November 18, 2012

Quiet, please!

If you’re looking for a good book to read, I highly suggest checking out Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  (As an introvert, I ironically can’t find myself able to stop talking about this book.)  Whether or not you’re an introvert I can assure you that you'll find the book riveting, especially since, well, approximately one-third of people are considered introverts. 

In her book, Cain writes:  
The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions--sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments--both physical and emotional--unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss--another person's shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.

When I read this, I got shivers down my spine because in describing introverts in general, Cain happened to be describing me in a nutshell, an INFJ through and through.   In a culture where extroverts are the cool kids, there have always a negative stigma associated with introverts.  Even merely making the admission that you were introvert was analogous to declaring that you were an awkward freak who hates people.  What is groundbreaking about Quiet is that it dispels the myth surrounding the introverted personality type, that introverts actually possess attributes that make them valuable team players in the workplace; thoughtful and caring partners and friends; and focused, creative innovators. 

While introverts prefer one-on-one interaction to socializing in big groups, Cain writes that many introverts can “pretend extroversion” when they need to, something that I find myself doing in certain social and work situations where a more outgoing persona of me is demanded.  While being extroverted is admittedly out of my comfort zone, in order to be successful in different arenas in life "pretending extroversion" is something I have accepted I need to do.  Apparently, though, this is something that is challenging for introverts, Cain says, especially because many have an inherent, almost ethical need to “be themselves” in all situations.  I agree with this assertion, for it was only until I realized that tapping into the sometimes silly, free-spirited side that I exhibit with those who know me well made it feel more genuine to display a more outgoing version of myself when I’m out and about and in a situation where I need to play the cool kid.  Probably one of the best pieces of advice in learning how to open up in groups is these words from my husband: “Just be yourself and they’ll love you.”  While really such basic words of advice, for an introvert this is not always second nature, which is why I continue to consciously refer to it whenever I need to push myself out of my natural comfort zone. 

Quiet discussed not only the distinctions between introverts and extroverts and the varying strengths and weaknesses between both types, but also analyzed studies relating to introversion, in particular, such as common physical traits of introverts and how in Asian cultures introversion is actually prized more than extroversion.  Interestingly, according to one study, men are actually more attracted to introverted women, who statistically are fair-haired and blue-eyed, because they are more sensitive and maternal, which makes them perceptibly better mates for men.   (Hey, what are you gonna do?)  Perhaps more important, though, was the book’s overarching theme in rebuking the notion “of introversion as something that needs to be cured” and that “[the] trick for introverts is to honor their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.” 
Major lesson learned from this book? If you happen to be an introvert, be “in” and proud!