It’s ok to be “Quiet” (Book Review)

The extrovert ideal. If you live in the USA, you know what this is. This means speaking up in class, volunteering to be the leader, always being talkative, avoiding “awkward silence,” and generally showing people that you are outgoing. Susan Cain discusses in her book “Quiet” how “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.” These are all viewed as positive character traits, and are overwhelmingly more highly valued in the US over more introverted character traits like taking time to think before speaking, needing time alone to recover from highly social environments, and generally not being as vocal. This does not mean that an introvert can’t be outgoing at times, or that introverts don’t enjoy talking, it just drains more of their energy rather than energizes them as it might for some extroverts.

The author, Susan Cain, also gave a TED talk about this topic if you want the short version. The main idea is that even though a large proportion of people feel that they are introverts, there is still the cultural expectation to hid or minimize that part of yourself. A book that I read earlier last year, “Covering” by Kenji Yoshiro, talks a lot about social expectations and trying to “cover” some aspect of yourself that may be socially less desirable or acceptable in order to fit in or meet expectations. This is another example where people may feel the need to cover, to give off the impression of extroversion, in order to be normal socially.

As an introvert, I can enjoy attention, but that depends on the situation and I often feel embarrassed easily or awkward when responding to others. I can enjoy talking, but usually I don’t feel comfortable doing so unless I feel confident in what I want to say. I really enjoyed reading this book as a confirmation that my personality is not lacking just because I am more on the introverted side of the spectrum. I can be more outgoing, just usually with groups of people where I know at least some or most of the people.

There is also pressure to be more “assertive” to promote yourself and your own work, at least in the science and research world. It seems that this might not really change, but it helps to know that there are ways for introverts to handle it and hopefully maintain a balance of comfort level. In some cases, Cain describes how successful academics have “carved out restorative niches” for recovering after giving a big talk or going to a big conference.

Interestingly, many chapters of this book focus on advice that would be relevant to teachers and parents who are unsure of how to encourage and support a young introvert. The author talks about situations like what happens when an extroverted parent has an introverted child, and how can teachers create introvert-friendly environments in their classrooms and to buck the trend to idolize and reward extroverts.

This book has helped me greatly with coming to terms with a personal matter, a breakup that happened a few years ago. He realized he did not love me for who I was and was wishing me to be something that I am not: more extroverted. He could not understand why I didn’t feel the need to talk all the time when alone together, was disappointed by my lack of outgoingness at medium-ish size parties of people whom I knew none, and didn’t really get that I needed time to unwind and, more importantly, recover after a day at work. I may have also become more reclusive as the weather was getting colder (perhaps SAD related?), but for whatever reasons, it did not work out and I did not figure out until reading this book that it wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough in some way, but just that we were incompatible on this introvert-extrovert spectrum. It is ok and perfectly acceptable to be my introverted self, and someone will love me for it. In the end, no amount of trying to be more extroverted would have helped that relationship, and I should not have to.

I think there are some mixed reviews of this book, but I think it is a very well written book that every self-proclaimed introvert should read. Extroverts could use to read it too to better understand the perspective of the other side.


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