Ever since I started blogging about introversion a year ago, I’ve received literally thousands of notes from police officers and pastors, from schoolteachers and artists and stay-at-home moms. Here’s one reader’s story that captures the kinds of responses I’ve been getting:
“I pursued a promotion at work and was told ‘You’re smart, you have great ideas, and you have done great things for our hospital. Unfortunately you are too quiet for the job.’ I am a nurse, I just obtained my Master’s in nursing administration and I have a research paper that has been submitted for publication in an international nursing journal. It frustrates me that I have to fight tooth and nail for everything simply because I am ‘quiet.’”
A minority of letters are from introverts who are happy to be themselves, and have never felt pressured to conform to extroverted norms.
Judging from her February 12 review of QUIET in the New York Times Book Review, Judith Warner, a self-described introvert, falls into this latter group. But without any evidence, she asserts that most other introverts do too. Perhaps those who work in corporate boardrooms suffer a bias against their personality style, she concedes. But other introverts are “quite contented with who they are and… feel the world has been good to them.” If only I had “spent more time in research laboratories, for example, or among economists, rather than businessmen and –women,” I would “undoubtedly” have realized this.
Ironically, as I sat down to write this post last Saturday (I saw an early copy of Warner’s review), a tweet arrived in my inbox from a molecular biologist:
“reading your book- and tearing up at the recognition of how, to this day, I still feel something is wrong with me (but I am slowly getting to the acceptance stage of it – and just being who I am.)”
It was followed on Tuesday by a letter from, yes, an economics professor, who said that the book helped him understand himself for the first time, and that he’s ordered extra copies for his students.
While researching QUIET, I interviewed hundreds of introverts from all walks of life who told me much the same thing as these two letter-writers. And in the past few weeks I’ve had the chance to address audiences who work in exactly the sorts of fields Warner imagines are safe havens for introverts: economists at the U.S. Treasury, scientists at the research firm Noblis, librarians (librarians!) at the American Library Association, and engineers at Google and Microsoft. Most people in these audiences identified themselves as introverts, and at each event they lined up afterwards to tell me privately about their own difficult experiences in a world, and a workplace, that favors extroverts. Many said they’d never felt permission to express these things aloud.
Warner also maintains that by the end of QUIET I’ve widened the definition of introversion to include “all that is wise and good” — and here she quotes from a list of traits I included in an Authors Note at the end of the book: “reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest, solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned.”
I doubt that most readers think that being shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned, and unassuming counts as everything wise and good. But putting this aside, Warner badly misunderstands the point of the Authors Note, which explains why I chose to write about traits such as shyness and sensitivity in a book about introversion. At its heart, my book addresses introversion from a cultural point of view. It’s about the age-old dichotomy between the “man of action” and the “man of contemplation,” and how the world would be a better place if we valued the two types equally. The list of adjectives Warner quotes are how I described the classical “man of contemplation.” My point wasn’t that introversion is identical to shyness, sensitivity, or the other traits I listed, or that all introverts are necessarily risk-averse or modest, but that culturally these traits have always been bound together under the “contemplation” rubric, and need to be addressed as such. Throughout the book I took pains to identify which trait I was discussing at any given time.
(Incidentally, I listed an equally mixed bag of desirable and unflattering traits under the “man of action” rubric: “ebullient, expansive, sociable, gregarious, excitable, dominant, assertive, active, risk-taking, thick-skinned, outer-directed, lighthearted, bold, and comfortable in the spotlight.”)
I believe that introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, and that introverts today are roughly where Western women were in the 1950s and 60s – too often discounted because of an attribute that goes to the core of who they are, but poised on the edge of great change. Judith Warner’s reaction to QUIET has an interesting precedent in the early years of feminism. Many women were eager to start a conversation that would lead to real social change. But a distinct minority felt proud and content as they were, and couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.
This minority was speaking their own truth, and that is a good and legitimate thing to do. But their personal experiences didn’t make sexism any less real.
I am not so sure we are moving forward with an acceptance of quiet people. Shy people will soon be able to be labeled as mentally ill as are now left and mixed handed people…two strikes for me! http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/02/09/shyness-illness-in-dangerous-health-book-experts-say/
Susan, what a gracious response to that review. I recently heard a novelist comment that “if everyone likes your book, you haven’t done your job.” I think the same is true, maybe even more so, for nonfiction. You’ve certainly sparked a cultural conversation — and in the process, helped lots of introverts finally realize that it’s OK to be who they are.
I first learned of your book when I saw your NYT article on the New Groupthink. I liked the article so much I pre-ordered the book and downloaded it to my iPad the day it came out. I liked the book so much I read it in two days.
I’m learning to be proud of my introverted qualities and view them as strengths rather than liabilities. But even someone who’s proud to be an introvert knows that being called one isn’t always meant as a compliment. Thanks for helping to change that.
