Can An Introvert Be President and Other Thoughts Inspired by Quiet by Susan Cain

March 8, 2016 Discussions 40

Quiet, Susan Cain
I finally read Quiet after it languished on my TBR list for a couple years. And, I’m glad because I learned some fascinating things about introversion, myself, and my relationships with other people. But, it was long-winded and I ended up skipping some sections I was less interested in. A lot has already been written about this book, so I thought I’d share the places my mind went rather than write a traditional review.

My Introversion

It wasn’t until later life that I realized I was an introvert. In fact, I tested “E” (for extrovert) on the Meyers-Briggs test I took in high school. If you met me (and didn’t know about my reading habits), you might be surprised to hear that I’m an introvert. One of the things this book alerted me to was that outgoing introverts do exist and I think that’s probably what I am. Looking back on high school and my Meyers-Briggs test results, I think my surroundings had a huge impact. I went to a small, all-girls school and had (mostly) the same classmates from Kindergarten through 12th grade. We all knew each other so well that I don’t think I experienced the signs of introversion that I popped up in later life.

Even now, I don’t experience every sign of introversion. While I do prefer small groups, dislike small talk, generally avoid risk, let calls go to voicemail, and feel drained after lots of socializing, I wouldn’t say I’m terribly “soft-spoken”, I don’t avoid conflict, and I don’t tend to think before I speak (but I really should work on that!).

Introversion and Marriage

I’m married to an extrovert. My husband can talk to anyone (and enjoys it), no matter how little he has in common with that person. He wants to socialize a lot and doesn’t mind small talk. He doesn’t mind people invading his personal space. He doesn’t really need or crave “quiet time”. So, how does this work?

There have certainly been growing pains, mostly surrounding the impression that I’m being rude when I don’t want to participate in some social events or need to set some boundaries. But, there are also great perks that come with his complementary personality. When we’re at parties, I love that I can go stand by him if I’m tired and know that he will carry the conversation. And now that we’ve been married almost 7 years, he knows exactly what I need in the alone time vs. socializing department and plans activities accordingly. He also socializes some during the week while I stay home, which suits us both!

Introversion and Motherhood

The one thing I wish Cain had covered more in Quiet was the impact of motherhood on introverts. My introversion became a much bigger part of my life when I became a mother. And, an even bigger part when I became a mother the second time. My days began to consist of constant noise, chaos, and someone needing something from me virtually all the time (not to mention the lack of privacy and alone time…2 year old bathroom buddy, anyone?!). I do think this is amplified because I’m a stay-at-home Mom, but it is a tough environment for introverts.

Free time is now rare and precious to me…and I’ve become very selective about how I spend it. I find myself first needing to use free time to be alone and read or work on my blog, and only after that do I want to socialize. Consequently, socializing has become a smaller and smaller part of my life, which is less acceptable out in the world (or feels that way). And, since I do crave time away from all the chaos (and, consequently, from my children), I’ve often wondered if that means I’m not the best mother I could be.

Despite the fact that Cain didn’t spend much time on this topic in her book, there is a fantastic article on her Quiet Revolution website that perfectly summed up everything floating around my brain on this topic. And, reshaped my view of myself as a mother. If you’re an introverted mother, I highly recommend reading this!

Introversion and the Presidency

On a much less personal note, reading this book in February of an election year got me thinking about the impact of introversion on modern day Presidential elections.

John Quincy Adams, incidentally, is considered by political psychologists to be one of the few introverts in presidential history. – Quiet by Susan Cain

However, according this article, there have been ten introverted U.S. Presidents. But, note that the only one in recent history (i.e. the only one to survive the 24/7 modern day election process) is our current one.

The way the U.S. elects its presidents couldn’t be more of a nightmare for introverts. These men and women are in front of people (mostly strangers) for years leading up to the election with little to no downtime. They are expected to come across as energetic, likable, relatable, and trustworthy (among other things). They are never allowed to be “off”…at least in public and they are rarely out of the public eye. Could an introvert even survive this? Much less actually excel enough to get elected?

