For this week’s blog post I chose to do a breakdown of Susan Cain’s TED Talk The Power of Introverts. Susan gave this passionate TED Talk back in February of 2012 and it is a must watch for everyone. Susan starts out the talk with a story about summer camp that she attended as a young girl. She talks about how she brought with her a suitcase full of books because in her family that is what they did together, it was considered a social activity. I have similar experiences with my mother, we would often read books together and discuss them, like a mini book club of sorts, and I too always brought books to summer camp. She continues by saying that they were encouraged to be outgoing, rowdy, and social at camp and that when she pulled out her books she was asked why she was being so mellow and it was implied that she wasn’t showing camp spirit. The message seemed to be that being quiet wasn’t the right way to go, that she needed to be more extroverted and so she put her books away for the summer and oddly enough she felt guilty about doing so. That message carried on into adulthood where she became a lawyer just to prove that she could be bold and assertive even though deep down she wanted to be a writer. Next she says something that I thought was really interesting; as many of you fellow introverts probably understand, we often put ourselves in situations that aren’t ideal, we go to crowded bars and hit up parties even though we would rather be at home or having a quiet dinner with friends, we do this to appease those around us and to seem “normal.” Susan says that this making of introverts into extroverts is not only a loss to ourselves but also a loss to the world. Introverts, like extroverts, respond optimally when they are in the right environment, different stimulations bring out different results. Where an extrovert shines in social situations, an introvert may require more freedom to work independently before revealing their ideas. But this need for freedom and solitude often gets the introvert’s idea passed over for someone more vocal, or extroverted.
She then goes on to tell about how nowadays we have a bias for extroverts over introverts. This bias can be seen in classrooms and workplaces. Students now work in pods and perform copious amounts of group projects, even in subjects like math and creative writing. Often it has been observed that the ideal student is seen as an extrovert, whereas introverts can often be seen as troubled children. The open concept office has taken away the ability for alone time, which is crucial for introverts. She says this shift in favor of the “man of action” over the “man of contemplation” has to do with the change from an agricultural economy to a world of big business. You know the best talker isn’t necessarily the one with the best ideas. She says that there is a need for a better cultural balance between introverts and extroverts, we need collaboration but in order for us introverts to come up with our own unique solutions to problems we need more freedom to be ourselves. Often introverts feel guilty because they want to be alone, even though some of the greatest thinkers have needed to be alone and have done incredible things, but coupled with this solitude the collaborative piece will always be needed. Susan makes it very clear that she doesn’t hate extroverts. I too love extroverts as I live with a very vibrant one. I don’t think the point of the TED Talk is to shame extroverts. I think it is to tell the world what all us introverts are thinking. Let us do our thing and you will be astounded.
She closes her talk with 3 calls for action I absolutely loved, here they are:
- Stop the madness for constant group work – I 100% agree with this one, I think that learning to work together is important but I also think it is just as important to learn to work independently.
- Go to the wilderness, unplug, and get inside your own head – this is fantastic. I think it is so easy to forget who we are these days with social media and the ability of anonymity on the internet, that it is healthy to get away from it all and get inside your own head. Have an epiphany like Susan talks about.
- Take a good look inside your own suitcase – use what is in it and open it up to others, the world needs you and what you carry. This is a wonderful statement because what is in your suitcase is who you are and who you are is nothing to be ashamed of. My suitcase would be filled with Tolkien novels, horror movies, and a subscription to Scientific American. My question to you is: what’s in your suitcase?
Lastly, Susan sends everyone off by saying “I wish you the best of all possible journeys and the courage to speak softly” and I think that quote is beautiful. We live in a society that prizes outgoing and energized individuals and Susan makes a case for those of us who are quiet and contemplative. I encourage everyone to watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk because it is entertaining as well as informative.
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Photo source: Doug Robichaud|Unsplash