A Thinker in a World of Talkers

By Amanda Slate

I am an introvert. I’ve always been an introvert, and I always will be an introvert.

While I admittedly dread the term introvert, it is an essential piece of who I am, and as hard as I have tried, I have never been able to escape the label.

I think my disagreement with the omnipresent reminders of my introversion stem from the fact that I did not realize my introverted behavior was not “standard” until I was told it was wrong. Throughout my early childhood, I did not think twice about my social patterns, nor did I see anything unusual about the way in which I conducted my life.

In preschool, I remember the other girls in my grade fighting over whose turn it was to wear the princess dresses, while I was busy watching the fish tank in the classroom and wondering what the fish do when school is over. I had a rich, vibrant inner life from a young age, and I did not see anything wrong with it.

It was in pre-kindergarten when my teachers first brought my reserved nature to my attention. At recess, they politely informed me that if I were to speak up more in class, I would be included more in recess activities with my classmates. This would be a first of many times when an outside source assumed I wanted to be a part of the crowd but just did not know how to do it.

Through the beginning of lower school, my tendency to get lost in my imagination worked to my advantage. Instead of getting lost in side conversations during class time, I would work my hardest on my schoolwork. I never felt the pressure to adopt that cool and aloof pre-teen attitude that seems to be pervasive among elementary-age children. Instead, I was a perfectionist who would pile green vegetables on my lunch tray, hold my hand high when the teacher asked a question, and craft two art projects when I was only required to make one. School became a place for me to use my creativity in a productive way.

Although I was quiet and reserved, my creativity and perfectionism led to my love for performance. When I was in first grade, my parents enrolled me in a singing program, hoping it would encourage me to come out of my shell. My teacher wanted me to sing a solo at the end of the recital. After the solo, I became completely wrapped up in the performing arts. I spent my time on the playground writing songs; I became involved in every musical at my local Jewish Community Center; and I was the lead in my school plays. Whenever I told someone about my love of performing, they were shocked and reminded me that I “seem so shy.” However, I never thought of myself as a shy child. I simply did not speak unless I had something to say, and when I was on stage, it seemed as if I had everything to say.

In middle school, this outlet for singing continued, but only on my singing YouTube channel and behind closed doors. When a group of boys found my singing YouTube channel and I became a target of bullying by my peers, I still did not stop singing. In fact, I turned to empowering songs about overcoming obstacles such as “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child and “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera. While I might have felt scared and withdrawn during the school day, at night, when I was alone, I was a self-assured pop star, singing to my stuffed animals, waiting for my big break.

I may have been alone, but I was not lonely. However, others did not see it this way. My mother and I argued constantly over whether I was happy alone. To a concerned, extroverted mother, there was no way I could have been happy without a bountiful group of friends behind me. As a result, I pushed myself to become louder, more giggly, and more outgoing.I finished middle school with a steady social life but I was not myself, so I decided I would start high school with a more genuine approach.

The beginning of freshman year was a difficult transition. I did everything I could to break into the social sphere, but it took me until the middle of sophomore year to become part of my first real “friend group.” For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who embraced my introversion instead of making me feel guilty for it. Little did I know, these girls may have liked my quiet nature because it made me seem aloof and non-threatening.

Over time, I intentionally made myself even more quiet because I knew that this persona was what led to my acceptance. I was afraid that speaking up would ruin my chances of fitting in. Unfortunately, my suspicions were correct. When I outwardly became more true to myself, I was no longer the person who was once accepted, and I no longer fit in with my previous group of friends. Although this change was difficult for me, it was important for me to realize that my introversion is not an excuse for me to hide my feelings and my truth.

Alone again, I turned back to performing to distract me. In the spring of my junior year, I was cast as the bookish Brigitta Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Brigitta, who is independent and curious, reminded me of my younger self. I learned to fall in love with this role the same way I should have fallen in love with what made me different from a young age. The similarities I had with my character helped me reflect on my past, celebrate parts of me that I had once seen as flaws, and forgive myself for my mistakes and for being so hard on myself. I no longer needed to dwell on the embarrassment of being a quirky adolescent because my quirks make me a kinder, insightful, and more empathetic human being.

It was not until this year that I learned to fall in love with my introversion and accept my quiet disposition as a positive addition to my personality. I am no longer ashamed—nor will I accept being told that I should be ashamed—that I feel deeply, imagine vividly, and think often. I will not make myself more than I am or less than I am to please anyone else.

I have a rich inner life and intend to enjoy it without embarrassment to the greatest extent possible. I will surround myself with people who want me to reach my full potential and who believe in my abilities. I will no longer second-guess myself because I stray from a certain standard. My imagination has kept me grounded and content throughout the years, and I will not abandon what brings me joy.

I am an introvert; I am an artist; I am a thinker; and I am not ashamed of my past, present, or future.

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