Does this mean only extroverted people will choose to run for President? We will always end up with an extroverted President because they are the only types of people who can thrive in a campaign cycle? And, if so, what does that mean for how the President operates once he/she gets in office?

Parting Thought

Reading Quiet really made me wish that introverts were better understood. When we decide to stay home sometimes, we’re not trying to be rude…we just need some downtime to recharge. When we hang out in the corner with our closest friends at parties, we’re not trying to be exclusive…it’s just where we’re most comfortable. We really do want to talk to people…we’d just rather have a more personal conversation than talk about the weather, etc (i.e. small talk). And, just because we lament the end of our children’s nap-times, it doesn’t mean we love them less than the parents who can’t wait until their children wake up.

Are you an introvert? Are you married to one? How do you feel about introverts and the electoral process?

40 Responses to “Can An Introvert Be President and Other Thoughts Inspired by Quiet by Susan Cain”

  1. tanya (52 books or bust)

    I’ve been putting off reading Quiet far too long. I’m an introvert, married to an introvert and our daughter is an introvert. But i always wonder if we raised her to be an introvert. Needing “alone time” is perfectly acceptable in our family. Most days when the kid gets home from school she shuts herself in her room for a while. She needs it. And after the last family vacation we spent 2 days at home not talking to one another. It was great. But i wonder how the kid would be different if she was raised by at least one extrovert.
    Oh, and for the record, I’m an out-going introvert as well. I think in your childhood situation i would have behaved exactly the same way.

    • admin

      Oh – interesting point about whether you raised her to be that way! Or maybe she’s comfortable in the environment she’s used to, which includes quiet time, etc? My kids are 2 and 5, so I can’t really tell yet what they are. My daughter does take 10-15 min to warm up to new people. My son enjoys quiet time, but I think that’s more b/c he likes to play on is ipad. He’s always asking for playdates, so I really can’t tell!

  2. Diane

    I enjoyed this book – I’m an introvert, child of 2 introvert parents and 2 introvert older siblings. My son is definitely and introvert and my daughter shares introvert and extrovert traits. I always hated small talk in business mingling situations and would often arrive late to functions to avoid as much of the small talk as possible. I find large functions to this day draining.

    • admin

      Ugh – business networking is the worst! I used to despite that…mainly because most conversations felt completely disingenuous. And interesting how your family has so many introverts! I’m not sure what my children are yet, as they’re still really young. But my mom is one and definitely one brother is. I think my other brother is more extroverted.

  3. Kally

    I want to read this as well. I feel very off center when I do not get my alone time!

  4. JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

    I’ve been interested in the book for years, but keep putting it off because it’s so long… maybe more on the subject than I really want to read. Think I need to give myself permission to skim it!

    • admin

      It is super long! But, skimming the parts I wasn’t interested in made it much more manageable! I also hear she has a Ted Talk, which you could always do instead. Or check out her Quiet Revolution website?

  5. bermudaonion (Kathy)

    This does sound interesting. I’ve never taken the test but don’t think I’m an intovert. I do think my son is, though – he has to socialize and make small talk for his job and relishes his quiet time at the end of the day.

  6. Carmen

    I had similar experience as a child. Surrounded by the same in people in school from childhood to 9th grade. I’ve always been self-conscious too, so that has made my socializing even more difficult. I was classified an extrovert when I took the test twenty years ago, but tested very introvert just a few months ago. I’ve become increasingly more reclusive as years have passed, and I can do small talk even with strangers, but past that I am inept; one can resort to self-deprecating humor only so much. That’s the reason I avoid parties, and prefer time of my own, which I don’t think my mother gets at all.

    • admin

      I’d be interested to see where I tested now. And I actually enjoy self-deprecating humor! I was never really self-conscious, but do find lots of socializing draining and need to take breaks for downtime. I also don’t like to be overly scheduled with events. And – sounds like you’re opposite me with small talk with strangers…I don’t enjoy that at all. Would rather have a deeper conversation with someone I know well. Interesting all the different shades of introversion!

