Some of the greatest minds of our time and the most successful people in different industries – from film and technology to literature and science – have been strong, silent types; shy people who have proven that you can be both quiet and a leader.
1. Rosa Parks
While she may own one of the loudest moments in history in the name of equal rights when in 1955 she refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man, Rosa Parks was also known for being notoriously soft-spoken and reserved.
Her memoir was even titled Quiet Strength. In her book Quiet: The Power Of introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain writes, at the time of Parks’s death, “the flood of obituaries recalled her as soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature. They said she was ‘timid and shy’ but had ‘the courage of a lion.’ They were full of phrases like ‘radical humility’ and ‘quiet fortitude.’”
As one of the most iconic presidents of the United States, Abraham Lincoln has long been considered an imposing character in history. But Lincoln was also known for being the strong, silent type who never felt particularly comfortable around others – even as the leader of the country.
According to Charles Francis Adams, Jr., grandson of President John Quincy Adams, “He seemed shy to a degree, and very awkward in manner; as if he felt out of place, and has a realizing sense that properly the positions should be reversed.”
He may have created Facebook, but – if David Fincher’s The Social Network didn’talready make it clear – Mark Zuckerberg has always been a lone wolf. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told The New York Times in 2010 that the founder and CEO, “is shy and introverted and he often does not seem very warm to people who don’t know him, but he is warm.” He may be quiet, she added, but “he really cares about the people who work here.”
Still considered the king of late night for being a great conversationalist with wit and charm to spare; off-screen, Johnny Carson was known for being the exact opposite. The late night television host was once dubbed “the most private public man who ever lived.”
His friends and co-workers called him everything from “anti-social” to “uncomfortable.” “He was a classic introvert – the kind of person who’s recharged by being alone and depleted by being among people,” Andrew Nicholls, Carson’s head writer from 1988 to 1992, once said. “He’d get into his car with a palpable sense of relief after a show, like, ‘That was good; now I’d like to be alone in the dark listening to jazz.’”
She may have four Oscar nominations to her name, having won for playing VirginiaWoolf in The Hours in 2003, but Nicole Kidman has never been quiet about her shyness off camera. She once said, “I am very shy, really shy. I even had a stutter as a kid, which I slowly got over, but I still regress into that shyness. So I don’t like walking into a crowded restaurant by myself; I don’t like going to a party by myself.”
He had no problem spinning rhymes around just about anyone, but if there was anything that scared Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodor Seuss Geisel, the most, it was his young readers. And so he became a recluse, rarely leaving his home. In their 1995 book, The Grinch Behind the Cat in the Hat, co-authors Judith and Neal Morgan wrote that Seuss was shy and afraid of disappointing his readers if they were ever to meet him, soon developing a fear of large crowds and publicity of any kind.
“I’m just geeky and shy and I like to code”— if those aren’t the prerequisites to owning Silicon Valley, what are? Marissa Mayer famously took over the CEO reigns at Yahoo in 2012, but how did she begin her career? As the first female engineer at Google all the way back in 1999, where she quickly climbed the ranks despite her preference for peace and being quiet.
He may be one of the most iconic directors in the business, behind such movies as E.T., Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, with a whopping 16 Oscar nominations to his name (and three wins), but Steven Spielberg would much rather have his movies to do the talking. In an interview with Nigel Farndale, the director admitted, “I work overtime to put up a facade to persuade people that I am not shy. I know how to break the ice better than I used to – but I still have a shaky stomach before I go to a party, even before I sit down for dinner with close friends.”
Nicole Kidman might have taken a page from Audrey Hepburn’s book, who lent the screen a similarly sweet charm, but was known for being soft-spoken and shy behind the scenes. Her son, Luca Dotti, recently said to the Mail Online that his mother was “very shy” about her fame and for being seen as a “beauty icon.” She herself once said, “I’m an introvert … I love being by myself, love being outdoors, love taking a long walk with my dogs and looking at the trees, flowers, the sky.”
With one of the loudest personalities and styles in music, Elton John also happens to be a subdued man underneath. Rufus Wainwright, a close friend, once told Q Magazine, “I don’t think people are aware of how shy he is. He’s a bit like the Wizard of Oz. On the one hand there’s this big pomp and circumstance, but really beneath it all there’s this very sweet little guy who’s constantly feeling very insignificant, which is ironic of course. What I’m saying is, he’s quite shy.”
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