When I was in high school, I was always the quiet one. My best friends were loud and rambunctious—full of energy and spunk. While I loved being around them, I never could replicate their open enthusiasm, no matter how much I tried. I stayed silent in group conversations, rarely raised my hand in class, and never talked to my teachers. I had only a small group of close friends with whom I enjoyed hanging out. And there were many times when I would choose to watch a movie with my parents instead of going to a party.
Yes, I’m an introvert, and a shy one. There’s no questioning that. When I went to my first class as a college student, it terrified me. I had no idea what my professor was going to be like, who I might be sitting next to, and how I would ever get the courage to open my mouth. For me, even making friends with my roommates was a step out of my comfort zone. So I couldn’t imagine how I would fit into the college experience.
I did eventually find my place, but it took time and a lot of experimentation. I was always worried about how my introversion would affect my experience—especially knowing that a good part of college requires talking to people. And talking to people was never my favorite thing to do. But I wanted to get the most out of college, which meant that I had to do things I didn’t necessarily like doing. I had to challenge myself. My introversion needed to be something I could work with, not something that held me back.
What Introversion Is and Isn’t
Sadly, it did hold me back at first, because I didn’t understand what being introverted actually meant. The thing is, I had always equated introversion with shyness. In my mind, I was shy because I was introverted, and I couldn’t do much to change that.
Along with this, I also had the mindset that extroverts were always the exact opposite of shy. They were the confident. They were those blessed students who were leading clubs, holding their own in debates, and joking with their professors. They did what I could not. I envied extroverts not only for their accomplishments, but also for their outgoing personalities. To me, it was their extroversion that had given them success.
It wasn’t until I attended a forum by Susan Cain, the co-founder of Quiet Revolution, that I realized my mistaken mindset. In her address (here’s a similar TED talk), Susan Cain pointed out that introversion does not equate with shyness: introverts should not be defined by how quiet they are. Instead, what makes someone introverted is where their emotional stimulation comes from. She compared it to a battery. For extroverts, their battery is recharged from social stimulation. They feel more energized and alive in group settings. However, in the same setting, an introvert’s battery will deplete, and they will need quiet time in order to recharge.
When I heard this, I realized that the difference between introverts and extroverts is not their level of talkativeness or assertiveness. While I had believed that introverts are always shy and extroverts are always confident, this is not the reality. In fact, many introverts can be friendly and talkative people, while extroverts can still get stage fright.
How to Use Introversion Well
Limiting the idea of introversion in this way had limited my ability to grow as a student. I constantly considered myself everything but confident, assured, and successful—qualities I equated with extroversion. Realizing my faulty thinking, I finally accepted my ability to be just as successful as my more outgoing peers. I began to use my introversion as an asset, not a burden—similarly to how the post Introversion, Extroversion, and College Applications advises.
Sure, being alone makes me most comfortable. That’s not a bad thing. Having quiet time gets my mind at its best, and I can use quiet time to help me keep up in every situation. Acknowledging where my energy comes from allows me to step out of my comfort zone with full confidence. Introversion can actually help me become successful, whether that be by guiding me toward the major that’s best for me, or giving me an edge in the work force.
Now, I use my reserve as a guide for improvement. For example, I am fully aware of the effort it takes for me to speak up in class. That’s my shyness talking. To overcome that, Susan Cain gave the advice to take time before class to plan comments. I also have to raise my hand early, when the conversation is still getting started (the longer I wait, the harder it is to speak up). Not only can I improve my studies by doing this, my ideas can lead class discussions.
That’s how it’s done. Once we know exactly how our introversion works, we can use it as an advantage. By planning ahead, there is no situation we can’t handle. Of course, we don’t need to force ourselves into conditions we don’t work well in, but there’s no need to shy away from them either.
When to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Now that you’re going to college, there will be a lot of opportunities to step out of your comfort zone, no matter what your personality is. Such opportunities are good to prepare for, as they will determine your level of confidence and success. So, as someone who is going through college herself, I’ve come up with four experiences that introverts may want to avoid, but that are important to have. Here’s how to face your fears, while still being yourself.
