Mice that Roar – Holding Our Own in an Extrovert’s World

Have you ever read a book that spoke right to your heart, just when you needed to hear it most? Have you ever wanted to scream and shout in excitement that surely it must have been written to you?

For me, Quiet by Susan Cain is one such book.

In a world where the only constant is change, the self-help industry has thrived on our anxieties, fears and insecurities, backed by a plethora of books advocating change. With titles such as How to Win Friends and Influence People; Awaken the Giant Within or The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, it is no wonder that we are constantly questioning whether we are ever good enough. It is refreshing, then, to chance upon a book that teaches us to appreciate the value of just…being ourselves.

The back-page blurb of Quiet quickly captured my attention during an aimless wander through the local bookstore (one of my many aimless wanders that typically yielded my favourite finds):

For far too long, those who are naturally quiet, serious or sensitive have been overlooked. The loudest have taken over – even if they have nothing to say. It’s time for everyone to listen. It’s time to harness the power of introverts. It’s time for Quiet.

By the time I dug into the Introduction, I was hooked. Here is a perfect illustration of me, inexplicably penned by a perfect stranger:

Introverts…like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame… Introverts…may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

If the mere thought of bullet-train talking, chest puffing and fist pumping feats of human extroversion is enough to spin your head and turn your innards to mush, then you will be delighted (as I am) to welcome the revolution of Quiet.

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The Quiet Revolution – The Powers of Introversion

1. The Power of Humility: Our humility and inclination to take into account wide-ranging views are powerful tools in leadership, as it is shown that introverts are uniquely adept at leading initiative-takers and fostering a “virtuous circle of proactivity”. The myth of charismatic leadership has been well and truly busted by Cain, whom concluded that oftentimes the highest-performing American companies were led by CEOs with the following unassuming attributes: quiet, humble, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing (think Bill Gates & Microsoft; Larry Page & Google; Darwin Smith & Kimberley-Clark).

We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.

2. The Power of Empathy: Empathy comes naturally to introverts and remains one of our most untapped strengths. We are compassionate, empathetic listeners and can be a repository for great confidences. This makes us effective communicators too, when we want to be. Table pounding and shrill voices are unnecessary when, as an introvert, we can unleash our soft powers and take firm positions whilst coming across as completely reasonable.

3. The Power of Restraint: We are generally a tolerant bunch, and are not easily goaded into action (or reaction). Do not read into this, however, to mean that we are cold-blooded masochists, we are just consciously bearing our ultimate goals in mind and refusing to be embroiled in (self-) destructive skirmishes along the way. Exercising restraint and self-governance can be one of our most defining characteristics.

4. The Power of Focus: Introverts have been shown to possess extraordinary levels of selective concentration. What may appear at first blush to be a lack of versatility and bandwidth is in fact our own recalibrating powers at work in channelling scarce resources (both physical and emotional) to the pursuit of passions that matter most to us.

5. The Power of Creativity: As introverts, we are most likely to reach our creative highs when working alone, to this I can attest. I can hardly string creative thoughts together extemporaneously and when surrounded by people. Contrary to popular belief, Cain’s thesis reveals that the power of collective brainstorming is overrated and the concept of “two heads are better than one” is also often misconstrued. In fact, the world would be deprived of many of the inventions we take for granted today were it not for introverts labouring alone (think Isaac Newton & the theory of gravity; Steve Wozniak & Apple Mac; JK Rowling & Harry Potter).

By the early twentieth century, the sorry shift from the Culture of Character to the Culture of Personality was all but complete. The rise of the Extrovert Ideal presented a formidable force, in which we are all to be judged as a performing self. For some of us, we will never be as charismatic as Bill Clinton, or as flamboyant as Kim Kardashian, but the truth is, we don’t have to be! A fully functioning, vibrant society needs all types, and we must not relegate ourselves to the rank of second-class citizens just because we do not neatly identify with this ideal. Our powers of humility, empathy, restraint, focus and creativity will serve us well in life, and we ought to be proud, of just the way we are.

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Image courtesy of M. Johnson

25 Comments Add yours

  1. This post is so gratifying and resonates so deeply…you’ve so wonderfully captured the truth about introversion and how it has been misunderstood and under-appreciated….and, even more importantly, you’ve shone a light on the gifts inherent in introversion….extroverts are incredible, but I am soooooo grateful to be an introvert (especially once I became aware that I was one…it put all of my best qualities into a context that allowed me to celebrate myself–warts and all). Thank you for using your gifts to brighten other’s worlds….you are awesome 🙂

    1. Jolene says:

      Ohhh, thank you Truly. I am an introvert through and through, and I’ve always known that (and been proud of it). I would never have picked you as an introvert though, you have such an effervescent persona, so full of vitality and confidence and I guess all the bubbly characteristics I lack that I would have always taken someone like you as an assured extrovert. I’m glad you gave me a different perspective and that I need to hold back on my rash judgements. Thanks for reading!! 😊

