For the past month I’ve been reading two books that were very different but struck similar chords for me. The first was Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain.  Mark and I read it together, and I have a short write-up at GoodReads. The second was The Renaissance Soul: life design for people with too many passions to pick just one by Margaret Lobenstine, which I also reviewed very briefly.

Quiet by Susan CainIn short, Quiet is definitely the stronger of the two books in terms of research, style, and information.  But Renaissance Soul, despite the over-reliance on anecdotes and some silliness, has a lot of value to offer, too.  Chapters 3, 4, and 9 of Renaissance Soul were extremely helpful.  Lobenstine guides the reader through several simple exercises that actually accomplish quite a bit. Basically, you determine your 5 main values – the things that come before everything else, such as family, health, education.  Whatever is actually important to you, not the things you just give lip-service to.  With these 5 values in hand, you then identify your myriad interests and passions, whittling the list down to 4 “focal points” – the projects or goals that you will focus on for a set period of time (say, a year) before it’s time to move on to a different set of focal points.  Lobenstine likens this to choosing a sampler collection of ice cream flavors, or trying a flight of different beers.  It’s a strategy for making decisions – you’re not stuck with just one interest, but you don’t have to feel overwhelmed by trying to do everything.  Less is more.  To help narrow down and choose your focal points, you go back to your 5 values,  prioritize their importance to you and align your interests with your values.

Susan Cain mentioned something similar in Quiet, but she called it “core personal projects” instead of values.  Cain made the assumption that readers would have more or less the same core personal projects all their lives, whereas Lobenstine acknowledged that even our values can change over time.  I find some truth in both ways of thinking.

Reading these books helped me pinpoint what was most important to me.  For example, money and success did not show up in any of my lists.  My values from Renaissance Soul are: Relationships, Health, Creativity, Learning, and Environment.  My core personal projects from Quiet are: writing, creating, and finding a place to call home.

Once you use your values to set out focal points, I would recommend skipping ahead in Renaissance Soul to Chapter 9 where the author takes you through the PRISM test, which is awesome for clarifying each focal point into something precise and manageable.  Chapter 10’s tips for time management are also helpful, though reminiscent of approaches like Getting Things Done.

The Renaissance SoulIn Renaissance Soul’s Chapter 7 – Alternative Resources – I saw the widest gap – or divide – between Lobenstine’s clearly extroverted mentality and Cain’s introverted preferences.  Again and again, Lobenstine’s advice for moving forward is to call people, talk to people, network with people, throw parties.  Cain, on the other hand, repeatedly mentions the need for alone time, quiet reflection, curling up with a good book.  Guess which one most appealed to me?  But there was one idea from Renaissance Soul that could appeal to introverts and yet still be social.  Lobenstine suggests throwing a “resource sharing party” or as I’ll call it, a “wish party.”  Each guest brings with them 3 “wishes” or requests for information / help.  These should be realistic, not something like “how do I get a million dollars?” but something more along the lines of “how do I get started in learning  to make pottery?”  As each guest arrives, they get a note card with a great big number on it.  When it’s time to start the wishing, everyone sits in a circle and the person with #1 on their card goes first – stating their first wish and jotting down the numbers of anyone who raises their card, indicating they have some tips or information that might help.  If #1 does not get any response to their first wish, they move on to their second wish.  Once a person has resources for a wish, though, the circle continues to the next person, so the first wish should be the highest priority since the other two might not get read. This all happens very quickly, and then the “wish party” is open to more general socializing and people seek out the folks who were identified as having some helpful information for them.  For introverts, this is perfect because it means having specific reasons to talk to people, and only talking in small groups once the circle part is over.  Also, it cuts through chit-chat small talk which, according to Cain, can make introverts rather cranky.

In the end, I benefited from reading both of these books and I think reading them at the same time worked out really well.  From Renaissance Soul, I have a list of specific goals and a timeline which actually feels realistic.  From Quiet, I have several other book recommendations (I think I’ll finally get around to reading Flow now) and better ways of articulating what I need to myself and others.  I’m counting these both as part of my Creativity theme for the 2/3 Book Challenge, since they both informed my thinking on how I might get more involved with creative projects.

But there is one last thing …

One of the similarities between these two books is the undertone of an “us and them” premise.  Both start with short quizes to determine if you, the reader, are indeed among the “us” of the book.  Both spend a little time reassuring readers that it’s not bad to be an “us” and describing the various ways in which “us and them” differ from each other. In both cases, the authors seemed to suffer from some anxiety with their identity early on as a result of being an “us” in a world full of “them”.

At the same time, the books have different ways of handling this “us and them” idea. In Renaissance Soul, Lobenstine uses the metaphor of being a swan among ducks, or a Ben Franklin among Mozarts. Cain shows a lot of respect, admiration, and sympathy for extroverts while simultaneously expressing some frustration with the assumptions and expectations extroverts make of their introverted friends and colleagues.

Neither book was over-the-top with this, but I definitely noticed it. Fortunately, both authors were careful to point out that there are spectrums, not black-and-white binaries, to these kinds of behavior patterns.  I still worry, though, when anyone starts using “us and them” terms, of that tendency to slide into a “they are the other” way of thinking. So if you do read either (or both) of these books, just remember that we’re all a mish-mash of every possibility.