What I Read: September

quiet

It might surprise you to learn that I am a total introvert. Sure, I have a job that requires me to interact with lots of people on a daily basis, frequently at large events. While I enjoy my work and the people I get to meet, I definitely find the business of talking with people all the time draining rather than energizing. I can fake my way through, but often need to hide in the bathroom in the middle of an event, just so that I can have a few minutes to recharge.

For the most part, I embrace my introversion. I used to wish I was the kind of person who didn’t hesitate to speak up in meetings and I forced myself to go to parties in college or to happy hours with co-workers, because that’s what I felt like I should do, even though these gatherings made me feel like I wanted to jump out of my skin. Eventually, I realized that there were other things I could do to make an impact on work/school projects without being the loudest person in the room. And, I decided that it made me happier to spend my free time grabbing a cup of coffee and having a good conversation with a friend, instead of counting the minutes until I could stop making small talk and slip out the door. If other people think that’s weird, well then, too bad!

Embracing introversion is the premise of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I first started reading the book way back when it came out in 2012, but never finished it before it was due back at the library. But, I picked it up again because I have been feeling my introverted tendencies quite a bit lately. I think it has to do with the fact that between work and life at home with a tiny human, I’m “on” most of the time and moments to recharge are few and far between (yes, even the bathroom at home is not a safe place anymore!).

Cain begins the book with a few stories of the difficulties that her introverted nature posed for her in her former corporate law career. The personal context makes her relatable, but is balanced with a historical discussion of the “extrovert ideal” in Western culture (including stories of notable leaders and creative thinkers, like Ghandi and Dr. Seuss, who were introverts)  and findings from biology, psychology, neuroscience and evolution that illustrate why introversion isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I chuckled at portions of the book that described me to T, such as her discussion of “pseudo-extroverts” (i.e. those that can appear extroverted when needed, for the sake of people/work that they love or other things that they value highly, as long as they are also able to carve out “restorative niches” for themselves). This time around, I was also particularly interested in the section on child development, in which Cain described how parents can relate to and support their children, no matter where they fall on the introversion/extroversion spectrum.

While Cain does spend most of the book talking about why it is perfectly okay to be an introvert, she actually does a good job of advocating for those on both sides of the spectrum. For example, she talks at length about the differences between introverts and extroverts in the workplace, citing examples of the strengths that each personality type can bring to managing teams. Overall, she effectively illustrates that there are positives and negatives to each type of temperament, provides good advice for how introverts can more effectively communicate with their extroverted counterparts in a variety of settings, and how we can choose environments and situations that make the most of our characteristics.

Cain’s book is an interesting read for anyone looking for an exploration of what it actually means to be an introvert and for people like me who just need a little reassurance that it’s okay to be, well, quiet.

Speaking of taking time to recharge, we are doing exactly that this week with a little family vacation in Charleston, SC. B is an awesome travel buddy, and I can’t wait to share some photos when I get back!

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