(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog, linked at the bottom of the page. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)
Because she was speaking at a conference I was attending, Susan Cain’s book Quiet went to the top of my list this fall, and, boy I wish I read it earlier. The book’s subtitle is “The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” which serves as an appropriate overview of the content. (You can see her TedTalk here, but, really, read the book!)
Cain offers scientific research, anecdotes, interviews, and personal experience to show how society may value the affable extroverts (think group work, hiring and voting for people who talk the biggest game, and being concerned that your kid is shy), but reserved introverts have so much to offer that we ought to acknowledge what they need to be successful, too: Quiet.
Reading Quiet was an eye-opener for me. I have always preferred staying inside with a book to attending a party. I despise group projects, needing time to myself to process before sharing with others. I recharge in solitude, not in the company of others. Prior to the book, I had accepted this about myself, but I believed these preferences made me “less than” my more sociable peers. Now I see how my introverted nature adds to the work I do and the person I am.
The book also reminded me that we need to parent the children we have, not the ones we were. My son is NOT quiet. On car rides when I would prefer to drive in silence, he demands music. When I have insisted on keeping the radio off, he has more than once told me, “I NEED the music!” I now believe him. Just as I NEED the quiet, he NEEDS the noise. We compromise.
Perhaps one of the more intriguing parts of Cain’s book is when she discusses “Free Trait Theory,” which claims we are born with certain personality traits but can break character when it comes to something about which we feel strongly.
Fundraising for diabetes research requires me to ask people for money, which goes against every grain in my body. First, I hate asking people for anything. Second, I REALLY hate asking for money. I remember one uncomfortable conversation in college when I called and asked my dad if I could borrow money because my side job as a waitress was taking up too much time and I knew I needed to quit. That was the only time I ever asked him for money (of course, it was not the only time he gave it to me). But, making pleas for donations is easy because I feel so passionately about the subject.
I attended Susan Cain’s keynote speech with colleagues from my new job. One of them said, “It’s a good thing they gave you that corner office away from the action since you’re such an introvert!” I told her I love that my office does not get a lot of foot traffic because I AM an introvert. She said she was joking and was shocked because she would have pegged me as an extrovert. I again attribute how I present myself at work to Free Trait Theory – I love what I do and will break character to do it well.
Susan Cain will soon be piloting a “Quiet Revolution” project in schools, and I have expressed interest in having my school considered. I wonder how much potential we could unleash if teachers, students, and parents valued introverts as much as extroverts.