Almost exactly five years ago, I remember beginning to work on my undergraduate college applications. One of my essay questions asked me to write about my favorite place. I considered this question for a while: I thought of my bedroom, my favorite study spot at school, my temple, but none of them resonated with me. After weeks of pondering, I realized that my favorite place wasn’t a physical space at all: it was inside my own head.
Finally feeling satisfied with my topic, I wrote a draft to show my admissions counselor. She told me that my head wasn’t a real place and that the piece made me sound a bit like a recluse. She asked me to stick to a physical place, like a typical response would. I remember feeling slightly defeated and wholly misunderstood, but this wasn’t the first time. In a world that values sociability, collaboration, and action, we introverts often feel out of place.
In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain writes, “solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe.” Some of us simply recharge by seeking energy inwards, and with this, we bring a distinct set of qualities to the table. In some ways, it feels like law school – and lawyering – is catered towards extroverted types, and as I navigate through 1L, I’ve been discovering how my introversion molds my experience here.
Entering law school, I was really nervous about the dreaded cold calls. I generally like to think through my ideas thoroughly before I share them, and that’s why I like writing so much. I’m able to hit backspace and rephrase my thoughts until I’m satisfied. Unfortunately, the cold-call system doesn’t exactly allow for that. I was anxious that I would get called on and wouldn’t be able to form a cogent response on the spot, that my professors and peers would think I didn’t do the reading, or worse, that I was stupid. As I’ve settled into the semester, I can honestly say that it was not as scary as expected. Most of the cold calls consist of giving an overview of the assigned cases, and if I make sure to thoroughly read, I feel prepared enough to answer. In case I do trip up, it’s reassuring to know that we all do. Truly, no one remembers who was called on and how they answered, because everyone is so busy worrying about themselves.
Coming from a smaller undergraduate school, I was also worried that I wouldn’t be able to stand out in class. Because I’m such a thinker, by the time I’ve developed a response to an open question in my head, someone else has offered their input, and we’ve usually long moved on from that issue. But I’ve realized that there isn’t just one way to show my engagement in class. I try to sit in the front for most of my classes, mainly because it keeps me alert and helps me take better notes. I do still try to push myself and raise my hand at least once a day, but I’ve also learned that speaking in class isn’t the only way to show my professors that I care.
Outside of the classroom, many of my friends have formed study groups. In the beginning, I felt like I had to assemble a study group, too, only because it seemed like everyone else was. However, I know myself, and I have never been one to study with other people; it tends to stress me out more than it helps me. Conversely, I study best in silence, by reading and writing (and often re-writing numerous times). A lot of people learn by talking aloud with others, and that’s their style, but why should I force myself to suddenly adopt an approach that I already know has never worked for me? As finals season approaches, I’m learning to trust myself, knowing that in terms of reviewing and studying, I work best alone – and that’s okay.
Honestly, my biggest struggle has come with networking. I’ve never been one to “work the room,” and the thought of attending a networking night to meet fifty people at once still makes me cringe. It feels amazing to attend a school where there are so many networking opportunities, where there is a lunch event almost every day. At the same time, these plethora of opportunities can feel overwhelming, especially for someone like me who, with a morning-heavy class schedule, could use some time to unwind by midday. During the first couple of weeks, I felt a lot of pressure to be going to as many events as possible, to meet as many people as possible. But this is not sustainable. Just a few weeks in, I realized that not every event is going to be interesting for me, and while I should branch out to explore different practice areas/career paths, going to every event is futile.
This is not to say that I don’t network – even though it is not my forte, I absolutely understand the value of making connections and developing rapport with professionals in my chosen field. I make my best effort to attend smaller networking events, often put on by affinity groups to which I belong, and so I usually go to 1-2 events a week. These events provide a more intimate setting in which I know I can thrive. I find that I enjoy myself more at the fewer events I go to, mainly since I’m there because I actually want to be. Instead of overwhelming myself by trying to talk with every panelist or attendee, I engage in fewer, but still sincere, conversations with people whose work especially interests me. In this way, I’ve been able to form professional relationships while also staying true to myself. My point is, even for introverts, networking doesn’t have to be draining. We can make it work for us.
Overall, over the past couple of months, I’ve learnt to both challenge myself and to stop underestimating myself. I do push myself out of my comfort zone, not because I feel external pressure to, but because I personally want to grow. At the same time, I remind myself that while I may be quieter, I am certainly not lesser. My peers may be more vocal with their thoughts, but I’m doing the same critical thinking, too. And while others may seem to be making more friends, or forging more professional connections, I’m forming meaningful relationships, too, in my own way.
Bottom line? Law school does require me to venture outside my comfort zone, and it does often seem to favor the more extroverted among us. But it can work for us introverts, too. To my extroverted counterparts, sometimes I do envy you: at times, I wish I could so smoothly nail the cold calls; I wish I could voluntarily raise my hand to offer insight in class; I wish I could work a crowd so easily. But, at the same time, I know the distinct strengths that we introverts bring. And to my fellow introverts, who spend more time thinking than speaking, who enjoy the company of their own thoughts in their own heads: you don’t have to be afraid of law school, particularly in a place like this, where people are here to support each other and celebrate successes together, rather than look for others to fail. If you haven’t heard it yet, let me tell you: you belong. March to the beat of your own drum, whatever that may mean for you.
Roma Gujarathi is a first-year student and brand new Impact blogger. She loves hearing from readers! You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.