My best friend and I had just crossed the U.S. border from Quebec into Maine, embarking on the eighth hour of a road trip spanning the east coast. It was early – around 7 a.m., when we left our questionable motel – and we were both tired. The sun had just risen and we hadn’t eaten yet. But we were also tired from our incessant socializing.
The next hour or two, aside from the odd direction given here and there, were mostly quiet. Some solitude and introspection was just what I needed at that moment – and during a few others on the 10-day trip.
The silence wasn’t weird or uncomfortable. My former “ambivert” self may have found it overwhelming or thought something was wrong with me. But my newly admitted introvert temperament felt right at home, thanks in part to Susan Cain’s Quiet, a book I spent last summer furiously reading and reflecting on. It now sits in tatters on my bookshelf.
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I first began to explore whether I was an introvert, extrovert or ambivert, which is a combination of the two, last May. Sitting in my therapist’s office, an overwhelming flood of anxiety hit me.
“Do you think you’re an introvert or an extrovert?” she had just asked.
I had actually pondered this question frequently and put myself right in the middle. “I’m an ambivert, I think,” I responded.
My kind-hearted (but tough) therapist smiled. She took a moment, then said, “I have homework for you.”
That “homework” was reading Quiet, in which Cain explores the idea of the “extrovert ideal" – a term that describes how society rewards people with extroverted tendencies and leadership.
The world appreciates extroverts, Cain observes. They are often quick to broadcast their ideas, control social situations by drawing in the crowd and generally break the ice. Because there’s a perception that being extroverted is the preferred way to live, introverts feel pressure to be pseudo-extroverts, and as a result, end up thinking they are more extroverted than they actually are. This can result in burnout or a lack of self-awareness, Cain writes.
Quiet might be too thoughtful of a summer read for some. It’s not exactly what you picture flipping through on a sunny beach. But what it provides – a plethora of on-the-ground interviews and self-reflection from a proudly proclaimed introvert – made it the perfect choice for me just before I embarked on that long road trip. While the content goes deep, Cain herself is accessible, understanding and appeals to the masses – an extrovert will read this and understand their closest friend, just as an introvert will nod in agreement.
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The book is refreshing in the way it understands – and appreciates – solitude during the long dog days of summer, which can feel overwhelming (and hot, very, very hot). As a woman in my mid-20s, I feel constant pressure to have my social calendar filled. Quiet gave me some much-needed affirmation that constant socializing may not be in my nature and that there are other ways to enjoy the summer (and every day of the year).
It also helped me appreciate social situations with my wonderful extroverted friends and how to balance my own tendencies (I am relatively close to the middle of the spectrum, with a subtle nod toward the introvert side).
When summer began to creep up on me this year, I felt that familiar pressure. But because of what I learned from Quiet, I filled my calendar with activities that I know charge my batteries and make me a better friend – a solo trip to Vancouver, weekends camping, small gatherings in places I enjoy. I’m not entirely steering clear of overstimulating situations, but I know my limits.