Sunday, June 9, 2013

Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Format: Audio
Narrated by: Kathe Mazur
Original Publication Date: 2012
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Psychology, Self-Help
Series: NA

I think it’s first important to note that this book is primarily a series of persuasive arguments about the under valuation of introversion. It is not meant to be an unbiased scientific comparison of introversion and extroversion. Susan Cain has a point to make and she brings to bear all the skills she learned as a lawyer to make a convincing case, supported by some data and some logic and observation, that being an introvert is a perfectly legitimate, natural and even wonderful thing to be. There is nothing wrong with this approach and in fact I think she does a stellar job as will be apparent but I think it is important to note the nature of the book. I think it leans more towards self-help than straight psychology.

But even with the above in mind, I have to say that this book pretty much rocked my world. It was like a big warm hug saying it’s okay to be you. And it wasn’t even a hug that I realized I desperately needed. Her premise is that much of the world, America in particular, holds up as its ideal the gregarious person with thousands of friends holding weekly dinner parties and always on the go. This is how a person needs to be if they are to be a happy, successful, even worthwhile human being. As I read the book, I realized that I had completely absorbed this ideal as my own and since I am not that person, the logical conclusion is that I am not a successful person and that indeed there is something wrong with me. I had definitely internalized this even if I hadn’t consciously recognized it.

The message of Cain’s book is that it is not right or logical for the extrovert to be our ideal and if it is not who you are that it is okay, there is nothing wrong with you. Introverts have much to contribute that is uniquely their own and the world needs all different kinds of people. She also presents neuro-scientific research to explain that being an introvert is at least partially genetic and physiological. In many ways, it is just how you are and you need to embrace it. Work within your strengths. I am sort of bemused as to why these pretty basic premises were so revelatory to me but they were.

Another topic the book covers that really hit home for me was the fact that many of our jobs force us to be extroverts and many of us have learned how to be pseudo-extroverted. This goes against the old maxim of “to thine own self be true”, so is this healthy? She does a good job making the argument that in some cases it is okay to pretend to be an extrovert if it is in the service of something you care and are passionate about. As long as you give yourself the freedom in other parts of your life to be the introvert you are. This was also incredibly freeing for me. My job is pretty far along the extrovert scale while I am pretty far along on the introvert scale. I love my job and care about what I do and work 40-60 hours a week but it is mentally exhausting and it is why on my evenings and weekends I am almost completely solitary and happy as a clam about it. The level of solitude I enjoy has again made me wonder from time to time “What the hell is wrong with me?” But there is nothing wrong with me – this is just what I need to do to be able to give the energy needed to my job.

One final point that she presents that was eye-opening for me was the fact that many introverts tend to be more risk averse – i.e. they operate out of fear more often. Cain points out that while this may seem a negative and perhaps in some cases it is, in many cases a little caution is a very good thing. She covers a number of other topics that were interesting but not as personal for me: how to parent an introverted child in a world that doesn’t always value introverts, what kinds of challenges to mixed couples face?

The audio version was well read and easily kept my attention. Cain’s writing is engaging and personal and her thoughts for the most part are well-organized and flow logically. Not a perfect book but because of the quality food for thought it has given me and that I do think it has helped me better understand myself, my friends and colleagues, I’m giving it a top rating.

So where do you fall on the introvert-extrovert scale? If you are an introvert, do you feel your personality is undervalued?

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