Susan Cain's Blog
May 22, 2013
Hi everyone. Thought you might enjoy this Q and A I did with the Daily Beast — discussing TED talks, Malcolm Gladwell, why I wrote QUIET in a Greenwich Village cafe, advice for aspiring authors, and more…
What do you need to have produced/completed in order to feel that you’ve had a productive writing day?
I notice that most writers have quotas of some number of words per day. I envy this approach, because it seems so clean, but it has never worked for me. I often spend an entire day editing, restructuring a narrative, or researching. There are no new words on the paper, but it’s still progress. I think. It might also be a really elaborate way of procrastinating.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
You probably want to be a writer because books and words are a source of wonder to you. Make sure to keep it that way. Do not turn writing into a business or chore. It’s hard work, yes, but it should still be the thing you itch to do every day.
When I quit law and took up writing, at age 33, I told myself that it was OK if I didn’t publish anything until I was 75. That took the pressure off. I started a little consulting firm to pay the bills and spent the rest of my time at various cafés, working on my “hobby.” I’m actually not sure if I went to the cafés to write or wrote so I could sit around in cafés, which is my favorite activity. I wrote most of Quiet at a Greenwich Village café that drew writers from all over New York City and tragically no longer exists.
May 16, 2013
Image from the movie, "Hesher".
Check out this social experiment, from guest blogger Katherine Wakefield — and let us know what you think and whether you’ll participate!
I am starting a social experiment. Me, a stranger-danger introvert; yes, me. It happened organically today and went well. As I was checking out at the grocery store, I felt warmth and happiness from the checkout girl. I looked at her nametag and felt compelled to call her by name and say thank you. I repeated her name over and over in my head as I swiped my card to pay. Our eyes did not meet when she handed me the receipt, but I still said, “Thank you, Maggie.”
I could tell a shy and embarrassed smile crossed her face as she turned to the next customer. Yet, that smile was there because I “saw” her, called her by name and acknowledged her personally.
As I drove home, I pondered my experience, thinking, “I bet I could really brighten someone’s day, catch them off-guard when they are tired and cranky.” You know, those employees that are desperate to go home, just having a bad day. I wonder what would happen, even in the face of their tiredness, if someone would only acknowledge them, see them and call them by name. Could the appreciation and compassion that comes from personalizing the experience help them get through their shift, day or even life?
The answer is YES — A resounding YES!
Perform the experiment to see for yourself. The next time you are in a store checkout line and your salesclerk appears to be having a humdrum day, do this:
1. Ask for their name (or learn it from their name tag).
2. With a smile on your face, look the person in the eyes.
3. Finally, say: “Thank you [name] for helping me today (or whatever interaction you had).”
That’s it — That’s all you have to do to brighten person’s day. Simply let them know you see them, and they will instantly remember that they are appreciated, and they are loved!
~ Katherine Wakefield
If you can’t wait for your next visit to the store to try this social experiment, use social media to virtually appreciate someone.
Here is a sample message for you to copy/paste, fill-in the blanks and send:
[Name]… #ISeeYou [have/are] [acknowledge their action you appreciate]. Thank you!
— Susan Cain (@susancain) May 16, 2013
Now it’s your turn! ~ Susan
March 28, 2013
March 21, 2013
Not long ago, I discovered Michael Schiller’s terrific Social Introverts Facebook Fan Page. We started corresponding, and I’d love to share the note he sent me about his passion for helping introverts appreciate their own quiet perfection. ~ Susan
Click image to "Like" Michael Schiller's "Social Introverts" FB Fan Page
Hello, Susan. My name is Michael Schiller, and I want you to know that you are the reason the Social Introverts Facebook Fan Page exists.
I spent my entire life thinking that I was psychologically damaged, that my aversion to social gatherings and crowds was a disorder or a phobia. I couldn’t even enjoy my solitude, because I continually assailed myself with resentments and deprecations for wanting it so often; for being unable to enjoy the parties and venues that I thought must be inherently enjoyable, despite my failure to tap into that joy.
It wasn’t until the middle of last year that I discovered that I am completely normal, that my disposition was born in me, and that it was no mistake. That revelation began when I read an article about you and your book: Giving Introverts Permission To Be Themselves. Today, I’m a new person, whole and healed, happy about who I am- happy for the first time in my life.
I smile more than I ever have, and I seldom wait for an excuse. I didn’t fall in love; I didn’t strike it rich. All I needed in order to find such happiness and peace with myself was to learn that I am permitted to feel those things. All I had to do was understand the truth, and put an end to my self-imposed punishment.
Click image to "Like" Michael Schiller's "Social Introverts" FB Fan Page
Now I’ve made it my mission to try to help bring that same relief to others like me, who may also be spending their lives hating themselves by mistake. It breaks my heart to think of people living the way I did for so long, just because word of their quiet perfection hasn’t yet reached them. All they may need in order to find their own peace and healing is to understand that being an introvert is not supposed to hurt, and that it is possible to be both quiet and powerful.
So until the truth about introversion is common knowledge, and everyone who has felt inferior by comparison to their extroverted peers learns to be proud and contented instead, I’m going to keep doing what I can to spread the word and help that change along.
