Susan Cain — How to Overcome Fear and Embrace Creativity (#357)

Photo by Pasi Salminen

“So often, when you see someone who’s really good at almost anything, it’s because they actually started out exactly the opposite and then they cared so much about fixing that problem.” — Susan Cain

Susan Cain (@susancain) is the author of the bestsellers Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of IntrovertsandQuiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking, the latter of which has been translated into more than 40 languages. Quiet is in its seventh year on The New York Times Best Sellers list, and it was named the number one best book of the year by Fast Company magazine, which also named Susan one of its Most Creative People in Business.

She is the Chief Revolutionary of Quiet Revolution, and her writing has appeared in the The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. Her record-smashing TED talk has been viewed more than 20 million times and was named by Bill Gates as one of his all-time favorite talks.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#357: Susan Cain — How to Overcome Fear and Embrace Creativity

Want to hear more about loving-kindness and mindfulness meditation? Listen to this episode with world-renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg! (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#277: Sharon Salzberg, World-Renowned Meditation Teacher

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


  • Connect with Susan Cain:

Quiet Revolution | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn  | Instagram


  • What initiated Susan’s lifelong fear of public speaking? [06:51]
  • How did the opportunity for Susan to give her now-legendary TED Talk come about, and how was it received at first? [10:12]
  • How do introverts handle group dinners? We all have our strategies. [11:23]
  • Susan asks if the sixth grade me who shied away from recess to read books about fish could foresee the public life I’d lead. For that matter: what happened to me in sixth grade? [13:54]
  • How did Susan begin to overcome her fear of public speaking? [15:38]
  • Even seasoned public speaking veterans don’t go into a TED Talk without a kaleidoscope of nervous butterflies fluttering in their stomachs. [18:34]
  • If professional speakers have a hard time giving a TED Talk, how did Susan ease her way up to being able to give hers — and now travel the world as a public speaker? [20:21]
  • What a lot of great teachers and coaches have in common that gets results. [21:39]
  • What pre-game rituals help Susan prepare for speaking engagements these days? [23:55]
  • Learning how to speak in public magnifies your ability to do almost everything else — just ask Warren Buffett. [25:49]
  • How Toastmasters and a trio of chihuahuas helped me overcome my own reservations about public speaking in preparation for my first presentation at South by Southwest. [26:36]
  • How I prepared for my own TED Talk. [29:43]
  • Crucial pre-TED help Susan got from Adam Grant — who began as a self-described “terrible public speaker” to become the most popular professor at Wharton. [31:25]
  • The importance of rehearsing in front of a live audience before — preferably well before — a big speaking engagement. [33:08]
  • How nervous do I get before speaking in public these days? Are my nerves more manageable now compared to when I began? [34:02]
  • One extra level of pressure you’ll face if you’re preparing for a TED Talk: don’t go over your allotted time…or else. [37:09]
  • As mentioned before, public speaking is a force multiplier for your other skills, and it allows people to see you as an authority. For better or worse, it’s also therapy. [38:29]
  • As someone who considers herself a worrier, what hacks does Susan have for relieving the pressure of her worries? [41:22]
  • Why did Susan decide to leave her career as a Wall Street lawyer to become a writer? [42:59]
  • Necessity isn’t always the mother of invention when it comes to making a living in a creative field. [46:06]
  • From start to finish, how long did it take for Susan to write her first book, and why was her editor’s advice to start from scratch after reading her “terrible” first submission such a relief? [48:57]
  • Now that she’s got two books under her belt, what does Susan’s writing process look like today? [51:20]
  • How does Susan take and organize her notes? [52:13]
  • When it comes to using Scrivener over Microsoft Word, Susan would prefer not to. But here’s why I like it and have used it for writing most of my books. [56:03]
  • After a year or so of taking notes, the real writing begins. While stopping short of calling this part of the process her happy place, Susan enjoys it on several levels. [57:38]
  • As a busy mother, what time of day does Susan tend to write? Without family obligations, when would she prefer to write? [59:03]
  • What does Susan’s schedule look like once she sits down to write? Does she take breaks? If so, how often? [1:00:03]
  • Writing late at night versus early in the morning, and the things many writers will do to (ourselves included) to put off writing. [1:02:09]
  • Books and resources that have had an impact on our writing. [1:04:24]
  • Serendipitous meetings that made each of our first books possible. [1:08:38]
  • Introversion versus shyness. [1:13:59]
  • Books Susan has gifted most. [1:18:16]
  • An aside about the first time I met Sam Harris. [1:19:29]
  • Susan and I share our experiences with loving-kindness (or metta) meditation and lament its avoidance by many who misunderstand the label. [1:22:10]
  • What loving-kindness meditation does for me that mindfulness meditation does not, and something I was doing wrong for years that was eventually corrected. [1:26:00]
  • What would Susan’s billboard say? [1:31:04]
  • What advice would Susan have for people seeking the ability to deeply connect with others? [1:32:30]
  • Susan’s lifelong love of bittersweet and minor key music and a peek into what her next book will be about. [1:33:13]
  • Intentions for my next projected book and parting thoughts. [1:35:38]


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28 Replies to “Susan Cain — How to Overcome Fear and Embrace Creativity (#357)”

  1. Fav 2018 contribution

    “The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth,’ and so it goes away. Puzzling.” — Robert M. Pirsig

    Love your work

    Keith Grisman

  2. Enjoyed unravelling the affinity that I share with you both. This was a calming, inspirational and motivational episode. Thanks Tim.

