I started the Inspiration Interview Series because I wanted to know more about the people who share their work with the world and inspire me to practice courage, be creative, and dream big. Susan Cain is one of those people. Meet Susan!
I met Susan at TED. Her talk on "The Power of Introverts" had me crying and cheering. People often find it hard to believe that I am an introvert, but I am. I just didn't have the words to describe it until I read Susan's book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Susan's writing on introversion has struck a global nerve. Quiet is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into more than 20 languages. Her writing on introversion and shyness has appeared in newspapers and magazines all over the world, including the The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; and Time.com. You can check out all of her media coverage here.
Her TED talk - the one that had me tears - is the most rapidly viewed talk in TED history. Grab a cup of tea and watch it here.
To celebrate Susan's book and incredible work, we're giving away three copies of Quiet. Just leave your name in the comments section and we'll draw winners on Monday. If you're reading this post on e-mail or Facebook, please leave your comments here for the drawing.
Enjoy the interview!
On Vulnerability, Authenticity and Courage
Creativity, innovation, and truth-telling can be very vulnerable in our culture which is why we often feel deeply inspired when we see it. We’d love to know more about how you find the courage to share your authentic self and your work with the world.
1. Vulnerability is: Telling the truth about what you really think and fear.
2. What role does vulnerability play in your work? Ha! Vulnerability IS my work. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was four. But I’ve always been drawn to writing about tender, raw, personal subjects– so at first I decided that I’d have to confine my writing to journal entries that no one would ever see.
It’s only recently that I’ve screwed up the courage to share my ideas with the world. With QUIET, I had to get used to the world seeing me through the “introvert” lens. This is uncomfortable, because introversion is stigmatized in our culture – I mean, that’s the raison d’etre of the book! If it weren’t stigmatized, I wouldn’t have had to write it in the first place. But I’ve gotten used to the exposure over time.
3. What does authenticity mean to you and how do you practice it in your work? I’ve always felt that one-on-one interactions are the most true and sublime form of communication. So I try to keep that mentality even when I’m writing or speaking to a crowd. I practiced my TED talk with a presentation coach, and we spent the whole first day just sitting on a couch facing each other, while I said the words to him and he gave me his reactions.
4. Is perfectionism an issue for you? If so, what’s one of your strategies for managing it? It’s a HUGE issue. Deadlines are the only real way to manage it. If something is due, then my perfectionist nature tells me I have to meet the deadline and just get on with things.
5. What inspires you? The feeling I get when an artist or writer expresses in a gorgeous way something I’ve always felt but never had words for. Proust called reading a “miracle of communication in the midst of solitude,” and I love those moments of connection with a writer I’ve never met and who might not even be alive anymore.
6. What’s something that gets in the way of your creativity and how do you move through it? Fear inhibits creativity, especially the fear of being judged. But personal conviction is the great vanquisher of fear. When I feel afraid of potential criticism, or wounded when it comes, I ask myself: Do you really believe in what you said or wrote – in the thing that’s bringing criticism? And if I do believe it, I can withstand anything. Not that criticism doesn’t sting – sometimes I feel punched in the stomach momentarily. But the moment does pass.
7. Describe a snapshot of a joyful moment in your life. Putting my two boys to bed. They snuggle on either side of me while I read a book or tell them a story. Pure heaven.
8. Do you have a mantra or manifesto for living and loving with your whole heart? “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” – Mary Lou Kownacki (via my friend Courtney Martin, who signs off all her emails with these words.)
Now, for some fun!
From James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio
What is your favorite word? Chocolate.
What is your least favorite word? Paperwork.
What sound or noise do you love? Wind blowing gently in the trees.
From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme
Favorite show on television? The Discovery Channel used to have a show called Sunrise Earth, where they filmed sunrises in high def, around the globe. I used to have it on in the background while I edited my book. Lovely.
Favorite movie? Breakfast at Tiffanys.
Best concert? Leonard Cohen’s recent world tour. I saw him in Connecticut.
If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be? "HAVE THE COURAGE TO SPEAK SOFTLY or INTROVERSION IS THE NEW BLACK.
Favorite meal? Anything prepared in a great Indian restaurant.
A talent you wish you had? Singing (Though truthfully, since I have stage fright, I’m much better off as a writer.)
Dream vacation? Sitting on my front porch looking at the magnolia trees.
What’s on your nightstand? The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell
From Smith Magazine’s Six Word Memoirs
Your six-word memoir: I loved, I mothered, I wrote. (Is that too sappy? I hate having to avoid the truth for fear of being sappy! Those are the three important things in my life, hands down).
I don't know about y'all, but I don' think loving, mothering, and writing is sappy at all! Sounds like the best parts of my life!
Hope you enjoyed meeting Susan! Don't forget to leave your name in the comments.
Congrats to Jessica T., Namizm A., and Denise B.