The first thought that came to my mind after looking at Susan Cain’s face was “Wow! What a beautiful white lady” — I suppose her face radiates calmness too.
My friend from uni lent me this book, saying how everyone said I gave out extreme introverted vibes. I was confused at first, as I never assumed myself as an introvert before. Yes it’s true that I do not really talk much around people, but that’s just because of my own petty insecurity.
First thing first, Cain begins the book by describing introverts as people who “always feel intense emotions of joy and sadness, remember vivid dreams, prefer deep talks over small ones, avoid hedonistic/materialistic actions”. Honestly, truly, every sentences perfectly describes me as a person. Remembering weird crystal-clear dreams by writing them on a journal the next morning is one of my favorite things to do. I absolutely despise small, irrelevant talks with shallow-minded people, and materials (clothing, bags, etc) never delight me by any means. I do feel intense emotions inside although I don’t express them much. But do those criterias really make me an introverted individual?
Cain then proceeds to continue listing other introvert traits, which one of them is called threat-oriented. A threat-oriented person gets easily hurt by criticisms, is upset by anger, and worries when h/she does poorly on a job. Well, I truly am a threat-oriented, over-thinking asshole. Not a single day goes by without me worrying about some dumb things. In addition to that, an introverted person usually avoids conflicts (like Gandhi) and social events in general. A sensitive introvert realizes the subtlest cues for disapproval; this notion might as well be stamped on my forehead as it relates to me like no other. I can literally feel it in my bones when a person starts to hate me, that’s why I often apologize for nothing. Avoiding everything and everyone (except school responsibilities because I crave good GPA) is one of my expertise. Oh, I have a crush on that boy? Avoid him at all cost! Oh, I think I annoy the shit out of some people? Avoid them, cut ties with them! It’s just my basic instinct. And every social interactions I make with people that I’m not really close with actually drains me. Maybe I can validate myself as an introvert now.
Then how can sometimes I get genuinely gregarious around my colleagues as if I’m unable to shut the fuck up?
Cain includes William James’ quote in the book, which says “A man has as many social selves as there are distinct groups of people about whose opinions he cares”. This quote is undeniably related to the Free Trait Theory: adopting different personalities for the sake of work, people they love, and social circles. Basically, an introverted person can act like an extrovert. In other words, h/she can be a pseudo-extrovert. Being pseudo-extrovert is not fundamentally fake or wrong, it’s only a temporary persona to get things done. Cain herself is an introvert who used to work as a Wall Street lawyer. Despite her shyness, she fought hard in apprehensive social situations (jury duties) for the sake of her clients. When she reached home, she’d curl up in her blankets reading books. A Silicon Valley businessman also establishes his own social persona which eventually assists him to financial success. Notwithstanding his hundreds of acquaintances, he’s totally fine with having his wife as his only friend for the rest of his life. A Psychology professor from Harvard, Brian Little, is an eloquent individual who mesmerizes hundreds of students with his entertaining lectures. Those students will be surprised if told how Brian is actually a man living in recluse who despises social events by any means. Brian, along with Cain and the Silicon Valley businessman, chooses to become a pseudo-extrovert in order to do the job that he is passionate in. Free Trait Theory/pseudo-extrovert might be inauthentic and ambiguous, but what’s so wrong about building a faux persona for one’s own benefit? It’s not like you can gain new friends by constantly being an introvert, isn’t it?
Nonetheless, when you attempt to convince yourself that your pseudo-self is real, you can experience exhaustion that leads to behaviour leakage. Behaviour leakage happens when your true self appears unconsciously after doing a faux persona. Ever since little, I’d always wanted to be accepted into a huge group full of people. Even if I owned zero similarities with those “friends”, I kept pushing myself to mingle, to blend in. The same thing happened to me recently, and I realized being pseudo-extrovert could be a bit tiring. Well.. It does not matter at all if you secretly enjoy being alone, or hanging out with other quite, chill person.
An anecdote from the book about a little girl named Maya represents one of my struggles: feeling insecure when put among confidence-stricken people (let’s just say, adept extroverts). Maya — an introvert who excelled in softball, academic, and essay writing — shrunk to nothingness when she sensed her leader had subtly dismissed her opinions for the group. All of her potentials were overlooked at that very time as Maya chose to let the confident group leader did all the talkings whilst she remained silent. I fully understand that being “Maya” won’t help me get a decent position if I pursue corporate banking job (because of my uni major, I’ll most likely end up working in companies or banks that praise extroversion/group thinking), yet sometimes I just can’t help being comfortable doing stuff alone. Cain’s advice for introvert is to start hissing like a bengali snake. Nevertheless! I have no energy to slither, let alone hiss.
I do learn a lot from reading this particular novel. I now know how the Harvard Business School’s students and Tony Robbins (the motivator) are just a bunch of over-energetic bullshitters. How most of successful company leaders and investors (Warren Buffet included) are careful introverts. How Rosa Parks was an introvert who used her power of silence to fight racial segregation alongside Martin Luther King. How Eleanor Roosevelt was an introvert who had to endure her husband’s affair with a far more outgoing lady (googled this fact because I just couldn’t believe Franklin Roosevelt had an affair).
I used to think myself as a freak who needed to be fix since I genuinely enjoyed being alone. During highschool, I created this persona of the “clown class” who tried to make everyone laugh, but over time people did not take me seriously as a person. Once my parents even forced me to go to the mall as they were afraid if I’d grow up to be a mellow recluse. Truthfully, I do favor in immersing myself with people who are still able to deeply converse despite not meeting for months/years.It’s just that building friendship with as many people as possible is not my goal anymore. The most important thing is to enjoy spending time with your own self, doing the things that you care the most. In the end, all you have is yourself.