“Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” ~Jillian Michaels
I’m an introvert. I need lots of time to myself to re-charge after socializing with others, and I relish solitude, as it gives me the time and space to think and be creative. I’m quiet and can be shy on occasion, but I really enjoy spending time with close family and friends.
Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with this part of my personality and focused a lot of energy trying to change it. However, the acceptance I have found over the last year has been life-changing, and I hope writing about my journey may help others find that acceptance sooner.
Growing up, especially during primary school, I never really questioned who I was. I spent my childhood on an island off the West Coast of Scotland, and my memory of that time was mostly idyllic. Looking back, I can see how everything was in place for me to be the best version of myself.
There was a big group of children where I lived, and after school my little brother and I would go home, get changed, and then meet up with everyone outside our house. We played with whoever turned up on the day. I was quiet, but no one ever really noticed, as we were all too busy playing.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, school was my place to re-charge. I loved quietly working away and spending my time listening and learning. I didn’t feel any pressure to be social in school, as I had the group of friends at home, so being with others felt more relaxed and less draining.
Unfortunately, that was to change. Just as I was about to start my first year at secondary school, we moved, and in an instant, all the friends I had grown up with were gone. My little brother, who was my best friend, also still had another year at primary school, so it felt like I had lost him as well.
Furthermore, from the moment I started secondary school there was now a focus on me becoming more extroverted. This pressure wasn’t from other children but from the adults and the education system . Every report card would comment on my quietness and say that I needed to be more confident, more outgoing, more sociable.
The daily comments followed—”mouse,” “the quiet one,” “dark horse,” “it’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for.” Again, these were from the adults in my life, very seldom from my school peers.
I learned very quickly that to survive in life I should aspire to be someone else. To be more extroverted and less introverted. To me, my introversion was a flaw, a weakness to overcome. I needed to change and push myself into situations and “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Secondary school was also a far more social and busier place, and it stopped being a place for me to re-charge. I couldn’t get the time or space that I had flourished with during primary schooI. So I started using my time away from school to re-charge, but for the teenager I was, this became very lonely.
Nothing in my life suited the core person that I was. I felt so much shame around being introverted and a failure for not being able to adapt better. Through this time my inner critic grew to a deafening level, as did my anxiety.
I was convinced that if I could just change this part of me, then I would make more friends, be more confident, progress career wise, and be a better version of myself.
I spent the next thirty years trying to do just that. Although I have had many wonderful adventures and a very privileged life that I wouldn’t change, nearly every choice I made and career path I choose was in some shape or form a way to reinvent myself into being more extroverted. To be more confident and outgoing. To get away from the quiet person I was.
Although I always started out well, I would eventually slip back into my old ways, feeling disappointed in myself for not being this better version of myself that I thought I should be. I’d then move on to try something else to this time succeed at the infamous change I craved so much. This cycle helped to feed my inner critic and anxiety, which followed me throughout my life.
Then COVID and lock down came, and although devastating in so many ways, the pressure to socialize was taken away. I didn’t need to keep forcing myself to go to events, be sociable, or pretend to be anything. It gave me the time to see what it was to be comfortable being myself again.
However, the moment lockdown was over, I instantly returned to my same pattern. I took on a new project to help become ‘a new improved me.’ But this time life took me on a different path. After a number of unexpected bereavements and the loss of my business, which I had worked so hard to establish, I also started to go through the menopause.
I remember at the time it feeling like my heart had physically broken. So no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t return to how I was. I had no energy left to do any more changing.
Over this past year, I have gradually started to rebuild my life. It hasn’t been easy and it’s still a work in progress, but it is a life that suits me. It’s a life that celebrates my strengths and allows me to be who I am.
I’m currently working in a job that has less responsibility than I have had in the past but that I really love. It also means I have time now to be creative through writing and painting, which brings me so much joy and peace.
I am mindful that whatever new projects I am taking on, I am doing them because they’re right for me and they align with my personality and allow me what I need to stay healthy and happy. I’ve found that this in itself has helped me to grow holistically, without any pressure or negativity of not being good enough.
My quiet times, which have in the past felt very lonely, have transformed to times for me to be creative, and the more I do this, the richer my life is becoming.
I’ve realized that I’m not shying away from becoming “comfortable being uncomfortable,” and hopefully I will always continue to grow, but that my whole life can’t be uncomfortable because I’m not as extroverted as I feel I should be.
Accepting that I am an introvert and allowing myself the time and space that I need has been so liberating. It has given me a fuller appreciation of life that I never thought possible and never felt like I deserved. So whether you are introverted, extroverted, or somewhere in between, here are four suggestions that helped me rediscover who I am.
1. Know your ‘core.’
Take the time to find out who the ‘core’ you is. What are your values and passions, and what would you like your life to look and feel like? Are you more extroverted or introverted? Do you like taking on responsibility or a less pressured role? How do you re-charge? Find out what the ‘core’ of you is and celebrate that. Do everything that helps to nourish you and let the person you are truly shine through.
2. Take a minute.
Whenever I make a decision now, I take a moment beforehand to check that I’m going into it for the right reason. In the past, I did a degree in communication with the expectation that I would become more outgoing, one of the reasons I became a teacher was because I felt it would make me more confident, and when I went into business, I thought it would make me more sociable. When none of these things happened, I felt that I had failed. Your path in life should help you to flourish as the person you are.
3. Let go of expectations.
Don’t let expectations from others, as well as yourself, mold you. There can be so much pressure to keep driving you forward, to keep pushing yourself, whether it’s to be more sociable, more confident, reach for the next promotion, next house, etc. But if you need to change who you are for it, then it can become more destructive rather than motivational.
4. Accept yourself.
You don’t need to change. By appreciating all the gifts you already have and letting them shine through, in whatever way suits you, you are already everything you need to be.
Having shifted from a place of constant self-criticism to one of more acceptance has been such a transitional moment for me. By leaning into things that bring comfort, peace, and joy, I have had the opportunity to remember how it feels to be content and deeply happy.
About Catherine Gray
Catherine Gray lives on the West Coast of Scotland and has a background in education and creating mindfulness coloring pages. She enjoys anything creative and most recently she’s loving 3D origami making and writing.