By Yashpreet Birdi, Contributor
Demonstrating leadership is a concept that we have all likely come across in our course outlines, student club activities or job postings. Figuring out how to show others your leadership capabilities can be scary for those of us who identify as introverted. But maybe we should focus on redefining the term “leadership”. I have realized over time that there can be many opportunities for introverted students to become leaders.
McMaster University is constantly promoting initiatives such as Welcome Week, student elections and executive positions for student clubs. These activities are constantly tied to being extroverted and well-suited for future leaders.
For example, these opportunities usually consist of campaigning and delivering speeches which require you to be comfortable engaging with others. In other words, you can’t experience terrible anxiety when you’re put on the spot!
Because of the popularity of such initiatives at McMaster, it can become difficult for introverted students to realize that there is also space for them to demonstrate and develop strong leadership skills. If you are introverted, here’s how you can become your own type of leader.
Dare to challenge traditional perceptions
When I, an introvert, used to hear the term “leader” I would automatically visualize an extroverted person confidently standing at a podium, making motivational speeches that would eventually propel others towards a brighter future. I would rarely imagine someone who is seen as more “behind the scenes”. Why are these quieter personalities not often described to be motivational, ambitious, influential and powerful? It’s interesting to see how our brains automatically connect certain terms with specific visuals. But my stereotype visual is not the only possible depiction of a successful leader.
Through my recent observations, I have seen that leadership can be diverse. In our everyday life, we can see the several personality types that surround us — not just limited to introverts and extroverts. All personality types have different abilities, strengths, goals and preferences.
Create your own definition for ‘leadership’ and ‘success’
The dream of becoming the next great leader forces introverts to reimagine their idea of success and leadership. Try the simple practice of closing your eyes and visualizing yourself as a powerful and successful leader. What do you see? What are your strengths? What do you bring to the table? When you have a strong passion to contribute to making the world a better place, you must not let biases against your personality type prevent you from working towards your goals.
Take advantage of unique opportunities
There are many opportunities for introverted students to showcase their skills without having to change their personalities to fit into traditional ideologies of success.
Attending lectures and office hours for me is not only an opportunity to gain knowledge from experts. It is also a chance to get inspired and examine the hard work that professors perform behind the scenes to prepare for their academic duties. These experts have the amazing ability to influence various policy, health, science, politics and religious debates. Just by looking at these leaders, you can see endless opportunities for introverts. Think about the possibility of conducting research with your professors to contribute to their efforts of influencing the world.
Additionally, I believe that the best opportunity for us to demonstrate leadership is to exercise our right to vote as Canadian citizens. Commit to voting in the upcoming Canadian federal election on Oct. 21, 2019! If running for elections is seen as a leadership initiative, voting should be seen in a similar lens.
By making the firm decision to vote for the upcoming election, you not only take the initiative to take action, but you also strongly voice your opinion, and attempt to improve how our society and country operates. Does this not sound like taking a strong step towards leadership and making an impact?
Reflect, Define, Proceed, Repeat!
We should always remember that Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
It is essential to reflect on your personal missions, define what success and leadership mean to you and confidently proceed in your individual path. And don’t forget to repeat this process whenever you feel overwhelmed during your journey towards success and strong leadership!
By Marzan Hamid, Contributor
McMaster University’s Welcome Week is loud and full of spirit — and rightfully so. It is the one week of the year where students are allowed to be shamelessly rowdy and proud of the school they go to. It is a time for first years to make McMaster and its community their home.
However, in order to truly make Mac a home for everyone, the week needs to be accessible to a wider range of personalities. It needs to welcome both those who love the noise, and those who don’t.
McMaster is a diverse university in many ways. As its students, we have many different mother tongues, we coexist in different faiths and we study different passions. Students at Mac come from all points of the personality spectrum, too. However, these differences don’t seem to be taken into consideration.
Welcome Week events are synonymous to heaven for extroverts. Loud crowds during faculty fusion? Hell yeah. Meeting 300 new people in a day and introducing the same three details over and over again? Nothing better. Raving to Bryce Vine in a mosh pit? Wouldn’t miss it for the world.
On the flip side, introverts find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. For people who want some downtime away from the large crowds where they cannot find much more than a few superficial connections, Welcome Week can be emotionally draining. While faculty and residence reps can be a huge resource for this exhaustion, it is undeniable that a disproportionate number of Welcome Week events cater to extroverted students, leaving their introverted counterparts feeling forced into situations they would much rather avoid.
The few low-key events that do exist are not as well promoted or organized. Things like painting or hikes can get crowded easily and limit the intimacy of connections that can be formed. Not to mention, introverted out-of-province and international students can easily feel isolated if they don’t already have friends on campus.
