Published: 2012 (Crown Publishers, New York)
Length: 333 pages
Source: Local library
Personal Enjoyment Factor:5/5
"Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them in energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet."
When I finished up a season of volleyball in Eighth Grade, I received an award that simply said "Shy Shelley." Did my coach think I would proudly display this on the fridge? Could she seriously not think of anything else to say? Maybe something actually related to volleyball? I thought I was a pretty good volleyball player. But apparently my personality overshadowed my skills.
Then in tenth grade, I was told by a classmate that he thought I was a foreign exchange student from France because I never spoke (he thought I didn't know any English), and because our history teacher pronounced my last name with a French accent.
In eleventh grade, I became a cheerleader. This was a little shocking to all who knew me. Did this mean I had magically transformed into an outgoing teenager who suddenly cared about popularity? No, I just loved to dance. (I had learned a few moves watching Janet Jackson videos.) I don't remember the exact wording, but I received an award at the end of the year that again focused on being "quiet." A quiet cheerleader. Now that's something to be proud of.
When you're shy/quiet/introverted it's hard to escape the labels. But what's worse is the judgment that often accompanies them: you're somehow inferior to your more outgoing peers, you have an over-inflated sense of self, you're anti-social. And the most damaging of all is the idea that YOU NEED TO BE FIXED.
In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain dispels these myths about introverts, and focuses on the special contributions they make to society. Introverts don't need to be "fixed." Rather, their unique abilities are necessary and should be valued in a society where the traits of extroversion are often idealized. Cain argues her point in a fascinating, utterly readable book that encompasses history, science, psychology, and a bit of self-help. But this "self-help" does not entail changing yourself into something you're not. Accept who you are, making adjustments only when necessary, and compensate by scheduling down-time. Pretending to be outgoing when you're not often has negative results. I love how Cain sums it up in the conclusion:
The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers--of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity--to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply (264).But this is not just a book to make introverts breathe a sigh of relief and feel gratified that someone is recognizing their worth. It's also very instructive for those who don't understand the "quiet" ones at school, at a party, or in the workplace. Introverts thrive in a different environment than their peers. Teachers, managers, parents, and anyone working with people would benefit from recognizing this and allowing all personalities to shine in their own way and at their own pace.
I'll take a lamplit desk over a Broadway spotlight any day. I like small groups and quiet places. It takes me a long time to adjust to changes--don't ask me out to lunch five minutes before noon. I'm thin-skinned (literally! See page 141). I hate being the center of attention (perhaps due to thinking a wild animal is stalking me. See page 107). But I'm also very creative. I study things intensely and thoroughly. I have a strong sense of empathy (although this often keeps me from certain situations because I am afraid of an inappropriate outburst of emotion. It's never good when I'm crying and the person who is hurting isn't.) I'm cautious, and I look before I leap. I have an incredible amount of focus when I'm doing something I enjoy (never mind that I was late picking up two of my kids from school because I was writing this). I overuse parenthetical statements...
I firmly believe in the advice to "seek first to understand, then to be understood." It's an effective way to communicate, and people are so interesting--I want to understand them. But, wow, does it feel good to be understood! I am who I am, and that's okay! Maybe I should dig up that "Shy Shelley" award and place it proudly on my fridge. And maybe learn French...