I am a book junkie. Big time. There is not much I love more in life than finding a good book, a comfy chair and some peace and quiet. The first two items are usually fairly easy to come by, but the last one…well, anyone with kids, or a spouse, or roommates or pets, knows it is not always quite as easy to find.
A few years ago, one of my best friends, who I also have the pleasure of working with, started up a school-wide teacher book club. Well, her intent was for it to be school-wide, but it turns out the only people who are really dedicated to book club are other English teachers. Well, other English teachers and this one totally off-the-wall science teacher. Like a great many book clubs, in theory we structure each meeting around a book, but in reality, we spend about 15 minutes talking about the book and the rest socializing about our days, our families and whatever else is on our minds.
We meet once a month and each month we pick a book in a different genre. Everyone throws potential book titles into the ring for each genre. Our illustrious leader puts the titles as well as their Amazon descriptions into an online survey program and then we vote for our favorite books. The book that gets the most votes is the one we read for the month.
Despite being the only member of book club to actually finish every single book we’ve ever chosen, I am the only one whose suggested books have NEVER, not even once, been picked. Not that I’m bitter or anything…
But it does explain how I ended up reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
I have always thought of myself as an extrovert. I’ve been teaching for 20 years and I’ve never really had a problem getting up in front of a room full of students and being, “on.” I’ve been in a dozen or so plays both as a teen and an adult. I directed plays for 7 years which meant nightly pre-show curtain speeches to auditoriums full of strangers. I was in show choir and even a band. I can tell stories and at parties where I have a core group of friends, I have a great time. Last month when I read Amy Schumer’s book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, and she called herself an introvert, I wanted to laugh. She had to be kidding, right?
And then I read this book and I realized that while I am really good at putting on my “game face,” at my core, I am surprisingly introverted. Like most people, I think I have been mislead to believe that introverts are the super shy people who rarely talk or participate in social activities. And that’s not me, except that, I am not great at small talk. I hate it. I don’t really like talking to strangers. If I’m introduced by a friend, it is easier, but I still don’t love it. At social events if I don’t know people, I find a chair, sit by myself and play on my phone. I would rather sit with a book, even one I don’t love, than do most everything else. I never leave the house without a book…I take it to the coffee shop, children’s birthday parties, Super Bowl parties…everywhere. I hate group work-I want to figure it out on my own. I would always prefer my small group of insanely close-knit friends to large groups. I make excuses not to go to social outings because I often just can’t do it. I am highly empathetic and the kind of person who can listen to others for hours.
It turns out all of these traits make me far more of an introvert than I ever imagined. This book made me understand so much more about myself, my husband (who is also an introvert, but a really good salesmen) and my kids, who also lose themselves in books and are fine playing alone in their rooms for hours–just like I was.
While this book was very enlightening, I think my enjoyment of it was a bit limited both by all the self-referencing (examples: I’ll get to that in chapter 6, remember this from chapter 3, strategies for that are in chapter 11), and the fact that I read this while vacationing at the beach. This book is not good beach reading, but I had to read it for my book club and I’d put it off too long, so I pulled it out while trying to avoid direct contact with the sun’s rays. I definitely got distracted by footballs whizzing by, squeals of joy and constantly scanning the beach to make sure my kids were still alive and with my husband. It’s hard not to get distracted from the most riveting book while waves are crashing a few feet away, but when it is a book filled with the results of studies and the medical opinions of doctors and psychologists, it gets even harder.
I also got distracted searching for the online Myers-Briggs test Cain mentions several times in the book. I really wanted to take it, but it cost $49.95 and I was already on vacation spending way too much money on slightly fancy and very delicious seafood dinners, so instead, I took this one. While I’m sure it is not nearly as accurate, it confirmed what the informal quiz in the front of Cain’s book also told me: I’m a bit of an introvert.
The test also told me that I fit in the Mediator Personality, which didn’t surprise me all that much. I do consider myself “poetic and kind-hearted.” I am altruistic and have a “vivid imagination.” However, I often let both that imagination and my altruism get the best of me. I always expect situations and people to be more idealistic then they are.
While I think few people who know me now would describe me as shy, and even I would not describe myself as shy, outside of my family, I only keep in touch with two people who knew me before the age of 14. My freshmen year of high school was not the standard transition of a teenager into high school. There were only two new students in our freshmen class and since the building housed 7-12 grades, the other 98% of the kids in my class had been roaming these halls for at least a year. Most of them had friendships dating back to first or second grade. On top of this big transition, this was the 9th school building I’d been in during my 10 years of schooling. That’s right, K-9 I went to 9 different schools. I was always the new kid. By the time I made it to Indiana at the age of 14, I’d developed a way to cope with being the new kid: pretending to be a lot more extroverted than I was.
My act was so convincing that I even convinced myself that they quiet, shy kid who hadn’t really talked to anyone for several MONTHS of her first grade year was gone. I even joked about being the shy new kid in my salutatory address at my high school graduation and I got lots of laughs from my classmates who knew me as very outspoken and quite the “joiner.” But all that joining was balanced by long stretches of not leaving my room and surrounding myself in utter quiet at home.
The several different personality tests I took as a result of reading this book have shown me that I’m actually a pretty good mix of introvert and extrovert. All of the tests put me just slightly over into introvert territory. Based on descriptions and finding in Cain’s book, this is what I suspected as well.
Quiet is a great read for anyone looking for insight into why they don’t enjoy some of the more social aspects of life they may feel pressured by society to engage in. It has also made me reconsider some of my teaching approaches. When I start my lesson planning for the upcoming school year, I have some adjustments to make.