The blog of author Harper Alexander

Come out of your shell, Effie!


Everyone used to tell me I needed to come out of my shell.  This was the single most resentment-inspiring sentiment I think I heard growing up.  I was like – but my shell is where the voices are.  They wanted to take me away from the voices.  From my horde of imaginary friends, my innermost cloud of ideas, my bubble of imagination.

I was the typical reserved/anti-social/shy introvert.  Except that I wasn’t really anti-social – I just didn’t happen to care for what I saw in most people, or feel very inclined to add my two cents where they had all already added their ten to topics that weren’t even worth two cents to begin with.

Okay, maybe that does make me anti-social.  I just know I was perfectly willing and happy to be social if it was worth my time – if there was intelligent conversation to be had or if the people having it were actually interesting or funny or genuinely nice.  Or if I just happened to like them, which wasn’t often, but happened once in a blue moon.

Anyway, my point is that everyone was always trying to coax me out of my ‘shell’, and I couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.  I liked it there.  There was a lot of good stuff in that shell.  It’s  not like I didn’t have friends, and following the voices inside of my shell saw me self-published by the time I was sixteen.  What more did people want from me?  They seemed to want me to get out there and try new things.  But why, begged the resistant voices in my head.  Why, if I was already doing what I wanted to be doing?  I tried other things as a kid – T-ball, barbies, bike riding, digging to China with tooth-brushes and burping my A,B,C’s with my boy cousins…  I’d already been there and done that.

(In all seriousness, I was a 4H-er, a horsewoman, a competitive gymnast, an artist, an animal-rescuer, a soccer player, a dancer, a volunteer-of-the-year…  So I did, in fact, get around some.)

They told me I shouldn’t limit myself, but I always felt as though that was a silly thing to say to someone in the business of imagination.  Imagination is limitless.

This has always been, and probably always will be, my stance.  I’m not saying there aren’t things out there worth trying, or that I wouldn’t be happy that I did, or that you shouldn’t get out there and try those things.  Trying things is great.  I tried paintballing recently, and it was awesome.  Experiences can only build character and add to the pot of material and experience that you can draw from.  There is a world full of inspiration out there.  I’m just saying that I’m not going to waste away in my ‘shell’, or fail at life just because I happen to think it’s warm and cozy (and bursting with aweseomeness) in there.  I’m saying sometimes a shell is fine.  Sometimes a shell has good things inside of it.  There is a lot inside of a shell you can draw from, too.  Diversity is great, but so is a deep connection to yourself, to the things that make you live and tick and breathe and imagine without all those other influences.

Sometimes, the sweetest nothings are whispered inside of a shell.  Sometimes there is a world all its own – maybe even two or three – inside of a ‘shell’.  Maybe ten or twenty.  I’m just saying it may be vaster in there than you think.

I’m just saying sometimes shells can be a good thing for someone who might have been born with one, who might be meant to have that kind of a filter.  There are those of us who would be naked without it.  Who wouldn’t be ourselves if we weren’t allowed to maintain our reserved nature.  So the next time someone is minding their own business and you feel the need to help them with that shell problem, I invite you to consider this point of view, and the following two related videos, both entirely relevant, which I share on their behalf;

(Thanks to a friendly blogger who shared the second of these videos with me in the comments below.  This post has  been updated to include it, because it touches exactly on everything that I’m getting at, here.)

And if you know someone whose life truly is suffering from shell-like inhibitions, perhaps telling said soul “You need to come out of your shell” is not the most inspiring or encouraging way to draw them out of said shell.  Something to think about.


7 thoughts on “Come out of your shell, Effie!

  1. People used to say the same to my sister. Unfortunately she didn’t have your self-possession and suffered quite a bit trying to conform. Very best to you.

  2. You might enjoy Susan Cain’s lecture on being an introvert–and why that’s okay.

    You’re not alone.

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