She meant that she was too creative, too spiritually aware, too outspoken, too idealistic, and too sensitive to do the work of her heart, which was film-making. She was too different to be recognized and heard in the world.
What she said was reminding me of a wonderful book I read recently. Maybe you have heard of it. I hope you have read it — Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. I am pretty sure you will like it! A lot. This book is well researched, thoughtful, useful and funny.
I have been trying to figure out how to write a review of Quiet. But I think I will just quote a story Susan tells near the beginning.
First, to set the scene, there is this quote from the book:
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 apologizing for your shyness…Or at school, you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell”—that noxious expression that fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.
“All the comments from childhood still ring in my ears, that I was lazy, stupid, slow, boring,” writes a member of an email list called Introvert Retreat. “By the time I was old enough to figure out that I was simply introverted, it was a part of my being, the assumptions that there is something inherently wrong with me. I wish I could find that little vestige of doubt and remove it.”
Now that you are an adult, you might feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favor of a good book….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.
As a consultant/coach, Susan Cain tells the following story, near the beginning of the book. When I tell people about this book I often find myself just telling this story to describe the book.
My very first client was a young woman named Laura. She was a Wall Street lawyer, but a quiet and daydreamy one who dreaded the spotlight and disliked aggression. She had managed somehow to make it through the crucible of Harvard Law School—a place where classes are conducted in huge gladiatorial amphitheaters, and where she once got so nervous that she threw up on the way to class. Now that she was in the real world, she wasn’t sure she could represent her clients as forcefully as they expected.
For the first three years on the job, Laura was so junior that she never had to test this premise. But one day the senior lawyer she’d been working with went on vacation, leaving her in charge of an important negotiation. The client was a South American manufacturing company that was about to default on a bank loan and hoped to renegotiate its terms; a syndicate of bankers that owned the endangered loan sat on the other side of the negotiating table.
Laura would have preferred to hide under said table, but she was accustomed to fighting such impulses. Gamely but nervously, she took her spot in the lead chair, flanked by her clients: general counsel on one side and senior financial officer on the other. These happened to be Laura’s favorite clients: gracious and soft spoken, very different from the master-of-the-universe types her firm usually represented….
Across the table sat nine disgruntled investment bankers in tailored suits and expensive shoes, accompanied by their lawyer, a square jawed woman with a hearty manner. Clearly not the self-doubting type, this woman launched into an impressive speech on how Laura’s clients would be lucky simply to accept the bankers’ terms. It was, she said, a very magnanimous offer.
Everyone waited for Laura to reply, but she couldn’t think of anything to say. So she just sat there. Blinking. All eyes on her. Her clients shifting uneasily in their seats. He thoughts running in a familiar loop: I’m too quiet for this kind of thing, too unassuming, too cerebral. She imagined the person who would be better equipped to save the day: someone bold, smooth, ready to pound the table. In middle school, this person, unlike Laura, would have been called “outgoing,” the highest accolade her seventh grade classmates knew, higher even than “pretty,” for a girl, or “athletic” for a guy. Laura promised herself that she only had to make it through the day. Tomorrow, she would go look for another career.
Then she remembered what I had told her again and again: she was an introvert, and as such had unique powers in negotiation—perhaps less obvious, but no less formidable. She’d probably prepared more than anyone else. She had a quiet but firm speaking style. She rarely spoke without thinking. Being mild mannered, she could take strong, even aggressive, positions while coming across as perfectly reasonable. And she tended to ask questions—lots of them—and actually listen to the answers, which, no matter what your personality, is crucial to strong negotiation.
So Laura finally started doing what came naturally.
“Let’s go back a step. What are your numbers based on?” she asked.
What if we structured the loan this way, do you think it might work?”
“Some other way?”
At first her questions were tentative. She picked up steam as she went along, posing them more forcefully and making it clear that she had done her homework and wouldn’t concede the facts. But she also stayed true to her own style, never raising her voice or losing her decorum. Every time the bankers made an assertion that seemed unbridgeable, Laura tried to be constructive. “Are you saying that’s the only way to go? What if we took a different approach?”
