Have you ever felt slightly out of step with the world around you?
Are you often happier with your own company? Do large groups of people and social events drain you and leave you needing to recharge?
Would you often rather stay at home and work on something creative than go out socialising? And do you ever feel slightly guilty about that?
If so, this post is for you.
A portrait of an introvert
Picture a little boy, about 10 years old. He’s sitting quietly in his bedroom, playing by himself.
His mother considers him an “easy” child. Unlike his older sisters, he doesn’t need her constant input to keep him occupied.
But she’s concerned.
When his friends come round to play – and he has plenty of them – often he doesn’t want to go out with them and would rather play by himself. She’s concerned enough to wonder if she should take him to see a child psychiatrist.
Thankfully, she doesn’t.
The extrovert ideal
At least in the west, we live in societies that revere extroverts. There’s a plethora of self help books that will advise you how to connect with people more effectively, make friends, influence people, make a favourable first impression.
Because that’s how you get ahead. But in societies where being garrulous, confident and outspoken is the ideal, the quieter ones among us may find themselves left out, passed over and ignored.
If you’re one of those quiet people, that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to say. In fact, you have much to contribute.
You’re probably a deep thinker, someone who considers things deeply before coming to conclusions. You probably have great powers of concentration. You might have deep insights, you just don’t shout about them.
So the world rarely hears you. It’s usually the extroverts that have their ideas heard, that take leadership roles in groups and make decisions that are acted upon.
But in fact, there’s zero correlation between being loud and being right. The world should listen to its introverts more.
That’s the central hypotheses of a book called Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I’ve just finished it, and if you’re an introvert, I highly recommend you read it. If you consider yourself an extrovert, I still recommend you read it.
But if you’re an introvert, I think you’ll find it validates you and might even help you to accept yourself as you really are a little more. You don’t have to feel guilty about being quiet.
Are you an introvert?
If you’ve never done a personality test, like the Myers Briggs one, and aren’t sure whether you’d consider yourself an introvert or not, try answering “true” or “false” to some of these questions (they’re taken directly from Quiet):
- I prefer one-on-one conversation to group activities
- I enjoy solitude
- I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame and status
- I dislike small talk, but enjoy in depth conversations about things that matter to me
- People tell me that I’m a good listener
- I enjoy work that allows me to “dive in” with few interruptions
- I do my best work on my own
- I often let calls go through to voicemail
- I can concentrate easily
How did you do?
I don’t mind telling you, I’m an off-the-chart introvert. So much so that my current day job, which requires me to work in a busy open-plan office and “hot-desk”, is making me physically ill. I’ve just had two fairly nasty illnesses in rapid succession and the last one put me in hospital for a few days.
That can be the cost of living in a way that doesn’t suit your temperament. That’s also why I’ve been moved to write this post. As you’ve probably guessed by now, the little boy I described at the start of this post was me.
Having realised the probable cause of my recent illnesses, and the reason I’m so drained at the end of a working day in the office, I’m going to try to change my life to suit my temperament. That’s an immediate practical use for this unassuming little book: It’s shown me what I need and what I need to change.
The natural traits of the artist
No-one is completely an introvert or an extrovert. We’re complicated beings, our personalities are the result of many different influences. Introverts can pretend to be extroverts, often unconsciously. Someone I spoke to at work about this was surprised that I consider myself an introvert. But she doesn’t see what it costs me to come across as more extroverted when I’m at work.
I wonder how many of you are like me, trying to fit in with a world that values extroverts, all the while knowing on a deeper level that what you really need is the chance to get on with your work in peace and quiet. I’m never happier than when I’m sitting by myself, drawing. Daily concerns melt away. Time seems to stop.
Many of the qualities of the introvert would seem to be perfect for artists:
- Thinking deeply
- Happy working alone for long periods
- Capable of sustained concentration
- Sensitive to the world around us
Of course there have also been artists that one might consider extroverts. Salvador Dali. Picasso. I’m sure you can think of plenty more. But even these artists must work for long periods alone. And perhaps they just make a good job of coming across as more extroverted than they really are, and perhaps the effort costs them.
It’s ok to be an artist
The message of Cain’s book is very positive, and I think an important one. It’s that we need to understand where we fit on the introvert/extrovert scale. If we find ourselves towards either extreme, that has ramifications for the kind of lives we should be living.
For me, reading Cain’s book has helped me not only understand myself better, but accept who I am.
So where do you sit? Do you agree that the traits of the introvert seem a perfect fit for the artist, or do you consider yourself an extrovert?
I’d really like to hear from you. I’d love to know how much that little boy sounds like you.
Thanks for reading,
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