I have always felt that to be an introvert is to be less than. It’s an extrovert’s world. Us introverts just live in it.
Never was this more apparent to me than during Dale Carnegie training. This was several years ago, before I ventured out on my own. I was working for an expanding company in New Jersey that is a force in the medical journalism space. Unlike most editorial businesses, they made money.
It was a sales-driven company. As the son of a former salesman, I know it takes a certain type of personality to succeed in sales. I don’t have it. People fascinate me, but in most instances, I’d rather suck exhaust fumes than cold call a hundred strangers, or gladhand would-be prospects in depressing hotel bars all over the country (which I had to do from time to time, in this role).
This is partly why, I imagine, I ended up in a pilot group of intensive Dale Carnegie training. Despite the fact that I was in an editorial role, my job required a great deal of extroversion. I’m a reluctant extrovert. I can play the part. I’ve watched my father do it enough to know what it looks like. At conferences, I was often creating stories and videos, but also functioning as a brand ambassador and building industry connections. There were talks of putting me on camera, which made me laugh. My mangled ears preclude me from all on-camera work, with the exception of cut-rate MMA commentator.
Each day I showed up for the Dale Carnegie training I flipped the extrovert switch, and tried to keep my soul from dying. Two things worth noting:
This training was useful, but the ethics of it are debatable. After all, Charles Manson was a fan of How to Win Friends and Influence People. It worked a little too well for him.
I don’t fault my employer for sending me to this training. I appreciate the investment. I appreciate everything they did for me. When you work in journalism for as long as I have and you land at a company that actually invests in its employees, you’re grateful for it.
In my view, the training amounted to charisma injections. Charisma is a positive force, but it also has a dark side. Charisma, in the wrong hands, can be dangerous. Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini were charismatic. Charisma can promote mass murder, or get you to buy something you don’t want. I’m not saying Dale Carnegie training will turn you into a tyrannical dictator or a cult leader, but it equips you with tools that could just as easily be used for evil as they could be for good.
Perhaps more mildly, misusing charisma can turn you into somebody you’re not, creating a persona that conflicts with your true nature. I believe that if I bought into the training, the results would have been personally catastrophic. I think if I really leaned into it, accepted that this is how I should be, that introversion was at best ineffective and at worst weak, I could have caused some real damage, maybe destroyed my psyche or my soul.
Time in the dark
I didn’t last much longer at that company. It wasn’t a good fit for me and another unexpected opportunity presented itself. I landed a marketing job at a hospital that offered tuition reimbursement. I hoped to go back to school and professionally reinvent myself. But the hospital job wasn’t fulfilling. Things got dark fast. I had taken a hefty pay cut and money was tight. The office was in a windowless basement. My coworkers were often out and about the hospital and I was often alone. This is when the big, dark, existential questions would bubble to the surface. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was where I need to be and what needed to happen.
My time in the basement forced me to consider what’s important to me. I was at a crossroads: Make a plan and act on it, or watch my career die in the dark. Looking back on my first year of self-employment, I’m convinced that I’ve managed to do what I’ve done because I’ve embraced my introverted nature and have tried to better understand why I am the way I am.
Embracing the funk
When I left the hospital job, I planned to do marketing work for wellness-based healthcare providers. While this is a part of what I do now, it’s a shrinking part of my business. What’s growing (and I hope continues to grow) is the dream gig I landed in the optimum performance space.
I ended up on a team of consultants working for Emily Kwok, my Jiu Jitsu instructor and optimum performance consultant, and Josh Waitzkin, a leading learning theorist. Among the myriad lessons I’ve learned in my year working with them, perhaps the most salient is that as it pertains to elite-level performers, often their biggest flaw is also the source of their genius. In a bid for optimum performance, most coaches would attempt to correct this flaw and consequently imperil the performance of their client. This flaw is what Josh and Emily call a client’s funk, and funk is to be handled delicately.
I believe Dale Carnegie training could have destroyed my funk: my introverted nature that helps me see and understand people and the world. Without knowing it, the decision to leave that company, then the decision to leave the hospital and start a business of my own, likely had enormous implications for my personality, development, and overall life satisfaction. None of these things would have happened had I not acted in accordance with my true nature.
While my consulting work has brought me closer to what my true nature is, it represents only the beginning of the work to be done.
The next evolution
Work has led me toward depth psychology, specifically Carl Jung. As storyteller by training, Jung’s theories -- specifically the archetypes -- are incredibly useful for making sense of the world via narrative. The more I learned about Jung and depth psychology, the sharper my understanding of the outer world came into focus. It’s given me a more accurate insights regarding people and their nature. However, things got a bit murkier when I attempted to use Jung’s teachings to better understand myself by delving into my own unconscious mind. And by murkier, I mean disorienting to the point of provoking terror on occasion.
