I found Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking a great read. Of course, I may be biased. I am an introvert who makes his living moving from the quiet world of reflection and writing to an active life of lectures, retreat leadership, and marketing, not to mention preaching and teaching on a regular basis. Cain’s narratives of the challenges introverts face mirrored my own experience. It is wearing at times to be a public introvert, but out of the depths – if we nurture the gifts of introversion – creativity and gravitas emerge.
Most people think that I’m an extrovert, because I really enjoy public speaking – once I get on stage! But my preferred mode is quiet conversation, preferably walking or by a fire or over coffee, looking toward the horizon or focusing on ideas not personalities. I’ve always liked a phrase, attributed to Antoine Saint-Exupery, “love is gazing together in the same direction.” Those long loving looks are far too personal and invasive for this introvert, and though I love to teach, preach, and lecture, I always need to go back to my inner and often outer monastery after a session or two. My best times with my wife of thirty four years are times spent walking, moving in the Spirit and looking toward the horizon, rather that at one another. My wife is a beauty but too much sustained face time wears me down, even and sometimes especially with people I love.
Yes, most people think I’m an extrovert until they see me with my wife Kate. Again, a word of confession, I love my wife dearly and she complements me greatly, at least most of the time. Still, I advise her to limit her conversation to 20%, giving me 80% in any business conversation because, given her extroverted personality, I might end up with 20%, if I’m lucky, even when the focus is on my agenda! I enjoy social situations, but prefer listening and interjecting rather than regaling or being part of the lightning round of repartee.
I need a restorative niche. When I am “on the road” speaking, and not staying in or near a hotel or in a retreat center where my room (monastery-hideaway) is adjacent to the talks, I have to be especially inventive in terms of spiritual and emotional restoration. Of course, regardless of where I am, I begin with morning meditation and then a long walk. Often when I am leading a program, people want to walk with me, but I usually put them off till later in the day. First, I need my quiet time – moving with the Spirit, keeping pace with my spirit, doing some walking energy work, reflecting on my theme, or just letting my senses delight in the environment. This is my daily, non-negotiable, time of restoration and transformation. After that, I revel in walking conversation.
During the program, I often wander off during breaks, not just for coffee although I love coffee; but to walk around the block or find a quiet niche to ponder my next session or read a few pages of my book-companion. Like many introverted people, a few minutes buried in a book restore and renew my spirit. They take me to the wellspring of inner energy and creativity that I as an introvert-oriented person crave and, moreover, require for success navigation of sustained public leadership.
Like Susan Cain, sometimes I don’t need to be alone to experience the energizing power of my restorative niche. I regularly go to coffee shops to write and read. I usually pick out a comfortable chair and retreat into the inspirational companionship of my laptop or a book. I don’t mind the hustle and bustle all around me. As a matter of fact, it provides just enough external stimulation, provided nobody tries to strike up a conversation, to balance my inner journey.
Being introverted is not a social disease, although there are times when extroverts imply that there is a deficiency among those for whom a good read, a movie theater, or a walk in the woods are the highpoint of a busy day. Meeting my extroverted wife in the middle – and I recognize this may be a burden for her – is part of the yin-yang of our marriage and a good life. The balanced contemplation and conversation, inner and outer, stillness and speech is an art, but as we discover our right blend, the depths of our inner life becomes the catalyst for creative and nurturing relationships and personal adventures.
To read an excerpt from Quiet – and view other resources on the power of introverts – visit the Patheos Book Club.