  3. Cain’s entry in Tribe of Mentors helped bring a lot of clarity to my life; it’s awesome to see her finally on the podcast. Tim (and his team) – we met briefly at a jazz club in London at the end of 2018 while you were with Ed Cooke, but I didn’t want to intrude on your conversation. I work with a film fund in London and would love to talk about the screenplay you’ve mentioned in the past if you’re still looking to have it produced. Shoot me an email if you’re interested!

    1. Hi Tim, I highly appreciate your amazing in depth interviews! I wonder if fear of public speaking is determined by socio-cultural factors and/or context. As you pointed out there is the content, the performance as well as the number of listeners, ambiance and associated expectations. Practice makes perfect, I would say. Inspiring to hear how introverts approach extroverted tasks. I recognize the introverted traits in myself. And many introverts can succeed in extroverted tasks, I believe. Susan I will check out more of your writing.

      Thank you for the two hilarious fragments in this episode: Tim presenting for the dogs in the garage- I practiced with a cat- and the indulgement of stuffed brownies.

  4. Hey Tim,

    I was reading your 5-Bullet Friday newsletter and noticed you have been enjoying doTerra beadlets. My family is heavy users of Young Living essential oils and would love to introduce you to the benefits was have from using them. Let me know if you are interested.

  5. I’d love to see most shows devoted to how we’ll avoid frying the Earth going forward. Rupert Reed’s paper is depressing but important. [Moderator: link removed.]

  6. Liking “Live ” Show – You Guys Rocked at Sturgis ! – Love from Alabama, Come back soon. [Moderator: link to music site removed.]

  7. Hey Tim

    Thoroughly enjoyed the episode because

    * You may have talked as much as she did and my next best conversations besides you interviewing is you being interviewed (haven’t found alot out there)

    * I love that becoming great at what you do doesn’t follow the sterotype of crowd pleaser and all stuff extrovert

    * Cains voice is next to Marie Kondo’s in bringing soothing calm

    *Podcast got me to bring out my.copies of bird by bird and Quiet. Both of which I bought at your commendation but haven’t read.



    [Moderator: removed mention of user-specific technical issue. Wuraola, have emailed you separately.]



  8. I have been standing in front of rooms in a variety of contexts for some 40 years on and off, and the sheer unmanageable terror that comes up for me not only right before I go on, but sometimes for days before–has never gotten the slightest bit easier to endure, despite literally each of my workshops or talks have been totally successful and lauded. Having tried every possible approach that’s out there, I finally arrived at the ONE thing you and Susan didn’t mention, that actually helps me: Valium, and Beta Blockers. The latter is used widely by classical musicians before performances, attorneys before giving their final argument, and others. I felt ashamed that I needed Valium to show up and teach a 90-minute class, so I confessed it to my teacher of that particular work, and she said, “Well, whatever it takes to get you in the room, we need you out there teaching. Just don’t pass them out to the participants.”

    So that was a relief, but the truth is, throughout the 40 years, I consistently reach a point where I grow weary of “feeling the fear and doing it anyway” and give myself extended time off from public appearances–often several years or more. And then I go back, because that’s where the growth is, but it is never easier. I wonder how Dean Martin would respond?

    Thanks Tim and Susan, that was a great conversation to eavesdrop on.

    best, Eliezer Sobel

  9. Hi Tim,

    Loved this episode with Susan Cain! I’m wondering if you’re a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) (also called Sensory Processing Sensitivity). Dr. Elaine Aron coined the term. She has a self-test at [Moderator: link removed.]. My understanding is that Susan Cain weaves in many traits of HSPs when talking about introverts. I’m an HSP and I have a podcast for HSPs; I just did an episode that is all about HSPs. I’m actually wondering if you’re a Highly Sensitive Extrovert (I thought I was an introvert until I learned about the HS Extrovert. Thank you for the amazing work you’re doing! Blessings.

  10. Hey Tim,

    An idea for a podcast. How about talking to select members of your listenership (so normal people!) who have transformed their lives using the tools, habits and routines learned and applied from your podcasts (and/or Tribe/Tools). I would be one example, for which I thank you deeply for your work. There will be many other people but I don’t think we have heard those stories. This is a variation on the theme of Episode #354 covered “Real 4-hour Workweek Case Studies”.

    Two benefits – I think you will enjoy and be touched by an in-depth conversation with people who your work has helped. It also enables others to understand how they might apply change to their lives, which is not easy.

    Duncan, London.

  11. Hi Tim,

    I would like to ask you what is your “magic square”? How did you discover it? And how did you develop it over the years.

