I’ve given this a good bit of thought. Late at night, when I can’t sleep, I imagine a potential variation on my life; one in which I commute to work each morning before my kids wake up. I spend 8-10 hours at a desk writing code, and return home around 6pm. I step out of my car, and approach the front door, slowly reaching for the keys in my pocket. I release one of those fatigued sighs that only I can hear, and then unlock the door to my two young kids, excited to see me. The best part of my day.
And yet, I can’t help but mentally punish myself for not sitting on the floor and immediately playing with them. I genuinely want to. But my body disagrees. It needs - not wants - to walk to my room, close the door, and decompress in the dark. As if the darkness can somehow flip the switch on the stresses and exhaustion of the day. My wife of course recognizes the signs, smiles, and says, “Go - take fifteen minutes.”
I take ten before the guilt gets the best of me, and then change into more comfortable clothing before coming out and spending the rest of the evening with my family. I get two hours with my children, before it’s time for us to head upstairs and begin our nightly bedtime routine.
What I’ve described above - particularly for men - is wildly common. The norm. And it’s a good, privileged life. But I can’t do it. Let’s talk more.
What's Your Personality?
As eighteen-year-olds in school, our teachers - preparing us for the hurdles of university, as if it was the non-negotiable next step, rather than one of many - spoke often about ability. What are you naturally good at? Let’s check your test scores. Do you like science? What about printers? Maybe you should do something with printers, Jeffrey?
But they often skipped over personality. Surely the most important piece, no?
It doesn’t matter how skilled you are at selling vacuum cleaners, if the thought of walking door-to-door making small talk sounds like death.
Personality is the puzzle piece smack dab in the middle that, if lost, means instant game over. Sorry, chap: a 500 piece puzzle, 499 pieces completed, means you lost.
Why didn’t they ever think to ask,“What sort of career do you have the personality for, Jeffrey?” I might have answered differently, given that question. Or, who knows, perhaps there’s no need. Maybe we’re subconsciously answering this question in every action we take. There’s no need to make it explicit. All I know is that, in 2003, it wasn’t immediately obvious to me that, for example, extroverts and introverts gather energy in different ways. Not just different: opposite ways. This is no small thing, folks. It influences every decision we make, and should absolutely take center stage in the discussion of what you’re going to do with your life.
These two terms are well understood in 2023, thanks to social media and websites like Youtube. But, to be sure that we’re on the same page, perhaps a quick refresher.
Introversion and extroversion refer to personality traits that guide how we behave in social settings, including which ones we choose to participate in.
Like any personality, these of course aren’t hard rules. It’s a spectrum, and you, reader, exist somewhere on it. Let’s figure out where.
- Extroverts gather energy through interaction with others. This is crucial; it determines everything they do. The extrovert organizes group activities, tells you about the party down the street, and enjoys meeting new people. If unable to attend a particular event, they feel incredible FOMO. Upon finishing a tiring day of work, they recover by, say, going out for drinks with friends.
- Introverts are naturally the opposite. The only way they gather energy is through typically solitary activities. But this could also include being with a small number of close, long-term pals. Introvert doesn’t mean anti-social. This might help. Imagine a video game, like Legend of Zelda. When the main character, Link, enters a room that is, say, too hot, his energy hearts will begin to deplete; one heart every two seconds or so. If you stay in that room too long, it’s game over. It’s not so different for the real-life introvert. Large social gatherings slowly drain their "hearts." When they finish a hard day of work, they often recover by…going home and shutting the door.
To reiterate, we’re talking about a spectrum here. Extrovert doesn’t instantly refer to the all-eyes-on-me star of the show who can’t help but exist in a group of twenty equally-loud friends. And introvert doesn’t immediately suggest the quiet, introspective person who is impossible to talk to. We all exist somewhere between these two poles.
Take the Test
If you’re undecided where you fit, here’s an easy test. Imagine that, tonight, you’re scheduled to go to a dinner party down the street. You’re reasonably friendly with many of these people. Two hours prior, you get the call: the dinner has been canceled.
Okay, here’s the test. Are you relieved?
Answer that question honestly, and you’ll know.
It's Not Your Fault
Let’s return to the start of this article. Why would a traditional - by any measure, fortunate - middle class work schedule be a deal-breaker? And not just a deal-breaker, but one so significant that it leads to late night insomnia-fueled worries?
The answer is, it seems, personality. That lifestyle doesn't fit my - and potentially your - personality. That's it. That's the answer. Some can manage a long ten-hour work day, sneak in a quick drink with friends after work, and still come home ready to rock and roll. But I genuinely find it exhausting. It's not the work, itself. It's everything surrounding the work that empties the tank.
In the past, I’ve spent years beating myself up with the same mental assault, “Why are you like this?” Why does it feel like work to attend a party? Get out of your head and have fun!
In recent years, however, I’ve made peace with it. Growing older means slowly accepting the things you cannot change. It’s not my fault that my hearts drain in settings where yours multiply. It’s not my fault that quiet, a peppermint tea, a book, a rainstorm outside, are immediately preferable to a big social gathering…just about every time.
"Don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured... Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you're supposed to." - Susan Cain
And it’s also not my fault that I’m disproportionately exhausted by the end of a typical, common work day. I can’t be present for my children when my life bar is drained to one heart each evening.
