When I first heard of Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” I knew it was something I should read. I’ve been labeled quiet and shy as far back as I can remember. Those labels left me feeling far from powerful and capable. People seemed to say the words in a tone that implied quiet as less than, as not as fun, as undesirable. I extended those judgments to myself. As I got older I embraced the term “introvert” because it was less of a judgment call. Extroversion and introversion describe patterns of behavior and how people are energized. Extroverts tend to draw energy from social interaction and solitary quiet moments can drain energy. Introverts draw energy from solitude to be able to go back into social interaction that drains their energy. I like small groups and getting to know people well. But my shyness (fear of what others think of you) makes the social situations anxiety inducing, not just draining.
I’ve been thinking about these things for years, trying to understand how I can “come out of my shell” as people suggest I should. That means being more spontaneous and less cautious, right? But I’m supposed to accept and love who I am which means accepting my quietness. Friends have expressed how they like the mellow and calm atmosphere I bring to a situation. But how can quiet be positive when I feel like I should be ashamed? How can it be good when the actions of others–the loud people, the gregarious people, the spontaneous people, the movers and shakers–seem to be appreciated so much more? Back and forth I would go with my arguments. With my behavior it felt like I took one step forward and two steps back, succeeding in one aspect and then failing in others. What was I doing wrong? I felt lost in this mental and emotional quandary.
This past week I finally got the copy of “Quiet” that I requested from the library. I wanted to borrow it instead of buy it to see if it was worthwhile. Was this just a lot of hype or did Susan Cain really have something to say? The book began very shakily. There were a lot of anecdotes that made me fear Cain was just going to point out things extroverts do that frustrates introverts. Eventually, I got pulled in. There was an eye-opening explanation of how our culture came to embrace extroversion as an ideal and how the positives of introversion were pushed aside. Then there was connecting the strengths of famous introverts like Rosa Parks, Ghandi, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Susan Cain shows the great things introverts bring to a situation, how introverts and extroverts can balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and how we can encourage introverts to be themselves.
How did this impact me personally? It gave me hope. For so long I worked against the positives of my nature. Her description helped me realize that I do not need to always be in the background, silent, helpful, and observant. It also showed me that coming out of my shell should not mean becoming louder. It just means gaining the confidence that I admire in other people. For those who don’t like quietness at all, if they don’t appreciate introverts, that’s their loss. I shouldn’t apologize for the aspects of me they dislike. The book shows how we’ve been underestimated and how I’ve underestimated myself. Now I see the good I can cultivate and the bad I should let go. Instead of focusing on being spontaneous I should focus on being more trusting. Instead of trying to throw away all of my caution, I should voice to others why I’m cautious and the ideas that come with that, to contribute new ways of seeing the situation. Instead of fearing that I’m not saying enough loud enough, I should focus on saying what needs to be said.
I want to be content with solitude and quiet again. I also want to encourage the interpersonal connections I do enjoy. My shyness makes those connections difficult, but it’s worth withstanding difficulty to get to that connection. Worrying about shyness is a distraction. I need to work on the positives instead and let the negatives fall away. No need to work against the grain. I may never be the party girl, but I may become comfortable to host get-togethers with friends. I’m now thinking of career opportunities in this new light. What do I really want to do? I can be a leader and spend time with people, and sometimes I will be by myself to re-energize. I feel like I can connect with who I was as a child before I felt defeated by social rules and judgment, before fear became a constant barrier. I was a child who was shy around new situations and new people, but I did love to connect with people when the environment felt safe. I loved to be able to share a message. I latched onto reading and writing because I could converse without having more dominant people block me out and ignore me. Remembering that I progress into the more confident version of that child instead of punishing her for what she is. Now I can be me.
In terms of a book review, I don’t think it’s perfect book. It takes a while to get into it but it eventually takes off. There are many gems of information. The conclusion really shined for me, though. I wish she included more of what she wrote in the conclusion throughout the whole book, but it is definitely a powerful sum up. “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” is a great read. Now I want to own the book so I can read it again, underline passages, and write notes in the margins. This book is definitely worth a read to love the introvert you are and/or to love the introvert in your life. It’s a call to embrace the balance, to allow yin and yang, the quiet and the bold to help each other shine as we are meant to.
“We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted.” -Susan Cain, “Quiet”