Reading is thinking.  As a bonafide reading evangelist, I preach this notion to my students, exclaim it in delight to my boys, and revel in the magic that comes when your reading life and the concerns of your "real" life serendipitously align.  It never fails to leave me astounded when I experience anew how, in the words of my friend Cristina, "What you read is a revelation of who you are." My mind was blown again this week by this true and magical notion while reading of Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  I have been wrestling with some questions that I think are part and parcel of my stage in life. . . I've had my last child, I'm approaching a BIG birthday, and I have taken a (decade long) step back in my career.  I have been wondering who I am in the context of my family concerns and responsibilities, and have been struggling with how to exercise my desire for creative and meaningful work in the context of a busy family life.  In the hopes of arriving at some answers to these questions, I have decided to spend some time concentrated effort discovering who I am now.

And as it turns out, I am an introvert.

That was a SHOCKING discovery (to me.  Not to my social psychologist best friend, who promptly responded to my revelation by texting, "You didn't know this?  Maybe you are teasing.").  Sadly, no.  I really had no idea how introverted I am.  Cain would argue that I am a "pseudo-extrovert," someone who has learned that success and acceptance in our culture comes more easily to extroverts, and that introverts can be construed as socially inferior.  Cain explores and examines characteristics of introverts and extroverts (you can take the quiz here), addresses the cultural shifts that has prompted extroversion to become the desired and expected standard of behavior, and reveals how schools, workplaces, and institutions are now designed to meet the extrovert's need for stimulation.

The following are some interesting tidbits that keep rattling around in my brain:

  • shyness and introversion are not synonymous.  Introverts prefer less, or quieter, stimulation. Shyness is a fear of social rejection.  Ergo, you can be introverted and not shy.  Or extroverted and shy.
  • high reactive babies are shown to be introverted adults and low reactive babies often are extroverted
  • extroversion as a cultural ideal in the American Protestant church
  • brainstorming and "group think" doesn't really work!  Groups gain more and better ideas if people have the opportunity to work alone first
  • classrooms and office space are designed to remove barriers, which extroverts enjoy and introverts find draining and distracting
  • teachers need to provide quiet space and time for students to think and create independently
  • FLOW research and the idea of Deliberate Practice (Anders Ericsson).  Ahhh... flow.  How I long for flow.  Or time for Deliberate Practice.

The main criticism of this book is that Cain negates the strengths and gifts of extroverts.  As I see it, and as she herself points out, that while the culture idealizes extroverts in every conceivable way, the world needs both kinds of people.  (And for what it's worth, there are no true introverts or extroverts. . . we all fall somewhere on the continuum).   Quiet is a treatise regarding what introverts can bring to the table in academia, business, government, and relationships, and how we as a society would do well to embrace the unique gifts of the introverted.  I know I would be a happier and more productive person if I embraced, acknowledged, and accepted my true nature. . . an introvert with extroverted leanings.

Living life as a pseudo-extroversion is not without cost, or without benefit.  I often experience exhaustion, a feeling of being drained.  Sometimes I feel guilty for not wanting to do the socially expected thing, or for explaining that I need down time to recharge, or even for my desire to go to bed early with a book.  But I also gain energy,  joy, and positive social reinforcement from my more extroverted tendencies, like teaching, socializing, and being in meaningful relationships with friends and family.  I am taking the resolution of Gretchen Rubin to heart. . . be Gretchen.  Or in this case, be me.  I love rediscovering me. . .even if I am Quiet.

See Cain's TED talk here.