Matt Lewis

I’m not a jerk. Just an introvert (reflections from my chat with author Susan Cain)

You might remember my post titled, “No, I probably won’t meet with you at CPAC.” It was a tad controversial. Some people thought it was funny, while others found it offensive.

But it turns out I’m not really a jerk, after all. I’m just an introvert (at least according to a quiz I took on the website of Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts.”)

(Listen to my full conversation with Susan Cain here.)

During our recent conversation, Cain exposed the cultural bias which favors extroverts. Modern schools and offices, she insists, impose a sort of communitarian ethos, what with their open office “bullpen” environments, and insistence on constant teamwork. Introverts prefer to work alone, and prefer small dinners with friends to large events.

This ubiquitous trend toward forced collaboration, Cain argues, is especially tough on introverts and individualists. Teamwork, it turns out, isn’t for everybody. “[I]f you look at many of the great creators in history,” Cain avers, “many of them are people with strong preferences for working on their own.”

Different people respond to different forms of motivation, but extroversion is subtly praised, while introversion is quietly punished — so much so that many introverts try to force themselves to become extroverts.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s who. Introverts might be 21st century pariahs, but we don’t wear a scarlet letter. Many of us are closeted, but forced to stretch outside our comfort zones daily. And if we put on a happy face, you might not even notice.

Cain (who practiced corporate law before settling on writing) tells me that in promoting her book, she has “found that the most unlikely people tell me that they really were introverts.” I don’t doubt it. A lot of people assume I’m an extrovert. And like Cain, I fought against my introverted proclivities before finally settling into a job more conducive to my personality. It’s probably not a coincidence I wound up a blogger (and thank God my office has a door).

Listen to streaming audio of our full conversation with Susan Cain here. Or download the podcast on iTunes.