    I describe the “magic square” as the greatest value or skill or aptitude or talent that has helped you succeed and become the person you are today.



  12. Hey Tim.

    Thanks for this inspiring session with insights into how Susan Cain found her voice and the confidence to get it out to her audience. All it takes is confidence even when you aren’t sure of the results.

  13. Hi Tim, As always I LOVE your podcasts, interviews and effort.

    I wanted to comment on this interview in particular as mostly I hope you have Susan on again and we can hear more of her story and thoughts. Of the 358 episodes you have so far, I have counted 39 interviews with women. (all of which I have LOVED) While I VERY much appreciate the amazing interviews you have with men, and/or your personal ones, as a women when you interview incredible women is it such an opportunity for us as other women to become inspired, learn, feel connected to and well feel our potential. I felt that in this interview I listened to more about you than Susan, and was disappointed. As an introvert I was most excited to hear her story and her wisdom.

    Thanks for having her on the show, comment comes with respect.

    1. p.s the 39 was a count from your site. I believe I’ve missed people, like the amazing Samin Nosrat… thanks again Tim.

    2. I absolutely agree with this comment. I was really excited to hear everything Susan had to say and was disappointed by how little we heard from her and how much we heard from Tim. Not that Tim isn’t interesting and insightful, but I was here to learn from Susan. I hope there will be another episode with her where she’s given the space to speak more deeply.

  14. I’m curious if what you recall about books when being a child was a form of fetishism. It’s a fact that books do something to you. I wonder if it’s just the pace of consuming them is entirely up to one’s own capacity of understanding language, nonetheless, the power of abstracting language and mutating it into lush and prosper brain images. This is what they do to me. In fact, I collect them, I collect books; classics mainly, some rare ones too, in languages that I don’t speak properly. I envision having them all over in the house of my dreams. Your post on Instagram struck me, the one that the caption read something like ‘why not just books?’ referring to the extra words used in the signage. Anyway, this is to tell you that I have ordered three of your books: Tools of Titans, which arrived today, I ordered it to a friend’s place who lives in London. We have this routine of me purchasing one or two books from Amazon, and then he finds other books either in his basement or from this father’s library and he posts me 4 to 6 books each time. He doesn’t read at all. Only news about Brexit. He doesn’t understand why I like books so much, and I don’t get why he spends so much time on The Guardian and puffing while he scrolls. When I visit him, he knows I want to stop at every Oxfam, that’s his cue to open his phone. Because of the books, he once said: ‘is one of the many reasons I still think your swell.’ But he referred to this activity as ‘endearing’. I believe it’s a beautiful word to express also what you felt/feel for books.

  15. As always, fantastic podcast Tim. Also a big thanks to Susan for being so open and for helping you share some more of your personal stories (e.g. Sam Harris brownie). I just wanted to say that I sensed some amazing chemistry between you both and that I think you should collaborate in some form together. I’m not sure what but I think the sum of you two would be far greater than otherwise possible. Anyway just my thoughts. Keepup the amazing work Tim 👌

  16. Would love to know the Korean monks name Susan mentioned?

    Enjoy listening to calm contemplatives

    In metta,


  17. I was hoping you would ask her thoughts on MBTI, which I became interested in lately. You often refer to yourself as ‘Type A personality’, while more specifically you strike me as a well-developed INTJ. Although I’m skeptic (about any psychology research for that matter), I believe it’s an interesting and useful tool for self analysis, as well as coming to the realization how people are different. Maybe something to dive in more deeply with a future guest (or a second episode with Susan, which I would love to hear).

  18. Thank you both so much for this insightful interview. I’ll be trying to channel everything I’ve learned here and from your other amazing podcasts Tim as I make my terrified way to the presentation stage at SXSW! Looking forward to seeing you there to inspire me even more. Love your messaging in all your books and your podcasts. HUGE fan!

  19. Hi Tim,

    I would like to ask you what is your “magic square”? How did you discover it? And how did you develop it over the years.

    I describe the “magic square” as the greatest value or skill or aptitude or talent that has helped you succeed and become the person you are today.


    1. Would love to know the Korean monks name Susan mentioned?

      Enjoy listening to calm contemplatives

      In metta,

      [Moderator: link removed.]

  20. Hi Tim, just listened to this awesome episode and needed to get in touch. Have you ever come across the work of Dr Elaine Arron? She has discovered high sensitivity in people, about 15% of people born with an innate trait to experience the world in a highly sensitive way. [Moderator: link removed.]

    You mention you consider yourself an introvert, but she may help you discover you are a Highly Sensitive extrovert. Coming across this has transformed the way I understand myself and helped me make sense of so much. A lot of it resonated when you talked about impact of sounds and crowds.

  21. Tim,

    Susan’s Quiet spoke to me in ways that I had never felt before. I feel that the introversion-extroversion converasdtion has, of the times, just begun. I’m asking for more Susan Cain, is there a way you could mix in how it relates to the medical arena, maybe with the research you’ve performed before and again in addition to anything noticeable or worth mentioning.