Growing up, I was both an introvert and shy. (Introversion and shyness are not the same thing, but a good chunk of introverts—and some extroverts—are also shy, in varying degrees and in different ways.)
Social situations were both exhausting and scary, plus I found that my inner world was far more interesting than what the outside world could offer. My inner world kept me entertained and safe, and, for a while, that was perfectly okay with me. As the only introvert in a family full of extroverts, my family didn’t really know what to do with me, but they accepted me and never pushed me to change.
Unlike the rest of my very extroverted family, I often spent my free time pursuing solitary activities. I loved to get lost in my thoughts and my favorite hobbies while ignoring the outside world as much as possible. My parents always knew they could leave me alone because I had no problem occupying myself for hours.
I was also a sensitive child, always absorbing the emotions of everyone around me. I hated loud noises and was happiest when I could retreat to a quiet place.
Sensitive? You bet.
For a while, I was perfectly okay with how I functioned and couldn’t imagine it any other way.
But then things started to change.
As I reached my teenage years, something inside me shifted. Despite feeling like my personality was set in stone, I started to want to change it. It wasn’t teen angst; I simply wanted something much different than the shy and introverted personality that I had at the time. In addition to an internal desire to change, I recognized that extroverts were far too often able to attain what was beyond my grasp. I didn’t feel jealous of extroverts, but I simply felt that I had it within me to attain the same benefits that they enjoyed.
At age 20, I worked up the courage to set out on a journey that would change my life forever: a journey to become a more extroverted, confident, and influential version of myself.
I wanted to be gregarious, confident, assertive, influential, and full of energy no matter if I was by myself or in a room full of a hundred people. I was none of these things.
Some people might say that I should have just “accepted myself” and “played to my strengths,” but that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to change my personality, not accept it.
There is, however, a big difference between wanting to change your personality—commonly defined as “an individual’s distinct pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behavior”—and actually doing it. Before I began my journey, my personality felt immutable. Being introverted felt not just normal, but necessary. I simply didn’t know how to survive in the world any other way. Any action to the contrary felt frightening and exhausting, so I consider it nothing less than a miracle that at age twenty, I finally gave myself some tough love and decided that my personality was not immutable.
Deciding that my personality wasn’t immutable was one of those life-changing decisions that I look back on and can’t imagine my life had I not made that choice. In that decision, I gave myself a gift—a gift that brings me joy each and every single day.
Admittedly, it was not a no-strings-attached gift. It was a gift that required effort, work, and patience. The personality change that I desired was not one that I could simply manifest with a wish and a snap of my fingers. The changes to my personality didn’t happen overnight, but every small change snowballed into bigger and bigger changes until I realized one day that my “old self” was nothing more than a distant memory.
Despite the work that it required, I would complete the process a thousand times over to be the person I am today. Throughout the process, I was fueled by the idea that I could push the limits of the introvert-extrovert divide and craft the personality that I desired. I stubbornly refused to believe that my personality, crafted by nature and nurture for the first two decades of my life, was immutable.
As it turned out, my stubbornness paid off. I have become the extroverted, confident, and influential person that I wanted to be.
Looking back at my journey, I like to joke that maybe I was just too dumb to know that a radical change in personality is a big deal. Once I decided that it was possible, no one was going to stop me, including—and especially—me.