Turning up the volume (on introversion)

I got to spend an hour today pretending I was at a TED conference. In reality, it was the final few days of the Oxford Literary Festival, but more importantly I got to listen (and meet) perhaps one of my newest favourite TED speakers. Next to Brené Brown.

Susan Cain makes a connection that lets my heart sing and my soul shake. Together these two woman touch on topics that I’ve started to find unique and fascinating. Not only within myself, but society at large. They are topics that don’t get talked about all that much, if at all; and in a way touching on the parts of ourselves that we only whisper about and try our best to ignore, but these are conversations we need to have with ourselves and with each other.

Shame, vulnerability and introversion, I believe, when acknowledged can help us all lead more fully-involved, connected and authentic lives. So while the mute button still feels like it is on, the volume ought to be turned up a bit more; and for me personally that is about to end.

I consider myself a closet introvert – who wouldn’t? You’re kind of in the closet already…but if you’re like me, you may have felt a certain way (or taught yourself to get by, by not fully embracing your introvert) when in a room full of people. It’s taken me most of my life to understand that I like solitude. I like doing things by myself, in my own company. It doesn’t really matter what: going to the movies; listening to live music; attending public speaking engagements; or my biggest passion – cycling. But equally I like doing these same activities with friends as well.

So I wanted to write about this “condition” I have. In fact, I know I’m not alone because according to the talk Susan Cain made at this year’s TED conference, one-third to a half of today’s population share this with me.

Society has got us in a catch-22. It shows us that the loudest people in the room, are the one’s that typically get heard the most. But are they the ideas that need to be heard? Would we be in “this mess” (e.g., global financial crisis, unemployment, cuts to public services, etc.) if those leading from the front had been more introverted from the start?

Every aspect of society that we know has been impacted by the “he (or she) who shouts loudest gets heard”, that’s nothing new. But Susan Cain is challenging that precept, with this manifesto, inviting us to join the Quiet Revolution. What are we not allowing to progress if our children, our colleagues, even our leaders in business and politics are told they must be extroverts? Have we disconnected ourselves from solitude, and if so can we re-embrace it?

In my experience “this shouting” lessens the contribution I feel I can make. There have been times in my life where I believed I had something to contribute (an idea, an insight, whatever), but I haven’t done so because someone else was speaking louder than me. My parents always told me that it was rude to interrupt, so while I felt what I had to say may have added value, I was never confident enough  to speak up and I let the moment pass. That’s not to say that I’m not a team player, I feel I am, but the continued need for collaboration and “group think” can get in the way of the time that might be better spent in independent thought. One’s desire to be alone, to have solitude, in a world full of extroverts needs to be recognized. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

A few takeaways Cain made today (amongst many) really resonated with me and my own work:

  1. A sense of community comes later, only after the passion/activity has been found.
  2. The response to stimulation, how it occurs for different people and why there is an extrovert ideal between cultures.
  3. You don’t suspect the introverts around you.

I’m really looking forward to diving into these more with my coach Jeffrey and to begin reading Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”  in detail.

Finally and after getting my copy signed by Cain, I got to ask her further about the idea of dedicated practices, through an introvert’s lens and the possibility of richer integration. The insight she offered me, as I knelt down beside her was that it is one of managed practice, being sure not to take on too much at once. That really clicked with me, because in my own seeking I’ve tried a number of different techniques, but I can serve myself (and my community around me) better once I discover what practices work best for me.

It may only be one, and it may be a few, and I’m committed to finding that out…

Signed Title Page of Quiet

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2 thoughts on “Turning up the volume (on introversion)

  1. Robert says:

    Good post, I wish I had been there. I’m currently reading the book and find myself in the process of writing a very big blog post as I progress through the book.
    Probably need to cut it down as most of it is me telling myself about the realisations I’m making just from this one book.

    I’ve never really known or thought about what introversion is, but this one book has really opened my eyes and mind up, and my moment of “click” has been an amazing weight lifted of my shoulders.

    • Hi Robert, thanks for finding my post. Nice to know you’re reading Susan Cain’s “Quiet” as well. My progress has been slow-going, but the sections I have read (coming up to the end of Part 1) is really insightful.

      I want to blog more about how the book relates to me, and it sounds like you’re creating some distinction for yourself too. Awesome.

      When the light switch gets flicked it can be really hard to ignore, which means (in my experience) whatever it is I need to burn though will happen when I’m ready.

      Thanks again for visiting! Let me know when you’ve posted your own thoughts on the book.

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