I’m an introvert.
Yet, when I was younger, I can honestly say that I was much more full of confidence than I am now. I was more of a happy-go-lucky leader. I was more rambunctious, carefree and bold, and I’ll admit that I’ve lost those qualities along the way due to doubts, insecurities, self-esteem issues, hyper-sensitivity and being way too hard on myself. I’m trying to learn how to build up my confidence again and become more assertive.
Back when I was in elementary school, I used to read stories to my classmates that I’d written myself. The stories were always about animals; kittens, unicorns, sea creatures. I used to draw pictures for them as well, as I was an aspiring author, illustrator and storyteller.
That’s just one example of how passionate I was (and still am) about sharing my stories with the world. Back then, I was completely uncaring of criticism or rejection or whether people thought it was stupid that I was sharing these silly little stories. (Although, I remember my classmates would all clap after I’d finished reading my stories. I don’t remember any real feedback about the stories, but I do remember the polite applause, and that made me feel good.)
Another example of my younger self’s admirable boldness was when I was in the fourth grade. I had made a birthday card for my cat (yes…my cat), and, during our class free time, I went around asking people to sign it. My teacher signed it. Some of my classmates did, but most of them didn’t. Most of them were confused as to why I had written a birthday card for a cat. However, back then, I didn’t care if they thought it was pointless. I was proud of it. I didn’t let anyone’s comments get me down or change my mind about it. (Incidentally, I still have the card, and it warms my heart.)
It wasn’t until I was in the fifth grade that I began to change. I remember how my then-best friend had brought in an old photo album, and I was in a lot of the pictures. My fifth grade teacher was looking through them and told me to come look, but I didn’t.
I remember how weird I felt, for some odd reason. I remember how my teacher asked me what was wrong, and I insisted that nothing was wrong with the kind of rashness that only further indicated that something was, indeed, wrong. My teacher later decided to randomly reassign some seats, which, in a private Catholic school with assigned seating, was a big deal, in a good way, because kids would have the chance to possibly get to sit next to their friends. I remember how she called out a few random names, and I remember how I’d been dreading for her to call my name. When she did, I already knew she was going to move me to a seat beside my then-best friend before she even said it.
She later asked me if I was happy that she had switched my seat, because she knew I wasn’t acting like myself lately. Part of the reason why I was getting so moody and feeling so withdrawn, besides the photo album incident, was because I didn’t like the girl who I’d been sitting next to before. (I remember she’d always take my pencil without asking and then simply place it back on my desk; trivial, sure, but as a kid, it bothered me, and instead of asking her not to do it anymore, I simply let her borrow it, because I was, and still am, afraid of confrontation.) I told my teacher that I was fine with the seat change, and that was that.
I had never figured out what was truly bothering me back then, and eventually, it didn’t really seem to matter. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally figured it out, finally discovered the reason why I had begun to shut down and become more and more reserved over the years:
I didn’t like having attention drawn to me.
That was when my self-consciousness was born.
Being in a private school, you’re with the same exact kids year after year, and it’s no secret that kids bully one another. (It’s arguably even worse today what with cyberbullying.) At the start of fifth grade, a new foreign kid arrived to our class, and my classmates immediately made fun of him, the kind of callous mockery that kids think is harmless teasing but is really just spiteful ignorance that can drastically hurt a person’s self-esteem. In eighth grade, my no-longer-best friend was made fun of relentlessly behind her back by people she thought were her friends.
I couldn’t stand the bullying or the mocking, and, as a result, I hated being put on the spot in class, unless it was to answer a question I one hundred percent knew the answer to. I hated when all eyes were on me, as it allowed a golden opportunity for kids to make fun of me if I accidentally did something dumb. I was afraid of being bullied, afraid of negativity and downright meanness from my classmates, and so, as a defense mechanism, I preferred to be quiet. I remember one of my classmates (a guy who I sort of had a crush on when I was younger) once asked me, “Why are you so quiet?” Because it’s safe.
This wasn’t an overnight thing. It wasn’t as though, one moment, I was more outgoing, and the next, I wasn’t. I’d always been friendly and easy-going, and I still am. I’d always been a leader, not a follower, and I still am. It was more of a gradual chipping away at my self-confidence, bringing forth the doubt and fear and insecurities, and that’s what’s not okay. I guess it was the fear of not being liked, the fear that people were talking shit about me behind my back, which people do anyway, no matter what, regardless of age. There’s no stopping it. I’m aware of that fact, and I have to remind myself that not caring about other people’s opinions is so much better for you. Because, really, what makes everyone else so great and so important that their opinions of you reflect who you truly are as a person? We all have our fears and insecurities. We’re all human. We’re all just trying to figure ourselves out. I know I still am. It’s part of growing up.
Although I may be insecure at times, I still love who I am as a person. I’m proud of the things I’ve accomplished in my life thus far. I don’t consider being quiet to be a bad thing, because it’s not. Introverts have their weaknesses, but then, so do extroverts. We’ve all got weaknesses, and the main one I need to work on is not allowing any kind of fear or doubt to get the best of me and hold me back.
I’ve recently started reading a book called The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling, and so far, one thing that stood out to me that the author addressed is that introversion and shyness don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Introversion is more about motivation, whereas shyness is a behavior. Introverts also have many admirable qualities. We care about people. We’re sharp and clever. We’re deep thinkers. We prefer meaningful conversations as opposed to idle chit-chat. We mean what we say. We’re good at reading people because we really listen and pay attention. We’re intuitive and sensitive. We can be extremely witty. (Case in point: One year, my sorority deemed me as, “Sister most likely to be a closet comedian.” I’m damn proud of that title, I must say, haha.)
I’m happy being an introvert. It’s definitely important to embrace who you are no matter what. That being said, I know that I need to work on building up the self-confidence I used to have when I was younger, because in the field I want to go into–the TV writing business–I’ll need to learn how to grow a thicker skin if I’m ever going to make it. All I can do is take it one step at a time as I allow my passions to motivate me and shape me into the person I want to become.