Be Tenacious — I am proud of my creative side and my tenacity. When I began the latest phase of my career as an author, I wouldn’t even call myself a writer. I didn’t think I deserved the title. But that slowly changed, and I slowly appreciated my unique voice as a writer.
As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D. She is an author and one of the top global leadership speakers on introverts. Her latest book is, Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces: How to Unleash Everyone’s Talent and Performance (BK Publishers, June 16, 2020). Her bestselling previous books include The Introverted Leader, Quiet Influence, and The Genius of Opposites. Her books have been translated into 18 languages.
Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
Sure. I have always been a helper and knew I would move into some sort of counseling career from an early age. My parents were all about making a difference. My dad, Alvin Boretz, was a writer for tv and film and addressed many social justice issues. I watched him delve into his projects with passion. My mom, Lucille (who just turned 100!) was a homemaker, volunteer, and had a rare books business. She was very proud of my venturing out into a full-fledged career because the options weren’t as available to women of her generation. I started out as a counselor in the schools and higher ed and moved on to career counseling and coaching. That led me to work in leadership development in organizations and then into writing books and keynote speaking. Now I run virtual programs on how organizations and leaders can harness the untapped power of introverts in their organizations.
I discovered my niche of introverted leadership when working in many companies where introverts were ignored, overlooked, and misunderstood. I met my future husband Bill in my late teens and was perplexed as to why he shut down after being with people. After many attempts to find out “what’s wrong???” when there wasn’t anything wrong, I took the MBTI and discovered we were opposites on the introversion and extroversion scale. I learned about the need for introverts to recharge by being alone and the need for extroverts to get charged up by being with people. It was a big breakthrough in understanding and acceptance of myself and my spouse. Not all days are clear sailing. When I am very chatty, Bill will hold up one of my books and suggest I read it
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
My new book, Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces just came out and I am so proud of this one. The book provides a practical roadmap for organizations to create inclusive cultures that unlock the power of introverts. I am already hearing from readers that they are taking ideas from the book and advocating for changes in how they hire and promote talent, run virtual meetings, and flex their leadership styles. We have a book club guide and organizational book clubs are starting as I write this!
I love watching my books gain momentum, find their audience, and watch what resonates with readers. There was little to no research on this topic when I started writing the book. I surveyed over 240 mostly introverted professionals, interviewed dozens of change agents and experts, and made site visits to organizations in order to discover pockets of introvert inclusion. I share them in the book as well as the steps anyone can take to be an ally for introverts. I can’t wait to hear from more readers about how they are using the book to stimulate change.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance.
Early in my career and as a new mom, I reached out for support to older women I knew and admired. They encouraged me, told me to stop doubting myself and I realized the futility of trying to be a superwoman. They also told me that kids grow up fast and with my focus on work I was missing out on important moments of their lives. I decided to focus on being more present when I was with my daughters and for the period when they were young took a different turn with my career that involved less management responsibility. I kept hearing those women’s voices in my heads whenever I would obsess about work and it brought me back to my family. It was in an early lesson in realizing that asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
When we are young we get many messages about the way our bodies and faces should look when we are young. Those ideas are crazy-making and can take a lifetime to overcome. Even now, I notice many women won’t turn on their cameras on virtual conferences, saying they are having a “bad hair day.”
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
It is not cheesy. For years, I didn’t know how to do that. I have learned that introverts get their strength and sustenance from taking this time and I wanted that! Spending quiet time alone has allowed my creative thoughts to blossom and has helped me to get to know and love myself. I enjoy being alone now and also have realized that I need to balance that with connection to others.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
I am thinking here about all relationships (with friends, family and colleagues, etc. ) I think sometimes we are too lazy to move on and admit that relationship doesn’t serve us anymore. If I am spending a great deal of effort trying to be understood or if my values have diverged too far from another’s then it may be time to take a break from that person.. My mom Lucille always says, “That was another time…” when speaking of someone or an experience that’s time has passed. I try to keep that in mind when moving on from a relationship.
When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
I recently pulled away from two professional groups I was in for many years. It was a tough decision, but I wasn’t getting what I needed anymore, and I wanted to create space for new opportunities. A few members encouraged me to stay but I knew I needed to move on. I gained a lot from those experiences but am really glad I listened to my intuition because I have created open space for another chapter.
