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VOL. 36 | NO. 7 | Friday, February 17, 2012

Being an introvert in a world of extroverts

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You had to go, so you did – kicking and screaming.

Really, you must admit it was nice of the boss to host the holiday party. In these tough economic times, she didn’t have to do it. She paid for food, a band, even door prizes. Everybody seemed to have a good time.

Everybody but you.

If you’d had your druthers, you’d have stayed home, feet up, with a good book. But no, you went to the party, and in the new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, you’ll find out why you hated every minute of it.

From the moment you were born, your life was shaped not only by your gender and ethnicity but also by the personality you inherited: scientists know that 40 to 50 percent of who you are came from nature rather than nurture. They also know that by the time infants are four months old, they can tell which babies will grow up to be introverts and which will become gregarious adults.

Though we all fall on an introvert-extrovert spectrum with varying degrees of either (and an odd mix of both), the lifestyle of a full extrovert is “enormously appealing.” Cain says there is an “extrovert ideal” in our society that’s not found in many cultures. We’re pushed to be outgoing and bold, both in school and at work.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

by Susan Cain

c.2012, $26

333 pages, includes index

But will it make us more successful, or healthier?

Not necessarily – and maybe.

Studies show that we believe loud, fast talkers to be smarter, but Cain says introverts who are allowed to perform in sync with their personalities can be better leaders with deeper ideas and more creativity. As for health, many introverts are more sensitive than most to sight, sound, smells and pain. They’re hyper-alert, physically, but that could lead to anxiety.

So, since we all need to learn to get along, what can you do?

If you’re an introvert, practice being more open, but don’t overdo it. Learn to tap into your strengths but heed your inner-self, and don’t hesitate to seek out “down-time” if you need it.

If you share workspace with an introvert, take advantage of his or her tendencies, talents, thoughts, and creativity. After all, the new Einstein, Proust, Seuss, Gandhi or Newton might be sitting in the next cube over…

Tired of feeling nervous, overwhelmed, weird? Or are you on the verge of firing a non-team-player? Either way, stop what you’re doing now and read Quiet.

As a “closet introvert” from way back, I was absolutely delighted at the things author Susan Cain unearthed. Not only does she give us a basic history of introversion and a round-up of scientific knowledge about it, but she also offers help and advice for introverts, their loved ones, and their supervisors.

Baffled limelight lovers will learn a lot from this book, but the real appeal will come to people who are happier backstage. If you’re reticent, retiring and rejoiceful over it, Quiet is a book you’ll shout about.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.

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