When we picture successful people, we tend to lean toward the extroverts — those who speak up more, get noticed more, and interact with others more than their introverted peers. But introverts have much to offer beneath their quieter demeanor, and they are more than wallflowers. They are not necessarily even shy.
Extroverts thrive on interaction with other people, which gives them the energy they need, and they tend to be restless when alone. Introverts, on the other hand, recharge through seclusion and tend not to be lonely when alone. An introvert may look forward to a quiet evening at home with the same zeal as an extrovert who anticipates an evening out with friends. The extrovert is geared toward activity, the introvert toward contemplation. They are both vital parts of the same world.
You may not realize that some of your close friends and family members are introverts. It doesn’t always show.
“I dream big and have audacious goals, and I see no contradiction between this and my quiet nature,” Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” writes on her website.
Cain, a former attorney and negotiations consultant, dropped out of corporate life to live a quieter life as a writer at home with her family. She describes the seven years of writing her best-selling book as “total bliss.”
“Quiet” was published in January, 2012. The following month, Cain left her blissful world momentarily to do a TED Talk, “The Power of Introverts.” To prepare, she joined Toastmasters, worked with TED’s speaking coach, and spent six days with an acting coach. Three months later, she wrote that she had become an “impossibly oxymoronic creature: the Public Introvert.”
That introvert aced her talk, which reached one million views faster than any other TED talk and now is ranked as the 12th-most viewed TED Talk of all time. It’s the favorite of Microsoft founder and multi-billionaire Bill Gates, himself an introvert who says one of the advantages of introversion is the ability to spend long periods of time thinking about a problem or concept.
Cain tells “Quiet” readers that Western society is dominated by what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal.”
“Introversion — along with its cousins – sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness — is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology,” she writes. Extroversion, she notes, “is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”
Society really isn’t designed for the introvert. Children are encouraged to speak up, to get over “shyness,” to play well with others. Introverted teens may be considered antisocial or withdrawn. Adults in the workplace are often advised to be assertive, to join committees, to take leadership roles at work and in the community — in other words, to be productive members of society, or as Cain says, the Extrovert Ideal.
“But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly,” Cain writes. “Some of our great ideas, art, and inventions — from the theory of evolution to Van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer — came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.”
In the quiet, introverts are in their element, momentarily removed from the world of the extrovert. They create art, solve business problems, and come up with great ideas. Businesses are wise to celebrate the introvert along with the extrovert. They are two sides to the same coin.