The introvert in high school

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A 17 year old introvert wrote a wonderful message to me in the comment box a few days ago, and I really appreciate it! I often get great comments from awesome introverts, but you often don’t leave an email address where I could reply to you! I just want you to know that I really appreciate all of you who read and/or comment on this site!   It’s enjoyable for us all to talk to each other, plus the comments help many, many introverts out there to know that they are not alone in having the feelings and experiences they have every day.

I remember very well being an introvert in high school, so I wanted to talk about that with you all.  High school can be a rough time for almost anyone. Those are the years when the pressure starts to mount to look, act, and think a certain way, and it seems there are labels for everyone who is a real individual. Even parents can add to the problem, although often it’s only because they want the very best for their kids. A sweet extroverted woman told me this past weekend, “All parents want their kids to be popular!” Sure, the real meaning of the word popular is to be well-liked by a lot of people, widely liked. But when we think about high school, the word popular could just as often be used interchangeably with words like socially feared, mindlessly imitated, or envied. Still, it’s a state that we’ve led ourselves to believe is ideal – the sought-after status that is considered “golden,” with huge packs of friends and endless invitations, and we’re brainwashed nearly from birth to feel cheated and disappointed if instead we just have a couple of close friends plus a loving family with whom to spend our time.

I could take the easy route and point out that one or two genuine friends plus school work plus a little of the delicious solitude on which you thrive is really plenty to fill your days, but that wouldn’t really help. The big failure message for those of us who don’t fit the nearly fictional stereotype of the “popular life” isn’t just coming from inside our own heads. Everything from TV shows and movies to the questions of well-meaning relatives to the remarks of big-mouthed “popular” kids can make you feel like a big loser if your interests run to the intellectual or your idea of a fun evening is playing with your pets and listening to some great music.

As for the smaller number of friends and fewer social events that often comes with being an introvert, try to figure out what you truly want. Are you staying home because you’re enjoying following a passion or hobby, or are you afraid to try to socialize? If it’s the former, go ahead and dig in to things that interest you; enjoy your life! If it’s the latter, or if you don’t have anyone to do things with, keep your ears open for church or school or other community group activities where there will be things to do other than a lot of small talk. I know one introvert in his late teens who recently signed up to go on a ski trip with six other students he’d never seen before! Perhaps the van trip up to the mountains was a little tough if he was worried about being too quiet, but once they got on the slopes there was plenty of active and fun stuff to do, then of course there was plenty to talk about the rest of the weekend! Even if you’re pretty much confined to a small town or high school, you may find in the course of daily life that you have something in common with another person you’d seen around but never thought about before. Maybe a topic will come up in class one day, or it may be a volunteer opportunity that brings you together with others like you.

Like we all know, it’s entirely possible to be lonely, while still needing our solitude and spending a lot of time alone by choice.   All our lives, but especially during the years we’re in high school and college, we have strong urges to be with others and to find that special someone too.   Being an introvert doesn’t squash those instincts, but of course it does mean that we have to ration our people-time and make sure we get our me-time too.  I remember feeling an almost physical pain in the warm sunshine of springtime, almost as if I’d suffered a loss, when really the issue was just that I felt as if I were missing life, missing out on everything.   This sort of feeling definitely got resolved over time, as I learned to relax and let people who liked and appreciated me into my life.   First it was a classmate and then another.   Then in my first job after college I found a couple of friends from whom I became inseparable.   It just took time, and the numbers weren’t big.  Definitely a matter of “quality, not quantity.”

If you’re an introvert in high school, remember – you’re not alone, not by a long shot! Do your best in your classes, enjoy your life, and know that high school is not forever! If you’re reading this and already realize that you’re an introvert, then you’re ‘way ahead of the game. You already know how you recharge your energy and why you react the way you do to various things in life.   Relax and be yourself, and live the wonderful life you were meant to have.

Photo credit:visual.dichotomy

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101 Comments

  1. My 16 year old son is an introvert. He is homeschooling. He would like to go to college. It seems all colleges require a student to be an extrovert and be involved in a lot of extra curricular activities. Any suggestions as to what he can do? Are the online/distance degrees equal to attending a college? Wouldn’t most companies prefer a traditional college attendance?

    This is a great forum and greatly appreciated.
    Cindy´s last post ..What’s on your mind today?

    • Cindy, I think it’s wonderful that you want to do the right thing for your son. It’s also great that you and he already know that he’s an introvert and that there’s nothing wrong with that. I remember people telling me that when I went to college I “must” go through Rush week, just because it’s “so much fun!” But instead, I was just an independent student and majored in something that fascinated me. I made a few genuine life-long friends as well as some friendly acquaintances. I have posed your question to the Facebook page because we have a lot of thoughtful introverts and they all have different experiences. I hope you and your son will find something valuable there.

