Occasionally I will read a piece and think “these words were written for ME.” I felt that way about Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Backed by research, personal stories, and interviews, Cain argues that modern western culture undervalues and misunderstands introverts. But her book isn’t a rail against western culture so much as it is a rally for introverts. She holds a magnifying glass up to the personality and lifestyle of introverts, offers a compelling description of the gifts introverts have to offer in the home, workplace, and community, and suggests strategies for introverts to employ in order to thrive in a talkative world.
In Cain’s introduction, she writes, “If there is only one insight you take away from this book, I hope it’s a newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself.” I certainly finished the book with a greater understanding and acceptance of myself, and here are a few reasons why:
- Cain normalizes the fear of public speaking. Not only did the feelings of dread that I always experience before giving presentations, making announcements from the pulpit or even introducing other speakers used to make me miserable in and of themselves, they also sparked further feelings of guilt and embarrassment. I would think, “Speaking in front of others is a normal, adult thing to do; feeling this anxious is immature and unreasonable.” By sharing her experiences of not being able to sleep before a big presentation, and of having to practice for hours and hours before feeling comfortable with the content for a talk, Cain helped me to see that failing to relish public performance is not a reflection of my maturity, ability, or mental health (or lack thereof, in each of those categories). It’s just an aspect of my personality type.
- While encouraging me to accept the fact that I prefer being out of the spotlight, Cain also helped me see that I’m capable of being in the spotlight. She writes about Free Trait Theory, the proposition that we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits — introversion, for example — but we can and do act out of character in the service of “core personal projects.” In other words, “introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.” The reminder that I can do things (and can do them well!) that I don’t necessarily want to do is empowering. I may just need extra practice, training and support throughout the process.
- Cain gives introverts permission to fortify themselves to operate in an extroverted world with restorative practices and behaviors in their homes and personal lives. As she suggests to introverts that stepping out of our comfort zone in order to advance “core personal projects” will bring us satisfaction in the long term, she also warns us that it will be challenging and tiring at times. She reminds introverts to be intentional with where and when we choose to stretch ourselves, and advises that we allow ourselves to lean into our introversion in all other circumstances. My favorite example that she offers: “Cross the street to avoid making aimless chitchat with random acquaintances.” This is something that I have done many times, and have always felt a little bit funny about. Cain validated a behavior that helps me, and I really appreciated that.
- Cain highlights the qualities of introverts that make them valuable members of the workforce, political scene and humanitarian realm. While noting that modern culture is enamored with extroverted qualities such as charismatic leadership and outgoing sense of humor, Can reminders her readers that there are other ways to lead and have an impact. She writes of the less glamorous qualities of persistence and reflectiveness that I identify with (much more than charisma and sense of humor!) and emphasizes that introverts can use these qualities to share ideas powerfully, if quietly. She writes, “The trick for introverts is to honor their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.”