The Magic of Working Alone with (the Right) Somebody Else

“I drink alone,” rocker George Thorogood snarled in his hit song of the same name.

Well, good for you, George. I’m not sure how to respond other than to say that I don’t share your philosophy on the consumption of adult beverages.

But your song on the radio this morning reminded me of something, of a similar declaration of independence that I have made repeatedly, throughout my life:

I work alone.

Like many introverts (insert bluesy, guitar-driven background music here)

I work alone, yeah.

With nobody else.

I work alone, yeah.

With nobody else.

You know when I work alone,

I prefer to be by myself.

I do in fact work alone most of the time. With nobody else. And when I work alone, I do indeed prefer to be by myself. It’s almost a badge of honor.

But just as Mr. Thorogood probably drinks with other people from time to time, by necessity or by choice, I work with other people from time to time. Usually by necessity. Occasionally by choice.

A while back, out of the necessity driven by my role as David lost in a Goliath-like wilderness, I chose to work with Kate McMillan of Outbox Online Design Studio in Portland, Oregon, some 1,500 miles from my home office here in the tundra of Moorhead, Minnesota.

Kate helped me redesign my Introvert Insights website. By “helped” I mean she did it for me. And by “redesign” I mean revamp, refresh, reinvigorate. Make that resuscitate. It was CPR. In fact, my website needed not just new life but life to begin with, especially visually. And, well, I’m a word guy.

So I did something many of us introverts hate doing — particularly those of us blessed with that pesky Y chromosome.

I asked for help.

Kicking and screaming, I asked for help. I chose to be part of a collaborative team effort with Kate McMillan, who I’ve never met in person and likely never will.

I chose wisely.

Robert Frost once famously wrote, in his poem “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Working with Kate made all the difference, but I say that with only a small nod to my updated website. What mattered to me more than anything — and this is a common “introvert thing” — was not so much what Kate and I did together, but how we did it.

Kate, I don’t know if you’re an introvert yourself. I suspect you might be, but it hardly matters. All I can say is this: You sure work like an introvert. Me too. And that made all the difference on this road I so rarely travel by.

Here’s just a small sampling of the introvert-friendly way that Kate and I collaborated together:

We communicated almost exclusively via email. We introverts hate being interrupted, and we hate interrupting others. So when email came along in the early 1990s, it was a godsend — a godsend we have latched on to and will likely never relinquish.

Kate and I “talked” back and forth via email for the most part. We had two phone calls as well — including one marathon session — but we arranged both of them ahead of time. Via email. Thus the calls were expected, and we could both prepare for them in advance (which we did). Minimal chitchat. Maximum productivity. But still plenty of laughs and sharing and getting to know each other.

We implicitly demonstrated along the way that we didn’t want or need the other person to respond to our emails instantaneously. Again, it’s all about disrupting — or, more accurately, not disrupting — someone when they’re in the middle of something. I emailed Kate. She emailed me. I didn’t expect her to be sitting by her email inbox, dying to hear from me. She didn’t expect me to be obsessing by my inbox, either. Our email communications were calm, “chill” as the kids like to say today. Professional always, but almost completely devoid of stress or demand.

We were detailed in the emails we wrote to each other, and we demonstrated that we had done our respective homework assignments beforehand. I researched Kate pretty thoroughly before contacting her, and when I did contact her I was very thorough in responding to her questions about my wants/needs for the new website. She, in turn, was thorough when she wrote back to me. And during our phone calls especially, she was unbelievably thorough in covering the ground we needed to cover — visuals, content, technical aspects, you name it — efficiently but thoughtfully.

We were organized. We worked from a schedule, one that Kate had laid out and we both had committed to. After our lengthy planning meeting on the phone, Kate sent me a detailed summary within hours — a summary that included a handy checklist of all the things I needed to do, both editorially and technically. She gave me an exact batting order of how to proceed. It took none of the work away, but it took virtually all of the stress away.

We listened well to each other. Kate somehow got into my head and my heart through the process, largely because she’s an exceptionally good listener but also because she actually reads the responses to the questions on her forms. I listened carefully to Kate, too. What I know for sure is that she quickly seemed to understand me and where I’m coming from on this passion of mine — this calling to teach the world about introverts and introversion. She also seemed to understand that on my website in particular, I wanted to be genuine. I told her early on:

“I can’t have my website communicate the exact opposite of the message I’m trying to spread about introverts and introversion. I need my website to project calm. To be calm. I need it to be welcoming, and to align with the laid-back person I really am.”

