My most recent read took a turn away from my usual fictional pursuits. At the recommendation of many – including the lecturer at our staff retreat a couple weeks ago – I finally got my hands on Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
Now, before I review, you should know a couple things: First, I identify as an introvert and always have, but in my most recent personality test taken for the staff retreat, my results showed extrovert. This contradiction further spurred me on to read this book and gain a better understanding of these conflicts even within myself. Second, I don’t think that introverts alone can benefit from reading this book. In fact, I think it is equally helpful to both those who identify as extroverts and those who find themselves on the introverted side.
Susan Cain practiced corporate law for seven years before leaving that world to pursue a career in writing and psychology. Her own path toward success and self-discovery is woven throughout the book, and the reader gains an intimate understanding of the way the science behind what she says has influenced her own life in very constructive and helpful ways. This was inspiring; Susan shows throughout the book that understanding yourself on these levels can be a tool – and even necessary – to achieve success and happiness in the forms that will be most meaningful to you.
The book is separated into four parts: The Extrovert Ideal; Your Biology, Your Self?; Do All Cultures Have an Extrovert Ideal?; and How to Love, How to Work. I found each of these sections helpful in varying ways, and they built upon each other to form a cohesive tapestry of the introversion/extroversion spectrum and all that it entails.
This book involves anecdotes from interviews, scientific studies, social observation and Susan’s own research on the topics. She uses history, art, business, education, law and a variety of other fields to portray her points. Each time I came across something thinking, “I’d love to know what she means by that,” there seemed to be an applicable example waiting for me in the next sentence. This was a relatively quick read for me – not for lack of information or dense material – but because her writing style makes it so easy for the reader to grasp, get hooked and follow along.
So the conflict that brought me to the book in the first place: If I am an “extrovert” at work but an “introvert” at home, what does that make me? Who am I, really, at the core? – did I resolve it? I certainly did. I found great solace in her explanations, particularly when she wrote about one psychologist’s Free Trait Theory of personality. Free Trait Theory claims that “fixed traits and free traits coexist…We are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits, but we can and do act out of character in the service of ‘core personal projects.'” (page 210). These core personal projects, she goes on to explain, make it so that “introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.”
Aha! This was my lightbulb moment. I love my job, and being able to talk to people openly and express myself at work is important to doing it well, so I can be extroverted for the 9 hours I’m there. Similarly, I love a sweet extroverted husband, so I find myself being more social than I would be on my own. So, while naturally I need quiet surroundings, enjoy getting lost in thought and prefer intensive writing sessions to just about any party on the planet, I can still enjoy those parties and a livelier work environment when it’s a “core personal project” for me. (Sidenote: This is why it is so, so important for introverts to find meaningful work that they are passionate about. America proudly hosts an extrovert ideal, so most work environments are going to be extrovert-focused. Daily happiness is pretty difficult if you’re being forced into extrovert conditions for something you don’t care about, and that’s when it costs you big time both in your mental and physical health.)
There are so many other concepts that Cain introduced throughout the book that gave me greater insight into my own way of being and my experiences in the world, starting from childhood and extending into adulthood. It gave me deeper understanding of how different personality types operate and experience the world that I not only learned more about my preferences but also learned more about Nathan (an extrovert example) as well. I think this book will only help me going forward in life – in my career path, my relationships and my overall sense of well-being.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Stats: 266 pages
Recommended for: Human beings. Is that too broad? 🙂 I think that reading this book would get us all closer to being able to “take a walk in someone else’s shoes” throughout our day in various situations. It will also help the reader figure out a lot about themselves: their work preferences, relationship style and coping mechanisms. This book is helpful for anyone who wants to know more about the way our personality types are shaped by culture and biology, and the way that those types are executed around the world. This was a pleasant venture away from fiction and I may just hang out in the non-fiction world for awhile!
Up Next: Wild by Cheryl Strayed