For years, I equated myself with this one word—frustrating. I learned it from my first grade teacher because that’s what she called me, publicly, in front of my classmates. All because I was quiet and was too fearful to speak up. I felt ashamed.
I became so terrified of school that once I even refused to go on the bus. The babysitter picked me up and tried to push me on, but I latched onto the door frame and wouldn’t budge. And then I burst into tears. Big mistake. The babysitter took me home, but the next day the teasing got worse. People drew ugly pictures of my crying face and plastered them on the bus so I could see it. At that point, I started eating lunch in the bathroom stalls. It’s not like I had anyone to sit with in the cafeteria anyway.
I hated myself all the way through middle school, high school, and college. Everyone told me the same thing: “You’re so quiet. You’re so serious. Why don’t you talk more? Why don’t you go out more? Why can’t you be more like X?”
I tried hard to kill my quiet nature. As an adult, I worked hard to become a professional chameleon. I learned to mimic the more desirable extroverted behavior, and I got pretty good at it. “I’m finally succeeding in life.” Or so I thought. Unfortunately, I was failing at climbing any career ladders because none of my supervisors saw me as leadership material. I was “nice” and “useful,” but that was it.
I became lost…until I heard Susan Cain’s TED talk (and devoured her book), which left me in tears. It felt like I finally had permission to stop hating myself. I started believing I could become more than the words that my peers used to describe me—that I could offer something in this world after all. I started giving myself chances and taking on bolder challenges. I began to honor my quiet and introverted nature, and I felt happy with myself. I actually started building my own businesses. And in those spaces (online and offline), I looked for other fellow quiet souls.
Today, I help quiet entrepreneurial dreamers build courage through inspirational 3D printed art and writing. I help them find the confidence to take action on their dreams. Never would I have thought my art would end up getting covered on sites such as TrendHunter and Forbes or that I would be asked to speak on panels and at workshops. Never would I have believed that I had the ability to publish articles online and find people actually listening to me. Never would I have imagined that I would have the power to help design a beautiful 3D printed prosthetic leg for a courageous young woman or work on set with a high profile actor. But I did because I finally started to value myself.
“I can make a difference.” That’s what I tell myself now. And I hope the quiet dreamers of the world will also see the power they have within. Quiet or not, we need more people to believe they can do something good in this world. And I plan to help.