Small group activities are especially hard to come by in larger faculties where organization becomes difficult — however, we must remember who and what the week is for: for embracing new Marauders. Despite the challenges we may encounter when making students feel at home, it should be emphasized that there is truly something available for everyone to try. Whether that is through small group activities running alongside the bigger events (which are promoted just as much), or having designated areas on campus for downtime activities, we need to make strides to make this nervous time of year easier for everyone.
Many students are on their own for the first time in their life; this comes with its own set of problems and anxieties. Welcome Week shouldn’t have to be another. It should be a week as enjoyable for the social butterflies as it is for the wallflowers.
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Three years ago, I left Welcome Week feeling like I didn’t belong in the McMaster community. All the screaming and spontaneous Gangman Style mobs just weren’t my thing. The whole week seemed to cater only to extroverts and seemingly extroverted introverts. My only recluses were the friends I made in my small faculty and the few friends I knew coming to McMaster.
For this year’s crop of frosh who are concerned or disillusioned, there are two things you should know. First, your university career is probably not going to be like Welcome Week. You’ll find your little niche, and do the things you like with a small clique of friends. There will be no yelling “HYPE HYPE HYPE” or “nae nae”-ing on the street.
That said, by design an extrovert can more easily succeed in university socially than an introvert. Residence life for an introvert is like living in a minefield of social opportunities and situations. Luckily, that doesn’t mean an introvert is doomed. To survive, you have to get to know your preferences. You may like to spend time by yourself or take time to observe and think before you act. Focus on your interests and make as many—or likely in this case, as few—connections as you desire. Once you figure out what you like, you can easily find people and extracurricular activities that are compatible to you. Clubs are great because you get to talk about what you’re interested in with a small group of people.
Jillian Perkins-Marsh, an Alumni Career Counsellor at the Student Success Centre, says it is also important to take the risk of experiencing new things through experiential programming like MacServe and job shadowing. “At the end of the day you are gaining skills for your own personal development. The experiences always teach you something about yourself even if it doesn’t work out. Personality is not static.”
As an introvert, it’s very important to find the right balance between socializing and taking time for yourself. You should know how to get away when you need to. Your family is a phone call away and they definitely want to hear from you. Find places where you can be quiet and alone on campus if you need to (ETB is a great place that not many people frequent). Jillian also suggests being open about what you need with those around you.
While on this journey of self-discovery it is important to realize that you’re not alone.
In Susan Cain’s TED talk, “The Power of Introverts”, Cain reveals the shocking fact that approximately one third to half of the population identify as introverts. Jillian also suggests completing a Myers-Brig test. “Reading up on yourself can be a really enlightening process.” Frankly, there’s no shame in cozying up in your bed by your lonesome with your boyfriend pillow and Netflix (or as I like to call it, Netflix and no chill).
The second thing you should know is that Welcome Week as a whole actually isn’t so bad. Sure events like MacConnector and PJ Parade are intended for extroverts, but there are plenty of opportunities for introverts as well. If reps did their jobs properly, hopefully at some point in the week you had a nice quiet conversation with a rep or painted a rock or made a bracelet at the chill tent.
Full disclosure, as a Welcome Week faculty planner this year, I have my biases. On the other hand, I’m not the archetypal rep because I’m a quiet introvert. This past week my screaming was kept to a minimum and I was mostly silent in planner meetings. In the past I was worried about what people thought about me given how quiet I was, but the truth is the people who matter don’t think any less of you. They understand where you’re coming from and they know that you are engaged. While as an introvert, it is worthwhile to try to branch out and practice speaking to groups, it’s important to remember that you are simply wired to prefer one way of acting. Forcing yourself to change is as silly as trying to convince yourself that you like boiled eggplant.
On the distinction between branching out and trying too hard to change who you are, Jillian says that it “depends on your own motivations. You should know whether you are doing what you want versus what you think people want you to do.”
Just know that, as an introvert, you can still be a part of the McMaster community if you want to.
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If you put me in a group of five people I didn’t know, my anxiety would shoot through the roof and I’d be in a panic.
But if you put me on stage in front of fifty people and asked me to bare my soul, I wouldn’t hesitate. Being someone who usually prefers to be alone, having a passion for spoken word doesn’t make much sense.
But here I am, competing a few times a month in poetry slams in Hamilton and Toronto, standing in front of other people and asking them to assign a numerical value to how I share my thoughts, my feelings and my fears. The nerves don’t go away. Before each performance I feel like I’m going to throw up, my hands shake, a million things other than the poem run through my head and I fear terrific failure.
The first time I performed my poetry out loud was at a high school literary coffeehouse complete with black tablecloths, tea lights, and about seventy people. My knees shook so much that I thought I was literally going to fall. My voice wavered and I stared down at my paper the entire time, but as soon as I was done, the auditorium erupted into applause and in that moment, I fell in love with performing.