Susan, a friend posted a link to an NPR review of your book the other day and I bought it thinking it might help me assist my sons, who I recognized as introverts, in navigating the big, bad school system.
Imagine my surprise when reading your book to realize that you were talking about ME! I hadn’t realized that my feelings of exclusion in school and of being a round peg trying to fit a square hole are chiefly due to my own introversion. I think I had learned early on to be a pseudo-extrovert and hadn’t recognized it.
I am now old enough to not really care whether I fit in anymore but I hope to use some insights from your book, coupled with my own experiences, to help my sons find a way to stay true to their introvert nature and be successful in an extrovert world. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
“even someone who’s proud to be an introvert knows that being called one isn’t always meant as a compliment” – woo hoo. Exactly.
I found Warner’s review to be bizarrely ignorant of the kind of response you only need to look on amazon to see. So many people I know who have read your work have said how much it resonates for them so of all the critiques to make it seems really strange to pick one that is quite obviously not true. I also think she missed the point of what I found to be an extremely balanced and thoughtful argument for a more balanced society (and I say this as an extrovert). I think this response is quite gracious.
I consider the books “Quiet” and “The Introvert Advantage” to be my autobiographies.
Fortunately Ms Wagner found herself in environments that were conducive to her trait, but not all are so lucky. Some of us, whether by choice or default, have found ourselves in circles that are much less than accepting of introversion. Some may not have ever realized that they have lived most of their lives trying to conform to an ideal that is just not who they are. Personally, I land in this category and find it incredibly re-assuring to learn that others have had the same experiences. Susan, your book and the works of Elaine Aron have helped me to accept myself for who I am and there I found such peace and happiness. I finally find myself in a place where I celebrate these insights by seeking out circles where others will better understand and affirm me in these pursuits. It has been truly life changing and I thank you for it! While your book may not suit Ms Wagner please take heart and know that it speaks to a great many and is making all the difference there.
Susan – Your friend Adam McHugh over at his http://www.introvertedchurch.com blog had a good piece today about dealing with criticism. Even he’s getting criticism after the exposure he got from being quoted in your book! I read your book in four days last week and posted a review on my blog – I loved it. One of the most thoroughly researched books I have read on any topic. Thanks for the work you are doing.
Her review really threw me. I thought it was mean-spirited in some places, and that made me very sad for you after your having done so much work, for so many years on this. I hated so many parts about it… especially this part: “Quiet” is full of gratuitous sloganeering: “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.” “The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting.” Such writing offsets Cain’s serious research rather badly.” I LOVE your writing and I think many of your lines are elegant and beautiful! I agree with the above people who said your response was very gracious. I really liked your analogy at the end to the early days of feminism, and I think your point there is right on. I hope you know how much support you have!
Not surprising that the reviewer missed some of the point of your book. I think that reviewer’s are rather interested in exhibiting their minds via their review thus it is a rather narcissistic undertaking. If you feel used that is appropriate because it is not about your book! Its about the author of the review and she just used your book as her conduit. Sorry. Don’t take it too seriously because most readers will hear the tone of the review and understand that the reviewer is not to be taken seriously. You have a groundswell of support and I’m sure it will continue. I was exposed to Jung’s idea of introversion in my late 20′s, so I have been able to adjust myself for the most part, so that I could make good choices for myself. But I’m sure glad that you wrote this book so more people can be educated about the nuances of introversion. Thanks!
Former engineer here. When I worked at Raytheon, one of the managers organized a game of laser tag as a team-building exercise. (Take a moment to let the absurdity of that sink in.) I was urged to be more outgoing and sociable in an environment where you could barely get three words out of most coworkers.
My suggestion to other introverts would be not to avoid certain professions, but to work at a busy place. (Raytheon was as dead as a tomb.) Maybe it’s just my experience, but it seems the more emphasis there is on getting the work done, the less personality matters.
excellent and practical advice.
I am glad that you are speaking out for introverts. This book made me feel good about my personality traits. It seems like most things I read about introverts are slanted in a negative way. It is quite refreshing to read about introverts in such a positive way!
Ms. Warner’s review will “undoubtedly,” to use her review’s own fantastically ill-considered word, become a classic in an unhappy genre – the spectacularly wrong review. Not because of her critique, per se, but because the heart of that critique is a testable, empirical claim, which alas, appears to be based on little more than Warner’s good and warm feelings about herself, and is therefore so myopically wrong about so many others. Call it the wages of (sour) narcissism.
The review opens, tellingly, with the word “My” and proceeds throughout the first full paragraph to bathe in self reference. ‘My neighbor told me I’m an introvert, and in fact I’m happy about what my neighbor said to me about me.’ (It recalls the almost farcical French posture of self regard: “moi, j’ai faim, moi.”) Her point here, substantiated by that universally accepted literary and scientific source – a reported conversation with an anonymous “neighbor” – is that Ms. Warner personally and subjectively feels happy and good about her introversion; and, as a corollary, personally and subjectively feels not the weight of American culture’s bias toward extroversion. (A bias which she does not rebut or even address, a thoughtful discussion of which is one of a number of missed opportunities for a credible review). Good for Ms. Warner that she feels so snugly warm in her own skin. Her conversation with her neighbor about how felicitously highly she rates her own personal happiness, is not, however, the basis for a sound review (and, frankly, I’m surprised the Times thinks this is worthy of its venerable pages — more on that later.)
