‘The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others a lamplit desk. Use you natural powers – of persistence, concentration, insight and sensitivity – to do work you love and work that matters.’
‘Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain landed on my reading list through a chance combination of seeing Susan’s TED talk and a discussion in the back row of a lecture (some things never change!) A highly extroverted vet and I (a relative introvert) were speculating about the relationship of the dearth of vets in public life and the high percentage of introverts in the veterinary world. In this article Kathleen L. Ruby, head of the counselling and wellness department of Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, estimates that 60-70 percent of veterinarians are introverts based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, making this book relevant to the majority of vets and all veterinary educators.
After loosely describing the difference between introverts and extroverts – introverts prefer a quiet glass of wine with a close friend to a big party and reading to meeting new people – Cain examines how extroversion is seemingly highly valued in our society and introversion seen as ‘a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology’ (p. 4). (Naturally no-one is either completely introverted or extroverted as we all have some aspects of both). She notes that the ideas of introverts are often overlooked in a group of extroverts due to the dominance of the latter, a factor to keep in mind while working in a clinical team or with a group of students. An interesting aspect for me was that the opportunities provided by social media can be beneficial for introverts by providing them with channels to express their ideas in environments where they are more comfortable; for example being able to tweet questions during lectures. I’m in this group – I try out some ideas through this blog and on discussion boards which I would be reluctant to discuss face-to-face.
Contrarily, there are times where I have surprised myself by being outgoing and enjoying networking rather than finding it a chore and a challenge. Professor Brian Little, a former lecturer in psychology at Harvard, explains this through his Free Trait Theory, which posits that we all have particular traits, such as introversion, but are capable of acting out of character for work we consider important, people we love or anything we value highly. (p. 209) I suspect this applies to many vets and educators who are passionate about their jobs and value their professional interactions so much that they enjoy situations which socially they may find difficult.
There are many fascinating ideas in this meticulously researched and beautifully expressed book. As a complete bonus I found a section which described one of my children very accurately, and has helped me to understand how to be a better parent. Anyone who has any contact with people, which is all of us, will benefit from reading it.