What is the last book you read that left you feeling changed? Like you truly learned something tangible from it, and in some way, the book changed your life!?
In my experience, books like that are few and far between, but my answer to that question would be (hands down!) Quiet, by Susan Cain. I’ve been meaning to talk more about this book for ages but it wasn’t until quarantine (and having a lot more time to just… think) that I remembered my idea for a post about this book.
A few months ago, upon Carly’s recommendation, I picked up Quiet. She had recommended this book to me ages ago (this Fall maybe? Before that?) but I kept putting it off. (It sounded boring TBH.) But once I finally started it, I could not put it down. Usually with non-fiction, I will slog through, reading slowly… but that was not the case with this book. I was so drawn in that I found myself nodding and shaking my head for most of the book.
If friends were around and I was always reading they always commented on my body language, curious as to what the heck I was reading and why I was so engrossed. It was that good. I think for me the biggest thing was that reading this book made me feel so incredibly understood – it also made me realize that some of those things that I have always thought are “bad” about my personality aren’t actually all that bad.
The reality is that the world needs both introverts and extroverts to survive. And while Cain writes about what’s happened to make introversion fall out of style, she (an introvert) explains why both personality types are so important. I love what an academic approach she takes to writing the book – there is a lot of history and science involved!
Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking
Quiet by Susan Cain
Quiet by Susan Cain has been on the best seller list for more than 5 years now. The book explores what Cain calls “the extrovert ideal,” where our society values charisma and teamwork. If you prefer working in solitude, or prefer listening over speaking, you may find your efforts underappreciated… especially at work. We’ve moved to what Cain calls a “culture of personality” where being charismatic and magnetic can often be valued over intelligence and even character.
This book is interesting because it explores all of the positive things about introverts, and how much we as a society lose from undervaluing them.
What I Learned About Introverts
About a third of us are introverts!
I had thought it would be less than that, I don’t know! It was reassuring to know that a great deal of us (one in every three people!) are actually introverts.
Introverts need their alone time to be creative.
This is something I relate to deeply. I feel like the one upside of quarantine has been that my creativity has been out in full force. I’ve had more creative ideas than ever and I think a lot of that comes from spending so much time in solitude. (Don’t get me wrong, I am ready for things to get back to normal – this is just something I personally have noticed!) Cain gets more into the actual brain science behind this (I’m not going to even try to summarize it, haha) which was fascinating.
Introverts prefer listening to talking.
This is an obvious one but one thing it triggered for me was thinking about how I have always been so much more comfortable asking other people questions (or even better: sitting back and just listening to the conversation and taking everything in) vs. talking about myself. Sometimes when I spend time with a group of new friends and have to talk about myself a lot, I feel really tired afterward!
Introversion and shyness are NOT the same thing.
This was reassuring. The main thing is that introverts prefer a lower stimulation environment. Quiet… less noise, less action and excitement! Extroverts, by contrast, need that stimulation to feel their best. (I’m witnessing this now during quarantine as some of my really extroverted friends struggle deeply.)
Introverts aren’t always shy or even antisocial.
When it comes We’re just a different kind of social. I love people and I love being social… but I hate large groups or noisier environments! I want to have a glass of wine with one or two friends. If I were with my two best friends at a quiet wine bar or on a date at a fun restaurant I could stay all night. But if they wanted to leave and go to a louder bar or a party with more people, I would try to get out of it and get home to my bed.
Shyness, Cain explains, comes not from introversion, but from a fear of negative social judgment. So you can be introverted and not shy at all. You could also be a shy extrovert. Confusing, right!?
Introverts can fake it.
When people first meet me they never believe that I’m an introvert. I don’t think I’m particularly quiet or shy, I can be loud and even obnoxious (when I want to be), and I love talking to people (especially in small groups). And while I’ll never be fully comfortable in the spotlight, I can manage it well and handle myself. I do a lot of public speaking for my job and also our podcast live shows.
But how I recharge is by being alone or in a quiet, less stimulating environment. And when I am around a large group of people I get overstimulated very quickly… and just feel incredibly drained. I know when I’m faking it. Sometimes when it gets really bad I will have this weird out of body experience where I look down and see myself and it’s like I am acting, or playing a character. A permanent smile stretched across my face, this person who is not actually me but instead, this weird caricature! Does that make any sense??
It’s okay to do this – we all have to do these things to survive and be successful. But what I took away from the book is that it’s good to notice it, and when I feel myself “playing the character” I will give myself time off, stay in, have a night or two or three in to get back to basics and recharge. Recharging doesn’t always mean being alone but it means being in a quiet, less stimulating situation.
But we shouldn’t fake it very too long!
If we (introverts) fake extroverted behaviors for too long it can take a real toll on our health – both mental and physical. I felt this big time last year when we went on tour for our podcast. Between the live shows and the meet and greets afterward I would want to crawl into a dark hole for days afterward. I’d find myself always feeling a little sick and could never pinpoint exactly what was wrong. I was also very grumpy.
I realize now that this was partially caused by pushing myself too far into the extrovert spectrum. It was really interesting to me as I would watch Becca and she would react so differently. After a show she was so energized and inspired and excited and wanted to go out and do things. Meanwhile, I felt cripplingly tired – I wanted my bed and a book and a glass of wine! It’s funny how friends can be so similar but so different, too! I had a lot of guilty feelings about this at the time but the book helped me understand what was going on.
My General Impression of this book!
Honestly, this book is great. I can’t recommend it enough and have been telling everyone I know to go and read it immediately. Cain writes incredibly well and I learned SO MUCH. If you are an introvert, it’s a must-read. (It would also be a great gift for an introvert friend.)
Cain’s criticism is not of extroverts, but rather the extrovert ideal and how it is unwise to value one personality type over another. So I also think it could be worth reading if you’re an extrovert… especially an extrovert who is dating or married to an introvert, works closely with an introvert, has an introverted child, etc! I think it’s just a really helpful book in terms of better understanding human nature and how different personality types work. No personality type is better than another, it just is what it is and it’s good to understand how different people work and what energizes them. After reading this book, I personally feel like I understand my personality better (and can make better choices to support my basic needs!).
I will say that you could probably get away with reading just the introduction and then chapters nine and ten if you want to skip all the history, science, and more cerebral stuff and just get into the actionable advice.
photo by Carter Fish.