I knew I should call myself an introvert when I was in middle school, and haven’t stopped since. It seemed like a natural categorization— I tended to prefer the quiet, liked going to the library during lunchtime, and I rarely strayed from the small friend group I made. It was common for my peers to put themselves into these classifications of introverts and extroverts, and I accepted that I belonged to the former.
I’d always assumed that my inclination toward the quiet was a flaw.
I wasn’t as outgoing as many of the people around me and hated large crowds and gatherings. This definitely affected my self-esteem. I felt afraid to initiate conversations with people I didn’t know, and less likely to try to make connections all throughout my high school experience.
I thought college would be like high school, with such little variation in my life, my routine or my friends. As the first semester of my college freshman year approached, I began to grasp how different my life would become. My high school friends were all going elsewhere and I began a school that no one in my family went to before. I found myself looking for a crutch to feel comfortable there and already planned what corner of the library to retreat to during my breaks.
That’s when I had to stop and think— was this how I wanted my college experience to begin?
I already accepted my classification of an introvert as a weakness, and if I wanted things to change, I needed to become an extrovert. The prospect of this felt daunting and distressing. I thought I needed to hollow out the person I was, the person who I thought was holding me back, in order to attain a strong college experience. That I needed to love crowds and be out-going and expressive. I needed to befriend everyone in my classes. I needed to speak out. This would be difficult, of course, but I had to try.
When I sat down in each class, I turned to the person next to me and made myself speak. I said something small and innocuous. I’ve heard really good things about the professor, or I love your binder— things I always thought and kept to myself, and now I forced myself to say out loud. When the professor asked a question, I answered even if I wasn’t sure it was correct— surely trying proved better than just sitting there.
In the first two weeks, I pushed myself to every limit possible.
It felt like I finally achieved what I wanted. I made friends in my courses, became familiar and amicable with several professors and appeared generally outspoken. I achieved everything I always wanted to do but previously felt too afraid to ever act on. Still, I couldn’t keep it up.
Soon, when friends invited me to sit with them between classes, I declined to work alone in the library. With a lot of work, that thing that seemed so integral to a core part of myself — my introvert self — wanted to work alone. No matter how happy I felt with the results of my extroverted facade, it seemed impossible to keep it going. I feared my life would fall apart— that I stagnated with only vague familiarity with my friends and professors. Monotony, I feared, would take over.
I was wrong and didn’t even realize it at first.
Only until my friends asked me to join the executive board of a club did it finally dawn on me. People didn’t care that I was quiet, and they still saw the positive aspects of my life, like my academic and organizational skills. My friends didn’t mind if I wanted to sit alone a lot of the time. Saving that energy helped me speak up more in classes. I didn’t need to become someone else to get what I hoped for from college.
Introversion isn’t my crutch, but instead my tendency to perceive it as a weakness. Feeling so afraid and anxious about being someone so internally-directed, I let it affect how I thought others saw me. I didn’t need to like large crowds or go to big parties; however, I needed to know my words carried worth. What I needed was to gain the confidence to talk if I wanted to and to walk away if I needed space. I am a junior now and on the executive board of two clubs. I talk to other people who classify themselves as introverts, and they seem to understand. They even helped me to articulate it myself. It seems we all experience this. The conclusion isn’t that we need to “fix” who we are, but we need confidence in it.