I have the hardest time spending my monthly Audible credit. There are just so many different books, and it takes me forever to get through a single audio book. I am still working on the Eye of the World that I started two months ago, and haven’t even started in on last month’s purchase. This month, after several hours of search and reading reviews and going back and forth, I finally decided on Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I first heard Cain on an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered. I have listened to a little more than the first chapter or so of the book, but I have to say already that it is really great.
I have been a quiet, reserved person my entire life. I think before I talk. I am not overly fond of large groups and loud situations. I have problems with very boisterous people. I am not shy. I am very personable. There are even some people that I like very well. As long as I get them in measured doses that I can deal with.
My quietness has long been a burden and a source of challenges in my life. Like Cain points out in the book, the society I live in has embraced an extrovert ideal, where personality and impression have become more important than character and competence. There are strong misunderstandings that quietness or reserve is somehow equal to or an indicator of laziness or lack of ambition or low aptitude. While there may be lazy, stupid people with a complete lack of drive, this is not inherently the case. Cain wrote that “Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.” I felt this all through school. At work I often feel pressured to be a different type of person than I am.
“If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologize for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell” -that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and some humans are just the same.”
“I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas. It’s so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded. Well, why is that? They’re valuable traits, but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking.”
Listening to Quiet, after a lifetime of trying to live in a world not really made for me, I realize that there is nothing wrong with who I am. The times when I have been the most powerful, when I have had the most influence or made the biggest contribution, are the times when I allowed myself to be myself. It was the times when I could take a measured, quiet approach, when I could look at things from all angles, that I was most successful. Graduate school, where life was hard but I really only had to answer to myself and my committee, was the first time I didn’t feel intense pressures to pretend to be outgoing and talkative. I thrived in an environment where what I had to say and why were valued exponentially higher than how much I had to say. It really was like Cain says in Quiet:
“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers — of persistence, concentration, and insight — to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems. make art, think deeply.”
I have just started listening to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, but already I am expecting great things.