Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Power of Introverts

I laughed when I heard Susan Cain say:

“In my family, reading was the primary group activity.”

She could easily be describing my family as well. Drop by to visit our house and you will most likely find each member of the family reading a book, (printed or electronic) or doing something on their computer. We are all quite content to sit together in the living room, each wrapped up in her or his own world. Don't let this fool you though. As is said, “Still waters run deep.”

We are a family of introverts. Sometimes we think that our son might be an extrovert, but when I consider Cain's description of the difference between introverts and extroverts, I would conclude that he is also an introvert, though less strongly so than his mother and sister. For those who like the descriptions afforded by the Myers-Briggs types, my wife is a strong ISTJ and I am an INFJ, although I have also tested as ENFJ. My daughter is most likely INTP. Our son still has us rather mystified as to his personality. I think his life journey so far has worked to subvert his natural personality.

I am not a strong introvert. As I said, I have also tested as an extrovert and always come fairly close to the middle on tests of introversion and extroversion. I could accurately be described as an ambivert. As an introvert, I tend to be at my most creative and productive when I can have solitude and few disruptions. But I also do need social interaction to help maintain a healthy balance. When I do not have social interaction for too long, I get a little stir crazy. My wife doesn't have this problem. She can spend days and days with limited social interaction and be happy as a clam at high tide.

My challenge these days comes from my current work situation. All of my work happens in virtual environments from my home office. Which means I spend most of my day by myself in front of my computer. As an introvert this should be ideal. As an ambivert it leaves me craving social interaction. I love my family and have the privilege of sharing the home office with my wife most of the time. But I need outside interaction as well and am still looking for ways to have it. I may even come across to some as an extrovert, because after so much time alone and with my limited social contact I can be outgoing even to the clerk at the grocery store! I am also learning how to allow virtual relationships to meet some of that social need.

I appreciate very much Cain's comments about the need to change our educational and work environments to better meet the needs of introverts. I think not primarily of myself, but of my daughter, who is like her mother in her introversion. Putting her in a group-think and group-work environment stretches her in some ways that are useful, but also stifles her creativity and energy. She will not feel her most alive and switched on in a large group, especially one dominated by extroverts.

Over the years I have struggled to accept myself and my family as we are. At times I feel like we are somehow abnormal, that we should be more like other families whom I perceive to be more athletic, or social, or active, or you name it. I have made halting efforts to try to compel my family to be different, but I am coming to accept that our preferences and inclinations for entertainment and refreshment reflect who we are and do not need to change to fit some model or image of what a “healthy” family looks like. Each family is unique in the combination of personalities. My family doesn't have to engage in youth sports, or family hiking, or anything else, in order to be okay. We are quite happy to treat reading as a group activity. It may not be the model preferred in our culture, but it's who we are. And it's okay to be a group of introverts.

What are your thoughts in response to Cain's presentation?

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