I totally understand the regretful feeling when someone in the lecture hall shouts the correct answer that has lingered in your mind since the teacher first posed the question. Oftentimes, you knew it was the right answer, and you weren’t exactly afraid of receiving negative feedback, but the spacious auditorium filled with dozens of students was simply too overwhelming. Born as an introvert, I have lived my life trying to avoid huge lecture-room classes and have learned to accept friends’ and families’ commands to, “Speak up.” “Be social.” “Talk to more people.” “Don’t be shy.”
It always seems to them that introversion is a plague, associated with antisocial, shy, and rude attitudes (completely inaccurate); therefore, teachers and parents try to teach every student and child—regardless of personality types—to become extroverts in order to better fit in today’s society.
I used to belong to that group of people, thinking the only way for me to succeed is to conceal my introvert identity and behave like a “pseudo-extrovert.” During high school interviews, I portrayed myself as an outgoing Asian—fighting against the stereotype—and I indeed got offers from my top choice schools, but I wasn’t happy in that competitive, loud environment. In class, I tried to raise my voice to the level of screaming, which still couldn’t compete with many of my classmates’ normal pitch. I attempted to shout the answer right after the teacher asked a question, but my response was spontaneous, not thoughtful. At social gatherings, I donned my “extrovert” hat and mask, walking around introducing myself to everyone; my energy was drained very quickly. When riding in my friend’s car, I tried to fit in and dance to the loud rock music, but honestly, the hard beats were suffocating. All of my attempts were driven by the recognition that popularity and attractiveness arise only from extroverted behaviors.
Not until I came across the book “Quiet” written by Susan Cain, did I realize how much unnecessary stress I had brought to myself. Cain’s words really helped me understand myself; she taught me to recognize my identity and be proud. For example, many people—including my old self—usually associate introversion with shy and rude behaviors. However, those two concepts lie on completely different spectrums; shyness refers to someone’s fear and anxiety of human interactions, and introversion simply means someone prefers less mental stimulation from the environment. In other words, you could be a shy extrovert who desires large social gathering but is also afraid of meeting people. Similarly, you could be an introvert but not shy and just love to keep a few close friends. These are totally fine characters. Because we have grown up in different communities and built different relationships, your experience is constantly shaping your identity. There is no need to be ashamed of who you are because this society needs diversity, and the interaction of diversity fosters further greatness.
I know you all have seen the power of extroversion some time in your life, and you are probably hesitant about ditching your “pseudo-extrovert” mask. However, let’s acknowledge the fact that introverts and extroverts ought to share this world, and many of the most successful figures—such as J. K. Rowling (author of “Harry Potter”), Bill Gates (the Microsoft billionaire), and Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple)—are introverts. In the arena of leadership, introverts don’t necessarily do poorly. Instead, we are naturally inclined to be more patient—listen more and judge less. Just from my experience as president of school clubs, I usually get more creative ideas during club meetings when I remain quiet. For example, many of the fundraising events were planned when I was not casting judgement or setting the parameter for discussion. People would just throw out ideas and then build up on each other’s suggestions. Plus, introvert leaders can excel in decision-making processes because they are less prone to let impulse drive them. Taking time to ponder the pros and cons before expressing agreement or disagreement usually generates a more thorough and thoughtful response.
Yes, I have learned that I can be an introvert while leading student organizations, that I can be an introvert while having several understanding friends, and that I can be an introvert while succeeding in discussion-based classes. Introversion is a lovely trait, granting one creativity, patience, and reason. If you identity as an introvert, wear this “label” proudly and embrace the wonderful being that you are.
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