Why Quiet isn’t Bad

I’ve always been a little bit of an introvert.  I’ve never really enjoyed parties.  I’m not very socially gifted in a group setting, and I’d rather talk one on one, or spend some time alone with a good book.  I enjoy solitude, it helps me recharge.

What image popped up in your mind when you read the word “introvert” above?  Did you  see a skinny kid, with a pocket protector, who goes mute anytime an attractive girl comes within a twenty foot radius?  Maybe a mousy, pale-skinned woman with glasses who won’t look anyone in the eye when she talks to them?  That’s how I would have answered before reading Susan Cain’s excellent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

The truth is, introverts and extroverts come in all shapes and sizes.  There have been many extremely successful public personalities who were introverted, notably Eleanor Roosevelt, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, W. B. Yeats, Frédéric Chopin, Marcel Proust, J. M. Barrie, George Orwell, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Charles Schulz, Steven Spielberg, Larry Page, and J. K. Rowling.

According to Cain’s research, the reverence for extroverts in the U.S. has really only been around since the early 1900’s when the population began to shift from  country life to city life.  Prior to this, there was a much higher value placed on character than personality.  Part of this shift can be laid at the feet of Dale Carnegie who transformed himself from a shy hesitant speaker into a confident go-getter, then left Missouri for New York to teach the rest of the country what he had learned.  Right around this same time, big business began to ramp up and suddenly the outgoing salesman type who could navigate every social situation became the ideal.

From a physiological standpoint, Cain has found that introverts are literally more sensitive than extroverts.  Science has proven that being “Thick Skinned” is a physical reality in extroverts.  They feel less, and react less to the stimuli around them.  As a consequence they are by nature less nervous, sweat less, and just plain fail to notice many of the things that can undermine the confidence of more sensitive introverts.  Interestingly sociopaths are the thickest skinned of all, which prompted me to think of sensitivity as a spectrum, with extreme introverts on one end and sociopaths on the other.  It amused me to think that extroverts, who I always felt a little inferior to, are much closer to the sociopaths on this scale than I will ever be.

Another important finding is that working in groups has higher risks than having people work individually on a problem.  Why?  Cain cites several studies showing that we are horribly susceptible to the influence of others.  So much so that our very perceptions can be changed by their opinions.  When someone, often an extrovert, presents a strong opinion in a group setting, the rest of the group can be made to see things that are not there.  In one study, people’s brains were scanned as they looked at photographs of objects and decided whether they could be rotated to match a second shape.  When the participants worked on their own, they only got the answers wrong 13.8% of the time, but when they discussed the possible answers with a group, containing a confederate planted to lead them confidently in the wrong direction, they missed 41% of the problems.  Even stranger, the brain scans of those being influenced did not show a decision to choose the wrong answers.  Their neural activity, prior to answering, was in their vision centers, indicating that they were so strongly influenced by the group discussion that they literally saw something different.  I don’t know about you, but that scares me. Think of all of the group discussion threads you have seen on Facebook and what this means in terms of altered perception of those in the group.

So what does this mean for you?

First, if you place yourself on the introverted end of the spectrum, don’t feel bad. Introversion was long valued more highly than extroversion and it is likely that the current popularity of extroverts won’t last forever. Plus there is a bias inherent in extroversion. People who don’t mind being seen and heard are much more likely to show up in visual  and social media offering opinions and predictions that cater to the moment, whereas the work of introverts typically comes to light after it has made a real difference in the larger world.

Second, awareness is key. When you are exposed to a group discussion you should take a step back and examine your position carefully, particularly if it has been changed by the arguments of a single outspoken member of the group. Look more closely at the information they presented. Does it still make sense? Do the facts support their opinion? Evaluate these things for yourself, not by engaging in discussion. If you are still convinced, then it is probably a valid argument and not something that has been forced upon you by an extroverted personality.

There was a lot more interesting information in this book and I encourage you to pick it up if this has piqued you interest.  If you do, I’d love to hear what takeaways you had.  Let me know in the comments.


Learning to Deal with Pain

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The Dread Pirate Roberts (Wesley)- The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Pain may seem like a depressing topic, but bear with me for a bit.  Pain has an important purpose in the existence of all living things.  To feel pain is to learn.  Pain guides our path through this world, and defines the boundaries of our action.

