Friday, July 29, 2016

A Quiet Person in a Loud World

After reading Quiet by Susan Cain, I was inspired to write about my life as an introvert and the experiences I've had over the years.

*****

Being a quiet person in a loud world is super difficult. But no one has ever understood that better than Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t stop Talking. It’s like this book was written with me in mind. I’ve never felt more understood as a person, more valued as an introvert and a quiet person, more vindicated about my personality. After living my whole life being told to speak up, to go out and socialize, to put the book down and live life, this was like a breath of a fresh air. A reminder to myself that I am who I am and that I shouldn’t have to change that. That I have power as an introvert in a world meant for extroverts. As someone who has found it hard to accept that, this book hit me so personally that I want to throw this at everyone in my life and tell them, “Want to understand me? Read this!” I actually think everyone should read it anyway, to better understand everyone, especially introverts. After all, the introvert-extrovert debate has basis in biology and the brain. It even has genetic basis. It’s not a social construct (though how you are viewed as either one of them is a byproduct of society). Therefore, it is not made-up. I’ve spent my whole life with people treating it as if it was made-up, as if it was simply my shyness, as if I just needed to set the fear of socializing aside and TALK. It is not that simple, and it is NOT as bad as people make it out to be.

Susan spent a large part of the book talking about how this world prizes extroverts over introverts. How people who have commanding presences and charismatic performances are seen as better leaders. How schools and workplaces push for group projects and teamwork because they think it makes for better productivity and makes kids who find it hard to be assertive ready for the “real world.” Because the world is not made for the quiet people, the ones who prefer the solitude of their own self to parties and events. The people who would rather work by themselves than with a group. The people who are considered less because they don’t speak up. It’s something that has become apparent to me when I was job searching. A few of the places I applied made me take a personality quiz (which lol I’m a psychology major so I know how to manipulate my answers). The problem is that they are specifically set up to make people who have mental illnesses fail. They are also set up to fail introverts (I’ve proven this by answering honestly before, and being told I’m not what they want in an employee). If you are either of these things, and you answer honestly, good luck making it past the quiz. What they are looking for: upbeat, charismatic, social people who love working in teams and who enjoy talking to customers. They want extroverts! They want people who find it easy to lead but also to follow, who love cooperation and collaboration, and who don’t ever have bad days, basically. (Coincidentally, I have a job now, but this still applied before that).

Not all introverts don’t like socializing, though. Another big thing that Susan brought up in this book is that being introverted /=/ being shy. This is something I’ve actually forgotten, but something I do know to be true. One of my friends from college calls herself an introvert with extroverted tendencies. She doesn’t have problems in social situations; she isn’t shy. But after awhile, she wants to leave, to shut the door to her room and be alone. People who are extroverted aren’t necessarily socially confident, either. It’s a spectrum, in my mind. With most people at one end or another, but who move down the line throughout life and for certain situations. My job as a bookseller is going to be involving customers. And I’m nervous and scared about that, because not only am I an introvert, but I AM shy. I find it hard to do small talk. I find it hard to speak up in group settings. A few people mentioned this during BEA week this past year, not realizing how shy I am because I seem like an extrovert on social media and through my blog. But trust me, I am. It’s something that has always felt like a weakness to me, because it does affect my relationships with people, as well as in general just trying to socialize! It doesn’t help that I am also by nature an introvert. I feel like if I could get a better grasp on the shyness, the social anxiety, then I’d feel a lot more able to appreciate social settings. Even if I need to back away for a bit to figuratively recharge the batteries, I’d know it was because I’ve had too much stimulation and not because I’m so nervous and terrified of conversation that I want to run away and hide. But I’ve come to accept being an introvert as a strength and a good quality, after years of feeling like a failure because of it. It’s just that many people see it as a weakness instead. Because they don’t understand it. 

The world does not understand what it means to be an introvert. What it means to be an introvert is being forced to work in groups in school and college when you would rather work on your own. It means stifling your creativity because the loudest voice is the one people are gonna listen to. It means quiet is seen as less confident, less assertive. It means going to parties or events with hundreds of people and wishing you were back home in your pajamas with a good book or Netflix. It means needing to step away, to have quiet solitude, because you are overstimulated and have to recharge. It means growing up being called shy and timid, and having people tell you to speak up and get more involved. It means sitting with a group of people in the lunchroom rather than sitting alone like you want because it’s more socially acceptable. It means people forcing you to grow more comfortable in group settings because they think you NEED to work with other people in order to excel in life. It means doing job applications and having to lie about your personality because they don't want you as an employee otherwise. It means people will assume you aren’t happy alone, that you are actually lonely and want company. It means people who feel bad for you if you are stuck eating dinner alone in your college cafeteria, when in reality, you don’t care how it looks. It means constantly having to defend your choices, because people think you need to go out and live your life and socialize to have fun. It means people who don’t understand why you crave solitude. 
 
Of course, like I’ve said above, this is not universal to all introverts (just like not all extroverts are the same). But these have been my experiences over the years that have really made me feel like I’m wired wrong. That I SHOULD want to spend more time with people than I do. That I should want to go out and Do Things rather than read a book or watch Netflix. I’ve had so many people who haven’t understood this. But my roommate sophomore year did. My one friend that I talked about, the introvert with extroverted tendencies, did understand. It was a good thing too, that the two of us roomed together in our 4-person suite. We had, gosh I don’t even remember what we called it now, nights where we would just do our own thing in our room. I’d read a book and she’d watch a TV show on Hulu, and we wouldn’t talk. It wasn’t awkward or weird, because the two of us understood each other in a way that only introverts get. Sometimes I’d want to know what she’s laughing about or she’d ask how my book was going, but most of it was spent in quiet solitude, but together. The roommate situation couldn’t have been more perfect in that regard. My one friend didn’t understand WHY we did this, and sometimes she’d get bored when her roommate was gone and interrupt. But I can’t be a hypocrite and say I don’t understand why she needs to be surrounded by people. Because I do, now. She’s an extrovert who NEEDS that stimulation, who can’t stand the quiet of her own company like we could. I swear that if more people understood what it means to be introverts or extroverts, then it would help relationships and it would help people understand each other better.

I’m a listener. I think before I speak (most of the time). If I’m quiet in a group setting, it’s not ALWAYS because I’m shy. I’m generally just listening and watching and absorbing all of the conversation. (I do still find it hard to be assertive because damn it, it’s hard to talk over loud people!). I like my own company. I prefer to be alone, except in social situations, because then I just feel awkward by myself. I would rather spend a Friday night at home, wearing what I’ll go to bed in and reading or Netflixing. I haven’t had many people in my life who’ve understood this. There was a quote in the book that REALLY felt like me and I want to share:

The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships into the real world.

DID YOU WRITE THIS BOOK WITH ME IN MIND, SUSAN? Haha. I would guess many bloggers I know as well would be able to relate to this. I feel like so many of us (authors included) ARE introverts. I feel like I’ve heard many of you say it over the years. It helps, knowing that I am not alone, that there are many people out there who DO understand what it’s like being an introvert in a world made for extroverts. In a world where the loudest person is the one seen as the most confident, the most assertive, the most able to lead. Where quiet is viewed as a weakness, a hindrance, rather than a strength. But it’s MY strength. It’s not a weakness; it’s not something that needs to be fixed. And it’s not something that should be looked down upon. That is what I think Susan Cain was trying to get at with this book. More understanding and giving introverts back the power that people think they don’t have because they’re quiet.