She was worried. Her face held the strain of apprehension, and her words came out with force as if she had been holding her breath. “I just know those nurses can be mean, especially to the quiet ones.” My mom was a veteran nurse and had worked on the same unit I would be starting at as a new nurse. I registered my mom’s concern, but inside, I dismissed her fears. Yes, this quietness of mine had always been with me like an ugly extra appendage. But I had learned to work around it. Rather, I had been forced to work around it.
I was sure I could excel as a nurse, quiet or not. But I had never worked in a group atmosphere with the ebb and flow of work that allowed for small talk and gossip. I couldn’t hide the quiet in me during a twelve-hour shift. And my mom’s foreboding had been right; this was indeed a problem.
Several weeks into my orientation, the assistant manager took me aside. “I think you should try to talk about yourself more. Share a bit about your life. I think people would like you more if you just weren’t so quiet.” Her words welled up like a giant wave and crashed into me, slamming me against the wall. I was disoriented; my dependable strategies didn’t work here—not even carefully managing my time, building rapport with patients, or meticulous documenting could save me. I held out for two years, exhausted from night shifts and stressed by those who seemed to remain hostile toward me. And then I left for a job where I could work more independently. This time my strategy worked. Like a trusted lifesaver, it buoyed me up in the uncertain seas of healthcare. And then, I left it all behind to marry and move abroad with my husband.
Last fall, I found the book Quiet. As I listened to the gentle words of the narrator spoken softly in my ears, something started happening inside me. Instead of loathing and disgust at the sight of that ugly extra appendage, I began to observe it, then respect it, and finally cherish it. My life story began to make sense as I realized I was on the extreme end of introversion. I had never thought about or acknowledged my disposition in my choices. Instead, I had tried to compensate and work around it, which left me pained and fatigued. Now, I could honor and respect my true self.
And this is where my story really begins. I don’t know what career I will end up pursuing. I haven’t figured out the magical intersection of income and meaningful work. I don’t know how my skill set can match up with a job that suits my disposition. Sometimes, I wish the answers would simply come to me, written across my wall one morning. But then I remember that figuring this out is my adventure, my own personal unfolding. I have been set free—this time, to be quiet.