But the narcissism at the heart of the review doesn’t end here; it permeates and undoes the entire review. The heart of which is that “Cain’s introverts” (that’s cute) feel a bias, Warner is sure, that “undoubtedly” packs no painful punch. Why is she so sure as to posit this rather capacious and at least partially testable hypothesis in the pages of the paper of record? Well, because she’s just so darn sure: “Cain wrongly assumes,” writes Warner, “that most introverts are actually suffering in their self esteem…had she spent more time” with (hypothetical) scientists and economists, for example, Cain “undoubtedly would have discovered a world of introverts quite contented with who they are and who feel that the world has been good to them.” Really? Based on what? No evidence is presented, no actual critique is offered; all we have been told so far in substantiation of her broad claim is that Warner seems to like herself as an introvert and therefore, in the inverted logic of narcissism that withstands no scrutiny whatever, so must other introverts. You know, those other introverts, such as, well, take for example, I don’t know, anonymous scientists and economists? Quad erum Demonstratum.
Or not. And this is the glaring weakness of the review: this is not a critique of the book or even a review of its merits; it’s a tautology. Introverts feel no pain from the (unrebutted) American bias for extroversion because Warner doesn’t feel it herself, and because she cites two professions she asserts also don’t feel it. So it’s therefore not true. That’s worthy of a New York Times Book Review?
Here’s the embarrassing bit for Warner and the Times. There are at least some interesting data points to be found beyond Warner’s neighbor’s fence and her personal musing about herself. One might, for example, turn to the pages of the very Book Review section in which her Review stands. Search there not for an anonymous or hypothetical source, or a narcissistic riff, but for the spot on the Best Seller list where Quiet landed. In a debut by an otherwise unknown author. You might find it somewhere between #5 and #3.
Just as one data point.
Which leads to Warner’s sour conclusion, and the part I can’t quite work my mind around how the Times let pass. Warner, and thereby the Times Book Review’s final word on Quiet, is that “a more quiet argument would have been more effective.” Since Cain’s argument seems to me to be, in its essence, that introverts suffer, in the literal sense of the word, from the Extrovert Ideal, it is at least a partially testable hypothesis whether or not that argument is “effective”: do introverts appear to be responding to the argument? If Warner is right in thinking that because she feels no pain from the bias, therefore other introverts feel no pain, then it’s likely that introverts won’t respond to Cain’s book. It’s not complicated or subtle, the gambit Warner’s making here. And she’s just clearly and demonstrably wrong. Just google “Susan Cain” and “Quiet.”
Now, a credible review of course should not be informed by the popularity of a book. Its sales are in no sense a barometer of the literary quality of the work or the scholarly quality of its arguments. Prurient crap, we all know, all too often rises to the top of the list, and its presence there should in no way affect its review. But Warner is not engaging here in a traditional literary or scholarly review. The heart of the review simply posits that Cain’s argument is not “effective” because introverts are not smarting from the bias. That is an empirical, objective claim and therefore can be tested. And one clear way to test it – and this is Warner’s own petard, upon which she and the Times today hang, is whether introverts will respond (yes, buy) a book fueled by the opposite hypothesis – that the bias indeed hurts. It’s a remarkably poor basis upon which to construct a review, because on the criteria she herself has pinned the validity of her critique, it’s so plainly, observably, and ascertainably wrong. (Did she not notice that Cain’s two introversion-related New York Times Sunday Review Op Eds were both Times #1 most emailed pieces for several days? Oops.) There is surely a credible critique to make of Quiet if one is in that business. But it most certainly is not this.
One additional, small but revealing ‘tell’ as to the depth and quality of Warner’s thinking here, and her own palpable bias against Quiet, comes from her reference to Jonathan Rauch‘s introversion piece in the Atlantic Magazine. (Note by the way that the potential value of a quasi-empirical test based on numbers of readers does not escape Warner herself; she offers, as an indicia of its merit, that Rauch’s piece was “much read”). Warner’s critique of Quiet here is that Rauch struck the right tone of “levity” compared to Quiet. Two points jump out. One, Rauch wrote his introversion piece in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine, which is, well, a magazine. Warner is writing here in the New York Times Book Review. About a book. Magazine writing is simply different from book writing. Second, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a serious review critique a non-comedic book for not being comic. Quiet does not rely on levity, is Warner’s critique, and Rauch does in the Atlantic. That’s like critiquing a murder mystery for failing to be a romantic comedy.
