Dear introverted first-years, it gets better
Many act like introversion is some sort of disease that needs to be cured, a massive character flaw that keeps you from being a full member of society. If you aren’t outgoing, it seems, it is simply because you’re lazy and rude for not loving to talk to everyone. Once you hear this enough times, it becomes hard to do anything but believe it. You begin to think that all of the problems in your life would vanish if you could simply be at ease in a crowd and participate in some small talk without wanting to sprint in the opposite direction.
After years of being told you have something fundamentally wrong with you…here you are. Let me join briefly in the overwhelming chorus of “Welcome to Washington University” and “Go Bears.” Actually, this is where the problem began for me. While I was excited to begin college, I was also riddled with anxiety by the importance that had been placed upon it. I was always told that college is supposed to be the best years of your life, that you find the people you are supposed to be with, developing friendships that last a lifetime. So, naturally, having all of this weight placed upon starting school, I was terrified. What if I didn’t find my place? What if I let my crippling awkwardness and aversion to strangers keep me from enjoying the best years of my life? I tried my best to push my fears down. However, as soon as I entered Wash. U., I was met by…well, a lot of cheering. Just overwhelming school spirit and energy that I am sure was great for a lot of people coming in. For me, it was stressful. Ten minutes of forced chanting with my floor felt like years in one of the innermost circles of hell. The more it all went on, the more drained I became until I found it exceedingly difficult to connect with those around me, those that I was supposed to magically bond with through hours of teeth-pulling icebreakers and name games that felt like pulling teeth.
After what feels like years, Bear Beginnings is finally over, and you get to start class. As you make that walk through the underpass and see students taking First Day pictures (which you probably either avoid or are dragged into against your will), you begin to notice something. It appears that, somehow, many of your fellow students have found “cliches.” People are walking together, laughing. It seems that everyone has magically found their best friends in the past few days and you begin to panic a little. As your first meal comes, you may find yourself eating alone (I was that kid feeding crackers to birds outside of the Danforth University Center. Don’t judge me.) You really start to feel like maybe this college thing isn’t for you after all. If you could just be as bubbly and outgoing as everyone else, you could be OK.
In reality, extroverts do not magically have a better quality of life than their shy counterparts. Many of these “best friends” formed at the beginning of school can fade and that’s OK. There are a lot of people at this school; it can take time to find those that you truly mesh with. Once you stop worrying that you are doomed to four years of bird feeding, you can just focus on yourself. Reflect on what is important to you, explore new things and find your passion. Try clubs or work up the courage to get lunch with someone you find intriguing from one of your classes. See every connection you make as a little win and stop worrying about being like everyone else. With time, you can find your people. Those that like you for you. Who don’t criticize you for being who you are, for being introverted. Introversion is not a flaw. If anything, it helps to truly see those around you, making forming real bonds a little bit easier. Maybe it will take a few weeks, even a few months; just keep trying new things, you will make it through.
But the question remains, is college really the best years of your life? I sure hope not—not because I don’t enjoy college, but because I have gained confidence in myself that I hope will give me the tools to maintain a happy life. I don’t want to limit this to four years. Let college be the foundation on which you build a stronger version of yourself. A you that isn’t ashamed to be an introvert, and that will not let anyone make you feel like who you are is flawed.