  7. Kay

    I definitely know that I’m an introvert and I’m married to one too. However, that being said, we have become better at being comfortable in social situations as we have aged. We still need our quiet time though. I have always needed quiet time and it really takes it out of me (and my husband also) when we have to socialize several times in short period of time. It’s exhausting to me. Except when I’m talking about books. I would talk about books and reading and authors and libraries all day long every day. It’s where I come out of my shell. Sadly, few people understand my love for books – my real deep love for books and reading – and so if I feel awkward or like I’m boring the person, I pull into myself again – like a turtle I guess. The recent mystery book convention that I attended was amazing. Those were my people – my tribe. I was in heaven. LOL

    • admin

      I think it’s all about the balance! I really enjoy socializing too – just not too much in a row and with adequate down time in between! And I hear you on the books – I could talk about that for hours! The nice thing about my blog is that people now ask me about books way more often than before I started it (i.e. when I was just a regular reader)…so I end up spending more time talking about books!

  8. carrie

    i introvert, and much like your husband can literally talk to anyone. being on TV and radio is my profession so that definitely has something to with it too. but at the same time, time to myself or “me-time” is crucial for me. so maybe I’m a combination of the two?

    • admin

      I bet your media experience does have a huge impact! And – it sounds like you could be an “outgoing introvert”. Introversion isn’t about how well you can talk to people (i.e. it’s not the same as shyness), it’s about where you get your energy. Do you gain energy through social interaction or does it drain you (and you need downtime to recharge)?

  9. Kathy @ Kathy Reads Fiction

    I think the extroverted introvert sums me up. I can be outgoing and friendly, aside from my shyness, but I am so much more comfortable away from crowds and in my own little world, socializing from a distance. I also believe that the internet has turned us all into a little bit of an introvert. I’ve often wondered how much of being a recluse and being self-centered weigh on the introverted scales. I honestly and embarrassingly think I could hit all three of those, easily. I also think I became even more introverted later in my life because of adapting to living alone.

    • admin

      That’s a great point about the Internet. I bet it has made people more self-contained! But, I also feel like it gives introverts a more comfortable way to interact with people, if that makes sense?

  10. Melissa W.

    I have read Cain’s book and also listen to her podcast called Quiet. I am also an introvert. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  11. Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

    Super interesting post! I’ve always tested super high on the introvert scale of Myers-Briggs, but people who don’t know me well always find that surprising. Like you, I’m an “outgoing introvert,” not super shy or awkward, but exhausted by a lot of socializing. My job at a community newspaper involves a lot of being out in public and with people, so I have to build quiet into my weekends. I hadn’t really thought about motherhood and introversion, but that’s such a good question. I hope someone will eventually write a book specifically about that!

    • admin

      I bet you do want some downtime after work – I would if I were you! And I was so glad to read about the concept of an outgoing introvert…it really helped me explain my introversion to my husband! He had such a hard time understanding it since I’m not conventionally shy!

      And I would LOVE someone to write a book solely about introversion and motherhood. I think it has such an impact on the type of mother you are!

  12. Judy

    I gave this book to my son a few years ago because he is an introvert, as am I. An outgoing introvert. I am fine interacting with people, I was a performer for many years, but I totally need time to myself or I actually get sick. I loved your thoughts about parenting and being an introvert. When my sons were infants and toddlers I just about lost my mind. Another thing: American culture is all about being an extrovert. I feel it is extroverts who are praised, almost worshiped, as examples of success. When I read fiction from other lands, there are many more introverts who are interesting characters. In American fiction, an introvert comes across as dysfunctional. I will have to read this book. My social life these days is almost completely centered around book discussions!

    • admin

      I think you’ll really like this book…there is a ton of info in there about how society is structured to reward extroverts…starting in elementary school and continuing through the workplace.

      And cheers to another outgoing introvert!

