By: Avery Matteo, 15
Since I was three years old my parents knew something was different about me. I became increasingly anxious around other people, and couldn’t manage to muster a simple hello to the people I loved most without freezing up. It was an indescribable feeling; I had a pit in my stomach and couldn’t bring myself to speak to anyone other than my immediate family members.
I always had a million thoughts running through my mind, but I couldn’t share my voice. My parents gave me time, thinking this was a shyness phase that would go away, but my condition didn’t improve. They came to the conclusion that the best plan was to take me to a therapist. I didn’t quite understand what a therapist was at the time, so understandably, I was a little uncomfortable with the idea. Luckily, I became much more comfortable after a couple sessions. She worked with me on a weekly basis, and eventually concluded that I had a condition called Selective Mutism. Selective Mutism is a form of social phobia – an inability to speak in most social settings. There is a misconception that it’s just a more intense version of shyness, but people that have experienced this feeling know that couldn’t be further from the truth. As I gained some new friends, grew up, and learned how to cope with uncomfortable situations, I greatly improved and overcame the severe effects. I definitely don’t suffer the impact of this as much anymore as I continue to age. I am, however, still learning how to open up to others and share my opinions freely. Unfortunately, dealing with something such as this isn’t necessarily “curable”, and I only recently made it a personal goal to learn how to be better at communicating and become a good leader.
To kick off my big plan, I applied for a leadership class at my high school. I was ecstatic when I got in, and thought this would be the year that I would finally be able to come out of my shell and learn how to be strong and confident once and for all! Once I arrived and realized what the class was all about, I knew it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought – but in a different way than expected. I made sure to always participate in projects, take notes, and voice my ideas; but I still felt odd. My perspective on this strategy changed a few weeks ago when my teacher assigned us a project. We were to have our peers write down a few positive and negative words that they would use to describe you. The day I received my sheet of paper back, I was a bit shocked. I had received a variety of positive traits, but almost every single one of my negative traits were the same. Almost all said “shy” or “quiet”. This puzzled me, because I had made a conscious effort to put effort forward to do the exact opposite. What shocked me even more was that “quiet” was considered a negative trait among most of my peers.
Society seems to bring forth the stereotype that says leaders have to be loud and social to get a point across and do well, when this couldn’t be further from the truth. Abraham Lincoln was an introvert and Bill Gates and Emma Watson are both incredibly successful people who identify as introverts. They have all accomplished incredible things and are adored by millions, but that is because their fears didn’t stop them from reaching their accomplishments. Although I’m sure they were discouraged by others for not fitting the typical mold of what a leader should look like, they carried on anyways.
After all this had happened, I finally acknowledged that I might not be going about this self improvement process properly. Just because I don’t socialize as much during class and prefer to get work done doesn’t mean I don’t have the potential to be a leader. Trying to be someone I’m not by learning how to inhabit the characteristics of an extrovert isn’t going to get me further in life. Just because I’m more reserved doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to offer the world, I will just find a different way to show it. This year, instead of trying too hard to be an extrovert, I’m going to learn to embrace my more relaxed personality. I can be a leader and accomplish whatever I want – but this time, on my own terms rather than everyone else’s.