We Are It All

For a very long time, I have been mistaken for what many would call an extrovert. As a person who often breaks the silence in groups and can be fairly animated, I can’t say I’m surprised for the misperception. To be honest, I even tried to convince myself of this identity for many years. People were always complimenting me for being so gregarious and having seen first-hand how in the workplace, louder voices often appear more esteemed, it made sense to go along with that false identity. 

A couple of years ago though, I started to ask myself what would happen if I leaned into my truth a bit more? It was tiring to have to pretend so much. Sure, I liked taking that initiative to start group chats – but that was mostly because I wanted to get the ball rolling. And my inclination to chat with people more personally had much more to do with me not wanting anyone to feel excluded than anything else. In essence, these activities were not done because I like being the life of the party and find it particularly energizing. Nonetheless, I had been labeled over the years as an extrovert and it seemed as if people expected me to always act that way. Rather than choosing when to speak up, it started to be seen as a given that I would be the one to speak on behalf of the group; I would organize the meet-up; I would welcome the new person. 

Again, I don’t mind doing any of those things, but I found myself growing resentful with the assumption that it had to be me. Even more annoying was the assertion from others that these things were somehow a part of who I am. On one occasion in my early twenties, I even remember a boss warning a co-worker about me. My friend was told to stand up for herself and tell me to be quiet if I was ever too distracting. When I had heard that, I can still recall feeling hurt, not just by the warning, but by the falsity of it all. That friend who on a surface-level appeared softer-spoken was usually the one to begin conversations with me, yet my more lively demeanor and mannerisms somehow warranted me receiving the label as the distraction. So, good or bad, I was constantly being defined by something that didn’t even align with how I viewed myself. 

In truth, many of the people who were quick to box me in couldn’t appreciate my past or inner state. As a young girl, teachers constantly told me I was too “shy” and should raise my hand more in class. Family members praised me for being “quiet” and “polite”, and I was frequently avoiding meeting new people at social events because I just wanted to be with the people I already knew; there was comfort there. After an enthusiastic seventh grade teacher lovingly teased me in front of peers, I started to change. By the time I graduated high school, I seemed much more outspoken and had become a social butterfly. Inside though, I continued to treasure my solitude. 

When I entered the workforce, I enjoyed shutting office doors whenever possible to keep out distractions. At home, I continued to read, journal, or sit in blackness alone with my being. With friends, I shared deeply and preferred one-on-one or small group interactions. 

I bring up this mixed bag of traits and interests to illustrate how complex we all are. There are so many things that make me who I am. Being boxed into one way of existing with the expectation of performing always that role is ridiculous. We can be the person who makes small talk some days, and retreats into our bedrooms with a book on other days. There’s space to be both. And contrary to everyone in our lives who is certain they know us more than we know ourselves, we can stand in the truth of our reality. 

I’m officially at a stage in my life where I (usually) don’t care how others label me. But that’s because I recognize the label they choose is a projection from their own beliefs or experiences. The people who know me best will tell you I’m one thing, while the people who don’t know me well – or not at all, will all share different opinions. And that’s okay. As much as it can feel invalidating to have someone argue and tell you that you are something just because they see you that way, it’s all okay in the end. What matters most is how you see yourself. And I hope you give yourself the permission to be nuanced and complex; gray and shaded, but still with many colours; square and round. There’s no need to shrink ourselves. We are so abundant.

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