Introverts Living in an Extroverted World: A Review of Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet is a dichotomous and fascinating book that was written by Susan Cain in 2012. It includes extensive scientific research and years of studies about human nature on the topic of introversion, as well as the emotional and personal effects of introverted people trying to cope in an extroverted world. There Susan Cainare multiple messages for both introverts and extroverts, alike, and the power of her book lies in understanding ourselves, and others, so that we may succeed.

Susan Cain has been a guest speaker on TED talks, a successful podcast that has amassed billions of dedicated followers listening to a variety of subject matters. She is also, ironically, an admitted introvert who learned over time to overcome her natural inhibitions and become one of the most successful writers and influencers of our time. Her book has been listed by Forbes magazine as “A must-read”, and truthfully, as an extrovert married to and often surrounded by introverts, I couldn’t agree more.

She begins the journey of understanding the origins of human nature through the story of that “mighty likeable fellow,” Dale Carnegie. His metamorphosis from farm boy to salesman to public-speaking icon exemplified the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the early twentieth century. This is the time when towns became urbanized, and people suddenly found themselves working and living next to strangers. Where once it was enough for people to simply be good and kind, the American culture began to change, and those qualities were no longer enough. Once admirable traits such as good citizenship and golden deeds took a back row seat to new, enigmatic personality traits including magnetism, being forceful and outgoing, and sheer attractiveness. By 1920, the focus had so shifted from inner virtue to outer charm dale-carnegie-quotethat the path to extroversion was laid out for Carnegie and all future generations to come.

Susan Cain goes on to show how individuals are often ‘forced’ into extroverted scenarios, as noted in the highly competitive and prestigious business school of Harvard University. There, the group is the master and individualism is often cast aside. Students have no choice but to work together in small groups to complete their assignments and survive the rigorous curriculum. The fallout from this Groupthink scenario is that introverts are subjected to an uphill battle that extroverts are not, as they work to establish themselves, promote their ideas and make a difference in an already grueling academic program. One student, Don Chen, summed up his experience at Harvard with this: “Socializing here is [considered] an extreme sport.” Yet interesting enough, some of the most successful CEO’s of our times that emerged from Harvard rarely use groups to make decisions in their companies, including the successful Darwin Smith, who oversaw Kimberly-Clark for twenty years.

From historical premise of cultural change to the university culture, Cain then swings the arc of introverted individuals and how they were all the way back to Biblical days. We may all know of Moses and the Ten Commandments, but who has heard of Aaron – Moses’ shy and little known brother who was actually his right-hand man? Are all religious figures that stand up on the pulpit and preach to the masses extroverts themselves? Certainly not, and among the many people Cain interviews, is Adam McHugh, an evangelical pastor who had to learn how to step beyond himself to be able to breathe the word of God into his flock.

Eleanor Roosevelt now grown into public life (bjf.org)

Eleanor Roosevelt now grown into public life (bjf.org)

The young Eleanor Roosevelt (bjf.org)

The young Eleanor Roosevelt (bjf.org)

On a more recent, political note, Cain then talks about Eleanor Roosevelt as the “conscience” behind President Franklin Roosevelt during his four terms. Though an unlikely pair, their differences complimented each other’s roles well (minus his philandering, of course). Eleanor became a major influence in the social and cultural front during her day. The irony behind her success, though, is that as a young adult Eleanor was shy, aloof and lacked confidence. It was because of her interest in social change that she was able to accomplish great things for our country as she grew into herself and her role as First Lady. Another political introvert who had to move past his natural tendencies of ‘gathering within instead of seeking without’ is Al Gore. Both of these individuals were inherently considered “shy,” yet became well-known powerful public speakers and advocates for what they believed in. Cain and other researchers agree that finding that one’s passion is what allows introverts to become what they are not, and succeed in the outside world.

Jerome Kagan, Harvard psychologist (philosophyforlife.org)

Jerome Kagan, Harvard psychologist (philosophyforlife.org)

Cain references many scholars and scientists throughout the book, all of whom are noted in the extensive notes at the end, including Gregory Berns, Dr. Matthew Leiberman, Marc Berman and Jerome Kagan. Kagan, the notable Harvard psychologist, for example, studied young children and their behavioral inclinations all the way through to adulthood. His studies provided ‘painstakingly documented evidence’ that high-reactivity is a biological basis of introversion. He ties in physical attributes, the amygdala of the brain and other conclusive reports that show just how introverts react to the world and the scenarios around them.

