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How can you find your niche in college as an introvert?

#introvert #how-to-overcome-shyness #friends #college

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Matthew L.’s Answer

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Great question, Emma.

This was something that I struggled with in college and I sort of screwed it up. I didn't really even know that I was in introvert until later. The mistake I made was to limit myself to small circle of close friends with whom I spent most of my time. I didn't join any clubs (well, I did join the Art Club to have something to put on my resume and because my friend said it would be a good way to meet girls--it wasn't). I avoided any parties like the plague, didn't join a fraternity (even though Greek life was HUGE at my college), and I moved out of the dorm as soon as I could. I spent a lot of time taking long walks alone and, when I did socialize, it was with my little group. No one else. Big parties with people I didn't know scared the heck out of me (still do) so I avoided it all. I missed out on a lot and kept my friends in our little group (who were not really introverts) from doing things that were fun for them. If they wanted to go to a big party or a football game, I would try to convince them to stay home. And a lot of times they would. And that was a really bad way to do college.

I took a few years off after college before I started law school and spent a lot of time thinking about how I wasted a lot of my precious college time when I was supposed to be meeting tons of people, figuring out who I was, and taking every opportunity I could to find new things to learn about.

So for law school I decided to do just the opposite. I was going to go to every party, meet every person at the school, be a part of every board and join every club. I decided to the be the "anti-me" for law school. And that's what I did. In retrospect, that was not really the way to go either.

The first day of school I ran for the student government. I also tried out for moot court teams, and joined a bunch of clubs. By my third year I was Student Bar Association President (free tuition for the whole year), on the Moot Court Board, president of half a dozen other clubs, and planning and hosting tons of parties for the students. It was pretty contrary to my personality and I actually wound up faking it most of the time. I was playing the role of an extrovert. I didn't like being spread so thin and was physically and emotionally exhausted by the weekends. I was like a totally drained battery and had to lock myself up for 2 days just to recharge so I could do it all over again on Monday.

So what I learned is this.

1. Introverts are like a battery that gets drained by being around people. Find out how much down time you need and take care of yourself first. Build it into your schedule. I do.
2. Extroverts are energized by being around people. Don't try to keep up with them. You can't (I married an extrovert. She's wonderful but I can't keep up with her. She would go out every night to 5 parties if she could).
3. In college especially you need to marshal your energy. Guard it like a candle flame. Spend your limited energy wisely.
4. Plan your activities so that you have energy for the important ones. Save up for parties, team activities, football games and whatever else you find exhausting but still want or have to go to.
5. Schedule down time for yourself. I need to spend time alone, go for walks, read and think a lot. So I make time for it.
6. Find people who don't exhaust you. They may be other introverts or just understanding extroverts who really like you and want to spend time with you. And be honest with them.
7. Avoid things that overstimulate you. These are some things that bug me: being interrupted and asked to make decisions while I'm concentrating, noisy environments, turning on and off from being in social mode, group socializing or group meetings, big parties, and having to immediately reply to people by text or on social media.
8. Don't try to just "act the part" of an extrovert. Find ways to interact with others in a comfortable way. For me, one on one time with one or two close friends is perfect.
9. Embrace the fact that you need time to mull things over.
10. Adopt a positive attitude and don't focus on the negative. By saying "I can do this" to networking events or parties, it will help and you can get better at it. You may even learn to like it.
11. Don't be afraid to leave events early when you're emotionally done. I'm good for about 30 to 45 minutes at a party before I want to leave. By 90 minutes I'm climbing the walls. Politely excuse yourself and say you have another event or headache or whatever.
12. Don't be afraid to say no to events that you don't want to go to or that you don't have to go to.
13. Find clubs that match your interests. Chances are you might be right at home in a book club or the school newspaper rather than the debating society.
14. Don't isolate yourself. Introverts need people just as much as everyone else. Just figure out what--and who--works best for you.

With me if I want to do something really badly I make it happen and I don't let the introversion get in the way. And there are lots of famous introverts, including:

- Albert Einstein
- Bill Gates
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Steven Spielberg
- Sir Isaac Newton
- Rosa Parks
- Meryl Streep
- Charles Darwin
- Warren Buffet

And many others. I think there is a common thread here too. These are all people who get their "me time" when they need and they spend it thinking deep thoughts. And when they come back to be with the group they do amazing things.

You should also try to determine what type of introvert you are and make sure you are not just insecure/lacking in self confidence. You can overcome the latter by working on your confidence, but you're probably just kind of hard wired that way if the former. Above all, figure out what works for you and go with that. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed by how your brain works. It is what it is, and it ain't what it ain't. Embrace it. If it bugs you that your're an introvert, work to overcome it.

College is THE best place to learn how to be fulfilled and happy. After a lot of years of being confused and frustrated by it, I find I really like being an introvert.

If you have not already done so, I would suggest you take the Myers-Briggs personality test. It will show you if you truly are an introvert and what are important personality traits you have. It provided me with a lot of great insights. Check it out here:
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MIndy’s Answer

Highly recommend the New York Times Bestseller, Quiet by Susan Cain, "The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking." The book illustrates the value introverts bring to the world. It features a number of successful introverts who work in various industries and how they cope and recharge. This book changed the way I feel about being an introvert. It helped me realize that you don't have to be an extrovert to be a successful and valuable contributor to society.

Hopefully, reading this book will help you determine how to find your niche in order to navigate through college in a positive way that won't leave you feeling drained. Celebrate and embrace being an introvert!
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Gloria’s Answer

Hi Emma,

I have to second Mindy's book recommendation. I learned some about being an introvert over the years. It is something that comes up in business settings a lot. I didn't read QUIET until my 40's. While it was written to explain introverts to extroverts, it can give a lot of information to an introvert.

My additional feedback would be this - go to the student and learn about how you can connect with your college communities. There are various groups that meet and not just about school subjects. You should join a group with the same interests that you have. This can be an easy way to connect, common ground.