I like being alone, whether I’m reading, knitting, writing, filming, doing a home yoga practice, or just sitting and thinking. When I socialize, I much prefer one-on-one or small groups. But even then, I need time to myself afterwards. I can be hesitant to try new things. I think before I speak, sometimes too much that I end up sitting there saying nothing because I can’t fully put my words together. When I do speak, I often worry what I said was stupid, could be misinterpreted, or wasn’t what I actually meant to say.
Welcome to my life as an introvert.
Over the weekend I finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I have never felt more understood, by someone else and myself, than I did after reading this. Finally, someone who can explain why I am the way I am!
Quiet is a mix of scientific research, studies, interviews, and anecdotes. Cain starts by describing the Extrovert Ideal, which is basically how extroversion became idolized and what we should strive for. What I found most fascinating about this section of the book was how the education system and classrooms are set up for extroverts. Group work and putting desks in pods have become so common. But why, you might be asking? Because a lot of corporations have similar setups – just think about cubicles. You have your own space, but you’re also extremely close to your neighbors. It’s easy for people to talk to each other and throw ideas around. Since many students will go on to work at companies like these, schools have adapted the same, or a very similar, workspace.
But then you have kids like me. I preferred independent work. I liked listening to my teachers talk, but I very rarely spoke. From elementary school, and even up into my first years of college, I would constantly get, “Madison is an active listener, but I wish she would speak more in class,” on my evaluations. This system did not always work for me, and there were parts of school I really didn’t like. I still remember back in 6th grade, we had to stand in front of the class in small groups and recite the Gettysburg Address. I had never been more terrified in my entire life. My face was bright red the entire time. My palms were sweaty. I can feel the knot in my stomach now just thinking about it.
One of my favorite times of day in elementary school was lunch. Not because we got to eat and take a break from learning, but because while everyone ran to the playground after they ate, my friends and I would stay at our table chatting or playing word association games. That was the only time of day there was few people around me and less stimulation, which for me was the best break of all. Art was my second favorite because I could dive into my work alone and tune everyone else out.
After setting up the Extrovert Ideal, the book continues describing the differences between introverts and extroverts scientifically. Hint, the amygdala has a lot to do with it. The book also goes into ideals in other cultures, interactions between introverts and extroverts in both work and social environments, the orchid hypothesis, roles in leadership, and more. Some parts of the book are a bit dry to be honest, but the information is fascinating. Cain found a nice balance between people’s stories and research to keep things interesting. She includes famous people that did great things because they were introverts, like Rosa Parks and Steve Wozniak, but also students and ordinary, introverted adults.
There is a lot of great information in this book that helped me understand why people are introverted, but also how to cope as an introvert in an extroverted world. Whether or not you fall into that category, I highly recommend reading this book for your own knowledge. Because there is one major thing that I wish everyone had known when I was a kid. Cain says never call a child shy. I was one of those kids. I was constantly called shy, and even earlier this week someone did it again. As an adult I know that shy isn’t a bad thing. But as a kid, not so much. Shy is considered a flaw, and the more I was called it, the more I drew into myself and the shyer I became. Cain offers various suggestions on how to, as a parent, say the right thing, like, “That’s just her style,” or “She just likes to take her time.” You might not be shy, but it’s likely you will come across someone in your life, whether a friend, significant other, or even your own child, who is, and this book will help you understand them and know how to make them feel comfortable in themselves. Isn’t that all we want for each other?