Life Imitates Heart

Listen closely: I am not going to speak up

There is nothing inherently sexy about being an introvert. The world prefers and rewards extroverted traits. We put them on a pedestal from the moment we learn as kids to laugh at the class clown and that attention, more often than not, goes to those who speak the loudest. Outgoing. Funny. Enthusiastic. Care-free. Friendly. Words we associate with extroversion and words I’d love for someone to say about me. But, alas, I am quiet.

The great irony in my life is that I have a voice that carries.

I’ve come to understand my introversion in a much more intimate way over the past few years thanks to personal research and discussions with great mentors. Once, I voiced concern over wanting to be a better public speaker/educator but having a deep dislike for the spotlight, to which my professor responded by asking me if I would have guessed that he was an introvert. He told me there is a natural relationship between leaders and introversion, as leadership can be a solitary affair, and that tiny exchange may have been the first time I was able to look at my own introversion as a tool instead of a handicap.

The world treats introversion as a fault. No one has ever meant it as a compliment to say someone is quiet, shy, or soft-spoken. To be quiet is to be wrong.

Despite this, I’ve learned to fall in love with this part of myself. Being an introvert isn’t about shyness or disliking people (we’re not antisocial, despite what you’ve heard), it’s about space. It’s about needing more of it than extroverts, and I’ve accepted that. Not all introverts are quiet, either, but I’ve accepted that I will never be comfortable as the loudest voice in the room, that my words are chosen meticulously and carefully in public spaces. It’s far more a part of my nature to observe than to speak.

But still, people try to squeeze my voice out of me when it’s more content curled up in my chest. And any amount of work I’ve done to undo years of feeling ostracized for my introversion comes undone the moment someone tells me, “you’re too quiet.” Be louder. Be more like me.

Please, I beg of you, stop doing this to introverts. Let me be quiet without making me small. You may mean well, but my voice, in whatever form in comes, is entirely my own. If you want to hear me speak, listen closely. I have plenty to say, but I’m not going to scream it at you.

What would a world made entirely of screamers sound like?

We need the observant, the quiet, the patient, the loud, the boisterous, the calm, the gentle and the ferocious. If you want a world full of talkers, then who is going to listen to all of them? If you want a world full of fighters, then who is going to defend?

I love extroverts too, but the truth is we need more listeners in the world. We need quiet leaders who inspire generations of quiet kids to carve their own silent path through the fog of voices.

So to you, my fellow introverts, I say this: if you are speaking, the volume of your voice is perfect. If you are thinking, the measure of your thoughts are inspiring. If you are listening, then you will recognize the moments when it is time to speak up.

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