Sunday, January 27, 2013

Introversion: not a bad word! Or, reflections after reading "Quiet" by Susan Cain

{cartoon via Out Came the Sun; originally
by Eat Up What's Good For You}
All throughout school, group projects exhausted me.  Besides being kind of type A and kind of smart, therefore often doing most of the work, I always felt like I would have learned more and created better work if I could just do it all myself.  Culture and even my educational studies have told me that is a wrong way to think, though. Collaboration is key to a good learning experience! Because I believe in community and giving everyone a voice, I continued on--as a student and as a teacher.

I remember a conversation a few years ago where one of my friends explained how his company was catering to its different personality types: extroverts were energized in brainstorming sessions with other people while introverts were energized by being given the time to independently work, then share their ideas, then brainstorm together.  I remember thinking: if only my teachers understood this! Everything could have been different!   For years I have joked about my sometimes-anti-social behavior (I love to have either Friday or Saturday night to myself and if someone cancels plans I'm sad to not see whoever I was meeting, but relish the "stolen" alone time), but then my understanding grew to know that extroverts are literally energized by being around people and introverts are energized by time alone.

All of this makes so much sense to my introverted--yet very social self--as I look back on my personal history.  In college I lived in a 4 bedroom house with 7 girls and was involved in a very people-centered mentoring program where apparently everyone thought I was an extrovert because of all the large and small group leading I did.  However, what kept me sane all those years was the long drive back to campus in my car, listening to music.  The down side was that I think I was much too quiet in my classes as a result.

One of my friends who is also a teacher and I were talking recently about what it means to be an introvert and a teacher of 90-120 students each day--and how long it took for us to realize that being involved in numerous groups outside of the school day wasn't life-giving to us in the way it was to people who had less social jobs.  Rather, it was draining.  Period.  But a level of guilt has always accompanied me in that: I grew up thinking that I always needed to be as active and involved in possible.

A few of my kindred spirit-educator friends and I have had multiple conversations about being introverted--and our sometimes-tendency to drop back or stay home or hopelessly try to make ourselves be a bit more extroverted.  One of them came across the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain and suggested that we read it together.  I've spent the last few weeks laughing out loud about all the things she explained about my personality type that I have long thought I needed to try to change.  This book would also be eye opening to extroverts, as well--especially those who manage people at work.  I also laughed when I saw how New York Magazine described this book in their "How to read 31 Self Help Books in Four Minutes" article: "a feel-good book for the silent type."  New York Mag, I love you, but you misunderstand introversion just like the rest of them.  Sigh. Cain unpacks the idea that we live in a culture that celebrates the "extrovert ideal," and her anecdotes and research are fascinating.  I would completely recommend this book to introverts in order to better understand yourself, or extroverts, to better understand the introverts in your life.  She analyzes "mixed" marriages, work collaboration and even how to set up space in a place of business.

So.  This year I've decided to fully embrace my introverted personality.  I'm pretty interested in thinking about my teaching practice, my religious practice, and my own emotional and physical well being in light of what I've learned in this book.  I did not learn to hibernate or to not stretch myself in ways that may seem painful, but rather than fighting up against my natural temperament, I want to see what happens when I use my knowledge of it to live better.

Also, as a side note, and an encouragement to my other introverts out there, Cain shared a number of life changing works have come from introverts including Harry Potter.  So there's that.

1 comment:

meaghan said...

I watched her TED talk and wanted to read her book after, but haven't yet. I think it's so helpful to understand what introversion really is, and that it's not the same as shyness. Also, I fell asleep on the couch last night at 11 while watching You've Got Mail. Cheers to kindredness.