Quiet

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When I was in my pediatric residency, I served on the committee that ranked the new applicants to the program. (As an aside, we were ranking them for Match Day, an archaic tradition unique to medical residency programs and the Greek system. Applicants rank the programs they have applied to, programs rank the applicants and by some complicated algorithm they are matched. On Match Day all fourth year medical students receive an envelope with the one name of the residency where they will be spending the next 3-10 years of their life. It’s a weird and somewhat barbaric way to apply for a job.)

So, I was on a committee where we ranked the applicants. I became known on this committee for one main thing: the phrase “being shy is not a bad thing”. The reason for this is invariably we would be discussing some applicant who had great recommendations and scores and who had interviewed well but who had “seemed shy” to someone. The “shy” factor always was mentioned as if it was a negative character flaw. So over and over again, I’d remind the committee that it isn’t a flaw. It’s a personality trait. I remember telling them that they weren’t going to want a residency class of 11 outgoing extroverts. Who was going to listen if that was the case? By the end of the two years someone would describe a candidate as “shy” and then immediately turn to me and say “I know, it’s not a bad thing.” I felt that I’d done my job.

You’ve probably seen the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking around the book blogging world. I’ve seen it reviewed in several places and links to the Ted talk with the author, Susan Cain, posted. My theory is that readers are probably more likely than the rest of the population to be introverts as are bloggers (we can safely interact with the world from our own house) so this book is like our manifesto. At times as I read this book I imagined a mob of fist-pumping introverts screaming “YEA! INTROVERTS RULE!” Although it reality that would never happen because we’re, well, quiet.

I was interested in this book but not really expecting to gain a lot of insights. I know I’m an introvert and am at a point in my life where I’m comfortable with that. I was surprised to find several areas that Cain explores that were helpful to me in understanding my own behavior better. I really liked the way she explores the difference between shyness and introversion. She defines shyness as anxiety or being fearful and points out that there can be shy extroverts. That was a real eye-opening idea for me.

I also really liked the chapter on parenting an introvert. John is definitely an introvert. You’d think it would be easy for me to parent him as I understand him. However, at times I find it difficult because I understand him all too well. I see him hesitating to join in a group and suddenly I’m sitting in the middle school cafeteria not sure of myself. I know things that I struggled with and that were painful for me and I want to shield him from those. Reading this book helped me to realize that he is who is and that he’s not me. Just because he’s waiting to join in doesn’t mean he’s feeling like an outsider. It also helped me to see how homeschooling can be a real blessing for him, it gives him a lot of space to be inside his own head and to explore his own interests and passions. Interestingly, lately he’s been saying how much he loves being active and busy. I think this is because he also has a lot of time to read and think and be quiet. I wonder if he’d still like all the activities that he does if he was also around people all day at school. My guess is not as much.

The book overall is a fascinating read. It’s not a difficult book to read although it is well researched and includes a lot of current psychological thought and research. Cain is a good storyteller and mixes just the right amount of stories in with the dry  parts to make it almost a page turner.

And if you listen closely you can hear a vast crowd of introverts peering out from behind their books, smiling and and whispering, “Yea! Introverts Rule!”

12 thoughts on “Quiet

  1. Being an introvert, I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject. What I liked about Quiet was the current research she included in the book, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. And as an introvert who is not shy, but who is the parent of a shy extrovert, I very much appreciated that being discussed. And I also loved her insight about America being such an extroverted society possibly because of being populated by immigrants, who tend to be extroverts.

  2. lazygal1

    I read this following a “conversation” with Ms. Cain at a conference I attended (the comments stream was really interesting, with the extroverts and introverts having such different takes). Her insights into how being an introvert can be a real asset that is overlooked by business – starting with places like HBS – will probably be ignored by those it could most help. My only problem was that she didn’t offer advice on how introverted parents can better understand and deal with extroverted children (or introverted teachers better understand and deal with extroverted students); the ‘self-help’ section only really went the other way.

    • Alice

      You’re right, she didn’t really look into how introverts can better understand extroverts. I think that’s because she is starting from the assumption that things are easier for extroverts in our culture. But maybe that’s the next book .;)

  3. Amy @ Hope Is the Word

    Hmmm. . . interesting. I’m not really shy, either, except in certain situations. I AM an introvert, though.

  4. Nice review. I’m an introvert who’s learned more or less to impersonate extroversion, at least in certain situations, and I didn’t realize my sort of double life till I read this book.

    And when you mention the school cafeteria, it brought cold chills. Cafeterias have always been one of my least favorite places to be.

  5. Pedro Penduko

    I am applying for the Match this year and it’s so great to hear that people like you are part of the committee. I am an introvert, too, and that has been causing me moments of anxiety just thinking about trying to act more outgoing and social come interview time. I’m applying for PM&R, which I love wholeheartedly but everyone’s telling me I should be more extroverted or should probably consider radiology or pathology.

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