How My Mother Helped Launch My Writing Career

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whitney How My Mother Helped Launch My Writing Career“How did your mother teach you to dream, and how do you hope to teach your children to dream?”

For Mother’s Day, Whitney Johnson, a venture capitalist and popular Harvard Business Review blogger (pictured at left), challenged me to answer these questions. With her new book, Dare, Dream, Do, she’s out to inspire women of all ages to dream big and make those dreams a reality–especially mothers.

So I started thinking about my own mom. And I realized: it was what she didn’t say that counted most.

When I was a kid, I spent countless sunny afternoons writing stories. I called the space under the family card table my workshop, and curled up there producing “magazines” – looseleaf paper stapled together – subscriptions to which I sold to indulgent family members. My friend Michelle and I sat side by side at her bedroom table, writing plays and reading them aloud to each other. I went to the library every Friday and came home with teetering stacks of books.

Never once did my mother say: You should be outside more. You should do more regular kid stuff. You should daydream less, socialize more. Instead, she took me to my grandfather’s book-lined apartment and let me wander his library for hours. She understood that I had plenty of friends with whom I liked to play quietly – and that one of my very best friends was my very own self.

Today I know how lucky I was. Every day I hear from readers whose well-intentioned parents asked them to be more like their extroverted siblings or classmates, to spend less time with the riches inside their own head. Many of these parents were loving and well-intentioned. They worried that too quiet a childhood might lead to a future of loneliness.

My mother is a famous worrier, but somehow she never worried about this.

Thank you, Mom.

Here is Whitney Johnson’s new book, Dare, Dream, Do. You can connect with her on Twitter @johnsonwhitney and on Facebook.  


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16 Comments

  1. Whitney Johnson on 15.05.2012 at 11:46 (Reply)

    Susan –

    This is a beautiful post — and one I needed to read right this moment… as I have an 11 yr-old daughter who loves to read.

    Many thanks –

  2. Lisa James McKenzie on 15.05.2012 at 16:23 (Reply)

    What a wise post and a wonderful piece to share so soon after Mother’s Day. Reassuring, too, for those of us who choose a more hands-off approach with our kids, trusting their wisdom to guide their choice of activities, how they spend their time and with whom. We hands-off types dwell in the minority in our control-freak, extroverted, overachieving culture. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Betsy @ Anna Nimmity on 15.05.2012 at 21:44 (Reply)

    This is a sweet post and lovely way to honor your mother for what she didn’t say. I, too, have a wise mother who knew it was perfectly fine not to be an extrovert. By the name of my blog, you can probably tell that she gave me the confidence to own my introversion.

  4. Ray on 16.05.2012 at 02:08 (Reply)

    Such a perceptive and heartwarming post! I’m happy that you were so fortunate in your choice of moms. It’s undoubtedly part of why you were able not only to be yourself to the fullest, but later in life to excel in all the areas in which you have excelled.

    It’s testimony to the power over children that parents and teachers do have, that decades later I still remember my mother remarking, a single time, “I wish you wouldn’t be so anti-social,” and an eighth grade teacher writing on my report card, “Responds only when requested to do so.” Decades later I remember these fairly isolated things so clearly–they must have made a deep impression as to what was OK and not-OK since they still invoke that original feeling of self-devaluation.

    Fortunately parents and teachers were also supportive of my studying (which then could be done alone), and I did “experiment” with many extracurricular activities… even the speech team. But that didn’t “stick”–even in adult life I’m still very disinclined to speak to groups without immensely thorough preparation. I think I never joined Toastmasters for fear of becoming toast!

    I hope you kept the stories you wrote as a child. Did they foretell your future?

  5. [...] A Mother’s Day reflection from Susan Cain, bestselling author of Quiet. [...]

  6. Hidi on 17.05.2012 at 12:18 (Reply)

    This is a beautiful post. My mother encourage my quietness by buying me more books, taking me to the library on the weekends, giving me money for book fairs and never once discourage me from being who I am. I thank her everyday for this. :)

  7. Barb Markway on 17.05.2012 at 15:20 (Reply)

    I, too, used to spend hours making family newsletters, newspapers, making my own books, etc. That is such a neat image of you having your workshop under the table.

    I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day!

  8. Sigrun on 22.05.2012 at 05:41 (Reply)

    Dear Susan, thank you so much for writing this beautiful and important book!
    I have just read it, and I feel myself shaken!
    I write this comment to thank you, but also to address you to the poet Ann E. Michael’s blog, and especially to her posts on Bachelard, which I believe you might find interesting:
    http://annemichael.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/reveries-toward-childhood/

    all the best!
    Sigrun

  9. Red Dog on 24.05.2012 at 17:05 (Reply)

    Hi Susan,

    Several aspects of your post are interesting. One is the revelation that you enjoyed writing ever since you were a young child, and it remains your primary (or preferred) vocation today. I think this applies to many (if not all) of us.

    Another is the admission that your mother was a worrier. It reminds me of a crocheted pillow that my mother’s sister had on the sofa in her home, which made an impression upon me as a young boy. It read “Don’t just sit there – Worry!” I think there is a correlation between worrying and introversion, and it seems to run in families.

