Being quiet is not celebrated.
Unless a tired parent or a fed- up elementary school teacher just wants their kids to shut up already, then being quiet means you’re “the good kid.”
But as children and young adults, we seek the approval of our peers more than our authorities. We want to be well-liked and make friends and be invited to parties.
Growing up, I heard my fair share of “Why don’t you ever talk?” and “I’ve never heard you say one word!” Hearing that my whole life, it is no wonder I have often felt so different from everyone else. The world had this one expectation of me, to talk more, that I just couldn’t meet.
Parents and teachers, even close friends, all said, “You’ll come out of your shell!”
So I started thinking that one day it would happen. I’d walk into the classroom and strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to me. All my buried humor and charm would emerge and I’d finally shine. I’d pop my head out, flex my muscles, the shell would crack and Voila! rip right off. Then I’d sprout wings and be a free-flying social butterfly with nothing to weigh me down! Everyone would know who I really was and I’d never feel invisible again.
No. That is not how temperament works, and it took me half- way through my freshman year of college here to figure that out. After a night of feeling down and com- paring myself to all the extroverts around me, I searched the Internet for something to relate to. That’s when I stumbled upon Susan Cain, co-founder of Quiet Revolution and author of the New York Times bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking.
I listened to her TED Talk. I read her book. I laughed. I cried. At this low point I thought no one could else possibly feel the way I did, but I was so wrong. It is estimated that one third to one half of Americans are introverts. Cain argues that often, many introverts act extroverted because of the “Extrovert Ideal,” which she defines as “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.”
The book goes into research on why extroversion is valued in our society, what it means to be shy and/or introverted and the need for introverted minds in the workforce and the world. I recommend it to a person of any temperament. I’ve found that the adults and peers who told me that I’d come out of my shell probably didn’t realize all the insecurities that go along with being, in my case, a shy introvert. Luckily, this book made me real- ize that “love is essential, gregari- ousness is not.” Cain explained the strengths introverts possess, includ- ing listening to others and making meaningful decisions, among many others.
So I didn’t need to crack the shell. I needed to get comfortable in it. That meant reversing what the world had told me was the “ideal personality.” It meant playing to- ward my strengths instead of la- menting over who I am not. After reading Quiet and continuing my journalism journey at SUNY New Paltz, accepting myself became easier and easier.
I still have my moments where I wish I could just speak up, but Cain has taught me to be more at peace with quiet. Introverts may not be great at small talk or group work, but we do love our more personal, one-on-one conversations and I’ve learned to treasure those more than ever.
I felt for so long that I couldn’t muster the courage to talk to strang- ers on a daily basis, but hey, here I am. I know now that I will always find a way to do the thing I love. All it took was a little knowledge and a lot of faith in myself. It’s not about how the world sees me anymore, it’s about how I see myself in the world.