  13. Lindsey

    Thanks for the link to the article about parenting! I said in my review that I wished Cain had spent time on exactly that topic.

  14. Trish

    Yes yes yes yes and yes. I’m much the same kind of introvert that you are (nevermind how outgoing I am online! and how loud I can be here! LOL!) and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I really understood what being an introvert means. For me the key is getting that quiet time that I need so badly, which as you know is TOUGH with little kids. But not only have I been able to recognize my own needs, but I’ve also been able to recognize them in my children. I’m not sure about Evie, but Elle is definitely an introvert like I am and needs her space. I’m able to help her manage that and wish that the school would do a better job as well (they tell me all the time how difficult it is to get her to go to group circle time…well DUH!). I’m glad that introversion is being talked about and respected. There’s nothing more annoying to me than when someone tells me that I’m just shy or that Elle is shy. No! We just need a little time to warm up and get comfortable and then time to rejuvenate when it’s all said and done.

    Loved reading your thoughts Sarah! And wow–I haven’t thought about the presidency in terms of introversion, but it is definitely an interesting consideration!

    • admin

      That’s great that you can already tell what your children are! I can’t quite tell with mine yet…mine are almost 3 and 5. Sometimes I think my son is an introvert, but then he’s constantly asking for playdates. But, then again, he gets quiet time everyday while his sister naps, so maybe he’s getting what he needs and is ready to play after that!

      And I agree that so many people (myself included until recently) confuse being shy with being introverted. Not the same thing!

  15. Citizen Reader

    This book was extremely slow to get going, and needed some good editing, but I agree, if nothing else, it should be skimmed. There are some very good tidbits here, not only for introverts to learn about themselves, but also for extroverts to learn about introverts. (Although they may not have time for that–they’re too busy out there being extroverted!)

    The parts I found most fascinating were those about how introverts process information. It made total sense to me–things like introverts are so busy thinking about how an interaction is proceeding, especially on the phone, that they have a hard time actually holding up the conversation and learning what they need. Once I knew that I felt so much better about a lifetime of me being “dopey”–or so I thought–about calls, meetings, etc., where I would do okay, but I would always kick myself afterwards for not asking better or more questions. There were many moments like that for me in this book and overall I think it helped me accept that it is no crime to be introverted and need some alone time!

    I’ve watched her TED talk, and it’s okay, but I think you’d be better served by skimming the book itself.

    GREAT points in your blog post about how being introverted has affected you–especially the question of motherhood. Funny how it’s tough to be an introvert mom because (especially if you are a stay-at-home mom) your kids are with you ALL THE TIME; a shock to the system sometimes. And also tough to be an extrovert mom because a lot of time it’s JUST you and the kids. There’s always something.

    Anyway. Great post. Thanks so much for it.

    • admin

      I agree that there is so much in here for extraverts to learn about introverts. But, sadly, I feel like not that many extraverts will take the time to read it. It may just be me, but I feel like extraverts are not as interested in learning about introversion as introverts are.

      And – yes to kids being with you all the time…and needing something from you all the time. You’re literally never at peace for more than 3 minutes at once.

  16. Athira

    I’m an introvert through and through. Not even the outgoing kind. In fact, I can get downright cranky if I am with people for too long. The joke in the house is that I hate people. (Of course, totally untrue.) My parents are also introverts. My husband is an extrovert. But like your husband, he always works with my introvertedness when planning anything.

    • admin

      That’s great that your husband works with your introversion! Mine does now too, but it took some adjusting to get to this place.

  17. Allison @ The Book Wheel

    I had mixed feelings about this book and didn’t love it but it did raise some good questions. I think we also change as time goes on. I used to be a major extrovert but as I’ve gotten older, I’m much more introverted. I’m less likely to engage in meaningless small talk and dread most social events (especially ones with strangers). That said, I’m still able to put my game face on and be 100% extroverted by all appearances. My husband is a big time introvert and we, too, had some growing pains so when it comes to work events (for my work), he usually picks one out of 4 for sanity’s sake!

