Sixteen Things I Believe

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I updated my “Things I Believe” list recently. There are now sixteen of them — see below.

Which beliefs do you agree or disagree with? What things do you believe? I would love to hear.

1. Introverts are to extroverts what women once were to men: second-class citizens whose time has come.

2. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

3. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

4. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

5. Texting is popular because in an overly extroverted society, everyone craves asynchronyous, non-F2F communication.

6. We teach kids in group classrooms not because this is the best way to learn but because it’s cost-efficient, and what else would we do with the children while all the grown-ups are at work? If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there’s nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the model.

7. The next generation of quiet kids can and should be raised to know their own strength.

8. Sometimes it helps to be a pretend-extrovert. There’s always time to be quiet later.

9. But in the long run, staying true to your temperament is the key to finding work you love and work that matters.

10. Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.

11. Rule of thumb for networking events: one genuine new relationship is worth a fistful of business cards.

12. It’s OK to cross the street to avoid making small talk.

13. “Quiet leadership” is not an oxymoron.

14. The universal longing for heaven is not about immortality so much as the wish for a world in which everyone is always kind.

15. If the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second half is to make sense of where you’ve been.

16. Love is essential, gregariousness is optional.

—“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Gandhi

 


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37 Comments

  1. Danielle on 10.05.2011 at 21:57 (Reply)

    I agree so very much with 1,9 and 15.

    I’ve tried no. 8 only to confuse both parties. Introverts thought I was selling out and extroverts didn’t know if I was coming or going and thought the temporary change was going to be permanent.

    There’s just no winning this war.

  2. Catherine on 10.05.2011 at 22:20 (Reply)

    The thing is, I don’t think it’s a war. It’s just two different kinds of people. Extroverts are loud, so they get the attention - but I’m not sure that they have the kind of inner resolve that we more introverted people have been able to develop. There are things each kind of person can learn from each other, and there are things that we can learn from extroverts. Things look so easy for them from the outside, but inside they are as tormented as we are.

    Think about it — extroverts suffer when there are not people around for them to interact with. Think about how much they must deal with, constantly trying to create scenarios wherein they are surrounded by people, or at least accompanied by people. Going to the movies alone is not a delicious escape for them, but a horrific thought. Being alone in their home is not peaceful and serene, but lonely and frightening. There is so much they miss out on that we are able to enjoy.

    Our inner resolve and understanding of the world around us comes from the time we have spent in quiet contemplation. We have the compassion. It’s up to us to create the bridge between the two types. No, it’s not fair, but it’s what’s true. We have strength of a different kind. It’s all in how we wield it.

    1. Susan Cain on 10.05.2011 at 22:33 (Reply)

      Beautiful and true. Thank you, Catherine.

  3. chel on 10.05.2011 at 22:28 (Reply)

    I believe they need to do more research about social connections = long term health and happiness. I know this isn’t true for me, and I’m tired of reading health experts telling me over and over unless I go out and be completely social, I’m not going to be healthy or happy.

    1. Susan Cain on 10.05.2011 at 22:34 (Reply)

      That is why one of my “things I believe” is: love is essential, gregariousness is optional! I think that the experts you’re reading routinely conflate the two.

  4. Danielle on 11.05.2011 at 07:17 (Reply)

    Catherine is right. It is true that to an extrovert being alone equals loneliness to them. It’s a shame they can’t see the difference between aloneness and loneliness. One once told me she needed someone to complete her. I found that so sad.

    This said, there is so much cattiness and disrespect of private matters at the office that I’d rather read a good book at lunch time than interact with the office gossips. I especially don’t appreciate a HR director forcing me to be friends with them on a ‘personal’ level. I believe I have the right to choose my friends as I see fit, taking the time to study them afrom afar before letting them into my life.

    Chel is also right about being told by experts that there is something wrong with us if we are not completely social. I once tried to join the conversation with my immediate colleagues on my floor at the office only to see them immediately stop talking and go back to their desks. When the HR director questioned me about that event and saw that it had frustrated me, she told me to seek counseling, as if I was the problem. I tried to join in only to be ostracized and still I was considered the one with the ‘problem’. I found that quite insulting.

    Why must we always be the ones to make the effort? What ever happened to meeting half way?

