The Sunday Salon: All’s Quiet

It has been quiet here, hasn’t it?

Or maybe you haven’t even noticed.

Either way, it’s alright. Autumn is a time for drawing inward, for pulling all your inner resources together, storing energy and warmth for the cold hard days ahead.

I am a quiet person, best suited to being home with my family, my dogs, my books. I’m happy to let a certain few friends enter – in small groups only, please – but also just as happy when they’ve left and I’m on my own once again. Crowds of people with their noise and activity suck the life right out of me – I recharge my batteries when I’m alone and left to own devices.

A few weeks ago, I took a shortened, online version of the MBTI, and was a little surprised to find such a strong preference for introversion (89%). Oh, I’m not surprised I’m introverted – I’ve known that since the first day of kindergarten when I was terrified and overwhelmed by spending three hours in a room with 29 other five-year olds. But I was a little nonplussed by the high degree of preference this test indicated.

Then I started reading Quiet, by Susan Cain. It’s a fascinating study of introversion – how this personality characteristic develops, the way it’s viewed in different societies, and how it can be beneficial in life and in the workplace. It will come as no surprise to most of you that America is a society which values the extrovert – people with the kind of gregarious, up and at ‘em personalities we associate with leaders and winners. Introverts often are made to feel like the last ones picked for the team.

It’s been comforting to recognize myself in Cain’s descriptions. “Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while they wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

You could easily insert my name at the beginning of every one of those sentences.

Cain defines introversion not as shyness (the fear of social disapproval or humiliation) but as a “preference for environments that are not overstimulating.” Which helps me understand why it’s so tiring for me to be in crowded places like airports or concert halls or amusement parks.

But the subtitle of this book – The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – is the key to what I’m finding most interesting.  I’ve internalized the impression that being introverted meant weakness, at least in terms of social and intellectual accomplishment. But Cain’s book debunks that theory. Not only does she talk about some very powerful and accomplished introverts – Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, Marie Curie, and Warren Buffett to name a few- she also highlights numerous ways that the characteristics shared by many introverts can be extremely valuable assets in any setting. How deep thinking, focused attention, and quiet strength can make a huge difference in everything from social justice to rocket science.

Ghandi (another famous introvert!) once said, “In a gentle way you can shake the world.”  I doubt if I’ll be doing any world shaking, but it’s good to know that I don’t have to apologize for being quiet anymore.

The Sunday Salon.com

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12 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: All’s Quiet

  1. What an interesting post, Becca! I have always been considered an extrovert yet Cain’s description hits right home with me, too. I am actually wondering whether I am becoming more of an introvert as I am aging? Crowds have never bothered me and I do like a certain level of activity around me and have always enjoyed working with lots of people. However, I am realizing that this is not so much because I am an extrovert but rather because I instinctively adapt to the environment around me while absorbing and reflecting its energies. As a result I have spent many years expanding into the world but these days I am finding that my senses get much more easily overloaded and too much stimulation overwhelms me to the point where I shy away from people that I perceive as too loud and in your face with their neverending energy. My view is definitely shifting more inwards and I have a strong craving for smaller circles and more quiet and alone time. I may have to check out this book!

    • One of the ways Cain describes the difference between introverts and extroverts is in their different needs for/reaction to stimulation. It sounds like you’re more of an introvert than you’ve thought. I think you would find the book very interesting. She’s getting a lot of buzz here about it.

  2. Very interesting post and I do like the sound of that book. I consider myself an introvert and the ‘horror of small talk but ability to engage in deep discussions’ struck a chord.

  3. It’s funny – I never think of myself as an introvert or extrovert. Granted, I don’t like huge crowds and won’t go to things like Houston’s 4th of July or Mardi Gras, but that has more to do with the practicalities of spending hours in traffic than anything else. I don’t mind my essentially solitary life at all, but I do enjoy meeting and socializing with people I enjoy.

    This next week, for example, I’m driving up to Kansas City to visit family. I’m traveling by myself, and look forward to it. On the other hand, once I leave Kansas City I’m having lunch with some bloggers I’ve never met, in Emporia, meeting up somewhere with another couple I met on the last trip, and am meeting another fellow for a hike through Konza Prairie (he happens to be a cousin of the wife of that couple I just mentioned.)

    So — the introvert gets to travel alone, but the extrovert gets to meet some new people and have some new experiences. Maybe I should take the test. I’ll bet I’d be right in the middle!

    • I’ve always tended to think of myself as more middle of the road, at least in terms of my relationships with people. And that’s one of the things Cain talks about in the book – just because you’re introverted, it doesn’t mean you don’t like people. It’s just that you are more selective and you like them in smaller doses!

      Your trips sound like fun – I’m glad you’re getting out and about these days. I know you had many years when you couldn’t.

  4. I consider myself an introvert masquerading as an extrovert. I do enjoy social events, but I need some quiet time to mentally prepare for such an outing. I enjoy entertaining, but I’m not fond of surprise visits. It’s important to know our preferences and how we recharge our batteries. Trying to go against our natural tendencies, because other people feel we should, is mentally and emotionally draining.

    • In her book, Cain talks about just this sort of thing, how we are often called upon to work outside of our introverted nature. She talks about a theory that this is much easier to do when we are involved in something we are passionate about, and I can attest to that. I enjoyed performed music because it was an area of great interest to me. But attending marketing events for my company – not so much!

  5. Here is to Introverts! Long may we enjoy our solitude and time to just be in a world gone mad! I agree with Roxanne about the importance of self-care and knowing our limits.

  6. My goodness. Every word you wrote here describes me. I’ve embraced my introversion but I have not been able to sort through and understand it in relation to the workplace. Perhaps I should read this book.

    • I highly recommend this book, Melissa. It’s helping me understand a lot more about myself and the kind of work I need to do. It’s also helping me feel kinder toward my personality – sometimes in this extroverted world, I feel as if I’m not quite good enough.

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