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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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12 responses to “What Paul Newman Taught Me About Introversion”

  1. My Homepage says:

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  2. Marlana Sherman says:

    I really liked this story about you and Paul Newman.

  3. Janet Leigh says:

    what a great story 🙂 Paul Newman is the best 🙂 i own so many of his movies <3 he is a classic & i con <3 i love what u said in the ending< the world may not always notice or understand us, But the world need us <3 that was so powerfully said 🙂 thank you young man 🙂 sometimes it takes the little people to make a difference:) i wish you well in all you do:) smiles 🙂 & Hugs <3 God Bless Love Jan <3 🙂

  4. Cynthia says:

    What a great story! Paul Newman was such a wonderful man, I’m sure he realised that him being there added to the pressure on you. Everyone shakes the world differently, and introverts just do it more quietly, without fanfare.

  5. Alex Alonso says:

    “The world may not always notice or understand us, but the world needs us.”
    That’s very true, my friend.

  6. Michelle Slusher says:

    This story brings tears to my eyes, as I know all the questioning and discomfort she describes, from being a camp counselor at 19, to being a bicycle tour guide now at 48. And I had a similar experience just today, with a very timid young woman who was in a self defense class I was assisting with. I picked her out as a young version of myself and instantly felt empathy for her. But a little quiet encouragement from me throughout the workshop, and I felt like she found her voice and her power. It was audible, the difference. It is hard to remember sometimes that we are all important, not just the loudest of us.

  7. Julie Marlow says:

    Wonderful story, and how brave you were to sing the song. And what a humane and empathetic response from Paul Newman – a true gentleman.

  8. Mary Beth Gay says:

    Thank you, for your story, Beth.

  9. Angie Cain says:

    Jan, I am the same. I can be silly and have fun, reading or singing to kids, but with another adult around, I can get totally flustered! Thanks to both you and Beth for sharing your stories! Beth, when you talked about Paul, I thought about how I’d feel if I saw you struggling with your song, and I’d be sensitive to how you felt. I’m sure Paul was aware that even his being there added more pressure, and was sensitive to that fact. Fun story! Thanks again for sharing!

  10. Jan Burnham says:

    Beth, thank you for sharing-while Paul Newman will always be a hero to me–you are too. I appreciate your sharing and your story sounds like many of my own. It’s okay to be different. Isn’t that what we all like to say to eachother and children we teach? (teacher for 30 years) When I first began, I’d be playing guitar to 30 5 year olds and 1 adult would walk in and I’d abruptly end the song and say, “music is over…” ;(P Now I run a program where parents and children come together and I still mess up songs, get that blank feeling in my brain but now I am comfortable having them know it’s challenging for me and make jokes and we all have a lot of good laughs together.
    An older, very happy with who I know I am, INTROVERT
    P.S.: my maiden name: Rhines. 🙂

  11. William Ryan says:

    He will always be Butch Cassidy for me “I have vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals” has stayed with me as a line of vision, of dreamer, of leader & innovator. Nice that he was quiet too….

  12. Mari Beegle says:

    Great story, Beth. I was a camp counselor one summer, many years ago, and I didn’t know the word “introvert” at the time – but I knew I was different because I did not like the big group singalongs, and I didn’t want to party and get drunk with the other counselors on my nights off. Thank you for sharing your experience!

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