Susan Cain is wonderful and brilliant. She has done an exceptional thing by writing a book about introversion, and how our culture reacts to this personality trait. When I read this book, I felt like I was listening to a friend, to a kindred spirit that understood the cultural bias, the pathological undertones, the scores of misjudgments, the patronizing, and the condescension directed towards introverts and shy individuals. If there's one sentiment that has been pounded into my gut and my core over the course of my life, and that has troubled me the most, it’s this obnoxious piece of unsolicited fallacy: Welcome to this world where extroverts are the heroes and introverts are Yetis. Cain's book dispels this myth, and offers startling insights into what it means to be an introvert and an extrovert.
I never quite understood why I needed to be an extrovert, or this madman obsession our race has with being a singularly social creature. The last time I checked evolution had granted a rite of passage to both introverts and extroverts, so who made anyone the boss of which personality trait is superior and which is inferior. It’s funny how many times I have heard the recommendation: "you are so shy and so quiet" in an utterly reprehensible tone, urging me to mend my ways for "my own good", but not once did I ever respond back to these folks: thousand mile per hour gibberish, does that not hurt your brain, your nervous system and your mouth. Pretty kind of me, I think. Either that, or a little too cowardly to not stand up for who I was. Either ways, this sage recommendation came to me from my peers, teachers, and other authority figures. Growing up, I never met anyone as shy and as introverted like me, but the story of my life was that I was relentlessly and direly expected to talk more, to have more friends, and to go out more often, and I failed at all of the above. And the hilarious thing is the more I was asked to be social, the more I would retreat.
This particular memory comes to mind: I had gotten my very first job at a big IT company, and as a part of their induction and training program, each of us had to go through a personality development workshop. I cringed my way through it by doing what was necessary, but barely making the mark did not sit well with the instructor, and some of my peers who cast strange glances at me, and thought me to be uncannily weird. Till the end, the instructor treated me as someone afflicted with a personality disorder, a troublesome element, a weak link, an intellectually challenged neurotic individual. "Well played" is what my adult self would say to her. Of course, back then, I kept quiet, and felt bad for myself. One of the first things I was told by the counselor of my business school was that I was too soft-spoken, and would be weeded out by the corporate world as weak and lacking self-confidence. So, you can imagine, as a doomed introvert, how wonderfully beatific this book was for me.
By all means, this book is a celebration of an introvert’s psychology; an enlightening movement full of scientific research and profound conclusions. If you are an introvert, or a shy person, this book is the story of your life, of your painful experiences, of your nature, of your choices. It puts into perspective your psyche from a biological, psychological, and a philosophical standpoint. This book was so liberating, so empowering, so redemptive that it set me free from the dogma, and prevailing worldly convictions that being an introvert and being shy means something is wrong with me, and that the world only honors and rewards extroversion.
What I loved most about this book is the science. Being introverted and being shy is a scientific outcome of the way a nervous system, and the brain is configured. The amygdala in the brain generates fear, and emotional and social anxiety; research indicates that introverts and shy people have a highly sensitive amygdala, and the neocortex which is responsible for curbing fear is not as sensitive in introverts and shy people. It’s brilliant to know that there’s a scientific explanation for the way I am, that is all the validation I need (mostly).
This book answered so many questions I had about my nature, and about my make. Scientific research says that temperament is mainly driven by biology, and that environmental influences, though powerful, might not be as impactful as our inherited genes. About willpower, it says that free will endows very limited bandwidth as to how much you can deviate from your true nature. You cannot completely recast the dice, and be someone else; you hardly have any leeway for that.
I often wondered why I felt so melancholic, so low on energy, so unmotivated, so dispirited and like an underachiever despite having advanced academic degrees, and a shot at the conventional career ladder. I burned bright with a sense of disconnect in a crowd. Why? Again, this is brilliantly explained in this book. Research indicates that introverts and shy people can only surpass their social unease when they pursue that which they are passionate about, and that which lights them up. They are not motivated by social status, status quo, wealth, and fame. Small talk, parties, social gatherings, people in large numbers overstimulates their nervous system, and their energy levels crash. They are not good at multi-tasking, and are slow at making decisions.
There’s a great chapter on how parents can support and help their introverted and shy kids find their niche in life, which I found really endearing. Another chapter talks about couple therapy for married introverts and extroverts. I found myself feeling all emotional and a little teary-eyed about how much empathy, understanding, compassion the author and some of the people in this book had for introverted and shy people. I felt myself seething when I read how the corporate world will thrust an extrovert into a leadership role even though an introvert might be more suitable, emphasizing style matters more than substance. I reveled when the book mentioned that introverts are a persistent, artistic, cerebral, sensitive creed. I felt a sense of awe, and deep respect for all the remarkable introverts, who for the sake of their passion and art, temporarily turned into extroverts for a few hours. I was stumped and shocked when the author said that arts and long distance running are perfect for an introvert/shy person, which is exactly what, after years of seeking, and soul searching, I found myself to be passionate about, and which is what I have decided to dedicate myself to. It talks about how solitude is one of the most important factors for creativity, and for being in the optimal, exalted state of flow; that, in part, explained my creative, artistic temperament.
This book does a great job of portraying extroverts, and comparing their traits against introverts. There is a lot of information to grasp, and comprehend. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding their own psychology, or psychology in general. To me, this book spelled out unanimously – that just like gravity, introversion and shyness is a law with science and nuance to it.
The love for books & a hunger for stories was programmed into my DNA. And, sooner than later, life experiences sealed the deal. Books have saved me, transformed my life, enlightened me and have shown me the path I must walk. In a way, far too many books have played the role of kindred spirits and guides, leading the seeker in me to answers and paving a way for a new way of life. Books have helped me keep my wits, my sense of wonder, my sense of mystery and curiosity & my sanity in a life that has been anything but predictable and normal.