Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I used to think there was something wrong with me. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I knew I was always an anxious person and take a mild anti-anxiety to calm my very highs and very lows...which, has been a saving grace for me and my creativity. I was always so distracted by my own anxiety about everything that I had no time to focus on anything artistic. But I now know this goes deeper than an innate mood. And I owe it all to a friend who introduced me to a book called Quiet.

Looking back to when I used to work in an office, I now understand why I wouldn't want to go to work. Or why I would have major panic attacks and feel like the whole world was crashing in on me. It's because I am an introvert. No, this doesn't mean I'm socially inept or a recluse. I just recharge better alone. Most offices force you to be in open concepts with no privacy, walls to hide behind or doors to think quietly. Management encourages staff to brainstorm in crammed meeting rooms with flip charts. I thought there was something weird about myself that when it came to a staff luncheon, I would pretend to be on the phone rather than take part in the meeting. I remember one particularly jerky creepy office manager who used to scold anyone who didn't participate in staff events as a "social retard."

I broke free of the captivity of scrutinous eyes and tight quarters with no privacy and now flourish in my own controlled environment; a mixture of social with shooting and quiet while editing. I no longer call in sick or dread going to work. I no longer have panic attacks that feel as though my heart will explode out of my chest.

I've been bookmarking some of my favourite parts of the book. They say that 50% of us are introverts so I'm sure this will relate to some of you. I once worked for a company that published the results of all the employees' Meyers-Briggs personality traits. At first, I thought this was invasive. But I came to see the merit in understanding that my manager for example, was not standoffish or rude. She simply was an introvert. I think this book is great for anyone with children who fit this profile as it discusses the types of environments these kids will flourish in. It's also good for management to understand probably half of their demographic...especially the technicians and programmers. Perhaps if they had a safe place, an office with a door where they could do their best thinking, they would be happier in their work environment. It definitely helped me to understand myself better, the types of environments I feel comfortable in and most of all recognize that I am not crazy. Just quiet. Well, sometimes anyways :)

* I had always imagined Rosa parks as a stately woman with a bold temperament, someone who could easily stand up to a busload of glowering passengers. But when she died in 2005 at the age of ninety-two, the flood of obituaries recalled her as soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature. They said she was "timid and shy" but had "the courage of a lion." They were full of phrases like "radical humility" and "quiet fortitude." What does it mean to be quiet AND have fortitude, these descriptions asked implicitly. How could you be shy AND courageous? Parks herself seemed aware of this paradox, calling her autobiography Quiet Strength-a title that challenges us to question our assumptions. Why shouldn't quiet be strong? And what else can quiet do that we don't give it credit for?

* Introversion--along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness and shyness-is now a second class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man's world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we've turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

* Now that you're an adult, you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favor of a good book. Or you are told that you're "in your head too much," a phrase that's often deployed against the quiet and cerebral. Of course, there's another word for such people: thinkers.

* Everyone waited for Laura to reply, but she couldn't think of anything to say. So she just sat there. Blinking. All eyes on her. Her clients shifting uneasily in their seats. Her thoughts running in a familiar loop: I'm too quiet for this kind of thing. She imagined the person who would be better equipped to save the day: someone bold, smooth, ready to pound the legal table. In middle school this person, unlike Laura would have been called outgoing, the highest accolade her seventh grade classmates knew, higher than "pretty" for a girl or "athletic" for a guy. Laura promised herself that she only had to make it through the day. Tomorrow she would go look for another career. Then she remembered what I'd told her again and again: she was an introvert, and as such she had unique powers in negotiation--perhaps less obvious but no less formidable. She probably prepared more than everyone else. She had a quiet but firm speaking style. She rarely spoke without thinking.

* Introverts in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. Many have a horror of small talk but enjoy deep discussions.

* But even if you answered every single question as an introvert or extrovert, that doesn't mean that your behavior is predictable across all circumstances. We can't say that every introvert is a bookworm or every extrovert wears lampshades at parties any more than we can say that every woman is a natural consensus-builder and every man loves contact sports. As Jung felicitously put it, there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.

* If we assume that quiet and loud people have roughly the same number of good (and bad) ideas, then we should worry if the louder and more forceful people always carry the day. This would mean that an awful of of bad ideas prevail while good ones get squashed.

* I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they're good talkers, but they don't have good ideas. It's so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded. Well, why is that? They're valuable traits, but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking.

* Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read, to say that they can express the "real me" online, and to spend more time in certain kind of online discussions. 

* He discovered his introversion as a junior in college when he realized he was getting up early in the morning, just to savor time alone with a steaming cup of coffee. He enjoyed parties but found himself leaving early. Other people would get louder and louder and he would get quieter and quieter.

* The high reactive babies were not misantrhopes in the making; they were simply sensitive to their environments. High reactive children may be more likely to develop into artists and writers and scientists and thinkers because their aversion to novelty causes them to spend time inside the familiar environment of their own heads. High reactives pick other vocations where  you're in charge: you close the door, pull down the shades and do your work. You're protected from encountering unexpected things. 

* The more reactive a child's amygdala, the higher his heart rate is likely to be, the more widely dilated his eyes, the tighter his vocal cords, the more cortisol (a stress hormone) in his saliva-the more jangled he's likely to feel when he confronts something new and stimulating. As high reactive infants grow up, they continue to confront the unknown in many different contexts, from visiting an amusement park for the first time to meeting new classmates on the first day of kindergarten. We tend to notice most a child's reaction to unfamiliar people--how does he behave on the first day of school? Does she seem uncertain at birthday parties full of kids she doesn't know? But what we're really observing is a child's sensitivity to novelty in general, not just to people.

* Your sweet spot is the place where you're optimally stimulated. You probably seek it out already without being aware that you're doing so. Imagine that you're lying contentedly in a hammock reading a great novel. This is a sweet spot. But after half an hour you realize that you've read the same sentence five times; now you're under stimulated. So you call a friend and go out for brunch--in other words, you ratchet up your stimulation level--and as you laugh and gossip, you're back inside your sweet spot. But this agreeable state lasts only until your friend--an extrovert who needs more more stimulation that you do, persuades you to accompany her to a block party where you're now confronted by a seas of strangers. Your friends' neighbours seem affable enough, but you feel pressured to make small talk above the din of music. Now--bang, just like that--you've fallen out of your sweet spot, except this time you're overstimulated and you'll probably feel that way until you pair off with someone on the periphery of the party of an in-depth conversation, or bow out altogether and return to your novel.

* If fast and slow animals had parties, some of the fasts would bore everyone with their loud conversation, while others would mutter into their beer that they don't get any respect. Slow animals are best described as shy, sensitive types. They don't assert themselves but they are observant and notice things that are invisible to the bullies. They are the writers and artists at the party who have interesting conversations out of earshot of the bullies. They are the inventors who figure out new ways to behave while the bullies steal their patents by copying their behavior.

* The popular press is full of suggestions that introverted leaders practice their public speaking skills and smile more. But Grant's research suggests that in at least one important regard--encouraging employees to take initiative--introverted leaders would do well to go on doing what they do naturally. Extroverted leaders on the other hand, may wish to adopt a more reserved, quiet style. They may want to learn to sit down so that others might stand up. Which is just what a woman named Rosa Parks did naturally.

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