    You also said that spending time alone as a child enabled you to become your own best friend. Introversion and introspection are inseparable. Without introspection life is superficial. Unfortunately, nowadays many families do not encourage a healthy amount of solitude to provide balance and cultivate a sense of awareness in their children. I’m reminded of the humorous line from Mel Brooks’ movie, Spaceballs, in which the character who is a parody of the wookie says he is a “MOG”. He explains that he is half man, half dog and then he quips: “I’m my own best friend.” :-)

  10. Betsy on 30.05.2012 at 04:05 (Reply)

    My daughter used to write books, staple them together and hawk them on the street outside our house. She was five. “Books for sale! Books for sale! Twenty-five cents!” She was oblivious to the fact that other children were selling lemonade, or popcorn for ten cents. Already she knew the relative value of things.

    It always struck me as odd that the quiet, self contained girl I recognized as not-me but quite-like-me could stand out there in the big world shouting to passersby. Now a young adult, she is much more reticent than that, except when very comfortable, and considers herself less introverted than I, though she finds it tiring to be with people and restores herself in solitude or with her dog.

  11. Luz Blanca on 30.05.2012 at 19:43 (Reply)

    This is a great article. I have to admit that I feel some envy just knowing that your mother let you be who you were without pressuring you to be different. My parents and my siblings were always trying to throw me into the center of attention and trying to get me to act the way that they wanted me to.

    As I grew up, I ended up acting like I was extroverted because when I didn’t, I was mocked and ridiculed by my own family. When I applied for jobs, they always wanted to put me in marketing and public relations positions, which I dislike with a passion. When I did work in some of those, I actually got so sick from stress that I ended up in the emergency room at a hospital for stress-related illnesses. That was a wake-up call at age 28.

    Honor who you are and work with yourself as you are. Parents should do the same with their children. If more parents were aware of introversion and extroversion and would honor who their children really are, we would have an amazing array of people sharing their talents in the way that suits them best.

    Love your work.

    Luz Blanca

  12. kare anderson on 02.06.2012 at 16:53 (Reply)

    As an avid fan of Quiet and Whitney’s book — have spoken about both in last five keynotes — what a delight to see this apt review. BTW, procrastination power, as Whitney describes in her popular Harvard Business Review blog, is like allowing for fallow time for innovation … or a richer harvest of benefits in your life.
    Allowing for such fallow time helps not only innovation, but also for a richer harvest of benefits in your life when you step into daring to dream and then do something greater with your life. Whitney pulls you into the adventure story that can be the next chapter of the life you were meant to lead by sprinkling the path of her well-earned advice and first-hand experience with fascinating stories from other who also took the Dare Dream Do Path that she advocates in her already wildly popular new book.
    Whitney pulls you into the adventure story that can be the next chapter of the life you were meant to lead by sprinkling the path of her well-earned advice and first-hand experience with fascinating stories from other who also took the Dare Dream Do Path that she advocates in her already popular new book (I was honored to read an advance copy). This book is a great companion to Marcus Buckingham’s book, Find Your Strongest Life.

    Whitney has been supporting women in living from their strength for some years now, in how she leads her life and how she encourages others… Consider this your encourager book and share it with kindred spirits as you step into the new scenes of the next chapter of your life, and pull in new characters to support your way. http://amzn.to/JaFwvq

  13. Owen (Wales) on 17.06.2012 at 10:37 (Reply)

    Extroverts if you will resort to Group Thinking / Team Working whatever you like to call it to “steal” other’s ideas be they introverts or extroverts. This is part of their armoury to get control. Not understanding the whole issues they then go off making mistakes and errors to be see as leaders for their own promotion thus feeding naturally their extrovert egos. Its really important that however painful others learn to speak out and “open their suitcase” as Susan Cain suggests or we are sunk! Or to stop us sinking! Or are we sunk already! Hope not.

  14. [...] I’m an introvert who has adapted to the much revered culture of extroversion. I’m glad that Susan Cain has written this book, “QUIET. The Power Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” [...]

  15. David on 18.07.2012 at 02:14 (Reply)

    Sadly, my mother did just the opposite. As a kid, I loved to be alone writing and especially drawing. I was constantly told to go outside, to make friends, ‘play some ball’. When driving around our town, she would point out of the car window and say, ‘see those kids, they’re outside. That’s where you should be.’ Sure, I had some friends and played outside sometimes, but it wasn’t enough.
    She made me sign up for little league sports, join clubs I had no interest in and then sometimes even made me throw away my sketchbooks. Now I wonder what things would be different if she hadn’t done that.

  16. Debbie on 25.07.2012 at 22:24 (Reply)

    My daughter is 13 loves to read stacks of books from the library, write stories on her blog, writes her thoughts in her journals, loves music and loves to play the piano. She is independent and walks to the tune of her own drummer. She is not outgoing, but does have friends. I used to worry about that she liked to spend so much time alone in her loft bed with her music, books, and journals. I just let her be… she is her own person and I want her to follow her dreams, not my idea that she has to be like everyone else. Thanks for the post. It reminded once again to do as your very wise mother did…. and just let her be who God made her to be.

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Quiet: The Book

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Manifesto

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

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

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

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