Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Getting Quiet with Susan Cain

My dear friend Andrea put me on to this fascinating book by Susan Cain. I normally dislike over analyzing things - even though as a kid I wanted to be a psychiatrist in the worst way - but as we age it seems a natural predilection to review our lives, the decisions we made, the ones we passed by, the roads less taken, and ask ourselves why. When people ask that cocktail party question, "what would you do differently if you had your life to live over?" I always answer truthfully. "Nothing!"

I firmly believe that each wrong turn, each bad move and the pain that goes with it, contributes to the whole package that we are now. If we're pleased with who we've become, why question the past? The old saw, "one door closes and another opens," is so full of wisdom. A couple of tough years trying to find my way after a protracted and financially debilitating divorce led me to twenty years as a librarian, the most stimulating, fulfilling, and yes, blogable ( is that a word?) career imaginable!

You may find some insights into your own life's path by reading Quiet; The Power of Introverts in a World that can't stop Talking. There's a tremendous amount of scientific research to bolster Ms. Cain's observations about introverts and extroverts and I like that she eschews those labels, affirming that what I suspected is true. Most of us are a mixed bag of traits, and can lean one way or the other depending upon the situation. We are adept at adapting!

 But, a full 50% of us are, believe it or not, more likely to be introverts than the opposite. Is it any wonder that buying a car is one of the most hated things people have to do? Just the thought of those hail fellow, well met salesmen accosting me in the parking lot gives me the creeps. AAA buying service, thank you!

Why then, you may ask, is Facebook so hot? Why do folks go out there and bare their souls in cyberspace? Perhaps because they'd rather do so in the privacy of their homes than socialize face to face. What does this tell you? How is it that people who think they know me well will learn things about me on my blog that they might never find out at a party? Yup, I'm one of those introverts too. Give me dinner with four than fourteen any day of the week.

The thing is that society does seem to place more value on the extrovert personality. The squeaky wheel gets the grease as they say and Ms. Cain points our in her book how often in business, politics, school, and even families, thoughtful, quiet, or reticent people can be seen in a negative light. They need to be "helped," brought out of their shell, introduced to more friends, get out of the house more, and blah, blah, blah. No, actually, they might be perfectly happy playing alone, reading a book, or hey, becoming the next Bill Gates!

Patience is not considered a virtue in the American psyche. The Horatio Alger, up from the bootstraps, individualist who doesn't suffer fools gladly seems to be the ideal. But think, says Ms. Cain, about the quiet strength of people like Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks. What did it cost them, physically and psychologically, to leave their introverted comfort zones and put themselves on the line for causes they were passionate about?

There is some great advice in this book for parents, teachers, couples, and managers. If we take the time, Ms. Cain posits, to truly understand our relatives, co-workers, partners or employees we might do a much better job of getting each of them to rise to their full potential. What works for one may not do the trick for another. And why should we all be the same anyway? Isn't our uniqueness what makes us great?

Thank you Andrea, a fantastic, eye-opening read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in what makes the world tick.

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