Pretending to Be What You’re Not

*This is a Friends Journal Book Club Installment. Feel free to comment even if you haven’t read the book!

Are you ever surprised when your perception of people is completely different from the way they see themselves? That there is, in fact, more to every person than we may at first assume?

In Chapter Nine of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, she talks about “self-monitors,” people who are able to “modify their behavior to the social demands of a situation” to the point that you may not know whether they have a more introverted or extroverted personality. Many introverts, apparently, have learned to fake extroversion.

The reason they are able to do this, typically, is because they are working toward some greater good. If an introvert has a “core personal project,” something she cares deeply about, she can push through her propensity for quiet and solitude and do what the situation demands of her.

As many of us know, that’s not always easy. Many people neglect their actual passions for something they assume is more acceptable to the larger culture. In order to avoid the negative emotions and consequences that come from pursuing what you don’t love, Cain insists that we do a little soul searching. First, think back to what you wanted to be when you grew up. There’s usually more wisdom in our childhood selves than we realize. Second, pay attention to the part of your job or schooling that you really like. If you’re always wandering off to work on a certain kind of project independently, you may be subconsciously trying to pursue that as a personal goal. And finally, figure out what makes you jealous. If you’re jealous of someone else for achieving a certain thing, that’s usually a clue that you’re not pursuing what matters most to you.

Pursuing what you’re passionate about is not only important in a career, though. In the last chapter of the book, Cain talks about the importance of parents and teachers nurturing their children to be happy and confident in who they already are, not pushing them to become someone they’re not. This is an all too important topic in this day and age, as we are constantly bombarded with news items about how to make our kids successful, happy and healthy. If you’re an extroverted (or introverted) parent with an introverted child, remember to honor her personality rather than push her to be something she is not. The way to have a more confident child, Cain says, “is to expose your child gradually to new situations and people” and be careful “to respect his limits, even when they seem extreme.” When it comes to schooling, teachers should not always force students to work in groups or speak in front of the class, but also let kids have the chance to work independently.

It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I realized the value of working independently. My English teacher assigned Hamlet when I still couldn’t make sense of Shakespeare’s language. Usually, we spent the period listening to different students awkwardly read the lines and left having no idea what was happening in the story. But one day, she decided to let us read the play quietly on our own. Suddenly I cracked the code of what Hamlet was saying to Gertrude, his mother. (Hint: It wasn’t very nice.) That small personal victory might not have happened that year unless I had been given time and space to read in class.

Overall, Susan Cain’s book is not just for and about introverts. It is about recognizing the common, unique, sometimes quirky and often sensitive traits in every individual. Whether a person talks a lot or a little, enjoys crowds or alone time with a book or computer, all people deserve respect, kindness and recognition for who they are rather than pressure to conform to who they are not. This is perhaps why Quiet is such a popular and enjoyable read for spiritual seekers: it implores us to see the value and beauty of everyone in our midst.


Questions for consideration:

What do you think is the best way to get kids in schools engaged?

Do parents of this generation focus too much on cultural notions of success and not enough on cultivating each child’s individual strengths?

Do you feel reading the book Quiet has helped change your perceptions of people and/or our culture? Has it deepened your faith in any way?

Are there any other final insights or comments you’d like to add to the discussion?

*Don’t forget to subscribe to comments below so you don’t miss any of the discussion.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully you’ll join us next month when we discuss The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen.

Read our interview with Susan Cain in the September issue. Don’t have it? Click here to get current or back issues of the journal.



16 thoughts on “Pretending to Be What You’re Not

  1. This post and article brings to mind the concept of class participation. I remember being graded in college on this part of class. I often felt compelled to speak,even when I really didn’t have a comment at the moment. I imagine that more introverted students struggled even more than I did. Is it fair to require regular verbal comments? I’m wondering after I read this.

  2. Self monitors? Yes, I think I am one. I recently graduated college, but revelled in class participation all through school. Personally I loved being able to share ideas in the classroom, but also, I often had to recover over weekends and nonacademic/nonsocial times hiding away in my room.

    I appreciate what was said in this article/review about encouraging the already existing qualities in children/people. It is interesting to me how people can develop a self monitored internet persona in this day and age.

  3. Since I haven’t read the book yet, I will not try to comment on the book itself, but I noticed something in the article that I wanted to address. The idea that an introvert who modifies their behavior in a social situation is “faking extroversion” doesn’t sit right with me. Introversion and extroversion are not actually “opposites” in the sense that the presence of one implies the absence of the other. Instead, they are two distinct personality qualities; typically a person will favor one over the other, but people do generally have both introverted and extroverted behaviors and qualities. Myself, I identify strongly as an introvert — but what that means for me is that I do the things I need as an introvert (alone time, meditating, writing, intrapersonal check-in) in order to be able to do extroverted activities and fully enjoy them, whereas the reverse is not true (I don’t need to hang out with groups of people in order to enjoy being alone later). But I’m not “faking” extroversion when I go to a party or hang out with my friends! I’m not anti-social, I’m just an introvert. 🙂 I often really enjoy being around other people and seek out opportunities to do so, and while it may be a little more of a challenge for me to “learn” or “figure out” how to behave in those situations than it is for a more naturally extroverted person, I certainly don’t feel that I’m behaving in a way that is “fake” or even contradictory to my nature. (And if I start to feel that way, it’s probably time for me to leave, and/or find some different friends!)

  4. The book QUIET just confirms for me that being an introvert can be an advantage. I read Introvert Advantage years ago. I gained insight as to why I did not experience dorm life at college as being the best years of my life. I could never find a place for solitude. A major depression set in for many reasons, but not having solitude being a significant one. I now embrace myself as primarily functioning as an introvert in this extravert society. If folks do not understand my need for solitude the majority of the time, so be it.

  5. I’m reading Quiet right now, and enjoying it. I’m absolutely an introvert- who pushes through extroverted situations because of a passion (in my most recent case, teaching!) that calls for doing so. But, I echo the thoughts of another poster that, if I get my fill of introversion time (writing, QUIET, working independently) I am much more at ease ‘extroverting’ on a regular basis.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole thing as I’m getting ready for classes, which will involve quite a bit of team based, active learning. I am torn a bit- I want students to be able to play to their strengths and love who they are, but to also learn to step out of their comfort zone so that they, too, are able to pursue what they love in this very extroverted world in which we live. So far, I’ve settled on playing to both types- give students advance notice of what we will be doing in class so the introverts are able to do some thinking before coming in to the day’s group activities.

  6. I just got the new Friends Journal and read the interview right away. I was always told that I was too sensitive, which hurt my feelings until I read two books in the late 1990s early 2000s. One was “The HIghly Sensitive Person” and the other “The Introvert Advantage.” I think what I found in the Introvert Advantage must be similar to “Quiet”–the positive qualities of an introvert, and how to better define what an introvert is–someone who recharges by being alone or with a couple of other people–one who needs quiet to recharge. What a breakthrough to be able to see who I was in a more positive light–I haven’t looked back, I revel in the introvert qualities. I look forward to reading this book also. Thanks!

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