Before we begin…
So I just graduated last Wednesday, hurray!
Bad news is that this prompted me to reflect on the past four years of my life. These were the five things I got:
- I had breezed through four years without ever really making friends in my program and would shy away from developing deeper academic relations with my profs/TAs.
- My grades could’ve been wayyy better. I mean I technically graduated with Honours but I’ll be honest, it was difficult to maintain my grades.
- I should’ve joined my beloved clubs sooner.
- I ate the same amount but exercised way less. You do the math.
- I didn’t realize I was an introvert until my final year and could’ve gotten more out of my experience had I been aware of my introversion.
At this point in my life, I thought something was wrong with me. I never minded being alone until I was in put in a situation where social interaction was to be expected.
I thought I had lost my mind when I couldn’t think of anything interesting to say to people during small talk and I thought that maybe my self-consciousness just literally took a hold of me and swallowed me whole.
Nope, I’m just an introvert. Although I had realized that late in my university years, I used my final year to make the most of what I had learned about myself. I didn’t really NEED to be friends with everyone and I didn’t NEED to party every weekend.
I became perfectly fine having a small group of friends and binge-watching TV shows on a Friday night. This is one thing I hope to share with other introverts out there.
It’s a tough world out there especially when living in a society that highlights “extroversion” as a positive, but we introverts have our own strengths as well.
That being said, the university experience doesn’t have to be same for everyone and you can enjoy it in your own way, whether you’re an introvert or not. Here’s how I turned my life around once I learned to channel the strengths from my introversion:
1) Don’t wait long to join clubs.
Clubs give everyone a common purpose and this makes it easier for us to open up. I’m no a cappella music expert, but I had participated in school choirs over the years and even was a singer for a cover band in my last year of high school. Sp naturally, joining a music-based club seemed like a good idea.
A really ballsy friend of mine in third year convinced me to join our university’s open a cappella group. So I figure, why not? She’ll be there and I won’t have to worry so much about being a loner. So next term I showed up to the open rehearsal and she was nowhere in sight.
Riddled with thoughts and images of her abandoning me, I decided I couldn’t just stand there looking around aimlessly. So I walked up to people and just talked about whatever came to mind. Don’t be afraid to look stupid because the people you’re talking to are probably also afraid of looking stupid as well.
Even if you’re not sure about what you enjoy, join a crapload of clubs and show up to a couple meetings before you find your niche. I probably joined about ten different clubs before I finally settled on the two that were dearest to me.
It was all about finding an environment lets you struggle towards a common goal with others but at the same time lets you do your own thing. Don’t force yourself into something just because it seems like the right thing to do.
Introverts can thrive in many types of situations but just like any other human beings, we deserve to be generally happy in the environment we’re in.
2) Develop real relationships with your profs/TAs/classmates.
Ugh, this is the best piece of advice I gave myself, but didn’t follow. Your professors/TAs are there to help you and can be your friend, given that you have common interests. As an introvert with bouts of social anxiety, I could never speak to them on the spot as my peers did.
What I did to ease myself into slowly developing relations with them is that I would book appointments with them, so that I would have time to prepare for what I would say. I just didn’t want to show up there with nothing to say! I was socially awkward as it is and my lack of preparation wouldn’t have helped.
Sure it’s a good thing to be able to think on your feet but when you’ve practiced avoiding spontaneous conversations for as long as I have, you’re bound to be out of practice. The key to this is easing yourself in.
Don’t be like me and wait until fourth year to do so because that’s not a lot of time to transition properly. By the end of term I was still on emailing terms with my profs, but at least I had made my presence known; something I hadn’t done in my previous years.
As for classmate bonding, I experienced that the more I spoke up in class, the more likely I’d interact with classmates, even if it was just a one-time thing. Now, I barely spoke up in class and didn’t really make a lot of friends in my program, which is a shame because there are some people I found really interesting.
Another thing you can do is sit closer to where there’s more student concentration if you’re the ballsy introvert. You might end up feeling swallowed by a crowd but chances are, you’ll bond with at least a classmate or two.
You’ll result in having hopefully better grades because of all the extra help you get from your profs and TAs, and bonus points if you manage to schedule study sessions with your classmates. This is something I definitely missed out on.
3) Eat out, but stay fit too.
Okay, I didn’t stay fit at all during my final year of school but I did eat out A LOT with my friends. Result? Closer friendship bonds, but tighter jeans. Actually not even jeans; I migrated to wearing my leggings everyday like they were maternity wear. My food babies kept piling on. While I was happy that I finally had friends to hang out with on a regular basis, I didn’t take care of myself properly.
Now I’m paying for it. Introverts are also susceptible victims to the Freshman 15, even if you’re not a freshman anymore.
I was more a victim of the Senior 20. Yup that happened.
Introverts need to be healthy too and taking advantage of your university’s gym while your access is still unlimited is going to be good for you in the long run.
Plus the more you exercise the more endorphins aka happy hormones you release. In the words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy! Happy people just don’t go kill their husbands!”
Happy introverts will just be…happy.
4) Attend SOME parties/social gatherings
Gasp! An introvert at a social gathering?! Totally not unheard of. All the times I managed to drag myself to social gatherings, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed most of them. Some, I kind of enjoyed and the rest was just torture.
While I have yet to try attending a social gathering where I know absolutely no one, I’m open to the idea of it, even if it means sitting in the corner just casually taking the environment in.
Ever since I identified myself as an introvert, I find that my lack of participation in these types of events isn’t so bad. What my mistake was giving up on the first try. I think if I had attended similar events more and more, I would’ve eventually gotten bored of just observing people and their behaviours and I probably would’ve participated.
So fellow introverts, let me tell you, that it takes a while for us to settle into new environments and that’s okay. We won’t like every single environment, but if you find a party environment where you can truly unwind without the worry of being depleted of your energy levels, then by all means go for it. Now go and unleash that inner party beast.
Note: I’ve created a non-violent version of a human centipede at a party once. Can’t say it’s the wildest thing anyone’s ever done, but you had to be there to appreciate my “coolness.” It’s probably the first time in four years at university that I had done anything that made me the center of attention for like a good ten minutes and boy was I having fun!
5) Remember that being alone is not a bad thing
Introverts know this all too well. We need time to recharge, so don’t be afraid to take cover in the school’s library or a botanical garden if you have one.
I remember scurrying off back to my dorm room because my Psych 101 class of 500 people was just way too much stimulation for me. I know I was there to learn and all but the fact that I would be observing multiple conversations at once was enough social interaction to last me a week!
So do take the time to recharge, otherwise you’ll burn yourself out.
Always stay true to yourself, ya crazy introvert and you’ll be just fine.
Stay tuned for Part II, which I’m planning on posting next week the same time at the same place.
Cheers for now and Happy Monday!