I was a little late to the Susan Cain party, but when I finally arrived, it was like a fairy godmother had flown down, tapped me on the head with her wand, and said, "Now, you will finally understand yourself." Introversion doesn't manifest the same way for everyone, but my fellow introverts likely understand the effort we seem to constantly be expending in order to fit in or get ahead in an extroverted world. After reading Quiet, though, I've realized and come to terms with many things about my introverted personality that I didn't think I would ever understand or make peace with:
1. Our ideal weekend is what some people would call "voluntary house arrest."
When I have too many professional or social obligations and not enough time to recharge and reflect, I begin to fantasize about being totally alone for an extended period of time, not something an extrovert would understand, but as I've finally realized, not something that means I'm crazy, either. When I have to redouble my efforts just to get through a seemingly never-ending list of obligations, I lose sight of the life I want to live. That life is quiet, reflective, and emphasizes things that are nurturing like taking care of myself by regularly exercising, eating well, and reading about things that interest me. So, I fantasize about being left alone in a place where I have everything I need to survive, but no other people to interrupt my reverie.
Before I read Quiet, I would admonish myself for having thoughts like this—how antisocial! It felt like a betrayal, somehow, to wish to be rid of everyone. Now, I give myself a break. I understand that I need to find time to be alone. I was always drawn to spending time in solitude before, but I never actively prioritized it, because it wasn't something that other people would see value in.
These days, I make sure that I have time most mornings to sit with a cup of tea and do nothing but let my thoughts roam freely. To an outsider, that may look dull. But inside my head, there's a very vibrant process going on—there are people, dialogues, philosophies, conflicts, resolutions. After only 10 minutes of this, I feel refreshed. I am much better equipped to take on the challenges of the day ahead.
2. We're not comfortable with public speaking.
I love this quote from Quiet: "When our ancestors lived on the savannah, being watched intently meant only one thing: A wild animal was stalking us. And when we think we're about to be eaten, do we stand tall and hold forth confidently? No. We run. In other words, hundreds of thousands of years of evolution urge us to get the hell off the stage, where we can mistake the gaze of the spectators for the glint in a predator's eye.'
Cold sweat, a rapid heartbeat, and a mouth so dry that I choke on my words. That happens every time I give a presentation. There are some strategies I've learned to make it better—like practicing the presentation word-for-word and even inflection-for-inflection many, many times. That way, I can remember it like I would lyrics to a song, which come much more effortlessly. These days, I can fool people into thinking I'm at ease. I even taught two college courses. But comfortable? Never. Dying to go home and lie down with a lavender-scented eye pillow on my face? Always. So, I've accepted I'll never be someone who loves public speaking. But I have my coping mechanisms, and they get me through it. And that's good enough.
3. The attention to detail that makes us indecisive also makes us invaluable.
People praise boldness, quick decision-making, and unflappability. But these are louder virtues, aren't they? It's the same reason people find Carrie Underwood more awe-inspiring than, say, Charlotte Church. Carrie's brash belting is impressive, but it's also far less subtle. It might even be easier than the seemingly effortless control an opera singer has over her range and dynamics, but few people pay enough attention to hear those variations. A compliment on your superior attention to detail might not boost your confidence as much as one on your ability to charm a crowd, but the devil is in the details. No one will notice them until things start falling apart. And without a detail-oriented person on the team, they inevitably will. Insightful managers and teammates will see and value your ability to see into the crevices of things and solve problems before they get big enough for anyone else to notice.
That being said, it makes introverts less likely to be quick decision makers. I don't feel comfortable making a decision until I have a thorough understanding of the issue at hand. And thoroughness takes time. Even after compiling a fair amount of information, I seldom feel absolutely certain of my decisions. But now that I understand why I struggle to be decisive, I'm focused on finding ways to make myself comfortable with moving forward in uncertainty.
4. We can be silly and outspoken with intimate friends but get quiet in large groups.
Most introverts prefer one-on-one or small-group interactions. And even in small-group interactions, if there are strong personalities present, you might be less talkative than you otherwise would be. It's easy to feel deficient if you exhibit these tendencies. You might think that you're not interesting enough or you're too shy. This is the result of something called The Extrovert Ideal: The omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.
When I’m around my family and close friends, I crack jokes, I dance, I sing—I’m a downright clown. But introduce someone I don't know as well to that group, and my vivacity takes a backseat. For a while I thought of this as a weakness—that I was hiding my true self. But I've realized that my true self simply behaves differently in different situations. The quiet person who mostly listens in large-group settings isn't a mask. She's just as much a part of me as the goofy version is. And that is absolutely fine.