The lure of introversion: QUIET by Susan Cain
I’m having a pyjama day today. I’ve had a couple lately. Every now and then the world gets too busy, I get run-down and I jump into bed (I try not to take my laptop – too often). The kids are at child care so I can luxuriate in nothingness. Sleep. Read. Try not to think too much. Recuperate. When I was a teenager I used to need pyjama days a lot. Each year in high school, I’d take one day, and it would turn into a week. I would lie on the couch and watch morning TV, then the soap operas, then vegetate. I’ve always loved my mum for understanding that I needed to do this. As a kid I put a lot of pressure on myself. I didn’t need parental expectations, I had enough of my own. I was a hard worker, a passionate student and wanted to excel. This downtime kept me going. There’s a reason people call them ‘mental health days’. But I wonder, does everyone need them?
I’ve recently read a book that has changed my perspective on the world, and given me real insight into the way I approach things. Susan Cain’s QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (she also does a great session on TED). It’s become my Bible that I want to carry around and refer to all the time. It’s certainly explained a lot of my behaviour for the past 41 years. Cain focuses on introversion not as a form of shyness, but how we respond to external stimulation. Most introverts prefer, and get off on, quiet environments. They prefer one-on-one conversations over group activities, usually D&Ms (deep & meaningfuls), not social chitchat. They enjoy time alone. They like working in spaces where they have their own office (and can shut the door), where they can focus right in, without distractions. All of this is so familiar to me.
But problems can arise because these days there is great pressure to be an extrovert (especially when you’re a writer, an often introverted profession), to be a great public speaker, to work the room at events. While I don’t think Australia is quite at the level of the US (where it’s almost seen as a stigma to be introverted), many grow up thinking that to be successful they need to be a ‘people person’. It makes me laugh thinking back to my first job interviews as a teenager, as I always said this about myself knowing it to be key, but even then I felt like it was a deceit.
As I grew older, I put more pressure on myself to take on roles that involved a public life (information officer, marketing) but in the end it was exhausting. What I really wanted was to be an editor or writer, to work on projects, to be thorough and demanding and immersed. And as a freelancer working from home, I’ve created that space. The digital world has opened that up to me.
When I worked in the public service, offices were being removed, everyone was going open plan, all staff were being trained to be trainers, brainstorming was the ‘in’ thing, the constant noise was deafening, and no-one ever got any work done. Cain systematically goes through many of these ideas (open plan, brainstorming, group activities at school) and argues that often the end result is not the best outcome (either for introverts or extroverts).
There is also a great deal of pressure on parents to have social children who fit in easily and make lots of friends. Even at kinder level, my son is doing talks to the group. Many parents enrol their kids in whirlwinds of extra activities after school like dancing, soccer and music. But what about the child who would rather stay at home and lie on the couch, reading? In the school holidays I used to take a stack of books, wherever I was, and find a comfy corner. We’re going to the beach! Swimming! The sun’s shining outside! It was very hard to drag me out…But I was passionate about words. And I was completely, blissfully, happy exploring those worlds. And still am.
Now, somehow my introverted husband and I have managed to raise two extroverted kids (there’s another story in itself – it really helps at parties when your son know all the kids’ and parent’s names) but the important main point of QUIET is that introverts should be left alone (in many senses), not forced to change, and can even teach others in their own ways. Without introverts, we’d be missing out on many writers, artists, researchers and scientists who step back and look at the world from a different angle.
Social media is an interesting space because it is an easy way for introverts to become extroverts. It’s much easier to approach others, to comment, to be part of the conversation, to self-promote. But it can be too easy too. When I opened my Twitter yesterday I saw a tweet that I don’t remember sending. I thought I had been hacked! Kirsten Krauth read a book by Kirsten Krauth. It had gone out to everyone! It really brings solipsism to a whole new level, doesn’t it? But what had happened was that I had marked my own novel in Goodreads (ie I had ‘read’ it) and Goodreads sent that tweet off via Twitter without me realising. The ludicrous nature of that tweet really brought it home. As Cain points out, there is a point when I need to stop talking. And I’ll be ironic and use my blog to say that.
It’s time to get back down under the doona and start on the pile of novels I’ve got beside the bed.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? ARE YOU AN EXTROVERT OR INTROVERT? DO YOU NEED DOWNTIME? HOW DO YOU MANAGE IT ALL?
Sometimes I think I am in introvert lurking in an extrovert’s body. Thanks for this post, Kirsten – I have heard a lot about this book, but now I have decided I SHOULD read it.