Kate not only listened to me; she heard me.

Is there anything an introvert wants more?

I will always want to work alone, as most introverts do. But there is magic in working alone with the right somebody else — somebody who gets how introverts work and offers the best of both worlds: independence and interdependence.

So thanks, Kate, for reminding me of the value of collaboration. Introvert style.

When You’re an Introvert, You Sometimes Need to Stand (and Move) for Peace

The other night, I graciously and selflessly accepted a last-minute parental appeal to take my niece, Autumn, to her recreational gymnastics class. At 7:45 p.m. On a Wednesday. Clear across town. In bad weather, with little regard for my own personal safety.

Aw, it was nothing. I’m all about noble sacrifice in times of need.

Come to think of it, though — and this is mere conjecture on my part, you understand — there’s the ever so slight possibility that I was also drooling with glee over the idea.

OK, I was drooling with glee over the idea. Why? Because it was the exhausted introvert’s equivalent of finding a $20 bill on the ground. It would give me the unexpected chance to (with apologies to Timothy Leary) turn off, tune out, and drop out. Minus the drugs.

Autumn’s gymnastics class, you see, would be the last of the night, and we were in the beginnings of a pretty substantial storm around here at the time. So by simply saying yes to her parents’ request — three little letters strung together and enunciated properly — I could help out my sister- and brother-in-law and secure an hour’s worth of peace BY MYSELF as richly deserved compensation.

Not that that would give me extra motivation.

I did end up helping my sister- and brother-in-law all right. Alli got to go to the concert she’d been invited to earlier in the day, and Chad didn’t have to miss his bowling league match. Mission accomplished.

But peace? Peace in my time? Well, peace had no chance.

Until I stood up for it — and learned that any of us introverts has the power to do the same.


Face the Music

Things were looking — sounding — good as Autumn’s session got under way. The usually bustling gymnastics facility was practically empty, and I’d grabbed a chair in a quiet corner of the balcony so I could read and stare into space, stare into space and read. You know: introvert ping-pong.

Autumn and the other girls had already started their usual warmup activities. On my lap was a stack of articles on, ironically enough, introverts and introversion. (Hey, it’s what I do.) So I settled in and settled down, cup of tea and trusty highlighter in hand, promising myself I’d glance up once in a while and actually pay attention to what Autumn was doing.

Ahhh. Blissful, heavenly quiet. Now I can …


(Why, yes, that is the grating sound of the 2006 “Hannah Montana” soundtrack album. How did you know?)

For some reason, Autumn’s coaches decided to blast, um, music through the PA system. The girls stretching out on the mats below undoubtedly viewed it as a welcome change from the typical warmup routine. I, on the other hand, viewed it like a normal person would: as a felony, assault with a deadly weapon. So I did what lots of people do during a crime in progress.

I prayed:

Dear God,

Dear God, God!

What did I do?!

What did I not do?!

I’m sorry, God. I don’t mean to yell. I’m just wiped out, and I was expecting something else here tonight. Craving it, actually. Something relaxing and soothing. Remember that $20 bill bit?

Let’s be reasonable about this, God. Everything is on the table.

I’ll do whatever you ask, whenever you ask, for whomever you ask, if you will simply do me the teensy, tiniest favor — right now — of sending a mammoth power surge through that outlet down there and … well, I know this is asking a lot, God, but can you please make the CD player burst into flames?

Safely, of course. There are kids down there, God, as you know. And coaches. Insane coaches, but coaches nonetheless.

Thank you for your time and consideration, God.


P.S. I realize that you receive many prayers each day, most of them far more pressing than this one. But I think you’d have to agree that the fact we’re talking about Miley Cyrus should move my request up on your priority list. Thanks again!


Oh, the Noise, Noise, Noise!

God must not have heard me over all the commotion, because the first song on the album played all the way through and then the second one began.

But then, to my amazement … the CD player burst into flames!

No, it didn’t. Though it did in my mind, introvert that I am.

