Title: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking
Author: Susan Cain – winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012 – nonfiction
First Published: 2012
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars (average rating on Goodreads: 4.02)
Format: Paperback, 271 pages
First line: Montgomery, Alabama. December 1, 1955. Early evening. A public bus pulls to a stop and a sensibly dressed woman in her fourties gets on.
I grew up as an only child and spent a lot of time playing on my own. I didn’t really mind. I had some great friends that I loved to play with and whom I really cared about. But I didn’t mind being alone in my room for hours on end. Sometimes I would actually feel a bit disappointed if I hadn’t been on my own for a while and someone stopped by or called asking me out to play. But I went anyway – it’s what you do. And of course I had fun – just in a different way. Especially if it was just me and another friend. I tended to be uncomfortable and insecure whenever I played with a group of children.
I found this old photo of me as a kid enjoying a moment with my balloons. The picture is taken in my grandparents’ house, which was like a second home to me. I’m so in love with the dress – would love to have it today – in another size obviously.
In a way I still feel the way I did as a child. I need a lot of time on my own to read, blog, think, knit, watch a series or whatever I’m in the mood for. Over the years, I’ve come to understand and value this side of myself. Sometimes it makes me feel weird and I catch myself thinking stuff like “If only I could tell more jokes at dinner parties, if only I were a greater small-talker, more capable at getting my thoughts and opinions through, be more comfortable with a group of strangers …” and other times it feels like I’m in on a secret that no one else know but me. I know it sounds conceited, but there you have it.
Susan Cain’s book not only made me realize that I’m far from alone, she made me understand why I’m like this and see that it’s a good thing being an introvert. Not that it’s a bad thing being an extrovert – it has just as many strengths. But Cain argues that our education and work systems are designed for the extroverts – group work, open office spaces etc. – and that society could gain a lot from being more flexible, allowing introverts to dive in and concentrate on their own and to use their strengths.
This was a revelation to me. In school, at parent-teacher meetings, my parents and I were always told that my written work was good, but I needed to speak up more in class. That was really important. Looking back on my report card, almost every single entry stated that I should speak up more. I agree that you should encourage kids to be more outgoing and aid them in their social development as much as possible. And of course I should be encouraged to speak up in classes. But I think it’s a real shame there was never any focus on the things I could do well. I don’t mean that I wanted more praise, but perhaps encouragement to be even better at what I was good at.
I preferred working on my own. I disliked group work and I hated speaking up in class without having a lot of time to think it through at first – on my own preferably. And I still do. I was that way through primary school, high school, university and at heart I’m still that way in a work-related meetings – unless I’m properly prepared (which of course I always am ;-)). Maybe I could have been much better at what I do well if just one of my teachers had recognized and accepted my introverted nature – instead of trying to make me fit in with the extroverted ideal of the outgoing student constantly speaking her mind. There is a tiny chance that I would be a better employee to day – perhaps a better blogger even if I’d also been encouraged to improve my written proficiencies and work that required concentration. Let me stress again that of course I should be encouraged to speak up more and come out of my shell – my only point is that it’s a shame the focus was only on my “weaknesses” and not my strengths.
Susan Cain explains this issue much better than I:
Our schools should teach children the skills to work with others – cooperative learning can be effective when practiced well and in moderation – but also the time and training they need to deliberately practise on their own. It’s also vital to recognize that many people (…) need extra quiet and privacy in order to do their best work. (page 94)
In spite of all this, I still consider myself a very social person. I love being with my friends, both one-on-ones but also larger parties. I love going to work and chat with my colleagues in our huge open-office space (14 people!), and I love sharing my ideas and work with other people, I love the friction of a discussion at a meeting where ideas are out on the table.
But! There’s a huge ‘but’ here. I need a lot of time on my own; otherwise I get grumpy and anti-social. Sometimes at work – or nearly every day – I put my headphones on and try to make the office disappear for a while. I need time on my own to think a subject through properly. And there are events that are just not for me: as a kid, I liked camp but the last day was always the best day – now I can see that even though I had fun, being social all day with so many kids at one time for several days in a row was a bit too much for my temper. As a teenager, I liked the idea of going to a music festival, but I just couldn’t enjoy all five days. And it’s the same way now. I love hanging out with my friends and going to parties, I just need to make sure I have almost just as many ‘days off’.
And I guess that’s the key – to recognize your own temper and shape your life thereafter. As Susan Cain cleverly puts it:
We often marvel at how introverted, geeky kids “blossom” into secure and happy adults. We liken it to a metamorphosis. However, maybe it’s not the children who change but their environments. As adults, they get to select the careers, spouses, and social circles that suit them. (Page 253)
There was just one thing that bothered me about the book: do you see how Susan Cain uses the word “geeky” in the quotation above? That was just one of many hints that introverted are geeks who can’t dress right, whereas extroverts are often fashionably dressed. That may be, but all her other statements are clearly supported by research – this one isn’t! She just suggests it again and again. As an introverted bookworm obsessed with clothes, shoes, style and fashion, I must object from the bottom of my heart! This is the sort of cliché I would expect from – and did see a lot of in – Fifty Shades of Grey. But not here! Either skip these comments or give us some research! Hrmph!
But this was the only thing that bothered me. At one point, I thought perhaps Susan Cain spoke too much in favour of introverts and had too much focus on the introverted strength as opposed to the extroverted. But then I remembered that the book is about introversion. Even the title says so.
I’m really glad I picked this one up. It taught me a lot. It made me think “Oh, that’s me!”, and “So that’s why I felt like hiding when someone at the dinner party asked what I do for a living and all the attention was on me”. It made me accept myself more and not feel weird about needing to get some time alone. But it also made me aware that it’s sometimes necessary to act extroverted to reach one’s goals – to be a success in what you do, to get that boyfriend, or just to have a great party!
Would you like to know if you’re an extrovert or in introvert? Or maybe something in between? Take the test here. And if you´re interested in knowing more about Susan Cain’s book – without actually reading it – you can watch the TED below where she talks about introverts and extroverts: