What Do We Need In Order To Do Our Best Work?

For me, being out in nature is one of my special needs.

Friend, writer, and teacher extraordinaire, Patti Digh wrote a great blog post a few days ago.  Writing about her daughter, Tess, who was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome she asks the questions, “What does Tess need to succeed?  What helps her sit fully in her sun?”

Certainly these are questions that most anyone could one day wrestle with, if their own child or another family member is in need of special help in order to be successful in life. Unfortunately, we don’t ask those questions of ourselves and it is rare to hear them asked in the workplace by those who run the show. Whether or not we have a particular disability, we should all be asking ourselves these questions, as should CEOs if they expect the best work from their employees.

In reality, all of us have special needs.  Introverts need quiet and solitude to do their work.  Extroverts, on the other hand, need continuous interaction with other people in order to be comfortable in their world.  And some of us have sensitivities that can bring us too our knees.  Music that fills a room may be therapeutic to some and nothing but bruising noise to others.  If on in the background, I find the garbled messages of a television anxiety producing when I’m trying to read or am doing any activity that requires my focus and attention.

On some days I write with music playing in the background. On other days even the gentlest of instrumental sound can keep me from my quest.  I just turned off Yo-Yo Ma’s album, Obrigado Brazil, that I love and often exercise to, as I did this morning. But today in order to concentrate on writing this post, it is getting in my way.  On another day I might find it just the ticket I need in order to write or paint.  I never know, and I’m learning to listen carefully to what I need in any given situation.

As an introvert, I often need time to myself after I’ve been with large groups of people. I dislike small talk and would prefer to converse about life and philosophical issues. I do much better in intimate settings with only a few people at a time.  For me, the perfect dinner party size is six people. Good talk and good food … there’s nothing better.

Should you decide to turn on lights or make noise while I’m trying to sleep, you’re toast.  That’s why the only roommate I can tolerate is my love, Bill.  He understands and goes out of his way in order to keep me from being awakened in the middle of the night and chopping off his head :-)!

I’ve spent years trying to come to grips with my introversion and sensitivities.  Until just a few years ago, I thought that I was broken, intolerable to be around, and that most people thought I was a snob, elitist and/or beyond loony.  Certainly my parents didn’t help, with their incessant complaining about my being too sensitive as a child.  Of course, they were too, but hid it behind their iron curtains of denial.

These days, I try to be with people who tend to understand my kookiness.  They are extroverts as well as introverts. And after a recent bout of overwhelm, I’m learning again to pay attention and ask myself what I need in any given moment. Knowing that everyone has needs of his or her own helps to keep me from feeling freakish about mine.

What are your special needs?  Do you consider yourself to be extremely sensitive?  An extrovert or an introvert? We’re all different, of course.  But no one should suffer from feeling different and alone in what sometimes feels like a world gone out of control.

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18 Responses to What Do We Need In Order To Do Our Best Work?

  1. jerrywaxler says:

    Hi Joan, I resonate with much of this. It has been a lifelong journey to find the habits that would balance my introspective needs with my responsibilities in the world. I figured out in my 20s that I needed to meditate every day in order to stay sane. Over the years, I added a daily period of writing to the routine so I could be good at both thinking and not thinking. LOL A recent popular book is out on this subject, which I have heard about, but not yet read, called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

    Memory Writers Network

  2. Debra Marrs says:

    Hi Joan, thank you for sharing Patti’s post, and more importantly, thank you for speaking up on what feeds you one moment and drains you the next. I, too, need a lot of quiet and alone time. Several years ago, one of my coaches introduced me to the work of Dr. Elaine Aron, who has shared the attributes of what Dr. Aron calls HSPs (or highly sensitive persons). When I read that, I felt less alone and less loony. Like you, I prefer 1:1 time or small groups, and am overpowered by masses. I believe the introversion layer is where we draw upon our deepest creativity. I’m grateful for that part of me just as much as I’m grateful for the public speaker/teacher/trainer part of me. It’s all about living comfortably in one’s skin, no matter what’s beneath, isn’t it? Thanks again! Keep writing!

    • Debra Marrs says:

      I meant to leave a link to Dr. Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive People site for your readers, Joan. Here you go:

    • jzrart says:

      Debra, Thanks for your response to my post. Unless we speak up, It’s taken for granted that we’re just like everyone else.

      I have Dr. Aron’s book but haven’t read it yet. She is mentioned in the book “Quiet,” and I plan on reading her book next.

      Yes, it is all about being comfortable in one’s own skin. Don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure it out.