The music did stop. Eventually. Mercifully. Miley and her accomplices had gotten away with their actions, but at least it was quiet again.

So I settled in and settled down, cup of tea and trusty highlighter in hand, promising myself I’d glance up once in a while and actually pay attention to what Autumn was doing.

Ahhh. Blissful, heavenly quiet. (Am I having déjà vu?) Now I can …


Forty feet of near-empty balcony space where we can watch the kids, and 60 feet more just a few steps in the other direction, yet some woman on her phone strolls up and has to plunk herself down in the chair right next to me.

Um, God … I silently begin.

But it’s no use.

As auditory flashbacks of Charlie Brown’s teacher flood what’s left of my mind, I hear (BLAB BLAB BLAB) all about how the woman’s relatives are coming in from out of town, and how she never (BLAH BLAH BLAH) sees her sister anymore, and how, oh, she’s going to try (BLAB BLAB BLAB) a new recipe while everyone’s here! And she hopes (BLAH BLAH BLAH) everyone likes it. She’s so wiped out, though (BLAB BLAB BLAB), because she’s been working 12-hour days for (BLAH BLAH BLAH) seven days straight and (BLAB BLAB BLAH) she’s getting tired of it. And, oh my gosh, now she’s so nervous, because her daughter on the mat below can’t (BLAB BLAB BLAB) keep her legs together on one of the tumbling tricks, so the coach (BLAH BLAH BLAH) is having her put a little strap around her ankles to keep her legs together. What if (BLAB BLAB BLAB) she falls (the daughter, I presume, not the coach)?


Enough with the prayers; God helps those who help themselves, I think to myself. Only to remember a split-second later that this phrase never actually appears in the Bible.

Still, it sounds like a good strategy. But what can I do, really? I can’t just grab my stuff and walk away from this woman. She’ll know what’s going on, and she’ll see what I’m doing and be offended or hurt or both. Especially since there’s no one else here to provide cover.

Besides: She’s not really doing anything wrong to begin with. It’s annoying to me, but it’s her world too. We can’t always expect the quiet to come sit by us.

No. But as introverts, we can surely go and sit by the quiet. Whenever we want to. And especially whenever we need to.

So that’s what I did. I somehow overruled the incessant voices in my head (desperation is an excellent motivator), gathered my things, walked to the other side of the balcony, and sat down for an extra re-energizing game of introvert ping-pong.

The woman never even saw me; she’s probably still sitting there talking. But I got the peace I so craved.

How? By simply standing up for myself, and out of my chair and walking away. Without explanation. Without justification. And from now on, without reservation or hesitation.

One Person’s “Quiet” Is Another Person’s “Less Is More”

When my dad died a few summers ago at the age of 81, the one word people kept using to describe him was quiet.

Objectively speaking, Dad was indeed much quieter than most. But quiet just doesn’t cut it as a way to encapsulate who he was. It’s too easy, too simplistic to be his epitaph. Because like most strong introverts — and Dad was the introvert’s introvert, to be sure — my father wasn’t quiet simply for quiet’s sake. Precision matters on this one. Charles Vogt didn’t value quietness per se. He simply prioritized quality over quantity when it came to communicating — a trait he shared with virtually all other “quiet” introverts.

As I put it in his obituary:

[He] didn’t talk much. But when he did, he said a lot.

That’s different than plain old quiet. Not even remotely the same. Because you always knew that if my dad bothered to invest the time and energy in actually saying something, either verbally or, in his last years, via email or — shock of all shocks — text, it must be important. It must be worth listening to. And you’d be very unlikely to forget it.

My friends often made fun of me in college because as I read my textbooks, I always ended up highlighting the vast majority of the material on each page. I highlighted so much that virtually every word was highlighted, the only thing standing out my complete inability to make things stand out. Sometimes I’d even re-highlight the highlighted material. By the time I was done, I had managed to cancel out all my own  efforts in a dizzying sea of yellow and pink and green.

So many people fall into this same trap in their everyday communication lives: Overkill set on repeat. In a world that can’t stop talking (to borrow some of the subtitle from Susan Cain’s bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking), so many people have so many things to say about seemingly everything, at every moment, that it’s impossible to listen to them after a while — to say nothing of trying to remember their ramblings. It’s like trying to get a drink of water from the open floodgates of the Hoover Dam: You get your drink, but you end up drowning too.

