March 13, 2019

Brief Thoughts on Introversion

During my Monday morning flights, I finished Susan Cain's book Quiet.  It describes some attributes of introversion and how those attributes affect people that live in a society dominated by extroversion.  It confirmed much of what I have learned through experience as an introvert through school and in the workplace.  The discussion of grad school as a place where your success depended on your ability to talk in class regardless of the utility of that input rang especially true.  I spent most of my time in grad school trying to come up with profound things to say only to be amazed that our discussions rarely moved to the profound.  Similarly the workplace designed to nurture extroverted interactions all day has been a near constant experience in my career.

Thankfully Cain took the next step beyond describing introversion to offering details on how to handle introversion in an extroverted world.  Many of the recommendations I already learned through trial-and-error over the years.  However, now I have a better understanding of why they work and why I should not feel bad for using them.  For example, after spending a morning navigating airports and airplanes, I'm exhausted and can't handle additional person-to-person interaction until I recharge.  Heading straight into work creates extra stress that becomes unhealthy for me and leads me to less productive time at work.  I need a little time to recover.  That is how my body works.  This may mean taking a 30 minute walk or just sitting alone in an empty conference room for a bit.  Either way, I need time without people.

Including Quiet, I'm in the middle of a series of books about how the mind works using recent research.  It's an interesting set of books including Farsighted, Lost Connections, Incognito, and (to some extent) Ego is the Enemy.  Combined, they are painting an interesting picture that makes me question the mental health discussions I've had over the years with various health care providers, friends, and colleagues.  The dialogue surrounding autism with neurotypicals seems much more broadly applicable the more I read on this topic.  There are people naturally wired to perform well in society as it is structured and those that are round pegs fitting into square holes.  For the round pegs, we need to understand what the square hole looks like and how to contort to it as best as we can.  Books like Quiet can help us do that.