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.)
12 thoughts on “Quiet: A Long-Winded Book Review From a Girl Who Can’t Stop Talking (On the Internet)”
Oh man, I really loved this book– lots of lightbulbs for me! I found the sensory thing really enlightening– few things can set me into a tizzy like standing in line or a crowd when it’s loud and people are touching me. I’ve never once considered that I’m feeling OVERWHELMED by it. Or that other people are more or less sensitive to stimuli in general. And I feel like now that I can recognize it, maybe I’ll be able to calm myself down a little easier.
The other thing I really liked was that introverts have certain advantages when negotiating. I had wondered how I could negotiate effectively with someone who is loud and gregarious and pushy. Knowing that keeping a level head and sticking with facts is indeed an advantage has already benefited me at work.
The final thing I really liked was the idea that I could schedule my days/activities in a way that would work best for me. I should know that I can’t go to back to back parties/gatherings. I’d be better off sticking with one or at least spending a quiet hour alone between social functions.
I feel like not only was it very affirming, but it gave me a different way to think about the way my brain works (not that I’d given it much thought anyway!).
Love your comment, Aimee– an even better book review!
I imagine your reaction to the biological/sensory thing struck you in the same way it struck me… I LOVE having a reason for the way I feel. It makes it easier to feel that way. I agree that I can convince myself more easily now that I’m not necessarily over reacting, I’m just reacting in the way my brain was wired to react, which is more than others might.
yes yes yes, that’s it! And last night I talked my book club into reading the book for one of our upcoming meetings– hope they like it!
Chances are exceptionally good that most of your book club members will be able to relate! I’m sure they’ll love it!
Ok- you hacked into my writing files again didn’t you?!?! Clearly I need to read this book. (Is this why you aren’t telling me when I can visit you in Wisconsin-Minnesota-Dakota-states I don’t know? 😉 I’m CERTAIN we would have TONS to discuss and then be happy with time alone to read- ha!)
Yes! READ THIS BOOK! My introversion makes me excellent with computers, hence the hacking skillZ…
Please do come visit me in Wisconsin– you are welcome anytime! Although, given your dislike for cold weather, I’d highly recommend sometime between May and September 🙂
I love hanging out with other introverts. When I vacation with my friend Melissa, we probably spend about half our time chatting and the other half reading together or just doing something like getting pedicures quietly… it’s so nice!
😉 summer it is 😉
Great review! Now I’m off to add this to the TBR pile…
And I would totally read your book about how to parent nerdy children! 🙂
If your pile is anything like mine, the last thing you need is another book… but this one is totally worth it!
I’m pretty sure my mom is the one who needs to write the book on how to parent nerdy children. She’s genius at it and it’s awesome that she uses a lot of the things she learned about it with me for the kids in her classroom– they are crazy lucky to have her as their teacher! I can’t imagine there are many out there that are quite as sensitive to the needs of introverts than her.
I think you inherited the introvert genes from me, as I don’t think of mom as introverted 😉 When you have kids they are going to be extremely lucky to have you as a parent for you are an awesome person. Nerds rule! I love you!
Mom? Introverted?! Goodness no! I’m certain I inherited it from you– perhaps it’s linked to my curly hair or my height 🙂