      1. Many people make the assumption that I am an extrovert–it’s an easy conclusion to draw…however, the measure of my introversion means I need/love a good deal of time to myself (to recharge and turn off the emotional energy that I bring to interactions and connections…I put my heart into most everything to do with sharing, and it can be draining.). As for confidence, it comes and goes…I often have success hangovers (shine and then feel…ashamed almost…as if I’d been showing off…and, then I have to work to remember that I am just being myself, and sometimes my strengths are on display…that’s not about showing off, it’s evidence of taking risks and them paying off. Sometimes, I have to fight really hard to combat insecurities. I’m glad we had this chat…thank you 🙂

      2. Jolene says:

        You are so right… We all have moments of extroversion which we put on display for others. After all, a society doesn’t operate if we are all silent and glum. It does take so much energy though, and being alone is the perfect way to recharge. Hope you enjoy your 2 weeks staycation, it sounds dreamy. 😜

      3. Thank you….so far, so great 🙂 Wishing you some really great days as well 🙂

  2. Wow! This is so much me, even to the smallest degree. I loved reading your post and probably should go find this book! Thanks again. 🙂

    1. Jolene says:

      Thank you for your feedback and glad to hear you can relate! It is very important to keep in mind that even quiet people can have a voice. Thanks for reading. 😊

  3. Ida Auclond says:

    Nice article, very interesting. I think I’ll add this book to my wishlist!

    The timing of this post is funny: I have ordered “How to Win Friends and Influence People” like… two days ago. It is mostly for research’s sake (I have a character who’d read that kind of stuff), but I must admit I’m also curious as to the advice provided, half-hoping it will help me “fake” extroversion when I need it, with lesser costs to my energy level.

    1. Jolene says:

      Haha that is great timing!
      What my post should have also alluded to is that it is best to have a balanced personality. I believe that even introverts are capable of genuine extroversion when they are in their comfort zones, which is great, because we can’t all be thoughtful (but silent)! Which is probably why there is so much salvation in blogging🙂

      1. Ida Auclond says:

        Indeed! I have the hardest time trying to be more extrovert, but in the mean time I “fake it till I make it”. ^_^

  4. Len Kagami says:

    Absolutely true! I can see a part of me in this post (let’s say I am 80% introvert, 20% extrovert haha). Most of the time, introverts are perceived as weak, fool and indecisive. But I think speaking/acting without thinking about the consequence is the biggest mistake that man can make, both in daily life and in business. Look at Donald Trump 🙂 Words must be weighed, not counted.

    1. Jolene says:

      Thanks for your feedback and those very wise words! Agree that we should all be mindful of the weight of our words before speaking. (I’ve never thought about whether my words ever weighed much, but still, perhaps they did to some 😁).
      For me, it all comes down to trust. With people I inherently trust and feel comfortable with, they probably won’t even notice my introversion. But put me in a roomful of Mr Trumps and you won’t hear a peep from me!

  5. Great review and book recommendation! I love the Powers of Introversion. I think I need to pick this book up.

    1. Jolene says:

      Thank you – please do, you will feel inspired! 😊

  6. Naomi Byrnes says:

    This book helped our whole family appreciate each other for our various dwellings on the “spectrum” of intravert to extrovert. I also learned to start to ask myself if I really wanted to speak. I realised I’d been conditioned to fill silences … when in fact, I quite relish my own company and conversation for extended periods of time each day, as well as getting a buzz out of interaction with others too. Thanks for the review.

    1. Jolene says:

      Hi Naomi, thanks for visiting my blog and your feedback here! Absolutely, while I chose to focus on the introverted powers for this post (being a classic introvert myself), I give full credit to Cain for also exploring the “spectrum”. As Stephen Covey (in the 7 Habits) has famously said, it is about being able to understand others first and then seeking to be understood. Fostering an environment of understanding and nurture between introverts and extroverts is key to a progressive society. Yet too often have introverts been taken as “cold” and “spiritless”, and discarded as socially awkward and hence socially unworthy (to the detriment of society as a whole). Introverts are not hermits; they are thinkers. They live in their world but are extremely intuitive and perceptive of the world around them.
      Thank you for sharing with me your own experiences. It sounds like you are a happy medium, which is the best of both worlds! 😊

      1. Naomi Byrnes says:

        Hi Jolene – yes the ‘introverted’ characteristics are
        often misunderstood. Susan Cain has shone a light..keep being wonderful unique you.

      2. Jolene says:

        Thank you! Yes, Cain is an amazing inspiration.

  7. Great post, Jolene, I liked that you listed them as power, in lieu of strength, and gives more impact like the book. Susan Cain is a hero. 🙂

    1. Jolene says:

      Many thanks! I hope I have captured the core powers that she’s alluded to in the text. She’s my hero for sure! 😁

  8. Rachel McKee says:

    Thank you for the great recommendation! I have a friend who I think will love this book. Now I know what to get her for her birthday. Thanks for the lovely recap!

    1. Jolene says:

      Oh good! Glad to know I made the decision easier and hope you friend enjoys the gift! 🤗 It’s definitely made me more self-aware, and accepting.
      Just wanted to clarify that the powers are just my takeaways from Cain’s book; I hope I have echoed her sentiments. 🙂

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