So many don’t really know how to be alone or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
It is absolutely essential to be in silence and get to know ourselves not in relation to others. Who am I? What do I enjoy doing? What are my assets and liabilities? What am I curious about? What have I learned on my life’s journey? There is no way to come close to answering these questions without getting quiet. I remember getting lost on a business trip in a rural part of Pennsylvania on a dark rainy night a few years ago. I had no GPS signal to guide me. I finally figured my way out after numerous wrong turns and crying and shouting to the universe, asking for help! When I pulled into the hotel parking lot at midnight I could finally breathe. I experienced such a sense of relief for having made my way out of a tough situation. Small and large struggles have boosted my confidence, but I ironically, I never think of that when in the midst of them!
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
I believe it is impossible to connect with others without first being honest with yourself. When leaders are self-aware, they understand their blind spots and try not to project their own biases on others. I had one sales manager say to me “I would like you to turn all my sales managers into extroverts.” She had very rigid rules about how people should behave and did not believe introverts could sell. I could see that she had little interest in being open to self-reflection or flexing her own views about how to build on people’s strengths.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
Go to therapy, see a coach, connect with communities of people that challenge and support you. Also intentionally add people to your network who are different so you can challenge your implicit bias. Take time for walks in nature, meditate, exercise and eat right. I don’t practice all of these activities all of the time but when I do they lead to insight and empathy. I am trying to do less “shoulding”on myself and accepting that I will never be perfect but am continually making progress.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
Let me share two key ones: Be Tenacious and Look for New Undiscovered Areas
I do love and appreciate these qualities in myself.
1. Be Tenacious -I am proud of my creative side and my tenacity. When I began the latest phase of my career as an author, I wouldn’t even call myself a writer. I didn’t think I deserved the title. But that slowly changed, and I slowly appreciated my unique voice as a writer. This respect for myself and owning my talents came about only after I put in the hard work of writing. I also had to be disciplined and not give up.
So many people say they want to write books. But when I ask what they have written they say nothing. I watched how hard my dad worked on his scripts. He never gave up. So do the work and confidence and a sense of achievement will follow. One caveat is that I would not make achievement the determining factor as to whether you love yourself. It is just that when you accomplish hard tasks, you can learn more deeply about your abilities and appreciate those untapped gifts.
2. Look for new undiscovered areas — I have always had a knack for seeing around corners and like to track societal and workplace trends. When I had the idea to focus on introverted leaders, people thought the idea was strange. How could you be a leader and be introverted? Isn’t that an oxymoron? But I knew many quietly powerful leaders and wanted to learn more about their stories and the strategies they used to not change into extroverts but to build on their quiet strengths. I could not find much written so I knew there was an opportunity to explore this. So I started asking questions and interviewed many of them. I trusted my gut and the more I did, the more I discovered that this was an important topic to pursue. I also believed that many people could benefit from learning about introverted leaders and their advice. So by moving forward with a hunch and I ended up writing The Introverted Leader which has sold very well and is now out in a 2nd edition. So working hard and listening to what people want to learn have both served me well. The most beautiful aspect of writing books for me have been the surprises I get once the book is out there and has a life of its own. Trips to Paraguay, Australia and Vietnam are a just a few of many cool adventures that have emerged from writing my books.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
I listen to podcasts about film (The Business), comedy (Conan O’Brian), tech (Kara Swisher’s Recode/Decode) because I love those topics and they expand my world. I also derive joy from listening to podcasts from members of my family including my daughter Jessie Kahnweiler’s Closening where she interviews older people about their experiences during and before COVID-19 and my son-in-law, Adam Goldberg’s photography podcast called In Focus. I am reading Thict Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step and have enjoyed the simple yet powerful teachings about everyday strategies for meditation. Fiction by women authors like Jennifer Weiner and Liane Moriarty are relaxing to read and also offer opportunities for self-reflection and to connecting to women characters.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
My work over the last decade has centered on empowering introverts and their organizations to unleash their talent. I want to see us shift workplace cultures around the world so that all people are heard and respected for who they are. When we allow introverts to flourish think of the creative solutions that can emerge.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
“Worry never robbed tomorrow of its sorrow.” Leo Buscaglia
Most of what I worry about doesn’t happen. Projecting about future outcomes just removes me from the present. So if I can put aside my worries I open up the opportunity for so much more peace and serenity
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!