When your life becomes the message, words become secondary.
Your words, although powerful and creative, are only meaningful to people if your experience matches what you have to say.
Listening to a teacher talk about World War 2 is rarely as engaging as listening to the emotions of a holocaust survivor. Hearing a lecture about biology is nowhere as captivating as interacting with a biologist.
Talking will only get you so far, because the most effective learning is not based on words, but experience. Only when someone has experience to validate their words are people willing to listen.
The reasons why personal stories are so great at engaging audiences is because it reveals experience. When someone has an idea and shares a story, the idea becomes credible if the story validates the idea. When a story validates an idea, the audience is given a real example of how the idea works, and has an easier time accepting the idea.
Words should never be the message, they should merely deliver the message. Effective words reveal the heart and character of the speaker. Teaching should come out of experience, not simply words. When your life becomes the message, your words simply deliver the message.
I’ve always hated the distinction between introverts and extroverts because I never could identify with either side. The accepted school of thought is that a person is either one or the other, without any middle ground.
According to Myers Briggs, perhaps the most widely popular and accepted personality test, extroverts are action oriented, seek breadth of knowledge and influence, prefer frequent interaction, and get energy from spending time with people while introverts are thought oriented, seek depth of knowledge and influence, prefer more substantial interaction, and get their energy from spending time alone.
However, contrary to the binary choices provided by Myers Briggs, I’ve realized that extroversion/introversion is a spectrum, like a person’s height.
All of my life, I’ve had people (family, close friends, teachers, counselors) tell me different things. Some would say I was an introvert, and others would say that I was an extrovert. To different people I seemed to be different things.
After browsing the web and looking at a few more resources and doing some reflection, I came across a term called the ambivert, and finally felt understood by a personality test. I am very much an ambivert. There seems to be very little written about ambiverts, (Evernote isn’t even recognizing it as a word) so here are my thoughts.
Ambiverts sit on the spectrum of social interaction right in between the introverts and extroverts. Ambiverts love spending time with people, but get tired after spending too much time around people. Ambiverts are also very capable of doing things alone, but spending an entire day alone can suck them into a depressed, unproductive mood.
Ambiverts love interacting with people, but in a very purposeful way. Ambiverts can have extremely animated and interactive conversations, or mellow and meditative ones. Ambiverts will defend both their personal time as well as their social time.
Ambiverts process information best when they process internally and externally. Ambiverts need time and space to process things on their own, but they also need people who they can trust to process things with externally. In order for ambiverts to fully process information, they usually need both.
Ambiverts seek breadth of knowledge and influence, but dive deep when they are truly passionate. Ambiverts can be thought or action oriented, depending on the situation, but they are also oftentimes both.
The challenge for ambiverts is finding one thing to stick with. Because ambiverts do well socially and individually, it’s easy for an ambivert to become the jack of all trades, having knowledge in many different areas but not necessarily an expert an any of them.
Ambiverts tend to do well adapting to any situation that they are placed in, whether it be a loud social scene or a secluded environment.
However, no matter if you identify as an extrovert, introvert, or ambivert, don’t let a personality test define how you think about yourself. Figuring out how you work best for yourself is much more helpful than any test.
What do you think? Where would you put yourself on the spectrum?
I recommend you try this experiment the next time you meet a new person.
Introduce yourself, as you normally would when you meet someone new, wait 30 seconds or so, and then ask them what your name is. More often than not, the person will have already forgotten your name, leading to some form of emotional breakdown.
Besides the enjoyment of picking on people you just met, there is a deeper psychological lesson to be learned.
The reason why most people have trouble remembering a name 30 seconds after they are introduced to a new person is because they haven’t established why they should care. Names reveal very little about an individual, so without a context of who someone is, it’s hard to establish a reason to remember someone’s name.
It’s interesting how if the scenario was slightly tweaked, say that the person you meet has $100 for you if you can remember his name. Suddenly, it becomes hard to forget a person’s name.
This concept applies in companies, charities, and any other type of human system. There’s a saying that goes “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This is because people won’t take action unless they know why they are personally taking action.
Millions of kids find themselves bored in schools, not engaged with what is going on in the classroom because they haven’t answered the question “Why should I care?”
Everyone has heard of global warming, and most people are aware of the fact that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are increasing. But to the average person, the problems of global warming have little effect on the way they do their daily lives, meaning that very little will change in the average person’s life. The fact that carbon dioxide levels have just passed 400 parts per million means is relatively insignificant to the average person.
Part of becoming an effective communicator is to understand where people are coming from and what their needs and questions are. Thus, it becomes more about what matters to your audience than what you are doing.
People need to know why they should care before they care about what they should do.
Most of the time, the hardest person to forgive is yourself.
What you’ve done in the past doesn’t matter, but it does.