Speaking with Professors
Talking to my professors has always been a really big fear of mine. But I’ve also always known that speaking with a professor is very valuable to any student. Now, I don’t mean that we need to be buddy-buddy with every professor we have. If that’s not your natural style, don’t sweat it. But we should try to get to know those professors who will be able to help us in a desired career path. They can serve as mentors, and even friends. For the few professors that I have spoken with personally, I value my relationship with them immensely. They have given me advice, served as references, and heightened my learning.
As an introvert, there are a lot of ways to speak with your professors without completely stepping out of character. You don’t have to be the student who always comments in class or who comes to chat during office hours. If you are, props to you. But if not, find moments in which you feel comfortable talking. It could be through sending an email, arriving early to class, or having a private meeting. Any of these might seem scary, but they aren’t beyond your skills.
Making New Friends
College is all about the people we meet! You will have the chance to make many new friends who may become your life-long pals. But, the less people you talk to, the less friends you make. Regrettably, that’s the truth; I can attest to that myself. So, how does an introvert—and a shy one—get the courage to make friends?
Well, I figured out pretty early that big groups don’t work. If I’m going to make any new friends, I’ve got to be able to have a personal conversation with them. I do pretty well talking to people, as long as I’ve prepared myself beforehand. It’s in the unexpected conversation that I freeze up. That’s why I started making little deals with myself. Like, I would tell myself that the next time I went to class, I would introduce myself to a classmate. Or, I resolved to eat lunch with someone who sat alone in the cafeteria. These were huge steps for me, but because I made sure it was an environment I could thrive in (with one-on-one conversations), I did okay. I ended up making some really good friends.
For introverts, group studying isn’t usually on the “Top Things to Do” list. In fact, it seems to go against our instincts. After all, we work best when we are alone, right? So why study in a group? Good question. One that I have asked myself often—often enough that I actually came up with an answer. As undesirable as it looks, group studying can help your knowledge grow on any subject. I have seen this myself, even with subjects that I could easily study on my own. When studying with a group, the added perspectives help me reexamine each topic—making it stick in my memory and giving me a more detailed outlook on it.
But how can we study in a group while still keeping our advantage as an introvert? There are two things that help me stay confident in this scenario. The first is that the group must be small. Generally, groups that are no more than four people won’t suck our energy too much. It also helps to have already established a friendship with your group members. Less of your energy will be going into creating a relationship, thus leaving more energy for the actual studying.
Going to Campus Activities
Big groups and new faces all in one? No way would an introvert want to do that—or at least, not at first thought. But campus activities are some of the greatest ways to spend your evenings. With concerts, clubs, sports, and lectures, it’s at events like these that you really meet people with whom you can relate. You may like the same band as them, or have the same hobby. At the event, you might even see your professor and strike up that conversation.
But when your prefer a movie at home, it takes effort to get yourself out there. That’s why, before I go to a party, I make sure I have enough time to emotionally recharge both before and after. I don’t want to fall short on my energy supply halfway through the night. If you do this but still start feeling socially overstimulated, don’t make yourself suffer. When you know your productivity has run out, it’s okay to go home. There’s nothing wrong with calling it quits when your social tank is empty. Even if you’re on a weekend getaway with your friends, there are still ways to take breaks when you need them. Suggest activities that don’t require talking, or just go and read a book for a while. Then, you’ll be ready to go again without feeling too overwhelmed.
Who You Can Really Be
Knowing how you tick will help you make the little steps towards success. As an introvert, you still get to decide what kind of person you are and how you will showcase your skills. You might be shy, or you might be outgoing. You might love chatting, or you might dread answering the phone. Whatever your personality, you have the ability to become who you want to be. It’s not your introversion that will ever hold you back.
For all I know, those people that I saw joking with professors or giving beautiful speeches were actually fellow introverts. Successful and confident introverts who had chosen to speak up.
New to college? Look for more advice at the CollegeVine blog.
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