I started reading Susan Cain’s novel “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” in the middle of a restaurant where I as eating, of course, alone. A woman sitting at a table just a few feet away said in a not so discreet whisper, “Wow, she must have no friends.” Rather than respond to her rude comment with a sassy retort or glare, I buried my nose deeper into my book.
It starts at a young age in classrooms. We’ve drifted away from a lecture style of individualized learning to a collaborative “group think” environment where desks face one another and teachers encourage group projects over quiet test environments. We’re so used to seeing someone blossom after school that we commonly dub them “late bloomers”, but the idea that introverted children are confined to overwhelming environments all day is discouraging. Everything from a rowdy bus ride to school, to a day long class discussion and a raucous cafeteria is set up for extroverted children only. As a child, I was considered rude for not wanting to talk to relatives I hardly knew on the phone. I liked reading by myself at recess. And when I came home, I watched an entire movie alone before I was able to talk to anyone about my day. Rory Gilmore with her books and headphones was my hero. Now I can finally understand that I wasn’t “rude”, “shy” or “awkward”… I was just very, very overwhelmed.
I always hated being assigned to group projects, mostly because I ended up doing everything while my teammates slacked off. Of course my teachers never believed that I’d in fact done the entire project myself because I’d asked another team member to present the final result to the class. Because they could deliver the information in such a charismatic way with little to no preparation, teachers assumed that they must’ve been more involved than I had. As a culture, we’ve become drawn to the most charismatic leaders, but who’s to say that these charming, gregarious folks have the best ideas? Cain challenges this idea by name-dropping several important names throughout history who were notoriously introverted such as Rosa Parks, Dr. Suess, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Steve Wozniak.
Wozniak’s story of inventing the PC was my favorite: “He describes this period of quiet midnights and solitary sunrises as “the biggest high ever.” His efforts paid off on the night of June 29, 1975, at around 10:00 p.m., when Woz finished building a prototype of his machine. He hit a few keys on his keyboard- and letters appeared on the screen in front of him. It was the sort of breakthrough moment that most of us can only dream of. And he was alone when it happened.”
At the start, working in an office was exciting and in my eyes, a bit glamorous too. As a little girl I envisioned myself as a Lois Lane-type woman wearing a pencil skirt and working on a hectic newsroom floor with papers piled everywhere and heated arguments over layout taking place around me. Clark Kent would’ve just been a bonus. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized just how horribly distracting that this environment would actually be for me. 91% of managers believe that teamwork in the key to success and 70% of the work force is located in open office plans. Walls that would afford privacy and peaceful quiet have been traded for more cost effective cubicles or desks. In fact, workers with the best work performance have more control over their work environments and allow themselves much more privacy for uninterrupted work. It’s been proven that multitasking is less effective, and as group size increases, the performance levels decrease. Not only do humans naturally conform (even to bad ideas) but we’re so scared of looking silly in front of others that we don’t always volunteer our ideas (good or bad).
“Quiet” introduced me to entirely new ideas and small nuances in my life that I might’ve never put together before. For example, introverts feel comfortable listening to music almost 20 decibels quieter and than extrovert. They arrange their lives in such a way that there are very few surprises. They struggle with being observed or judged (especially in instances such as first dates or job interviews). They’ve highly empathic and notice others moods quickly. They hate small talk. They keenly notice every detail of their surroundings, even noticing a light bulb that’s burning a bit too brightly. Introverts tend to feel less easily excited than an extrovert and therefore shy away from exciting, high-risk activities such as gambling. Introverts tend to enjoy people that they meet in friendly contexts and in soothing environments while extroverts prefer those that they compete with and aggressive language. High reactive introverts even sweat more than extroverts.
I’d first seen Cain’s Ted Talk a few months ago, which I shared in the post Introverted and Excluded. I was shocked that this pretty, well-spoken woman struggled with introversion in her life. “Quiet” was even better than I could’ve imagined. Though I’d learned most of the studies in school, I’d never seen so many important ideas compiled together so cohesively to make something truly interesting and more importantly, readable. Her presence and opinions are prevalent on almost every page and the insertion of herself is mostly effective. (However, I could’ve done without her personal dramatic storytelling in the introduction and an entire chapter devoted to culture.) In her otherwise heartfelt and sweet personal Dedication she describes another bookish girl during her summer camp experience as having “thick glasses and a high forehead.” Is she saying that people who enjoy reading tend to be ugly? Nerdy looking? Because she basically described me. Did I go to summer camp with Susan Cain at some point?
I highly recommend this book for everyone. It gives so much necessary information that most introverts are unaware of, but it’s also helpful for extroverts to understand their friends, family members or lovers who are in every way different from them.