To say that Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking changed my life is not an understatement. When I first read Quiet, I was a public servant in a role that required working long hours, extensive travel, and being switched on around stakeholders all the time. Not just in the office or boardroom either, but over lunch, at the airport, at networking drinks – in other words, I was constantly depleted of energy and felt on the verge of burnout. My poor husband commented at the time, ’I see you coming home later and later. I know you say you love your job, but you don’t seem any happier.’
He was right and for the life of me, I could not understand my emotions and state of mind. I did love my job, and to some degree, had convinced myself that success meant I was always working and always tired. Yet, feeling as though I was continuously on the verge of tears did not seem right. At the time, my younger brother was staying with us and mentioned Quiet in a passing conversation. My husband picked it up and strongly encouraged me to read it on my next flight.
I did. Over two extended sessions in the Qantas lounge (courtesy of my boss who remains my mentor), two flights and rare night off from networking, I realised I was reading about myself. Susan Cain opened my eyes to why the endless work, travel and meetings left me constantly exhausted and ready to cry at the drop of a hat. I was (and still am) an introvert, but it just so happened that the extroverted components of my job and their constant nature – which made up the majority of my job – were sapping my energy.
Having reread Quiet recently for this article (and I’ll admit, it’s not the first rereading), much of Cain’s research, opinions and advice continues to hold relevant. Cain argues that our world excessively and misguidedly lauds an overly zealous respect for extroverts. We make them our managers and political leaders, and attempt to emulate their personalities to gain influence. These ideals have soaked into the very fabric of our education system and workplaces, leaving the impression that the only path of success for an introvert was to masquerade as an extrovert – as I had been doing. The only problem was that it left me mentally and physical drained. However, Cain provides hope for us introverts! We can conquer the education system and workplace by staying true to ourselves, and it may even be that our introverted nature is exactly what lends us perfect leadership qualities. We simply have to understand how to harness and work these qualities to our advantage. That may require some guts – whether it be sitting down to a one on one conversation with your boss, requesting a new work station, or even leaving your current job – but as well as being eye-opening, Cain is also encouraging. In her quiet way, she roots for introverts and as a potentially newly discovered introvert reading Quiet, you can’t help but feel that she is also rooting for you.
So, what did I do about my job? As hard as it was, after finishing Quiet, I decided to leave. Which made leaving the next job not so difficult when I realised it was also a less than ideal fit. I have now spent the past two years quietly, but happily, chugging along in a research and evaluation role alongside other introverts, with the occasional meaningful spot of engagement with stakeholders mixing things up. Understanding my introversion also eventually helped me start 6th Position and is now helping me to weather the highs and lows of a tumultuous first year (read: lots of sleep).
Whether you’re an (undiscovered) introvert or an extrovert, I encourage you to pick up Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. You may realise that you know an introvert and could be driving them nuts. Or you may realise that you are an introvert and driving yourself nuts. Either way, Quiet is an eye opener and will help you see that there are quieter, just as successful, ways to navigate this loud-talking world.