My Worth Is Not Defined By How Many Words Come Out of My Mouth

An introvert is quiet.

I’m tired of people telling me that quiet is a bad thing. I think this is a subject we introverts can commiserate on, as it happens so often that someone points out how quiet we are — and it can leave us feeling worthless. It happened to me recently at work, and it came from one of my coworkers this time.

I’m a server at a chain restaurant that essentially serves sit-down fast food. It’s a job I’ve been coming back to on my breaks from school, where I’m a full-time student.

Not only am I an introvert, but I’m also a highly sensitive person (HSP), and this job plays to some of my weakest skills: the ability to work in a fast-paced environment, interact with strangers, and deal with the likelihood that people will find fault in something I’ve done and tell me about it. As an HSP, I like making others happy, and I’m prone to people-pleasing. As an introvert, I’m a perpetual overthinker and often a perfectionist.

Needless to say, few of my introverted and highly sensitive qualities are very compatible with the life of a waitress. But higher education is expensive, so here I am.

As a result, I’m often quiet at work. My mind is constantly racing, and in a food service job, there’s always a lot going on — too much for my mind and body to handle. For introverts and highly sensitive people, the battle against overstimulation is real, and it happens almost every day. Being quiet helps me find a measure of calm. It’s also a defense mechanism against the many affronts to my sensitive senses.

My coworkers have noticed. They ask me if I’m like this outside of work or what I’m like at parties (which I usually don’t attend). Sometimes these comments are well-intentioned, but sometimes I suspect they’re not. Usually I can brush them off.

But one day, one of my coworkers said something that really stuck with me.

‘You’re Too Quiet’

Recently, toward the beginning of my shift, a coworker began chatting with me while I clocked in and tied my apron. First, he joked with me, asking if I was staying all the way until closing, even though we both knew I wasn’t.

Then, out of the blue, he asked if I had a boyfriend. Being perpetually single, I laughed and said that no, I didn’t. To this he said: “Why? Are the guys you know blind?” Again, I laughed awkwardly because I’m notoriously terrible at accepting compliments.

In between my nervous laughter, I said something along the lines of, “I don’t know,” and “thanks,” trying to enjoy his flattery for a moment. But it was only a moment, because then he said those dreaded words: “You know, it’s probably because you’re too quiet.”

Ouch.

Being Quiet Is Who I Am

As an introvert, my quiet nature is one of the most fundamental parts of who I am. I remember when I first began taking personality tests, having already known I’m an introvert but then learning, in the Myers-Briggs system, that I’m an INFJ personality. As I researched, read articles, and learned about what it means to be an INFJ, I was overcome with how deeply it all resonated. I felt like I had finally found a way to explain my quirks to myself and others.

(What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality assessment.)

I was hungry for more knowledge about my personality and the personalities of those I love. Rather than limiting me or making me feel boxed in, all that I’ve read has helped me better understand other people and myself. Being an introvert and a highly sensitive person are parts of my genetic makeup: They aren’t things I can just change.

There were other moments like this, for instance, when I read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I felt so utterly validated and so much less alone. And, when I found the Introvert, Dear community and read the words of so many people with like minds, I began to realize how far-reaching our world’s introvert population truly is.

Most importantly, I learned that I’m not alone when I choose to stay quiet.

Quiet Isn’t a Weakness

When my coworker implied that my lack of a significant other was because I have a quiet demeanor, it hurt, and I let that hurt trick me into doing what I do best: staying quiet.

Highly sensitive people (and some introverts) read others well — especially their moods and emotional states — and we’re constantly looking out for other people. Sadly, that can lead to us neglecting our own needs. For example, I’ve spoken up when someone was picking on a friend or family member, but rarely do I speak up for myself.

Maybe my reluctance is due to a lack of positive responses from other people when I do speak my mind, or maybe it’s because saying something makes me feel like I do when I receive a compliment: awkward. But I do wish I’d said something to my coworker because being quiet is not a flaw — it can be a strength.

I wish I’d told my coworker that there’s nothing wrong with being quiet.

I wish I’d said that being quiet isn’t why I’m single, but rather it’s a series of other personal choices.

I wish I’d been able to say that my worth is not defined by how many words come out of my mouth.

I wish I’d told him that I say fewer words because I’m saving them, investing in a better thought to be expressed when it’s ready to be put out into the world.

I wish I’d explained that being quiet isn’t a weakness, rather, it allows me to listen and understand even more.

To all the other introverts out there, I want to tell you that it’s perfectly okay to be quiet but it’s not okay to let other people make you feel worthless because of it. Introverts have many powerful strengths, and you have so much to offer the world. Don’t ever forget that.

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Suzanne Yost is a college student from the Chicago area studying for a degree in writing in Texas. She is a lover of warm weather, a self-proclaimed chocoholic, and an introvert. Suzanne is an INFJ, an empath, and a highly sensitive person. It's her dream to one day write and publish a novel (about what, she has no idea yet). Suzanne has also had work published on The Mighty, where she writes about her experiences with migraines and POTS.