During my first year in secondary school, after getting off the bus, I stepped on dog poop.
If you think that’s bad, get this: I walked into the school assembly hall without a clue. Within minutes, the atrium was reeking. Right after a classmate told me the smell came from my shoe, I cursed at myself and thought, “That explains the mushy feeling I had while walking on the pathway.”
I looked underneath my shoe and sure enough, it was a junk playground. I panicked.
I raced outside to find a grass patch, hoping that rubbing my shoe against it would scrub off the poop. Alas, as always, life played a cruel joke: it stuck on stubbornly. I was a socially anxious introvert, so I didn’t dare to ask anyone for help. I headed to one of the bathroom stalls, shut the door, and contemplated my next plan.
To this day, I don’t know what came over me.
There was no toilet paper in the stall. The bathroom was packed and I was afraid of going out to grab a roll. In the end, I improvised. I grabbed the poop with my thumb and index finger and wiped it on the toilet seat.
That floored me. Why did I do that? Am I nuts? I don’t know. I don’t do well in emergencies. I dashed out from the stall and washed my hands with soap. I repeated the routine until my fingers were raw. I walked out of the bathroom coolly and headed to the assembly hall.
I can still remember the moment I shut the door. One girl yelled, “Yuck, there’s poop in here.” The worst part is she probably thought it was mine.
The great news is, although some awkwardness is unavoidable, your school year (probably) won’t be as disastrous as mine. Here are 9 things to keep in mind as you start the school year:
1. Don’t ever force yourself to be someone you’re not. If you’re looking for a group of friends, don’t just pick a random clique. Look for people who are interested in some of the same things that you are. If you’re a reader, go to the school library. If you’re a film buff, join the film club. To quote Susan Cain, “Take time to find your tribe.” If you don’t find your group right away, try and try again. These things can take time.
2. Human beings are like batteries. Give yourself plenty of time to recharge. This could be walking to school alone, or even a quick meditation in the bathroom. Remember that it’s perfectly fine to decline your classmate’s offer to go to the mall after school. When it comes to your introverted nature and well-being, put yourself first. It’s not selfish, it’s smart.
3. Don’t let anyone—not even your teachers—make you feel bad about yourself. Your teachers might bring up your introverted personality during parent-teacher conferences. They might share their concerns about your lack of participation or tell your parents that you need to come out of your shell. You’ll hear all-too-familiar remarks like “she’s so quiet” or “he shouldn’t carry on like this.” Whatever your teachers say, don’t let these comments make you feel guilty. If anything, these comments say something about how your teachers view introversion. It’s not a reflection on you.
4. Class presentations will be a rollercoaster ride—but you can be better than anyone who might try to put you down. Class clowns might snigger at the crack of your voice. Pay no attention to them and carry on. Odds are, they’re self-conscious about themselves. They project their own insecurities on other people. Take some advice from Joe Budden: “Don’t be bitter. Be better.”
5. If you’re picked to speak up in class (and odds are, you will—teachers love singling out introverts), take a deep breath, pace yourself, and speak slowly. Your classmates are just as nervous as you are. You’re doing great, quiet one. You’ve got this.
6. Quit second guessing your every action. Practice self-awareness. The bit where you gave the wrong answer to your teacher’s question? Don’t sweat it. No one’s going to remember it tomorrow. If anything, massive props to you for trying!
7. If you suffer from an anxiety or panic disorder, keep your teacher or a trusted friend in the loop. Going at it alone is risky and terrifying. Get the help you need. When you have someone watching out for you, it brings immense comfort. People do care.
8. Know your limits. Know what sets you off. Know what works. Know what doesn’t.
9. Above all else, be kind to yourself. Practice self-compassion. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Perfection is overrated; it doesn’t exist. The classmate you envy for her confidence and public speaking skills? She probably wished she had your ability to stay calm under pressure and writing chops. Pick yourself up and appreciate the small wins. Extrovert, ambivert, or introvert—we are enough.