Something is amiss here.
Which leads me to the saddest part of the review. The Times in general is losing readership and relevance, relentlessly. The Book Review specifically is losing both. It appears lately that in a depressing, Hail Mary attempt to maintain relevance and re-enter the conversation, the Book Review too often seems to match curiously contentious reviewers to high profile books. Often, lately, it seems to select reviewers who don’t appear expert in the relevant field, or who seem from previous work likely to disagree with the hypothesis of the book under review. It’s a sad, sad path out of irrelevance, which of course in fact seals it – not to mention insults the very journalistic integrity that made the Times what the Times is. Was. Last century, anyway. I have no idea whether that was the case here, but the mediocrity of the review, its sourness, and its narcissism, do make you wonder.
This all should be so beneath the Times.
I don’t like the often-useless Times book reviews either, for the reasons you list. Newman’s review was an exemplar of what’s wrong there. I hope you’ve sent a copy of this excellent note to the NYTimes, as other commenters on this blog have done.
How interesting that Ms. Warner mentions Jonathan Rauch’s Atlantic article but has apparently not read any of the followup articles. If she thinks that [other introverts are] “quite contented with who they are and… feel the world has been good to them.” or that only Susan has talked to those who aren’t, she’s obviously missed the feedback Rauch received — http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/02/jonathan-rauch-comments-on-some-of-the-feedback-hes-received-for-caring-for-your-introvert/4647/.
I realize that most move and book reviews should have a disclaimer “Reviewers opinion only. Does not reflect this paper or…” but still.
I was a bit taken aback by Ms. Warner’s review of your book. I have learned so much about myself and everyone in my life, extroverts as well as introverts. Thank you for “Quiet”. The insight provided and the far reaching effects of your diligent research are priceless.
As I read the Times piece, I thought of the quote I have heard attributed to Henry Ford many times — He reportedly once said his customers could have any color Ford they wanted, as long as it was black. No idea if that is true or not, but it seems consistent w what I thought was the narrow scope of the review.
Susan, you wrote a great book — well researched, thought provocative and broad in scope. Period. You also posted a more gracious response to the review than I would have.
I don’t know what your next project will be, but I very much look forward to following it evolve here.
I am about 1/3 of the way through the book and it’s simply wonderful. I want to echo the reaction of the molecular biologist you mentioned in your post. I also find myself tearing up as I remember all the times I have been made to feel something is wrong with me. As I read the book, I feel stronger and much less at odds with the world. Oh, and I want to move to Finland. A country of introverts sounds like heaven to me.
Hi everyone, here’s a comment from another reader who asked to remain anonymous:
“…After beating myself up so long for this trait, it has taken a long
time to really totally accept myself.
Your book has contributed much to that. I would say for the first time in my
life, I am feeling much more totally accepting. It was fascinating to learn
about how the extroverted ideal began with Dale Carnegie.
For the first time, I am feeling REALLY comfortable in my own skin and come to
terms with all the ways I am i.e. the way I like to socialize etc.
The author of the NY Times review seems to have missed a lot of the message for
some reason. She just didn’t GET it, how important this book is for so many
Perhaps she just enjoys as a writer playing the devil’s advocate.
Anyway, i still want to be anonymous but wanted you to know how grateful I am to
you for writing this book and having the courage to “come out” everywhere as an
introvert, on interviews, shows, etc. Thanks for representing all of us!!!
I hope you write more books about introversion and all aspects of it. There are
a few books out but not many. How fantastic that it is #4 on the new york Times
I love your work, Susan.
And I don’t believe for a minute that the reviewer really disliked the book.
Instead, it probably made her very uncomfortable about a few of her own deeply held beliefs, ergo this review.
You are a gift to the world, introverts and non-introverts alike!
I don’t think Judith Warner read your book. Almost all of her quotes come from the introduction (which I perused in a bookstore last night) and, apparently, the author’s note at the end.
I have not yet read it myself, but am looking forward to it. I have also suffered socially and professionally for being an introvert. A special educator, I am one of the strongest teachers in my district, yet I have been repeatedly turned down for requested transfers to classroom positions, being told that I wasn’t a good fit for the team or that I have poor communication skills. Invariably, the person chosen in my stead has been loud, “outgoing,” and somewhat vacuous. I have come to the conclusion that there is something fundamentally flawed about me. That flaw? Introversion.
I think one of the shortcomings of the NYT Review by Ms Warner is the lack of context in which she suggests that most introverts are happy. Ms Warner is the product of a New York, private school, Brearley, a school who’s Mission Statement includes this:
“At Brearley, students learn to think for themselves and to challenge assumptions. From Kindergarten on, they relish the work of sifting the proliferation of information available to them in order to create new knowledge, and they rejoice in the life of the mind.”
Of course, this seems to me, to be a very good environment for an introvert. Introverts love to sift through information in order to make their own decisions, and, introverts definitely love the “life of the mind.” So, of course Ms Warner, who grew up with parents who could afford to send her to this type of school, probably has little idea of what school is like for the rest of us.
