Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More
It was a pivotal moment in my graduate school experience, and not because I aced an exam or nailed a research paper. It was pivotal because I won.
What did I win? My dignity. And my right to be an introvert.
It was a Monday night during my Introduction to Counseling course. As you can imagine, many students who go into counseling are extroverts who enjoy talking about themselves, finding a connection between most concepts the professor presents and their self-purported complex backgrounds.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, but that was clearly not me. You see, I was one of the few introverts in class. Instead of verbally reacting to everything the professor said, I preferred to cogitate on it privately. Maybe my brain simply processes things more slowly, but I found that I came up with much better conclusions after I let things simmer awhile.
But this didn’t fly very well in a counseling class. By the sixth or seventh week, some of the extroverts began to complain about us introverts – during class discussions, nonetheless. “Why can’t everyone talk?” “Why do those of us who are more willing to participate have to do all the work in here?” “I think everyone should be forced to say something.”
Really? And here’s the amazing part – the professor agreed. Granted, he was the type who liked to stir things up just to amuse himself, but I’m not sure if there was a valid pedagogical reason for putting the introverts on the spot. After asking a few of the other quiet ones why they were silent (and getting not much more than hems and haws), he asked me point blank, “What about you, Carrie? Why don’t you say anything in here, and what gives you the right to be silent?”
Fortunately, most introverts are acutely observant, and I was no exception. I quickly thumbed through my notebook and found my notes from the first day of class. The professor had been in a particularly tangential mood that day and had been quoting Eastern philosophers.
The professor and all of his extrovert students were still awaiting my response. I said, “Well, Professor, I think I have a right to be silent because of what you said on the very first day of class. You quoted Lao Tsu as saying, ‘Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.'”
He looked at me for a long time. Then he said, “You just earned yourself an A.”
If you’re an introvert too, embrace that part of yourself. And don’t forget that quote. It just might come in handy someday.