Quiet, Please!

5600141240_29faa7aeedEvery so often, I discover a book that makes a deep impact on my life. When I was a kid, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle made me decide to become a writer of fiction for kids. As a teen and later an adult, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy made me decide to write fantasy. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a nonfiction book I’m reading right now that makes me accept what I am: an introvert.

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That’s not a newsflash to those of you who know me. And perhaps you’re shrugging your shoulders in a so-what manner at such an admission. But being an introvert always seemed like a negative based on feedback I’ve had over the years and my own observations. Who often gets the most attention in class or at the office? The one who talks the most. And how about these statements: “You need to be more assertive.” “You need to promote yourself more.” “You need to be more outgoing.” Ever hear this advice? I certainly have—even on the job.

I’ve suffered through office Christmas party activities usually chosen by extroverts who assume that “everyone” loves to shout lines of Christmas carols or act them out in front of a crowd because “it’s fun.” And if you don’t see it that way, well, guess what? You’re not fun! That’s why I especially understand this notion: “If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain” (6). Oh yes. I have felt that pain.

This bias is what Cain in the introduction to the book identifies as the Extrovert Ideal:

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” (4)

9e9eb78d63b565d97ce72d382a691b3aIf you read Divergent by Veronica Roth or saw the movie starring the delectable Theo James (oh and Shailene Woodley played the lead role) you saw this notion played out. In a post-apocalyptic Chicago that has been divided into five factions based on virtues, the coveted faction is Dauntless—the risk-taking group that leaps off moving trains instead of disembarking at stations and jumps off buildings. They are the loudest and the brashest—the ones who gain the most attention.

In an Internet poll of faction choices (http://www.epicreads.com/quizzes/pollresults/id/341/), Dauntless was the faction of choice by a large margin.

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Zoë Kravitz and Shailene Woodley leaping off a train in Divergent

In Quiet, Cain demystifies the Extrovert Ideal and discusses times when an introvert should act more extroverted. But this post isn’t a book report or a book review, so you’ll need to read the book for yourself if you’re interested. Cain’s book is a bestseller, if that gives you any indication of how it has been received.

This post is a celebration—it’s okay to be an introvert! (And yes, it’s okay to be an extrovert too.) Many writers I know are introverts. (Not all are of course.) But the world of book promotion—an extroverted activity—is one that takes us out of our comfort zone. We have to put ourselves out there to be noticed (i.e., blogging, social media, book trailers, interviews, arranging for book signings—whatever). Even if we’re querying agents, we have to sound “comfortable ‘putting [ourselves] out there.’”

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Naturally, this is the area in which I struggle the most. But I’m willing to try out of love for my stories. It’s like being a proud parent. You want people to notice your child and love him or her, so you do what it takes to get people to notice him or her. I’m grateful for the family and friends who help me in this venture, who encourage me and give me the kind of advice that helps me do things my way.

Cain’s book also has helped me understand how I can be assertive in a quiet way without pretending to be something I’m not. And that gives me hope.

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Broadway Books, 2012, 2013. Print.

Roth, Veronica. Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2011. Print.

Book covers from Goodreads. Librarian photo from mrsbossa.wordpress.com. Movie still from alicemarvels.com. Balloons from bubblews.com. Theo James photo from divergentsociety.net.

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41 thoughts on “Quiet, Please!

  1. Wrinkle in Time-I read that way back in primary school but cannot remember that much about it-I really must revisit it.
    I remember a quote from Yoko Ono about John Lennon, saying that he was actually a shy person, and most extroverts are actually introverts covering up the fact. I do like a good paradox 🙂
    When I was a child I was very, painfully, shy. Hated being in situations like parties-they were an ordeal! It was only around the age of fifteen I slowly began to emerge, though as a young adult I could sometimes revert. Now-I talk with anyone. I don’t know what happened. 🙂

    • One of my favourite distinctions between extroverts and introverts is that extroverts are energised by social interactions and so can go and go and go when they’re with others, while introverts burn energy during social encounters–even if they are having a fabulous time–so will need to take a break, or duck out early. Andy–just wondering–do you think you did a complete flip and now you’re an extrovert? Or, after talking with everyone and anyone, do you take a break?

      • An interesting thought-did I do a complete flip? Perhaps yes. Even in my early twenties, if I found myself in a situation with a number of people I didn’t know then I would revert, albeit unconsciously.
        Now, however, early forties, I am quite confident in any situation, talking to whoever
        I may encounter. Be they the average guy in the street or someone of great intellect (it has happened!) where the subject they are discussing can go straight over my head, but I have no qualms in asking for layman’s terms 🙂
        I think humour plays a part. I will often initiate conversation with complete strangers with a joke, much to my wife’s chagrin. Is that a confidence thing with me? The person I am now is very confident (yes, complete flip to the person I was) but maybe humour is an attempt to make a connection? I’m not sure.
        An astute guy I used to work with saw it the other way-he commented once that, when we would socialise after work, if someone came to sit at our table who
        I didn’t know, then I would make a joke to put them at ease.
        I think ease is the right word-I am now at ease with myself and so with other people.
        No, I never feel the need to take a break. But I sometimes feel the need to get out if I’ve been stuck indoors for a few days, as I am an ‘outdoor person’.
        And, come to think of it, despite having now a more sociable side, all my interests are solitary pursuits: reading, writing, listening to music, walking. Perhaps
        I’ve now found balance between two sides of my nature? If you go for the duality thing? Sometimes I do need time to myself. To recharge?
        Thank you for your question, I’ve never really analysed myself before 🙂

      • That’s quite a gift, Andy. Maybe that’s why when you go into a fast food restaurant, you remember the conversations you’ve heard. Perhaps the people start talking to you? My dad is like that. Everywhere he goes, he strikes up a conversation with people. I remember when my dad and I had coffee at his favorite place, he talked to a guy for about an hour. I thought he knew the guy. Turns out he didn’t!