Ms Warner was able to pursure her life of Liberal Arts pursuits, and I suspect has little contact with the Average Introvert, who struggled to fit into a school system which encourages extroverts and “conformity.” I can only speak for the schools that I attended, but rejoicing in the ‘life of the mind’ was certainly not a part of the curricula. In most public schools you’re taught what Those In Charge think you need to know, and you’re tested on how well you retained these concepts. Learning to think for yourself, or trying to challenge the Common Answer was not encouraged. In fact, thinking for yourself often resulted in being thought of as a student who was difficult, or who Had Problems. So, we introverts are taught that we are somehow problematic — that the problem is us, rather than the system.
So, perhaps Ms Warner, from the height of her castle in the cloud, should better inform her audience of the background in which she grew up, so that this universe in which she lives, where all introverts are happy, will be on display for what it is: a smaller percentage of the population than the rest of us live in.
I’m not attempting to present an Occupy Wall Street view here, of the 99% versus the 1%. I am, simply, trying to point out that people who grow up in a lifestyle that is vastly different from the world the majority of us live in, should refrain from making such broad, sweeping generalizations as Ms Warner has, especially when they are generalizations that she supports while citing no references for her ‘facts.’
I’m glad that Ms Warner is The Most Introverted Person in Her World. And, I’m glad that she’s happy. Maybe she needs to step out of her world for awhile, and see how many of the rest of us have struggled as introverts before she starts flinging around more nonsense.
This brings up an extremely interesting point, which is probably exactly the point of Susan’s book, which I will read when the library consents to let me have it: People who are raised in an environment where their personality style is treated as perfectly acceptable end up very confident in it. I know I did, to a large extent. I can identify with Warner’s contentedness in her introversion, though not with her widespread denial of the difficulties of being an introvert in our society. Hopefully someday the majority of introverts can be the proud, contented ones, rather than the minority.
I agree, very much, with what you said. I think that the environment a person is brought up in plays a large part of how confident and comfortable a person becomes. It’s the old Nature vs Nurture debate, which, as far as I’m concerned, is a not an either/or argument, but an argument of how much of each one makes a person who he/she is.
I think that was the point I was trying to make, in my long, rambling way. Ms Warner was raised in an environment that supported and encouraged her to be Her True Self. And, I have no problem with who she is, nor do I have an issue with how comfortable she is in her own skin. I think it’s just a matter of blindly assuming that everyone else was like her that I take exception with.
I hope that your library calls you soon with a copy of “Quiet.” It has really given me many things to think about, and, I think I’ll need to reread it again in a few weeks, just to gain a better understanding of the issue. Also, I hope that you enjoy the book!
Some book reviewers are less interested in reviewing a book than showing how intellectually superior they are to the author and everyone else. Susan, you’ve written an excellent book that meets the needs of a wide audience, including extroverts. I wouldn’t worry too much about Ms. Warner’s opinion.
I have not read the book review referred to and have no intention of doing so. I did however consume your book via Kindle in less than 2 days. I was introduced to your book by a great friend who has very little formal education, no history of self awareness and even less inclination to read a self help book. She is one of the “real” people the politicians and media types speak of. She is well over middle aged, a single parent first with her own child and then her grandchild. She has survived alone in a man’s world without an education, a husband or family to support her. She is gruff, tough, smokes like a chimney, thinks that going to the casino is culture and scared half the people we worked with. She is the American Everyman and you have given her a voice. She recognized herself as an introvert at odds all her life with an extroverted world….and she hasn’t even read the book yet. Just having the concept put into clear words has allowed her to say…Oh..I get it now…. I’m OK..
She is thrilled for me because I got to learn it earlier in life than she did. Think of all the young men and women who will learn it earlier than I will…..and think of the children who will benefit when they can affect the most change.
.That’s who you wrote the book for…..and we get it. Thank you!
accomplished had I known this earlier in my life
Susan, Thank you for sharing your work and great notes/articles. Based on my reading, just wanted to reflect my thoughts about introverts. I think if an individual accepts that s/he is an introvert, s/he would be far more comfortable in his/her own skin. I think, Introvert possesses many special talents and capabilities, giving him/her advantages. It goes far beyond just being okay. Based on my reading, such individuals can concentrate easily, an excellent observer of people, places and things. Such individuals are usually very thoughtful, contemplative and original thinker, who are not afraid to take unpopular stands. Thank you once again for this website and sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated!! Best wishes, Jigs
The words that come to mind after reading the review are “Blaming the victim.”
One of the things about my introversion that makes me most proud is that I think for myself and don’t follow the herd.
Therefore I will not read any reviews but I WILL read your book Susan.
I have read your blog regularly, plus Mr. Rauch’s article, plus Ms. Warner’s review…and I am glad to note that so much attention is now being given to this important issue, poorly done review or no.
