This morning, I finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Wow.
This book was an eye-opener for me. It seemed like every page I turned, I was affirmed again and again. I'm really not so weird! I kept thinking to myself. There are other people who feel the same way! (OK, some people might contest that claim. I know, my desire to own a pet rat actually does make me weird.) And by "feel the same way," I'm referring to my need for space and quiet to think and reflect during the day, experiencing frustration and stress when too many social engagements pile up, and my desire for spending time with a friend or two over dinner instead of going to a party and mingling with a lot of people.
I've known for a long time that I tend toward the introverted side of the spectrum, especially after taking personality tests when I worked for a non-profit missions agency. (I fell on the more extroverted side of the introverted spectrum.) But this book helped me to see and value my introversion in a new way, and to know that really, it's OK that I am the way I am. I shouldn't fight against it--instead, I should embrace it and find ways to enable my work and my life to use my gifts and my specific personality type for the good of those around me. I can and at times have to adjust to be more extroverted (which I did--for better and for worse--when I was fund-raising and when I was teaching English and History), but at the same time I have to find ways to balance those moments of necessary extroversion with my truly introverted bent. I remember the feeling of pure exhaustion after a long day of interacting with kids at school and constantly being "on." And I remember the same feeling when I was interacting with large crowds of people at missions conferences before moving to Spain in 2011. I love talking to people, and can usually sustain lots of conversation. But at the end of the day, I need quiet. I need alone time. And I need to recharge on my own (or with one or two other people, especially if they know that I need quiet!).
This year in our new home-away-from-home, I've had the opportunity to think long and hard about my personality and my future job. John has been an excellent sounding board, especially as he considers his own personality and particular gifts. We've had some wonderful, deep, thought-provoking conversations. Reading Quiet is helping me think through who I am, who God has created me to be, and what I have to contribute to the world around me. I'm fairly confident my contributions won't be flashy or loud, in-the-spotlight kinds of things (and they probably won't be what I've done in the past, and least for the foreseeable future), but they will be good and valuable nonetheless.
I love what Cain says about these ideas insofar as introverts are concerned (pages 264-265 in the Penguin edition, emphasis mine):
"The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers—of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity—to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply.
Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it."
I could say so, so much about what I've read, but I think that's enough. Everyone should read this book, whether you're an introvert, or if you are married to one, if your best friend is one, or if you work with one (and you fit into one of those categories!). If nothing else, it's great fodder for conversation and for better understanding the people we live and work with.