The past few years have been a journey of self discovery for me. All along there has been one constant thing – people asking me to change my personality, at home, at work, everywhere. The ‘you need to be’ statements have become a constant in my life.
I have always been a quiet and reserved person. Up to when I was nine, everything was fine. I was quiet but I had friends, I participated in lots of extra-curricular activities in school-nothing felt weird.
Things changed when I transferred to another school when I was ten, at first everything seemed fine. But I had difficulty in chosing the extra-curricular activities to engage in. It was like they were developed to fit certain people. I opted for music.
A year after, people’s attitude towards me began to change. I began to get bullied, but being from Kenya, it was never really physical as fighting might have led to suspension or expulsion from the perpetrators. It was mostly statements, I was too ugly, too dark, I had a bad walk, I ran badly, I ate like a cat, I started being called stupid. They watched everything I did, and turned it into something negative. At times, the teachers got in on it. I rememeber one mocking me in class when I was 13 because of how I was running during a PE lesson.
When the bullying started, everything changed. My grades dropped and I withdrew from the world. I began spending a lot of time alone. When I got home I would lock myself in my room and just listen to music. My parents thought that I was just being rebellious. A few years down the line, my mother took the keys to my bedroom in an effort to make me mingle more.
Deep inside, I was going through so much pain. I had endured negative comments on each school day for five years of my life. My self esteem became so low that I even stopped looking into mirrors. I remember locking myself in my room one day and I began to cry. I asked God to help me forget it all… with time, I forgot about most of the memories that taunted me.
In high school, I studied in a remote part of the country. There wasn’t any bullying, people seemed to mind their own business. I made a few friends but people were puzzled at how quiet I was, I rarely interacted with students from other classes.
In my first year, I was motivated to work hard, I was still haunted by scars from my past.I started out well, but I never really believed in myself. I began to immerse myself into writing as it was one of the things that made me happy.
I finished and went to college. I made a few friends on the first week, most of them were extroverts. I would tell myself that I would work on becoming as outspoken as them.
On one idle day, I decided to go for a personality test. I found out that I was an INTJ. It was at that moment that things began to make sense. For the first time in my life, I felt like I knew who I was. My counsellor thought I was special, I didn’t exactly know why at the moment.
I however felt like I was living in an extrovert’s world. I felt like I needed to change or I would never go past an interview. I never changed, but I managed to get called to interviews for internships.
In most of the posts I got, I was questioned for being quiet. One of my bosses commented at one time, ‘smile,just say hi to …when he comes in, its easy!’ I did try to greet people but I found it hard to interact especially in a place where most people were very vocal. In my appraisal, I wrote in one section that I was an introvert but I got a response that implied that this did not matter.
With time, I changed jobs. And for a moment it felt like hell because ‘flaws’ in my personality kept being pointed out. ‘I was too quiet, I never ate lunch in groups, I was not outspoken as the new staff, I was never assertive enough,’. I tried to change… not that anyone noticed.
After hearing a few negative comments, I began to feel miserable. I decided that I would change my approach in future interviews or else people would expect me to be an extrovert. But I decided that I would not change to make others happy while I myself was unhappy. I would embrace who I am. After all, they never asked the extroverts to change. They never made efforts to understand me, but a lot of effort to judge me.
Very recently, someone told me that ‘I would die and no one would remember me’ because I was quiet. I never responded because it felt like it was a statement from a bully.
I know myself, probably better than most people think. People think that just because someone is quiet, they do not know who they are. I have decided to embrace my personality and let people think what they think, after all, they will constantly be judging me. I live in a world where people are constantly telling me what will happen in my life based solely on judgement… or looking at me as an easy target to vent out their negative comments.
‘I am Doreen (‘soy doreen’ in spanish) and I am an introvert. I am strong in my own way. In my silence I have found my confidence and my strength and I have discovered my true self’