How to be an Introvert in College

“Be a loner. That gives you time to wonder. To search for the truth.”

Albert Einstein

 

“Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to. Stay home on New Year’s Eve if that’s what makes you happy. Skip the committee meeting. Cross the street to avoid making aimless chitchat with random acquaintances. Read. Cook. Run. Write a story.”

Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

 

“The core of all my writing was probably the five free years I had there on the farm. […] The only thing we had was time and seclusion. I couldn’t have figured on it in advance. I hadn’t that kind of foresight. But it turned out right as a doctor’s prescription.”

Robert Frost

 

“Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong and the final decisions are made in silent rooms. Tell him to be different from other people if it comes natural and easy being different.”

Carl Sandburg

 

Dear P,

Happy Easter! I’ve been enjoying your snaps today.

You may not think this post applies to you, an extrovert, but I think the core of it is important for everyone. Here it is: your energy is your own. It is the most valuable resource you have. Guard it carefully.

Okay, you don’t have to read the rest of the post now.

My energy is easily depleted by communication. I am one of the more introverted people I know. This does not mean I am shy. If I have had a relaxing, solitary weekend like this one, only talking to people I love dearly, eaten properly, and slept well, then I can charm a whole group of people at a cocktail party. If my conditions are not optimal, however, my communication skills are the first to suffer until I can recharge myself.

Learning the research about introversion has helped me to accept it in myself. In “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, psychologist Susan Cain discusses how it is possible to predict whether babies will be introverts or extroverts. If you give an introverted baby a drop of lemon juice, they will produce more saliva. If you expose an introverted baby to a loud noise, they will cry more. Introverts simply require less sensory activity to keep them happy.

Outgoingness is highly valued in this country. I feel lucky that I have been forced to improve in this area, while areas that I am more naturally inclined to are not as stressed (but equally important). I am a very good listener. When I meet good talkers I am a little jealous of them at first, but I quickly become aware of how little they practice listening. I will usually pick up on important information, like group dynamics, more quickly than they do. Because I have grown up in a place where we went to go to school every day and engaged in group activities (probably the most exhausting thing an introvert can do), I find it easy to force myself to do tiring things now, like exercise and studying. I have been pushed by our culture and now I push myself through exercises like “Seen on UT Campus”.

At UT, I have learned the importance of balancing pushing myself and caring for myself. This is a big school with lots of people. Sometimes, I can’t find a place to study alone. Sometimes, I can’t even find an empty bathroom. A couple of months ago I started hyperventilating and crying in the crowd on campus because I couldn’t find a place to be by myself. Everyone stared at me, which made it worse. Now, I have carefully mapped out empty classrooms where I can study in between classes. I have not made it a priority to join groups for the sake of joining them. I am part of a neuroscience group called “Synapse”; I invest energy in my EMT class and UWC job, and besides that I keep my time for myself. I don’t go out unless I want to, which is about once every two or three weeks. Saying no to my friends when they want to party has been difficult for me, but I have to do it to stay sane. I have found that they usually understand and still have fun without me. I find it easier to socialize in planned daytime activities, like getting lunch or exercising with friends. I don’t talk to people in my classes if I don’t feel like it. The idea of joining a sorority or spirit group boggles my mind.

Running has helped me find time for myself. No one tries to talk to you while you are running. You can ignore pretty much everything that’s going on in your life except step, step, step. People don’t like to hear that you can’t hang out with them because you lack the energy to communicate with them, but saying you’re running, swimming, or studying for something urgent usually does the trick.

I still feel shame when I think about this aspect of my personality. I am embarrassed that I can’t just be normal and talk to people like everyone else. However, I am grateful that I am familiar with my weaknesses so that I can work to improve and adjust my life to compensate. And, of course, my introversion is a source of my biggest strengths: my ability to listen, read, learn, and write about it afterwards.

If you’re interested in this stuff, Susan Cain’s book and TED talk are both great.

Much love,

E

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Focusing on the Big Picture

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Dear P,

I miss you so much! I am so looking forward to our road trip and summer quests.

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In the words of the great Willie Nelson, I can’t wait to get on the road again.

My free time this semester has been divided into two extra learning experiences, as you know. One is an EMT-basic certification class and the other is the UT Undergraduate Writing Center internship. These are two very different skills, but I have been surprised by how much they have in common.

Both have routines meant to ward off critical mistakes. Both focus on making sure you, the helper, are “safe” first. In an emergency situation, an EMT is not supposed to enter the scene if anything looks unsafe, even if she can see an ailing patient. We learned what meth labs look like this week so that we will be able to avoid them. If a writer makes a consultant feel uncomfortable, the consultant is expected to ask for a replacement at the front desk.

