Traveling home from California last week, I picked up a book at the airport newsstand—Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The title was intriguing for two reasons. First, I had just been the outreach person for my employer at a busy stakeholder conference and found myself feeling withdrawn, day dreaming about sitting alone somewhere without all these people. Secondly, according to my freshly printed Myers-Briggs results, on the spectrum of extrovert and introvert, I clearly lean towards “introvert.”
With years of schooling in Business and Leadership, the need to be an extrovert has been thrust upon me. Cain talks extensively about Harvard Business School practices and the fact that there are no obvious introverts there. I can relate. In the realm of business, you don’t want to be the one sitting on your hands. You want to be the team member to have the answer, quickly (even if its not the best answer). Taking time, pulling away from the group to gather one’s thoughts and put together a thorough and detailed plan is the way an introvert would function. Team cultures and cultures of personality dominate workplaces and universities and the slow thoughtful scenario does not fly.
It doesn’t take long to understand the contrast between extroverts and introverts in social situations either. The extrovert looks forward to a party or social event and the introvert may not. The extrovert wants to stay all night and talk. The introvert will enjoy it for a while and then feel the need to go home and have quiet time. Luckily, I am married to an thoughtful introvert, and we have two children who also lean towards those same tendencies so we all get along fine with our social needs. This is not to say we can’t be social. We just like social interaction in smaller quantities and value (crave) the solitary times.
Relating my drinking habits to this book, it became evident to me pretty quickly that drinking helps me to be more gregarious and relaxed in social situations. Give me a Ketel One martini or two and I’ll chat all night. Wine at dinner suppresses the need to retreat and helps me to engage with others without feeling self-conscious. Since the vow of abstinence, small dinner parties can feel uncomfortable and a self-critical voice will at times surface. The lack of ease is something that I am learning to manage. Giving myself permission to be silent is a start. Reading Susan Cain’s book is helpful in understanding that the issue is not that introverts lack social skills (something that I have feared). The core of the introvert is quiet and learning to value that is a new step in this experiment.