Who Are You Really?

For as long as I can remember, others have referred to me as a quiet person. My quiet nature just seemed like something that everyone universally accepted. I’ll admit, as a child, I was very shy. I’d hide behind my mom when I met new people, and I certainly wasn’t the biggest fan of class presentations. This label stuck with me for a long time, throughout my middle school years and all throughout high school. I was nice, I was quiet, and the last thing I wanted to do was upset anyone.

As she pondered a good word to describe me, a teacher once jokingly uttered “outspoken” with a laugh, while I politely smiled back, assuring her that I could make fun of myself. In reality, when I went home that day, I began to worry if she was kidding or not. “Do I talk too much?” I anxiously wondered to myself. “Am I too loud?”

How funny it is to think back on that incident now. The girl even a newspaper headline deemed “quiet” was still concerned about drawing too much attention to herself.

I’ll be honest: Out of all the labels others can slap on you, “quiet” isn’t exactly the worst. But now, almost halfway through college, I’ve begun to wonder if I truly was the timid person everyone made me out to be, or if I just fell into the labeling trap. The girl who talks a mile a minute at home, who always looks to get a word in during dining hall conversations, who spends weekends screaming song lyrics with her friends… is quiet?

I just don’t see it anymore. Something doesn’t quite add up.  

I can’t help but think that I might have become what everyone described me as. For years, my status as the “quiet” girl seemed like something that everyone was hung up on. Oh, her? She’s nice, so quiet. Always shy, always quiet. It was easy to become the person that everyone expected me to be.

It felt a little bit suffocating, too, though. If anything, being widely recognized as the quiet girl made me less likely to raise my hand. I felt nervous about public speaking only because there was a voice in the back of my head telling me that I wasn’t good at it because I was quiet. And I knew I was quiet because well, everyone said so.

Who knows? Maybe, I would still have been just as soft-spoken all those years regardless of whether or not others put me in that “quiet” box. But to me, it seemed like the second I met new people, people without their own preconceived notions of who I was, I didn’t feel the same restrictions that had subconsciously weighed on me for so long.

I’ve realized how important it is to have a firm sense of who you are based on your own reality and not others’ perceptions of you. I should never feel the need to modify who I am in order to keep everyone happy all the time. I have people in my life whom I’ve realized are uncomfortable with me embracing myself and doing what makes me happy. Some people expect me to be soft-spoken, to go with the flow, to take critical comments without complaint. When I defend myself, or when I’m vocal about my own needs and accomplishments, my reaction throws people off.

I’m not someone who likes to rock the boat. I don’t like controversy, especially when I’m the cause of it. But that’s simply something that I’m going to have to learn to live with if I want to prioritize myself and my own happiness instead of staying within the confines of the boxes that others put me in.

Ellen Arvidson

Originally from Connecticut, Ellen is an English major at Saint Michael's College in Burlington, Vermont. She loves running, skiing, and anything to do with Broadway musicals.

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