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Yet he pushes through the constraints of his temperament because the social value of lecturing and speaking--of truly connecting with his students--trumps the discomfort his introversion can cause him. Little calls this phenomenon Free Trait Theory: the idea that while we have certain fixed bits of personality, we can act out of character in the service of core personal goals. The key, he explains, is balancing three equal but very different identities. There's our mostly inborn personality, the one that wants us to be introverted or extroverted; that's the biogenic identity. There are the expectations of our culture, family and religion--the sociogenic identity. And then there are our personal desires and our sense of what matters--the ideogenic identity.
An introvert like Little could live in a way that satisfies his nerves, never leaving the library, but then his ideogenic self would starve. He'd miss out on doing what matters most to him, even if doing it occasionally sends him into a cold sweat. "Am I just going to let things wash over me, or am I going to strike out and change and grow and challenge?" says Little. "The answer depends on what you want out of life."
So it can be for all of us introverts. From the moment we wake up to the second we go to sleep--preferably after relaxing with a book in bed--introverts live in an extrovert's world, and there are days when we'd prefer to do nothing more than stay at home. But while our temperaments may define us, that doesn't mean we're controlled by them--if we can find something or someone that motivates us to push beyond the boundaries of our nerves. I'm happy to be an introvert, but that's not all I am.
TO READ AN ESSAY BY SUSAN CAIN, THE AUTHOR OF QUIET, GO TO TIME.COM/SUSAN-CAIN
Quiz excerpted from Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. http://bit.ly/v0g4SP. Published by Crown Publishers