I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking last month, and I had more to say about it than could fit in my end-of-the-month reading recap post. I’m not a huge reader of nonfiction, but this one was un-put-downable (if I can borrow that term from Modern Mrs. Darcy for a minute). I think poor Jeff was forced to listen to probably 2/3rds of it because I kept reading interesting parts aloud to him (“Ooooh, come here and listen to this!!!”).
I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything before that resonated this strongly with me. Reading Cain’s descriptions of introverts—their nature, their thought processes, emotions/reactions in social situations, etc.—was like reading about myself, a line at a time.
I wouldn’t call myself anti-social (and I’ll come back to that in a minute), but I easily find myself overwhelmed in social settings. I often feel drained after spending time in a group setting, and always need to ‘recover’ after social activities by being alone and reading or crocheting. I love spending time with small groups of friends, but I hate being in large groups or parties, and I would almost always rather sit alone on the outskirts of a gathering than jump in and strike up a conversation with someone new. I’m perfectly content to be alone much of the time, and if given a choice between staying home and heading out to do something social, I would choose to stay home 9 times out of 10. And I haven’t exactly felt badly about any of that, but you can’t help but look at others’ social lives—people who seem so energized by and excited about big social settings, and are eager to spend as much time as possible with friends—and wonder if you’re some sort of misanthrope for preferring quiet, solitude, or the company of just a few friends.
This is why Quiet was so riveting. Cain explains that our culture values extroversion. The socially-accepted ‘ideal’ personality is one that is outgoing, talkative, a risk-taker who thrives in groups (whether in a team work setting or a big social group). Somehow, this has become the default personality that we all think of as normal/best, and introverts end up looking and feeling like we’ve got something the matter with us. Many introverts even get pretty good at faking extroversion to get by in an extroverted society (at the expense of some mental/emotional health, it turns out, if you force yourself to keep at it for too long).
The beauty of Quiet, for me, is its acceptance and support of introversion. Rather than calling introverts antisocial for their preference for small groups or solitude, Cain points out that introverts are actually very social in their own way—rather than having superficial friendships with a vast number of acquaintances, introverts tend to have deep and meaningful relationships with a smaller group (extroverts might have more friends, but introverts might have better friendships). Introverts will likely pass up on the chance to make small talk, but will easily dive into deep discussions. They might not share much of themselves or their lives with acquaintances, but will easily pour out their thoughts or feelings in writing or online (hi!). And introverts frequently possess some really fantastic qualities that can be very powerful: they think deeply about problems/solutions, are sensitive and intuitive, can focus and concentrate well, and are thoughtful and often very creative/artistic.
One point I found interesting was the link between introversion and creativity. Introverts certainly don’t have a monopoly on creativity, but as Cain puts it, “introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation.” She says that for introverts, spending time in their own thoughts sparks creativity, which is often why introverts don’t respond well to group/team projects at work or school. Instead of being fueled and energized and motivated by the group, introverts often find that they can’t develop thoughts and ideas the way they can on their own. And with schools and workplaces increasingly moving towards group settings—open office plans, classrooms set up with desks in ‘pods’ or clusters, and group assignments—introverts struggle to do the quality of work in a group that they do on their own. Cain mentions at one point that we’ve all known someone reserved or quiet or ‘geeky’ who seemingly ‘blossomed’ after high school/college into a secure, happy adult—she says this probably isn’t due to them actually changing in any huge, significant way; it’s more likely that they simply found a career or work setting or lifestyle that allowed their introversion to work to their benefit instead of against them.
So if you’re an introvert, how do you function and thrive in an extrovert’s world? Cain’s takeaways are:
- Don’t worry about not being the most gregarious person out there. Focus on the relationships that mean the most to you, and don’t stress about socializing with anyone else.
- As an introvert, you have great insight and sensitivity and persistence—use those to do work you love and make an impact in your sphere.
- If there are things in your life you’ll have to do that are outside of your introverted comfort zone (public speaking, for instance), accept that they will be hard for you, get whatever training will make them easier, and get it done. If you need to adopt an ‘extroverted persona’ to do the things you need to do or are passionate about, make sure to give yourself the time and space and quiet you need to recharge afterwards.
- At some point, you’ll probably care about someone who is your polar opposite in terms of socialization needs. Respect their need for socializing and your own need for solitude. Find a balance between your needs, and learn how to handle conflict with them (unsurprisingly, extroverts and introverts handle conflict veeeeeery differently).
- Spend your free time in a way that restores you, rather than how you feel you’re ‘supposed’ to.
- If you have an introverted child, help them learn how to handle new situations and people, but let them be themselves. Don’t try and force them to be someone they aren’t.
I loved reading Quiet (and snapped it right up when I saw it was on sale for Kindle for $2.99 recently—as of the writing of this post, it is still on sale for that price!). If you’re an introvert, it might help you understand yourself better, learn how to make the most of your personality and qualities, and how to make small changes in your life/home/workplace that will help you feel and function at your best. If you’re an extrovert, it might help you learn how to better communicate with your introverted friends and family and coworkers and understand how they think and operate. I think the author might idealize introversion a bit, and it’s somewhat geared towards introversion in a workplace setting, but all in all, an extremely insightful read.
So, assuming there’s an introvert-extrovert spectrum, where would you say you fall on it? And how have you made it work best for you in your life/relationships/career?