Introversion + Me: A Story of Solitary Enjoyment

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers–of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity–to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply. Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it.”- Susan Cain, Quiet

I shared with you earlier this week that I’d begun reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Today I finished it and walked away with a sense of perspective on temperament that I wouldn’t have believed possible. I read through chapter after chapter, marveling at the connections that Cain drew between culture, personality, temperament, and relationships. Each anecdote, debunked misconception, academic study, and piece of commentary resounded with my experience of the world, and I suspect that these ideas will travel with me as I continue to grow and seek to carve out space in this world. Quiet is my favorite read so far this year, and by way of trying to convince any and everyone to read it, I’m explaining how insights from this book help me make sense of the way I relate to the world around me.

Here are five traits associated with introversion that aren’t immediately apparent, but reveal the way that introverts view and interact with the world.

  • Sensitive: I am sensitive to (easily affected by) my environment and my emotions can fluctuate greatly based on lighting, noise, decor, and the demeanor of those around me. The effects of this may show up in the form of wildly vivid dreams, an inability to sleep, or great peace, depending on the circumstances. This also means that I process my quiet voice as louder than it sounds to you, and explains why I get confused when you ask me to speak up.
  • Independent: I work best when I have time and space to think and breath apart from other people. Being around others makes me feel watched, makes me feel an extra sense of unnecessary pressure. I can accomplish great things with precision and accuracy, but not if my success is dependent on my interactions with others. In that case, I will appear submissive, wait for a task to be assigned, and hope that everyone else does their part to pull something brilliant together.I pick up more details than others might, and I process them best in my own head, not through interacting with others. In school, I’m great at taking notes and performing well, but please don’t ask me to have an impromptu group discussion. I won’t feel comfortable participating, and my insights will not be heard.
  • Creative: I have a rich mental life that allows me to imagine, design, and execute and appreciate beautiful projects and new perspectives. When I’m passionate about an idea, I will pursue it with all that is within me, and in the end, maybe with some gentle encouragement, I will give you something that you might be able to understand. I seek out ideas that will push me to think beyond my current perspective, and appreciate others who do the same.
  • Emotionally Inexpressive: Even though I am sensitive to what’s going on around me, you wouldn’t know it by looking at me or interacting with me. I hold things in, processing them mentally. If I am sad, my journal will reflect that though my demeanor may not. If I am excited, same story. If there is conflict, I will not embrace it with open arms but will rather approach you quietly and ask if we can talk about it. That is, after I’ve spent an hour psyching myself up for that conversation and convincing myself that it’s actually worth engaging in a potentially emotionally difficult episode.
  • Pro-Social: I don’t need to be around other people to be okay. In fact, being lots of people exhausts, rather than energizes me. I would rather read a book than go to a party, and while I deeply love my friends, I’m not always looking for new ones. The ones I have now have stuck with me through the years, and I have stuck by them. Give me some down time between activities and allow me space to escape. It doesn’t mean that I dislike you, but it means I need some me time. If you are willing to invest in a conversation with actually substance and not just small talk, I’m all ears. If you just want to talk about your week at work, you likely won’t find me very engaged in what you have to say.