      • I am both an introvert and shy. I went to a traditional college far away from home (my own choice) and then ended up at one closer to home, where I could come home on weekends (my choice also, but not because I didn’t like being where I was originally, but for career reasons).

        Yes the cultural ideal of college is all the partying and such. But a good portion of college students are not involved in all that and that’s okay. I spent my first week in the dorm with a roommate who was rushing a sorority. It was not a good match at all, but luckily she made friends with another girl on our floor and she switched rooms so that she was in another room with a fellow extrovert and I got her friend’s roommate, who was a fellow nerd like me. :-) (And I use “nerd” in a positive light here. She had high ambitions, was thoughtful, friendly and not the super-confident type, but great to hang out with.) It was still hard not having my own room, but it was a fine experience nonetheless.
        I also liked the fact that in my large lecture classes, I could just blend into the crowd and be invisible and no one would disturb me. In fact, on a large campus, it is easy to blend into the crowd or to find a quiet corner in the library or another building. You can seek out the right environment for you. Visit campuses, do some soul searching as to whether you would feel better on a small or large campus.
        And don’t forget that there are plenty of college professors that are introverts, too. On a physical campus, you can get to know them and have them as role models. And yes, I think the prestige of a traditional university would trump an online one.
        Finally, college is not the same as high school. You don’t have the freedom to make your own choices and create your own environment as much in high school. You have fewer people to choose from to make a good friend or two as you do not only in dorms but also in your major or other courses you may find people with similar interests. You may find that it is easier to find people who are more serious and laid back, more like you. Plus, you have to learn to deal with the “real world” of lots of different personalities and I think that is easier to do in college when you don’t have to be in class with the loud ones ALL day; classes usually just take a few hours and then you can escape to solitude if you like.
        I hope I didn’t ramble too much, but encourage your son to enroll in college. Perhaps when he’s there he can take an online course or a few if he likes, but I think the in-class face-to-face experience of class will benefit him and be much different than it was in high school.

        • Thank you Carrie – wonderful points! I went to a large school for the very reasons you mentioned. There, you are free to really be yourself, because you don’t have to fit into one little “culture” that a smaller environment might provide.

    • Hi Cindy!

      I’m introverted, was homeschooled and attended two years of community college followed by two years at a university an hour away from home. Here are my thoughts:

      1. I did find it challenging to meet my own needs for quiet and solitude in college. I did feel pressured to get involved in student activities that exhausted me emotionally. I was miserable much of the time. That said, I was (for the most part) respected as a good student and worker. If I had known then what I now understand about introverted personalities, I think I could have embraced my own strengths and weaknesses and been far more successful. If your son is able to be quietly confident and focus on what matters to him (his major, small gatherings, volunteer opportunities for causes he really cares about), I believe his peers and the school’s administrative staff will respect his personal boundaries.

      2. Please don’t listen to outdated stereotypes about online education not being valuable. Please also remember that online networking has opened a new world to introverts. Communication technology is slowly but determinedly chipping away at the idea that the only “good” college experience is the most traditional one available. If I could go back and make a recommendation to my 16-year-old self, I would certainly look into an online or hybrid program from a reputable school. I would have loved the possibility that my fellow students might be from all over the world, and that I could interact with them online.

      3. “Wouldn’t most companies prefer a traditional college attendance?” If so, I wouldn’t want to work for most companies. Depending on what kind of work your son feels called to do, I bet most companies would be far more impressed by relevant work experience (which an online education might give him time to gain) than exactly where he attended college.

      When all is said and done, he may work from home, or work for a company where everyone telecommutes and there is no office building. And those would be wonderful options, in no way inferior to a typical office job.

      We must move past the idea that face-to-face interaction is more “real” than virtual interaction. If anything, online education, socialization and work offer the chance to connect with more personality types than most regional schools and offices.

      Best of luck!

      - Anna

    • I’m an introvert who was homeschooled through 8th grade and went to public school for high school. I didn’t make many friends in high school and no really close friends, and as I had left all my close friends behind when we moved before that, I was lonely in high school and didn’t know it. College changed that completely. It was four of the most incredible years of my life.
      However, I went to a tiny Bible college, where people were welcoming and kind and there were none (or little) of the ridiculous things that go on on big university campuses. The extracurricular activities tended to be ones I believed in, like ministry teams and clean fun. Don’t rule out college, and don’t rule out small colleges. I’d say choose a college that is the best fit for both your son’s personality and his career goals.

