A few years ago, I stopped turning on the car radio. At the time, it was because the kids were usually in the car with me and I didn’t want them hearing the “bump and grind” lyrics that are so unfortunately common these days.
But now with the boys in school and Kate in preschool, I still don’t reach for the radio knob. And now I know why. It’s the quiet. When I’m alone in the car and all I hear is the hum of the road beneath me, I soak in the silence. I love it. It’s like medicine that soothes the raw edges of the day.
A few weeks ago I came across a new book called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I downloaded it as fast as my iPad would let me. Written by a fellow introvert, the author examines research designed to determine if introverts are the way we are because of “nature or nurture”. And she lands squarely on the side of nature. Introverts are likely hard-wired this way. But, in what has become an increasingly extroverted world, being born an introvert can often feel like a personality defect.
For the record, being an introvert is different from being shy – although the two things can sometimes overlap. Shyness is a fear of certain social situations. Being introverted doesn’t necessarily include fear. It just means you prefer a small group over a large one and that you need and like your “down time”.
I’m a recovering shy person who is and always will be an introvert. And this week I’m an introvert on her way to a national bloggers’ writing conference where I’ll mix and mingle with 750 other people. Though I’m excited about learning new things, meeting that many strangers and making that much small talk makes me uptight. I don’t get this nervous about a trip to the gynecologist’s office, and I’ve been way more up close and personal with that guy.
Of course, I’ll get through the conference just fine and probably even enjoy it because, like so many introverts, I’ve learned to “turn it on” and pretend to be an extroverted party-goer who loves these kinds of events. Quiet people sense early on that, especially in the business world, being an extrovert pays off. It’s not enough anymore to be good at a job because managers will also want you to prove it with an eloquent Powerpoint presentation to a room full of people. At company retreats, you’ll need to happily participate in “ice breakers” and “team building activities” which, for introverts, feel a lot like a root canal.
Even Sunday mornings aren’t totally relaxed because, inevitably, the minister will ask you to “turn and greet your neighbors” during the service. We introverts will smile, shake hands and be warm and gracious, even though we’re internally cringing over yet another forced social interaction.
Don’t get me wrong. Introverts like getting to know people and we need social interaction. We just prefer it as a slow trickle instead of a fast waterfall. The book “Quiet” helped me understand the differences and stop feeling apologetic about it. It shows how the two personality styles can complement one another and how society and companies benefit from having both.
Plus, it was nice to learn that I’m in the company of some remarkable introverts in history, including Moses, Einstein, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Dr. Seuss. I do love “Green Eggs and Ham,” you know. And I love the hum of the road in a quiet car, too.