    Danielle

    1. Kyra on 11.05.2011 at 10:21 (Reply)

      @ Danielle:
      I’ve noted that most extroverts who malign introverts aren’t really trying be friends, they just think that “everyone” is supposed to participate in social games as a matter of course. The nasty little secret is that many of the games revolve around social dominance, (and/or other forms of energy “sucking” to introverts), not true positive interest and investment in others’ welfare or a common goal.

      A lot of times extroverts are automatically viewed as “friendly,” (because they have a lot of “friends” or are at least thought of as popular or non-threatening. In reality, the same people can be social bullies who will exact a cost not for actually slighting them, but just for not caring about or even noticing the games. Many will punish an outsider for not valuing their acceptance enough or for not giving them the regular energy hits they want (but haven’t earned by actually being invested in you or a shared goal or interest). The penalties for that can be more severe than trying to be accepted, but because you’re introverted and you’re not naturally interested in extraneous social bargaining, you don’t notice until you try to interact with the group.

      In contrast, introverts who aren’t disguising themselves 24/7 are automatically seen as “unfriendly” (and much worse) without demonstration of callousness, etc. Most people don’t understand that introverts have limited breadth of and energy for attention and that “paying attention” is exactly like what it sounds like- something with a cost and that investing in empty social exchanges isn’t getting you much in return. They might really think you’re insane for preferring to *work* at work and don’t know or believe that you can lose HOURS due to a lack of focus and initiative or an interruption. And really xenophobic people will make the leap from that to “belligerent”, in which case you have “earned” the animosity of others.

      The HR manager is probably in full knowledge the clique’s behavior and attitude toward you, but feels you’ve caused it by being an introvert. She might even know that the environment is toxic and may not be your fault, per se, but it’s also not likely to change. She might think there’s nothing concrete she can do about it without looking “silly” (because respecting someone’s right to forgo unnecessary social interactions is asking someone to adhere to something that’s not in any employment handbook I’ve seen) or facing repercussions (if she confronts the bad behavior directly, frankly she’d have to actually acknowledge that people are engaged in behavior that they’re not supposed to be guilty of after high school, and most people will either be insulted by that or feel further entitled to it. Either way, they might resent it). Things might perk up if you continue to assert yourself socially, but the group probably will not agree that their behavior was never appropriate and that they aren’t entitled to treat *anyone* like that in a professional environment. (And that you if you do hate them, you probably didn’t until they acted like jerks, even if it was to people who weren’t present at the time.)
      Good luck.

      1. Kyra on 11.05.2011 at 10:31 (Reply)

        oh, also if you’re not assumed to be “sweet” or “shy” and if you have an introverts normal body posture of an erect spine (is that because it’s not trained out of us by social pressure???) and lack of indiscriminate smiling (not successfully trained into us by middle American values??) AND you’re a woman, look out!!

  5. debbie stier on 11.05.2011 at 07:34 (Reply)

    GREAT list. I read it before and loved, and it’s even better now.

  6. Jane London on 11.05.2011 at 07:56 (Reply)

    I agree with Catherine. I’m in introvert, in an extrovert’s business (morning radio host) and have been for many years. The notion that extroverts aren’t ‘thinkers’ or lack introspection, seems to painting with a very broad brush.

    There is the yin/yang of human interaction and I find that I tend to gravitate toward extroverted friends, who’ve helped me become a bit more social and comfortable in group situations. By the same token, I believe that they appreciate my guidance in more solitary pursuits like the joy that a good book can bring to them.

    In reading your postings for about a month, there seems to be an almost condescension toward extroverts, with introverts being portrayed as either superior beings or victims.

    We all bring something to humanity’s table.
    Jane

    1. Susan Cain on 11.05.2011 at 09:13 (Reply)

      Hi Jane, I agree with you completely about the yin/yang of human interaction; I actually use that phrase in my book, my goal being to seek a balance in power/recognition between the two types, rather than a hierarchy of one over the other. In writing the book, I struggled a lot with how to make the case for the value of introversion, without somehow implying that there was something wrong with extroversion. I have the same struggle here with the blog…so, if you could let me know where you feel you detected condescension, that would actually be a big help. Thank you!

