I’ve been quiet all of my life. When I was younger it was more of a problem — I was SO shy. Middle school was the worst. I would literally panic before raising my hand in class. I shudder thinking back on it.
I eased into it more in high school, I think. I was definitely quiet, but less nervous. I had a great group of friends that knew me for me.
I struggled during my first year of college. I went to Penn State, which was massive, and all of my classes were massive. While I found a few people in each class, I never really felt at home. Meanwhile, a lot of my high school friends started there over the summer and created bonds before I even stepped foot on campus. After a year, I decided to leave for somewhere smaller, in hopes I might better connect with new friends in a place that felt a bit more like home. I had zero regrets. I again found a close group of friends that I could be myself around, joined a sorority (surprising even myself, but I loved it), and met my husband. While I was still shy and perhaps a little nervous in the rest of my college years, I was happy and having fun. I think about the responsibilities of adulthood (crap, I need to do my taxes, like, yesterday…and I should probably fold that towering pile of laundry) and I miss the days of frat parties and Sunday Funday immensely.
If I were to go back now, I’d still be quiet. But I’d be way more confident. I’m 30 now, and I appreciate my personality way more than I did at 20. I always felt that introversion was something negative, and that being “quiet” was frowned upon. It was annoying, and certainly put a lot of pressure on me to be something that I quite frankly was not. Did that mean I was void of thought? No. Did that mean I did not know how to have fun? Um, no. Did that mean that you made me feel uncomfortable when putting me on the spot? Yes. Does this trait make me a better teacher? I think so, because I really think about the “quiet ones” before calling kids out. Just don’t do it, people! It will make everything so much worse, seriously. I know myself, and I know that it takes sometimes a long time for me to warm up to new people. Especially if that new person’s personality is the complete opposite of mine.
A few years ago, I watched Susan Cain’s TED Talk, The Power of Introverts, and I’m pretty sure that’s when I became more confident in my introversion. It was freeing! It was COOL and USEFUL and POWERFUL to be quiet. I always knew that deep down, but lots of times the “loud ones” made me second guess myself. She talks about how she often felt wronged for being introverted. I totally connected with that. I knew that to be a good leader, or a good thinker, it helps to have the confidence to share those ideas, but it is also so critical to have the restraint to think through ideas and listen to others. A leader’s ideas aren’t always the best ideas. She points out the psychologically obvious – we often follow the most charismatic and confident in the group. This leads to groupthink, and the recent emphasis on “group work” doesn’t allow for truly independent thought. Introverts, on the other hand, often make fabulous leaders because they are more careful and allow for multiple ideas to come to fruition. It’s not “my way or the highway.”
Cain also discusses, and I completely agree, how we are never simply an extrovert or an introvert. She said that such a person would probably be completely insane. We all exist on a continuum of extroversion. I’m mostly introverted, but there are times, of course, that I love to go out with my friends, dance, and do more “extroverted things.” I would never, ever wish to be alone one hundred percent of the time. It’s just that retreating to my own private world reenergizes me after the more exhausting social experiences that are also fun.
Now, I’m a modern, progressive teacher and human being that completely agrees with the importance of teamwork and collaboration. It takes a village, after all. But I could not survive in an environment that didn’t allow me to fully process my own thoughts, first. My ideas and contributions would be so weak otherwise.
As an introvert, I’m a listener. I’m an over-thinker. I get reenergized when I spend time by myself (or with my family and closest friends). Yes, sometimes I tune out. I don’t mean to, and if I offend you, I deeply apologize. There’s just a lot going on up there, ya know? I’m probably overthinking something incredibly minor. Susan Cain talks a lot about the “suitcase” that we call carry around with us. Your suitcase might be full of activity, parties, and organized group events. I’m finally unpacking mine, I think. Mine is more quiet, but full nonetheless. Mine is full of thoughts, reflections, and ideas. Susan Cain calls us to open and share our suitcases because the world needs it. So I’ll open mine, if you open yours.
What is in your suitcase? Have you shared it yet? I’m doing something that scares me everyday in order to open my suitcase, but it feels so good. I dare you to do the same!