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What Paul Newman Taught Me About Introversion

Quiet Revolutionary Beth Rhines’ Story

The moment had arrived. I was standing in front of my supervisor, my coworkers, 150 children, and Paul Newman. Yes, THAT Paul Newman. The actor and salad dressing guru. You see, his foundation had decided to fund the youth development camp I was working for. And he had stopped by to see how the program worked.

In that moment, I had one job. Standing on a riser in the middle of the dining hall, I was to lead a silly camp song, complete with loud animal noises and body movements. I had to lead this song with so much gusto that Mr. Paul Newman would see how amazing this program is and what a difference camp has made in the lives of children. I wanted him to know that he had not made a mistake donating his money.

I stood up on that riser, started the song, and suddenly my brain stopped working. I mixed up the words and sang it all out of order, which confused the kids and prompted the staff to shout out the words until I got it right. I managed to pull it together, but I felt discouraged.

I had been through enough years of camp to know there was something a little different about me. I wasn’t as loud as the other counselors. I preferred to hang out in the woods with a small group of kids instead of leading huge group songs. My favorite moments of the day were often found within the 20 minutes of quiet group reflection after dinner. I managed to find my place in the camping world, but I still held on to the false belief I wasn’t good enough—because I wasn’t like the other counselors who could shout, play, smile, and be noticed so very easily. This mixed-up performance in front of Paul Newman just added to the growing list of reasons why I wasn’t good enough.

As the meal ended, I heard the whisperings of the staff around me. “Where’s Paul going? Is he going to stick around for the campfire?” I looked around and couldn’t find him. I switched my attention to the dizzying sea of campers, who needed to clean their tables and move to the campfire. On my way out the door and with campers in tow, I heard a voice behind me as I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder, “Great song.” I turned my head and saw Paul looking at me, smiling.

Wide-eyed and awestruck, I said nothing as he turned and rushed outside. I tried to catch up with him to thank him, but when I got outside, he was gone. My coworkers were upset that he did not join us for the campfire, but I heard someone say that he took a turn on the playground slide on his way out. The disappointment I had felt in myself had melted away, and I was left with a good memory of a fun evening.

Years later, I learned that Paul Newman had a reputation as an introvert. I had never considered that I could have had anything in common with this successful and famous person. I never knew him personally, so I couldn’t confirm this rumor, but once I considered the idea, it made perfect sense. If I were him, I would have rushed out the door after dinner to get some space from the hordes of children too. I would have had done something spontaneous and fun, but on my own. And I would have been observant enough to notice that there was one person in the crowd who needed a little encouragement and, in my own understated way, would have done something to help them.

This story isn’t about Paul Newman. It’s about the parts of myself that I saw reflected in him. The parts that others may not have noticed. But I did. And Paul did. Maybe being an introvert isn’t so bad. The world may not always notice or understand us, but the world needs us. Silly singers, solo sliders, and all.

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