Being an introvert and doing bschool


By Abraham Ingle

I’m an introvert. Depending on who you tell this to, some people I know will say, “What?? No you’re not. You talk all the time!” And others will say, “Duh, you’re totally antisocial.”

Setting aside the fact that different people’s definitions of “introvert” and “extrovert” vary a lot, I do test as an introvert. And when I started thinking about going to business school, one of my biggest worries was, “Business school is a place for loud, gregarious, going-to-happy-hour-all-the-time people, and that’s not me. Do I not belong there?” And as much as schools love to talk about how much they embrace diversity, I don’t think they make it a point to include individuals who prefer to stay out of the spotlight in their efforts.

As an introvert, sometimes it feels like what bschools really want are actors and actresses. People who take to the stage, hold the attention of crowds and deliver a message (Steve Jobs’ showmanship probably had a hand in all this, and now everyone listens to TED talks). And yes, getting up in front of people and making them feel what you want them to feel is one kind of leadership, and a really impressive one. But on the other hand, Mark Zuckerberg is no Steve Jobs during his presentations…but do people think he is a poor leader? Well, maybe they do…but can you argue with his results?

Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I’m passive. I can be very assertive–in fact, I think my assertiveness tends to come off extra-pointy due to my overall tendency of talking less than most others. And if there’s anything I dislike the most, it’s inefficiency, especially when it comes to communication. There’s a reason why my friends say I “tell it how it is.”

So although I am fully capable of attending parties and joining everyone at happy hour, they probably aren’t the first thing I’d want to do if I had some spare time. I’d rather listen to my latest audiobook (Do you guys use audible? I first thought audiobooks were for seniors with poor eyesight, but now I can’t live without them. I get through TONS of books during my commutes; it’s awesome) or sit down and plan out what I’m going to accomplish the next day. But I do know that creating a strong network of peers is quite possibly the most valuable thing one can gain out of business school. And I really do enjoy the time I spend in social situations. But the biggest hurdle I have as an introvert, though, is how much social activities drain me energy-wise. At the beginning of a day-long networking conference, I’ll be totally on the ball–making introductions, memorizing names and faces, exchanging info–but by the end of the day, I am 110% spent and want to take an extremely long nap. And a lot of times that leads me to skip out on the concluding reception or happy hour.

So here’s my plan of action: Increase my overall energy level through a combination of coffee, exercise, strategic eating and sleep regulation. I know, it sounds kind of ludicrous. But I’ve actually somewhat deployed this technique already with some success. During a networking lunch awhile ago, I ordered coffee to go with my sandwich while everyone else got soda and iced tea. It was odd enough that one person poked fun at me (“Someone missed their morning coffee today!”), but that didn’t matter–the caffeine definitely perked me up enough to keep me strong throughout the entirety of the lunch.

Now here’s the real challenge: How do I consume enough coffee to keep me alert, but not enough to make me immune to (or dependent on) its effects? 🙂


5 thoughts on “Being an introvert and doing bschool

  1. You have so nicely put down a lot of my fears about being an introvert in b-school.

    On top of that, I can’t have too much coffee without getting the jitters. But I guess handling social gatherings without getting exhausted will be one of the skills I’ll have to develop. Or learn to be a jittery networker.

    By the way, I have enjoyed reading your blog immensely, always glad to find people writing about b-school and non profit work. Good Luck at Johnson!

    • I also get the jitters from coffee–I don’t drink it regularly (I’m a tea person), and I’m sensitive enough to it that if I drink a cup in the afternoon I have trouble falling asleep at night! But I’m figuring out the smaller doses I can take so I can use it strategically 🙂

      And thanks for reading. I bet there are a lot more “closeted” bschool introverts out there. I hope we can all support each other.

  2. I’m also an introvert & I worry about being one in a Bschool too. Does the thought of orientation games freak you out like it does to me?!! LOL

    Recently I listened to Susan Cain’s Quiet (yes, an audiobook! But only because I was recuperating from an eye surgery), and it really helped me to realize I’m not the only one facing challenges in interacting with complete strangers in a big group.

    I’ve had some experience dealing with this in my current work/company. The strategy that works for me is: 1) getting enough sleep because the more tired I am, the more stressful it gets interacting with people; and 2) practice – like making an effort to attend informal drinks or networking events in the office and talk to people I’ve not met before. It usually doesn’t end in a disaster, which gives me the confidence to do it again next time.

    BTW, I’m really hoping you’ll come to Yale 😉

    • YES. As a general rule, team-building exercises terrify me! Lots of random people thrown into a contrived situation where everyone has to jockey around each other and figure each other out? Not exactly my idea of fun, even if they’re considered “games” 🙂 The weird thing is, if it was a professional setting of random people coming together to achieve a common goal at work, I’d have no problem with it whatsoever.

      Thanks for sharing your tips! It definitely helps to hear your ideas. Your point that it “usually doesn’t end in a disaster” is the best kind of encouragement for me, because it’s completely true.

      Haven’t read Quiet yet, though I’ve heard a lot about it. Definitely need to add that to my list. And yay for audiobooks!

      • I highly recommend Quiet. I identified to so many traits/anecdotes described in the book, it really made me feel I’m not the only introvert feeling lost in an extrovert world. She also interviewed an introverted students from HBS and his struggles there.

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