How I Learned You Don't Have To Be Loud To Be Strong

I am a woman. I am a fighter of the patriarchy. I am an activist.

But I am not the loudest person in the room.

In my last psychology class, I partook in a small group discussion about the benefits and consequences of the double standards women face in society. While I had some of my own thoughts in response to the prompt my professor gave us, I preferred to listen to what the other women in my small group had to share.

While several of my peers in the group had many thoughts and ideas to share, I only contributed once or twice. It wasn’t because I was unengaged in the conversation, I just needed to listen and think first, before I spoke.

Two years ago, I would beat myself up for not vocally contributing to a conversation as much as others. I remember brainstorming with colleagues at an internship and blaming myself for being too quiet.

You’re not outgoing enough, Steffi, and that means you’re weak, is what I would tell myself.

In the classroom, the office, and social events, I always thought the best person to be was the person who drove the conversation.

As a political science student in Washington D.C. where verbal communication is the name of the game, I felt pressured to be extroverted every moment of every day, especially as a woman fighting to be heard in a man’s world.

But when I relocated to Brisbane, Australia, for my semester abroad, I got to experience the most satisfying solitude my temperament always craved.

While perusing the New York Times bestsellers on my iPad while relaxing in the South Bank Parklands, I came across Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The title itself set off alarms in my head.

After downloading the book and reading it cover to cover, my entire perspective of my introversion had completely changed. I learned that introverts are highly intelligent individuals who perform at their best when they are not overstimulated. Quiet taught me that I am not a critical thinker in spite my introversion, but that I am a critical thinker because of my introversion.

It was especially encouraging to learn that some of history’s most prominent figures were introverts, such as Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mother Teresa. Introverts have been changing the world for years, and that’s not stopping now.

In class discussions, group projects, and team meetings, I no longer worry about the number of times I speak up. I direct my attention to my colleagues’ thoughts and ideas, and then give myself the time I need to process what was said.

When I embrace my temperament, I realize that I am capable of developing thoughtful, complex ideas. When I put these ideas into action, I see returns I wouldn’t have seen had I kept my focus on being heard for the sake of being heard.

As women fighting for equal opportunity, we’re encouraged to raise our voices in order to be heard among the male colleagues in the room. We’re told to take charge, be loud, and stay loud until someone listens. But I don’t need to change my temperament in order to change the world.

Social justice movements need introverted activists in order to carry out their missions. Without introverts, movements would face issues such as the New Groupthink, which suppresses creativity.

Milk asks women, “What is your source of power?”

For me, I am powered by silence. I listen, I think, I act.

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