After reading a book that’s all about stepping up and taking charge (“Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg), it was a nice change of pace to read one about the shy and the quiet (“Quiet” by Susan Cain). I was surprised though, by how much these two books complement each other.
As the title aptly illustrates, “Quiet” is a book about the power of introverts in a world of talkative extroverts.
So how can shy be courageous or quiet be formidable you might ask, but there lies the strength of the introvert – it’s their ability to listen and focus, their calm collected manner and the way they assert themselves in a gentle but firm way.
Did you know that studies show 1 out of 3 people in the world are introverts by nature? Which means even if you are an extrovert, you are probably married to or have a child that’s an introvert. They may eventually get adept at pretending to be social and talkative, but true introverts would rather curl up at home with a book than be partying late into the night at a club.
In today’s fiercely competitive world though, where split second decisions are made based on first impressions, being shy or quiet would not even get one noticed leave alone make an impression. Does it mean then that introverts have to create / cultivate a personality that “tells or sells a story”? asks Ms. Cain.
Take politics or the business world for example, a trait that’s a must have to be a leader is charisma i.e. personality. Bill Clinton is a classic example of this. You can hear him talk for 15 min and be fascinated, enraptured even but I would be hard pressed to come up with what specifically it was that he talked about. Or Tony Robbins for example, who’s made his whole career as a life coach, motivating people to “unleash the power within”. These people are compelling orators and natural extroverts.
Key to make an impression is having a magnetic quality to one’s personality. Unfortunately, this is something that does not come naturally to introverts. In fact even the most mundane social situations like a party at a friend’s house can stress out most of them, until they find that one person to chat with in the corner about a subject of mutual interest. Introverts thrive on solitude, getting their best work done cranking their brains to maximum efficiency. As much as they enjoy time to themselves they equally relish time spent with a close circle of friends and loved ones. A tell-tale trait is a dislike for small talk and most are terrified of speaking in public. This kind of inhibition leads to introverts almost never being recognized for their full potential.
Is it any wonder then that we spend millions of dollars on self-help books, personality development seminars and public speaking lessons.
But “Quiet” surely makes a compelling case for why we shouldn’t try too hard to be who we are not. Specifically for introverts, trying too hard to fit in can not only wear us out but make us very unhappy. There is immense benefit in introverts being comfortable with being who they are, but also try to desensitize themselves to the fear of speaking up. Ms. Cain calls this being true to your person but managing a persona when in a business or social situation.
Even though cultivating an easy-going manner and getting comfortable with “winging it” is always a work in progress for most introverts, we can nurture and draw strength from our natural skills such as deep thinking, complex problem solving, good listening and laser sharp focus
What would benefit us immensely individually and as a society though, is picking a career or a lifestyle that suits our core personality, this is the secret to a fulfilling life and if anything helps us appreciate each other for who we are, be it introverts or extroverts.
The world needs its Steve Wozniaks as much as it needs its Steve Jobs.
- The year of the introvert: A Q&A with Susan Cain on the release of her paperback (ted.com)
- Introverts, (gently) rejoice! We found a web series just for you (ted.com)
(image via Google Books)