One of the things they tell you to do at the beginning of every MBA is to talk to the people in your classes, because the biggest value of an MBA is in the connections you’ll make. I’m basically paying upwards of $5k a semester for in-person Facebook. Thanks, guys.
It’s not a problem for other MBA students, apparently, because in my first class the professor asked how many people were extroverts.Over 80% of the class raised their hands.
But the biggest problem is not that business school is a pyramid scheme. It’s that I suck at making small talk. In elevators. With my husband. With my family. With anyone. I’m terrible at responding to it. “Just think of small talk like a tennis game,” all the extroverts advise, beaming. Extroverts love people like bees love flowers. Extroverts are in books, chatting up a storm, trying to get all their five daughters married off to Mr. Bingley. Introverts write the extroverts so they don’t have to actually deal with real people.
“How are you doing” someone will ask, beginning a volley. “Great!” I’ll mumble, trying to think of what to say next to pass it over the net. But I’m not doing great. I’ve had 6 hours of sleep last night, had to write a paper last night. I haven’t blogged for weeks, which is making me anxious. My knee bothers me for five second when I run but then it’s fine-should I go see a doctor or a psychiatrist? Also, I had some strawberries for breakfast this morning but they weren’t stellar per se. How do I encompass all of that in a five-second elevator conversation AND ask what the other person is up to. “Great! I’m doing great!” and the tennis ball of humanity will drop at my feet. Voltaire weeps.
I’m even worse at initiating small talk. I immediately assume no one is interested in anything I have to say, because all I care about is really weird shit. Which is why I blog. Good old blog. You’ll always care about what I have to say about Nutella, World War II, Sheryl Sandberg, and Scotland. You can’t bring up Bonnie Prince Charlie in class. That’s the beauty of writing. You can’t actually watch the person lose interest in you in real time. Unless you have Google Analytics.
But, human Facebook! I’m losing real value…pennies to the second…every time I don’t talk to someone. So, I’ve tried to force myself to be outgoing. Not in class, of course. I start with less stressful situations.
Someone in some advice forum for introverts (yes, these exist, and we read them. We never actually post.) wrote that forcing verbal exchanges with people is the only way to really become extrovert-like. So you basically have to go through the day, gritting your teeth, but making small talk with everyone you come across. As Churchill writes, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
So on Sunday, I started with the grocery store. The cashier is a forced captive audience. They can’t leave if you’re boring. I put my groceries on the conveyor belt. Do it. Do it, the animal brain said. Tell the guy good morning before he says anything. JUST DO IT. You’ll never make a good MBA. You’re going to live in a dumpster. I remained silent. The guy smiled at me, oblivious to the Carmina Burana playing in my head.
“Morning,” he said. Shit. Now’s the time.
“Morning,” I said. Volley dropped. Failure. But he kept going.
“How’s your weekend been?”
I bristled. Was I supposed to tell him about my bike riding trip in Delaware? Brunch at my friends’ house yesterday? The unconscionable amount of Indian food I ate last night? What I could I do to keep the conversation going? All of that was too specific. Think, Boykis, think!
“Um, good. Good, ” I said. You moron.
Another pause as he bagged some bananas.
“And how was your weekend?” I asked.
“Good! School’s starting,” he said.
I panicked again. School? Should I ask what school? He looks like he could be in high school or college and I don’t want to offend him. What do I say?? What do I say?? How’s high school? My brain panicked and then, relieved, I came up with,
“Oh, cool. What school do you go to?”
He said the name of a school I couldn’t hear over the din of the cash register, but I was too afraid to ask him to repeat it. “Great, ” I said, fake-smiling.
He looked like he wanted to continue talking about school, but in my last faux pas I was too afraid to ask more because it might reveal that I didn’t catch the school he was going to.
He finished bagging my groceries.
I died quietly in shame. Small talk was 0 for 0. I decided to go home so I wouldn’t have to force anymore conversations.
Jesus, I should just give up and go live with cats.