California; La Crescenta — For as long as I can remember, I have been the kind of child who hides behind their parents at social gatherings in an effort to not draw attention to herself. In elementary school, I often felt the most comfortable sitting in the back of the classroom, where the pressure to raise my hand and participate subsided.
Similar tendencies have followed me to high school, where I find myself constantly feeling drained after being in a crowd and frequently sitting in the corner of a room as others converse. I never thought of my introverted qualities as something negative until elementary school. To some, I was “the shy kid.” To others, I was a “loner.” And, of course, to others, I was simply “weird.”
Over time, I began hearing more and more misconceptions surrounding introverts being tossed around by some of my peers. Inevitably, these flawed ideas of who introverts are influenced the way I viewed myself. But, I have come to understand that society is wrong about introverts; society has wrongfully masked the true meaning of an introvert with mislabels.
Dear Society, Not All Introverts Are “Shy”
“Hi, everyone! Let’s gather around the rug to introduce ourselves,” said my kindergarten teacher on the first day of school. These words sparked a multitude of negative emotions within me. Reluctantly walking to the rug, I kept my head down at all costs. As soon as I sat down, I recognized the sweat covering my palms. Trying to subside my nervousness, I wiped my sweaty hands on my pants and took a deep breath.
Only two more people have to go before it’s my turn, I told myself.
After the boy sitting next to me announced his name and, per the teacher’s request, shared his favorite color, it was my turn. With everyone’s eyes on me, I froze.
Come on, just say something, the voice inside my head demanded.
I only opened my mouth to close it again, as my breathing suddenly turned heavy. Finally, after a few moments, I quietly introduced myself.
Before the classmates to my right began speaking, my teacher looked me in the eyes and smiled. “I see you're shy! Don’t worry, sweetie.”
While her words were meant to calm me, they, in fact, did the opposite.
Why can’t I just be normal?
Being introverted and shy do not go hand in hand. The so-called “shyness” I experienced from an early age was truly just anxiety surrounding meeting new people. I, as a person, was not shy, but rather introverted.
There is a vast difference between being shy and being an introvert. Someone who is shy tends to feel uncomfortable when in a social setting. On the other hand, someone who is an introvert simply thrives off of focusing on their internal thoughts and ideas.
Dear Society, Introverts Can Be Great Leaders
A glossy layer of tears covers my eyes. While biting my lip in an effort to hold the tears back, I race to the bathroom. Once I storm into a stall, dozens and dozens of tears cascade down my red cheeks. The tears don’t stop; feelings of anger and sadness consume me all at once. As soon as I hear someone else enter the bathroom, I dry the tears on my face, tighten my ponytail, and roll my shoulders back to stand up straight before leaving.
After making a speech in front of my entire grade, urging them to vote for me for class representative, I overheard one of my classmates whisper into their friend’s ear that I am “too quiet” to be on the class’s cabinet.
Despite my ambition and determination, my introverted characteristics often translate to not having the drive to succeed and not acquiring the needed qualities to be a leader. Being “too quiet” does not negate my motivation to achieve my goals. Being “too quiet” does not invalidate my passions.
At the end of the school day, the results of the election were announced: I was voted to be class representative. While this news put a huge smile on my face, I, more importantly, learned that being “too quiet” or introverted will not stop me and should not stop me from reaching my goals.
There were two victories that day.
Dear Society, Stop Belittling Introverts So We Can Stop Belittling Ourselves
When society stops labeling introverted individuals as “antisocial” or “cold,” introverts will stop belittling themselves. When society stops interpreting introverts’ quietness as being “rude,” introverts will stop belittling themselves. When society stops judging introverts for preferring solitude over social gatherings, introverts will stop belittling themselves.