An Introvert in an Extrovert’s World

Today’s post is supposed to be titled “Favorite Nonfiction.” And it started out that way. But, I couldn’t leave that as the title, because, while this post is about my favorite nonfiction book, it is also about much more than that.

Susan Cain published Quiet in January 2012. Where was I in January 2012? Dating. Online dating to be specific. Meeting complete strangers for drinks at bars. It was absolutely terrifying. I was terrible at it.

And then I heard about this book. Or maybe it caught my eye at a book store, I can’t remember. But Susan Cain came into my life hard. Quite frankly, she saved me.

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For those of you who don’t know Quiet, this is a book about being an Introvert in an Extrovert’s world. Cain not only describes the differences, but also goes to great lengths to help us understand ways to be ourselves and still feel comfortable and confident in today’s society.

Not too long ago, my sister had my whole family take personality tests. I was not surprised to hear that everyone, except me, was some variation of extrovert. I had known that for years. They call laughed, though, when I told them mine:  INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging). The rarest type in society. Only 1% of people have this personality. Where this comes from in my family, I don’t know, but I’m definitely the odd man out.

Growing up in an extroverted family was not easy. I very much wanted to keep up with all of the social activities, sporting events, and oh please god just let me get a word into this conversation! But mostly, my brain kept telling me that my books were waiting upstairs in my room.

School, especially college, was hard. For many people, college means parties! New friends! Clubs! For me, college meant feeling extremely out of place in a very big environment. People seemed to cling together quickly and easily, and I didn’t understand why that didn’t happen to me. Classes required group projects, and because I was in the business school, my groups were filled with aspiring sales people and entrepreneurs. Extreme Extroverts! All of my ideas were overspoken and thrown out…if I even tried to speak them at all. It has always been a very big frustration to me when I try to add something to a conversation and I get interrupted. I’ll try again once, maybe twice. After that I usually give up trying to participate.

But let me get back to January 2012. Remember that very dark place I talked about the other day? I was desperately trying to pull myself out of it. I needed something positive, fun, anything. So…online dating. Fun right? I was going to meet people. Yeahhhhhhhh….mmmk. Introvert’s Nightmare.

But then I read Susan Cain’s book. And she taught me that introverts need to recharge after social stimulation. I also learned how to prepare myself when I knew that I was going to be out in a big public place or bombarded with social stimuli.

So, I’d pick a bar or a restaurant that I could easily control. I’d show up 15 minutes early, and make sure I already have a beer before my date arrived–through the door that I could easily see. It made me much more relaxed and able to enjoy myself.

And hey…I found my husband that way, so it must have worked right? (Except he came in the wrong door on that first date. And I spilled beer all over myself.)

Applying these methods have also worked in other areas of my life too. R knows very well my “Haley Limits,” as he calls them, and helps make sure I’m recharging when I need to. My work is busy, but I am careful to watch and make sure I’m not multitasking to the point of overstimulation (and that is a problem for me sometimes, as a bit of a control-freak). I’m blessed to be able to work out of my home, so that helps too–and I’ve made my office a very calm place to focus.

My relationship with my family has grown up quite a bit as well. Maturity has a lot to do with it, but also, I know now that I will never be able to keep up with all of their activities. When I’m home though, there is nothing we like to do more than open a bottle of wine and play card games. And that, I can most certainly enjoy.

I would encourage you, at the very least, to watch Susan Cain’s Ted Talk. She discusses themes from her book–specifically our society’s obsession with GroupThink. (Confession time, I’ve probably watched this 10 times.) And I really do believe that everyone, Introvert or Extrovert, should read Cain’s book. It is that important. Especially for managers, teachers, religious leaders, parents–anyone who has any type of coaching or teaching role, especially with children. It is crucial that everyone is included in this world, that no one’s ideas are left unheard just because they are not as bold or loud as others.

Because some of us sit here, behind computers, behind books. We have ideas too. Some of the most brilliant minds in this world have been introverts. And they only become leaders because they have to. Susan Cain mentions this in her Ted Talk. They come across more genuine because they aren’t trying to steal the spotlight. They are up on that life stage because there is something out there that needs doing, and who else is going to do it but that introvert who is going to make it happen? So they stand up, even though every part of them is resisting. And at the end of it, they are beaten and exhausted and drained and small. Sometimes, it kills them. But it must be done.

Who are you listening to?

