I still remember the night it hit me—like it was yesterday. I was sitting alone in my house after an evening at the Homecoming Dance my junior year of high school, physically exhausted from attempting to dance the night away and mentally exhausted from being self-conscious about not being able to dance, even remotely. Part of me wished I had found an after-party to attend, while another part was grateful to finally have some peace. A handful of text messages lit up my face in the dark, inquiring where I was. The ensuing jabs at my retiring to the comfort of our living room couch for the evening stung a bit, and I wondered why my social life wasn’t the way everyone else’s appeared: vibrant, exciting, and meaningful.

The realization that I was a full-blooded introvert hit me hard that night. At the time, the word itself held a painfully negative connotation in my mind, and I feared I was doomed to a life of lackluster activities and regret that I wasn’t more social. Growing up, I was an independent child and had always done well in school. I could get lost in any topic that spurred my interests, and I knew deep down I preferred tight-knit evenings with a handful of friends as opposed to loud parties. Despite all this, I failed to see the bright side to being an introvert until one day in statistics class, I made an offhanded comment, joking that “I’m not a leader, I’m a follower.” My teacher, without missing a beat, snapped to attention from her desk nearby. “That is NOT true, Kyle. You might not be a street corner soapbox kind of person, but you’ve always led by example, and that’s just as important.” If you’re reading this (and you know who you are), you deserve an entire world of thanks for helping me see the light. I’ll never forget that day.

College was understandably hard, and I knew what I was up against, so to speak. I spent my first two years in the dorms at one of the most well-known “party schools,” where social interaction was almost mandatory. And yet, during junior and senior years, I found myself living alone in a smelly studio apartment. I’ll admit that I blamed myself incessantly. I didn’t mind parties anymore, but over time, I found myself going to fewer and fewer as the allure of standing in a crowded room, deafened by blaring bass and blinded by strobe lights, holding an overpriced drink in my hand, while people of all shapes and sizes pushed me around like a rag doll, wore off. I learned to focus on and appreciate those things that truly brought me happiness: deep conversation, small acts of kindness, and personal achievement.

I graduated from college about 14 months ago, and boy does the phrase “it gets better” ring true. I have a great job where I can apply my quiet, analytical skill set and self-motivation to jump-start my career. I have a loving girlfriend who understands how my mind works and why sometimes I need to retreat to a corner of our apartment to recharge. Most important of all, I’ve made a conscious effort to better understand my introversion and use it to my advantage every day to embody that which, in my eyes, will never be an oxymoron: Quiet Strength.