Eventually her simple queries shifted the mood in the room, just as the negotiation textbooks say they will. The bankers stopped speechifying and dominance-posing, activities for which Laura felt hopelessly ill-equipped, and they started having an actual conversation.
More discussion. Still no agreement. One of the bankers revved up again, throwing his papers down and storming out of the room. Laura ignored this display, mostly because she didn’t know what else to do. Later on someone told her that at that pivotal moment she’d played a good game of something called “negotiation jujitsu”; but she knew that she was just doing what you learn to do naturally as a quiet person in a loudmouth world.
Finally the two sides struck a deal. The bankers left the building. Laura’s favorite clients headed for the airport, and Laura went home, curled up with a book, and tried to forget the day’s tensions.
But the next morning the lead lawyer for the bankers—the vigorous woman with the strong jaw—called to offer her a job. “I’ve never seen anyone so nice and so tough at the same time,” she said. And the day after that, the lead banker called Laura, asking if her law firm would represent his company in the future. “We need someone who can help us put deals together without letting ego get in the way,” he said.
By sticking to her own gentle way of doing things, Laura had reeled in new business for her firm and a job offer for herself. Raising her voice and pounding the table was unnecessary.
Today Laura understands that her introversion is an essential part of who she is, and she embraces her reflective nature. The loop inside her head that accused her of being too quiet and unassuming plays much less often. Laura knows that she can hold her own when she needs to.
Later on in the book, Susan Cain admits that Laura’s story is actually her own story.
The book Quiet is divided into four parts with enticing chapter titles:
I—The Extrovert Ideal: The Rise of the Mighty Likable Fellow, The Myth of Charismatic Leadership, and When Collaboration Kills Creativity
II—Your Biology, Yourself: Is Temperament Destiny?, Beyond Temperament: The Role of Free Will (and the Secret of Public Speaking for Introverts), Franklin was a Politician but Eleanor Spoke out of Conscience, and Why Did Wall Street Crash and Warren Buffet Prosper?
III—Do all Cultures Have an Extrovert Ideal?
(The answer is no)
IV—How to Love, How to Work
(including this subtitle to one chapter: “How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them”)
I think that you will find yourself on each page of this book. I did!
Susan Cain includes this “introvert checklist.” Check off the ones that are often true about you. (She notes that this is an informal quiz, not a scientifically validated personality test.)
- I prefer one-to-one conversations to group activities.
- I often prefer to express myself in writing.
- I enjoy solitude.
- I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame, and status.
- I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me.
- People tell me that I am a good listener.
- I’m not a big risk taker.
- I enjoy work that allows me to “dive in” with few interruptions.
- I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members.
- People describe me as “soft-spoken” or “mellow.”
- I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it’s finished.
- I dislike conflict.
- I do my best work on my own.
- I tend to think before I speak.
- I feel drained after being out and about, even if I have enjoyed myself.
- I often let calls go through to voice mail.
- If I had to choose, I’d prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled.
- I don’t enjoy multitasking.
- I can concentrate easily.
- In classroom situations, I prefer lectures to seminars.
How might you turn parts of this check list into a tapping routine for yourself?
- Choose a statement above that fits you particularly well.
- Think of a critical comment that some people might make about this behavior.
- Use the statement above as the second half of your EFT set-up statement, and frame it positively.
Example: Even though everyone else seems to like to go to loud parties, I prefer one-to-one conversations, and I deeply and completely accept that about myself!
The film maker, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this article, tapped for feeling so different from everyone that she couldn’t be a success in the world. As we worked with this challenge, suddenly a scary question popped into her head, “What if am NOT an outsider? What would that mean?”
As we tapped further, she came up with this lovely, powerful statement: I can let the work be a beacon. I just need to do my work, and show my heart, and let everyone in. If it fits them, they will come in.
As Susan Cain says, “I have seen first hand how difficult it is for introverts to take stock of their talents, and how powerful it is when finally they do.”
With my love and blessing to you,
All images are from Dreamstime.com