Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain:
The other day, I went into our 7-year-old's room to give it a good cleaning while she was at school. It was a real mess in there: Legos found their way under every step I took, clothes scattered everywhere (some clean, some dirty, all on the floor), broken crayons and chalk, little beads in every corner, papers, books.....you get the picture. And before I started cleaning, I just sat there, among the mess and clutter, and zoned out. Maybe I just didn't know where to begin. Maybe I was trying to talk myself out of the task ahead (reading a good book and having a hot mug of tea sounded much more fun). And perhaps I just sat there because I needed time to process all the stimuli before me...perhaps I was just following my introverted nature. *
I'm sure you're familiar with introverts vs. extroverts. Introverts are (typically) quiet, reserved, pensive, cautious, and happy to dwell in their inner thoughts in solitude (or surround themselves with a handful of close relationships). Extroverts are the opposite: they are (typically) boisterous, talkative, energetic, easy-going and happy to surround themselves with as many people as possible. Which category do you fall into?
Author Susan Cain examines the advantages and disadvantages of being introverted in a extroverted-dominant society, observes the preferences and nature of introverts and presents a great number of studies on introverts. She looks closely at introverts in the workforce, introverts in the school system, introverts in relationships, politics and leadership roles. She brings up issues such as cultural influences, nature/nurture and free will. As a true introvert, I loved every page and found the book both fascinating and enlightening. But how could I not? Cain paints introverts in a very flattering light; I wonder how I would have felt about the book if I was an extrovert? Some of the data might be a little off-putting, for instance: "introverts receive disproportionate numbers of graduate degrees, National Merit Scholarship finalist positions and Phi Beta Kappa keys. They outperform extroverts on the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal test.....They've been shown to excel at something psychologists call 'insightful problem solving'" (pages167-168). Maybe extroverts might take away some pointers for dealing with introverts, but perhaps they might be a little put off by reading 266 pages about introvert awesomeness.
It's true, though....we are an awesome bunch. I particularly enjoyed reading the stories about famous introverts, and some of their challenges and observations: Dr. Suess, Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Warren Buffett, Stephen Wozniak (co-founder of Apple), Albert Einstein, and Rosa Parks to name a few.
I couldn't help but think about myself and DH as I read the book. He is an off-the-chart extrovert. I've always thought that our opposite nature serves us well. He loves to talk, and I'm a good listener. I couldn't help but laugh when I read about introverts and extroverts hunting for homes "with cozy window seats and other nooks and crannies for the introverts, and large, open living-dining spaces for the extroverts" (page 125). DH and I have had that very same conversation when talking about our dream house!
For introverts, it's impossible to read this book and not see yourself in the myriad of case studies and examples the author provides. And it's reassuring to know that, although introverts are the quiet minority, we can make our mark in this world, in our own way, whether it's changing people's views on equal rights, creating theories that will advance technology, or even merely cleaning up a child's bedroom.
*Edited to add: in the book, the author discusses lots of studies that show how introverts react differently to external stimulation vs. extroverts. The differences can even be noticed in babies. I'm not sure if I was reacting to lots of stimulation that day I cleaned my daughter's room. I think I was just being lazy & didn't want to start the job, honestly!