This article is written by Anirudh Vats, 2nd year student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala. This article will first lay out the misconceptions people have about introverts (and introverts about themselves), then list the challenges an introvert faces in his law school life and give practical, usable suggestions to overcome these challenges and realize one’s true lawyering potential.
Law School can be a scary place for an introvert. You walk through large halls filled with the familiar dreaded noise of people chatting, corridors filled with the sounds of laughter and excited conversations between people who are right at home being social animals. You instantly feel dwarfed by the enormous task of making your mark in a place which rewards social capability, making the right friends, and having the right “connections”.
How can an introvert survive a place like this? How can he/she ensure that his years in Law School are not wasted away in a room alone? How can he/she achieve meaningful relationships and have useful friendships which enrich both his/her social as well as professional lives?
Introversion is not a disability
Introversion is a personality trait, in fact, it is fairly common. Research shows that a third to a half of the population of the world are introverted. So, one in every two or three people that you meet lie somewhere on the introversion spectrum. Introversion should not be seen as a disadvantage or a deficiency of an essential skill set. In fact, there are numerous advantages to being an introverted person :-
- Introverts are comfortable with their own company, they do not derive their happiness from other people.
- Introverts make more meaningful relationships, they are selective about who they want in their life.
- Introverts are better listeners, hence they can have good conversations and learn a lot more than extroverts.
- Solitude breeds creativity. Introverts have more focus and are generally more creative.
- Introverts are more independent
- Introverts are often more contemplative, and employ critical analysis and introspection in their decision making, and often make great leaders.
Harvard Business Review conducted field surveys on college students and executives in leadership positions and found that companies led by introverts were considerably more profitable and efficient. They also conducted a lab experiment in which 163 college students with varying personality traits engaged in an activity as part of a proactive team. The teams led by introverts, it was found, were substantially more efficient than those which were not.
Introverts do not want to be socially isolated
A common myth about introverts is that they want to be alone all the time. This is not true. All human beings need to interact with others to live a fulfilled life, and introverts do the same. The difference is however, that introverts are wired in such a way that too much social interaction exhausts them, and they need to recharge their social battery in solitude. Like anyone else, introverts too yearn for emotional connection and forming relationships with others.
Introversion is different from being shy
Being shy or socially anxious arises out of a fear of social judgement, whereas introversion is an involuntary personality trait. Introverts may have amazing social skills, it’s just that they don’t prefer being too socially active and they need their alone time to re-energize themselves.
Dominance of Group Activities
Debates, moots, assignments, law school is filled with group activities. The sad part is, these activities are essential to you thriving in law school. You cannot avoid these activities if you hope to be successful in your college life and hence you have to find a way to get through them. Preparing for moots involves sitting with your teammates, debating, discussing, reading and preparing, often for months before the actual competition.
When you’re involved in these activities, it can get tough to find time for yourself, which may result in increased anxiety, a lack of focus and productivity, and may also result in tensions between you and your teammates.
That is, of course, nothing in comparison to the actual competition. Debates and Moots, often have a large audience present and public speaking is not an activity that most introverts like to engage in, couple that with judges asking you challenging questions, and you might just have a recipe for potential disaster.
Therefore, the dominance of group activities in Law School is certainly a big challenge that introverts face, and if they fail to overcome this challenge, they might be left behind in the cut-throat competition within a law school.
Feeling like you’re Missing Out
College is the place where people have fun, go on trips, party endlessly and live their lives to the fullest. As an introvert, most parties are a big no-no. You just end up sitting in a corner with the one guy you know at the party (who’s probably an introvert himself), and hope no one comes your way to make meaningless small talk while all around you people are dancing, telling stories and having a drink and you just feel like the oddball.
The parties you don’t go to, you hear about the next day. People talk excitedly about whatever the latest scandal or gossip is, and you feel like you’re missing out on good times with your friends and regret not taking up their offers to go out more. This can breed a lot of anxiety and doubt in an introvert, as he feels that he’s missing out on the “college experience”, and living in his shell and never really exploring his personality.
An introvert constantly wonders about that one conversation he could have taken up with a certain person, and how it could maybe have evolved into a friendship, but because of his/her reserved ways, that one interesting person still remains a stranger, and is probably put off by the introvert’s reluctance to interact.
All these scenarios contribute to an introvert wondering whether he/she’s missing out on life itself, and may start resenting his own personality and aversion to social engagement.
Being misunderstood and labelled
Often, introverts are misunderstood as being arrogant, having an attitude and not considering others worthy of their time. This is because introverts often come across as unfriendly and rude because they do not engage in small talk and do not converse unless they really need to. People often interpret a negative intention and label introverts as haughty and self important.
Introverts are often blinded from this opinion of theirs, as they are just being themselves and do not feel the need to converse unless there is a pertinent need to. They like being alone with their thoughts and hate having to engage in small talk.
