Quiet Revolutionary David Wiggin’s Story

Since the age of 5, when I started school, I’ve known I was an introvert. I was the only boy in kindergarten who cried most of the first day of school. I grew up being regarded as shy, quiet, and a bit slow. As an introvert, I take time to respond to people who throw new ideas or comments at me. I am the person who always thinks of all the good comebacks hours later.

Despite these feelings, I’ve gone through life making myself face situations that force me to be more open and expressive. In college, I didn’t force myself to participate in activities, like debate, because my fear of speaking in public pushes my brain into a panic mode, blocking thoughts. In the proverbial “fight or flee” situation, I usually choose the “flee” option. The reaction causes my thought processes to shut down until I can get my emotions under control.

I chose teaching as a career because I wasn’t sure what else I wanted to do and because I love literature and the arts. I also admired the best teachers I had in school. After several years of teaching high school English and French, I decided to become a school principal and later a superintendent of schools. Obviously, these professions attract extroverted people. To succeed, I had to overcome my reservations of speaking in groups. The challenge was immense, but I succeeded because of my ability to empathize with young people and adults in the school community. One of my most rewarding moments occurred when a colleague mentioned to my wife that I was known as the “go-to” person in the school because when anyone wanted to find out information or to get help with a problem or a situation I was the trusted administrator they would seek out.

As a superintendent of schools, I found myself speaking before many different groups. Perhaps the most daunting were large town meetings when I was presenting and defending a proposed school budget. These events almost always went well because I’d prepare clear audio-visual displays, print budget info, and provide lucid explanations of the budget process and the effects of budgets on school programs and local communities.

Other, even more difficult, situations occurred behind closed doors between me and teacher representatives in contract negotiations or when I was dealing with student/teacher conflicts, often involving several parties. I found these situations emotionally draining, but I also found that an important key to success was building mutual trust by understanding all parties’ positions and knowing when to give something in return for something else.

When I got ready to retire as a superintendent, members of the school board came to my office individually and in groups to try to dissuade me, but I knew when the time had come to move on; however, on a couple of occasions, I was coaxed to return to a position I had left because of the difficulties the schools faced at the time. In looking back, I sometimes marvel at the successes I achieved, but I understand that my thoughtful demeanor and ability to empathize with others were great assets in resolving conflicts and leading diverse groups. Although I would never be the life of the party or the most popular person, being an introvert was not a deficit because I learned that people would trust me when I listened and cared deeply about their concerns.

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  • psychic

    Excellent article and I found it to be very realistic of myself as an individual, who displayed introverted traits within the work place. Being able to empathize with others and the ability to listen to others are defined traits of an introvert, and it has produced great benefits in human development of myself, and others.

  • Revangel Flow

    Your words give me courage and they bring about a light of hope. Thank you so much.

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  • persephone977

    Thanks for the thoughtful piece. It gives me hope.

  • Leanne Johnson

    Thank you for sharing your story. I became a teacher because I wanted to reach those students who, like me, were on the fringe of the classroom. After teaching for 20 years, I got a principal who eventually made going to work unbearable. It all started with being written up for not speaking up enough at staff meetings. The first two, and most of the third, paragraphs could have easily been my story. I ended up resigning rather than being bullied any further. I often questioned the soundness of choosing teaching as a career, but I think I made a difference for some of my students. I miss them.

  • marionspeaks

    Wonderful tip to focus on serving the audience instead of spending the energy on holding yourself back. When I coach introverts on giving presentations I suggest that the biggest tip is to change their mindset (and energy) to one of service. Someone in your audience needs and wants to hear your message.

  • Nakul

    really very inspiring
    especially last three lines
    I felt like I was reading my own story

  • Cynthia

    Great reflections! This really resonated with me, as I was very quiet at school and even university, only speaking the bare minimum. It has taken me a long time to get comfortable with who I am. At times in various jobs I have had to give speeches, and they always went well. I prepared more because of my anxiety, It’s a matter of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. My daughter is also very quiet, thoughtful and sensitive. I just wish that so many teachers wouldn’t see that as a weakness! Thank you for a great article.

  • Khadiza Bibi

    Almost everything that you mentioned in your post resonated with me. Thank you for being so open and honest about your experiences as an introvert; it takes a lot of strength to be able to express such things. Like yourself, I am introverted and was always overly anxious about making verbal contributions in class at college and university. I would overthink the situation and would feel like my heart was pounding out of my chest because of my fear of speaking in front of people. After graduating, I decided to pursue a career in teaching and trained as a secondary school teacher; however, I would often question whether the job was right for me because I was always nervous and reserved in the staff room and would go about doing things quietly- others around me, however, were always (or appeared to be) confident and very extroverted. I went on to work as a substitute teacher this year and this has really pushed me out of my comfort zone and has helped boost my confidence. I am still very much an introverted individual but, by working as a supply teacher, I have fostered and cultivated a sense of calm when dealing with overwhelming situations. I am also able to push my anxiety aside now; whereas, before, I would always stiffen up and feel on-edge and a sense of fear would always overwhelm me to the point I wanted to run away. I do still struggle with anxiety every day and being introverted can be difficult sometimes, but I have learnt to embrace it without feeling inferior or thinking that I need to be apologetic for being quiet or shy.

  • As an introvert I appreciate this story of inner strength and service to others.

  • Merlyn Oliver

    That was a terrific piece, and its heartfelt frankness made me feel a little better about how I operate in the world. I am quite introverted, and I often feel it’s been an uphill battle. Thank you for demonstrating how someone who pauses can succeed in the public arena.

  • Rodney Page

    “I learned that people would trust me when I listened and cared deeply about their concerns.” What powerful way of being. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Janice Mauk Enzone

    Beautifully written reflections. Gives me courage. Thank you for your honesty about your feelings.

  • Barbara Mattia

    First two paragraphs are so me and at least one of my children. I hate to see it in them because it was so painful to me, to have my brain lock up when I was addressed directly. Word retrieval becomes very hard. But we do strive to compensate by being very prepared and knowledgeable. And we are generally naturally sensitive to the others and their needs. It’s hard though being an introvert and then trying to parent a child that you know has the same feelings of awkwardness. I so want them to be confident.

  • Youssef

    Intresting…

  • Awesome!

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