Being an introvert in the start-up ecosystem is tough. If you are soft-spoken, dislike conflict and enjoy solitude, entering an industry filled with loud personalities and networking activities can feel like a dreadful idea.
That’s why you should read the wonderful book of Susan Cain.
“Quiet” was recommended to me by one of my friends, after a particularly difficult day at work, as I was complaining about my desperate need for alone time. “You are such an introvert!”, he said. I was genuinely proud. Yes, I am an introvert. I have taken the Myers-Briggs personality test (any fellow INFJ here?) and yes, I dislike small talk, I prefer to communicate in writing, and I feel drained after being at an event surrounded by people.
I was pleased, but also immediately concerned. How could my introversion fit with my work in the entrepreneurship industry? Filled with doubts and questions, I decided to read “Quiet“.
The book is nonfiction, a mix of analysis, research, and anecdotes. Susan Cain argues that our society is formed around extroverts ideals – from universities giving students almost zero alone time, to workplaces designed as open-spaces for constant brainstorming and social stimulation. We admire vocal, charismatic and confident leaders, even if they don’t have much to say. We read self-help books to reduce shyness, improve public speaking, win friends and influence people. We reward children for being outgoing and we push them to socialize as much as possible.
Below is an excerpt from the book. The author shows clearly what it costs to be quiet and sensitive:
“If you are an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologize for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell” – that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same. […] Now that you’re an adult, you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favor of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re “in your head too much”, a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral. Of course, there’s another word for such people: thinkers.”
Susan Cain goes on to explain how powerful introverts actually are. In a social structure which rewards the loudest and the strongest, introverts bring empathy, conscientious minds and kindness to the table. There’s a value in working alone – after all, when you read Steve Wozniak’s account of his work process on the first Apple computer, “the most striking thing is that he was always by himself“. We need sensitive and socially conscious people like Eleanor Roosevelt, to face bold and charismatic personalities like FDR’s.
To restore the balance of the world, we need a “Quiet Revolution” – and that is what Susan Cain gives us, with this book and her lovely website, featuring advice and stories for introverts and extroverts on how to appreciate our quiet sides.
Are you an introvert? If you are wondering where you fall on the spectrum, answer the test here.
The book is available on Amazon here.