Loner by PrettyWastedStore on Etsy
One of the books I bought a few weeks ago was Quiet: The Power of Introverts, by Susan Cain. My brother recommended it to me, and aside from his occasional geek-outs over cyber security, his taste is usually pretty spot-on with my own. Sure enough, I loved it just as much as he said I would.
As I read the book, devouring page after page, I felt a little bit like I was coming home, I felt like I was untangling bits and pieces of myself I’ve been struggling with for years.
The book is about introverts, those strange people among us who prefer quiet over noise, seclusion over the crowded chaos of a party. I am one of those people. Very, very much so. I think I have become more introverted as the years have passed, or perhaps just become more comfortable with this preference, but it hasn’t been an easy journey.
I don’t think I realized how guilty I felt about this status, this identity, until I finished reading. Texting a friend about the book, I wrote (somewhat cheesily) “I feel like this book has given me permission to be who I am.”
Introversion isn’t exactly popular in this world of ours, you’re expected to join, see, do, participate. And I want to want to do those things, I want to be the life of the party, the wild child, I want to feel at home surrounded by a revolving door of friends and strangers waiting to become friends – who wouldn’t?
I often look at my sister Hilary – a poster child for extroversion if ever there were one – and feel placid, lame in comparison. I chastise myself each and every time I choose to stay home for a few hours of quiet instead of going out and falling in step with the blur of faces and names and small talk.
I used to be far more social, almost obsessively so. During my high school and early university years if I spent even one night at home during the week I felt like I was missing something, a loser sitting on the sidelines. Those urges waned however, and towards the end of my four years at university I would come home exhausted from a day full of lectures and discussions and debates and group projects, craving silence. And stillness. And space to sift through the days events in peace.
These days I count a few close friends instead of a clutch of acquaintances, I’m a homebody, a hermit. Being around large groups of people exhausts me, overloads me. Halfway through any given event you’ll find me strained and stretched, wishing I were anywhere else, surrounded by quiet instead of smiling faces.
Reading Quiet was illuminating, it explained why I felt this way and what’s more, it suggested that this deep desire for solitude and introspection wasn’t the result of some immutable character defect, some missing piece. Instead it explored the origins of introverts, sharing studies of newborns that suggest that it is largely an innate trait, one we are born with. Introverted infants are more like to be over-stimulated, become fussier with constant interaction. School-aged introverts are looked upon as projects by teachers who worry that they aren’t “joining in” as much as they should.
Entering adulthood and exposed to the same levels of stimuli, introverts feel overloaded, extroverts feel bored.
Quiet shares the way our society has almost unequivocally embraced extroversion as the ideal, in everything from clustered “group” desk formations in Elementary school, to brainstorming sessions in corporate life, to the social imperative to “put yourself out there”. There’s little slack cut for introverts, us sad little people.
It seems to be universally understood that we are missing out somehow, in desperate need of cajoling and hounding, we should be encouraged to speak up, stand out, peel ourselves off the walls and elbow our way into the fray alongside the loud happy throng of extroverts.
A few years ago I started reading Gretchen Rubin’s blog The Happiness Project. One of the discoveries that she has called the Truths of Adulthood is that you can change what you do, but you can’t change what you like to do.
I remember reading this statement over and over again as it sunk in. I could change what I did, but not what I liked to do. It resonated with me, and I started questioning why was I forcing myself to go out, attend parties, make small talk, spend three or four nights a week in discomfort wishing I was anywhere else but where I was, because of some misguided notion that this is what I “should” be doing, “should” be enjoying?
Because when I was honest with myself, I didn’t enjoy it. At all.
Quiet has been the second part of that realization: the justification I needed to not feel guilty or ashamed somehow of this decision to scale back, stay in. Quiet provided the studies and research and proof that this sociologist needed to understand why.
I adore books like this, thank you Liam for recommending it.