The verbal drinks my dad served up may have been comparatively rare, and small, but they were refreshing. And memorable. Precisely because they were so rare and small.

My mom was telling us once about some guy who apparently had dropped dead while he was out for a walk near our house. As she often did — if you’re over the age of, say, 50, think Edith Bunker from “All in the Family” — Mom strayed off topic during her story, going into who the guy’s relatives were and where he lived and who he knew and who knew him and on and on and on. For a full 10 minutes we didn’t know what the ultimate point of her story would be. Or if there even was one.

You could see the thought bubble above my dad’s head, begging my mom: “Get to the point, get to the point.” Finally, he just couldn’t take it anymore. And he blurted out a three-word, CliffsNotes-has-nothing-on-this summary of my mom’s epic tale:

“Anyway, he died.”

Then he just burst out laughing, as did the rest of us.

Dad’s brevity wasn’t always funny, though. He wasn’t exactly Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady during our growing-up years (although as I went through his old clothes after he died, he appeared to be preparing for a day when he could at least dress like Mike Brady again). If the four of us kids were screwing around in the car, he wasn’t nearly as verbose as “I’ll stop this car and make you all walk.” Instead, it was — ironically — “quiet!” Or “knock it off!” And it was delivered with the full force of the lungs housed by his huge 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame.

Very easy to understand. Very memorable. Impossible to forget, in fact.

As were his responses in crisis situations.

My brother Mike showed up at the old house one day and told us all that his wife had up and left him, only an hour or two before. He was a mess, in shock. Dad was there the whole time, saying almost nothing and occasionally putting a mammoth hand on my broken brother’s shoulder.

That night, when we were all sitting around wondering what to do or say, it was my dad who somehow came up with just the right words at just the right time:

“Tough day.”

A few years back, my Uncle Gary took me aside one day, looked me in the eye very seriously, and said: “You know, Pete. You’re a young Chuck.” And it’s true: I am. It’s why I ended up writing my book The Introvert Manifesto, a book my dad loved. So much so that he really opened up after reading it and texted me, out of the blue, with his extensive feedback:

“Right on.”

Nope, he really didn’t talk much. But when he did, he really did say a lot.

That was his gift to us all. It wasn’t ever about being quiet. It was about demonstrating, if only unconsciously, how less really can be more.

There’s an epitaph for you.

In an Extraverted World, You Need to Be an Introvert Advocate — for Life

I sometimes wonder whether I’m yelling and screaming too much about the challenges of being an introvert, and about what it’s like to walk in an introvert’s shoes.

I mean, c’mon: writing a book called The Introvert Manifesto? Writing blog posts and articles and going on TV and radio programs to teach people how introverts truly tick, and why? Hosting workshops where I do the same? Maybe it’s all a little much.

Are things seriously that frustrating for us introverts? Do I really need to have a cow over it all? Are we really so misunderstood and mischaracterized as we go through our daily lives?

Well … yeah.

We too often are misunderstood and mischaracterized, in this culture at least. So as often as I wonder whether it’s all much ado about nothing, it is in fact much ado about something.

I don’t come to this conclusion lightly, nor do I do so without giving my own questions a lot of critical thought — practically every day as a sort of check on myself. It’s possible, after all, to be overreactive, or to “protest too much, methinks” (as Shakespeare put it in Hamlet) so that you end up unintentionally convincing people that the very thing you’re trying so damn hard to explain or normalize must indeed be quite inexplicable or abnormal.

But the bottom line is that I would write The Introvert Manifesto again today; I stand behind both the content and the voice that not only educates but advocates. In fact, I would emphasize even more strongly this passage, from a piece entitled “I’ve Spent Too Much of My Life Thinking Something Must Be Wrong with Me”:

Extraversion is our culture’s baseline. There’s extraverted and there’s everything that’s not extraverted. No one thinks in terms of introverted and not introverted, because extraversion is always our starting place. Extraversion is normal, desirable. Introversion — well, not so much.

If you want — or need — proof of this unfortunate but all-too-real phenomenon, either for yourself or for other people in your life, look no further than the thesaurus.

