Sometime in elementary school, I was “diagnosed” with “acute awkwardness.” I was told I was too quiet to be considered a “ray of sunshine,” too shy to be a team leader and too anti-social to earn an “A” in participation.
I was surrounded by people who tried to “cure” me — best friends faultlessly gave me social queues, professors put me on the spot in class and counselors gave me tips on how to make more friends.
The truth is, preferring solitude as a source of stimulation has nothing to do with social awkwardness or shyness. It just makes you an introvert, and that makes you completely normal.
At some point, we were taught introverts are glitches in a system that celebrates extroverts as the natural state of being. Being outgoing was the preferred social state, and institutions emulate these values.
It’s the reason we sit at roundtables in classrooms, why office spaces have become noise-vacuums where everybody sits a few inches away from each other and why “creativity” is associated with teamwork and group thinking.
It starts in elementary school when teachers subscribe to this way of thinking by publicly praising the most animated, expressive and vocal students in class. Quieter students are those who “need extra help” and who are penalized for asking if they can work by themselves.
It continues in high school when teachers label necessary moments of silence as signs of depression, and when classmates confuse self-drawn states with unfriendliness.
It appears again in college when friends, proscribing to the social expectation to “go wild,” don’t understand why some prefer some quieter weekends with only a couple of friends. Where you are constantly told reserved people can’t be “the life of the party.” Where you forcefully “put yourself out there,” because your mentors tell you it’s the only respected way to network.
Finally, it follows you to your career where you are forced into groupthink situations and asked to perform in an environment where you have to constantly strive to function in a way that doesn’t allow you to perform at your highest capacity. Research also shows that introverts are constantly denied leadership positions over extroverted candidates, despite having more creative ideas.
We remain shackled and chained to a system that forces us to try and behave in ways that make us feel inferior, uncomfortable, apologetic and — more importantly — not ourselves.
It isn’t fair.
It doesn’t do justice to the countless thinkers, leaders and innovators —including Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci — who gifted the world with their creativity when they were given the freedom to be their introverted selves.
It’s time to reveal the fact that introverts have been running the world — just a little more quietly.
Contrary to popular belief, introverts cannot and will not be “cured.” Stop treating them like they have a disease. It’s a state of being, an aspect of identity, and it is absolutely normal.
To my introverted friends, in a world that forces us to try and change ourselves to fit a certain mold — don’t listen. If society continues to connote silence with “awkwardness,” then so be it. Go forth and be proud, “awkward” rays of sunshine.