Over time, this might also lead to introverts being cast out from social surroundings and people might develop a negative opinion of them.
This is a constant challenge facing college – going introverts as young people often misread each other’s intentions and characterize each other based on their own understanding, biases and personality.
Pressure to socialize
College is a place where friends are always together, roommates are best friends, and people go out every weekend. This creates a pressure on introverts to be more outgoing and social. And when they do not conform to this, they are seen as weird, awkward or stuck up.
In reality, this may not be the case, but the constant social judgement imposed on introverts may make them insecure about their personality and even force them to change when they don’t want to.
Our culture and society is wired to favour extroverted behaviour, and therefore rewards sociability. Being introverted is seen as something an individual has to overcome and move on from, and this hardwiring of society makes introverts constantly question themselves
This pressure is a constant source of anxiety and stress for introverts, and can pose to be a huge challenge for them.
Feeling emotionally drained after everyday activities
What may seem like ‘just another day’ to an extrovert, may feel like a mountain to an introvert that he has to climb every day. In Law School, a typical day consists of classes, which require frequent interaction with both professors as well as fellow students. Public speaking, attending seminars, collaborating on a research paper, convincing your professor for extensions…..the list goes on. Every possible activity during a day drains your social battery more and more. By the time you finish your day, get back to your room and lie down on your beloved, cozy bed you feel emotionally drained and tired.
This compounds over time and can make routine at Law School a never ending struggle. It becomes a struggle to find a couple of hours to sit quietly, sip coffee and read a book or to explore your interests and hone your creativity. Even when you do find the time, you either sleep it off or mindlessly binge on the newest TV show, since you are constantly emotionally drained.
So how does one go about tackling these problems? First of all, it is very important to know that what is paramount in a law school is competence. If you know the law, if you have critical thinking skills and can rationalize and articulate your ideas, then believe me, people will want to you as their moot teammate, as their debate partner and would lose their left leg to be in your project group!
The good news is that research shows introverts tend to be more knowledgeable and have more original and creative ideas.
So, it is comforting to know that even though social skills are important, it is knowledge and expertise which matters the most in law school and professional life as a whole.
Here are a few practical ways to better tackle the problems faced by an introvert in law school.
Developing your Social skills
Just because you’re an introvert, does not mean that you have to be awkward and inept at holding conversations. Work on your speaking skills.
Learn to address a person by name, exchange greetings when meeting after a while, maintaining eye contact, speaking in well thought out sentences and articulating your thoughts accurately are skills that can be learned and honed. These skills make you instantly more attractive to talk to, and people are more willing to give time to you and be your friend.
This might sound like a pain, but you also have to learn how to small talk, at least initially in a conversation. You can’t go up to someone and instantly ask something personal or philosophical, you have to ease into more significant and thoughtful topics when conversing.
Therefore, having skills to maintain an engaging conversation is essential for an introvert. You may not start many conversations but you can be the star of the ones you actually do have!
Using the written word to your advantage
Extroverts often like to think aloud. They do not introspect or deliberate as much as introverts and therefore do not develop the same analytical and critical thinking skills that introverts possess.
This results in introverts being better at writing down their ideas and thoughts. In a law school, having writing skills is arguably the most important tool you can have.
Throughout your professional life as a lawyer, your writing and research skills are tested, and being great at writing is a big determinant for success in the legal field. These are some of the ways you can develop your writing skills in law school :-
- Writing Research Papers.
- Contributing to Journals, and Law Review Booklets.
- Writing Articles, blogs, etc.
- Drafting memorials for moot court competitions.
- Drafting contracts, bonds, legal agreements etc.
Leaving your comfort zone
It is important , to also leave your introverted ways and get over your reluctance to participate in social events. Seminars, debate groups, even going out to eat or at a party, is sometimes important to stay connected with your friends and not having to constantly catch up with them. It might also help build meaningful relationships. The more you interact, the more chances there are of you finding a like-minded person, who isn’t overly outgoing, likes low-key environments and good conversations.
It can also help in meeting people who are of the same professional mindset, you might just end up working with someone you know as a friend, and you have to seek out such relationships as they are important for your career.
Accepting your personality
This is perhaps the most important suggestion. Accepting your personality is crucial to maintaining your mental health and succeeding in Law School. If you’re getting too exhausted by your social engagements, realize that you need some time off and allow yourself a couple of hours to switch off and re-energize.
People might misunderstand you, they might judge you for the way you are, see you as arrogant or label you a ‘loner’, but you have to be comfortable in your own skin and not derive your happiness from anyone else.
You don’t need to change yourself for anyone. Just because most people around you are constantly active socially, doesn’t mean you have to be as well. Being introverted is not something you have to change. It’s also not something you CAN change, you’re just wired that way!
Fellow introverts, whenever you feel down, remember that you are not alone. At least one out of three people around you are introverts, but you don’t know that because you’ve never tried talking to them!
Accept yourself, challenge yourself and always be hungry for success.