Saturday, August 25, 2012

Quiet by Susan Cain

I realize it's not true that I'm no longer shy; I've just learned to talk myself down from the ledge.  By now I do it so automatically that I'm hardly aware it's happening.  When I talk with a stranger or a group of people, my smile is bright and my manner direct, but there's a split second that feels like I'm stepping onto a high wire.

Boy can I identify with that statement.  I wasn't always shy: until I was 6 or 7 years old I remember being joyful and outgoing—part of the crowd.  By the time I entered 2nd grade, however, I'd had too many embarrassing situations (by my own unknowingly-introverted estimation) and found it was much safer to be quiet, to retreat from large social groups and unfamiliar situations (in fact, the thing I remember most about 2nd grade is the classroom's windows.)

I had a few years where I was painfully shy (to the point of having a difficult time talking to my parents) but I've grown out of most of that.  Though I scored 20/20 on the introvert/extrovert quiz (see the bottom of this article) I don't experience the agonizing guilt and shame that I used to feel regularly in social situations.  That doesn't mean that I like them necessarily, but I've become adept at "talking myself down from the ledge."

Although it may be impossible to read this book and not compare the experiences to your own, there really is more to this book than commiseration and self-justification.  It would be a valuable read for introverts and extroverts alike.  My favorite part was the first section, which addressed the history of how we came to value personality over character, as well as what constitutes quality leadership, and how modern Christianity has been shaped by the extrovert ideal.  I love learning about social history, and how so many things are interconnected.  

Did you know that public speaking is the number one fear in America?  Or that the number of Americans who considered themselves shy increased from 40% in the 1970s to 50% in the 1990s, (probably because we measured ourselves against ever higher standards of fearless self-presentation.)  Did you know that some parts of the world are overall more extroverted than others (would it surprise you that America is an extroverted extremist?)

As the book progressed it began to feel more anecdotal and self-help-ish to me and didn't have as much interesting information [in my opinion]. Still, worth reading.  I'm glad to see a book that provides this much-needed perspective hitting wide release; it's nice to have the vocabulary and background information to better negotiate our differences.


  1. I've wanted to read this book for a while. Like you, I was painfully shy as a child but I've learned to cope. Interestingly, I've never been scared of public speaking as it's scripted and real life isn't. I'm comfortable taking an assembly in front of 500 children at work but I'm not comfortable meeting new people at a party - it makes no sense!

    As a Brit who spent a month in America, you guys are much more extroverted than us - it shocked me at first that strangers struck up conversations with us. So that part of the book doesn't surprise me.

    Great review!

    1. Interesting perspective on public speaking - I like that! The book spoke about public speaking a lot, but it isn't something I've ever really had to do. The introvert/extrovert difference between England and America is certainly an interesting topic! Every time I've been in the UK I've had a distinct "these are my people" feeling...I wonder if that has anything to do with the introverted percentage?!

  2. Melody! I posted my piddly little review of this book today, too. :-)

    1. How funny! I'm heading over to check it out. It was your fault I picked it up, you know. I saw your rating on GoodReads and it inspired me to pull it off my shelf. :) I've grown so much in this area even since the meet-up in Huntington Beach...those types of events still aren't my favorite though. Too much "on" time. :)

    2. I'll never forget the decibel level of that dinner! :-)

  3. Hi Melody,
    I read this book last year but never wrote about it. I did recommend it to several friends and co-workers, all of whom read it and liked it too.
    An interesting section to me was the one about the trend in business to move toward an "open office" environment, with lots of cubicles to foster 'team building' and 'mentoring' among employees. My company recently went to this approach. As someone who used to have his own office, I wasn't too happy about it. Still am not, but my boss and his boss also had to move to a cubicle so I'm not likely to ever have an office under this policy. I work better in a "quiet zone." Oh, well...
    I also liked in this book that Susan Cain seems to enthusiastically endorse the idea of being happy with oneself, no matter which end of the introvert/extrovert spectrum you fall under. I.e. don't, as an introvert, feel you have to become an extrovert (or pretend to). Just be yourself.
    I mentioned last year in a comment on Susan's Cain blog that, in activities or gatherings of all introverts, the people involved sort of form a new hierarchy/pecking order with the least introverted subconsciously taking on the traditional extrovert roles in group activity. She liked that observation. & I experienced this myself (as a "high-functioning nerd") when I used to travel with other friends & compete in chess tournaments (Nerd Alert!) around the country. As the least introverted (usually) I ended up the de facto extrovert in our group. :-)

    1. I'm always wondering how people manage to get work done in open office environments - I know I wouldn't be able to!

      I did like that she emphasized that you should work with what you've got & be yourself. I just came off a week-long event that was full-on extroversion the whole time, (which in past years has always been quite stressful for me,) but I found it quite easy to handle with my new perspective thanks to this book. Having no guilt about needing to plan for some quiet time is refreshing.

      I, too, come out as the extrovert in a group of introverts! Isn't that an interesting idea to ponder...


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