As soon I get on the stage, for those few minutes, I become someone else, someone more confident, less aware of my surroundings. It’s not so much that I have to overcome my introversion in order to perform spoken word, it’s that my passion for it is so big it feels impossible not to. Even though people are literally judging me, the reception somehow validates me. Lets me know that I’ve just told people the inner workings of my brain and they dig it.
That’s not to say that I only perform poetry for validation. It’s just an added bonus. The main reason why I compete in poetry slams and perform spoken word is to release. Spoken word is a rare format because you get to express yourself without anticipating a response. It’s a one-way conversation that is received with applauses, ovations, cheers and high scores (for the most part).
When I feel anything, whether it be happy or sad or angry, I write a poem. When I get up in front of people and say the poem, it’s as if I’ve just released all the feelings I’ve been holding in. Before I knew what an introvert was, I just thought I was a weird kid who was destined to be alone. I didn’t realize that it was normal to be exhausted by people. Even when you don’t try to, you’re constantly putting on a show for people. From putting on clothes, to brushing your hair, to showering, to looking presentable, it’s all for other people. Of course, I don’t go around dishevelled, dirty and naked when I am alone, but you put in an effort to look presentable for the public.
Beyond that, everything that you say has to be socially appropriate and you have to censor yourself slightly depending on your environment. When I felt like people wouldn’t understand the words I had to say, I would listen to or read other people’s words for reassurance in some semblance of unity.
When I heard a spoken-word poem for the first time, it was as if the feelings I got when I listened to a song and the ones I got when I read a good monologue came together. Since then, I haven’t been able to get enough of it. Having a passion for something outside my comfort zone but discovering that I’m pretty good at it forced me to come out of my shell. There’s one moment during every performance when I look into the audience and they’re looking at me with admiration that I realize I’m doing exactly what I was meant to do.
I still prefer to spend time alone, but every day I step out because I have to in order to keep doing what I love. I keep writing in hopes that one day there will be an awkward teenage kid who thinks they’re weird and my words will help them realize they aren’t. I hate being judged, I usually hate being the centre of attention and I hate putting on shows for people but yet I spend most of my time writing so that I can put on a show for people, be the center of attention and get judged. Ironic.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way. When you discover your passion, you may have to step outside of your comfort zone to pursue it but I can guarantee that it will be worth it.
If you’re feeling annoyed, or exhausted, or overwhelmed by Welcome Week, let me be the first to say, okay. That’s normal. That’s just fine.
One of the strongest memories I have of my Welcome Week is waking up on Sunday morning, scrolling through my phone, and realizing that I had no idea who most of my new contacts were.
I had spent the week frenetically meeting people and making fast friends and trying to do it right. In reality, I spent the next few months awkwardly eyeing people in the hallways whom I only vaguely recognized. It’s events like MacConnecter where, thanks to insubstantial 30-second interactions, ironically, you don’t connect with anyone at all.
And when I got tired of mindless cheering, or wanted a little bit of time to myself to unpack, or didn’t want to be danced up on by a loud rep for the zillionth time, I felt like I was being perceived as a boring, negative person. I felt like I would never make friends.
I get that it’s all fun and games and designed to bring people out of their shells. And to the most part, it accomplishes that goal. But there is very little room for diverse personalities in the Welcome Week approach.
Take Superfrosh, for example. We celebrate a male and female Superfrosh for every faculty, which essentially boils down to finding the loudest, most obnoxious and hyperactive teenager around, and telling everyone that they epitomize the first year ideal. Which is frustrating when one is overwhelmed, feeling alone, and is even mildly introverted.
I’m not pushing for alternative programming. We have plenty of quieter coffee houses and movie nights that are designed for the calmer person – if you’re not too exhausted by traditional WW activities to go. Rather, I’m calling for a change in attitude about what a good frosh experience means.
Coming to university provides the unique chance to reinvent yourself from who you were in high school. You can be anyone you want to be, can start over, can make totally new friends. And you shouldn’t feel limited by the narrow definition of confident first year that Welcome Week seems to insist upon.
Maybe you’ve attended every event and loved them; maybe you’re a little disillusioned but still having fun; maybe you haven’t attended a single Welcome Week event yet. What I want you to know is that it doesn’t matter – you’ll still make friends, be happy, and have an awesome year. It’ll be the little things that form friendships, like games of cards in the common room, and late night Centro runs, and walking with people to class.
Five years ago, I arrived on campus as a buzzing cocktail of excitement, nervousness and determination: McMaster was going to be fun and I would get good grades and make lots of friends and have the best time ever. And, in fact, I did. But that success was despite – not because – of how Welcome Week made me feel.