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Author's profile photo Vicki Catterall

Coach’s Corner – An Introvert’s Survival Guide

Bring everything you are. Become everything you want.

This is how SAP invites everyone to join our company and culture. It speaks to who we are as group of people and our collective commitment to diversity. It also signals the route to success — be your true self.

However, this invitation comes with some challenges. One challenge is knowing who you are and what you want. Another challenge, specifically facing introverts, is strategically adopting extroverted behaviours while staying true to who you are.

Author and introvert, Susan Cain, has literally written the book on the latter. Integral to successfully being an introvert in an extroverted environment, such as SAP’s, is to identify and stay true to what Susan calls your core personal projects. These are the things that motivate you, re-energize you, and bring value to your life. These projects form your home base or touchstone. They are the activities you come back to after stints of pseudo-extroverted behaviour, such as making a presentation to a room full of people or participating in a multi-day workshop in another city.

Identifying core personal projects may be particularly challenging for us introverts, because we have become experts at conforming to the environment around us. Within her book, Susan identified 3 key steps to discovering your core personal projects. While re-visiting that section of the book to prepare for this blog, I reflected again on each step:

  1. Remember what you loved to do as a child. What was the underlying impulse for you?

    I wanted to be a marine biologist because I was (and still am) fascinated by sharks. For me, being a marine biologist represented intensely studying a specific topic (sharks) with a small group of like-minded people while being on or near the ocean.

  1. Consider the types of work you gravitate to. What makes this work attractive to you?

    Helping others, learning and participating in small ‘think tanks’ to innovate or move a topic forward are really attractive to me. I love helping others to be more successful, whatever that means to them. Years ago, I spent time as an assistant coach in women’s ice hockey and had dabbled as a head coach. It was the assistant coach position that really resonated with me because I could help the players improve their game and also help the head coach improve their coaching, all without having the additional responsibilities of being the one in charge.

  1. Pay attention to what you envy. You mostly envy those who have what you desire. What is it you desire to do?  

    I envy those who get to experiment with new ideas or things (I love to play!), who get to help others or who get to facilitate the learning or growth of others. As an example, at work I envy those who participate in Design Thinking sessions and am always eager to raise my hand when a session is being planned.

So, if the above describes what my core personal projects look like, how did I end up becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant? Well, I didn’t have Susan’s book at the time. Seriously though, my decision to pursue that career had nothing to do with my core values or who I was. It took yearsfor me to understand that I was in the wrong profession for me, more years to discover what truly resonates for me, and now I intentionally pursue work that allows me to express who I am. For example, I am a certified Coach within SAP, focusing on Career Growth, Performance, and Leadership and this allows me to help others take creative actions to improve their lives.

I invite you to take the time to reflect deeply on each of the above steps to identify your core personal projects. Keep them close. They represent your true self and will enable you to bring everything you are to whatever you are doing.

Are you an introvert working in an extroverted environment? Share your strategies for succeeding and staying true to who you are.

Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner.

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      Author's profile photo Candace Horton
      Candace Horton

      Thank you Vicki for sharing. I love how you have found your way to support the extroverted SAP world while being true to yourself. 

      Author's profile photo Vicki Catterall
      Vicki Catterall
      Blog Post Author

      Thank you, Candace. It's a continuing journey 😉


      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao

      Thank you Vicki Catterall ! That is an excellent reminder for staying true to who we are, and I really like the questions for reflection to help us find these 'core projects.'

      As an ENTJ (for those of you familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality classification) I am a borderline E. I think the term for people like me is "ambivert."

      An important skill that coaches learn is mirroring - some coaches use this technique to give those they are helping an opportunity to see themselves from a different perspective (for example, I might role-play as an aggressive and confrontational person to help my coachee see how uncomfortable it makes others feel when he/she acts this way in meetings). Mirroring is also an effect self-coaching method for self-reflection and self-care.

      Speaking of self-care, you might also be interested in an old blog post I share a while ago: Introverts and Extroverts - Who Cares? 

      Author's profile photo Vicki Catterall
      Vicki Catterall
      Blog Post Author

      Thank you for your support, Jason!

      Mirroring is a great skill and it is interesting for me to notice the difference in my energy levels when I mirror a more extroverted coachee as opposed to a more introverted coachee.


      Author's profile photo Eli Seijas
      Eli Seijas

      Thank you Vicki for the excellent blog. I absolutely love your advice!!

      Author's profile photo Vicki Catterall
      Vicki Catterall
      Blog Post Author

      Thank you, Eli!


      Author's profile photo Margaret Stoner
      Margaret Stoner

      Wow, what a fascinating journey. I'm glad you've found your passion and it really fits you as a very giving colleague. I think we are lucky to work for a team that keeps options open for finding our true selves.

      Thank You for sharing, Vicki. 🙂

      Author's profile photo Vicki Catterall
      Vicki Catterall
      Blog Post Author

      Thank you, Peg.  I completely agree - I am very grateful to be on a team within an organization that supports our individual journeys.


      Author's profile photo Caroleigh Deneen
      Caroleigh Deneen

      I enjoyed your post and couldn't agree more about SAP's commitment to authenticity - it's been echoed by every one of my managers and allowed me to be honest about my shy introverted ways and preferences. I loved Susan's book and can honestly say it changed my life because it made me realize I wasn't broken and gave me the courage to talk about the challenges of being introverted in educational and professional settings. I dreamed of being an architect as a kid, but ended up going to college for teaching. After teaching for a year, it was clear it was terrible fit for me so I had to pivot. Luckily, the psychology background has served me well as I found my way into tech and behavioral design. But I sure wish I had read that book before college and I recommend it frequently. At least I can share it with my daughter, who read it last year and now feels more empowered (instead of broken!) to help her teachers understand her own strengths and preferences.

      Author's profile photo Vicki Catterall
      Vicki Catterall
      Blog Post Author

      Thank you for sharing your story, Caroleigh. I also loved Susan's book for the same reasons. It really helps us introverts to understand ourselves better and how we can thrive authentically in the world. All the best to you and your daughter!

      Author's profile photo Jennifer Coleman
      Jennifer Coleman

      Great reminders, Vicki!  I've been inspired by #2 in particular.  I'm totally an E on the MBTI scales... but this point still applies!   It reminds me of the concept of "flow state".  The things you do when you lose track of time.  I've been getting braver in challenging myself and my coaching clients to really examine this concept to help uncover what they will be the most engaged in and fulfilled by.

      Author's profile photo Vicki Catterall
      Vicki Catterall
      Blog Post Author

      Great point, Jennifer. I absolutely see the connection between what we gravitate to and flow state. Actually, while researching and writing this blog I found myself losing track of time and wanting to keep going despite needing to turn my attention to other tasks... interesting.