Most of all, I appreciate how both EMT school and the writing center curriculum teach you to approach what’s really wrong first, and then focus on the details. Grammar doesn’t matter if the ideas in your essay don’t make any sense. Splinting a broken wrist won’t help if a patient’s lungs are collapsing. It is easier to notice minor injuries as the sufferer. If your finger has been sliced open, you will be able to see and feel it. However, a lacerated finger isn’t going to kill you. More serious injuries (heart attacks, strokes, diabetic emergencies) may hurt, but not always in a way that is easily recognizable. That is why patients/writers need EMTs/writing consultants to help them reflect over what is a big issue and which is a small issue. None of us have unlimited time. We have to pick which problems to focus on.

When I have a problem in my life, I often find myself obsessively cleaning my room. This has yet to help me solve any real problems in my life, but I feel that if I could just get this floor clean things would be all right. This is like fixing grammar in an essay that lacks a thesis: an utter waste of time. I am beginning to recognize that when I act like this I need help to realize what is actually wrong. I turn to my own personal consultants, my mom (mainly), you, my dear IM (who hopefully will come back to Texas eventually), and other trusted loved ones to help me prioritize my problems. Only then can I stop being a myopic idiot and actually improve my life.

Who are your main consultants, P? Do you compulsively clean when you know you know something big is going wrong? Just kidding, I know you hate cleaning.

Much love and no clorox,

E

What Kissing Strangers Has Taught Me About Being Brave

Dear P,

A couple of weeks ago, you posted a video of complete strangers kissing. It inspired me to go up to random strangers and ask them if I could kiss them. This has led to loads of fun make-out sessions and a bad cold.

Just kidding. I haven’t been kissing strangers, just asking if I can take their pictures and ask a few questions, mainly about UT. I started a HONY-knockoff blog called “Seen on UT Campus”. For the last month, I have tried to post at least every day. I started this blog so that I could get better at speaking to strangers and to make people feel like individuals at this giant university.

I have to gather my courage for every one of these interviews. I get so nervous, I might as well be asking if I could put my mouth on their mouth. I’m not afraid of the possibility that the person I am interviewing will not want their photo taken. Every person I have asked so far has been flattered. What irks me about these interviews is that they are always awkward, at least for a couple seconds.

The price of human interaction is effort and awkwardness. It takes a certain amount of effort for me to make a space in my day to walk around campus with my camera. More than that, I very much dread the uncomfortable first few seconds of the interview, when the person asks, “Why do you want my picture?” and I have to respond, “I run a blog called ‘Seen On UT Campus.’”  This response always makes me feel stupid. It makes me feel stupid to admit that I care enough about something to go out and take pictures of strangers every day. I feel vulnerable, and I start interviewing my subject as soon as possible.

Brené Brown taught us that vulnerability is the key to having meaningful connection in our lives. I am going to go a step forward, and say that awkwardness is a key to having meaningful connections in our lives. You are supposed to feel uncomfortable sometimes. Yesterday, I read this article in Rookie. It is a roundtable discussion about money. The participants in the discussion came from all different backgrounds and they talked about how money and class affects their lives. The reader can tell that there are parts that made each of the writers uncomfortable, but they forged through this taboo topic because it helps them to understand each other more honestly. Another taboo in our society is tragedy. Last month, a member of our hometown community went through a grievous series of events. M and I were talking yesterday about how we keep trying to make letters, cards, and gifts for her, but they all seem trite. Our inability to give back to a person who has helped us so much makes us feel guilty, which feeds back into our lack of action. M and I made a pact yesterday that we would send in the things we had written, even if they seem lame to us. We decided it was more important to show our support than say the perfect thing.

The discomfort I feel every day for my “Seen on UT Campus” project helps me through conversations like this. I always admire how comfortable you feel talking about religion. Yesterday, Nick Offerman came to speak at UT. He started talking about his views on religion and you could feel the tension building. A lot of people left the event. Offerman talked about the need to have calm, open discussions about religion. I agree with this sentiment, even though I think these conversations can only happen if we have nothing to prove, if we accept that we disagree with other sentiments and they are still valid. Not long ago, Bill Nye the science guy had a debate with Ken Ham about evolution vs. creationism. Everyone I have talked to, including some of my professors, agree that this debate was a colossal waste of time. Creationists are aware the evidence for evolution, for the most part. They just choose not to believe it, which makes me uncomfortable, but it is their own business what they believe. To continue a positive discussion with a creationist, I would have to embrace my discomfort and listen carefully to what they have to say. You are very good at doing this, P.

I may not be kissing strangers, but as a human, I deal with uncomfortable situations every day. I try to put myself in as many uncomfortable situations as possible so that I can expand my comfort zone. You do the same, taking hard classes and putting on magnificent events that could go wrong. Yesterday I listened to James Altucher’s podcast with Dan Harris. Harris talked about a phrase his father used a lot: “Insecurity is the price of security.” The price of having solid, open relationships is effort and discomfort. Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations is the cost of striving to be better.

Love,

E