I’ve just finished reading Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I’ve been reading it for a month which I know is a long time to be reading one book but it made me think so much I kept having to stop and reflect. It’s so interesting!
I was drawn to the book as I’ve long classified myself as an introvert. I’m someone who needs time alone to re-charge my batteries, who prefers socialising one-on-one or in small groups (rather than big parties), who can feel overwhelmed if there is too much stimulus – too many loud noises, different demands on my attention, or a new or changing environment. I like reading and writing and drawing and thinking. I need time to reflect. I want to really get to know people and am utterly frustrated by (and useless at) small talk. These are all classic introvert traits.
Despite being aware of all this upfront, I still found the book eye-opening. Cain has done so much research and explores the extent to which western society has promoted the ‘extrovert ideal’ and has, over the last century, set itself up in a way that often undervalues the many different strengths that introverts have, making it more difficult for them to thrive. It sets out to redress the balance proving what this group – one third to one half of people – have historically done for society and looking at ways in which we can support rather than undermine them now and with our next generation.
Having read the blurb on the back I thought it was going to be a rather one-sided book and yes, as an introvert, you do read it thinking ‘blimey, we’re awesome, hooray for us!’ but nevertheless, the author makes a case for the necessity for both introverts and extroverts in society. Extroverts bring us boldness, risk-taking, the ability to bring people together, to socialise on a large scale, to inspire, to enthuse and excite. They love being surrounded by others and thrive on the energy of groups. Who hasn’t been drawn to an extrovert’s warmth, charisma and social ease?! I know I have!
But introverts, ah, introverts, they bring so much to the table – quiet courage, fortitude, resolve, creativity, reflective intelligence and an ability to form deep bonds with others, to inspire and guide through connection and understanding. Introverts populate the arts and have been responsible for amazing scientific break-throughs. Who hasn’t been drawn to an introvert’s passion, dedication, or desire to forge a meaningful relationship? I really, really have!
Cain is American and it sounds like the ‘extrovert ideal’ is even stronger there than it is here in the UK, with extroversion as the desirable expectation, introverted qualities often frowned upon and with schools and businesses set up in ways which benefit the former at the expense of the latter. But still, a lot rang true for this country too. Open plan offices? No good for introverts who need time on their own to think, reflect and plan. Lots of group work in schools and an expectation of speaking out in front of the class? Exhausting and overwhelming for introverted kids who function much better on their own or with one or two others, and for many of whom, speaking out is terrifying.
The book looks at ways to bring out the best in introverted children and how to understand ourselves as introverted adults. It shows how understanding yourself can help you deal with all sorts of situations. It explores solutions for possible stumbling blocks in introvert/extrovert relationships and also makes clear that there are various different aspects to personality and that shyness and introversion, though they often go together, do not have to. Oh, and the myth that introverts are ‘antisocial’ is kicked to the curb. Yes, introverts don’t require lots of social interaction the way extroverts do but human connection is another thing entirely. Introverts love to talk meaningfully and really get to know people.
I didn’t identify with all the points Cain makes about introversion (to the extent that I’m honestly wondering if I’m actually an ambivert – yes, really, it’s a thing). I think I’m rather emotionally upfront and feisty and not enough of a ‘delicate orchid’ (yes, that term is really used.. hmmm) to truly fit the bill. I also think I have more need for social contact than the classic introvert Cain describes – one of my groups of friends refers to me as their ‘social secretary’ because I’m so keen to get us all together (I love them, so who can blame me?!) and I’m forever texting and emailing friends, arranging to see people and making time for my besties. There was also a bit in the book about conflict within romantic relationships which was all about introverts avoiding arguments and not really saying what they felt and I was like, ‘difficulty expressing emotion?! Er, haha, no that’s not me at all!’ Let’s just say I burn hot!
But then again, as Cain states, you’re highly unlikely have all the traits of a specific category. We all differ and there’s no need place ourselves in a category and let it define all our actions and expectations forevermore. I think like many things in life, it’s a spectrum and you can have some attributes and not others. Also, we all have to be free to feel and react differently in different situations. Cain discusses the possibility of adopting an ‘extroverted persona’ to get through certain tasks and I can well imagine this persona becoming a familiar part of yourself if well used enough. For me at least, the book is less about ultimate classification and more about gaining a better understanding of ourselves and our fellow human beings.
There’s so much in this book, I’m just skimming the surface here and all I can really do is recommend you read it for yourself. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert there’s lots to learn. If you’ve never understood certain aspects of your personality or your relationships with others it could be massively eye-opening – life changing, even – and it’s very interesting to read as a parent too.
I’ll finish with a quote from the book:
“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk.”
Quiet might just help you find your light… and let yourself shine.