I haven’t read your book, only the NY Times Review. I’m a genuine introvert, verified by Myers-Briggs et al. And by the same testing standards my self-esteem is off the charts – unassailable.
That doesn’t mean I don’t find the same problem of not being heard, recognized, etc. as all other introverts. It simply means I don’t assume the comments of extroverts have any validity, and I don’t let their opinions, no matter how unanimous, bear any weight just because they agree.
This isn’t to say the power of extroversion isn’t a problem in my life. I am confident I’ve solved, at the level of theory, the single greatest problem facing human kind and can describe the mechanical process to solve the problem in fact. I’m also unable to get anyone to give consideration to my work – because I don’t look a person who could do what I claim. I’ve done it in the same mode as Galileo, who could not get others to look in his telescope; as George Cayley, who could not get the engineers and scientists of his day to study his theory of flight – which was eventually proven correct 100 years later; as Edward Howell, who spent 50 years of his life attempting to build enough ammunition to convince the scientific world that plant enzymes were in fact the source of human nutrition and not objects best destroyed. I have my evidence; what I cannot do is get anyone to look at the evidence, and until someone looks at the evidence and finds fault in it I have no grounds for accepting the opinion of anyone on the matter.
It’s very likely true part of the fault is my evidence is not stated in a fashion that people can intuitively and instinctively grasp. I work alone; I don’t assistants, editors, secretaries, etc. But, I’m willing to wager if the idea ever takes hold and is proven to be true, those who read what I write – and all the different versions – in retrospect will find the way I organize my evidence and present it to be quite adequate though not a work of literary genius. They’ll wonder why anyone wouldn’t understand this the same as engineers today who look at George Cayley’s drawings and formulas find his work so elegant. They might say some of my work reads, pedantic, and other desperate as the original assembly of information that became the book Enzyme Nutrition; the version found in health food stores today is a readable 175 pages. Howell’s original material was in excess of 160,000 words over 700 pages, with 700 references to scientific literature and more than 40 tables. Howell’s case is most interesting because there are still a great many ‘scientists’ who refuse to look at his evidence and still claim destroying enzymes does not interfere with human nutrition, practicing lessons learned in the denial of the effects of tobacco and for the same reasons.
I’ve been working on this problem all my life essentially, but I found my way in to solution twenty years ago. Fifteen years ago, at 40, I left my profession thinking it would be take but a brief period of time to move this idea forward, because I may have solved the problem everyone is desperate to solve. Unfortunately, no one likes or trusts my solution because they already hold established notions of how this problem will be solved – and since my solution doesn’t prove their solution I must be wrong no need to look.
The last fifteen years this has been my vocation. My wife supports us; I make hay and tend to a stable of horses and grow gardens to contribute so that I can spend the majority of my time figuring out how to move this possibility forward.
I work this one problem every day of my life. And I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with extroversion. I hate that it creates such a barrier. I actually love the challenge of figuring out how to break that barrier without succumbing to behavior for which I simply have no respect. If I solved the problem I’ve claimed, I’ve solved the problem of all introverts; how to achieve equal standing in the social conversation. But going turncoat, becoming extrovert, is not solution but fix. It may be all I can do is die in obscurity and leave my work behind for someone to find. Fine by me. I’ll go work the door at WalMart to support my wife in her old age to return her kindness.
It’s difficult to even write this. It hard for me to say I’ve solved the greatest problem facing humanity – war in all its guises. I’d rather say, I have some ideas, would you look at them – and let others come to their own conclusion that I’ve done something noteable. That’s not something I’ve learned how to do and I don’t think the fault is in me. But I couldn’t make my case on this subject without revealing so much.
I just wanted to weigh in that I’m an introvert, and do not suffer pangs of anxiety and inadequacy for being one. I wake up every day relishing the silence, the privacy, the aloneness. When people inquire, I often tell them I simply lack the money gene. When nieces and nephews ask me why I don’t work, I don’t get defensive; the gossip of their parents isn’t my problem. I am at times angry, frustrated, wishful, etc. but how could I wish to change about me what has served me so well? How could I find fault in that. I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s because there’s nothing so thrilling as to dare the impossible and the extrovert’s experience is never about doing something new but only repeating what has already been done but, hopefully – and quite rarely, more dramatically. Big deal.
Good luck to you.
[...] Read a great blog last night about the differences between introverts and extroverts. “I pursued a promotion at work and was told ‘You’re smart, you have great ideas, a… [...]
So much of this book resonated with me. I am Korean-American, but was somehow born into a family of extroverted women. I spent much of my formative years trying to be someone I thought I should be, the Extrovert Ideal. I answered yes to almost every question on your short quiz. No wonder I was always exhausted! Like many of the readers here, I finished your book in a few days because it was both equally readable and fascinating.
