One of my biggest personal struggles on campus so far has been navigating the social environment. Interestingly enough, that was the part I was least worried about before school began. But now, one year in, I can attest that “social” is the part of the experience that I have struggled with the most.
Now some of my classmates who know me well will read this and probably think I’m nuts to say that. After all, they saw me co-organizing a 260-person class trip before school even began and generally see me all over the place being friends with all sorts of people and attending all types of events. Yet that’s just the on-the-surface impression.
Underneath, I struggled socially. Something I didn’t really notice during the first quarter from September to December. As one social interaction was instantly followed by another (literally from morning until the evening, day after day), my brain had absolutely no time or space to rest and digest how my social life was panning out. It wasn’t until the winter break when I had three weeks and finally got a chance to think a little about my patterns of (social) behavior.
I soon realized that I was spread very thin. I was trying to be everywhere and to get to know everyone – multiple coffee chats each day, ideally with people I had not properly connected with. So I started wondering what triggered that behavior.
Sure, I’m an extrovert and I love meeting new people, but I sensed there was a little more to that. After some more soul-searching, I realized that my behavior was driven not only by a natural desire to meet every single person in my year (much of the MBA value lies in the network after all), but also by a certain need to have a harmonious relationship with the people around me. In other words: I wanted to make sure I left a good impression on everyone. And yes, I also wanted to be liked. It wasn’t my core motivation, but it did play into it.
So as I was going through the second quarter, I increasingly saw groups forming. And while I felt I had a really good 1:1 relationship with almost all the individuals in those groups, I actually didn’t feel I had any “membership” in those groups. Sure, I could have invited myself along to whatever they were doing and in generally I was happily welcomed, but rarely was I on top of mind when those groups were planning something.
While this seems like a negligible disruption to my otherwise busy social life, it turned out to be a much heavier weight on my mind than I expected it to be. That said, this development was totally reasonable. While I was out there socializing with everyone, I didn’t put my social time and effort into nurturing group relationships. So when a group planned an event/trip/activity, I wasn’t necessarily on top of mind. I was a just lose member.
Yet despite the weight I felt, I did ask myself a fundamental question: “would I be ok with giving up on all the 1:1 connections I was making and instead put my time and energy into nurturing my belongingness to a group?” Well, the answer was a firm “no.” Asking myself that question was important to realize that at my very core, I’m a social butterfly. And even if that behavior comes at the cost of not nurturing group relationships, it is the behavior that I would be least willing to give up on.
It took me some time, but I learned to appreciate more everything that I am as opposed to being frustrated for everything that I am not. And while my motivation is changing (I’m working hard on dropping the entire “wanting to be liked” part), I acknowledge that being (a) social (butterfly) is simple part of my identity that I can’t change that easily.