Amy Chan is a graduating senior at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Classics with minors in English and French. After graduation, her dream is to move to New York and get a job either in publishing or at a magazine. In the long term, however, it's all about novels.
About two months ago, I found myself locked up in my room, facing my fifth, sixth, seventh, whatever number job rejection — I lost track because there were so many at this point — bent over as if I couldn’t breathe, clutching my side like I had appendicitis, barking a deep, guttural cry — a sound with the sharpness of a screech and the anguish of a moan. It was the loudest I had allowed myself to be all semester — me, the quiet girl with the rather intense stare. For six months, I had stifled my pain and disappointment in being rejected by job after job, always telling myself that I had to have self-control. Normal people shouldn’t allow themselves to feel this discouraged by job rejections, I kept thinking to myself. It’s not an indictment of my character; I just wasn’t the best fit.
The consistent consolation I received from everyone in my life had started to ring meaningless after I’d heard it so many times with so few variations: “Well, it’s difficult for everyone, Amy.” Yes, I know it's difficult for everyone, but imagine how much harder it is for someone who feels uncomfortable talking to people, who is nearly pathologically shy, whose heart starts beating faster and whose words catch in her throat at mere eye contact with someone else. I have boundless ideas and capabilities, but I often don't know how to voice them to other people.
Then, there's the other common advice I received: “You have to sell yourself, Amy. Nowadays, it’s half about branding and half about talent. You have to have a following because companies want to know whether people would actually read your writing should you put it out.” Wonderful, I thought to myself sarcastically. All I want to do is the actual writing. I don’t care for any of the self-promotion that comes with it. Self-promotion feels arrogant and insincere. Who really wants to hear about me anyway? It seems like everyone keeps shouting about themselves to other people who are too busy shouting about themselves to even listen. Is there anyone left to receive my words?
As an introvert, I often feel doomed in surviving the modern world. With the development of social media, success seems to revolve around self-marketing and self-initiative. I wanted to forego all the politics, the nepotism, the networking, in becoming a writer — focusing solely on the story and human experience — but it seems that even the ideal of writing is muddled by the game of the real world. What am I to do?
Should I change who I am to get what I want? Should I go around, boasting about myself, telling people, “I’ve studied at two elite universities — Cambridge and UPenn — receiving top scores at both. I’m fluent in many languages, having studied Latin for seven years and French for three, and have been conversational in Cantonese my whole life.” It feels contrary to my very nature.
And should I put on a faux smile each time I meet a possible boss, layering on the compliments whether or not I think they're deserved, analyzing their every glance, their every word, for hidden meaning, keeping in the back of my mind the whole time that I, too, am using them for my ulterior motives? The materialism sickens me.
It was the combination of two conversations — one with an alumna and one with a friend — that shifted my whole point of view. A day after going on a particularly bad interview with a company, a recent alumna reassured my anxieties about my introversion. “You’re presenting your personality like it’s a bad thing when, in reality, it doesn’t have to be.” I held my breath. What a revolutionary idea it was to me, that liking to keep to myself, thinking before I spoke, was not necessarily a bad thing.
A week after that, my friend counseled me, saying, “You have to focus on and develop the things that you are, that make you stand out.” Being reserved is something that is characteristic of me and unique to me. If everyone else is trying to make people notice them, the mere fact that I am not sets me apart from the crowd. I can use that to my advantage.
Being introverted won me the opportunity to write this essay. When Elite Daily came around asking for college senior stories, I used my unique struggle to capture a universal experience. Because I wasn’t afraid to admit that I was having problems expressing myself in person — something that I thought happened only to me — I had the chance to speak for many.
People also love to talk about themselves, and good listeners often make good impressions — while catching important information extroverts, too focused on speaking, might miss. Once, I was on the phone with a publishing contact, and though I had said perhaps several sentences the whole time — commenting more on her experience, asking her questions about how she had arrived at where she was — the contact was so pleased with my attentiveness to her story that she told me she would give me a good reference at her publishing house. In addition, I learned a vital lesson, that publishing houses prefer people more interested in contemporary literature as opposed to classic, which changed my whole approach to searching for book jobs.
I realize now that the world needs a balance of both extroverts and introverts. If the world were only hot, it would melt. If it were only cold, it would freeze. If there were only extroverts, nothing would be finished because people would be too busy focusing on self-promotion. Introverts are as necessary to the working world as extroverts because of their thoughtfulness and attention.
I realize also that it is OK to be who I am and to spend time by myself if I need to recharge. That night two months ago, when I was sobbing alone in my room, gave me the necessary outlet for all the pent-up frustration that had been building far too long. Afterward, I had the strength to get up, get off my knees, and try again.
I am still in a period of uncertainty, still without a job. But I know now that my lack of job probably has less to do with my introversion and more to do with my not knowing how to utilize it. I have hope that I’ll be more successful in my future prospects because at least I finally value an aspect that makes up so much of who I am — and self-appreciation is always the first step to success.