This year, I graduated with an M.S. in Food Science and I would disagree with Ms.Warner that a scientist’s world is a haven for introverts. In a course focused on presentations, the professor patronized the students who didn’t speak well and emphasized how critical it was for us to be loud and over-the-top energetic. Scientists and economists also must work in groups and understand how to navigate in hierarchies and assert power as needed. Your research addressed this so well and from so many angles. You suggest realistic strategies to navigate various situations (as a student, employee, CEO, lover, and parent) and I found your book to be thorough and deeply satisfying.
While there is much I would like to respond to, the most influential chapters were those about nurturing introverted children. I suspect my 6-year old is one and now will re-approach how I question him about school. Our pattern is as you identified: He needs that time to decompress immediately following and it is at bath time that he tells me of difficult encounters or frustrations. Before though, I would continue to press him in the car ride home and wonder at his staunch refusal to me anything.
I am grateful to you, your five year dedication and your eloquent writing. I especially loved the tender dedication to your family. look forward to your next work!
I, also, am a happy and contented introvert. My Dad’s an introvert. My Mom is more of an extrovert but content to spend time at home with family. My sister is an extrovert. Our parents ever gave me, or my sister, a hard time about our personalities, or our choices. We know what we are and we have great self esteem.
Nevertheless, I found Ms Warner’s statement: “My neighbor,…, once told me I was the most introverted person he’d ever met. I took this as a compliment. Who wouldn’t?” to be odd. For all that I like being an introvert and wouldn’t change for the world, if someone said I was the “most introverted person he’d ever met” I would _really_ wonder what he meant by that!
I’ve also known for most of my life that introverts are not always valued in school or in the workplace. Knowing that we were valued at home made that easier to get through but didn’t make it nonexistent.
Thanks Susan. I’m really loving the book. I especially love all the places you went, people, you talked to, and real-life stories you put into it.
that’s “my parents _never_ gave (us) a hard time…”
What a wonderful response to the review. And many well-taken comments also; I found myself reading though I have a job to do.
You can hear the hurt of being misunderstood, but what a great response to articulate the unfairness so well.
As an extrovert (though with introvert tendencies), reading the response and the comments helped me to understand my introvert boss, and the introverts who work on my team, a little better.
I appreciated your comment and your choice to see things thru another perspective. I think that understanding the differences may be the biggest takeaway from this book for me and I hope for a lot of other readers.
An individual can choose to react instinctively as either an introvert or an extrovert but as adults with free will and choice we can use our enhanced knowledge and both mental and personality skills to find another approach for a more successful group dynamic. It won’t always work but in most circumstances how can it hurt to try first? It seems to me that a really successful team whether it is parenting or creating an ad campaign or running a state should be a balanced mix of the two “perspective” styles.
Now….get back to work before you get caught!
My letter to the Editor of the New York Times Book Review
Sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr. Tanenhaus,
After mulling over in my mind what I want to say about Judith Warner’s review of Susan Cain’s book “Quiet”, I have decided that simply noting her lack of empathy was not sufficient enough to dignify my negative response to her review. I had to consider what was at root disturbing me about the way she dismissed Susan Cain, and then I had the “AH HAH” moment when I realized that what bothered me was way in which she started out by proclaiming herself the worlds greatest introvert and then how she carefully proceeded to carve out a space for Susan Cain to be relegated to a “lesser authority” on the subject of introversion.
That said, the reason for this letter is to express my disappointment in the New York Times for printing a review that did not in any way probe Cain’s suggestion that introversion and the impact of being introverted, deserves attention in our discussion about education, management and leadership. Is this the best you can do, deliver forth an opinion that suggests, “I am happy with being introverted, what’s the problem?” If so, then why waste our time?
Nancy J Hess
Can you tell me some tips to master my thin-skinned attitude? This would make a huge difference in my life. Thanks.
Grad student in English here. I just finished reading Quiet and have been so overcome with amazement and relief that I–whose pre-frontal cortex usually leaps into action to mitigate any over-enthusiasm I might feel about something I instinctively like–have become positively evangelical about it.
While one might think that my chosen profession–English professor–is particularly accommodating to introverts, I can confirm that it is not always so. Graduate level study is organized around “oral defenses”–from your second year comprehensive exam to your dissertation proposal to the dissertation defense itself. I just passed that final ordeal a few months ago, then interviewed at the giant MLA conference, then began teaching. It is a wonder that I am not limping along in a state of catatonia right now. The only private workspace my school offers to grad students is a claustrophobic, windowless cubicle smaller than an elevator cart…which we are supposed to SHARE with another person. Then we are supposed to hold office hours for our students in a large communal workspace where noise-cancelling headphones are a requirement if you want to get any work done between infrequent student visits.
Since my third year, I’ve carefully arranged my schedule to allow me to work in my comfy home office two days a week, though I always feel bad for having rigged things in my favor and feel compelled to come in for meetings whenever required. Quiet has, at the very least, helped me realize that my need for solitude is legitimate, that I should treat my requirements for optimal productivity as necessities rather than indulgences that must be earned or paid for.
