On Nuance, Noticing and the Cult of Personality

A recent Amazon.com visit led me to purchase the bestselling book Quiet: the power of introverts. I thought, this seems like an interesting read, let’s take the Prime free shipping bait and go for it. Little did I know how much of an impact this book would have on me.

The book is full of the rich cultural history of the 21st century American ethos: anecdotes on celebrities, scientists, billionaires and the everyman abound, tied together with the soft and smooth writing of the author. In between these linked stories she reveals what it truly means to be an introvert in a society perpetually fixated on our next 15 minutes of fame. (Woody Allen comes to mind here). Her writing went beyond the descriptive aspect of cultural or psychological studies, to a deeper truth – we introverts are, by and large, wholly misunderstood by society.

One thing that I’ve realized as I get older is that my core dispositions and tendencies are unwavering, even though my behaviors may change. I may move from one city to another, dye my hair a different color, or bury old habits in hopes of reinventing myself every few years, but my true self — my values and beliefs — remain solid. Yet, as the book helped me learn, I never fully acknowledged their importance, weight and value. Ever since graduating college and entering the “real world”, I’ve pushed and scolded myself to be someone that the corporate workplace values: an extrovert.

Plagued by guilt over the fact that I don’t “chase dreams” and “take risks” in the conventional, no-holds-barred American daredevil fashion, over time I ended up brainwashing myself into thinking I didn’t have any dreams at all. Working for corporations large and small, I felt disheartened that I didn’t possess that innate “rah rah” feeling that came from working on group brainstorm meetings, attending large-scale, swag-filled conferences, or aggressively “innovating” in the Silicon Valley sense of the word. Did I not enjoy the work? Was I depressed? No. What I realize now is that I just have a different way of thinking about the world, and this way of thinking is not the normative one. I thrive, but on my own terms. I am not going to be the cheerleader, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be your strongest and most fervent advocate, in my own way.

What I’ve discovered is: an A/B Tester, I am not. I am a thinker. I look before I leap. I notice. I observe. I may not jump on the bandwagon at first, or at all. If my (former or future) places of employment view that as an “area of improvement” or, worse, a weakness, then they aren’t taking the time to get to know me and my strengths. They aren’t investing in me, when I am doing just that to them by being a loyal employee. I may need coaxing, sure, but once I believe in something, I’m loyal for life. I add a lot of value, and contribute in ways others don’t. I want others to recognize this.

I like to notice things, especially the nuances of life: the ironies, the subtleties, the gaps and the pieces that others gloss over. I’m not some freak intellectual: I enjoy socializing, I absolutely love discourse and meeting new people – in certain situations, of course. That’s not a misanthropic sentiment, it’s the fact that as an introvert, I am more averse to novelty. I am what you might call “highly reactive” – I respond to and feel deeply about the world around me. I am not scared or afraid, I am just a little more cautious. I like to evaluate, and you know what, that’s ok!

The “cult of personality” that supposes one must be daring, utterly confident, and a “people person” is a true American phenomenon. It lives within the mantras of “style over substance”, “fail fast” and “do now, think later”. I am not saying these ideologies are wrong, because I do believe there is a place for them. I simply regret that this ideology is the predominant and seemingly only acceptable one in mainstream society.

What Quiet taught me was that I should embrace my true character: as a thinker, lover of ideas, beauty, animals, stories and systems – a person who is deeply sensitive to the human condition. I am an introvert, hear me roar. 🙂

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