In a lot of the books, television shows and movies I experienced as a kid, there was usually a “shy” character. Maybe they were a little nervous or maybe they just liked being alone. Then there was usually a more outgoing character or group of characters that would pull the "shy" characters into their world, encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone and then poof! By the end of the story, they were “cured” of this shyness and free to live their life as loudly and as socially as they wanted.
It seems like an innocent enough thing. The problem with this? From a young age, it creates the myth that being shy or introverted is just a phase that needs to be cured as soon as a worthy, outgoing person comes along. Introverts are not your community service project. This is a myth that will follow many introverts throughout their entire lives but especially during the pressures of high school and college years. I believe in order to avoid believing such stereotypes during these pivotal moments of our lives, we need to take a moment and listen to those who may see the world just a little bit differently than we do. In order to make the world a more understanding place, we need to listen to their thoughts, their beliefs and most importantly, their fears.
1. Destiny, Illinois, Class of 2020
"A fear I had going into college as an introvert was if I would be able to make friends. As an introvert, I like to [keep] to myself and not go to a lot of the social events, but in college they teach you to go out more. I went to some parties, but I would usually be one of the first people to leave because I get tired from using up all of my energy being around a lot of people. Communication was a little hard because I didn’t know how to start a conversation with a lot of people, but I found a few people that I can talk with about anything. It’s not like being a social butterfly and saying hi to everyone, but if I find someone interesting to talk with, I try to make small conversations.”
2. Madison, Louisiana, Class of 2021
“A primary misconception about being an introvert is that we are shy. Personally, I would refer to myself as reserved rather than shy. This is because it is not that I am afraid to speak up, but it’s that I’d rather keep some thoughts to myself. A funny part I love about being introverted is that I do keep thoughts and comments to myself and my own sense of humor cracks me up, so laughing at my own thoughts is a pretty humorous experience. It’s almost like I have two personalities: A seemingly more extroverted and outgoing disposition with my friends and a quiet, innocent attitude with everyone else. It’s definitely the best of both worlds, and I am easily able to tell when I’m becoming close with people depending on how much insight and humor I show them."
3. Re’Nyqua, Georgia, Class of 2020
“I absolutely love being an introvert. Whereas some people get anxious about being alone, I adore time to myself. It has really allowed me to fall in love with myself and discover my personality. However, a recurring fear I have in college as an introvert is dating. Putting myself in spaces to romantically connect with someone seems unlikely since I value my personal time and space. It’s complex enough to maintain friendships as an introvert so maintaining a relationship as an introvert seems challenging.”
4. Ariana, New Jersey, Class of 2020
“I’m an introvert and I value my alone time. However, I still enjoy being social every once in a while. I enjoy going to parties sometimes and I place a lot of value on being in a sorority and being a part of a social group.”
5. Elizabeth, Texas, Class of 2020
“For as long as I can remember, the time I spend alone has tended to be much more fun and rich than the time I spend with others. I used to romanticize this lone-wolf attitude I saw in myself and thought of it as me against the world. But halfway through high school, I realized that everything I had and everything I wanted involved helping or hanging out with others. I pushed myself to be more social and learn from my mistakes, and soon people scoffed at my insistence that I was an introvert.
But while I can now break the ice and charm strangers and make quick friends at camp, I’ve also gotten myself into nasty habits of exhausting myself, developing FOMO [fear of missing out], giving into near constant self-doubt and social anxiety, treating hangouts with friends like a chore and worst of all, becoming that overly-happy, obnoxious, annoying extrovert who never considers that different people like different things. I now occasionally 'treat myself' by letting myself eat meals alone at the dining hall or have a 'me' day, but the social brainwashing against introversion has completely taken hold of me. Instead of romanticizing my independence and mental richness, I now look at people eating alone in the dining hall and wrongly say, ‘Poor kid, I bet they want some company.’”
6. Alexandria, California, Class of 2021
“Part of my introversion includes that I don’t start conversations easily. This means I, more often than not, need to be asked or welcomed into a group before I’ll join it. I suppose my biggest fear for college is that everyone will be so excited and outgoing that they won’t go out of their way to acknowledge me or get to know me. I’ve had the same group of friends for nearly my entire life and now I’m moving across the country, so yes — that fear is crippling at times. If there’s any extroverts reading this, look out for those introverts in your life. If you don’t have any, find some.”
As for me personally, I can't help but get frustrated with the correlation society has created between being an introvert and being "shy" or "helpless." Shy is an adjective, while introversion is a way of life. This might come as a surprise to people that don't know me as well, but those who I am close with know that I am pretty much the farthest thing from shy. I just like keeping some things to myself and need some alone time every now and again.
To the extroverts out there, it's true that some introverts may want that extra push. And by all means, you should definitely reach out to them. More often than not, your act of kindness will be greatly appreciated. However, respect our wishes to be alone sometimes or stay exactly the way that makes us happy. At the end of the day, we are no different from you. Just please don't tell us we "need" to break out of our shell. It's up to us, and only us, as to what we "need" to do.
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