Audiobook Rec: ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain

A few (several?) years ago I took a Myers-Briggs exam at my undergraduate university. I don’t remember all of the results (since at the time, I thought “personality type” was totally bunk-y), but one thing I do remember is that I scored right along the median of the I/E category—meaning, I was only slightly more introverted than extroverted. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, but it did make sense later on in life when I met a “true introvert” who had researched the implications of his personality type. He told me,

“I like people in general, but I much prefer to develop relationships with the people I already like than to simply be around people for the sake of being social.” (This is not verbatim, but this was the gist of what he said.)

I completely related to this. At that time in life, I had finished college and graduate school and had found employment in a large publishing company. Much of my work was very isolating, and I didn’t mind it—especially after two years of intense graduate study (another very personal, isolating activity). Though I had enjoyed the company of a large, rambunctious social group during college, I had found my smaller, more intimate group of friends in graduate school to be just as satisfying. As is common in one’s twenties, I had begun to settle into my “style” of life by asking the questions about what made me happy, comfortable, and content. And one of those realizations was that I was probably more introverted than I used to be.

That’s enough about me; but all of that is to say that the book Quiet by Susan Cain really resonated with me for many reasons. The book describes how our culture tends to favor certain charismatic personalities over quieter, more reflective ones; and it attempts to explain how the moniker “introvert” has been misinterpreted and undervalued, especially within American culture over the last 100 years. Cain’s goal is to make a case for society’s unrecognized reliance upon introverts, and to help those of us who identify with this group to better understand ourselves and our behaviors. Here are some indicators that you may be an introvert:

  • You are satisfied to spend lots of time alone.
  • You find some social situations exhausting rather than invigorating.
  • You enjoy deep conversations with close friends more than superficial conversations with unfamiliar people.
  • You are able to concentrate on one thing for long periods of time.
  • You may be more sensitive to stimuli than others.
  • You prefer only to speak when you have something meaningful to say.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but Cain goes to great lengths to develop all of these ideas. For example, she debunks the notion that introverts are antisocial by explaining how they simply prefer smaller, more familiar social situations. What she argues is that the introvert is often overlooked, but that he or she has great potential in a society often focused on its noisiest members. Cain also offers advice regarding how to navigate the waters of a culture that often expects extroverted behaviors (such as public speaking) from very introverted people.

If you are not an introvert yourself, it’s likely that you are the child of one; in a relationship with one; the parent of one; friends with one (or two); etc. I found particularly helpful the discussions regarding introverts in the classroom, not only because I personally related to it, but also because it challenged me to reassess my teaching style in order to make sure I am not under-accommodating the introverted students in my courses.

I highly recommend this audiobook to anyone interested in personality-type theory. And even if you don’t buy into Cain’s research, I bet you will find something useful here for you. It also doesn’t hurt that the narrator’s voice is really lovely!

Happy weekend,

J

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