Yeah, the lines can be blurry, can’t they. But what Cain argues beautifully is that for most introverts, if they feel PASSIONATE about something, they can do the public speaking, etc, when they have to. And I’ve found this to be true. It really is a fascinating book (hopefully for extroverts too).
I can relate totally to being an introvert. People would probably say I’m extroverted because I do enjoy social opportunities and public speaking is something I have grown into. However I think it’s about how you refuel, what you need to get back into emotional balance. On that level I am a total introvert. I’ve discovered if I don’t get time to myself it’s a very quick drive to nutsville. I’ve often wondered if its some weird energy thing where if mine gets too muddy with other people’s energy I get discombobulated (My favourite word) and I need to purge everyone else out of my world. Sometimes I even need to pull out of social media, especially when my feed is bombarded by highly emotive debate about politics. Being an artist keeps me sane and fuels my soul. PS Coming to your launch at Lot 19. Looking forward to meeting you.
Thanks, Georgia. Will be great to see you. And discombobulated seems like the perfect word. You’re right. It is something about energy. You feel drained. I often explain it something like a wind-up toy needing a crank. I find it hard at the moment to switch off social media. But it’s important to just focus on one thing at a time. I feel so much more energised when I have days with the kids or writing and researching where I don’t turn the computer on at all, and turn the phone off as well.
I’m an extrovert. These days though, I behave much more like an introvert. I too have created a work at home job and it has helped me immensely feel good, sleep better and realize that I’m an extrovert who needs a lot of downtime.
Yes, I think many people are benefitting from being able to work from home, and create that space around themselves.
I read this book a while back and found it pretty revolutionary. All the things I’d thought were ‘wrong’ with me turned out to be simply introversion traits. I too wanted to carry it around like a talisman.
It also made me aware that one of my kids is an extreme extrovert. Not in the sense that he’s a show-off, or the life of the party – but in the sense that he doesn’t need to be alone to recharge. I thought everybody needed that, and I was always trying to force him into ‘downtime,’ fearing that if he didn’t get some soon he’d fall apart (like I would!). It was a big revelation to realise that he was energised/revitalised by constantly being with others. I also realised how much he needed my ‘engaged’ company, whereas my other child is happy to ‘just be’ quietly together.
I didn’t realise that I was judging my extrovert child through introvert lenses, if that makes sense? It was a really important insight for me.
The book has a guide for extrovert parents dealing with introvert kids but no guide for introvert parents dealing with extrovert kids! Which was a shame cause that’s what I really need!
Great post Kristen!
No worries about the name. It is a hard one for so many people. I think our sons may be quite similar. I think he does need lots of sleep, but he is continually on the go and I’m always thinking ‘ok, time for an at-home day’ and he’s more happy with ‘play date!’. So it’s about energy levels, and can be a bit mismatched at times. But at the moment he just wants me to watch him as he does acrobatic things! Maybe we could write a guide (or article) on introverted parents raising extroverted kids. Wanna collaborate on it?
My son is nearly 16 now so it’s a whole new ballgame. He also needs a lot of sleep, but it’s as though he has 2 speeds. Full-bore or asleep. He sleeps a lot, actually, to recover I guess. When I was a teen I really relished time away from friends etc. I needed time-out from the teen social world to be able to manage being in it, but my son only seems to need time-out if he needs sleep, which is a completely different scenario.
I suppose for a time I was trying to inforce what I would have needed at that age, thinking that he just didn’t understand how much he needed it, whereas I’ve come to see that he is simply very different from me.
The other thing is – he’s absolutely uninterested in the vitual world. To him that side of things just doesn’t count as interaction. He will only play video games or go on FB if there is absolutely no other social stimulation on offer. And even then he finds these modes of communication boring and tiresome. Interesting, hey? For an extreme extrovert social media just doesn’t cut it.
Also, before I read that book I believed people who couldn’t ever be alone were … problematic in some way. That there was something wrong with them! I think I believed that it was part of being ‘grown up’ to be able to be alone. Whereas, I see now how much it is an introversion/extroversion difference.
So many people in my life now make more sense. Funnily enough!
As to a collaboration, yes! We could. I could take the teens and you could do the littlies!
I meant Kirsten. So sorry. I hate getting someone’s name wrong, but I’m a bit dyslexic about this one. Feel free to call me Tessie from now on! :-).
Sorry it’s taken me so long to thank you for your great post on introversion. I completely agree with you! As other English-speaking countries seek to emulate the USA more and more (although thankfully, I think this is on the wane), there is increasing pressure on everyone to be “The Big I Am” all the time.
