(in search of) Peace & Quiet in an Extroverted World

I read an article the other week in the New York Times called: The Rise of the New Groupthink by Susan Cain. She writes,

Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

Ahhh…I thought, this is music to my ears! I spend my days at home writing on my computer and raising my 3 boys and lately, I’ve started thinking if I hadn’t got married and had children, I might have turned into a hermit.

When I was a kid my cousins and I used to believe that a hermit lived in the woods surrounding our family compound in Maine. I was fascinated by the idea of a hermit…what did he eat and where did he sleep and what happened when it got cold? But I don’t remember ever wondering if he was lonely. Surviving in the woods seemed much more challenging than living alone. And now, as a mother of 3, surrounded by a constant cacophony of noise, I often think of that hermit (I imagine him as a stooped, bearded, tiny man) with longing.

Susan Cain continues,

And yet. The New Groupthink has overtaken our workplaces, our schools and our religious institutions. Anyone who has ever needed noise-canceling headphones in her own office or marked an online calendar with a fake meeting in order to escape yet another real one knows what I’m talking about. Virtually all American workers now spend time on teams and some 70 percent inhabit open-plan offices, in which no one has “a room of one’s own.” During the last decades, the average amount of space allotted to each employee shrank 300 square feet, from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet in 2010.

As someone who is trying to determine my career path (can I afford to keep doing freelance? Do I need to go out into the real world and get a 9-5 job?), this cultural emphasis on Groupthink fills me with dread. I’ve been out of the “real world” for so long, maybe I can’t go back? Maybe, if asked to sit in on a brainstorming session, my introverted self will suffer.

I get that same worry when I’m driving, a time when I used to get a lot of my creative ideas…staring out at the road listening to music, your brain just starts to wander and usually ends up in some unexpected places. Not any more. Now when I’m in the car, every time I stop at a light I check my iphone. Thank goodness my iphone is too big to carry with me when I run, otherwise those 30 minutes of peace and quiet would disappear as well.

Cain believes the solution is the combination of both worlds:

To harness the energy that fuels both these drives, we need to move beyond the New Groupthink and embrace a more nuanced approach to creativity and learning. Our offices should encourage casual, cafe-style interactions, but allow people to disappear into personalized, private spaces when they want to be alone. Our schools should teach children to work with others, but also to work on their own for sustained periods of time.

Read more fascinating information about introverts in Cain’s new book:

Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.

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