      1. Jane London on 11.05.2011 at 09:40 (Reply)

        Great! #1 doesn’t ring true to me. I would submit that many of our greatest leaders, innovators, artists were introverts. We aren’t second-class citizens or victims of extroverts. #2 implies that as introverts, living in our own heads, we are thinkers, where extroverts are not. Too much time in your own head, can border on narcissim (autobiographical:) #3-What? These two things are not mutually exclusive and again, it implies that extroverts are the ‘risk-takers’ and that it’s somehow a negative.
        Having said all that, #4 is brilliant and something that I preach on my blog and radio show…ad nauseum.
        Thanks…I enjoy your reading lists!
        Jane

  7. Dork on 11.05.2011 at 08:12 (Reply)

    I know you made a post on this, but #6-that always gets me worked up! I HATED participation grades in junior high and high school. It seemed that being the quiet, studious kid was good up until junior high. But then the extroverts were favored and grades were dependent on participation. Grrrr.

    I’m in grad school now and still surrounded by extroverts. I wish I had more introverts in my life!

  8. Dwight on 11.05.2011 at 08:39 (Reply)

    If 15% of the population are “Highly Sensitive People”, 85% must be less sensitive. Pop culture (music, etc.) needs to be blatant enough to get the attention of those people. That’s why HSPs find it overwhelming.

    We need to turn the radio off when we work. We find that books are more entertaining than TV…

  9. Amber on 11.05.2011 at 08:40 (Reply)

    I’m an introvert who rides the line between extroversion and introversion. Ultimately, I’d rather be sitting quietly with a cup of tea and my notebook (ahhh…bliss!), but I do occasionally enjoy interaction, face to face, with others. Even strangers.

    From a professional view, I’ve been involved in teaching, public speaking, networking…all jobs where my I’ve done a great job being the extrovert people wanted me to be. And maybe a little bit of me is that person.

    Or maybe I am just really good at #8 on the list. After all, they say that certain introverted personalities make great character actors :)

    I do particularly love the last point on your list. While I may not always be bombastic with my affections, the sentiment, the love, is there. And that is what really matters.

    Great list!

    1. Susan Cain on 11.05.2011 at 09:19 (Reply)

      I’m a lot like you in terms of enjoying socializing but loving my laptop and latte.. I think that many introverts are.

  10. Mrs_HotMom on 11.05.2011 at 09:08 (Reply)

    Love it! Great! Thank you! Thanks to a Rt from@vituallmom I will now follow you.

    1. Susan Cain on 11.05.2011 at 09:15 (Reply)

      Great, welcome!

    2. Susan Cain on 11.05.2011 at 09:18 (Reply)
  11. Megan on 11.05.2011 at 09:36 (Reply)

    Whoa. This is revolutionary to me. It always feels so wrong (every time I do it. Ha!)

    >It’s OK to cross the street to avoid making small talk.

    1. Poppy on 12.05.2011 at 14:24 (Reply)

      Me too, Megan, me too. If I see someone in the supermarket that I know, I often find another aisle to explore rather than stop for small talk with them. Just one of the little quirks about being me!

      Now, if I could just find some good places to meet other people who appreciate long conversations, I’d love to meet more people who want to have long, drawn out, theoretical non-judgemental, conversations.

      1. Christy on 13.05.2011 at 18:44 (Reply)

        I found that very thing at school. I went two different, very small theological schools, and I simply thrived there because my relationships developed easily around subjects I love, rather than dull small talk. It was lovely I recommend further education for anyone who wants this sort of thing.

  12. Denise on 11.05.2011 at 09:44 (Reply)

    Love your blog…I’m looking for recommendations on how to get through a social situation where it’ll be ‘all’ smalltalk. Hate these. In the past I had a list of possible interesting topics in my head to use…but other than that, I don’t have many other ideas. Can you point me to a previous post of yours or someone else’s with suggestions??

    1. Susan Cain on 11.05.2011 at 09:59 (Reply)

      Hi Denise,

      Gotta post on this some time. In the meantime, in this post (http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/2011/03/11/what-to-read-this-weekend/) I passed on a good article on this topic. Good luck!

  13. Mark on 11.05.2011 at 10:27 (Reply)

    Great updated list, Susan — thanks

    I do agree with Jane’s take on No. 1

    4 and 7 speak very loudly to me

    Enjoy the day

  14. Mark on 11.05.2011 at 10:40 (Reply)

    When I read things like this, I find myself thinking about Wendell Berry’s poem “I go among trees and sit still”, a long time favorite of mine.