  2. This is a great article. I wish I knew all this when I was in high school — it would have made it so much easier.

    I could really relate to the following quote from the article:

    ” I remember feeling an almost physical pain in the warm sunshine of springtime, almost as if I’d suffered a loss, when really the issue was just that I felt as if I were missing life, missing out on everything.”

    I felt this way every spring for many years. I had no idea that someone else felt this way, too.

  3. I read the initial question not so much as how to get along once you’re IN college, but how to get ADMITTED in the first place. I have friends whose kids are going through the admissions process right now, or have just accepted to various schools, and it’s true — many of the top colleges and universities DO seem to only want “outgoing” students with extensive extracurricular activities. As an introvert myself, though, I can tell you that not ALL colleges are hung up on that. For me, the right choice was to go to a small college. Some of those seem to be more focused on finding a reason to admit a student, as opposed to other schools where they’re looking for reasons to exclude. Look for a school that values an applicant’s *potential* as much as their *accomplishments.* (That said, it’s not a bad idea to participate in a few community activities as a high schooler — and there are volunteer opportunities everywhere, so you can surely find several that work within the context of his introversion.) I would have easily gotten “lost” on a large campus, but with the smaller school I was able to steely myself to get out there and participate in a few activities, and as a result to meet new people and forge a few close relationships. I even eventually joined a sorority (made up of geeks and nerds like myself!). Because there were fewer students on campus, I got the chance to try out new skills and interests (without having to face too large of an “audience” if they didn’t work out). By my senior year I actually won an award for outstanding campus involvement (while still scoring almost off the charts “introverted” on the Meyers-Briggs test). You may have to look a little harder than some, but you CAN find a good traditional college that works well for an introvert student.

    • Thanks Diane! This is great, because the young man can benefit from all of our very different experiences. We’re all introverts and we all found things that were just right for us.

  4. Hi,
    I just wanted to chip in with my own comment on this lovely article, since I’m a sophomore in high school. I find it sad that a lot of introverted high schoolers try to fit in or force themselves into uncomfortable situations. I’m basically a strongly introverted nerd, and I know being “nerdy” is cool now, but I really am. I’m the youngest in my grade by far, and I love baroque and classical music and the novels of Dumas, and yeah, I also love Shakespeare’s plays, and I’m often hurt or disgusted when my peers dismiss things like this as boring or weird, or act like it’s above their level.
    That said, I’ve never felt any social pressure from other kids–my friends are mostly intelligent introverts as well, and I don’t interact much with more “typical” teenagers–but I often have trouble trying to explain to caring, well-meaning adults that yes, I AM absolutely okay; no, I’m NOT bored or lonely; yes, I really do LIKE being alone; and variations thereof. Many really nice people, family included, try to get me to go to school dances and other social events that have no appeal for me. I don’t want to disrespect these adults, but when I try to gently explain that these things aren’t enjoyable in the least, they either ignore or misunderstand me. They say that I should get out more (a youth orchestra and several chamber music ensembles aren’t enough?) or that I should spend more time with my friends (who, also being introverts, are content with the seven-hour school day I spend with them). When I point out to them that most adults try to discourage partying, they give me a sort of awkward chuckle.
    As an introverted academic overachiever, I a) do not have time for these things and b) would not enjoy them. I just don’t know how to put this any more clearly or politely than I have been, and I am sick of being “talked down to.” I’m also frankly quite appalled that even after seeing the combination of disinterest and pain that I experience at social events, adults still try to encourage me to get out more.
    So, rather more concisely: I don’t feel social pressure or yearning; I’m perfectly content to be an introvert. I just wish it were more simple for adults to understand.
    Thanks for your great post.

    • I know how you feel I’m in my first year of highschool and my mom is already talking about school dances.Just like you I try to explain to her that it wouldn’t be fun for me but she keeps saying that I will regret it later in life (I know I won’t though.)

  5. I’m an extro-introvert. I like having friends and socializing but I also enjoy my alone time. I’m 19 now but she I was in high school I barely had any friends and I didn’t talk to many kids my own age. I finally made a small group of friends who weren’t popular socially but academically and I was okay with that. There were days where we would hang out and have fun and other days they would go and study for tests so it was a nice balance. But I lost them after a year because they were taking harder classes (I was in the average grade classes) and I was alone again. I couldn’t even speak a word to anyone. And then when I gained friends again, they weren’t popular either but they were worse and they would never leave me alone! And then the popular kids would nag me about how I have stupid friends and they picked on me because I wasn’t popular. And being an extro-introvert, I told them to shut up and then I shy-ed away for the rest of the semester.

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