Quiet by Susan Cain: A Revelatory Book

A sort of review, sort of autobiographical account.

As previously outlined in my Burn Out and Know Thyself blog posts, I am very much an ‘over thinker’. When people give me feedback (or in some cases just downright criticise) I analyse everything deeply.

One of the same sentences said to me over and over again throughout the years ‘I wish you were more confident’ or ‘I wish you had more oomph’ and each time it has taken me aback, and usually when being dumped. So much fun.

(also just a quick PSA, that kind of feedback knocks confidence even further).

Sure I have never thought myself the most attractive person, but I do know my mind, I have never bowed to peer pressure, I am very content in my own company, I do not flit from relationship to the next, and quite a few friends over the years have said I am a shepherd rather than a sheep.

So in this quest I have undertaken in the last 18 months to try and better understand myself I happened upon this book at the airport waiting to fly to Geneva for work.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. By Susan Cain.

Everything. fell. into. place.

Society norm is thus;

“We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.”

The issue is, you are either born an extrovert or you’re not.

Not only am I an introvert (we knew this already – INFJ, if you’re interested) but also an HSP (highly sensitive person).

Researchers/scientists can now tell if you are one or the other when you are baby, it depends on how reactive you to stimuli (balloon popping, the taste of acidic lemon) those who react strongly grow to be introverts, and it is to do with the amygdala in the limbic system, simply introverts have a highly excitable one, so process the environment much more intensely than extroverts, that’s why extroverts tend to grow restless and need more stimuli (and interestingly in the case of sociopaths, there is evidence that their amygdalae is damaged).

What this also means is that HSPs feel things on a much deeper level, if we accidentally broke something of yours, our guilt is amplified, so introverts and HSPs tend to develop a high moral system. You also do not need to discipline an HSP as much a normal child, doing so could actually be counterproductive.

“They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions–sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments–both physical and emotional–unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss–another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”

One of the other things within the book which struck a chord with me was a chapter on the evangelical church, and how that seems to have become the norm for how people expect you to live your life;

“Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme…If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly.”

In fact I believe that a lot of the people I have been romantically involved with seem to adhere to this ideal, that if you don’t say it loud and proud then you clearly do not feel it, it could not be further from the truth, still waters run deep after all.

Another interesting point made in the book, is with regards to a young investor back in the early 2000s called Charlie Ledley, who was brilliant, but terrible at raising capital because he was tentative, so instead they invested their money with managers who exuded confidence and certainty. Of course Charlie Ledley and his friend Jamie Mai had the last laugh in 2008 when their investments into FUD landed them a 100 million fortune, and those who went elsewhere lost big. (Yup, it’s those young guys from The Big Short). I guess the moral of that story is not to walk away from someone just because they don’t much up to this confident, certain extrovert ideal, it could cost you dearly.

As an aside, I find it incredibly interesting that some of the people find the most fascinating and accomplished; Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, are all introverts, they don’t seem very boring to me.

I’ll make one last point, as this seems to have turned into an essay, and that is that introverts like to get to the deep stuff first.

“It’s not that there is no small talk…It’s that it comes not at the beginning of conversations but at the end…Sensitive people…’enjoy small talk only after they’ve gone deep’ says Strickland. ‘When sensitive people are in environments that nurture their authenticity, they laugh and chitchat just as much as anyone else.”

And clearly that is true, I do very much like people who are authentic, and honest (that’s a big one for me) I do not have time for anyone trying to be something they are not, you’ll know anyway, because I can’t hide how I am feeling, it is written all over my face.

But an evening one on one with someone, talking about the meaning of life until the small hours of the morning, that for me is a perfect evening.

I am coming to the end of this book now, but it has been an amazing read for me, being able to read scientific reasons why I am the way I am has been fascinating, and in a way helped me accept that I won’t be an extrovert, I am not reward drive, I am persistent, and I am intense. That’s fine by me.

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