What happened in the past shapes who you are, but doesn’t define you. It is your story, but not your identity. Your story, like your identity, is unique to yourself, but the two are not the same thing. Your story is a result of your interactions with your circumstances, your identity is the person that experienced those experiences.
Maybe you took a bad misstep, maybe you messed up everything. But it’s hard to forgive yourself when you confuse your story with your identity. Because when you assume that your story is your identity, you allow the past to take control of your future.
But being a growing human being means that you are willing to forgive yourself. Acknowledge that you messed up. Be real. Communicate what has changed as a result, and push on harder than you ever have before.
Don’t be afraid of forgiving yourself.
Fear of the unknown, often related to a person’s perception of the future, is always weighed against the events in the present and the past. The mental tug-of-war is between continuing what you are doing in the present for the same results, or trying something radically different for a risk of failing. There’s always a trade-off between consistency and potential virality.
But what happens when you continue doing something that no longer works? Maybe a process that you’ve been using is becoming obsolete, or information that you rely on is outdated.
The definition of an expert is someone who has special skills or knowledge based on training or experience. In other words, experts are people who have knowledge or experience that they learned in the past. And as history has illustrated countless times with various companies, industries, and schools of thought, the mindset of expertise often gets in the way of true innovation.
Of course, that is not to say that lessons from the past are worthless. Lessons from the past, no matter how profound and impactful or negligible and insignificant they might seem, are merely illustrations of what has worked in the past, not projections of how things will be in the future.
Using what has worked in the past to face the unknown future definitely feels safe, but the distinction must be made between safe and comfortable. Safety zones and comfort zones do not completely overlap. Many people are unconsciously disabled by assuming that things that are uncomfortable are unsafe, but even more disabling is when people assume things that are comfortable are safe.
Innovation is achieved under circumstances where it is rarely comfortable. Sometimes the only way to be safe is to be uncomfortable.
The only difference between a problem and an opportunity is in the mind. A problem means that there is no clear solution, while an opportunity means there is a chance to exercise creativity.
To the unprepared, an opportunity looks like a problem because they have no idea how to solve the problem. But to the prepared, a problem looks like an opportunity.
Therefore, under the right mindset there is no such thing as a problem, only an opportunity.
The challenge then, is learning how to be prepared and take action when opportunities arise.
Student Voice, a non-profit organization with a simple goal of allowing students to speak up about education, did exactly that. Recognizing the disconnect between education boards and students, Student Voice began simply by using twitter as a medium to chat about education, and has now evolved into a weekly chat on twitter between students, parents, and educators.
Prior to the rise of popularity of Student Voice, the founder had no clue what the response would be. Nevertheless, he took the opportunity to present a solution. The response, to Zak, was a complete surprise. Not only were teachers and students interested in participating in Student Voice chats, Student Voice was noticed by companies that began offering support.
No matter how insurmountable a problem might present itself, anyone can solve problems. Social media has made it easier than ever to share an idea, present a concept, and make connections.
The reason why people fear problems is because they fear failure. But ultimately, people who begin actively making a difference and changing the world are people who accept themselves and embrace failure, knowing that the most powerful successes come out of failure.
So what if a problem is an opportunity to fail? If you can’t afford to fail, then you’ll never be able to afford success.
If you are reading this in 2013, I am willing to bet $20 that you haven’t used a floppy disk within the last week.
But even if you haven’t used one in years, the floppy disk is an image that is universally recognized, and will most likely never be forgotten. To kids currently learning to use computers, the floppy disk is no longer a physical data storage device, it’s an icon to click on in order to save a file.
The floppy disk is an obsolete artifact of the past, an illustration of what happens when people become accustomed to something that change becomes nearly impossible. The floppy disk represents tradition, something of the past that is no longer relevant today, but still lingers within culture.
To the entrepreneur, tradition is nothing more than an opportunity for change; a challenge to do things better rather than submit to the way things have always been done. Instead of blindly accepting artifacts of culture, the entrepreneur questions and thinks critically about things that can be changed.
Thus, to the creative, traditions are not seen as guidelines to stay within, but boundaries to advance and explore outside of. Creativity comes when a person thinks differently, creating something that has never existed before.
No matter how new an innovation is, or how many problems a new invention solves, the creative mind always thinks about it one step further, and is not satisfied with the current level of innovation. While this may seem like a never-ending treadmill of hard thinking, the life in being creative is not the end product, but the process it took to get there.
When you hear a past innovator talk about how things were like back in “their day”, they’re reminiscing on the process it took to bringing new innovation in, and how creativity changed their lifestyle.
That is why we aren’t carrying around black squares for data storage anymore.
Excitement is usually generated by a positive change in the present that implies a more positive future. Ultimately then, excitement is a response to things happening around a person.
Generating excitement is not terribly difficult. Maintaining it is usually more challenging. A one time significant event can spark excitement, but without a constant flow of progress, excitement is easily lost.
