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Learning is about risk, authenticity and vulnerability

September 14, 2012

As I continue to ponder openness, introversion and the start of #oped12, I am feeling an internal current of energy rising within me.  It’s all thanks to fabulous author and blogger Susan Cain and the dots she has connected for me with fellow authors I admire: Gretchen Rubin and Brené Brown.

Borrowing from Dr. Brown’s interview with Ms. Cain, I’d like to offer my own insights on vulnerability and becoming an authentic, open, outspoken introvert within the learning profession:

1. Vulnerability is: taking the risk to be authentic, regardless of how others may percieve me.

2. What role does vulnerability play in my work?  Learning is inherently a vulnerable task.  So is helping others to learn.

Learning involves risk, failure and potential embarassment, which propel us to develop our resilience or else crumble under pressure.  Learning in the participatory, networked age, involves more openness and sharing than ever before, which are also activities that make a person more exposed and vulnerable to criticism, punishment or attack.

Introverts can be mis-labelled as ‘not team players’ and that is very risky in a learning profession dominated by extraverts who reward and recognize outgoingness and particular flavours of group-based contribution and collaboration.  Introversion seems to come with a moderate to serious dose of conflict avoidance, which means speaking truth to power can be very threatening, both personally and professionally.

3. What does authenticity mean to me and how do I practice it in my work? I’ve developed considerable confidence in my guidance and expertise over the past few years while researching practices that are quite threatening to the hierarchical status quo.  Being authentic means speaking up about seismic shifts in social, networked learning and technology that are revolutionizing my profession.  It also means finding authentic ways to express my professional values, opinions, passions and beliefs while still remaining employed!

4. Is perfectionism an issue for me? If so, what’s one of my strategies for managing it? Perfectionsim was a significant issue for me throughout my childhood and education and is still a default behaviour, though I am learning to recognize its limitations and let go more often.

One of the ways that I do that is by reflecting on Gretchen Rubin’s abstainer/moderator question.  Perfectionism seems to be an all-or-nothing abstainer behaviour that can lead to analysis paralysis.  I actually seek to be a moderator in most aspects of my life and work.

However, I highly value excellence, timeliness, accuracy and quality so perfectionism is an easy path to take, especially when extraverts in my profession seem to champion quality and excellence without always delivering on it.  The challenge for me now is to keep designing solutions and offering guidance that are excellent without necessarily being perfect.  Jay Cross’ perpetual beta approach fits well here, too.

5. What inspires me?  Over the past few years, authenticity has really inspired me because I know first-hand how difficult it is to explore and sustain.  I recognize authenticity immediately in others and gravitate towards it.  Those who choose to ‘fake it ’till you make it’ tend to rub me the wrong way and I am being much more selective about whether I spend time in their company.

6. What’s something that gets in the way of my creativity and how do I move through it?  I think perfectionism and formal schooling used to get in the way of my creativity.  In school, there was a right and wrong way to do everything and less than 100% wasn’t good enough.  I’m very analytical and detail-oriented as well, which is not really a creative mindset.  Thankfully, we had to take an art class in teachers’ college (led by our Dean, no less!) and that reminded me of how joyful it was to let go of rigid structures and processes.  I dabble with blogging and photography from more of an instinctual place now and try to leave the style guides and how-to books on the shelf.

I have also learned to seek out creativity from individuals and sources that are outside of my usual network. One example is the #ds106 mooc and The Daily Create assignment.  The contents of that site add so much richness to my thoughts and experiences, offering many ways of looking at the same concept or object.  I am also playing around with a fun little application called Draw Something, which is a light-hearted way to get one’s point across, even with strangers.

7. What’s on my nightstand? Steve Jobs’ biography with that captivating front cover photo and The Red House by Mark Haddon on my e-reader.

8. Describe a snapshot of a joyful moment in my life. I am happiest at home with my loved ones, two legs and four.  Recent joyful moments include watching my puppy chase butterflies on the beach, swooning over crepes with one fellow black sheep, exploring introversion in the workplace with another and cheerleading authenticity while floating in a lake with a third.

9. Do I have a mantra or manifesto for living and loving with my whole heart?  It’s a combination of “Be Gretchen“, “Focus on the 90%“, “Go big or stay home“, truth at all times and “Love like you’ll never get hurt”.

10. My six word memoir (from Smith Magazine’s Six Word Memoirs): I loved, travelled, ate and shared!

If you would like to share your thoughts on introversion, risk, authenticity and vulnerability, I’m all eyes.


