Have you ever thought: Who am I? What the hell am I doing? And how did I get here of all places? Probably at some point in your life, if not on a daily basis, you’ve asked yourself these questions. And if you’ve ever turned to the bookshelves for your answers, the new podcast Self? Help! is for you. For Season One, I asked best-selling authors the story behind the book that helped them navigate a pivotal moment in their life.
When Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking,” worked as a Wall Street lawyer, she lived across the street from a bookstore. It was here where she found a book that would change her career path.
“In life you have a few moments that are your gigantic epiphany moments,” Cain says. “And this was one of mine.”
After clocking in long hours at the law firm, she’d arrive home exhausted but still found the energy to walk across the street and browse the bookshelves. She’d been an English major. She’d always loved literature and the solitary habit of reading. And she’d even taken creative writing courses as an undergraduate. But she pursued law as a practical career path, and while she enjoyed her colleagues, at work she often oscillated between feeling like an expat or an exile in a foreign country.
“The expat days were my great days where I was like, oh my gosh look at this: I’m speaking this foreign language and and look at this beautiful other country in which I find myself," Cain said. "Then the exile days were like: What am I doing here? And how can I go home?”
She’d observe people at work who truly did feel at home in law and marveled at their exuberance. “There were Friday wine and cheeses, and I could see that some people were truly lit up by working on whatever transaction was currently on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and I really didn't care about that. It didn't light me up, and that's a hard feeling.”
It was after one of her days in exile that she picked up “Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type.”
“I had never heard of personality typing or Myers-Briggs or anything like that before," she said. "I found this book and I remember bringing it to my office the next day and just devouring it.”
Susan discovered she was an INFP, which is the personality type known as “The Mediator.” The letters stand for the four attributes associated with this type: Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling and Perceiving.
“I actually found it to be a gigantic relief,” Cain said. “Even though I was now confronted with this problem of maybe not being in the right place, it was still a relief because it explained all the moments that were so difficult for me in my legal life. I now felt I had more permission and freedom to be who I really was. For me, the difficulty was not so much in knowing who I really was. For me the difficulty was in feeling good about who I really was.”
The moment of change didn’t happen right away for Cain. “I read this book and had this realization, and it was kind of swirling around in my mind for some years," she said. "It wasn't like I immediately took action or anything. It was this all-consuming world, and I wanted to make partner. But then came a day when one of the partners in the firm knocked down my office door and he came in and he sat down and he said, we're not putting you up for partner. I sort of embarrassingly burst into tears right in front of him.”
To hear what Susan did next to transform her career, listen to the first episode of Self? Help!
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