When my children were younger, I forced myself to get out there and mingle. That's what you do for your kids. I tried to get them to mingle too. Aren't you supposed to that too? After they went off to college, I got to remember again what it is like to come home and not have to do all that stuff. I started to just say no. No to evening volunteer things, no to school social gatherings, no to casual drinks at the local watering hole on Fridays after work. I started to be more comfortable with the introvert that I am.
As Susan Cain demonstrates in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, the cultural ideal has become one of extraversion. In her opening chapters she delineates how extroversion came to be the norm. I was flabbergasted to read that child rearing experts in the 50's and 60's promoted the idea that outgoing, extroverted personalities were the ticket (the best ticket) to success. Parents were told to push the child who wanted to go within, out. A kid who liked solitude and reading and quieter activities (though not necessarily a shy kid) was seen as somehow defective. Parents in mid 20th century were told they shouldn't accept this behavior. I am so grateful that my parents didn't heed this piece of so called wisdom. Instead, imagination was encouraged, reading was king, and a child who could entertain herself was seen as a blessing.
I am tempted to summarize all of the subjects covered in this book but another way to convey her ideas is to refer you to Susan Cain's Manifesto. Some of the points she makes include:
1. There's a word for "people who are in their heads too much": thinkers.
2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our "heed-takers" more than ever.
3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.
4. We teach kids in group classrooms not because this is the best way to learn but because it's cost-efficient, and what else would we do with the children while all the grown-ups are at work? If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there's nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the model.
5. The next generation of quiet kids can and should be raised to know their own strength.
6. Sometimes it helps to be a pretend-extrovert. There's always time to be quiet later.
7. But in the long run, staying true to your temperament is the key to finding work you love and work that matters.
8. Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it's a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.
9. It's OK to cross the street to avoid making small talk.
10. "Quiet leadership" is not an oxymoron.
11. If the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second half is to make sense of where you've been.
12. Love is essential, gregariousness is optional.
Susan Cain explores introversion through psychological research old and new, personal experiences, and even brain chemistry. The information is delivered in an engaging and highly-readable fashion. It's well worth a trip to the library.