Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Day in the Mind of an Introvert

You probably know the differences between an introvert and an extrovert by now as it has been a huge topic of discussion. If not, this is a great article that explains the distinction and clarifies that most people are actually in the middle of the spectrum. I classify myself as more of an introvert than extrovert, though I do have some extrovert tendencies. Example, I get really outwardly excited about even the littlest of things. This only increases when my fiancĂ© doesn't express enough excitement, so I have to be excited for him. Howver, apart from my overly large levels of excitement, I tend to keep most things on the inside and I prefer to keep it that way. I share in the many stereotypes of what an introvert is seen to be. So here is what it's like to be in my brain for a day:

Today was day three of the new semester and I am taking five English classes: two literature classes and three writing classes. I've always enjoyed English because it lets me think to myself as I read and I can put my thoughts on paper (or screen) rather than out loud. Communicating verbally has never been one of my strong points. Unfortunately, it would seem that the English department does not share in this opinion of mine. On my first day of class, we had to introduce ourselves in two of my classes. I, of course, did not enjoy this. I thought I was off the hook with the other two classes of the day. Unfortunately, I thought too soon because today my professor (same for both classes) decided we should "get to know our classmates so we can have good discussions." Cue eye roll. We were told to take five or seven minutes to get to know or neighbors. I immediately began thinking about what I would talk about for that seemingly endless amount of time. The first class went okay. I had a very chatty neighbor, so she did most of the talking. Then we had to introduce our partner to the class. The worst part of this is that not only am I being forced to talk to the class, I now have to remember all of the details of the person I just met. And while I was speaking with this person, I had trouble memorizing her life story because I was too busy thinking about how I could contribute to this unnecessary small talk. The third class (with the same professor) went about the same in my head. It was the same activity and same frustrations, so I won't bore you with details.

In my second class we had already done introductions on Monday, so, I expected to be able to sit content and listen to the discussion about Robert Frost, only contributing when I had an opinion. Wrong. Today, my professor decided instead of starting off with a structured class discussion (which I'm totally okay with), that we should chat with our neighbors and see what their thoughts are on modernism and the poems we read. I hate these activities because it forces me to think about how I will carry on the conversation, not about what I am learning in class. To make matters worse, my professor said (in quick the joking manner) that he supposes if some people are for some reason tired of people they could think about the poems to themselves. This should ease my mind, but it didn't. The rest of the class laughed at the this joke, I suppose, because why would someone not want to talk to people? For me, it is because I am in this class to learn about 1900s American Literature and not to have superfluous conversations and "get to know my neighbors." I have a very nice group of friends whom I am now too mentally exhausted to spend time with because I spent the day being forced into small talk.

The large amount of group work and forced conversations in my classes do not help me understand the material better. It only causes me to worry about having time try to understand the content while at the same time trying to navigate social situations. It's too much at once. My classes were over by four o'clock and I have plenty of homework to do but am now stuck trying to gain my mental energy back before I can start.

If you read articles in order to understand introverts, or perhaps you are one too, you hopefully realize that introverts don't hate people. They also don't hate conversation. Actually, I quite enjoy a good stimulating conversation that I choose to have. What I don't like is being forced into a small talk on someone else's terms. I don't like showing up to class physically exhausted because I was up late doing the reading and then being forced to expend my mental energy because the professor thinks all students should be chatty. I am there to learn how to think about literature and how to write, not how to have a conversation loosely related to class. Perhaps these things make some people feel comfortable and ready to discuss, but they isolate others. Today, in the midst of too many people, I felt alone. Sadly, this is not the only part of society which caters to extroverts and excludes introverts. Professors, students, and people need to consider all personality types, not just their own.

Making Mistakes in the Overachiever's Generation

My generation has been taught two very conflicting views: that it is okay to make mistakes and that if we plan to succeed we need to be overachievers. As we are constantly reminded, the job market is lacking, so we need to be able to set ourselves apart from the others. Now, at first it makes sense to be able to make mistakes. We need mistakes in order to learn. As the saying goes, we are only human. But is that what we are expected to be? I recently made a small mistake, but am facing extremely harsh consequences. Does the punishment fit the crime? Not so much. If teachers do not respect a student's ability to make mistakes, they are fostering not only overachievers, but perfectionists. This is very unhealthy. So here I am, just getting over the fact the I used to be a huge perfectionist, coming to terms with the idea that it is okay to make mistakes, when my teacher decides to fail me for one.

Here's the story: I worked my butt off all summer for a class. I didn't turn in a single assignment late and I was maintaining a B average. I used to be upset with a B, but as I said, I am learning to come to terms that doing my best is enough. I had been putting in my best effort and this is what I deserved. Then, despite some procrastination, I worked very hard on my final paper for the class, hoping to keep or improve my B average. Unfortunately, I mixed up the due date with another class of mine and turned it in two days late. I emailed my professor and explained the mistake. Keyword here: Mistake. We all make them, but new zero-tolerance policies do not allow us to. Now, had I made a habit of this I would expect to be treated like a lazy student who has no disrespect for due dates. But that is not me. I work hard and even on the occasions that I procrastinate, I never turn in late work. So, expecting that my professor would understand and likely just lower the grade I would receive on the paper, I explained the situation to her. Unfortunately, she was not as understanding as I had hoped and she refused to even look at the paper I put so many hours of work into. So, then I sat frustrated because not only did I just waste a lot of time, I was going to fail the final. Then, I did some math and realized that even if I fail this paper, I can still pass the class. I wasn't happy at my lost efforts, but I could live with it. A few days later, I received an email that grades were posted. I received an F. She choose to give me a 0 for a class that I put months of effort into, just for a SMALL MISTAKE.

Here's the problem, many teachers will certainly deduct points for late papers, but it is this kind of professor that is causing problems in our generation. How can we accept that it is inevitable and acceptable to make mistakes if we are so heavily penalized for them? This pushes us into perfectionism which is not healthy. Of course, in many cases this state of perfectionism and constant need to avoid mistakes both leads to anxiety and causes us to miss out on valuable learning experiences that come from making mistakes. However, the only learning experience from this situation is that mistakes are unacceptable and that is a lesson that should not exist.