There is, I believe, and important distinction between knowing yourself in an ego-centric, conscious way, and knowing what lies beneath. Jung explains it better than I can:
“Most people confuse ‘self-knowledge’ with knowledge of their conscious ego-personalities. Anyone who has any ego-consciousness at all takes it for granted that he knows himself. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents.” (Jung, The Undiscovered Self)
The results of learning the contents of my unconscious mind have ping-ponged between illuminating and as I mentioned before, terrifying. This is not something I would recommend for anyone with a loose grip on reality. The effects at times have been similar to that of consciousness-altering substances. Jung assures the explorer of the unconsciousness that this is normal. In encountering the archetypes that populate our unconscious minds and dream lives, (the shadow, the anima/animus, the tyrant, the hero, etc.), we are encountering fragmented personalities that reside within the depths of our minds. He writes:
“These ‘archaic vestiges,’ or archetypal forms grounded on the instincts and giving expression to them, have a numinous quality that sometimes arouses fear. They are ineradicable, for they represent the ultimate foundations of the psyche itself. They cannot be grasped intellectually, and when one has destroyed one manifestation of them, they reappear in altered form. It is this fear of the unconscious psyche which not only impedes self-knowledge, but is the gravest obstacle to a wider understanding and knowledge of psychology.” (Jung, The Undiscovered Self)
With that directive, I set to work. Prior to discovering Jung, I never put much stock into dreams -- my own or anybody else’s. I thought that at best, they were the ramblings of the mind at rest, and when they contained discernible threads and narratives, it was just a matter of coincidence. The slightest mention of a dream from a friend or acquaintance often prompted an internal eye roll. I thought that dreams were so subjective that if they meant anything at all, it would only make sense to the dreamer. Why bother sharing?
My attitude changed when I began to notice what Jung calls synchronicity, or meaningful coincidences. I’ll give you an example.
I was staying at the Cameron House Inn in Manteo, North Carolina, reading The Essential Jung. I had reached the part where Jung describes a time of turmoil in his life. He is confronted in a dream by Philemon, who would come to be a guiding force or guru of his unconscious mind. Philemon is the wise old man archetype with the beautiful wings of a kingfisher. Soon after, Jung finds a dead kingfisher in his garden. Kingfishers are rare in Zurich.
I had never heard of the kingfisher before. I looked it up and was awestruck by its beauty. I closed the book to leave with Frances for dinner. Locking the door behind me, I noticed we were staying in the Kingfisher Room.
This would be the first of many synchronistic bird interactions in subsequent days and weeks. I would watch two vultures fight over a dead possum in my backyard after one troubling dream. Later, after a night of dark dreams, I would watch a great blue heron harpoon an impossibly large fish from a shallow creek near my house. Finally, another dream, and another bird of prey. A massive cooper’s hawk lands on my fence and lets me come within a few feet of it before flying off.
Coincidence? Yes. These are coincidences. But they are meaningful in the sense that I am able to find meaning in these events based on what I have witnessed in my dreams. This isn’t mystical, it’s a matter of linking one observation to another. It’s the process of deriving meaning from the unconscious mind, which speaks in symbols and riddles.
Me and my Shadow
The Shadow is personally the most troubling archetype. These are the worst, repressed elements of yourself -- often the source of terror when they emerge in dreams. Here you’ll find, as Jordan Peterson would explain, the part of you that could be the concentration camp guard, the sex trafficker, or the slave trader. Whether we admit it or not, we all have this capacity, Jung explains.
“Did not a well-known statesman recently confess that he had ‘no imagination for evil’? In the name of the multitude he was expressing the fact that Western man is in danger of losing his shadow altogether, of identifying himself with his fictive personality (the persona) and the world with the abstract picture painted by scientific rationalism.” (Jung, The Undiscovered Self. Parenthetical explanation is mine, not his.)
With “no imagination for evil,” we are essentially giving the Shadow freedom to run rampant. Without knowing the capacity for human evil, starting with ourselves, we will fail to stamp out the atrocities when they begin as bad ideas.
“And just as the typical neurotic is unconscious of his shadow side, so the normal individual, like the neurotic, sees his shadow in his neighbour or in the man beyond the great divide … The evil, the guilt, the profound sense of unease of conscience, the dark foreboding are there before our eyes, if only we would see. Man has done these things; I am a man, who has his share of human nature; therefore I am guilty with the rest and bear unaltered and indelibly within me the capacity and the inclination to do them again at any time.” (Jung, The Undiscovered Self. Italics are his, not mine.)
The solution -- to both being a more effective human being and more importantly, avoiding the atrocities of history -- is to know ourselves. To look into the dark, subterranean rooms in our minds that only open themselves to knowing in our dreams. If we are to right the world’s wrongs, the process begins in our own heads and souls.
We can choose the cult of charisma, or we can choose to do the truly difficult work of figuring out who we are and putting ourselves in order.
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