For most of my young adulthood, I was crippled by anxiety and self-doubt. In November 2014, however, I took hold of the microphone and spoke up: I had been chosen to give a TEDx Talk.
I know an introvert speaking to an audience of five hundred people sounds mind-boggling, and it was. To say I was petrified is an understatement—the only reason I made it on stage was because I believed so much in my topic that I couldn’t bear the idea of it going undiscussed. My talk was about education and the many different kinds of intelligence and learning that exist, not just one that results in getting straight As.
As I sat in the front row, preparing to go on stage, I felt like a kid getting called on in class who didn’t know the answer. My stomach was churning, my palms were soaked, and worst of all, I had the racing thoughts of self-doubt: Why would they ever want ME to do this? By the time I got to the microphone—which seemed like an endless walk from my seat—my mind had gone blank. The only thing that scared me more than speaking was standing silently with everyone staring at me. So I did the only thing I could: I started talking. With each word, I settled in a little more as the story poured out. At one point, when I paused to catch my breath, I remember thinking: This is the most terrified and exhilarated you will ever be. Remember it. The panic slowed into nervousness, and the nervousness eventually faded into relief as I walked off stage (even though my hands were still shaking).
It didn’t dawn on me until afterward that there were remarkable parallels between my idea regarding our schools and my own quietness. Just like there isn’t one definition of “smart,” there is not a sole definition of a “leader.” And, like learning, leading looks different on everyone. While perfect grades may be one person’s version of intelligence, great artwork or skill in a sport might be another’s. Though some leaders may be traditionally vocal, bold, and strong, leading isn’t reserved only for those who talk the loudest or are the most popular.
Leader, I learned, is a title that belongs to everyone who dares to claim it. It is not the power of your voice, but the power of your heart, the spirit of your mind, and the strength of your will that determine where you will lead yourself and others. We don’t need one overwhelming voice to speak for us—we need many; we need the courage and resilience of quiet students, quiet teachers, and quiet leaders. We NEED introverts. In our own way, we each lead.
When I think of quiet, I think of a quote that hangs on the bulletin board behind my desk. According to Gandhi,
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
Consider it shaken. Gently, hopefully, passionately, and quietly—I redefined what I believe a leader is by trying to shake the world.