Introverts living in an extroverted world

Navigating university and life afterwards as an introvert

I’ve always known there’s something different about the way I socialize.

My relationship with socializing and other people is a key part of my personality, not to mention it’s physiologically determined. The difference between those like me and those who enjoy socializing and stimulation is considered the introvert/extrovert divide.

First popularized by German psychologist Hans Eysenck, this divide, created by a person's brain physiology, determines ones place on the extroversion and introversion scale. In terms of the reticular activation system in the brain, introverts prefer less arousal than extroverts.

Introversion and extroversion dictates whether we prefer less or more stimulation, how we like to socialize and even what volume we like our music. For me, being an introvert has meant less is more and while I love my friends, I need to balance how much time I spend seeing them and how much I spend alone.

Quite honestly, when I first arrived at Queen’s, it felt like an unwelcoming place and I faced some obstacles adjusting to university life. Like many other schools, Queen’s generally holds extroverted traits and characteristics as their ideal. This isn’t intentional or explicit, but it’s easy to recognize when these traits are preferred.

For example, in orientation and residence activities, it’s the louder and more open students who make friends and connections earlier. In class, students who speak more often are automatically seen as more knowledgeable. Students who participate in a wide variety of clubs and extracurricular activities are also held in a higher regard. Going beyond the classroom, employers are always looking for people who embody these traits as well.

For me, frosh week was difficult. I found it hard to be “always on.” It seemed there were never-ending activities on my floor and I constantly faced the inner struggle of wanting to take a break. Yet, I felt like if I did, I would miss out on important events and bonding experiences with my peers.

I couldn’t help but envy my extroverted peers, who could stay involved and excited for longer than I could. No matter how much I tried to remain invested in activities, it felt like there was a physical difference in how long it took for me to run out of steam. 

Extending beyond frosh week, this plagued me for the first few months of school. I was stressed that I couldn’t adjust to university or make new friends.

Now that this feeling is gone — mostly because I realized I did make friends in residence and classes — I know I could've made a smoother transition into university life. Looking back, I should've tried harder to work with my introverted nature rather than against it. I should've allowed myself to break away from social activities when I was feeling drained.

Even though I say this, it’s hard to get past one thing. Our university society is unfortunately set up to cater to those more extroverted and this can leave introverts feeling as if they’re lacking or out of place.

If you don’t demonstrate traits of leadership, confidence and assertion inside and outside the classroom, you may be viewed as a less qualified student. As someone who struggled with this, I often thought negatively about how qualified I was to be in my program when I was around or compared myself to extroverted peers. 

At this point, some people might argue that all of this boils down to being able to break out of your comfort zone. However, it’s important to realize that people are biologically predisposed to handle varying levels of stimulus and socializing differently.

I agree it’s important to push yourself and open up to new experiences. This really is one of the main points of university. However, I also believe introversion and extroversion dictate someone’s comfort zone and what feels like a small step for someone may be a large leap for another.

Maybe, for some of you, these behaviours and experiences sound relatable. The book Quiet by Susan Cain outlines some common traits of introverts: enjoying solitude, preferring more “deep” conversations over small talk, disliking or avoiding conflict and feeling tired or drained after being out, even if it was enjoyable.

If you are an introvert, university and even the world may sometimes seem stacked against you. However, adjusting to and excelling at Queen’s is completely possible. Rather than fight myself, what helped me feel able to accomplish anything my peers could was working with my introverted nature.

It would've been beneficial if I had known that making deeper friendships may come at a slower pace for myself. I like parties, but my clock runs out a lot quicker than that of my friends. Rather than pushing the inevitable, I’ve benefitted from accepting that this is who I am and I now consciously plan around it. 

For those first years, I found it better to have conversations with one or two other people to get to know them. I'd recommend trying to participate in an orientation activity that intimidates you, but if you aren’t up for every one of them, don’t be too hard on yourself.

I’ve joined more extracurricular activities since and while my schedule may be lighter than others, I'm selective and only join groups or events I find meaningful. In class, I make an effort to speak up. This was difficult at first, but remember, no one is always right. It feels worse to miss out on speaking about something you genuinely understand or enjoy just because of fear of failure.

The world may seem to be made for our extroverted counterparts right now. However, it’s important to realize introversion and extroversion are the yin and yang of society.

While we may need to fight a little harder to be heard or accepted, introverts are an irreplaceable part of society and we can’t forget it. We balance out the world and without us we would lose insight, empathy, creativity and so much more.

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