  3. Clara says:

    Hi, Joan. I’d smile at your comment “most people thought I was a snob, elitist and/or beyond loony” if I hadn’t experienced this myself and known that it’s not at all amusing. I too was very introverted as a child. My parents were convinced that I was anti-social and couldn’t stop comparing me to my “friendlier” cousins. I know now that it was a matter of introversion vs. extroversion, but at the time I simply thought that I was odd.

    It wasn’t until I read Susan Cain’s book several months ago that I saw myself as normal. All that time I assumed that everyone else was the standard and I was the one that had to fit in. Throughout my career, I was in one “extrovert” job after another, and although I learned to play the faux-extrovert role quite convincingly, the effort it took absolutely drained me.

    Patti’s post was a wonderful reminder that whatever label we apply to ourselves and others, the labels are there not to limit us, but to help us recognize, as she said, what we and others need in order to thrive. It made me think that whenever we find ourselves tending to label someone with a set of characteristics based on their political affiliation or their religious beliefs, we can instead think “what can I learn”? “what questions can I ask to expand the definition I’ve ascribed to this label?” And, of course, we can do the same for ourselves.

    P.S. There’s a TED talk that Susan Cain did a while back which you may enjoy. You can search for it on the TED site if you’re interested.

    P.P.S. So sorry that I’ll miss you when you visit this time around. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the next time.

    • jzrart says:

      Clara, Thanks for your great words. I knew we had a lot in common. Labels are a big help to me in that I begin to learn to accept myself as NOT broken and just me. And begin to think about actions I can take to keep myself from finding myself in “Overwhelm Land,” once again.

      I’m sorry I’ll miss you, too, but with Lisa and the grandkids near Asheville, I will be returning. Have a wonderful trip.

  4. jerrywaxler says:

    I wanted to add one more thing to the introvert conversation, based on my observation of the writer’s life. Even though we create as introverts, if we want readers, we need to extend ourselves to the world. I believe that learning the skills of public acceptance, even though they don’t come naturally, present an exciting adult-learning process that can add other dimensions to our lives, and fill in some of the gaps that we missed due to our more natural tendency to stay to ourselves. It sounds like I need to read Susan Cain’s book, to see what she has to say about all of this.


    • jzrart says:

      Jerry, Thanks so much for your input in this conversation. I agree 100% with you. The question for me is how do we go about promoting our work without getting stuck in a dog-eat-dog world. I went through that working with an artist rep years ago when I was trying to get my art work out into the world. I worked with her until I couldn’t stand it any more and found that I had made better and bigger strides on my own.

      I think understanding and taking care of ourselves is step number one. Knowing that I’m an introvert and also highly sensative is a huge help when I put myself out in public. I’m beginning to learn how to handle myself. It also helps to know that I’m not the only one who struggles with being who I am. Just wish I had learned all of this earlier in my life!

      I also believe that Susan Cain, in her book, Qiet, would also agree with you. I’m very much enjoying reading it and am finding it extremely helpful.

      Again, Thanks!


  5. shirleyhs says:

    Joan, this is an excellent post and the conversation it provoked is even more interesting. When I take personality tests with extrovert/introvert measures, I am usually split. I have looked like an extrovert to many people because my jobs (professor, college president, foundation executive) have all involved public roles. But I love my job of being a fulltime writer as much or more than any other. I too have listened to interviews with Susan Cain but haven’t read the book. It sounds like she found a real niche and has helped a lot of people name their reality.

  6. jzrart says:

    Thanks for jumping in on the conversation, Shirley. I can sometimes look like an extrovert to other people, but I can be a great actress if I need to be. The problem is that after one of my “performances,” I need to take two days off to recover. Susan Cain’s book is great and it is helping me for sure.

  7. Brenda Neil says:

    You are surrounded by many of us introverts who people may think we are a snob or elitist. Any gathering larger than 3 people and I fade into the background and just want to leave. I know it may come across to people as very different than who we truly are. A good reminder to not judge a book by its cover.

  8. patti stark says:

    I enjoyed that!

  9. Sharon says:

    It isn’t it amazing how many there are of us? What most intrigues me is how many of us have done very public work – in front of the room but need the quiet space to unwind and recover. When my mind is busy, I can look straight at you and not see you and that is very unnerving to others who think that I am being bizarre and aloof. I have had to learn to have a great sense of humor about my reactions and behaviors and to constantly do self talk to remind me that I am great, just as I am.
    Love you and your postings.

    • jzrart says:

      A great sense of humor and positive self-talk are important keys, along with a good dose of trust in who we believe ourselves to be and the nerve to love ourselves. Love you too!!

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