“We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual — the kind who’s comfortable ‘putting himself out there.’ Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so. Introversion — along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness — is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.”
– Susan Cain, Quiet
I’m in the process of reading Quiet by Susan Cain. After only 100 pages, I can say with confidence that it is absolutely required reading. If you’re an introvert yourself, you’ll learn about what makes you the way you are (and why it’s more than okay). And if you’re an extrovert, chances are you have a significant other, friend, or family member who baffles you with their need to be alone, amiright?
I’m an introvert (as discussed here), which is no surprise to anyone who’s ever met me. If there’s something social happening, I’m at the perimeter of the room trying to have a good heart-to-heart with exactly one other person. I don’t look to groups of people for help or ideas for a project unless I’m totally stumped and have exhausted my resources. And if you try to put me at the center of attention for any reason at all, I will do everything in my power to get out of it or drag other people into the spotlight so I can hide behind them, physically and socially. Like, I love you all, but I just can’t with the attention and the noise and stuff.
When I turned 16, my mom and dad (extrovert and ambivert, respectively) threw a really big birthday party for me. We rented out the Boys and Girls Club, there was a deejay, and my brother’s band played. It kinda felt like the quintessential teenager’s dream party, but with actual supervision.
There was only one problem. I didn’t particularly have fun.
It was so cool that I had so many friends who were willing to show up, and of course it was really generous of my parents to come up with this. They had done almost the exact same thing for my brother’s 18th birthday and it went great, so why wouldn’t I love it, too?
I felt so guilty about being uncomfortable at my own birthday party that, for a long time, I wouldn’t even admit it to myself. When anyone asked, of course I had fun; how is that even a question? But it was loud, the deejay played music I didn’t like (who knew deejays don’t play Copeland and Cartel?!), and I found myself wanting to hide in the corner and watch everyone else have a good time.
It was a great birthday party for a teenager, but it wasn’t in sync with my personality.
Thanks to this book, work and school experience, and all-around growing up, I’m finally starting to learn some things I wish I’d known a long time ago. I wish I’d always known that, despite what schools at all levels would have us believe, it’s okay to not love group work. Not every job requires it, and as I’ve read in Quiet, research shows that people in many professions are more creative and productive when they forgo group meetings and each have their own cubicle, rather than regularly brainstorming with a group and working in the open-concept offices that have become the new standard for creativity.
According to Quiet, “The school (Harvard Business School) also tries hard to turn quiet students into talkers. The professors have their own ‘Learning Teams,’ in which they egg each other on with techniques to draw out reticent students. When students fail to speak up in class, it’s seen not only as their own deficit but also as their professor’s. ‘If someone doesn’t speak by the end of the semester, it’s problematic,’ Professor Michel Anteby told me. ‘It means I didn’t do a good job’” (emphasis mine). THAT. IS. TERRIFYING. And, unfortunately, it’s quite similar to what I experienced in grad school. I wish that, even three years ago, I had the guts to say that I can work in groups when I need to but don’t prefer it. I’ve never said this to anyone with a hand in my career path, but I would 100% rather be in a supporting role than a leading one. I excel at helping other people do what they need to do but scramble to think clearly when all eyes are on me. It isn’t what schools (or people in my line of work) like to hear, AT ALL. It’s actually considered a red flag. But it’s a legitimate way to feel, and it doesn’t mean your work will suffer.
Introvert Cat is my spirit animal.
I wish I’d never felt embarrassed about my need to for quiet. Growing up, forced bonding experiences always made me cringe. Church camp, especially, was tough for me. Not only was it hard to relate to the girls my age at church, but I always seemed to be the only introvert in my cabin. That makes life difficult when you’re at a camp designed to bring everyone closer by having them do all the things together, all the time. I appreciated what they were trying to accomplish, but I would’ve been much more able to enjoy the time and connect if I’d been able to say, no, really, I need to go be by myself for awhile. I’m not going through a crisis, and I don’t hate anyone. I just can’t be at my best — not even close — if my only alone time is when I’m on the toilet. I need more than that to function well. I never had the nerve to say it for fear of what that would do to my already puny relationships there. But… it would’ve been totally healthy.
I wish I’d known there is a place in the body of Christ for those of us who aren’t social to the max. Growing up, I read just about any book for teenage girls that Lifeway put out. What I came away with, largely, was that good Christian girls become worship leaders and Bible study teachers and camp counselors. We do bold things and take on big, public, leadership positions. And I always thought, how am I going to get there? Do I have to be a Sunday school teacher to be a godly woman? Even at my own church, it seemed like those who were “serious about God” and “really strong Christians” were filling or creating their own leadership positions. I worried that my faith would be questioned if I didn’t step up and show everyone how committed I was by leading something — anything. While introverts often do make good leaders and it’s healthy to challenge yourself, I’ve realized that many of the things introverts do best are things that believers as a whole need to practice more faithfully. We (I) need to spend more time alone with God, praying and reading His word. We (I) need to work to get to know others deeply and let each other in so that we can encourage and correct each other in love. We (I) need to serve our neighbors without caring who knows, without hoping for a round of applause.
The more I do in life, the more I continually learn about how I operate the best. That bit from Susan Cain about introversion being “somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology” hurt; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen disappointment on people’s faces upon meeting me because I’m not bubbly and outgoing. And while it’s worth it to stretch myself sometimes, I’m finding that I don’t need to fight who I was created to be. She has her place. She’s fine.