“I wish I was someone else.” I often uttered these words to myself my sophomore year of high school. I was at a new school and was struggling to make friends. This was a small school so the new kids were easy to spot. My first day I was swarmed by a group of smiling girls asking me about myself. Slightly overwhelmed I told them a few things, found out their names, and exchanged pleasantries. I smiled and was polite, but it seemed they were expecting more from me. I tried to think of things to say as the awkward silence grew but thank God the bell rang and they all went on to class. That was the last time most of those girls spoke to me. I believe they were expecting me to be as bubbly and enthusiastic as they were. I often thought about that day later wishing I had been different, but from then on I was marked as the quiet girl with seemingly no personality. I envied the other girls in my class, who were super talkative, loved by all, and had lots of energy. It seemed like high school was so easy for them. While I on the other hand felt school was a chore; a hot bed of forced interaction, meaningless conversations, and soul crushing conformity. But I would’ve gladly conformed if it meant I would not feel so different from everyone else.
After high school, I got a job working in a women’s fashion store in the mall. At first I thought this would be perfect because I love fashion. Getting to be around clothes all day and a employee discount sounded like heaven to me. But it wasn’t. I struggled in certain areas of the store. When I was stationed at the front of the store to greet customers I didn’t do well and I struggled at the cash register. Not because I had trouble operating it, but because I was expected to engage the customer in conversation. There was pressure to be outgoing, energetic and friendly. I found it difficult to be friendly on cue, especially under the watchful eye of my supervisor. But when I got to work in the shoe department I excelled. Back there I could speak freely about what I loved without pressure; and if things got too busy for me I could take a break in the stock room. And even though I loved to talk about fashion, I realized retail was not where I belonged. Every day I found it exhausting having to put on the mask of the cheerful sales associate. My coworkers had no issues, so why did I? I honestly thought there was something wrong with me.
Then I came across a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I often refer to this book as a gift from God. In the introduction you can test yourself to see if you are an introvert and nearly every question sounded like me. I had never heard a better description of myself, it was shocking. Now it all made sense, and the best part was that there was nothing wrong with me, I WAS JUST INTROVERTED. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. It was okay to be a quiet person, it was okay to enjoy being alone, and it was okay to not like small talk.
“If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologize for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell” -that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and some humans are just the same.” ~Susan Cain
As I delved more into the book I saw that introversion was not synonymous with shyness or being antisocial. There were actual scientific studies done on the thought patterns of introverts compared to extroverts. I also discovered that it didn’t have to be a crutch but could be embraced as a strength. I wish I could’ve found out about introversion earlier in life. Maybe things would have been different. But I’m glad I know about it now as I see myself and the world in a whole new light. I know that I was not created to be like anyone else, I was created to be myself. So yes I may look at life and experience life in my own unique way, and yes I have to mentally prepare myself before I make a phone call, but that doesn’t make me any less valuable, or worthy.