Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Ever since I saw Susan Cain’s TED talk, I knew I had to read this book.
I’ve always been quiet. I was the kid who was terrified to speak to my parent’s friends and who had small groups of friends instead of a huge crew. I hated having partner work in all my high school language classes. I would have much preferred puzzling things out on my own, though I do realize that would have probably hurt my language speaking skills. I chose a big college in America’s second largest city, not only because of its academic reputation, but because I knew that I would be able to get lost in the mass of students. I know that sounds sad, but I never viewed it that way. I just knew that I would be perpetually uncomfortable at one of those small liberal arts schools where everyone knows your name.
A lot of this seemed to disappear when I went to college, and almost immediately had a super tight crew of friends. I got to like just hanging out and shooting the shit, but still very much preferred huge lecture classes to small seminars where I would have to speak up. I studied abroad, further coming out of my shell, but also indulging my love for exploring new places alone. I finished out college feeling more confident than ever before.
And then when I started my first career job as a study abroad counselor, I was at the front desk. I had no private space, as it was always being shared with visiting students, student workers or co-workers. My job was based on my being able to talk to students and make them feel comfortable and confident in their decisions. I did pretty well at this, but I was so exhausted by all the interaction that I insisted on having a private lunch every day. I would hide somewhere that my co-workers wouldn’t think to look for me and read a book for an hour. That hour saved my sanity.
I think a lot of people don’t understand what being an introvert means. When I’ve said I consider myself to be very much an introvert, I’ve had close friends, boyfriends and family members be confused. “But you hang out with your friends a lot!” “But you get energized in a buzzing city!” “You are good at giving presentations!”
Yes, yes and yes…but it doesn’t matter.
Susan Cain’s book does a fantastic job at laying out exactly what an introvert is. In her words:
“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”
I may go out to parties or bars regularly, but I really need time on my own afterwards to relax. The same goes for working with groups on group projects. I’m never more exhausted than I am after a work of group work. It’s like my entire brain is done. And yes, small talk is horrible, but deep stuff is interesting (though is it really just introverts who feel this way?).
One section of the book that I found incredibly interesting was about how introverts deal with conflict. I don’t do conflict. I shut down, which, as former boyfriends can attest, is not a great adult relationship trait. I have tried to work on this, because I realize how toxic it can be, but when someone’s upset with me my whole brain goes fuzzy. Eye contact becomes nearly impossible. I don’t know what to say, so I often say things in a removed way, which infuriates the other person even more because it seems as though I don’t care, or that I’m giving the silent treatment. Neither is true. I just can’t deal. According to Cain, this is an introvert trait. That doesn’t mean I can just let it go, because I really do want to get better at dealing with conflict, but at least I don’t feel so broken anymore.
Also, I didn’t realize how many coping tactics I had come up with on my own before reading this book. When I moved into the dorms during my first year of college, I told myself to act outgoing just for a week. Yes, all I wanted to do was hide in my room, but I knew that acting as an extrovert would be better for making friends, which I did want to do. And it worked! I was amazed! Apparently I tricked all those kids good, since many of them are still my friends today. Sorry, guys.
I also figured out some coping tactics for the work and school world. In a small class or work meeting, I require myself to speak up a certain amount of time. Depending on the situation, that can be 2 to 5 times. Once I’m done with those statements, I can stop talking if I want to. I wish I only had to speak up when I had something really profound to say, but as students/workers who speak up more are seen as better or smarter in our society, I know that I have to do this to stay on top.
In class or work presentations, I always dress up a bit more than I need to. Not only does this make me look smokin’ (yeah right), it helps me get my courage up as I feel like another person. It sounds silly, but it’s the only reason that I give a pretty good class presentation today. I never really thought of those things as coping tactics, but Cain points to both of them as things introverts do to not fall apart in an extrovert society. Well done, me.
Wow. So, as you can see from the length of the review, I found the book pretty darn interesting. The great strength, but also weakness, of the book is how good it makes us introverts feel. We’re not crazy just because we don’t want to hang out all the time. I’m not a horrible person for hating group projects with all my being or hiding from my co-workers at lunch! I do think this is a bit of a weakness though, because the book is so obviously slanted towards introverts, that there are times in which it seems that the arguments could be used to make extroversion seem awesome…and yet they’re being flipped. If I was an extrovert, I would certainly want to yell at the book a few times when extroversion seems to be unnecessarily dissed. But whatevs. I’m an introvert, so I love it.
So maybe now I won’t feel so guilty about crossing the street to get away from acquaintances that I feel too uncomfortable to speak to or actively avoiding eye contact with the person sitting next to me on the plane so I won’t have to chat. Yes, I know I would seem more friendly and bubbly if I enjoyed those things, but I just don’t. Instead, I’ll revel in my one-on-one interactions with friends. I’ll enjoy my alone time, while still pushing myself to get out there.
Last point, Cain states that maybe it’s a good idea for introverts to go to library school. Alllllll over that one, Cain.