    • admin

      Haha! I don’t blame your husband! I think work networking is my least favorite thing ever…and even worse when it’s someone else’s networking I’m doing! Luckily for me, wives aren’t invited to my husband’s work events very often.

  18. Catherine

    Fascinating! I started this book, but like you found it to be too dense so I gave up. I’m glad you stuck with it!

    I’m 100% introvert on the Meyer Briggs. It’s the only characteristic on that test that hasn’t changed for me through the years. And I had not thought about what it means for motherhood and politics but it makes perfect sense. When I lived in NYC I hung around with some very politically active people and at one point they asked if I had ever considered a career in politics. All I could think was “Shaking all those hands and schmoozing strangers? No way!” To be in office was of interest, getting there was not and so I became a librarian. Makes sense, right?! 🙂

    • admin

      Ha! Being a politician sounds horrendous! That and anyone really famous where you can’t leave your house without everyone knowing who you are and probably not leaving you alone!

      Interesting about all your other Meyers-Briggs characteristics changing over time! We’ll have to discuss that further!

  19. Andi

    Quiet has been hanging out on my e-reader for a long time now. I really do want to read it, and through listening to Cain’s podcast I’ve decided I’m probably an ambivert (qualities of both introvert and extrovert). I can really turn my extroversion on and off and seem to come back to introversion to recharge. Interesting stuff for sure!

    • Care

      Was going to leave a comment but decided to piggy back on Andi’s (because I’m stalking her and wishing her the BEST) but because I think I might be both and I haven’t read this book. Ha! I do love to talk to people and I can be the one at a party that meets everyone but I crave and love and crave (did I mention I want to be left alone please!) but I think it might be something I’ve grown into and had the LUXURY to get and appreciate. Anyway, great post, I still don’t know if I will ever try the book. I like the cartoon somebody created about what/how introverts need to ‘recharge’ – makes sense to me.

  20. Emily

    I’m a bit late to this discussion, but I LOVED reading your thoughts on this one. You brought up things I didn’t think about as much when I first read it, and now I think I need to re-read it… it’s been a few years. Now that I’m married to a fellow introvert (he’s much more introverted than I am – I’m more of an outgoing introvert), I’d love to read this again from a new perspective.

    Your thoughts on becoming a mother as an introvert are wonderfully honest. I think so many parents feel the same. The journey from one kid to two (or more) is especially interesting. My parents are both introverts, and it’s probably not surprising that they raised a bookish, introverted daughter. There are 16 years between me and my little brother, so we were both raised as essentially only children. I felt connected to my parents, and we did wonderful activities together, but we also had a home life that created a lot of space for us all to have time to ourselves. I cherished both aspects of my childhood.

    So much food for thought in this post – I loved your observations, and can’t wait to re-read this one!

  21. Michelle

    I am a major introvert married to an extrovert and best friends with extroverts, but they all understand what it means for me to be introverted. They never accuse me of being rude for dropping out of plans or for being quiet in social settings. I think this is the one thing that has helped me so much in overcoming some of my introversion and meeting them halfway most of the time. Jim, especially, knows to leave me alone when I am in my office.

    As for my kids, I have always worked outside of the home, which is how I handled that introversion as a parent issue. When they were little and demanding of my attention, this was how I was able to cope. Now that they are older and given to their own moments of alone time, I find myself wanting their attention now more than I ever did.

    I do have two introverted children. Both function well in social settings, so I would say they are outgoing introverts. But given the chance, they each prefer their own solitude to anything else. I do think that my husband and I have provided them with a great example of how to balance the two sides. Jim will often go out on his own, and I will gladly stay at home. Yet, I make sure that I go out with him at least once a week to show that staying home is fine but making an appearance in the world is necessary too.

    I find it interesting that Cain considers John Adams the only introverted president, especially coming off of reading a Washington biography and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack almost every day. I would say he is the most least liked of the Founding Fathers. Perhaps this is because he was not as gregarious as his counterparts? It would make for an interesting study, would it not?

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