Sometimes it seems like the world is rigged against introverts. Society pressures college students in particular to constantly surround themselves with other people -- to eat together, study together, and party together. This college experience is an extrovert's dream. For introverts, however, these massive amounts of socialization may be overstimulating, unenjoyable, and unhealthy. To truly thrive in college, introverts don't need to try to keep up with extroverts. By embracing their personality traits and pursuing personally meaningful work, introverts can thrive in college.
Growing up as an introvert, I always felt like an outsider. Then, in junior high, I read a book by Susan Cain that changed my life: "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking." In the book, Cain explained introversion and helped me to understand my personality. I learned that I wasn't shy; I was introverted. Being "quiet" wasn't a weakness. Spending time alone was just as valuable as spending time with friends.
In "Quiet," Cain explained that, in order to thrive, introverts must make choices that best suit their personality type. "The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting," she wrote. "For some, it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers -- of persistence, concentration, and insight -- to do work you love and work that matters."
For me, "the right lighting" is the dim, warm light of my favorite coffee shop from my secluded seat in the corner booth. I do my best work when I'm alone, so putting myself "in the right lighting" means, at the beginning of every week, scheduling chunks of unapologetic alone time at coffee shops, at the library, in nature, or at home.
I also know from experience I need alone time to prevent burnout. After long days of socialization at work and school, time to recharge is essential. The core of introversion, after all, is the absolute need to turn inward — away from the overstimulating world of the extrovert. In college, introverts may occasionally need to decline invitations to spend time with others in favor of recharging alone. "Spend your free time the way you like," Cain wrote, "not the way you think you're supposed to."
There is certainly a stigma surrounding spending free time alone in college. We are conditioned to think that we're "supposed to" go out every weekend. We're "supposed to" join study groups. We're even "supposed to" run our errands with friends. We're "supposed to" conform to society's extrovert ideal.
For an introvert, there are much more beneficial and enjoyable ways to spend free time. I love exploring my city by myself, spending nights alone making art, reading, and working on my passion projects. Sometimes I want to spend free time with friends, but sometimes the most freeing thing is spending it by myself.
Thriving as an introvert in college doesn't mean isolating yourself; it's obviously crucial to regularly attend class, get a job, and join clubs and organizations. The key to college success, especially for introverts, is balancing school, work, extracurriculars, sleep, time with others, and time alone. If you make conscious decisions to balance your time and energy, you will set yourself up for success and craft a personally meaningful college experience.
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