I recently watched Susan Cain’s Ted Talk – The Power of Introverts. It’s excellent and has been watched nearly 15 million times. The Ted Talk led me to read her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
I wasn’t sure if I was an introvert or not, but reading the book made me realise I was.
I was outgoing at school. Always asking questions, was fairly lively and always engaging in the class.
When I look back to those times I think –
Was that really me? Was I an extrovert at school and now I am an introvert.
Or as Cain states in her book –
Was I an introvert cleverly disguising it by acting like an extrovert? (a pseudo-extrovert). A common trick that even Cain herself pulled off by becoming a Wall Street lawyer and negotiator instead of the writer she finally became.
I also think about now. When I am socialising with my friends, I am comfortable and act in a fairly extrovert way. My friends are my friends from school, so maybe I switch to being an extrovert when I am with them and feel comfortable.
A recent work event brought what I read in the book into clarity.
The event involved walking into the registration room full of strangers and standing awkwardly with a cup of tea and a biscuit looking around for someone to talk to thinking –
Why is everyone else in groups? Am I the only one standing on my own? Should I go and speak to the other fella standing on his own?
Luckily a very nice guy came over and said hello. We had a good chat and I relaxed a little.
When it was time to go into the conference room, I wandered in to see circular tables with 8 chairs around them. At some point, there was going to be a Group-think! A task that favours the dominant extrovert, over the quiet thinking introvert (who probably has fantastic ideas but is unlikely to share them).
The Group-think inevitably arrived and I looked around my 7 colleagues I had only known for an hour or so to see if I could figure out who was an introvert and who was an extrovert.
It turns out that a third to a half of all people are introverts. There was a high chance that 3 more of the people on my table were introverts too. Some uttered the first things that came into the head, some sat very quietly indeed and some threw out the odd idea here or there. In this case, there was no particular dominating person and the task wasn’t particularly important so I was happy to sit back a little and throw a few titbits into the mix. A better idea would have been to send out the task before the event where people can have the time and space to think on their own and then come together to share them.
Cain shows how in the late 19th century and early 20th century the “culture of personality” came to dominate, in which perception beats truth or as others have put it “the rise of the salesman”.
The TV show The Apprentice is a perfect example of this. Maybe some of the participants are extroverts that crave the stimulation of being on a TV show, but a lot of them have always struck me as a little fake. This is what they have been told they have to be to succeed. The loudest and best speaker is not the smartest and does not have the best ideas.
It is not shyness. I like a good party. I like to meet new people. If you get me talking about sport, I won’t shut up. I will probably end up boring you to death. But, after what I now know is too much stimulation, I am sometimes happy to sit quietly, stroke the dog and watch the other guests having fun. It is not being unsociable. I’m just decompressing!
I have felt happier since I read the book. I do not have to apologise for being an introvert. Sometimes I felt I needed to fill those silences. That I needed to be gregarious. Now I know that’s not me and I can be comfortable with myself.
Introverts tend to be more creative. I had never been that creative, but that is the likely the reason why I started this blog. I am also guessing a high proportion of bloggers are also introverts.
It’s undoubtedly why I love running so much. It’s a solitary activity that gives me time to think and contemplate things. I always come back from a run with a clearer mind and sense of purpose.
So as Cain stated in an article. Nourish your strengths.
- Talk deeply
- Work alone
- Read other’s work
- Listen well
- Take mini-breaks from overstimulating environments, and
- Use quiet commitment to achieve your goals