I went to this morning and typed in the word extroverted. Here are the first (and for that matter only) 10 synonyms that appeared:

outgoing, congenial, gregarious, personable, sociable, cordial, demonstrative, friendly, social, unreserved

Hmm. All of those are very nice. If any of them were used to describe one of my kids, I’d be a proud papa indeed. And one who is quite happy for his children to boot.

What happens when you type in the word introverted? Well, here are the first 10 synonyms that appear:

reserved, introspective, reclusive, soft-spoken, collected, cool, quiet, restrained, shy, withdrawn

Hmm. Some of those are very nice. I’m all about introspective and collected, and even quiet is fine with me. But reclusive? The Unabomber was reclusive. Reserved? Shy? Withdrawn? Yuck.

Wait til you see the 11 additional synonyms that are listed:

bashful, cautious, close-mouthed, cold, demure, modest, offish, secretive, solitary, standoffish, uncommunicative

None of those are very nice.

So, take your pick:

“Hey, everyone. This is my son/daughter, _____. He/she is an extravert — outgoing, personable, demonstrative, and friendly.”

“Hey, everyone. This is my son/daughter, _____. He/she is an introvert — reserved, reclusive, restrained, and shy.”

Nope, I guess I’m not overreacting.

So I’m prepared to illuminate and enlighten, yell and scream, for the long haul, not only for my own personal sake but also for and on behalf of other introverts everywhere. To the best of my ability, and knowing full well that a) I don’t know everything or even close, and b) introverts are a diverse group; we’re not all the same.

But guess what? If you’re an introvert, you had better be prepared to do the exact same thing in your own life. Lots of your own illuminating and enlightening, yelling and screaming, for the long haul. Because like it or not, here’s reality: Extraversion is the gold standard in our western culture, so much so that we are scarcely even aware of it.

And it’s not going to change.

No fair whining and complaining; the world isn’t supposed to revolve around us any more than it’s supposed to revolve around extraverts. Just be prepared: Part of being an introvert in this extraverted world — a happy introvert, anyway– is being an introvert advocate, for yourself and for others. And it’s just like being a Supreme Court judge: You’re appointed for life.

Deep Thinking: Embrace It, but Don’t Chase It

Half an hour ago I left the house to go on a run, in search of the evasive blog post topic that had been sticking its tongue out at me for much of the morning.

Unfortunately, all I could think of at first was “the runner’s high.”

I have yet to experience “the runner’s high.” I’ve experienced “the runner’s ‘why oh why?’” and “the runner’s ‘I’m going to cry’” and “the runner’s ‘I think I’m going to die.’” But never “the runner’s high” — not yet, at least.

For me, though, running has become one of the psychological, emotional, and even spiritual tools I can harness to clarify the deep thinking I’m so prone to as an introvert. It’s an intentional activity I can count on to come through for me when my thoughts just aren’t coming through quite right. There’s something about the change of scenery and the physicality that cleanses the mental mess every time and sets the stage for answers.

That’s exactly what happened just now. For at the very end of my run, when I, ahem, kicked it down to the finish, it occurred to me: “I think I’ll write about thinking <pant, gasp>. Especially since thinking and reflection <huff, puff> are such an important part <cough, spit> of every introvert’s existence and well-being.”

It’s too easy for us introverts to fight ourselves when it comes to thinking. We don’t fight thinking per se; I’m not sure we’re actually capable of that. But we’re susceptible to digging in our heels and bullishly thinking about something, without moving, for hours even when the only result is muck. It’s our equivalent of stubbornly holding our breath until we turn blue in the face, just to prove we can.

We don’t need to change our propensity to think deeply. That’s something for us to embrace, not face. Sometimes, though, we need to intentionally change when we’re thinking, or where, or even what we’re thinking about and how. We might need to table something for an hour, do something completely different, perhaps even bring someone else into our thinking instead of going it alone. We need to do something to give ourselves the temporary control-alt-delete we need to clear the psychological air and begin anew.

Whenever I’m stuck on a clue in The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, I walk away for a while. Inevitably when I return to the clue a few hours later, the answer comes to me. Not because I gave up on thinking about it, but because I gave up on the way I was thinking about it.

Sometimes we have to walk away for a while in the rest of life, too. Or in my case run, trusting that “the runner’s high” will show up in the form of … a blog post topic.