In our early years, the pain of a parent’s rebuke teaches us manners and values and expectations.  Pain precedes injury.  It is a warning that we are nearing our physical limitations.  Emotional pain is a building block of the human social contract.  It shows us, through our own agony, what our actions can cause in others.

The natural reaction to pain is to recoil.  Our built-in survival mechanisms steer us away from the thing that caused the hurt.  Pain is remembered much longer than joy.  That’s a survival mechanism too.  Creatures who continue to repeat the same painful mistakes are no benefit to the collective gene pool.

To live a good life though, you can’t be afraid of pain.  Sometimes to grow, you have to embrace the pain.  Strength training is hard and painful, but in the end you have gained an advantage.  Risk and failure are painful, but without them, learning is stifled.  Child birth is painful, but the new life it brings into the world is the future.  A little poison can help you build a tolerance.  A the sting of the needle delivering a vaccine can prevent the disease.

How do you find the right balance?  When should you allow pain to dictate your actions and when should it be ignored?  What is the deciding factor between healthy and destructive pain?  Here are a few of my thoughts:

Are the results permanent?

The pain of sore muscles after a workout is temporary.  The pain of a torn tendon from overtraining is debilitating.  Breaking up with someone and being alone is painful but you will heal.  The pain of staying with someone who is abusive or unfaithful is destructive.

Are the potential rewards greater than the risks?

Being refused when asking for a raise can hurt, but it has virtually no effect on your life, and the upside can be very rewarding.  Being rejected by a publisher, or attacked for a blog post can sting, but the no one has ever been successful without taking a risk and putting their work out there.

Is the pain real, or only your wounded pride?

We like to believe that we are smart and strong and creative.  The truth is, there are lots of people out there who are smarter or stronger or more creative than us.  It’s painful to find this out.  This pain however, is not real.  It’s only in your mind.  It’s a product of your inflated ego.  It might never go away, but without learning to ignore it, it can easily hold you back.

Pain is inevitable, but it doesn’t need to be feared.  What are your thoughts on pain?  What role has it played in your life?  Let me know in the comments.

Holding Back

In 2013 I quit my job.  It was a good job.  I made pretty good money, and it was very secure.  I had the respect of the people I worked with, and I had a fairly free hand in my work.  The problem was I wanted more control of my life.  Every day I left my family behind for hours at a time.  When I got home, I was tired, and often grumpy.  Something needed to change.

I’d considered alternate careers for several years and always seemed to circle back to writing.  It is a portable skill that has been in demand for thousands of years.  Despite conventional wisdom, there are a lot of writers who make good, if not great, money.  Plus I knew that I could write when I put my mind to it, so I decided I would give it a try.

It was not a decision I took lightly.  Mine was the only income for our family of four.  We had some savings to live on, but it wouldn’t last forever.  I started in with a will.  Every day I wrote 1000 words.  I worked on a book that I had been considering for a while.  I wrote blog post drafts.  I wrote in my journal.  The words seemed to flow out of me.

Then one day I had an opportunity to make some money editing a novel.  I like editing.  It’s a lot like writing, but someone else does all of the heavy lifting.  I jumped at the chance.    A few weeks later, I was offered a side job doing some training.  I still hadn’t made any money from writing, so I agreed to that as well.  Without really noticing, I stopped writing for my blog.  I also stopped working on the book, and transferred my efforts to setting up a consulting company and a writing services company.  Those two were making money, writing was not.  It seemed logical.

Later I realized this was a mistake.  The thing about writing is you have to share it to make money.  You have to put yourself out there and risk rejection.  I hadn’t been doing that.  Without taking that risk, a writer will never know if they are any good.  Without someone to read what you have written, there is no chance to develop a following.  You can’t build a market.  Without publishing something, putting something up for sale, you will never sell anything.

This post is more of a recommitment than anything informative.  I want to declare my intention to write and to publish to the world.  I want to let the few people who are following along with me here know that I am afraid, but I am going to start sending out whatever trash comes out of my morning writing sessions.  No matter how little I like what I have written, I will share it with you every day.  That is my promise to you.

I also have a request.  Since I will be publicly showing you who I am, warts and all, I would appreciate some honest feedback.  If you like what I have done, leave me a comment.  If I am a pompous ass, who is ignorant in the extreme, I need to know that too.  I want to grow as a writer, not fearfully hit the publish button hoping that I have offended no one or embarrassed myself.

It is time to put my pride on the shelf and start truly learning my craft


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