One of the most stressful experiences I had during my four years at Goshen College happened during the first week of my first year—ResLife’s Walk a Mile.
I know, it seems trivial.
I arrived at college and was immediately put in a line, told to hold hands with the person across from me and walk around campus with him while upperclassmen chucked water balloons at us. I was overwhelmed. I can honestly say that I don’t remember a single person I talked to that night.
Luckily for people like me, our understanding of extroversion and introversion has become more complicated over the years. We no longer say that people are simply “outgoing” or “shy” and leave it at that. Instead, popular understanding defines extroverts as people who are energized by interacting with others and introverts as people who lose energy by interacting with others.
This new definition nods to the complexity in the way that people function, and yet still in many ways buys into our love of binary pairs—you’re either one thing or you’re the other, and there might be a third option (like the new addition of “ambivert,”) but those are all of the choices you get.
Susan Cain writes in her 2012 book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” that introverts are often misunderstood and underappreciated.
“Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology,” she writes. “Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”
Throughout my four years of college, I’ve realized that college (and the world in general) is not set up for people like me.
Life in the dorms means that you never have a place to be alone—your room, your lounge area, your dining hall, your classrooms, your gym, your library and every other place you go is full of people.
If you don’t go to campus events, you risk not making friends as quickly as everyone else and your peers thinking you’re aloof. If you want to sit by yourself at the cafeteria and read a book while you eat a quiet meal, your classmates will feel sorry for you (even though you’re perfectly content.)
While this tension cannot and should not be put on the same level of urgency as other issues of inequality in the world (and on our campus), I think there needs to be recognition that forced extroversion can be exhausting.
And it isn’t a measure of a person’s success.