A while ago I came across Susan Cain's Ted Talk, "The Power of Introverts." Here:
And I was like,
And then I moved on with life. Until last week, when Noah by using powerful magic (IT skillz) made my B&N nook cooperate with the local library's digital options, and I downloaded Susan Cain's book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.
What I've felt repeatedly while reading this book—and I haven't even finished it yet—is...relief. Seriously.
I don't believe I'm particularly socially awkward, but Cain has put vocabulary to my lifelong internal struggle with feeling anxious in new situations and/or large groups. When we moved to Chicago on my thirteenth birthday, outside of my small group of close friends from church, I didn't really forge friendships at school for about three years.
In college, freshman year hit me really hard; I didn't have the haven of my family to retreat in at the end of the day, so my tendency to move cautiously in new social situations left me, basically, alone. By junior year I had some good friends, and by senior year of college I'd found my close friends. These are the people I'm still in touch with.
For quite some time I've realized I don't hit my comfort zone in new situations for, oh, two to three years. I know what you're thinking, "Slow down, Speedy Gonzales!" but that's just my reckless nature. (See how I'm deflecting my vulnerability with humor?)
Susan Cain mentions how many people can "fake it," leading others to be surprised when they find out you identify as an introvert. But the main differentiating factor between introverts and extroverts is, in fact, response to stimuli. Personality, life circumstances, culture ("nurture" in psychological terms) all have influence on how a person operates, but what the essential difference comes down to is: Do you feel *energized* by other people, new experiences, and party-hardy environments; OR do you feel *drained* by those things?
What has me so fired up about this is the permission I now feel to just be who I am. Not to feel apologetic for being a gal who only enjoys about an hour of a party before wanting to split and go read a book. Not to feel deficient because I don't have an ever-expanding group of friends, even though I'd feel disingenuous if I did.
Our culture is largely driven by personality. Being outgoing, gregarious, talkative, a go-getter, these are prized qualities. In our contemporary Western culture, your character doesn't matter much if you can't communicate it through the prevailing methods of the day. Kids are literally evaluating their worthiness by Instagram likes and Facebook friends. This is the culture we've built and embraced. Those of us who feel inferior reinforce these values with our internal deference.
Cain is clear that neither introversion or extroversion is better than the other; they're best expressed in balance. It seems, though, that the scales are tipped in favor of extroverts in almost every public arena: schools, workplaces, even churches.
When I walk into these scenarios now, I don't feel the same level of anxiety anymore. I'm 31 years old, in a stable marriage with two typically developing children, owner of a mature faith (based on a religious teaching that, if actually paid attention to, champions compassion and acceptance of those on the fringes). I've become confident in my ability to navigate rather than flounder. But I worry about the other people like me, who perhaps don't feel so confident. Who've been labelled as unfriendly or aloof or simply "not trying."
I'm certain Cain will offer some possible new paradigms for introverts to consider. I can't wait to read them. I'm no longer comfortable with leaving my fellow introverts to stumble in situations I've found ways to handle. Hopefully the book will tell me how to help usher in social change: quietly, thoughtfully, but emphatically.