The Perks of Being a Participant

“Sometimes people use thought not to participate in life.” – Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower


All too often, we let our thoughts get the best of us. Instead of engaging in a lively discussion in our classes, we fade into the background, focusing mostly on some fixed point across the room and the words we would be contributing if we decided to speak up. Instead of adding our own expertise to the conversations surrounding us, we sometimes bottle it up, leaving ourselves feeling unfulfilled and the conversations somehow incomplete. We worry about our inadequacy, even though others often see us as experts in our fields, and what does this accomplish?

When you want to learn about other people and gain insights, it’s often important to shut your mouth and really listen to what they have to say… it’s also a great way to make new friends (see #5). And when you’re in class and everyone is discussing a particular topic, sometimes it’s healthy to just sit back and soak it all in. But there comes the time when you can’t just rely on quietly observing, a time when you need to just dive in.

For the more outgoing readers, this might not sound like such a big deal, but for some of us it can be difficult to step out of our shells and share our thoughts and opinions. After all, what will others think? What if the things we say aren’t important or interesting enough? The words are at the tip of our tongues but we keep quiet for fear of failure or imperfection, or simply because we’re afraid of revealing a more vulnerable aspect of ourselves.

As someone who has bounced back and forth between being extroverted and painfully shy at different points in my life, I have definitely struggled to find the balance between speaking up and stepping back. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has always resonated with me (even though I was barely a toddler at the time the events of the book took place), but Chbosky’s words that I quoted at the beginning ring especially true. I’ve found that the more I speak up in certain classes, the better my grades usually are and the easier it is for me to stay focused and interested in the subject matter. The more involved I am at club meetings, the more I feel like a part of something bigger. Obviously it’s not a good idea to let your ideas dominate — you want to be open to others, and you don’t want to be known as the one who won’t let anyone get a word in — but a lot of times when I don’t say something important that’s on my mind, I only regret it later.

Anyway, it’s important to be engaged in what you do because it allows you to accomplish more than you would otherwise. It fosters new relationships and connections, allows for self-expression, and helps you to grow as a person.

You don’t have to go out and join every club on campus or speak up in class every time a somewhat relevant thought pops into your head, but I do encourage and challenge each of my more introverted readers to get out of your comfort zones today. Keep observing everything you can around you, but raise your hand at least once in class, or tell a club officer what’s on your mind. Baby steps each day will help us all to grow and change for the better. 🙂

Leave a Reply