My heart thumping, my palms sweating, and my voice shaking, I stood before over a dozen people for my first Toastmaster Speech, my Ice Breaker Speech.
“I am Sudiksha Joshi. I am an Introvert, and all my life I’ve felt that I did not belong.”
I felt I didn’t belong in my hometown, my college town, my work town, my new town.
I felt I didn’t belong in parties, social gatherings, classrooms, playgrounds, networking events.
And I’ve been trying to find my way in.
I feel out of place during small talk and in situations where I feel I have nothing meaningful to add. I fidget and when put on the spot, my voice cracks.
My voice, it cracks, especially when there’s something I want to say that I have mulled over and over again, something that has become very personal.
Like the time when I stammered as if I did not know how to speak English during a casual student teacher lunch. I intended to push for the need for Ph.D. students to write and apply for grants. I blabbered, words that came out of my mouth didn’t even make much sense to me. I could see the surprise of seeing me so flustered in the eyes of everyone on the table. They were patient and then I shut up. I went back home and sent an email to the professors clarifying my point. I was not successful in driving the point home.
I knew I was different. And, I didn’t know how to blend in or didn’t want to blend in, perhaps.
I tried to fight the label “INTROVERT” for the longest time.
Being an introvert was a label that screamed,
“YOU DON’T FIT IN!”
“YOU DON’T BELONG!”
If I didn’t belong, I wanted to stand out in the best possible way. I still volunteered for as many of extracurricular activities as I could. In middle school, I volunteered for an essay writing competition. The English teacher with his kind eyes handed me the leaflet with instructions and asked me if he needed to clarify anything written on that piece of paper.
I had my education in English-medium schools, was a good student, an avid reader and I loved writing. I had recently transferred from a small school to a bigger, more reputable one and I was struggling to fit in. My grades were falling and I was no longer one of the top students in my class. It was clear, the teacher did not have the confidence in me. He didn’t even think I could read the instructions clearly, let alone participate in the competition.
Talk about a confidence boost!
I shook my head, stayed quiet, and decided not to participate. I don’t remember what was on that sheet or who participated in that competition. But the memory of the shame and the inadequacy still feels fresh. I resisted creative writing in English as long as I could. I wrote in Nepali, my native language because a girl does need an outlet for her introverted and pent-up emotions after all.
It turns out I wasn’t the lone misunderstood introvert. I read ‘Quiet’ and ‘Quiet Power’ by Susan Cain and listened to her famous TED Talk: The Power of Introverts. It was then that I realized I was trying to fit myself to the ideals of the world that can’t stop talking.
I, and perhaps as much as half of the world population grew up trying to fit themselves into the molds meant for an extrovert. Extrovertedness has been the mold marketed as the socially acceptable one, the profitable one.
It wasn’t just me who felt she did not belong
My feelings of unease at not belonging and the guilt and shame I felt for not fitting in, or rather, not standing out extraordinarily, were not mine alone. It did not matter if I was an introvert or an extrovert.
Thankfully, I stumbled onto the work of Brené Brown. Her research on courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame; her ability to share her personal stories with courage and publish her findings (I Thought it was Just Me, The Gifts of Imperfections, Rising Strong, Daring Greatly, Braving the Wilderness); and for braving to speak about her findings through TEDx, TED Talk, Oprah, and other avenues.
According to Brené Brown, the desire to belong is a primal yearning in all humans. In order to belong, we try and fit into these socially accepted molds and yet all we crave is to be accepted and appreciated for who we are.
Since there is only, truly, uniquely one of each of us, we each possess one unique road to discovering our true selves. Trying to fit into the pre-existing molds according to her are hollow substitutes at best and barriers to finding our true selves at worst.
Stop looking for confirmation that you do not belong
It was this exact quote that showed me how wrong I was in focusing on the parts of me that did not belong:
“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.”
Brené Brown’s work helped me listen deeply to my inner voice that was still strong. Her work allowed me to see that the discomfort and the vulnerability were real and that I was not the only one feeling it. I had to face the discomfort and allow myself to open up and show up with my vulnerabilities to truly belong. I thought hiding my vulnerabilities was my strength until I realized how liberated I felt when I showed up as my imperfect self, a little scared, a little scarred, and a lot braver self.
I began remembering all the times I did belong, which was, in fact, more often than not. I belonged with my family with their unconditional love, few friends with whom I’ve shared my good times and bad, peers with whom I’ve completed projects, shared outings and lunches, with teachers who’ve helped me think critically, and for life itself. Now, I look forward to acting on the possibilities and the opportunities rather than questioning myself.
My fondest memories include the times in which people have opened up to me, allowing themselves to be vulnerable and have the heart to heart talks. I am a listener and also someone who sees the positives even when things don’t look so good at the outset. A fellow writer once said this to me: “You can see gold when people see only dirt.”
Seeing the gold in others came naturally to me. Now, I am trying to use it to accept that gold in myself.
A World where Introverts Belong
Along the way, I’ve crossed paths with amazing introverts, ambiverts, and extroverts who have shared their stories of when they felt they did not belong, and also at times, they felt they did. I’ve learned from mentors and coaches standing in their power, sharing the brilliance of their true selves with the world.
Among them is Selena Soo, an introvert and a go-to publicity and marketing strategist who helps experts, authors, and coaches transform themselves from “hidden gems” into industry leaders. As a shy introvert, Selena focused on her strong suit: building strong and meaningful relationships to making powerful connections with her clients and friends.
She still feels uncomfortable making small talk at cocktail parties and enjoys leading small group workshops and masterminds to stand up and speaking to a large crowd. And yet, her personal approach, the one that speaks of her true self, allows her to influence millions of people by helping her students and clients get their message to reach millions.
As for me, I have delivered my sixth speech. My nervous shaking has reduced and I’ve started to enjoy giving speeches to the now familiar crowd and I can focus more on my message and my truth. One step at a time. One layer at a time.
And I am writing more, in English mostly: on my blog, Huffington Post, LinkedIn, Medium.
And, there are more fronts to be covered. The only way to get better is to keep writing, right?
I will continue to show up, to write, and to speak.
Because I matter and my voice matters.
I will continue to use it to find more of myself. It is the only way to find more of yourself, As Oprah rightly puts it:
“The highest honor on Earth that you will ever have is the honor of being yourself…your only true job as a human being is to discover why you came. Why you are here.”
And YOU matter and YOUR voice matters!
What does your voice say to you? I’d love to know.
Originally published at wearealwayslearning.com