One of my favorite columnists, Leonard Pitts, Jr., recently wrote a commentary titled I (heart) introverts in which he reviewed Susan Cain’s New York Times bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I immediately bought the book and found myself on almost every page.
For most of my life, I’ve urged myself to be more extroverted, but the opposite has happened: I see more evidence of introversion every year. (Those of you who know me from my classroom training may be scratching your heads because you’ve seen me be super-extroverted in the classroom. That puzzles me, too.)
Classic definitions suggest that extroverts are drawn to the external life of people and activities; they recharge by socializing. By contrast, introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling and recharge by being alone. But Cain shows that the differences in personality are much more complicated as she traces the history of introversion and some of its political ramifications. For example, she posits that the 2008 meltdown was caused by too much power being concentrated in the hands of extroverts, whom she defines as aggressive risk-takers. That’s a separate, but very fascinating, discussion.
For this column, I want to share my revelation that once I recognized my introversion, I applauded it as one facet of a complex personality and celebrated the opportunity to do what makes me most comfortable: enjoy the solitude and quiet that allows me to generate ideas and content and then embrace that small part of me that enjoys the extroversion of collaboration and communication.
Cain estimates introverts make up one-third of the general population. I was interested to find that, while teaching a recent webinar on freelancing for the Society for Technical Communication, 75% of potential freelancers self-identified as introverts. Perhaps introverts become freelancers because they feel that they can control their work environment more than they might in a normal, noisy work setting at a company or organization.
(It would interest me to know what the percentages are among my readers. If you know where you fit on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, please take my completely unscientific poll. If you’d prefer, take Cain’s equally unscientific quiz first and then report your finding on the poll.)
Cain believes that our culture undervalues introverts and elevates extroverts, but she warns against that bias. She urges introverts to recognize their true nature; to choose jobs that allow them to thrive; and to strengthen their communication skills, both in writing and speaking, so that they may counter some of the irrational exuberance of extroverts in their workplace.
Of course, as a trainer of presentation and writing skills, that makes a lot of sense to me. Since I’ve stopped trying to convert myself into an extrovert, I feel I have a lot more energy. I still go forth into the world, greet fellow hikers and bikers, and interact in all my communities. I just enjoy my solitude more now that I’m not feeling quite so guilty about it.
Links of interest