Character Most Like Me

There are a ton of characters I relate to. Pretty much any socially awkward, book loving character, and I’m shouting ME ME ME. I almost picked the obvious choice of Elizabeth Bennet for this. Or, there’s Jo from Little Women.

But, neither character is just quite awkward enough. Plus, they don’t know how weird it is to be a nerd in modern day society, especially one with gorgeous, extroverted younger sisters.

No, there’s only one women on my shelf that fit that profile.

Rose, from In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner (she only had one sister, but…you get the point).

This is one where I saw the movie before I read the book, then ran out to grab it when I found out who the author was. “Shoes always fit” has been one of mottos for a long time.

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Trust me…there are a lot more in my closet….but I don’t have fancy shelves like Rose does in the movie, so they are all just kind of thrown in a pile. Shameful.

Rose is much more driven than I am, something I envy her for, but she is still just as socially awkward. She is also super protective of her sister, even if they aren’t always on the same page. I also always really admired how, when things don’t go how she expects, she remakes herself out of the wreckage–something I had to do too.

Oh, and don’t forget the love interest, who she kind of blows off at first, but he persists and persists until she takes him seriously. (Which is pretty much what my husband did with me.)

Crap. Now I want to reread this book again too.

Favorite Non-Fiction

If you look at home videos of my younger days, I liked to show off. A LOT. I have two younger sisters, and we would put on pageants, theatre, runway shows. The one that comes to mind specifically happened shortly after Prince of Egypt came out, where we donned costumes and sang the full soundtrack, LOUDLY, in our semi-formal living room (it had blue carpet…the Nile River, DUH).

At home, I was completely comfortable, free to be me, which was loud, social, and creative. But then I hit kindergarten and my mom started getting reports from my teachers that were completely different from what she saw at home. And she started worrying. Sure, I was “president” of all of the group activities, active and enthusiastic in the classroom when the teacher was around and calling on people. But when it came to actual social things, like recess or voluntary things, I was always by myself. And I was almost always reading. To my VERY extroverted mother, this was not normal. Why didn’t I want to play with the other kids? Why all of the sudden was I so shy, and why was I sitting on the curb at recess?

We talk about this often now, because when I was in high school, and absolutely balking at every social activity imaginable, I thought she just did NOT understand that I was an introvert. My two sisters are pretty extroverted too, so for me to be the only one who would much rather stay in her room rather than go party…I felt that just no one got me. Now I know that she was trying to be encouraging…not torturing. She actually did know, it’s just hard for an extrovert to counsel an introvert. About as hard for an introvert to relate to an extrovert mother!

My introversion has come a long way since then. I’m still an observer first, and until I’m completely comfortable in a situation, I usually keep quiet. I’m much better in small, intimate groups and one-on-one. Give me a little pub where I can get to know the man/woman tending bar, instead of a crowded, pounding club.

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Why am I telling you my whole life story? Because my favorite non-fiction book is Quiet by Susan Cain. Every Introvert will cry when they read this because YES YES YES SOMEONE UNDERSTANDS FINALLY WHAT WE GO THROUGH EVERY DAY. And I want to give it to every Extrovert parent of an Introvert because it helps to show how to relate between the two. I want to give it to teachers, managers, CEOs. Basically, everyone should read this book.

I read this in about 4 hours. I devoured it. We live in such an extroverted society, where people are expected to be as outgoing and go-get-em as possible. If you can’t be popular and society-driven, you are going to get run over. Those of us who need to recharge in quiet, and heaven forbid if you have an anxiety disorder, life is so much harder, if not near impossible.

And for those Extroverts out there saying, “What about us? Introverts need to learn how to deal with us better too!” You are absolutely right. And I’m getting better. Learning why I react the way I do to certain simulations, and knowing that I can only handle so much of those stimulations before I have to recharge, has helped me so much. When I was dating, I would show up 15 minutes early, get a beer, and get settled so I wasn’t so anxiety-ridden. And if I have a meeting, or group event–like book club on Mondays–I do the same thing. I’m learning what I can handle, and what I can’t, and what I can do to deal with social situations.

There you have it. Way too much information about me, and a little bit about my favorite non-fiction book. But that’s what this is all about right? We learn from reading, and we learn from each other. As you can see, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I know there are a lot of Introverts out there who feel the same way I do, and have been hurt badly because they don’t know how overcome it. One step at a time, and don’t wait too long to recharge. We need the quiet.