This is for the “quiet” ones. This is for anyone who analyzes their contributions to a conversation, trying to calculate the socially appropriate amount of dialogue, often falling short, unsure of what to say, worried to cut someone off, assuming no one wants to hear you anyway.
This is for anyone who’s been asked the jarring question, “why are you so quiet?” A question that leaves you feeling stripped of your worth, a question that generates physical waves of inferiority that ripple throughout your chest, palpating feelings of being an outsider.
This is for anyone who’s felt sentenced to scrutiny during presentations, a trial with the very peers you already feel inferior to. This is for anyone who learned the unspoken prerequisite that to fit in, you must talk. This is for anyone with teachers who validated this on report cards, giving a stamp of disapproval for being quiet in class, teaching you quietness was a flaw, learning you were flawed.
This is for you because this has been me. I’ve experienced the horror before presentations, the unnaturalness of it all. I’ve experienced the sheer dread before something as mundane as walking across a crosswalk, with everyone looking, judging.
This is for you because I now choose to regularly walk in front of a room full of people. I now choose to regularly talk in front of a room full of people.
This is for you because I still analyze my contributions to conversations, sometimes avoiding group interactions altogether, intimately familiar with the instinct to hide, escape, avoid.
This is for you because even though it still happens, the intensity is gone, the frequency has plummeted. This is for you because even though it’s still there, it’s now a piece of me instead of enveloping me, suffocating me.
This is for you because that was me. That was me and now this is me: a professor. Now I sometimes even earn the dialogue points in small talk.
If you’re out there hiding, this is for you. There’s room out here for you.
If you’re not ready, I’ll hold a place for you.