Networking. Introducing yourself to a stranger. Putting yourself out there. Schmoozing. Leaving your dorm room.
Because if you’re like me, these are among the scariest and nastiest of buzzwords: the phrases that advisors and counselors, extroverts and business majors say that make you cower in a corner and never want to leave the safety of your bed again. Never fear, for you are not alone.
As an undergraduate I was about as introverted as it gets: late nights on Harry Potter forums, internal debates about switching majors that nobody ever heard about, Facebook stalking people that I wished were my friends but that I knew probably would never be. Pathetic? Cowardly? Unhealthy? Misunderstood? Freak? Perhaps, but it might shock you to know that nearly 10% of our population consists of agoraphobics (at least according to the Social Anxiety Network Homepage). So just think, for every 9 people you pass on campus, there is 1 more out there sitting alone in a dorm room, wanting to reach out, but not knowing how.
So never fear, my introverted readers, there is hope for you, just as there was for me. There is a way to be seen, while still avoiding the blinding stare of the spotlight. And honestly, it’s really simple: be involved. And I’m not talking seriously involved or anything, don’t panic! It might be as simple as joining a club, studying in your dorm’s common area or a library instead of your dorm room, attending a public lecture/reading, or even taking a walk.
Sometimes, just being near other people, feeling the vibrant energy of nearby people, or overhearing snippets of interesting conversation is enough to snap even the most socially awkward agoraphobic out of panic-mode. All it takes is one time, one interaction, one baby step. And it may feel strange, embarrassing, or awkward, but it’s only an hour or two of your life, really. And I promise, the world will continue as it had before. Hey, it worked for me, didn’t it?
For me, that “one time” didn’t come until my junior year of college. I gathered up my courage, sick of being lonely, and joined one of the multicultural student groups on campus. It was scary, of course, entering a room full of people that didn’t know me, but to my surprise, everyone was very nice. You can count on the fact that MOST of the people in the club you join will be extroverts, ready to get to know you, willing to be the first one to ask questions, to reach out to you. All you need to do is show up.
I was relieved when the girl that I sat down next to looked at me and smiled, introduced herself and proceeded to tell me that if I ever needed to borrow any of the books they had in their office for classes, that I would be more than welcome. We all then had pizza and it was a blast. I met a lot of people that evening with whom I had a lot in common. And it wasn’t all the same thing either. I met someone from my hometown, someone who was a fellow Filipino, a fellow writer, a fellow pepperoni and mushroom pizza fan. Just like that, I had several meaningful connections in more than one area of my life – a huge change for me – all overnight!
Even such simple connections can make a person, especially an introvert, feel like they have a place in the world. This all can make such a big difference in terms of confidence, happiness, and overall well being—and all you have to do show up. If you show up somewhere and it doesn’t work like it did for me, there’s no loss. You probably won’t see those people again anyway. But chances are good that it WILL work. I promise, it’s not so scary once you’re doing it. It’s usually just the idea of showing up that is the scary part.
So, my advice to you is to go online, research some different student groups that you may have interest in, and just show up. Simply take a deep breath, and walk through the door. Who knows, your life might change. Hopefully a whole world will open up for you the way it did for me.
Now, people like us may never be crowned Homecoming King or Queen, but I mean, come on, do we really want that anyway? Not really.