I was born an introvert. From the moment I learned to walk, I sought out the most obscure hiding spots in the house to read and draw in seclusion until my parents dragged me out. When I began public schooling, I sat quietly and obediently in the corner, sneaking peeks at my books while my classmates prattled away with each other. Unsolicited conversation was my greatest fear, and moments alone were my greatest treasure.
Everyone thought I was too independent, shy, and socially inept. But I was happy to be an introvert. Being quiet allowed me to meditate on my thoughts, to reflect on the world around me and make insights into life and people. Thoughtfulness and intellectualism, to me, were fine replacements for social agility. So I kept silent even when I felt pressured to interact with other kids, seeking solitude from my first day of kindergarten to my early adolescence.
But there were rare moments when I would open up, where anyone would least expect it: in front of an audience.
I was shaken with nerves when engaging in casual conversations, always fretting about the impression my word choices, my tone, even my subtlest facial expressions would give. But when I got in front of a room of dozens of people, my anxiety transformed instead into empowerment. It was the only environment in which I was willing – eager, even – to speak. I had the freedom to take discourse in whatever direction I wanted to explore. I could talk about the meaningful ideas that didn’t quite fit in the superficial conversations of young teenagers, but which I very desperately wanted to discuss. I could command the respect of my classmates, with whom I struggled to connect with individually. Being on stage or in front of the classroom, I could put up the best version of me: the strong, intellectual, and confident self that I hoped to become as I got older.
I’ve opened up since my bashful years in middle school, finally learning that I can be myself in the company of others and have worthwhile conversations that widen my worldview just as greatly as do my introspective revelations. But my love for public speaking has only grown stronger, expanding beyond generic classroom projects to research presentations and school board meetings. And every weekend, I deliver speeches in rooms full of teenagers dressed in suits (by far the most intimidating audience). These debate tournaments require intense individual research and preparation, but the result is exceptionally collaborative. In those cramped classrooms scattered with paper placards and wrinkled legal pads, intellectual synergy of the highest degree takes place. My ideas are no longer internal, alone, and passive. They join with dozens of others in an orchestra of debate, transformed from idle thoughts and musings into forces for change. That’s the greatest thing about speaking – realizing the potential of immaterial thinking. There is nothing more exciting than becoming a contributor to innovation, and offering one more mind to a world of ideas.