I figured it was just me.
I didn’t really want to do the Bunny Hop with a bunch of fellow 18-year-olds I’d met — if you can call it met — only seconds before. I didn’t want to sing silly songs or participate in goofy icebreakers. I didn’t want to go to the freshman dance with its blinding strobe lights and deafening music. And I didn’t want to take part in any of the booze-soaked off-campus parties that were most definitely not college sponsored or sanctioned.
It was the Fall of 1985, almost 30 years ago now, yet I still remember it vividly: college orientation week, an experience I’d just as soon forget. As Harvard University sophomore Eva Shang put it in her insightful article yesterday entitled “To the Introverts of the Class of 2018”:
“If a modern Dante were to write the Inferno for introverts, specifically, he would probably paint a picture of something similar to opening week of college.”
The enthusiastic, well-meaning orientation leaders at my school, God bless them, were trying so hard. So hard. So hard to make us newbies in our new-student T-shirts with our new-student folders feel comfortable and welcomed, like part of a community. But mostly I felt exhausted and overwhelmed, like I’d been beamed to the planet Frenzy and there was no escape from the group activities, or the group itself for that matter. No time to think, to breathe, to just simply be in this strange new environment.
It was all too much, way over the top. And so the events that had been designed to make me feel like I belonged instead made me feel like an outsider.
I figured it had to be me. That something was wrong with me, and that I was the only one thinking what I was thinking and feeling what I was feeling. Everyone else was having the time of their life, or so it seemed.
But I was mistaken. Completely.
As I’ve learned in the years since college, nothing was — or is — wrong with me. I was — and am — just an introvert, with tendencies and preferences that are simply different from, but not inferior to, those of extraverts.
Moreover, I now know that I wasn’t alone all those years ago. Depending on which statistics you believe, somewhere between one quarter and one half of us are introverts. So I wasn’t the only one struggling with stimulation overload. And I wasn’t the only one who would gravitate toward my own types of activities and build friendships my own way as the college years went on.
It wasn’t just me. And if I’d had Shang’s article three decades ago, I would have known that a lot sooner than I ultimately did. It would have saved me a lot of confusion — and pain — if I’d simply had the chance to read Shang’s sage advice to the introverts of the Class of 2018:
“Don’t push it. There will be plenty of opportunities to make friends at any point in time — plenty of opportunities more suited to forming genuine connections than those initial weeks of mass introductions. Furthermore, don’t feel pressured to be social the same way everyone else is, especially if it isn’t your scene. You will not miss out on life or on college simply by taking a much-needed break.”
No. You’ll only miss out on life if you don’t understand who you are — and you try to be someone you’re not.