As I continue work on a new project highlighting introversion, I’ve had the opportunity to revisit my first treatise on the topic, The I’s Have It. For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing tidbits that could be helpful as you gear up for the fall. Today: from chapter 7, some “survival tips” for the introverted grad student. Come back next week for your chance at a FREE copy!
Graduate programs in student affairs or higher education can seem particularly daunting for the sorts of students they tend to attract. I remember realizing fairly early in my graduate journey, that my classroom was populated by students who had all been the first to speak up in their undergraduate classes. For a time, I think I allowed that notion to overcome me, and it affected my willingness to raise my voice in class. But as the cohort grew closer and we learned more about one another, I came to a few conclusions. First, we were all intimidated! we all had moments when we weren’t sure if we were supposed to be there. By appealing to each others’ areas of interest or expertise, we created an environment where we were (mostly) free to speak our minds. Secondly, and of equal importance, I discovered I wasn’t the only introvert in the group. Introverts, being prone to internalization, generally believe they are the only ones feeling or thinking as they are. But by finding other kindred spirits who shared my temperament, I built a level of comfort with my classmates that allows me to count many of them among my closest friends today.
Alliances, both like the one I built with Jeff (mentioned in Chapter Three), as well as ones I created with more introverted colleagues, can be helpful when navigating the sometimes intimidating landscape of a practically-based graduate education. So many opportunities lie before graduate students in this field, and we expect herculean pursuit of all of them. Assistantships, internships, practica, publication, presentations, professional association boards…I could go on, but you catch my meaning. The options presented are dizzifying. And not unlike our perspective on the undergraduate experience, we frown upon those who are not in a tizzy of activity during the duration of their waking hours. So how does an introvert cope with a myriad of demands on time and energy that can’t always be relied upon?
Aspire to depth, not breadth. There will be a temptation to overcommit. Fight it. There will be thoughts of inadequacy for not being able to say yes to every opportunity. Banish them. The nature of introversion invites these feelings of doubt because we know more about our perspective than we do anyone else’s. But this deep self-awareness can serve as an asset in this instance. What do you really like? What are you really good at? If you are a good presenter, concentrate on making your impact through presentation proposals and opportunities. If you’re particularly interested in publishing articles on a topic, seek out opportunities to be featured and concentrate on that venue. Focus your efforts toward opportunities that energize and interest you. That depth will serve you as well as breadth could serve extroverts; you’ll be able to effectively harness your natural ability to concentrate meaningfully, and you won’t live in fear of forgetting one of so many commitments.
Explore your interests. A related point to the previous one: take the two years of graduate school to find out what you’re good at. A research mindset and unprecedented access to written resources (sometimes your access to library materials is greater as a student than as a staff member, so take advantage while you can!) creates a powerful opportunity to learn deeply about any topic in the field you might want to explore more. This research could help you realize what opportunities you want to take on before you leave your program, possibly helping guide future research or employment interests.
Seek out the superconnectors. The prospect of putting yourself out there to meet new people or sell yourself with ones you already know, can feel exhausting before you’ve even attempted a connection. But don’t let the butterflies in your stomach overcome your will to introduce yourself. Don’t give in to the butterflies; seek them out. Having an ally in your networking efforts, be it an extrovert or a more comfortable introvert, will help give you a natural entry point into a conversation that introverts occasionally struggle to create. Sophia Dembling calls small talk “the WD-40 of society.” She goes on to credit it for “keep[ing] the gears of society cranking smoothly, mak[ing] the world feel friendsly and protect[ing] our social muscles from atrophy.” Don’t let discomfort or potential exhaustion rust your gears, keep them moving with the help of a friend!
Find your refuge. Even if you love the people you’re taking class with, even if you have wonderful and understanding roommates, even if you pace yourself and don’t get overwhelmed often…now and again, you’re going to need a break. Take the time needed to find your own personal “fortress of solitude”, somewhere that you can sleep, study, or recharge undisturbed. I have a thing about parks, and do my best to find one near my house to unwind. I have been known to pull on my running shoes for a free hour to myself during retreats. I also get a great deal from heading to the beach with a good book and a pair of earplugs. Your refuge could look like any of these things, or it could be something completely different. But the essential element of this refuge is its ability to effectively recharge you. Like I discussed earlier in the book, it must have a real outlet, allow for adequate time to recharge, and be as free of “power shortages” as possible.
Monitor yourself and stand up for your needs. Recognizing your need for a break or recharge, and being able to remove yourself from a situation to act on it, are two very different things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set a time to leave a networking event or outing with friends, only to find myself ignoring my need to rest for the sake of preserving social graces. This is a tempting notion for those who are accustomed to not disrupting the atmosphere of an event. That being said, it’s okay to stand up for yourself and honor your needs. Whenever I find myself struggling with the decision to stay or go, I recall some of the reactions I’ve had to reaching that burnout point in public. It rarely goes well, and can sometimes lead to rude or snippy exchanges that I know I’ll regret. Combat the possibility of an adverse reaction by listening to the inner voice that says “Time to go!” It knows best, I promise.
Building these habits early in your career in this field will go a long way to helping you establish healthy and temperamentally appropriate habits to preserve your sanity and energy in this often demanding profession.
If you’re interested in The I’s Have It, a guide to leading a thriving professional life as an introvert, head here and use the code E8Q5G4QE for 20% off your copy!