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The Advantages of Being an Introvert

Modern American society seems to prize the extrovert, those with brash, outgoing personalities often climb to the tops of both corporate and social ladders. Yet, as former attorney, Susan Cain, writes in her new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, introverts have their own subtle advantages. The Harvard law school alumna viewed her own cautious manner as a sort of hindrance in her professional life, until research into the introverted personality helped her realize that many traits that society views as faults are actually very powerful attributes. Quiet, the result of her research, draws from personal interviews, as well as the latest finds in neuroscience and psychology, and works to correct misconceptions of introverts and empower them to embrace their nature.

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In an article posted on the Time Magazine website, Cain makes the distinction between introversion and shyness and touches on a few introvert virtues. “Shyness and introversion are not the same thing. Shy people fear negative judgment, while introverts simply prefer less stimulation; shyness is inherently painful, and introversion is not. But in a society that prizes the bold and the outspoken, both are perceived as disadvantages.

“Yet we wouldn’t want to live in a world composed exclusively of bold extroverts. We desperately need people who pay what [psychologist Elaine] Aron calls ‘alert attention’ to things. It’s no accident that introverts get better grades than extroverts, know more about most academic subjects and win a disproportionate number of Phi Beta Kappa keys and National Merit Scholarship finalist positions — even though their IQ scores are no higher,” she writes.

As a champion of the introverted personality, the author presents an ideal scenario where the introvert and extrovert work together with great effect. “The two types need each other. Many successful ventures are the result of effective partnerships between introverts and extroverts. The famously charismatic Steve Jobs teamed up with powerhouse introverts at crucial points in his career at Apple, co-founding the company with the shy Steve Wozniak and bequeathing it to its current CEO, the quiet Tim Cook. And the three-time Olympic-gold-winning rowing pair Marnie McBean and Kathleen Biddle were a classic match of dynamic firecracker (McBean) and steely determination (Biddle).”

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