        It seems that you’re an ambivert–someone comfortable with both sides.

      • I also remember that distinction, Sandra. I look at it as a very positive distinction, rather than one side being “better” than the other.

    • I’m with you! It’s not my favorite activity either! A guy I used to work with was so persuasive at marketing, he could probably sell dung back to the cow from which it came. Some people have that gift!

  2. Lovely post. You’re not shy here! I live in a house and family where Aspergers flourishes. Introvertism also flourishes. We all do our own thing, sometimes in the same room. What surprised me about people on the spectrum is that they often have no fear of standing up and talking to a crowd of thousands, but put them in a room with a few people and they go to pieces. It explains why I could go on stage and front a band, but still hate walking into a bank or a party and ‘meeting’ people I don’t know.
    I’ve learnt to cope by inventing a role for myself which I play until I get bored. Then I just go and sit on my own and pretend I’m doing something. Or go outside and look at the stars. Way more interesting. This social stuff is not as interesting or as important as most people would have you believe.

    • I’ve heard others (mostly college professors and actors) say the same thing: they can talk to a huge crowd, but have trouble making small talk at a party. I find that interesting. We do what we have to do. I had to lecture a few times. I dreaded the experience at first. What helped was talking about a subject on which I’m pasionate: writing.

  3. Great post, Linda! I would love to read Susan’s book. I’m kind of a introvert/extrovert mix. I can be an extrovert when it’s one on one, but put me in a group or party situation and I become an introvert. I’ve always disliked being the center of attention. I prefer to lay low. 🙂
    Have a great day!

  4. I haven’t read ‘Wrinkle in Time’ since I was a kid. Now I feel old. It’s a funny thing that extroverts think everyone is like that or should be that. If that was the case then wouldn’t people be tripping over each other and jockeying to be in charge of group projects? I just remember being on projects in school where two out-going people spend most of the time barking orders or arguing with each other. Then it was the calmer, more introverted people who got the work done. Not saying extroverts are wrong, but each mentality has a role to play in a group dynamic and one is not better than the other. Except everyone is better than pompous, egotistical jerks that don’t do any work.

    • I hear you! It’s nice to have a blend of people. We need each other, rather than us needing to be each other. But yeah, I get tired of being told that I need to be something other than what I am.

      • Or do something that might not work for you. It comes off as people trying to write your story for you if they push too much. If the author thinks a prologue works for their structure then they’re entitled to use it. If a reader refuses to read a book with a prologue then it’s their loss. Simple. 🙂

  5. I was so painfully shy when I was young. I heard my share of, “You can do it”, “Come on, speak up”. The more people pressed the more I hid inside my little shell. Something happened when I went to college. It was a remarkable lifting of a veil I had worn all my life. I felt a sense of confidence, self worth and desire to have my voice heard. I am quirky now and love being in the spotlight. No one way is better than the other, I cherish both parts of me, equally. Great post as always, Linda! ps. I really love the bootie you made me! 🙂

  6. Sounds like a great book! I too am tired of being told to be something I’m not–I’m too cautious, too quiet, etc… I can talk in front of a group but it completely wears me out, and I always feel like I’m wearing a mask in public. Awkward. 😦

  7. I think I’m an ambivert… which I guess fits in nicely with the fact that I’m ambidextrous as well. Wonder if there is some connection. But I do lean heavily toward the introvert side. I’m too much in my head, too often, not to be.

    Sounds like another interesting book I need to pick up! Thanks Linda. 🙂

  8. The book sounds great, Linda. I’ll have to check it out. I’ve got all those introvert issues too, and I very much resonate with your comment about “be[ing] assertive in a quiet way without pretending to be something I’m not.” I so often feel like I’m pretending or not being true to myself when I’m pushing myself to do all those extroverted things. Sounds like Cain’s book offers good advice as well as affirmation.

  9. Brilliant post and comments. Yes let’s celebrate the positives of being an introvert, of which there are so many qualities and skills that introverts bring to life, for example being able to properly listen to someone, pay attention and really take an interest. Observation skills, acting, psychic ability…there are so many wonderful facets to being an introvert. People are often amazed that I think I am an introvert as I chat away and make friends easily, but how many people don’t want to admit that they are introverts?

  10. I’ve heard of that book before, I’ll have to get around to reading at some time. It’s great that it’s become a bestseller, so many people have pre conceived ideas on introverts, or think that being introvert and being shy is the same thing.

    Interestingly, introverts are far more active online than extroverts. And guess what, the future’s all in the digital – so in our day and age being an introvert is a good place to be!

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