The current political climate has also been militating against the introversion of many academics. Legislators and pundits now insist that the only work time that counts in university teaching is time spent in front of the classroom, that the work we do in researching, reading, and contemplating is irrelevant and self-indulgent. Most professors I know would insist that their research and teaching inform and enrich one another, that time spent in the archives or in our own heads is essential to imparting complex ideas to the next generation. But unfortunately–perhaps because of our temperaments–we aren’t doing a very good job of making that essential argument.
I say remember the story of the Turtle and the Hare!!! I can’t say we will win over the mindset of extroverts, but you have opened any eyes to the value introverts add to this world. Thank you
I just finished reading your book, “QUIET” about introverts. So many of the descriptions of introverts and lists of the traits of introverts I found there correspond to how people with Asperger’s Syndrome are described, and their traits. As an adult, I have been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome. Could you speak on this?
I’ve been waiting for your book since the first time I saw it mentioned on Psychology Today. I am still waiting to get a hold of it (as it seems it’s a bit late in coming out in the UK) but just wanted to say thanks for writing this book. As a recent harvard business school graduate, I cannot say enough how I feel finally understood! The constant networking, being forced to “speak up, think out loud and act like a leader even when you’re not convinced of your own opinions” was very hard for me, someone who prefers to think things through in a quiet setting, on my own, before I share my opinions (and if I do, preferably one on one or through writing). I am originally from East Asia, and while being (and acting like) an introvert doesn’t raise as many eyebrows as it would in the US, I do feel that it is becoming “trendier” to be that “perky extrovert.” I really hope your book gets widely read, raises awareness of how introverts can be “normal”, too, and that us introverts don’t have to feel like we are such misfits!
Wait ’til you read the book — there is a whole section on HBS! Thank you for your note, I do appreciate it. (I am coming to the UK next week for book tour, by the way — check out the Events section of this website for info.)
In response to Judith Warner’s opinions without evidence, I heard a wonderful quote from Chris Peterson this week: “The plural of anecdote is not data.”
Keep up the great work, Susan Cain. The world needs you.
I just want to say up front: thank you. Your book is extraordinary and timely; there were so many moments that I said “YES!” out loud while reading it that I stopped counting.
As for Ms. Warner’s review…well, I was a classmate of hers in high school, and I can tell you that such a close-minded and uninformed review would not even have passed muster in our school newspaper. Shame on the New York Times for printing it!
[...] if I wanted to be cool and vivacious and loved by everyone, this was whom I had to become, and my pseudo-extroversion kicked into high [...]
[...] Apparently introverts like Cain are tired of living in an extroverted world. Cain somewhat refuted the statements found in The New York Times on her blog, but essentially sticks to the party line that living in an [...]
I am in the midst of reading Quiet. I am an 80 year-old woman, a retired information services director, with a Phd from a major university. I was in psychotherapy for several years for an anxiety disorder. the first few chapters of your book gave me more insight into my temperament/personality than those years with the therapist.
Now I understand why I need a dose of solitude each day, Why I always preferred to work alone and why the life of the mind is so important to me. the list goes on and on. I can still hear my father saying to me at the tender age of 8 “why do you always have to be different?” when I didn’t want to go to group activities. I now know that a lot of my differences are shared by a large percentage of the population.
I found your analysis of the Harvard School of Business training frightening. These people are running the country? No wonder the US is falling behind the rest of the world in innovation, productivity and quality. Ethics seem to be in scant supply.
Thank you so much for your thorough research and for the pleasure of reading your remarkable analyses and prose.
Her ny times review lost me in the first paragraph, when she takes being called the most introverted person her neighbor has ever met as a compliment. Isn’t balancing yourself towards the middle of the scale while retaining the strengths of your individual personality a goal of the Myers-Briggs?
Introverts must learn people skills, extroverts must learn self reflection. Then it gets harder. Intuitives must take better notice of their surroundings, sensors must learn to trust their instincts. These new abilities will never supersede the person’s original strengths, but she will become a more developed person for learning them.
It seems obvious to me she took her neighbors “compliment” the wrong way. I don’t want to sound too harsh, but she came off to me more as self-absorbed than introverted. But that’s another assessment.
” Isn’t balancing yourself towards the middle of the scale while retaining the strengths of your individual personality a goal of the Myers-Briggs?”
but other than that, your comment is spot on.
Wow, this paragraph is good, my younger sister is analyzing these things,
so I am going to let know her.
Susan, I took so much from this book that I can apply to my personal and professional life.
Yet I am inclined to agree with much of the opinion issued in the NY times review. I think that you have inadvertently created an introvert ideal that characterizes extroverts as less sensitive, thoughtless and having less of a social consciousness. I think that’s too easy, self-serving, belies the complexity of the individual, and misappropriates science to serve a narrow argument.