It’s Cool to Be Quiet

A two-thumbs-up review of 'Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids' by Susan Cain.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I had the book “Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids” by Susan Cain sitting on my bookshelf, just waiting to be read. And I finally read it!

I’d assumed this book was written for parents of introverted kids, but once I began reading, I quickly realized that it is written for introverted kids themselves, which is fantastic. Somewhere in the book, Cain mentions adult introverts wishing that they’d had this book available to them when they were growing up, and I have to say, I wish I did, too. I don’t know if or how it would have changed my life, but I can only imagine that it would have been helpful because it reassures introverted kids that they are not alone while also encouraging them to break out of their comfort zone in healthy ways. And of course, it would be helpful for parents of introverted kids to read, too.

My personal takeaways from the book:

1. Journaling is A-OK.

While journaling isn’t a primary focus of the book, there is a brief section about it in the chapter on Quiet Creativity. Cain writes, “When I was younger, my chosen medium was an old-fashioned diary, complete with lock and key. While I did write storeis from time to time, the diary was my place for truth and confession…[t]his habit of expressing myself on the page trained me to be an honest writer” (p. 137).

The reason this stood out to me is because I used to be a journal-er. Beginning in ninth grade, when our English teacher gave us each a journal personalized with a quote on the insider cover (mine was from Oscar Wilde–“One should either be a work of art, or wear one”–and I’d better hope I am a work of art because my fashion sense is entirely dependent on hand-me-downs and thrift). While this first journal was primarily used for assignments, including vocabulary words discovered in our personal reading and poems we were expected to memorize each week (a wonderful practice), subsequent journals included a lot of anxiety about boys and self-written poetry.

I journaled for the next few years, until someone told me I was journaling too much, that it was a selfish act. Because this is a memory from high school, it’s entirely possible I’m mis-remembering. I imagine that the sentiment had to do with a tendency to solely write in my journal rather than communicating my thoughts with family or friends…which would probably be a valid critique. Later in the book (p. 226-227), in the chapter Quiet With Family, Cain reminds readers of the importance of communication. “Closing your door is okay now and then, but in a family, you have to make sure that in doing so, you’re not hurting your loved ones.” And later, “A lot of us introverts are drawn to coping with challenges privately. Seek your family’s support, reassurance, and love when you’re having a hard time.”

Still, I don’t remember journaling in the same way after that, and I kind of wish I had, although perhaps with an awareness of whether I was using the journal as an escape from healthy communication, just for the practice of writing.

The larger point of this chapter is that, journaling or not, we introverts need to find some kind of creative outlet that allows us to express our thoughts/feelings in ways that may be difficult for us in mere conversation.

2. Stretching yourself is important–and possible.

Cain talks about the “rubber band theory,” which, as you can see in the picture of A Manifesto for Introverts above, has to do with doing things that take you outside of your comfort zone but returning to your “true self” afterwards.

Although this idea comes up throughout the book, the place where it most resonated with me is in the chapter, “Quiet in the Classroom.” Cian writes, “As much as I’d like to see schools and teachers rethink their approach to class participation, I also believe that you’ll feel more satisfied over the long run if you develop the confidence to contribute your ideas verbally, instead of bottling them up.”

Cain recommends that introverts assess why they are reluctant to speak up in class and then develop strategies for becoming more comfortable participating in class discussions. Some of these strategies include thinking about a relevant comment ahead of time and offering it at the beginning of class or sitting in the front row so you can’t see your classmates when you make your contribution.

Honestly, it wasn’t until my final two semesters of grad school that I started to feel comfortable speaking up in class–and even then, it was a struggle! It helped that in one of the classes, the answers were numbers we had already come up with. So all I had to do was say “25,345” or something. And although it was a small class of graduate students, strangely enough, no one seemed eager to speak up! In another class, I very much believed our professor when he said that class participation was a must–so I tried to make at least one comment per class.

Generally, though, whenever I think of something to say in class (and “Quiet” describes this exact sensation/experience at some point), my heart begins to race and I start to feel really hot, wondering if I’m going to speak up or not. And by the time I might, the conversation has moved on. I agree with Cain that I would be more satisfied if I were able to verbalize my ideas rather than having anxiety-based “hot flashes” and feeling like speaking in class is such a big deal. The idea of strategizing beforehand seems like it would have been helpful.

3. Being shy is not selfish.

Another thing I remember hearing when growing up is “shy people are just overly self-absorbed” (or something to that effect). As someone who became very shy around 4th grade, well…that just wasn’t something helpful to hear. Towards the beginning of the book, Cain points out that being introverted and being shy are not the same thing, and that extroverts can be shy as well. She says that the book is written for both shy people and introverts, and that she herself tends to be a shy introvert. I kind of wish the book had gone into more detail about the difference between shyness and introversion, but it’s true that a lot of the principles can apply to both.

For example, shy people can still be leaders, can still be adventurous, can still change the world for the better. I think this goes back to the previous point, that stretching yourself can be healthy and that shy people can develop strategies for interaction, etc.

In conclusion, yes, I recommend this book, as well as Cain’s original book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.” If you’d like to learn more about Cain’s work, you can go to (Quiet Revolution), and you can also watch her very popular TED talk here.
If you’ve read either of Cain’s “Quiet” books, please let us know in the comments what you think, what you found most helpful, etc.!

Categories: Spaghetti on the Wall