Quiet by Susan CainFull Title: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Author: Susan CainTED Author
Publisher: Random House (2012)
Number of Pages: 333
How long it took me to read: 2 weeks
Where I got this book: borrowed from the library after a long wait
ISBN: 978-0-307-35214-9

Like a Moth to a Flame

As a highly-functioning shy person, increasingly able to socialize but proud of my introversion, I perked up when I watched Susan Cain’s TED talk about the power of introverts. Her main point: we need both introverts and extroverts in the world, but we (meaning American society) tend to celebrate the latter while looking with suspicion or pity upon the former. This led me to Cain’s book, which explores introverted people and their place in the world. So basically, my people. When I was small, my mom resented others labeling me as “shy”. She’d bark at them, “She’s just not outgoing!” I was actually quite shy but she was, in her way, standing up for my introversion, which often comes with shyness, though it can exist on its own. I think I would have grown up with a lot of self-hate if she hadn’t made the case for “my style” when I was criticized by my teachers for not speaking up in class or pitied by peers for being so quiet. While I could have done without the anxiety that comes along with being shy, I was, and still am happy to be a somewhat sociable introvert. That’s why it always hurt so much when people would say, “She’s so quiet,” as if I had a horrible disease. It made me feel bad about myself, though I realize now that there was no need to be ashamed and that the opinions of others were not my problem. What’s wrong with being quiet? Why can’t I stay home and read instead of going to a bar if that’s what makes me happy? Is there really anything bad about preferring to listen rather than to talk? This book looks like a well-researched defense of my personality type and I’m eager to see what fellow introvert Cain has to say.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “Depending on which study you consult, one third to one half of Americans are introverts—in other words, one out of every two or three people you know.” (pp.3-4)

4. “Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.” (p.4)

3. “…today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts—which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are.” (p.3)

2. “It can be hard for extroverts to understand how badly introverts need to recharge at the end of a busy day. We all empathize with a sleep-deprived mate who comes home from work too tired to talk, but it’s harder to grasp that social overstimulation can be just as exhausting.” (p.228)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to. Stay home on New Year’s Eve if that’s what makes you happy. Skip the committee meeting. Cross the street to avoid making aimless chitchat with random acquaintances. Read. Cook. Run. Write a story. Make a deal with yourself that you’ll attend a set number of social events in exchange for not feeling guilty when you beg off.” (p.265)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: exigencies (noun)

Definition (Source: Dictionary.com): 1) exigent state or character, urgency; 2) usually, exigencies – the need, demand, or requirement intrinsic to a circumstance, condition, etc.: the exigencies of city life; 3) a case or situation that demands prompt action or remedy – emergency: He promised help in any exigency.
Synonyms: crisis, contingency, plight, strait; predicament, fix, pinch
(Source: Etymonline.com): 1580s; from M.Fr. exigence; from Latin exigentia ‘urgency’; from Latin exigentem (nom. exigens); from exigere ‘to demand’, ‘require’, ‘drive out’
As in: “Take the partnership of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.: a formidable orator refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus wouldn’t have had the same effect as a modest woman who’d clearly prefer to keep silent but for the exigencies of the situation.” (p.3)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“I know exactly what Cain is talking about when she writes that we allow for so few personality types today. Sometimes it feels like being an introvert actually offends people. It’s like it’s too much mystery to deal with this reserved person. I definitely felt like that in the corporate world. Everywhere I worked, I was expected to be sociable and outgoing. I was encouraged to ‘put on my game face’ and smile more in the office. It wasn’t enough to fulfill the requirements of my job description; I was expected to be open, friendly, and bubbly. Whenever I challenged expectations like these by staying reserved, I always felt I was looked upon as hostile, which sometimes led me to actually be that way in self-defense. Requests from supervisors to make random social calls on my boss or listen to all-company conference calls in a room with everyone in the office always made me uncomfortable. I could never understand why I was expected to go against my nature for activities that were not a requirement of my job.

“Forcing people into a certain mold doesn’t help to create a healthy team. The only times I ever felt like I couldn’t perform a job to the best of my abilities were when I was preoccupied with worry, self-doubt, and shame over not being the outgoing, sunny ideal so many of my employers prized. I could have focused on my job better if I didn’t have to constantly deal with those feelings.”

“I relate strongly to Cain’s description of the introvert who feels guilty about not accepting an invitation to a party or even about dining alone. When I was first out of college, I fell into a solitary routine for a while. Looking back on that time, I think I just needed some quiet after the craziness of life on campus. I did spend some time with friends but, for the most part, I really liked going to movies by myself, reading, and writing in my journal. Those activities gave me a peaceful feeling that I couldn’t get any other way.

“One day, while eating lunch with a friend, I told her about a special recipe I was trying that night. She asked me ‘who are you having over?’ I felt simultaneously ashamed and defensive that I didn’t want to have anyone over. I was looking forward to eating alone and watching a movie. Now that I’m more comfortable with ‘my style,’ I wish I hadn’t wasted all those years feeling embarrassed about myself.”

“I like the ‘Free Trait Theory’ mentioned in the book. It essentially suggests that you have to sometimes act out of character in order to achieve your core dreams. This is a great way for introverts to function in an extroverted society. Basically, find a compromise between the quiet activities that make you most happy and the more outgoing pursuits that will help you achieve your goals. For example, make that speech that will advance your career, but have a quiet night alone with a book afterwards so you can recharge. I have successfully applied this theory to my own life. I’m not a phone person; I rely heavily on nonverbal cues when I can’t find the right words to say. However, now that I am a freelance writer, I need to make calls all the time, sometimes to people who don’t want to take the time to give me a quote or talk over a project. I have to be persistent, or I won’t be able to make a living. So I make the calls as early in the morning as I can and when I’m done, I give myself a few hours to quietly read and write by myself. I feel more motivated to get those calls over with, because I know I’m going to be able to devote myself fully to something I love to do when I’m finished.”

“Cain talks about her extroverted husband and how he has inspired her to be more sociable, while still staying true to herself. Though my husband is a fellow introvert, he definitely helped me to be more sociable. I could literally forget to leave the house all weekend when I was single. I’d just get wrapped up in all my little projects and forget about the world outside. When I started dating my husband, he encouraged me to get out more, accept party invitations and basically be a part of my community. Sometimes that was very painful for me, because spending so much time alone had not given me many opportunities to practice my social skills. However, I also enjoyed having new experiences in the outside world and, with each event, I increased my confidence. I’ve happily stayed more social, if only slightly, since I’ve been with him. The same thing happened when I had my daughters. In the interest of giving them varied experiences, I became more social myself, and I have enjoyed exploring the world with them. We went to parks, museums, community centers, and lots of playdates. Now that these activities have become comfortable for me, I’m much more likely to start a conversation with another parent at the park. Being involved in co-op pre-school has also given me the opportunity to practice my conversational skills and learn to enjoy swapping parenting stories. However, I always need at least a few hours at the end of the day to myself. For every day of playdates and co-op, I need time to read, write, and reflect on the day. I often feel myself both physically and mentally decompressing from all that social activity. It’s like I’m a slowly deflating balloon; all the pressure from being around others fades away and I can truly relax.”

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