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Overcoming the Challenges of an Introverted Entrepreneur

By Abi Smith, VI Form

My heart thumped as I walked onto the stage in front of thousands of people at the White Privilege WPCConference (WPC) in Seattle. I was one of four students from St. Mark’s School selected to attend the conference; WPC examines concepts of privilege and oppression and works to promote a more equitable world.

“Break a leg,” I whispered to myself as I maneuvered my way to the front of the stage. As I stepped toward the microphone, my foot became tangled in the wire. I stepped backwards, which unfortunately made the problem worse. I uncontrollably fell, collapsing on the stage in front of thousands of people. The microphone clanged loudly on the floor; the shrill noise drew even more attention to me. I took the phrase “break a leg” a little too literally!

Members of the WPC youth group were required to gather onstage, but speaking to the conference about our experiences was optional. As an introvert I am terrified of public speaking. In a society that prizes extroverts, my fateful step toward the microphone was the first step in my self-imposed Introvert’s Challenge (IC). I have always been interested in entrepreneurship, and I was concerned that my introverted nature could prove to be an impediment to my educational and career goals, especially in a business school environment where class participation factors heavily in the grading curve. I created the IC in an effort to develop into a functional ambivert—a person who embodies some of the qualities of both introverts and extroverts.

Although that first physical step of my IC can only be characterized as a horrible misstep, I remained undaunted and vigorously embraced my challenge when I returned to school for my junior year. I opted to become a Peer Discussion Leader and met with groups of freshman students to discuss issues such as bullying, alcohol and drug abuse, and healthy versus unhealthy relationships. Initially I was quite uncomfortable leading weighty discussions with groups of people that I barely knew. However, as the year progressed my nervousness abated. This bolstered my confidence to become a Dorm Prefect in my senior year. As a prefect, I serve as a peer leader, a role model, and a liaison between students and teachers. Not only am I benefitting my school community, but I am also growing as an individual and burgeoning ambivert. My role as Dorm Prefect pushes me to overcome personal insecurities and uncertainties. My Introvert’s Challenge is working!

This past summer I attended Babson College’s Entrepreneurial Development Program. My passion for

Babson_College_logo.svgentrepreneurship grew immensely during this summer program. However, I had to delve deep into my IC to address all of my discomforts, which were unavoidable as this program followed a MBA format. I went into the program without knowing anyone, and during the very first class, we were given an assignment to create a “rocket pitch” for a product—a three-minute speech to the classroom. I gave a rocket pitch on my “St. Mark’s debit card” phone application that I was in the process of developing. It was an introvert’s nightmare, especially after “my White Privilege Conference debacle”. I immediately spoke to my professor about how public speaking was one of my greatest fears. He told me that after forty years of public speaking, he still uses notes to help battle his nerves. I thought, “If he can do it, I can do it!” Although he encouraged me to use my notes, I encouraged myself to memorize the speech without them. I prepared my speech well, and was pleased–as well as surprised–to deliver my pitch strongly.

My Introvert’s Challenge has proved to be a transformational experience, and I now consider myself to be a highly functioning ambivert in situations that do not come naturally to an introvert. I am confident that I am now ready to successfully meet the new challenges of my college years!

Abi Smith is a VI Form boarding student from Swampscott, MA. She lives in Thayer as Prefect, plays squash, and enjoys traveling.

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