From → Smarter worker

  1. I’ve been enjoying your writings – partly because I’m an analytical and detailed-oriented introvert too (so I’m partial to well-formed sentences without typos!) but mainly because there’s an inspirational quality that’s catching. I confess that I’m unfamiliar with the authors you mention (now on my ‘look into list’), so I’ll refrain from pontification – but I could certainly do with some of that “internal current of energy”!

    • Thanks so much, Gordon! I am so pleased to be sharing these revelations about introversion. The hashtag #introvert is worth glancing at as well. Connective technologies are giving us ways to find one another and communicate asynchronously, with proper grammar and punctuation! Keep well and thanks for making time to leave a commment.

  2. I like your posts on introversion, this is a great topic. I hope more people start to talk about it rather than simply assuming ‘the more social you are the better’. Don’t some of these questions seem to imply an underlying association to weakness and vulnerability, though? I tend to see introversion as just another way, very useful way, of being.

    • Absolutely, Glen, introversion tends to be seen as ‘less than’, at least in the Western world, and Ms. Cain does a great job of describing that in her book and on her website. If you are on Twitter, take a look at the hashtags #introvert or #introversion and you’ll see that people are starting to ‘shout out’ about introversion now, which is exciting. I agree, introversion is a very useful way of being for those who seek to understand it and embrace it. Thanks for making time to leave your comments.

      • Yes it is exciting and for me a revelation as I’ve always thought it something to ‘get over’. Of course you have to in some situations like public speaking or even learning to cope with conversations involving more than a few people – hmm .. maybe some people are just better actors than others! Also, I think that Connectivism’s ‘knowledge is in the connections’ is a difficult one for introverts. Rightly or wrongly, I see knowledge resting quite happily in books, in the WWW, in other people and best of all, in my own head! Of course connections with friends and colleagues can be invaluable in knowledge-seeking situations but in my experience, only part of the story.

        • I really resonate with this, Gordon, thank you! From what I’ve read so far (in books and WWW, I agree they are great knowledge repositories), the ‘get over it’ judgement is one imposed upon introverts by ourselves and/or by extraverts. How often do introverts vocalize the need for extraverts to ‘tone it down a nothch’? We might think it (often?) but do we speak up about it? I suddenly feel like a minority voice needing to shout out, push back and fight for the recognition of introversion as a valuable temperament. I now know that I’m not alone in this regard.

          Regarding connections, my introverted nature leads me to seek quality connections over quantity. Equally true for my in-person relationships and access to knowledge in books I can hold as well as distance relationships with people and their digital knowledge. I do think connectivism allows for both quantity and quality. In fact, the volume of potential connections available digitally now make it even more important to develop skills to filter for quality. I’m feeling a bit rambly this morning. Hopefully that makes sesne?

  3. Cris permalink

    I’m also enjoying your exploration of introversion and #6 on creativity and introversion is of particular interest. I’d always felt that creativity is a stance, a way of approaching life, and poo-pooed The Daily Create ( ), at that point when I was participating in DS 106, The Daily Shoot. It seemed so contrived and unnatural. But for Camp MacMuffin this summer I set a goal of exploring how meeting The Daily Create (TDC) challenge might effect my understanding of creativity. Around 120 continuous Daily Creates later, I can say TDC has become a positive addiction and in a real way gives my introverted self a chance to reach out daily to share something perhaps initiated by an “irritant” on the outside but coated with layers of my own thinking and self-expression that results in a unique pearl — not always well-formed or the preferred color — but I value it for the creative inquiry it represents.

    I definitely see introversion as a valuable concept to explore in OpEd12.

    • Thanks so much for these insights, Cris. Congratulations on completing so many Daily Creates and on discovering that something that didn’t initially hold appeal could actually be valuable through this risk to explore. I think curiosity, enquiry and creativity seem to be related and the TDC concept helps me to become more curious about my world, regardless of whether I just view them from time to time or make the effort to do them myself. I also do the same with PostSecret, which blows me away with its depth and insight, so much so that I can only bear to look in on it a few times a year.

      Side note (introverted attention to detail here), I wasn’t sure whether to write enquiry or inquiry above and found this neat source: Whether formal or informal, your willingness to explore is inspirational. Thank you!

  4. I agree that since I have introduced more open and asynchronous interchange in my classroom the reach to introverts in my teaching seems more sure.

    • That’s great to hear, thank you for sharing. Do you mind if I ask what sector you’re working in (primary, junior, secondary, post-secondary, adults)? What are your favourite tools or approaches for open/asynch exchange?

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