March 14, 2013
*Rich Day, one of this blog’s most active participants, shares a lovely story that’s guaranteed to give you what my mother-in-law calls a “leaky faucet moment.” ~ Susan
Both of my daughters, Christine and Shannon, took up the piano, along with all the lessons, the hours of practice, and the nervousness of performing at recitals.
In particular, the performance aspect of piano was an act of courage for Christine, who is quiet and reserved, but she did very well. She’s an enigma in her quiet ways, a girl who will not be held back in spite of some discomfort.
This true story takes place at their first piano competition.
The aspect of competing added a new layer of nerves, and they practiced their pieces for months before heading off on a Saturday morning for the event.
I will say, my younger daughter Shannon performed beautifully. In fact, she won second place in her division, and we were so proud of her! This story, however, is only about Christine.
The competition was held in a large auditorium, with a stage at the front, one grand piano, and a single seat. The stage, positioned in front of a sea of people, looked to me like a very lonely place to be, and I couldn’t help but feel comforted by the fact that I would remain in the spectators’ seats.
At times like these, you hope for some measure of luck; and as we read through the program, we saw that Shannon was to be the “lucky” girl, the one who would perform first in her division. Fortunately, there was no one else playing her piece.
Then we looked at Christine’s division. It was a very crowded group. Three other performers besides Christine were playing “Clair De Lune,” and she was to play last. My nerves instantly multiplied like breeding rabbits.
So I sat back and listened as each competitor played “Clair De Lune.” What I heard was very competent and precise performances. These kids were very good!
"Claire de Lune" | Claude Debussy
Each time the piece was played I looked towards the judges to my left. They sat in a row, three of them, and I could only see the face of the judge closest to me. After each performance her expression was implacable, not even showing a hint of emotion.
As I wondered why she seemed so stiff, I realized this was a woman who had no doubt heard this piece played hundreds of times before. She was just hearing the same song played three more times.
But, for me, hearing these kids play, and the manner in which they played, took me back to a moment weeks before, as I listened to Christine practice. She played the piece exactly how her competition was playing it here at the competition: competently, skillfully hitting every note with great precision.
As she practiced, I got up, stood behind her, and asked her to show me the music. She pointed at the page and, to my mind, what I saw was a jumbled, complicated sheet, containing indecipherable notes. So I asked her again, “Show me the music.”
Christine didn’t understand what I was asking, so I explained myself in a different way.
“You do realize that this sheet music is nothing more than the best road map this composer could give you to find his music. This music was born in his heart, he found it there, and the only place you can find it isn’t on this page, but in your own heart.”
My flashback is interrupted by the cold sound of hearing Christine’s name over the loudspeaker as she’s called to the stage. She was to be the very last person to perform.
Christine made her way up to that most lonely spot, a single seat in front of hundreds of people. I can’t imagine how nervous she must have felt, because even my nerves were hard to control.
Then it began. Christine bowed, sat, and started to play.
Well, kind of.
Instead of “Claire de Lune,” what came out was gibberish. She played a few random notes, then stopped.
A hush came over the crowd. There wasn’t a single sound, except for a gasp or two.
She started and stopped like this three times, each attempt sounding the same – a few strange notes were played, nothing more. The music had disappeared from her memory.
Every fiber of my being wanted to go scoop her up off that stage and carry her away, but I stayed seated and waited – for a miracle.
The courage Christine displayed next was a moment of bravery I can’t even imagine. Because I, in no way, share the same degree of fortitude she was able to call upon in that incredibly intense moment.
(Favor: Please press PLAY on the video to the right, then continue reading. Thank you.)
As she continued to survive through her stumbles, Christine stood up, paused for a few seconds, sat back down again, and — please forgive me as I add some imagination to the story — a spirit walked on stage to join her.
As Christine stood there, her eyes on the crowd, the spirit said, “Christine, don’t look at them, look at me.”
He then took her hand, placed it over his heart and said, “Let me show you my music.”
Slowly, they sat down together, side by side, and he began to whisper in her ear, “You see, Christine, there was moonlight and a girl. And…”
Instantly, she began to play again, notes that were as soft as the spirit’s whisper. What was to follow was a song the audience had not heard all morning.
“Christine, this next passage is about the way the moonlight played on her hair,” the spirit continued to whisper.
She continued, each note being played just as beautifully as the one before.
Then the music began to build, and the spirit continued to whisper through his tears, “Christine, this was my longing for her.”
The tears, those of Claude Debussy, moved me deeply; because, in that very moment, I too began to cry. No, not a single errant tear – these were great sobs!
Quickly, I pulled out the mental man-corks we men keep in the shirt pockets of our minds and tucked them carefully into my tear ducts, but I couldn’t stop the shaking of my shoulders! The notes were descending on all of us, falling upon our ears, like the tears of Debussy, with such beauty, such longing.
I couldn’t understand what was happening. But I did wonder if it was possible that I was hearing with a father’s ears. So, because I was unsure as to whether or not I was the only person in the building struck with emotion, I looked over to my left to find that judge, the one with the implacable stoic face, but she wasn’t there. In her place was a different woman, one with shaking shoulders, and tears flowing freely down her face, without concern for how she may appear to those around her.
