This quote is from a talk by Susan Cain who is a former corporate lawyer and negotiations consultant—and a self-described introvert. She posits that introverts have much to offer the world but that our society typically places more value on the socially outgoing personality. Cain argues that we design our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions for extroverts, and that bias creates a waste of talent, energy, and happiness. Yet some of the greatest contributions to society have come from introverts—from Chopin’s nocturnes to the invention of the personal computer to Gandhi’s transformative leadership. Her new book, Quiet, is based on intensive research in psychology, neurobiology and prolific interviews. She explains why introverts are capable of great love and great achievement, not in spite of their temperaments—but because of them.
In my opinion, introverts (like me) are often made to feel that there is something intrinsically wrong with preferring quiet contemplation over social interaction. When I was still in the corporate rat race, I remember sitting in a meeting with a room full of extroverts, all talking over one another as they tried to get their points across. I sat quietly listening to the various viewpoints and weighing the merits of each before forming my own opinion. Oddly enough, I like to think before I speak. But that trait was not valued in the company. Quick, loud and insistent ruled the day. After a few minutes, my boss turned to me and said, “Are you here with us, Val?” The implication was that because I hadn’t dived into the verbal barrage like my peers, I was somehow removed from the scene. It’s true that I have a tendency to tune out high-energy people when their actions become too overwhelming. But in that particular meeting, I was very much in the moment, formulating a coherent statement that would benefit the discussion rather than weighing in with an opinion not fully formed.
As a writer, I’m freed from the pressure of expectations that run counter to my more contemplative personality. I am allowed, even encouraged, to remove myself from the chattering masses and release my inner muse. Coupled with reading and research, it’s a bliss that I treasure. But interacting with people , even taking the spotlight to give speeches, readings, and workshops, as well as participating in other marketing efforts are part of the job, too. Although one-third of the people we know are introverts, Cain points out that they can, and often do, engage in activities that require skills outside their comfort zone. As she says, “Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Gandhi—all these people described themselves as quiet and soft-spoken, and even shy. And they all took the spotlight, even though every bone in their bodies was telling them not to.” They did it because they had a cause that was greater than them. I don’t put myself in their company, but I can relate to what they must have felt. The jobs I’ve had over the years (especially teacher, management trainer, and concierge) have required me to push beyond the boundaries of my inward personality to a more outward, socially-focused temperament. The stretch has been good without discounting or diminishing who I am naturally. As Susan Cain has said, “The world needs you ( introverts )and it needs the things you carry.”
If you would like to hear Susan Cain’s 19-minute video on this subject, go to: http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html