In the past few years, I have read two books on introverts, The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney and, more recently, Quiet by Susan Cain. Both books focus on the strength of introverts—their quiet reflectiveness and wisdom—qualities which are often ignored in a more extroverted society such as the United States.
I have spent much time thinking about these books and have been grateful to both authors for providing insight into my own and other introverted people’s lives. As an introvert, I have often felt overlooked or misunderstood. On interviews, I have sometimes felt misjudged as “unfit,” coming across as quiet, reserved, and not the sort of “go-getter” that interviewers suggest is ideal.
When I was in college, I once interned at a local newspaper. My articles included features of war veterans and local public figures. Some of my work even won a local journalism award. When it was time for me to leave the newspaper, the editor in chief brought me into his office. He said, “You have been a really great reporter, but when I first hired you, I thought you would be terrible.”
He went on to explain that he had only hired me because a friend had recommended my work. He believed I needed to improve my self-promotion skills, showcasing my strengths on interviews. At the time I thought he was right (and I did practice these skills), but now I wonder if maybe this editor should have also worked on his own interviewing skills, developing a solution for signaling out talent (he also hired a very bad reporter that year and had somehow failed to weed her out).
Similarly, in class I often found myself with teachers who penalized me for not participating, or they highlighted my quiet temperament in front of others. Some wondered how I succeeded both in and outside of school. For example, one professor was shocked to learn that I had spent a year teaching in Korea. He seemed to suggest that my introverted qualities would have prevented me from traveling at all. While I admit I am often a cautious person, I also enjoy new challenges. I was likewise surprised that this same seemingly extroverted professor was afraid to travel without his wife.
Although situations such as these have often proved frustrating, having read the above-mentioned books—I have begun to feel at ease with my own quiet nature, noting its benefits. I can think deeply on topics that many people may not consider. I am able to empathize with others when most might not understand them at all. As a journalist, I believe I succeeded because I was quiet and, therefore, listened to what the interviewee said. I took careful notes, researched and checked facts, and organized my paperwork before writing. I also learned how to write succinctly and edit my own pieces. I believe skills such as these are actually essential and should be sought after in both the journalism and other professional worlds.
As I have come to feel at ease with my own nature and recognize that sometimes interviews and other situations such as these will be difficult, I have also felt frustrated as a writer—believing publishers, editors, and agents have begun looking for extroverted writers with “personality,” good looks, and the ability to self-promote. As I have previously mentioned, I do believe it is important for writers to promote their own work and submit furiously, but I do not believe the ideal writer will ever be an extroverted one.
While there are certainly extroverted writers out there, most are introverted—as are many artists. Writers need time to reflect and hone their skills. In fact, I once read that the most common Myers-Briggs personality type for a writer is an INFP (introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving).
It is a mistake to expect writers to create masterpieces and also be outgoing, talkative types with strong personalities. While I believe most of the world understands this, others do not recognize the importance of giving these writers the space and time they need to create. Marketing and promoting their books is essential, but this can only be done after a period of solitude and reflection.
Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Random House, 2012.
Laney, Marti Olsen. The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World. New York: Workman Publishing Company, 2002.