It’s easy to become attracted to rags to riches stories portrayed by the media because it gives us a sense of excitement because we see the potential and want to be just like them. Linsanity, a documentary about the NBA phenomenon Jeremy Lin, is a story about each one of us. Especially for Asian Americans, Jeremy Lin is an inspiration for teenagers to pursue their dreams and make history through the influence of what they are passionate about.
Significant stories are mirrors, inspiration for the significance can be achieved. Stories present themselves not as the success of superstars, but a bar to be surpassed. Every record that has been broken in the past has been the inspiration for the record to be broken again.
Before 1954, no one had ever run a mile in less than four minutes. According to experts, such a feat was physically impossible, until Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3:59 in 1954. After that, all world class runners were completing their miles in under four minutes.
Excitement over a new achievement quickly vanishes, unless it resonates deep with who you are and stirs up an emotion that goes much deeper than excitement: passion and purpose.
The thing about having a passion and a purpose is that it extends deeper than individual events. Having a passion and purpose allows a person to filter relevant events. Excitement without purpose easily fades, but when purpose creates excitement, progress is made.
The purpose of any leader or leadership organization is to bring some sort of change or obtain some sort of goal. It is not enough for a leader simply to know what to do, they must know how to communicate and bring people together.
I’ve written in the past about how high schoolers have poor training in leadership, and how leadership is about being significant rather than famous. At the heart of significant leadership, there needs to be a desire to empower future generations to accomplish things beyond what you have been able to accomplish. A leader that is afraid of his followers gaining more power than himself is one who builds a community around himself rather than around the group he is serving.
Significant leaders, ones that have a heart for the people they are leading, understand that they must surround themselves with other leaders, instead of surrounding themselves with obedient workers.
“Managers are maintainers, tending to rely on systems and controls. Leaders are innovators and creators who rely on people. Creative ideas become reality when people who are in a position to act catch the vision of their innovative leader.” – John Maxwell
With that said, I’ve noticed that there are four significant areas, that when properly understood, contribute to a leader. I am not claiming to be the perfect leader by any stretch, but these are simply based off of what I’ve noticed.
Create A leader must have a goal, vision, or an understanding of what he/she wants to change. The leader must understand how to accept himself and be vulnerable with the people he leads, in order to boldly and fearlessly take steps toward achieving the goal or vision. Having something tangible to show for often is a leader’s creation that will attract the interest of people, whether it be an idea, a teaching, a philosophy, a talent or skill, or anything else that catches the attention of people.
Express Leaders must be able to express their vision, goal, or creation to other people. A person who is unable to communicate what their creation is will have a hard time having people understand what they are about. In order to lead a group of people, communication allows people to connect with a leader and understand the leader. Effective communication is more than revealing your vision or goal, but also being open and vulnerable about the heart behind it, where it’s coming from, and the emotions and feelings that may be attached.
Inspire After communicating the purpose, vision, and goal with people, leaders must inspire people to make their own steps and choices. This often requires telling people why they should care, in order to get people excited and passionate about what a leader is trying to do. Giving people the freedom to be inspired means giving them the freedom to choose what their response is. Significant leaders understand that not everyone they pitch their idea to will come under their cause, but it’s more important to have a smaller group that freely chooses to accept what you have to offer rather than a larger group that comes through manipulation and pressure.
Empower A significant leader empowers others with the freedom to accomplish things that are greater than what they have accomplished. Significant leaders allow people to take their breakthroughs and build on them, instead of hiding them away. Empowering other people means giving up your control and trusting that people will be able to contribute as much to the purpose or vision that the leader can.
Being a leader is a position that requires an understanding of how to serve people, and being effective at leadership is a practice that is very much related to personal skills.
Your work, art, creativity, passion, and dreams are expressions of your identity. They do not reign as your identity, but are merely expressions of it.
People who are hesitant about broadcasting their work often do so because they are afraid of what might happen. They are afraid of how the might fail, and the attacks that might come their way. They have a fear that people might attack the core of who they are.
But the truth is, if your work is nothing more than an expression of your identity, the most that people can attack is the expression. The only person that can attack your identity is yourself, and that comes through choice.
When you choose to accept yourself, regardless of the calls that people make on your expressions, that’s when you get true freedom to be yourself. That’s when you have the freedom to stand up and say, “Here I made this. I’m not sure if it’ll work or if it’s even a good idea, but that doesn’t matter.”
“If you’re going to be loved anyway, your behavior doesn’t have to be driven by your yearn for an outcome; it can be driven by something deeper.” – Seth Godin
Vulnerability then, is being open and transparent with your audience about who you are and what you do, not to seek approval from them, but to step out of the bounds of comfort to make new discoveries.
And when vulnerability comes from a place of already being accepted, fear vanishes.