It’s been an exhausting week. Or month. Or year.
When I step onto Locust Walk every day, I’m immediately swallowed up by throngs of people, mostly unfamiliar faces in a crowd. When I walk into my classes, meetings, Huntsman GSRs, even my dorm, I’m greeted by people, friends, classmates, acquaintances, professors. College is a vibrant microcosm of thousands of humans, breathing, taking up space and living their lives.
It’s difficult to navigate this kind of lifestyle when you aren’t naturally a chatty, extroverted person, always ready to take on the day and deal with the people in your life with excitement and gusto. While I’m not necessarily a hermit, I still wake up every morning with a tinge of tiredness, sometimes unable to confront the many social interactions I need to take on.
Some people are surprised when I identify as an introvert. While I can be loud and gregarious in certain social situations, it often drains all the life out of me. When meetings run back to back or going out once a week becomes multiple times a week, I don’t only want to be by myself, I need to be by myself, to restore and recharge.
Sometimes, Penn especially feels like an incredibly difficult place to be an introvert. If Penn mirrors the harshness of the “real world,” it also leans toward benefitting the extroverts — those that raise their hands over others, thrive in networking events, and take great joy in being the loudest speaker in the room. I often feel inadequate in a community where it seems like so many people are natural-born public speakers and socialites, while these qualities do not come naturally to me.
However, to combat those feelings of insecurity, I often remind myself that I’m definitely not alone, and if you lean on the side of introversion too, you are not alone either. Introverts make up a third to a half of the population at least, and in the workforce, many introverts thrive in managerial and leadership positions. Even though college feels like a competition for so many things, from board positions to job hunting, all is not lost for the introvert— in fact, there are so many ways we excel.
In high school speech and debate, the first speech I ever recited was Susan Cain’s Ted Talk about “The Power of Introverts.” In it, Cain discusses how the United States is more extrovert-leaning than ever, with our education based around teamwork and “people skills,” and less focused on independent thinking and innovation. As our culture shifts toward extroversion, however, we lose out on harnessing the power of introversion and tapping into a huge set of people. As introverts, we discount ourselves and our abilities, when in reality, we have so much to offer in how we think and work.
That speech was the first time I felt validated as a student and person, and at Penn, there were times when I forgot about Cain’s empowering words. All the times I felt guilty about staying in or choosing to be by myself, especially during freshman year, were times that I absolutely needed— time to be thoughtful and reflective, to even restore my abilities to function as a human being.
It’s easy to think that we need to be constantly on the move, always doing something with others or advancing our status in some way. In so many ways, we live conscious of other people, trying to curate an image of sociability and extroversion. But for many of us, this is not how we naturally live, and not how we can be our happiest selves.
So, introverts, don’t be afraid to embrace your introversion here. Don’t be afraid to spend hours and days alone with your thoughts instead of rushing to social obligations, or recharging in the way that you feel is best for you. Penn doesn’t have to be a never-ending cycle of human beings, all the time— sometimes, it can just be about you.
JESSICA LI is a College sophomore from Livingston, N.J., studying English and psychology. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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