Introversion in a Campus That Can’t Stop Talking

“So, if Duke promotes such an extroverted culture, how do you survive as an introvert on campus?” I asked him the question like I was asking for a friend, when in actuality, that friend could only be myself.

“You just don’t.”

Was it too late to change my Myers-Briggs personality test results?

For the most part, I take pride in being an introvert. I personally like the fact that introverts are self-sustaining, needing only our own energy to feel content. Our fewer words carry more meaning; our individually curated thoughts are unique.

It took me until the end of high school to come terms with the fact that I am an introvert and to understand the true definition, not connotation, of introversion. Coming to Duke, I took advantage of this newfound liberty to nap unapologetically during the bustle of O-week events and not feel obliged to strike forced conversations with every eager freshman on the bus.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate people. It’s just that I tend to choose catching up on sleep rather than staying up with friends until 4:30 in the morning. I may go out to a party, but after an hour or so, I find my thoughts wandering back to the peace and quiet of my dorm room.

Duke’s version of natural selection favors those who constantly network and build the relationships that will lead them to X club position or internship. In fact, the very idea of a university in which students take classes together and live with each other promotes intellectual stimulation through collaboration. With that comes an added social factor, especially prevalent in Duke’s ‘work hard, play hard’ campus culture. At an extreme level, the aim is to switch back and forth between modes of academics and partying as effortlessly as possible. If you can study while socializing and being in the presence of others, you are winning. And, if something must be compromised in the process, sleep is usually the first to go.

Social acceptability runs a two-way street. I, too, have succumbed to the pressure to do more, that if I’m going to bed before everyone else or not taking advantage of every event happening on campus, I’m getting less accomplished and, thus, falling behind. When I’m not scheduling events on my google calendar, I should at least be downstairs hanging out in the common room, right?

My reality is that past a certain extent, being around the presence of others starts to drain my energy. I have to recharge, whether it is by escaping to Vondy or staying in for the night. Over a third of our population leans towards introversion, but introverts are the least understood. There seems to be a stigma against introverts, that they are shy and socially awkward, when in actuality, some of the most loved and impactful people I know are introverted.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, makes a convincing case for the value of introversion. (I also recommend watching her TED talk for an overview of her story.) For instance, while the execution of ideas requires collaboration, creativity itself stems from a streak of solitude. Unfortunately, society one-sidedly lauds strong personalities and forces unnecessary teamwork for assignments; what space is left for those of us reserved individuals?

So don’t automatically assume your headphone-wearing friend who sometimes sits by himself is lonely. Resist the group projects. Take a solo trip at some point and see how much you’ll discover about yourself. Try listening more than talking. It’s time that we view the ways of introverts as strengths rather than weaknesses.