How learning you’re an introvert can help you figure out what to do with your life


I couldn’t have been any older than about six when I worked out that I operated a little differently to most of my friends. We were playing in the back garden chasing each other around when it suddenly dawned on me that this was not my idea of fun. Walking back inside to the comfort of the warm fire I laid face down on my stomach, a coloring book on the floor and a crayon in my right hand. I could hear my friends laughing and giggling outside but I wasn’t bothered, content to exist in my own little world for a while. ‘Why don’t you go out and play with Louise?’ my Mom said. I just shrugged in reply.

introvert

This was the pattern of my childhood and followed me as my youth drifted away into the hormone charged years as a teenager. At school, I was bright and studious, but crippled by a nagging shyness and not just an inability to get along with others, but a genuine fear of them. Don’t get me wrong, I had close friends, and my family were always people that I could genuinely depend on upon. It just felt to a teenage me that staying in my own company was much more comfortable and preferable than to force myself to interact when I didn’t feel like doing it.

I would still go out and party, though and do all those things that teenage girls do such as dating boys, sneaking a cig behind the gym hall and skipping school to go clothes shopping. It was about this time that I discovered writing. Sure, I’d written essays and short stories for school before, but I began to get praise for it not only from my teachers but from my fellow students, too. I signed up for the lunchtime poetry writing club at the insistence of my literature teacher. She knew how underprivileged my background was and would sneak into the supply cupboard and steal notebooks for me to write in.

Writing became my niche, and I would sit at home scrawling pages of text in these books, going through a notebook a week at one point. I became known in school for my talent and became the girl that people would ask advice for tips on their English homework. I had a voracious appetite for books, consuming anything from Harry Potter to Shakespeare and everything in between. So, it’s obvious that when I finished school, I would continue writing, right? Well, not quite.

I left school and began to work for the government in a desk job that my career’s officer had suggested for me after I had told her that I wanted to be a hairdresser. She confided in me that she had seen 12 girls before me that day ask for advice on becoming a hairdresser, and she wasn’t going to let another girl go into a ‘dead-end job like that’. I didn’t think that it was dead-end and still don’t today, so maybe she had gotten a bad haircut or something. Either way, her stubbornness turned out to be the second-most fortunate moment of my life, putting me on the journey that would influence my future career path – the first being the day I met my long-term partner in a chance meeting across a crowded room.

The government job not only taught me business speak but also forced me to embrace my inner extrovert. The office was huge, with about 200 people in it and I worked my way up to running a team of around 30 people on a daily basis, dealing with decisions that affected the welfare of some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Adam Grant, a Wharton research professor, did some research into the management of teams with an introverted manager and an extroverted manager and found that proactive employees performed much better under a manager that’s more introverted rather than more extraverted. Something I can attest to. I found that while I may have felt a little shy in the role, I was a competent manager, winning two awards in my time in government for my services.

After leaving the role after six years thanks to redundancy I found a more confident, less introverted me found job interviews easy. Where I’d have struggled to showcase my skills in the years before I was now relaxed, chatting and laughing with my interviewers about family events. I gained a job quickly, and after a few years of moving from post to post and growing a bigger circle of friends thanks to my enforced extroverted nature, I found myself at a crossroads. I had found myself at my local college, not really sure what I was looking for but knew that something had to give. I had found myself aged 30 with a four-month-old son who needed supporting and a dead-end job for a company that was experiencing public financial scandal.

Finding myself in a huge hall crammed with young students with green hair and dour faces my inner introverted self began seeping out of my pores. At 30 I had no idea how to relate to these youngsters, and had even less idea why I wanted to become one of them and join in on the education bandwagon in the first place. That was when I saw a decent reason. Right near the back of the hall was a table manned by a proud looking guy. The sign on the table read ‘Professional writing’ and inexplicably to me, not one of these students seemed interested in it. As I found my feet moving nearer towards the table, the man looked more and more intimidating. Still, bolstered by memories of my childhood, of the praise that I’d received for my writing and the solitude and relaxation I experienced when I wrote caused me to keep moving. Before I knew it I was talking to this guy, who it turned out was actually quite pleasant, and the rest was history.

I’m 33 now, and in six months I will be receiving my degree. I left my dead-end job about 18 months ago now and decided to write part time to help support my family. And I know without a shadow of a doubt that the reason I managed to find my calling in life was because of all those hours spent sitting on my own and avoiding the world and writing instead. So don’t worry if you’re introverted, like me. Society may favor those more extroverted than others, but some of the world’s biggest thinkers and artists such as Bill Gates, JK Rowling and Charles Darwin were introverted. Makes you think, right?