I've read 500+ books in my twenties. Many of them had a powerful effect on me, but one stands out as being the most formative: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain (which came out five years ago today).
In every personality quiz I've taken, my introvert rating has been at least 95 percent. I've always known I was more of an introvert than an extrovert, but it wasn't until I read this book that I really understood what that meant.
We live in a society that favors extrovert traits. We're told to be assertive if we want to be promoted, to be friendly if we want to be liked, to be charismatic if we want to be remembered.
For years, I tried to develop these traits. I made goals to smile at least once every hour in hopes that it would make it easier to be nice to people (or at least give them an incentive to approach me so I wouldn't have to reach out to them). I worried endlessly about the shy image I was portraying to all but those who knew me best. I worked myself to exhaustion just trying to fake my way through a party. Oftentimes the effort of getting myself out the door would drain what little storage I had for social energy.
Try as I might, I never morphed into what American society deemed an ideal personality type. I made significant improvements in overcoming my shyness, but I was essentially still me. The one who wasn't quite right in the head because she just wanted to hang out at home every Friday night.
Then I read this book.
Gradually, I stopped feeling like I needed to "fix" my introvert flaws. I quit wasting precious energy on becoming something I'm not. I finally learned how to fully embrace the person I am.
Once I understood why I am the way I am, I started paying attention to the things that energized and drained me. I figured out what my limits were, which helped me know when I needed to push myself and when I needed a quiet night at home more. I allowed myself to gravitate toward activities I felt more comfortable in (sports and games rather than whatever the "cool kids" were doing) to make the most of my social time.
Finding that unique balance I needed did more to strengthen me as a person than almost anything else has. I found myself in Quiet, and I've been much happier in my own skin ever since.