Are you an introvert?

Actually, if you're an extrovert and you want to understand introverts, you should probably read this too.

Quiet by Susan Cain (Penguin Books)
I am a BIG fan of this book. I like to be Quiet. I am an introvert.

When I tell friends or family that I’m more of an introvert, they all scoff and disagree. Introverts get a bad rap. They’re painted as unsociable beings, forever holed up in their homes or libraries as they peer over their nerdy glasses and adjust their mousy cardigans.

People don’t imagine that they can be successful, dynamic and loving individuals – who just happen to do things differently to the extroverted “ideal”.

I raved about this book when it was first published, but this weekend while my husband was away I picked it up again. Gareth was in Cape Town, meeting friends, attending a wedding and generally being his sociable self, while I was at home alone (with the toddler in bed) reading this book.

You see, although I love the company of friends and family, I also crave solitude. I feel my most alive when I have time and peace to read, contemplate and write. It is in these moments when I am at my most creative.

And I’m not alone. In her book Quiet, Susan explains that many of the world’s most well known creatives (think Steve Wozniak, “Dr Seuss” and Van Gogh for starters) did their best work alone. Even Charles Darwin is famous for turning down invitations to dinner parties and preferring to take long walks surrounded by nature, as he formulated his revolutionary theories.

Introverts and extroverts are stimulated in different ways, which is why after a weekend packed full of social engagements you may find that my outgoing sociable husband is perfectly happy while his more introverted wife is exhausted and irritable.

Even our companies and businesses (with their open plan offices and focus on collaborative teamwork) all hinge on this extroverted bias, which makes it difficult for more introverted people to impress, to progress and ultimately to become leaders.

Research even shows that introverted leaders are highly successful in leadership positions (in terms of company performance), although they may need to work harder to get to these positions in the first place.

The same applies to our schools and to our children. Shy children, who prefer to play alone or work alone, are sometimes even labelled as “problem” children and are increasingly encouraged to come out of their shell and be more like the extroverted kids.

As a parent I’m so glad I’ve read this book. My firstborn may be an outgoing cheeky character like her Dad but the next one may be more like his quieter Mom and I want to be able to encourage and foster his individuality and character, whatever that may be.

Susan also reveals that introverts are less likely to care about wealth and fame, less likely to have affairs and more likely to let phone calls go to voicemail (ha! that last one’s definitely me!). If you’d like to find out where you think you may lie on the introvert/extrovert scale, take Susan’s quiz here.

There are so many valuable nuggets of information in Susan’s book (for both introverts and extroverts), that I’ll let you read it for yourself – you can buy a copy here. Or if you ‘re not a big reader, watch Susan’s TED talk here.

It’s a fascinating concept and will change the way you look at both yourself and the people around you.

You can read more from Belinda on her blog Making Mountains.

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