that we bring to others. If we are given the space, we bring gifts of listening, insight, creativity, compassion, and a calming presence, things that our churches desperately need.
Even more dangerous is the tendency of evangelical churches to unintentionally exalt extroverted qualities as the “ideals” of faithfulness. Too often “ideal” Christians are social and gregarious, with an overt passion and enthusiasm. They find it easy to share the gospel with strangers, eagerly invite people into their homes, participate in a wide variety of activities, and quickly assume leadership responsibilities. Those are wonderful qualities, and our churches suffer when we don’t have those sorts of people, but if these qualities epitomize the Christian life, many of us introverts are left feeling excluded and spiritually inadequate. Or we wear ourselves out from constantly masquerading as extroverts.
Though I empathize with that old man, I wish he had endured the overwhelming hospitality of our community that day. He would have learned that the Christian life is not about anonymity, and we would have gained another introverted member who contributed valuable gifts to our community and ministry. Both he and our church would have been better for it.
What would it look like if we could really make our culture more balanced between action and contemplation, between introverts and extroverts? What if we started in our own lives? What if we did it TODAY?
I propose that readers of this site work together to make concrete changes in our personal lives — changes that will enable us to live more productively and also more authentically.
For example: long-time readers of this blog know that this is my Year of Speaking Dangerously — in which I’ll train to become the best and bravest speaker I can be. I’m doing this because the better I speak, the more I can advance my ideas, especially once my book comes out in January. I’ve done plenty of speaking before, but this year I’m focused on communicating in a style that’s authentic to my personality. Therefore my role model is not, say, Tony Robbins (a hyper-kinetic, extroverted speaker) but Malcolm Gladwell (who is introverted, cerebral, and famously powerful at the podium.)
Are you also interested in becoming a a more genuine and effective speaker? Would you like to work on this together?
If the answer is yes, I’ll ask you to join your local Toastmasters club (I’ll supply more info in future posts) and share your progress and stumbling blocks here. We’ll also use this site to share ideas, tips, and strategies, and to invite expert guests to share their expertise. (You don’t have to be a practiced speaker to participate; this project should be especially helpful for people who are scared stiff of the podium.)
But this public speaking project is only the beginning. There are many other personal, yet world-changing, projects we could launch from this site — for example:
-Becoming the best parent you can be to your introverted or sensitive child.
-Leading your organization in a quietly effective way.
-Writing the story, novel, op-ed, etc. that you’ve always wanted to.
More details to come. For now, I’d appreciate if you’d answer a few questions:
1. Does the general idea — of concrete projects that we undertake together, in real time — appeal to you?
2. Of the projects listed above (public speaking, parenting, leadership, and writing) which, if any, interest you?
3. Are there any *other* joint projects you’d like to see this website launch, ideas that I haven’t mentioned above?
If you like the general idea of joint projects, please take the time to comment, either below or via a personal note to me. The more feedback I get, the better I can design this to suit your needs. Thank you!