Not so long ago, life was something that happened to me.
I dated almost anyone who took an interest in me, regardless of my interest in them. I took almost any job offered to me, because who was I to dream of something better? I let friends choose me, regardless of whether they were toxic and draining.
As a result, I spent many years in an unhappy marriage, doing work that exhausted me, and living in a city that depressed me. I was overweight, stressed out, and taking medication for both depression and insomnia.
Subconsciously, I told myself that the problem was me. There was nothing I could do about my life. I was the one who had to adapt. Anytime I wasn’t adapting, I saw it as a sign of weakness. If I could just work out everything internally, I would be fine.
It never crossed my mind that I could change the things in my life that made me unhappy.
I don’t remember the first time this simple revelation dawned on me, but it was sometime in my mid-twenties, when I got divorced, moved, and left a fanatical, near cult-like church. This left me with few friends (the pastors told my former friends they couldn’t talk to me anymore). I lived in my parents’ basement, fighting loneliness and despair.
Today, this introvert’s life is very different. I’m living in a city I like, in a relationship with a partner I truly enjoy, and doing work that’s both energizing and soul-satisfying. My life isn’t perfect, and I still have room to grow, but it’s so much better. Along the way, I learned a truth that will transform your life if you let it:
If you don’t like your life, you can change it.
Introverts Are Wired to Reflect, Not Do
By definition, introverts are inward personalities. Our deep-thinking brains are wired to slow down, reflect deeply, and turn inward. Often, we seek to learn and understand, rather than dive in, chat, and do. Unlike extroverts, whose first instinct is to look outward when they have a problem — to other people or to actions they can take — we tend to pause, reflect, and puzzle things out in our private inner world.
And we’re natural observers. We’re likely the ones standing on the edges of the group, quietly listening or watching. We’re not chasing popularity and status like an extrovert. Put too much attention on us, and we may get overstimulated.
Often, it’s easier for us to stay quiet than speak up. After all, we’ve probably been told our whole lives that our needs as introverts aren’t valid. The sheer act of speaking up takes energy, especially when you have to verbally spar with a loquacious or strong-willed personality.
So we swallow our pain, along with our stress and unhappiness. We turn to what we think we can control, which is our inner world.
But then, over time, life becomes like a movie. It becomes a story beyond our control that’s happening to us. We let other people make our decisions. We don’t see ourselves as actors who shape the scenes.
And being passive means we never end up with the life we want.
Whatever You’re Facing, You Can Control It in Some Way
Maybe you’re not in the position of needing to completely overhaul your life. Maybe you are simply tired of not having a home that makes you feel good. Or you feel lonely and need a new friend. Maybe you wish you had more time to write.
Whatever it is you don’t like about your life, you can take steps to change it.
Of course, there are some things you cannot control. You can’t control your spouse passing away. You can’t control getting cancer. I couldn’t stop my former pastors from telling my friends not to talk to me.
But you can keep problems from devouring you from the inside out. Whatever you’re facing, you can control some aspects of it. You can’t change what has already happened, but you can change what you do from here.
Moving on from something is a form of change. It’s not admitting defeat to decide that you’re going to look for fulfillment elsewhere. If you come home from your job exhausted and unhappy every day — no matter how much alone time you’ve scheduled on the weekends — it’s time to look for something else. If spending time with a certain person repeatedly leaves you drained and frustrated, it’s okay to back away from him or her. When we back away from the things that don’t make us happy, we create space for the things that do.
How to Change Your Life
Your life won’t change overnight. It may take years and years to get to where you want to be. The bigger the change, the bigger the time commitment.
Often, we’re afraid of change because we worry that what we’re changing to will be worse than what we currently have. If we quit our jobs and become self-employed, what if we can’t pay rent? If we leave our current relationship, will we ever find someone better?
The reality is there is no way to predict the future. And research shows that human beings, in general, are bad at knowing what will make them happy. It’s called “affective forecasting,” and we suck at it. But if we do make a change, and the circumstances end up worse, we can make a change again. We can keep making changes until we get to where we want to be.
If you’re still alive, you still have options.
When you change your life, there will be haters. I know, because there were people who tried to stuff me back into the life I once lived. Some of them don’t hang out with me anymore. I suspect it’s because my life has changed for the better in many ways, while they are in nearly the same place they were a decade ago.
The haters may not say it outright, but you’ll know from the way they look at you, talk to you, and react to you. As an introvert, you may be hyper-aware of people’s subtle reactions and unspoken thoughts. The haters are likely trying to hold you back because they never got what they wanted in life. They thought it couldn’t be done — and it hurts to be proven wrong.
You don’t have to change everything all at once. Take baby steps to get there. Say hello to that person at work who looks interesting. Or spend thirty minutes tonight before you go to bed writing a scene for your novel. Just start somewhere, anywhere. As your baby steps add up, a wave of emotional energy will push you forward.
Life doesn’t have to be something that happens to you. Introverts, everything you need to live a better life is already within you.
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Learn more: The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, by Jenn Granneman
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