I love TED Talks. From science to politics to social topics, they’re always inspiring to watch, and they’ve opened my eyes to quite a few fascinating perspectives in a wide array of global issues. But one Talk that really – if you’ll pardon the pun – spoke to me as a creative and soft-spoken individual was author Susan Cain‘s take on the power of introverts.
This video was shared with me some time ago by my best friend, a young man just as introverted as I am who found this Talk very inspiring for people like us (and those who wish to understand us). Instead of running through the entire 19-minute transcript, I thought it more convenient to embed the video here for others to watch themselves. Enjoy!
(Note: in case it doesn’t load properly on the page you’re reading, you can watch the Talk on its original TED page here, where you can also find a full transcript).
Since there isn’t much I can add that Mrs. Cain hasn’t already covered perfectly well, I just want to give a brief review of how I can personally relate to her Talk and the ways I consider her case valid to my experience in creative writing.
I too spent much of my childhood reading books. Although most of my reading time was in the privacy of my own bedroom, I did make a habit of carrying books in my backpack to enjoy at school. Whenever I felt exhausted by the energy of my surrounding classmates (which was quite often), I would find a quiet corner and retreat into the world of my books to recharge. Maybe it seemed like an overly reclusive practice, but in a way, my books were like a lifesaver that helped me through my grade-school years.
Introversion vs. Shyness
I’m glad Mrs. Cain brought up this distinction, as it’s important to know there’s a difference. A great example of this is my dad: he’s one of the most social and friendly people I know, but when it comes to work, he much prefers handling tasks on his own. My dad is what some might consider an unusual type of individual: an outgoing introvert.
Having noted this, I’d like to point out that I’m both introverted and shy. The main difference is that my shyness is a trait that I’d like to be able to overcome, at least to the point where it no longer holds me back from doing most of the things I’d like to try in my life; whereas my introversion is a characteristic that I will always be proud to consider an important part of my personality. In other words, I’m not always happy about being shy, but I am always happy about being introverted.
In the classroom
At the risk of sounding boastful, I was an excellent student growing up. I’m talking straight-A, perfect-record, all-my-teachers-loved-me excellent. And I honestly believe that my introverted personality played a major role in my academic achievements. That’s not to say that extroverted students were beneath my level; my best friend in middle school was an extrovert, and she was in the gifted program with me. My low-key approach to my studies just worked best for me because the time I used to work on my own allowed me to think much more clearly.
However, I do remember some classes I took in elementary and middle school where the desks were arranged in the pods described in the above video, so I’d have to be facing at least three other students and often work with them in group assignments. I understood the point of this arrangement, but to be frank, I much preferred the rows.
Solitude = creativity
I agree with the speaker’s argument that we shouldn’t stop collaborating altogether, nor should we stop valuing the great qualities that extroverts bring to the table, but we should at least have a decent balance between teamwork and solitude, since the latter is often important for creativity to blossom. I’ve always found that my best ideas come to me whenever I’m alone with my thoughts, especially when I have plenty of time to daydream (one of my favorite pastimes). But I know that writing isn’t a completely solitary profession, which brings me to my final point…
The budding writer
I love creative writing for the freedom I feel it gives me. I’m in total control of my ideas, my characters, my settings and plots. But there’s only so much enjoyment I can get out of writing on my own, because after I finish shaping my ideas into my stories, I can’t wait to share them with the rest of the world, and that requires stepping out of my introverted shell.
I know that after I finish my novels, I’m going to have to put them out there somehow, helping to promote them and get them to the readers that I want to inspire. And I think I’m OK with that. As long as I still get to be my introverted self (and be appreciated for it), I’m OK with having to face the extroverted lifestyle once in a while for the sake of that all-important balance for which Susan Cain so strongly advocates. Looking up to the countless introverts who have graced the world with their amazing qualities, I hope to have equal courage to – as she so wonderfully puts it – speak softly.
What about you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert (or an ambivert)? How well can you relate to Susan Cain’s Talk? Do any of these notes apply to you?