Around 15 months back, I breathed a sigh of relief when a congratulatory email from IIM Rohtak popped up in my inbox. The dream of studying in an IIM had finally come true. Now was the time to live the life I had yearned for, the life which would transform me. I had heard that one gets amazing opportunities to network with batch mates, seniors, and the alumni. A multitude of opportunities to interact and collaborate with people in various teams for group projects, committees etc knock one’s door. Moreover, partying in large groups at the finest pubs of the city is frequent at the B-School. Exciting, isn’t it? Who would want to miss living a life such as this one?
However, for me, these were the very reasons why I was actually getting paranoid as the date of joining approached. Those days in the run up to the joining were the period of self-doubt. The distressing question hanging over my head was: Will I be able to get out of the shell (of introversion) I had spent my life in?
Fast forward to September 2016, I feel that pursuing MBA was one of the best decisions of my life. In a socially stimulated B-School environment where an outgoing extrovert is everyone’s darling, and introverts are generally considered a misfit, adapting to the circumstances was easier said than done. However, the lasting lessons that I learnt along the way are priceless.
Albeit I have not been the loudest participant in the class, I did manage to occasionally assert my opinion at times when I felt strongly about a subject under discussion. Although I have been a person who has been filled with dread by the idea of public speaking, I did manage to muster courage to speak up in presentations. I might not be the one with scores of friends in the campus, I did forge some lasting friendships with people who I can talk to for hours. Notwithstanding the fact that I couldn’t turn myself into a party animal who would savor the noise of pubs over the let-me-have-some-air-to-breath ambience, I did relish going for nice dinners with a group of close friends.
In spite of the above mentioned facts, I feel an inevitable need for solitude. As Susan Cain mentions in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, solitude is the air introverts breathe. There are days when I feel like sitting in the library for the whole day reading an interesting book or writing an article. There are times when I feel an urge to find an escape route from a seemingly ubiquitous small talk. At times, I have to gracefully say no to an invitation to a party, just to stay back and read/write something.
With such a dichotomy, how do we maintain the balance between being socially active and quenching our need of solitude to thrive – and transcend – the life at a B-School?
The journey at IIM Rohtak has taught me some pivotal life lessons about becoming more socially acceptable while protecting my quiet time. Some of these guiding principles are:
1. Every B-School experience is different:
I wish I had known this the day I set my foot in IIM Rohtak. It is said that you can’t take part in every activity that happens at a B-School. The value one aims to derive from their MBA is different for everyone, so is their Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). I fear missing out on my time of silence - even if it comes at the cost of missing being a part of some clubs or event teams. The sooner we identify our FOMO, the better it is.
“On the last day of exams or after successfully completing a long-term project, not going out to celebrate is considered blasphemous. But I choose to stay in my room to watch a movie or read a book I had been waiting to watch/read from a long time,” says Akshat Modi, a first year student at IIM Rohtak and an introvert. “I would feel I am missing out on my learning here if I don’t actively take part in organizing a coveted event or don’t go on a trip with a group of batch mates over a weekend as these opportunities help me forge new connections,” recalls Ritesh Pathak, an extrovert, and a member of core teams of all the flagship events and Public Relations Cell of the institute. The bottom line is that time at the B-School is your own time, and only you can decide what it is worth spending on.
2. Get out of your comfort zone:
The B-School life is socially demanding. Period. We, the species of introverts, often try to remain in our cocoons of isolation and evade the socially stimulating situations. Many of us would not speak up in the classroom to answer a question despite knowing the answer. We would shy away from reaching out to a peer/professor for help and would squander hours trying to find a solution to the problem on our own. It is commonplace to witness that most of the introverts are silent observers on Social Media/Whatsapp and would hide their birthdays well in advance off all the possible platforms.
Recollecting her three months of B-School journey so far, Shreya Sankhla, a first year student, and an introvert, remarks, “The conundrum I usually find myself in is whether to speak up or keep quiet when I am in a group of unfamiliar faces. I play out the entire conversations in my mind, only to end up not uttering a word most of the times.” Another introvert, and a sophomore, Abhay Kulkarni, admits, “I have been through a number of situations when I had the opportunity of overcoming my fears of social engagement, but that wee bit of doubt of fumbling in public in the back of my mind always held me back.” Nonetheless, life can’t be lived swaddled in a shell, more so, in a B-School. We need to confront the discomfort as most of the opportunities knock but once.
Introspection is to an introvert as servicing is to a car. We don’t learn as much looking outwards as we learn looking inwards. We figure out what’s working and what’s not by asking ourselves hard questions and writing answers to them. Amidst the never-ending hustle and bustle of the B-School life, we need to stop and deliberately correct the course. The above mentioned lessons aren’t automatically inculcated in our lives once we identify them. We have to consciously imbibe them through repeated introspection. Hence, looking inwards at regular intervals helps us keep a check on what we do in the outer world.
Although introverts are diffident by nature, it doesn't infer that MBA is not meant for them. In fact, in her book, Susan Cain argues that introverts are as much required in leadership positions in an organization as the extroverts are. Similarly, in his best-seller, Good to Great, Jim Collins finds out that the paradoxical combination of personal humility, shyness and professional will – the common traits of introverts – is shared among the subjects of his research for level 5 leadership. So, given that the introverts mend their ways towards becoming less socially anxious – while remaining who they are underneath – they can also tread the path of success, just like our socially exuberant extrovert counterparts. Having said that, an introvert pursuing a course like MBA does deserve a pat on their back, for they combat challenges – that are difficult for the outer world to fathom – to marginally improve their social quotient every day.
About the Author:
Siddharth Mehndiratta is a second-year student at IIM Rohtak. He is also a member of Public Relations Cell of the institute. Before joining IIM Rohtak, he has worked with Tata Consultancy Services for 18 months.