Optimize for Kids
As parents, we often wrestle with the necessity to financially provide for our children, and the desire to be present and responsive to them. Every parent has found himself or herself in the uncomfortable position of stressing over the responsibilities and stresses of the day, while their young child innocently pulls on their shirt asking if they can play now. “Now can you play with me?”
Oof. Instant guilt. “Yes, of course.”
Nothing in this world marks the passage of time quite so clearly as watching your young children grow up. One moment, you’re filming their first steps, and then you snap your fingers a couple times, and they’re in second grade. Six years older. Felt like a flash. It’s a weird sensation to love your kids, while missing younger versions of them at the same time. Two hours with your children at the end of the day before bed…is unacceptable.
For this reason, more than a decade ago, I made the decision to optimize my life around remote work. I've paid certain penalties for that decision, but am convinced it was the right choice... for me. On my list of job requirements, I placed it right at the top of the page in a big, bold, 40px font. I will work hard, but not at the expense of missing lunch with my children. And if my brain is fried at the end of each work day, something's gotta give.
By natural extension, Laracasts, the business, is also fully remote - again, with the pros and cons that result from such a decision. I won’t make a request of any team member that I wouldn’t be comfortable with myself. So, with that in mind, we generally adopt the following guidelines at Laracasts:
- Flexibility: Choose your own hours. Optimize work around your life, not the opposite.
- Asynchronous: A message on Telegram does not demand an instant reply.
- Honesty: If you’re having an off-day, don’t waste time staring at the computer being unproductive. Take a day to yourself.
- Steady: We’re not building rocket ships. No project is so urgent that hyper-strict, two-week schedules need to be implemented. Sure, your company may be more productive that way, but, sheesh, there’s more to life than productivity. I’ll choose relaxed and steady over potential burnout every time.
- Just Say No: No meetings, one-on-ones, or mandatory calls. It’s not that these aren’t sometimes useful, but they are incredibly time-consuming and potentially stressful. If you have a personality trait that indirectly leads to you to mentally scheduling your day around a 30-minute one-on-one call, that’s not a good use of your time. Often, email and/or text chat is perfectly sufficient.
- Realistic: 5-6 hours of true work each day is more than enough for most businesses. As a boss, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re getting much more than that out of your team.
- Recharge: Batteries eventually drain. Everyone gets six weeks off each year, minimum. After three years, you choose your time off. If you need eight weeks, fine. If you treat others with enough respect to design their schedules, they almost never abuse it.
These guidelines of course aren’t written on any billboard at Laracasts HQ (or whatever the digital version of HQ is). But they’re well understood. Reviewing each item, it may seem obvious, given the context, but it didn’t initially occur to me that I was designing an introvert-friendly business model. That was not my mission. I gave it no thought at all until...just now.
Want proof? When I sat down to write this very blog post, “An Introvert-Friendly Business Model” was not the topic. I wanted to write about, no joke, hats. Figurative hats, but still… hats. But as things sometimes do, it morphed into what you see here. Maybe next time.
So, who cares? Why write about this at all? Because it’s such a rarity! An extrovert-by-default way of running a business is the defacto standard. It’s so typical and expected that you don’t even think to question it.
- “Oh, my day is full of meetings? Yay..."
- “A week-long mandatory team building retreat, away from my family? Neat…”
Traditional companies often indirectly pay dividends to the person who can instantly jive with the boss and form a rhythm. During a meeting, if he or she speaks up first, they should be listened to. Look how assertive they are! But there’s no correlation between being the first to speak up in a crowded meeting and having the best idea. Not one bit.
Interestingly, this fact is magnified when you switch to remote work. The polarity for the dividend is suddenly reversed. If a complicated business question is posed during a group chat, the person who instantly replies (and speaks up) signals that they barely gave the question a moment of thought before responding. Sorry, you don’t get a reward for being first.
The 9-5 Root
Reaching as far back as industrialization in the 19th century, most businesses have adopted a typical Monday-Friday, 9-5 work schedule. It's so common and expected in western societies that even freelancers, who aren't restricted by any such work constraints, still find themselves instinctively adhering to it.
It sometimes makes me wonder if many of our modern-day work and family-related problems are rooted in this one decision?
Eight hours per day at the office is a long time; sadly, more time than you will spend with your family most days.
With that in mind, is it any wonder why companies often work hard to make the workplace feel like a family? We need team-building events, parties, birthday cakes, and ping-pong tables in the break room!
It reminds me of "It" in the sewer drain, holding his red balloon. "Come on, Georgie! Spend more time at work than with your family. We have ping-pong."
I don't know, folks. My vote is we skip the ping-pong table, and all go home after 5-6 hours, instead of 8-10. Sure, with that schedule, there won't be much time for meetings and team-building events, but...we'll survive.
What if you worked from 8am - 1pm, and were home in time to have lunch with your kids every day? Why don't we normalize that in society?
I once read that 3-5pm are the most dangerous hours for kids between the ages of 12-17. It's when they're most likely to get into trouble. Think about it: if both parents work, those are the hours when they're home alone, unsupervised. Two hours is all it takes to forever change the trajectory of their lives, if they make the wrong decision. Let's be home.
In conclusion, yes, folks, I just brazenly drew a straight line from introversion, to business, to solving the problems of the family. With that, I will take my bow and run out the back door to avoid the tomatoes. 🍅