Growing up, I didn’t want to be different. I would have loved to have a core circle of friends, instead of just a few tight friendships with people from different groups. As I got older, I realized I wasn’t as talkative within large groups of people. Parties were a double-edged sword for me — I craved the inclusion but spent the night waiting for it to end. I watched others command attention, then flourish in it. I was envious. I felt inferior.
How much did I potentially miss from school by not speaking up more? I had things to say — I had opinions and questions that needed answers. But I could never bring myself to raise my hand and voice them.
They say confidence comes with time. And if time is all you need, then surely after several years of experience in the work world, I should have been “confident” enough to portray the leader they were all expecting. But eight years into a corporate HR career, I still found myself avoiding the limelight. Maybe I wasn’t destined for professional success?
And then someone asked me if I’m an introvert.
Decades of Shame Were Lifted Off My Shoulders
“No…?” I replied, almost unsure of my own answer. Typically I would have replied more confidently. You see, like many others, I had misconceptions about what it means to be an introvert. Introverts were nerds, they were weak. They let themselves get walked all over by others. And they were weird. They didn’t even like people.
And that is certainly not me. I’ve always liked people; I find them interesting. Others have always come to me for advice because I seem to have an innate wisdom for how people work. When I’m with my closest friends, I am quite talkative. I feel at home. Yet on the other hand, I don’t let people treat me like nothing. I stand up for myself and always have. Being the youngest of three girls taught me that.
And yeah, I sometimes feel a little awkward in situations. BUT I AM NOT WEIRD.
So that day, when my colleague asked me if I was an introvert, I said no. But he didn’t ask with any judgement or preconceived notion of what that said about me. With his question, he was offering me a reason for why I didn’t relish certain things. So instead of being defensive, I was curious.
He explained to me that introverts have their energy zapped when they’re around other people and need alone time to recharge. Extroverts are the opposite. And that was it. Two simple statements, and I felt like over three decades of shame had been lifted off my shoulders.
I know a lot of people shy away from labels, and I can understand why. It can be very restricting to be placed in a bucket along with its definitions and restrictions. But for me, learning that I was an introvert was freeing. It meant that I wasn’t alone, but more importantly that I was “normal.”
It’s okay to shy away from the spotlight, to sit alone in a movie theatre and not have to wonder if you’re peculiar for enjoying the solitude. My introversion does not mean I am destined for a lack of success in life or that I will be missing out on anything.
Far from it.
I Focused on What I Enjoyed
As I began to acknowledge my introversion, I became more curious about the entire concept.
I was encouraged by the sheer number of successful introverts, past and present. Rosa Parks brought forth such fierce courage in the face of injustice despite being known as someone who was soft-spoken; Audrey Hepburn’s self-professed introversion didn’t stop her from charming audiences; and TV host/political advisor George Stephanopoulos built an entire career out of talking to people! They capitalized on their quiet strengths in a world that seemed to serve whoever shouted the loudest. How could I capitalize on my quiet strengths?
By focusing on what I enjoy and putting everything else on the back burner.
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I knew I liked people. Maybe not in mass droves, but one-on-one, I was quite invigorated by building deep, meaningful connections. And was quite motivated by helping them untangle from a particular problem they were facing.
I didn’t like small talk. BIG talk was my jam. Let’s take off the superficial layers, get down to the core of it, and have some real conversations.
I knew I was never going to be “charming.” I was never going to be one of those polished women at an event that networked effortlessly and always said the “right” thing. But I was genuine. I could never stand to be anything else. And that honesty seemed to be a magnet in my life that pulled my kind of people towards me, the kind I enjoyed the most.
And I liked my freedom. Years of independent travel had given me a thirst for roaming that I was only now permitting myself to feel empowered by. I wanted to sustain that freedom in my life. Along with the other joys that were so often overlooked in the professional world I was trying so desperately to fit into.
So I decided to stop trying.
My Feelings of Isolation Made Me Stronger
I was tired of trying to fit my square-peg self through their round-hole world. And now I could say confidently that I no longer had to.
For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to explore the roads leading out of those quiet strengths. I researched all the different ways I could serve people by making use of my introversion. I no longer saw my personality as a handicap. It was a superpower.
And where those roads eventually led me was where I am today. My current path and the place I’ve found the most ease in: an online business where I focus on helping young professionals who are feeling lost and unfulfilled in life. I work with them one-on-one to discover their unique superpowers, strengths, and motivators. So they, too, can embrace the uniqueness of who they are and go out into the world to find their own success — whatever that looks like for them.
I like to think my clients choose me because they know I’ve been where they are. It’s important to me to represent myself in my business with the same honesty I value in all other aspects of my life. People need to know there are others like them that have had the same struggles. Lucky for me, genuineness is one of my strengths.
And you might be asking, where does the freedom come in? Well, for all the extra challenges and frustrations that can come with the online world, it does offer the ability to work wherever you want. For a freedom seeker, that’s a hard one to pass up. Sometimes that means bunking down in cafes or coworking spots. And sometimes that means the quiet solitude that comes from working from home.
I have to say, the ability to choose the type of environment I work in has been my greatest motivation for life beyond the corporate world. It’s lovely to crawl out of bed, turn on the computer, and quickly get into the zone on those days when you have to power through something. A corporate office comes with a multitude of distractions that I have minimal control over. When I work from home, though, I get to quiet all the other noise and focus my mind.
Over to You
Are you an introvert struggling to find the right career?
My first piece of advice is to stop trying to push yourself into someone else’s mold. You may not be the superstar networker that your friend is or be able to effortlessly charm strangers at a party. That’s okay! Stop agonizing over your “weaknesses” and start celebrating your strengths. Because we introverts have them in spades.
Once you’ve given your mindset a makeover, become more strategic. Thoroughly reflect on the things that you do, both inside and outside of work, that you enjoy. Notice how I didn’t say to focus on what you’re good at. Because you can always get better at something if you enjoy doing it, but if you focus purely on the skills you currently have, you can potentially be directed down a path that’s not the right fit for you.
To help my clients, I have them keep a diary for a week, noting everything they do and rating it based on how much they enjoy engaging in the activity. The results tend to be eye-opening and serve as a concrete jumping-off point to begin researching next career moves.
The Journey Made Me Stronger
Would I have been able to reach this point in life if I were an extrovert? A place where I fit, where I have the tools before me to make a solid contribution to others? Probably. But I doubt I would have first gone through the journey of embracing who I was. It is an extrovert’s world, after all. And I don’t know if extroverts have to wrestle with feelings of isolation in the same way.
I’m glad I did though. The journey has made me stronger, more confident in who I am. I used to think I might be different. Now I know I am — and I am all the better for it.