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Navigating College As An Introvert

Some people don't believe me when I tell them that I'm an introvert. The concept of being an introvert and extrovert has many facets, but to me, simply put, as an introvert I get drained being around people for long periods of time where I see extroverts as people who thrive off of being around people and gain energy from those situations. It doesn't mean I'm anti-social and don't like being with my friends and out and about. It just means that I might need a brief period where I "recharge" and have a few moments to myself.

In college, while yes, there's a heavy emphasis on academics and getting that degree, there's also an equally heavy emphasis on socializing and networking. Do you know how daunting it is to move away from home, four hours away from the people you grow up with, expected to create a whole new life for yourself when you know that in order to do that you need to socialize and socialize hard? I was petrified to leave my room freshmen year. I'd even walk down the hall with my headphones on to avoid conversations with my floormates because I wanted to shelter myself from new people and experiences. For me, the fact that I eventually made friends in college (good friends, too) shocked the hell out of me.

I thought high school was it for me. I thought I had met the best people of my life. I'm sure a lot of people go into college thinking they're going to have the time of their lives and meet the people that they're going to hold onto forever. I didn't think that way. I thought I was going into college to get a degree and that was it. My perception of college was not the perception that society has on college and I think I almost self-sabotaged and set myself up for failure.

My college experience can be summed up in this short timeline:

  • Freshmen year: Too terrified to hang out anywhere but my dorm room. Occasionally conversed with roommate and suitemates. Explored downtown on foot alone, found comfort spots. Made one non-roommate friend, but rarely hung out outside of class. 
  • Sophomore year: Still mainly stayed in room. Occasionally hung out with non-roommate friend from freshmen year on campus. Declined any party invitations for three months straight. Occasionally would get ready to go out, looked at myself in the mirror and sighed, "who am I kidding?" before I would text her that I couldn't go out that night. Reluctantly agreed to move in with non-roommate friend and her two friends for an apartment junior year. Low-key was terrified that the other two girls would absolutely hate me (genuinely thought one of them did) (spoiler alert: she's now my best friend).
  • Junior year: Actual friend group? Who hung out every weekend? And I actually wanted to hang out with them? Consistently? I left my bedroom? What is this?
  • Senior year: Smaller friend group, more simplified. Weekends out turned into nights in, but still enjoyable all the same. Undertone of everyone being scared sh!tless for post-grad life. But, friends, nonetheless.
So, it took me about two entire years to find my way. Truth be told, I spent a majority of junior year thinking I was being punked. I tend to convince myself that people don't actually want to be friends with me because I'm kind of weird and if you don't get to know me I probably look mean because I have a resting bitch face and don't talk very much at first because I'm generally pretty uncomfortable in most introductory social situations. It was tough at first though. I had gone from holding onto the remnants of my high school friends to completely detaching myself from anyone but family and a couple of people from home. That's a recipe for disaster, a few months where I just felt really lonely. I had to learn how to rebuild and regroup, which as a person who doesn't seek out socialization is not an easy task.

But look, I did it! It's not to say that I still don't have days where I just want to be alone. Like right now, I could be writing this blog post in the kitchen where two of my roommates are, but I cherish a few hours in the morning to be by myself. And guess what? They get it. People understand my weird tendencies? And are okay with it? What is this sorcery! 

It amazed me to realize how many people are the same way. It's easy to make assumptions about people. It's easy to assume that people are uber social and love to be surrounded by people at all times. Snap judgements, as you could assume, can be detrimental. You never know what's going on behind the scenes. Sometimes even the people who seem to be huge social butterflies like to have an evening to themselves so they can just be alone and recharge. It's normal, even if it's not normalized in society.

I've talked about it before on the blog, but I want to reiterate it. You don't have to go party every weekend to enjoy college. You don't have to get a fake ID and hit the clubs. You don't even have to drink to enjoy college. My roommates and I have the most fun having sober dance parties in our apartment. You don't need the biggest group of friends to have fun. You don't need to be anything you're not in college. Because someway, somehow, you will find your way. 

Sure, I had missteps in college. I'm not friends with people I used to be friends with. I'm not closer with people who I thought I'd be best friends with. But I have my group, the people who don't think it's completely annoying (or maybe they do and just don't tell me which is fine too) that I have to sing everything I do and twirl around the kitchen and run up and down the hallways because walking takes too long. The people who don't question me when I say that I'm not in the mood that night to watch a basketball game, but who also aren't afraid to coax me into being social anyways. It's never forced. I know it comes from a good place because if it was up to me, I'd still be freshmen Francesca, hiding in her room too afraid to be out in the world. It took an army (and myself!) to get me to the place where the idea of going out to dinner and drinks with friends sounds great.

So, how did I survive college as an introvert? Easy, but actually not really.
  1. Forced myself out of my comfort zone. I hate the word force, but I really did. Sometime I had to contradict the thoughts in my head and by-pass the voice telling me to just stay inside. I can always tell the difference between me really truly wanting to avoid socialization and me just being a little bit scared of what people will think of me. Because that's truly what it always boiled down to. I'm always afraid of people's perceptions of me, how they see my personality, my appearance, my presence. Once I got over that (somewhat), it became easier each time. 
  2. Knew when to say "no." I still say no to doing things. I know myself and I know that I can't take an entire week of socializing. I know which days to pick and choose what to do and who to spend my time with.
  3. Got a retail job. Working in retail was my saving grace. I truly think that my two jobs–Wandering Wardrobe and Cleveland Consignment Shoppe–shaped me into who I am right now in this moment. I learned to find common ground with complete strangers. I now have regulars at the store who ask thoughtful questions and carry on from visit to visit. I have friendly relationships with customers, people who, if I saw them anywhere else, I would be too afraid to even look at most likely. Retail pulled me out of my shell. While my retail persona is obviously a little more embellished than my normal personality, I'd say them match up pretty well (besides the customer service voice which is seriously like two octaves higher than my normal talking voice).
And that's all she wrote! Just kidding. But that's how I went from sheltered, quiet seventeen-year-old who thought about transferring every week to the twenty-one-year-old who is down to her last month in Cleveland and is torn up into pieces about leaving her home for the past four years.


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