    Also, as you have challenged me to begin working on my own manifesto, I also find myself thinking my way thru Jocelyn Glei’s “5 Manifestos for Art, Life & Business”.

  15. Eileen on 11.05.2011 at 11:00 (Reply)

    Yes! And with regard to lucky #13, ‘loud followship,’ and other models, are equally available and valuable. I have long resisted the notion that courageous, outspoken, principled people are necessarily leaders, nor do they have to be. Some people are just effective individuals doing what they do on their own without leading others. Thanks for providing some much-needed nuance to questions of leadership that often get smothered under blanket statements.

  16. Amanda on 11.05.2011 at 13:27 (Reply)

    I have spent my whole life thinking there was something wrong with me because from Kindergarten to grade 12 teachers told my parents that I didn’t talk enough in class.

    Thanks for this. :)

  17. Jamie on 11.05.2011 at 14:47 (Reply)

    I like this list! Makes since since I’m an INFJ, too!

  18. Tracy on 11.05.2011 at 17:15 (Reply)

    Hi Susan. Still thinking on your list - thanks for posting this. I’d love to know how fellow introverts navigate the dating world. I’ve been “back out there” now for about 2 years (after a divorce) and it’s been a bit tough. Most of the dating advice I’ve received and read about seems to lean towards extroverted tendencies/personalities. The man I recently dated was an extrovert, and I knew things were kinda ending when he used the word “introvert” to describe someone in a really negative way. I realized he had no idea what introverted really meant, and I wasn’t quite sure how to explain it without making it sound like I was criticizing him. ( I do really value being kind - I love that one!!) Things ended for many reasons, but that whole exchange really stuck out to me. I am being strongly encouraged by family and friends to do the internet dating thing, but I’m not sure it’s for me. Maybe I’ll work in a creative and fun definition of “introvert” on a dating profile and see what happens. :-).
    So glad this blog is here.

    1. Cheryl on 11.05.2011 at 19:55 (Reply)

      I’ve been married for over 30 years, and often wondered why my husband picked shy quiet me instead of my very outgoing sister. I often asked him, but he would never give me a serious answer. Then one day he remarked how he especially likes my one niece as “she is nice and quiet.” Finally, I understood-he preferred me because I am nice and quiet too. In fact I’m the exact opposite of his extremely talkative mother. Not all guys like women who talk their ear off.

  19. Megan on 11.05.2011 at 18:52 (Reply)

    Susan, I don’t know if this would help in your situation, but my favorite thing I’ve read about being an introvert, the article that helped me say - Oh! That’s me! - was Jonathan Rauch’s Caring for Your Introvert, published in Atlantic Monthly: http://bit.ly/c2waSI

    “Female introverts, I suspect, must suffer especially. In certain circles, particularly in the Midwest, a man can still sometimes get away with being what they used to call a strong and silent type; introverted women, lacking that alternative, are even more likely than men to be perceived as timid, withdrawn, haughty.”

  20. Christy on 11.05.2011 at 19:50 (Reply)

    I love #2 and #3 particularly. #2 is rather snarky, but it’s true and clear, and there’s nowhere I like better to be than in my own head. I like the balance of #3. Either side can get lost when one is over-emphasized, and both are needed.

  21. Eileen on 12.05.2011 at 14:29 (Reply)

    I really wish some of you awesome people had gone to my high school.

  22. NoGlutenEver on 15.05.2011 at 11:25 (Reply)

    After I changed my diet (removed gluten and casein), I became more comfortable with behaving like an extrovert. I no longer HAVE to cross the street to avoid chit chat. I can even enjoy it.

  23. Helen Palmer on 18.05.2011 at 03:13 (Reply)

    Thanks for this list Susan, am going to repost it (crediting you of course) on my blog!

    no 11 is SO true and I have to confess to often doing no 12 :-)

  24. Vincent on 25.10.2011 at 08:29 (Reply)

    I agree with most of them,especially 11 and 15.How many people you know doesn’t matter if no one’s going to be there to help you when you need it.I also find that extroverts only want to explore things to a very shallow degree,their concentration seems diffused.Once they barely scrape the surface on one topic,they are eager to move on to another,instead of pondering more on it.

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