My beautiful little girl, my sweet Christine, had moved the emotions of an entire assembly, not with a bold, excitedly intense performance that’s commonly known to attract applause, but with a QUIET, songful whisper that came in the form of a brave, young woman I’m proud to call my daughter.
We went to this competition hoping our daughters would do well. We thought we might find a trophy or two. Instead, Christine’s survival in song awarded us with so much more:
Courage, uncommon courage … That was the prize of our day.
Even now, as I sit here and write this, I cry, yet again, without concern for how I might be perceived by those who are reading this.
Why? Because my heart is filled with joy over this memory’s song.
March 13, 2013
Here is “Life of Pi” star Adil Hussain, on what it’s like to work with the quietly inspirational Ang Lee.
He is a silent co-musician with an added responsibility of being the conductor of the most complex orchestra. You’ll always feel that he’s only with you, co-creating; but he’s with everybody at the same time, with equal intensity and respect regardless of the popularity or stature of the actor.
He’s so sensitive and the way he directs you is so silent. He’d whisper into your ear what he has to say. He’d walk all the way from the den where he would sit, with 500 3D screens watching the shoot, to where you were shooting, if he had something to tell you. He wouldn’t just yell at his assistant asking him to convey the message; he’d always do so personally.
His language isn’t just verbal though, it’s some sort of energy transmission. And that makes you perform. That’s why a first-time actor like Suraj (who played the protagonist Pi Molitor Patel) could give this sort of an amazing performance. It cannot be solely through intellectual coaching.
March 6, 2013
“Donovan Campbell is a decorated military officer and a young Fortune 500 executive whose lessons about leadership and teamwork came the hard way, through three combat deployments—two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.” ~RHSpeakers.com
I recently had the privilege of sharing the stage with Donovan Campbell. And I was struck by his description of true military leadership — how it involves feeling that you’d rather die yourself than lose one of your soldiers.
This is just what parents feel for their children, and most of us assume that this feeling is unique to parenthood. Yet here was Campbell saying that good military leaders feel this routinely.
How does this happen? How do ordinary mortals learn to love others as selflessly as they love their kids?
Could you love your neighbor as much as you love your kids? >> buff.ly/XWkhTs
— Susan Cain (@susancain) March 6, 2013
Another interesting note from his talk: During his training, he was required, before he went to sleep, to say:
“Today I have given all that I have — and that which I have kept, I have lost forever.”
At the time, he said he didn’t understand what this mantra meant, but later on the meaning of these words became crystal clear.
Donovan Campbell is the NYT bestselling author of “Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood“, and of the forthcoming “The Leader’s Code.”
February 26, 2013
February 22, 2013
Image Credit: Elmhurst College
As many of you know, I’m on a whirlwind book tour for the QUIET paperback. So far I’ve visited NYC, Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C., Kansas City, and Denver. Having now spent many evenings in succession with you, my readers, I would like to tell you about the way you transform a public space, about your power to infuse a setting with your quiet strength.
At every event the mood has been thoughtful, sincere, caring. Before the events began, you waited patiently. As I spoke, you listened intently. After I finished, you rose from your seats to ask intelligent questions– no grandstanding, no speaking to draw attention to yourself. You asked questions because you had questions to ask — for no greater or lesser reason than that. And then, when all the formal talking was done, as I signed your books, you told me your own stories — one inspiring tale after another.
Myself & Dr. Carl Schwartz
In Boston, I did another Q and A at the Harvard Bookstore, this one with the great Carl Schwartz, the Harvard Medical School researcher I profiled in Chapter 4 of QUIET. After it was over, he surveyed the crowd and remarked,
“This is the 30%. Here they are. Imagine if they ruled the world.”
I nodded, touched.
Of course, I don’t really think the 30% should rule the world, and I’m sure that neither does Dr. Schwartz. We both know that we need both kinds.
But that night, it was hard not to love the 30%.*
*NOTE: Dr. Schwartz used the 30% statistic for the number of introverts in the population. Other studies suggest that the percentage is closer to 50%.
February 19, 2013
As you may know, I’m out on The QUIET Book Tour right now.
So far I’ve been in NYC, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Kansas City, Portland, and one other stop that — for purely personal reasons — stands as my favorite appearance of all:
It was there that I shared the stage with my old law school friend, Angie Kim, whom I hadn’t seen since we graduated 20 years ago!
We picked up right where we left off, with the cheerfully extroverted Angie sharing her surprise, when she read QUIET, to learn how scared I’d been about public speaking during our law school days.
Our entire conversation, mostly consisting of topics I haven’t addressed at other stops on my tour, was broadcast on Slate Radio’s new podcast, “Live at Politics and Prose“, and can be listened to below. I hope you enjoy it!
Enter them into SoundCloud’s commenting feature. I might use your thoughts in a future article.
Want to see the UK version of QUIET’s cover art? CLICK HERE. It’s beautiful! (Link will open in new window.)