I lived and worked in New York and New Jersey for a couple of years, and I reluctantly admit it was good for me, because it forced me out of my shell. In that way, I think it’s probably right that kids are taught to stand up and speak to their class from a young age, because by the time they get to embarrass themselves at work, they’ll be over it!
What I lament, though, is the fact that there is a direct correlation between how “front and centre” your job role is and how high your salary can climb, unless we can seriously make our fortunes as authors! I have been fortunate in my career, but not without the expense of many pyjama days to balance myself out!
Anyway, that’s quite enough from me. I have been checking the book sites for just_a_girl and haven’t been able to buy it. Please could you let me know where I can get it from? Thanks and best wishes!
Thanks so much, Lorraine, and welcome to the blog. I guess my problem was, I tried to force myself out of my shell and it never worked, until I had something I was passionate about (writing a book)! I like your idea (of getting used to it by the time you are an adult) but I’m not sure it really works being forced to stand up in class. Maybe for some kids but not for me. It got more and more difficult! I completely agree re salary and pressures. At some point I realised that to be happy I needed to go freelance, and this meant I was going to do things for passion and interest, not much financial reward. It has been the right decision for me (no question) but many wouldn’t make that sacrifice.
Re just_a_girl, what a bummer! Where have you been looking? If you are in Australia, the quickest and easiest route is to buy direct from publisher here: http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/books-and-authors/book/just_a_girl/ (or it is available at Gleebooks in Sydney or Readings in Melbourne). Let me know how you go!
Thanks for a great article, Kirsten. I haven’t read the book but I watched the TED talk last year and felt immediate recognition. I definitely identify as an introvert but external pressures in an extrocentric (?) landscape have seen me edge ever closer to extroversion. I suppose I’ve challenged myself to do the things that make me very uncomfortable and it’s become easier. I used to have panic attacks when required to speak in public, but my job requires that I do, so I’ve had to ‘suck it up’. 🙂 I’ve never had a problem speaking in front of children (I’m a primary school teacher) but I still hate speaking in front of adults.
In regards to my writing, I feel much more at home online than in the ‘real world’. I forced myself to speak on a panel earlier this year, because I’m intent on becoming a published author and I hoped to network a bit. In saying, that, ‘networking’ doesn’t come naturally to me, and I tend to feel like a fraud in those situations. Luckily, I’ve found that I feel a sort of kinship with the writerly types I’ve met thus far. The writers I’ve met have been very approachable and genuine; I like to think we’re a compassionate bunch because most of us have found social interaction painful or awkward at some point.
I have an extroverted son too and this has been tricky over the years. Where I need solitude, he needs interaction. He is a show pony, all ‘LOOK AT ME!’, whereas I hate being the centre of attention. As you can imagine, it can be deeply frustrating for both of us, but we learn a bit from each other! My other son is an introvert and we can ‘parallel play’, so to speak. 🙂
Annabel Smith posted a link to your blog and I’m very much enjoying it! I look forward to reading your novel. 🙂
We have so much in common! I have just spent a few days doing Q+As and radio interviews, and it’s so challenging, but also rewarding as I now can see that it is getting easier. I’m even getting to the point where I am enjoying doing public readings!
I can relate to Walter. Introverted extrovert. Ambition makes me more extroverted than I feel on the inside. In fact I get so nervous I completely blank on names, I shake and say the wrong things, but generally still look forward to social outings and being somewhere where I can talk to lots of people I admire. But I *completely* relate to the need to recharge. I value alone time intensely. And QUIET! There is not enough quiet in the world, it’s such a source of frustration to me. I become physically wound up if I feel I haven’t had time to be alone, and be quiet. Just reading or watching a ‘comfort’ DVD (a favourite show or movie). Gerard and I are quite similar, which is great (we’re both Librans – all about balance). People would see us both as being very social, I think, and we are, but we’re also, paradoxically, very happy to be alone, or just the two of us. I wonder what it will be like if/when we have children…
I think that’s the main reason I moved to Castlemaine. To find some quiet time. But I’m still finding it hard! Your comment is interesting re ambition. I have always been fiercely ambitious (not comparing myself to others, but for myself, with myself) and am able to overcome the introversion if I really want something… I hang out for 7.30 when the kids are in bed and I can blob and watch Friday Night Lights (my series of the moment). So, yes, it’s much harder to find space when you have kids, but as they get older it gets easier …
I’m definitely an introvert and love a pj day..noble silence was created for me 😉
In my current job though, I’m forced to do the public speaking and manage people and I’m just not loving it – think it might be time to throw in the towel!
loved this post, thank you
Sounds like it might be time to make a change:-)