Normally on the plane I try not to do more than politely, and with a smile, acknowledge my fellow seat mates. I don’t really feel bad about this since most other travelers are business travelers who feel the same way. I don’t even know how this particular conversation got started actually, but there I was in this really interesting conversation about introverts and extroverts and business with the guy sitting next to me – and we hadn’t even left the ground yet. As we came to discover we both identified ourselves as introverts. I told him it was weird, being that I was an introvert, that I would just be randomly talking to him as I was. That is when he told me I should read this book Quiet by Susan Cain, because being an introvert didn’t actually mean you didn’t like talking to people.
This book was on my list anyway, so I bumped it up a few spots. Ever since reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin I’ve been interested in reading more about things that I enjoy… I was already interested in reading these things because, well, duh, I enjoyed them, BUT it has motivated me to better understand my likes and dislikes so I can spend the time I do have more focused on enjoying life.
Susan Cain’s book is not a dense academic textbook full of scientific studies and meta analyses, and it’s not meant to be. It’s an easy to read book that investigates the characteristics of introverts and extroverts, the differences between them, and the common misconceptions of introverts. She does touch on the scientific studies being done in the area of personalities, but she keeps it light and interesting – the cliff notes version. Extroverts are discussed, but this book is really about being an introvert. When you live in a world that focuses strongly on extroverts, it is refreshing to find a place where you can peak in and see that how you feel and interact with the world is not that uncommon.
I learned that I am not actually shy. A lot of introverts are shy, and I assumed that my dislike for large gatherings, or my tendency to get very quiet in large groups was a result of shyness. It was odd because in small groups, or if I’m in a position where I need to contribute or lead – I never feel shy. Don’t get me wrong, public speaking is not my favorite thing, BUT as long as I can be prepared I don’t mind it all that much. It turns out that being shy is different from not enjoying overly stimulating environments, etc.
And this is what my friend on the plane had been trying to explain to me. I never learned my new friend’s name, but I learned about his daughter, Audrey… I learned about the company he ran… I discussed with him how to improve surveys of customer satisfaction… and we discussed difficulties of working with others and getting them to perform at their best. You would think we had talked the whole flight, but we probably only chatted an hour at the most. That conversation was an eye opener for me – it’s not that I mind small talk, it’s okay, but what I really love is discussing things further. I like talking about the weather, but I really LOVE talking about the different aspects of the weather and what it might do next and how that will impact the rest of our environment.
This book also helped me to better understand my work style, and why I often feel the need to work at home – isolated from my coworkers. In the past I would have described myself as a slow worker who was easily distracted. I am definitely easily distracted, but I realized the problem isn’t that I’m a slow worker – it’s that I need time to get started, focus and delve in. I function the best, and am most productive when I can cut out blocks of time for whatever project I’m working on. I have learned to be better at blocking myself out from distractions so that I cannot only get my work done, but ENJOY it.
So here’s my advice to you: if you are an introvert – read this book; if you are a manager or a parent of an introverted child and you, yourself are an extrovert – read this book. If you’re an extrovert and not at all interested in learning about introverts (which is completely understandable), then this book is not for you (you should find a book on extroverts).
I will close with this quote from the book. It’s something the introvert (often stuck inside their own brain thinking) can relate to, and something for the extrovert to be mindful of the next time they see one of us odd ducks in action:
… 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.