For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been quiet, and it’s one of the first things most people would probably say about me if you asked them to describe me. Unlike a lot of parents of introverted children, my parents never pressured me to be more outgoing or talkative. They encouraged me to participate in activities I enjoyed and was comfortable with, which meant I did things like read, write, and craft, and not things like team sports.

By the time I got to high school, I realized that most people weren’t as understanding of my introverted ways as my parents were. Teachers would tell my parents they thought I was depressed because I didn’t speak up in class, and classmates would tease me. I felt like I was doing something wrong, and up until 10th grade, I thought no one would accept me as I was. That year, I joined B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO), a Jewish youth organization. I was nervous I wouldn’t be accepted there too, but I pushed myself outside my comfort zone and attended every meeting and event.

Soon after I joined, I wanted to be more involved and decided to run for a board position for my chapter. I ran for the position of Mazkirah—the person in charge of taking meeting minutes and emailing them to the chapter. I was running unopposed, but I still had to give a speech. The day of the election, I cued up a song on a stereo to start my speech. “C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train)” by Quad City DJs came on, and I began—“Choo choo! All aboard!” My voice was shaky, my hands trembled, and my armpits were sweating, but I pushed through the speech, listing reasons why everyone should “be on board” with me as their new Mazkirah.

I didn’t consider myself a leader even after I started my term. My goal was simply to show these girls that even though I was the quietest person in the room at every event, I liked them and I was fun. So, rather than just email a bulleted list of meeting minutes to the chapter, I wrote song parodies. Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, and N’Sync were all the rage at the time, and I transformed their songs about young love into songs about upcoming car washes, charity events, and chapter news. It was the first time I felt like people really got to know the real me. Best of all, I did it my way. I wasn’t good at speaking up, but I communicated far better in writing.

Following that term, I was the chapter newspaper editor and continued to attend every single event. It was all a great experience for me because it was the first time I saw that what I thought was my greatest downfall—my quiet nature—was actually my greatest asset when it came to writing and thinking. Beyond the leadership roles, the most meaningful moment in BBYO came during one brief conversation. One day, I told one of the girls that I was upset that people at my school were labeling me “shy” and that I didn’t like the label. I’ll never forget what she told me that day and how it made me feel. She said, “I don’t think you’re shy. You’re just reserved. You talk when you have something to say, and when you do, we all listen.” I was quiet, and not only was there nothing wrong with that, but I was accepted, respected, and liked for it.

BBYO helped me grow, and it changed my perspective on what an introvert was capable of. Today, at age 33, I still feel my quietness is misunderstood at times. I wish that people would focus less on my introversion and more on what it allows me to bring to the table. For me, fully embracing my quietness is a work-in-progress, but in those moments when I feel insecure, I remind myself of that brief conversation many years ago and how good it felt to be accepted for being the introverted, quiet person that I am.

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  • Amil Duvergé

    Nice read. it kind of took me back to my early years in in school, as I lived through a similar experience. Thanks for sharing.

  • KJC

    Thank you for sharing this Caroline. I can so relate to it. I have never seen myself as Leadership material but amongst my male peers , my team has always been the highest performing in terms of ad sales revenue for the many MNCs I have been privileged to work in. I don’t bang my fist and demand to be heard in large global sales meetings but I know the members of my team listen and follow because they deliver and when they do, we deliver. Similarly now, in a very industry when I no longer only run the sales team but manage operations as well, I don’t say much in senior management meetings but what I do say gets done. But it took me a long while to realize that! I am glad someone shared that with you ,’ I don’t think you are shy. You’re just reserved’.

  • Marlana Sherman

    I really enjoyed this and I can definitely empathize. I struggle with public speaking too. I joined Toastmasters in February and I still am really nervous when I speak but I continue to go anyway. I feel misunderstood too. It drives me crazy when people constantly say that I am so quiet. Thanks for the very relatable article.

  • D. Schembri

    I thoroughly empathize and feel exactly the same. Similarly I had spent a good proportion of my young adulthood participating in a political organization and striving hard to contribute in any way. Rarely even taking part on TV shows,

    People can see and understand how left-handed people are physiologically different. Hence we never saw any Left-Prides happening.

    I think the earth needs an “Introvert Pride” like it needs Gay Prides to raise awareness on how we feel and contribute to society. Most of the time I feel labelled as weird just because I’m introvert. But it’s just that I love listening to people.

  • Tonya Madison

    Great story! Like you, I’ve embraced the notion of being reserved and people really do listen when you speak. It’s funny because sometimes people have made comments like, “Wow! I didn’t know you could talk!” It used to hurt my feelings but as I’ve grown older I’ve become comfortable with the fact that I don’t always have something to say and if I do, I will.