What I enjoyed most about Cain’s book, however, is her segway in later chapters into more individual and personal uses for understanding how introverts function, by bringing it down to the singular, family level. She addresses the positives and negatives of how ‘opposites’ are attracted to one another, how they work against each other, and how to best work together in a healthy, happy marriage. She then discusses parenting and shows a number of examples how parents can better relate to and teach their children once they understand their introverted or extroverted persuasion. Shyness and introversion are not the same, and children are often mislabeled and misjudged on their capabilities, once that stigma of being “shy” is cast upon them. Furthermore, she admits to what we all experience on a daily basis, in our homes, our relationships and the business setting, known as “the communication gap,” and provides concrete solutions for living and working better together day-to-day.

From business to interpersonal, history and religion, Cain has succeeded in writing a thorough account of introversion as a personality trait that must compete with the extroverts in a self-recognized extroverted world. Her examples are thorough, her references are extensive and it is obvious that she wrote about a topic she has strong feelings for (which is the key to success, remember). One of the most notable phrases that emerges from Quiet is the “rubber band theory” of personality, where she states that as individuals we are able to stretch ourselves outside of our comfort zones to accomplish more, but only so much before we eventually ‘break.’ The goal is to improve yourself by stretching just enough to accomplish what you want to and need to, and understanding who you are and what makes you tick. For introverts, especially, they must figure how which scenarios are alarming and which ones are inspiring, and then place themselves in the right setting, the right career, and ultimately the ideal life.

A key line at the end of the book that states this endeavor best is this: “The Secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting.” I would add at the end, ‘and to always make sure that you shine brightly.” Because, in the end, isn’t that exactly what we all want to do, one way or another, before we leave this crazy world?

 

Are you an introvert trying to survive in an extroverted world and sometimes barely hanging on? Or, is your inclination extroversion, have you been trying to “tone things down” through the years? It’s all about balance, knowing yourself and understanding those around you.

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Introverts Living in an Extroverted World: A Review of Quiet by Susan Cain

    • I apologize for my late replies to all. Holidays, then family sickness that took us out for far too long.

      The holidays are such a difficult time of year to find quiet, maintain one’s solitude and find time to write, is it not? Looking forward to a bright new year!

  1. Introvert or Extrovert? Who or what decides? The observer or the observed? Is an introvert that bloviates a extrovert or still a introvert?

    • You have taught me a new word – I love it. Although by its connotative meaning, I would guess that you may ‘err’ on the side of introversion (pun intended).

      Interestingly, although I am instantly proclaimed extrovert by all who meet me, I find myself in my own head feeling much more of an introvert than they would ever believe.

  2. Must read. I think of myself as an introvert but people who think they know me say otherwise. Also, I know several self-described introverts about whom I would say not. Given Cain’s examples, it causes me to wonder if most people don’t lean a bit more naturally toward introversion, but train themselves to be more outgoing in social settings.

  3. Hmmm… that’s an interesting point. See my previous reply, as I feel the same way about myself, compared to how others see me. I do think that no matter how extroverted an individual is, we all need to ‘regroup and recharge’ and require that downtime that introverts may just seek a bit more often.

  4. I read and very much enjoyed Cain’s book. I am also a mostly introverted person who, for work, recently attended a Carnegie workshop. It was uncomfortable, and made me wonder again why we aren’t comfortable letting people work to their strengths in the workplace or elsewhere. Thanks for your piece, Crystal. It reminded me again of the importance of this book.

    • Hi there! I used to work for Dale Carnegie and was a class assistant for three years. I loved it, but I could see those who didn’t, many of whom had been signed up at work and not by their choice.

      It’s true that we should work to our strengths (some days I wonder what mine still are, J), yet we should step outside of our comfort zones every now and then, because I do feel that’s when we do most of our ‘growth’ in this life.

      What are you currently reading? My new year’s resolution is to finish a book every week, so I’m looking for some great suggestions…

      • I recently read Shalom Auslander’s “Foreskin’s Lament,” and right now I’m reading an advance copy of Erik Larson’s “Dead Wake,” about the final voyage of the Lusitania and John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars.” How about you?

      • JS, my apologies. I did not see your comment before… I am currently reading The Paris Wife, and have just submitted to my publisher the sequel to my first novel, proposed title, This Side of Perfect. I am still a Dale Carnegie fan, too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s