Quiet. It’s a quality I have always felt, a characteristic I have always identified with. This isn’t to say I’m not talkative or don’t enjoy long conversations, because I do. But there is something remarkably rejuvenating about moments of quiet, pockets of time to simply think and feel and be. I say what I need to say when I think it’s relevant. I prefer listening to lectures than engaging in group projects or big class discussions. When given the choice, I will likely choose a night in playing games and watching movies to a crazy night of partying. I pride myself on being a good listener, whether or not I have any valuable advice to give the speaker. If I had a dollar for every time someone has called me an “old soul,” my college tuition would be well on its way to being paid in full by now.
Although I may be quiet, I certainly wouldn’t consider myself to be an incredibly shy person. Public speaking isn’t my favorite activity in the world, yet I’ll do it when necessary without much fanfare or nerves involved. I recognize when it’s important to be vocal and advocate for myself, especially regarding my severe allergy or when a friend isn’t being treated right. I prefer to stick with a small group of really close friends, although I’ve been fortunate enough to not have much difficulty meeting new people. I like loud music and amusement parks and angrily ranting about my day when I need to vent.
So does am I really quiet? Or am I something else?
Susan Cain’s book Quiet answers all of these questions and more. Cain focuses on the introvert-extrovert dichotomy often emphasized in personality tests and how that one aspect of our personality influences how we live our lives. Contrary to popular belief, the introvert-extrovert divide is not about how antisocial or social we are; rather, it’s about how we regain energy, how we view the world, how we approach problem-solving, and what we prioritize on a daily basis. As Cain frequently reminds the reader, about one-third of people are introverts. In other words, we are not alone in appreciating the quiet.
When Cain described introverts in the following way, I nearly gasped out loud:
“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while 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 as if 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.”
That’s it! I wanted to exclaim from my seat in the cafe on my college campus. That’s me! That’s how I am! In one short paragraph Cain was able to sum up how I’ve felt for the entirety of my twenty-one years of existence. This feeling of being understood is a large part of what makes this book so powerful.
The brilliance of Quiet is that it is not a book solely for those who identify as introverts; rather, it’s a book for anyone curious about how these often serious, often quiet, sometimes surprising people live. Chances are that someone you work with, are friends with, are related to, or even love are an introvert. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to better understand how they view the world? In this way, Quiet is not solely directed at those who want to be understood; rather, it is also directed at those who want to better understand.
Cain spends a great deal of time discussing introverts in academic and workplace environments. In this age of “Group-Think,” countless classrooms and workplaces across America are now emphasizing collaboration with others in order to be productive. But Cain challenges this methodology by asserting that group work doesn’t always lead to increased productivity; in fact, constant collaboration with little room for flexibility or privacy may lead to a decrease in individual creativity. Introverts can expel bursts of energy working in groups for short periods of time, but often they will burn out if they are not allowed to recharge by themselves. Unfortunately, the United States today is a culture that prides itself on being extroverted, leaving introverts in quite a dilemma: either pretend to take on extroverted qualities in order to do well in school and at work, or be left to the wayside as a quiet, “antisocial” stranger.
Overall, Cain has done incredible work providing both introverts and extroverts with a guide as to the importance of being “quiet.” As an introvert, I constantly found myself nodding along with her ideas and examples, seeing myself accurately reflected in her words. If more teachers, employers, friends, and family members read Quiet, the world would be a brighter, more productive, less stress-inducing place for introverts everywhere.
What are your thoughts on Quiet? Do you consider yourself to be an introvert or extrovert? Let me know in the comments section below!