On my way out of the office this afternoon I walked out the door just as a coworker from another department walked past. We said hello, she asked me a question, and I panicked. Panicked! Because it’s a long walk to the parking lot and the thought of small talk all the way after a day full of interpersonal interaction was just too much. Much too much. So I did what any slightly neurotic yet professional adult person would do… I ducked into the bathroom. I didn’t go, but I stood in there for a couple minutes, putting my hat and mittens on, and then left. I walked all the way to may car in sweet, sweet solitude. That was close!
So what exactly is my deal? I think I might know…
For a nerdy girl like me, school (of the elementary, middle, and high school variety and beyond) was tough for many reasons, but none were quite as painful to me as group work. It was always my least favorite thing– I hated having to depend on others, to not be in control, and most of all, interacting. Do you know how hard it is for someone like me to constantly try to say words to other people without being awkward? It’s hard! Real hard.
Turns out, it’s not actually all that uncommon to feel that way. A revelation! And that one piece of information made reading Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” completely worth my while… but there was so much more!
I have to admit, I wasn’t in love with the writing style– too many direct quotations for my taste, but the information was good. Really good. And the way it was organized made a ton of sense. (Ok, now that I’m thinking about it, maybe the problem wasn’t really the use of text from other sources, but rather the length of the passages that were quoted and the quoted text within the quotation and such… sometimes it was hard for me to follow. Perhaps an issue with reading it on the Kindle? Either way, it was a relatively minor thing.)
Cain begins by explaining how extroversion became the ideal in the US, describes the biology behind the personality type, and then discusses how to deal with introversion in the real world, in a culture where it’s not necessarily valued.
As a science-minded individual, I really loved the explanation of the biology. Cain discusses really interesting research on “high reactive” individuals and explains that introversion can be predicted even in infancy by observing reactions to external stimuli. Introverts tend to react more strongly and than extroverts… translate that to adulthood and new people, new places, new situations leave an introvert in need of some major recharge time.
And it turns out:
I hate small talk– I’m terrible at it. But becoming overly familiar and engaged in deep conversation from the get go? That’s something I’m good at. Apparently, that’s an introvert thing. I enjoy social things once I’m there and fully engaged, but dang do I ever freak out in advance… and I really need to take time to wind down after the fact. Apparently, that’s an introvert thing too. And it’s all ok.
The only part of the book I really didn’t like was the amount of detail related to parenting and teaching introverted children. It’s possible that it annoyed me only because I’m well past the point of it being helpful for my own life (watch me end up with devastatingly shy children now that I said that– karma), but I almost felt like it could have been a completely separate book– “Nerds: How to Parent or Teach a Child that Seems Really Weird.” Just think on it, Ms. Cain. We can discuss if you’d like.
One of the things I found particularly interesting was the discussion of pseudo-extroversion and the ability of introverts to build community over the internet. No wonder I’m in love with Facebook (sorry, I know it’s not cool to admit that, but what a great way to keep up without direct interaction– dream come true!) and I’ve been surprisingly open to spilling my guts here… It turns out, a lot of introverted people interact better when they can do it virtually.
Finally, if you read the book carefully, you’ll note Cain’s subtle promotion of Under the Tapestry… on page 263 (emphasis mine):
“We all write our life stories as if we were novelists, McAdams believes, with beginnings, conflicts, turning points, and endings. And the way we characterize our past setbacks profoundly influences how satisfied we are with our current lives. Unhappy people tend to see setbacks as contaminants that ruined an otherwise good thing (‘I was never the same again after my wife left me’), while generative adults see them as blessings in disguise (‘The divorce was the most painful thing that ever happened to me, but I’m so much happier with my new wife’).”
So, Susan, friend, you say that introverts tend to be pretty good at the blessings in disguise thing? Finding the silver lining? Remembering that we can only see the underside of the tapestry from our vantage point? I’d say that’s an advantage to being an introvert– an introvantage, if you will. Cool.
Anyway, if you’re an introvert, you’re going to love this book– because it is thoroughly validating and if you’re like me, you love it when people grab you by the shoulders, look you directly in the eye, and scream “YOU ARE NORMAL (at least in this respect)”… of course, I prefer all of that in a metaphorical way because too much touching makes me cringe, direct eye contact is uncomfortable for me, and when people scream at me it hurts my feelings even if the words being screamed are positive. (Ugh, introverts, right?) Even if you’re not an introvert, reading this book may give you a little more insight into people who seem obnoxiously shy, or even stuck-up, aloof, or distant… perhaps they’re just introverted. (Or stuck-up. You never can tell.)