There’s something about quiet people that makes the rest of the world uncomfortable. I assure you, you are not paid in the end for each word used. But many leaders, from teachers to parents to coaches to bosses, don’t understand the power of quiet. I just started reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The very first chapter just about had me in tears. Susan talks about how introverts are often criticized when they are young for how, well, quiet they are; how they need to “come out of their shell.” This criticism roots deep and they (we, for I am one of them), grow into adults thinking there is something wrong with us. The only thing wrong is that we’re living in an extroverted world. What caused me to feel so emotional about this revelation was the notion that I’m not alone in this suffering, for back then I was singled out repeatedly. Now I know there is a whole club of us!
In the fifth grade, a teacher I so admired called my parents in for a conference to tell them I was not performing well. I was daydreaming. (Oh, the horror!) My grades were solid, and her criticism of me hurt my little heart. This same teacher later called my parents about my brother, making similar claims. He’s smart and successful and super talented, so I guess we now know where the problem really lay in that classroom. She wanted us all to be front seat, hands raised, Ivy Leaguers. We were just not her kind of students.
I also began cheerleading in middle school. This was perhaps the most scarring of all. My coach would keep me in the gym after class and make me shout the cheers alone, trying to teach me to be “louder.” She would stand on the opposite side of the gym and yell back, “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” I should have said, “I can’t be a cheerleader!” But then, all I thought was that I was strange and a failure. Later, I worked an internship on a team of sociable, flamboyant people. My work was solid and I was a great fit a position there, but at the end of the internship I was overlooked for the job because I didn’t “fit in” with the lifestyle the others lived. I even dated a guy who drove himself crazy by asking me what was wrong all the time. If I had a dime for every time I’ve been asked “what’s wrong” I could buy my own library and live there.
By high school I was performing in theatre, adored my public speaking classes, and was generally teaching myself to be a pseudo-extrovert. Those are skills I enjoy employing some of the time. If you know me now, you might have to pause for a minute to think about it. Many of us introverts are walking around with extroversion skills. But the truth is I am still an introvert. I still need time away from people to recharge. I still need to process things in my own head and on my own time.
Quiet states that one third to one half of all Americans are introverts. Even if you aren’t one, you surely know many. Maybe you’re married to one, or work closely with one, or are raising one. This was posted online recently and I think it should be placed in offices and classrooms.
I’ll share more as I get further into this book. For now, I’m excited that author Cain has begun this important conversation. Maybe the next generation of introverts will only feel as isolated as they want to feel.