I can especially relate to the message on the T-shirt above. Throughout my life, people always encouraged me to be more outgoing. My mom especially didn’t want me to be a loner or shy. She urged me to talk to people on the phone–something I didn’t like to do in most situations–even when I knew the people well. In fact, even when ordering a pizza, I would feel scared. Thankfully, the more I practiced, the more comfortable I felt. Now, for many years, I have had no fear at all. My work and life–and the lives of those around me–depend on my being able to use the phone.
There are still days, though, when I still don’t like the sound of my voice. I have yet to record a message on our answering machine. My aunt’s voice is more pleasant and prettier. I hear beauty in everyone else’s voices except my own. I’ve made progress. At least the instruction book is on my desk now.
I was always shushed in the library. In my enthusiasm, I would get too loud–something I am not always able to control. So most everywhere I went I would try to be quiet or not say anything at all. I didn’t want to draw negative attention to myself–and I still don’t.
The high school public speaking club was another group I was encouraged to join. Later, I chose to be involved in the Toastmasters chapter at my workplace. I enjoyed both, but I never felt like joining another local chapter when a job change required giving it up.
A friend once gave me a button that said: “Life…it’s not a spectator sport.” If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “Getting out would be good for you,” I’d be independently wealthy. One Saturday, I fought my way to a gathering in spite of feeling nervous, dreading a long commute (even though I had a book with me), and not feeling well.
After getting there, I didn’t want to go in. “Don’t you want to see your friends?” said a man who lived in the complex as I was backing away from the meeting room. I couldn’t think of anything to reply, and I wouldn’t have said anything to a stranger anyway. Stomach lurching, I went in. The gathering (about self-defense strategies) was all right, but I would have been happier at home. I panicked out of another gathering–one that I also thought would be “good for me.” I also wish I had avoided more than a few networking meetings. But I guess it was good that I went.
Please don’t get the idea that I’m a hermit; I’m not. I love music, museums, art galleries, shows, movies, and seeing new things–either with people or by myself. It’s fun to meet people and talk to them. I’m great in small groups. I’ve traveled some, and I like learning about the world. I took the Myers-Briggs test for the only time at one of my jobs. I became more comfortable with introversion. But all around me, extroversion seemed to be the gold standard. These years later, I think people are a little of both, depending on the situation.
When I came across Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I finally felt there were people out there who would understand me. I prefer the audiobook version, read by Kathe Mazur, to the print one. There’s A LOT of information here, and I found myself replaying sections to make sure I heard everything correctly. She makes the case for the positives of working alone rather than in a group all the time. I now know that shyness and introversion are related, but they are not the same. Shyness is the fear of being judged by others; however, introversion is a preference for quiet environments and activities. And most of all, it’s okay to be an introvert.
Cain goes beyond quoting the history and research about introversion and extroversion. She shares personal experiences and interviews other people who have to adjust to high-energy, outgoing, and socializing environments. She offers humor and insight along the way.
Enjoy Susan Cain’s TED Talk here.