Hard Lessons: The Introverted (Business)woman


Hard Lessons: The Introverted (Business)woman

First of a three-part series on hard won lessons from the first year as an introverted business-woman / -creative:  
what do introverts do when they can't escape people?

This post was written on 24 January 2018
4 min read / 795 words


2017 marks the first full year of Joy At Large. Anyone who has tried will attest to both the sudden exposure and acute vulnerability women face in running their own business.

There were several valuable lessons but the ones I wish to share came through the deepest dips from which I made hard recovery: I chose to share three hard won lessons I hope will make anyone going through something similar feel less alone.

Lesson 1: The Introverted (Business)woman

Understand your introversion. This applies to both men and women. The first common misunderstanding I hear about introversion is when we confuse it with shyness; neither is extroversion the same as having an outgoing nature. Introverts gain energy from being alone, or perhaps one-on-one interactions. Extroverts gain, or lose less, energy from being around groups of people.

The second misunderstanding is that we forget that introversion and extroversion is presented as opposite ends of a spectrum. We are somewhere in between, and there are rarely absolutes.

My burnout arrived in July last year: I diagnosed my introversion as a need to be alone for an extended time, and decided to create a healing intervention. I hid myself in the mountains of Sa Pa for a week, and took myself off the grid.

Eight days of solitude had the opposite intended effect. I returned emotionally drained and with very little will for the things in life that used to excite me: my work, craft, friends. I experienced a desperate feeling of wanting to be myself again; ‘unsettled’ is how I described myself to friends when I returned, and the feeling lingered for months.

I held on to the question: what are my triggers which led me in? What triggers will lead me out? I learnt by experience, building on the wisdom of others, that when a complex system (a human being, large community etc.) encounters trauma, their instinctual reaction is to behave in a way that is diametrically opposed to their current state. However, this violent swing between behaviours delays recovery time. Instead, an equilibrium, some point in the middle of those two states, can be reached by doing something else intensely, and decrease that activity over time. Counterintuitive, to throw yourself into another kind of busyness you have control of dialling down.

These interventions have served to cope with the intensity of interactions at work and off-work:

  • Shut down for 24 hours. Allow yourself to do nothing for a day after the last day of your workshops. What does it mean to do nothing? I asked myself the same. So learn what it means for you. Mine is to keep people out of my calendar day, not leave the house, and sometimes just lie down staring blankly at the ceiling.  Decompression before the intense uptake helps readjustment before re-entering the rest of your week, month.
  • Meet people you enjoy. Allow your schedule to be busy the next few days, only with people who you know will give you the energy you need. Be honest with yourself: stay away (for a short while) from people who you like but feel like work some times. Start to dial down the number of meetings a day, and reduce your travel time.
  • Leave the city. When there are no options to calm your schedule down, take your body out of it.  It works in a certain way: avoid frequent, short trips, but look for friends who you miss and spend the week with them. Intervene your manic schedule of dotting from person to person, and spend quality stretches of time with the same friend or group of friends. This contributed great stability when I needed it most.
  • Feed your mind. Step into a place of curiosity, wander a gallery or exhibition on your own. Find a bench to sit in a wide space, in front of a large painting or sculpture, or a place rich in historical significance, a beautiful library. Sit, and write or draw. Stare, observe quietly if you need to relax your busy mind. Find a way to your centre again. I have favourite places to do this.
  • Reflect with Clarity Cards. +more
  • Observe yourself. Keep a log. When you cannot change your situation, you can at least change the perception of your role in that situation. A wisdom passed on from a mentor: observe yourself and ask yourself questions, test your curiosity, and administer creative antidotes. Track your questions and what you notice. I use Trello and Muji notebooks religiously to do this, some others use Workflowy, and sometimes Evernote. 

You may not be able to control the way you feel, but you can learn about the patterns which take you to a bad place, and the ones which help you heal. By understanding your triggers, you may better anticipate how a series of projects might land you with a certain feeling, and how to adjust your environment to lead yourself out of the experience.

Ever learning, unlearning, relearning,

2018JoyJan, ExperiencesComment