Note: This review was originally posted on my old WordPress account on June 12th, 2013. [Susan Cain actually commented on the original article thanking me for the ‘wonderful review’ as she put it, and I only fangirled out for 15 minutes.]
image via: goodreads.com
Since the title of my blog was in part inspired by Susan Cain’s book about introverts, I thought it only appropriate to make my first written post about just that. I actually read the book last summer, ordering it shortly after watching her inspiring and comforting TedTalk on the subject. Last month, I was beyond pleased to see it mentioned in Tavi Gevinson’s interview with Emma Watson on Rookie and thought I’d share my deep appreciation for its words.
Cain succinctly explains the difference between introverts and extroverts in her book, noting throughout that introverts prefer less stimulation and are drawn to their inner worlds of thought and feeling. They value deep conversation over small talk, but should not be confused with hermits or misanthropes. This quote encapsulates her categorization of a typical introvert:
Now that you’re an adult, you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favor of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat along in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re ‘in your head too much,’ a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral. Of course, there’s another word for such people: thinkers.
The reason that this book resonated so well with me was because, for the first time, I was able to stop hating myself for not being overly outgoing 24/7. There was a name for my personality and I felt an eagerness to use the gifts I’d been given to my advantage, rather than viewing them as obstacles keeping me from becoming the American idealized extrovert.
Another point that Cain made included a clear distinction between shyness and introversion: two terms that are often thought to mean the same thing. Shyness is defined as the “fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.” It is important to understand the differences in these traits because it can help us to wash away the stigma associated with not being the “life of the party.” I define myself not as shy, but as introverted because while I consider myself a deep thinker and usually prefer nights in to nights out, my quietness does not stem from insecurity or fear of what others will think of me. Along these same lines, it should be noted that there is a vast spectrum on the introversion-extroversion scale: None of us is purely one or the other.
We are taught at a young age that sociability is a prerequisite for happiness, and that boldness is essential for any sort of personal or professional success. Cain counter-argues this point and notes effective introverted leaders such as Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg, and J.K. Rowling to name a few.
Early on, she states, “If there’s only one insight you take away from this book, I hope it’s a newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself.” This is exactly how I felt after finishing her book – like I could finally be confident in my convictions, and not see them as a hindrance from me achieving everything that I have been told is essential for a fulfilled life. (i.e. being extroverted)
Cain’s ideas implore us all to take a second look at things that we automatically distinguish as negative and instead see how they can benefit our lives. Introversion aside, haven’t we all had moments when we’ve wished we were different? I think it’s important to not let the act of comparing ourselves to others trap us into viewing ourselves as ‘wrong’ or ‘lesser,’ no matter the characteristic in question. While it’s great to always be striving to be stronger, more balanced, resilient, etc., we should also take the time to really evaluate our attributes and perceived detriments, and strive to see them both in a positive light. Once we accept the characteristics that make up who we are, we can begin to gain self worth and confidence, and contrary to popular belief, extroversion is not a prerequisite to either of those traits.