*plus: introverts, HSPs & empaths.
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First off, thanks for being here and for opting to download this guide. It means a great deal that you are here and that our paths have somehow collided across the mega-ocean that is the internet.
Quite simply, this is the guide, the starter pack if you will, that I wish I had had 5 years ago when I felt unhappy, stuck, unfulfilled and helpless in my job… and, really, my life in general.
You see our 'work' plays a big part in our life, because it makes up so much of it time-wise, but also because our work plays a large part in our self-identity.
I had recently discovered that I was an introvert, which I'll be forever grateful to Susan Cain for. Susan is one of the introvert heroes spearheading this awesome introvert movement, arguably she was hero #1, in terms of timing and magnitude(?). I quickly absorbed every book and website there was on introversion, engaging with it all on a logical and scientific level but not really understanding exactly what I actually meant to *be* an introvert.
You see, there is a great deal of difference, immeasurable, perhaps even an infinite difference, between logically "reading" about what it is to be an introvert, and to actually understand and knowingly-feel what it is like to be one.
We all have a part to play in this fantastic 'introvert revolution', which has gained increasing momentum in recent years, but there's still a long way to go.
My theory is, the more of us who get ignited and inspired to pursue their own hero's journey, the brighter these sparks will ignite and the more of these sparks there'll be, full-stop.
And that, to me, is very, very exciting indeed.
Sunday 24th February, 2019
Note: you'll find the '10 rules' in part II of this guide. Before that, you'll find an introduction & my story/journey.
My guess at your being here is that you somehow came across this INF club site, probably through Twitter or one of the other places I hang out online (mostly Fizzle, IndieHackers & Reddit).
You then, perhaps, read an article or two more and something just felt right. You were then intrigued enough to start reading this guide.
Perhaps you are someone who is very much pondering what on earth you were put on this earth to do, what work it is that is right for you. Perhaps some of the stuff you've been reading here on INF club has gotten you to thinking. Whichever one of these you are, or aren't, there's no right or wrong answer for being here.
In fact you, my dear reader, I assure you, are exactly where you are supposed to be at this moment in time, right now. There is something about timing I have found. I give you one example before I will go on to share my story.
These last 5 years have been a real journey for me, in different ways. Perhaps most of all, my self-care has become an ongoing priority and also an ongoing way in which I can be my best self, and be most in touch with my intuition and thus *live by and honour* my best self.
At the start of 2017, after much reluctance, I went to see a psychiatrist - who recommended therapy as a course of action. About 6 years earlier, another counsellor had been thrust upon me. I was not willing to share. I was not wanting to share. I wasn't in the right space to share. It was not the right time to share.
At the age of 27, this time around I felt ready. I gradually started to open up. I shared a few things. It was great.
I stopped therapy. And then, the following year, I went back. And that second time, it was like *fireworks* with my therapist from day 1.
I got real deep, real quick with her. Now this was partly because I'd been to therapy before and knew what to expect. It was partly because I just clicked with her straightaway, she felt like a kindred spirit and someone I could trust and someone I just connected. See, there's my right there, trying to rationalise it. It was what it was, but I feel - most of all - the TIMING was right. It was just meant to be.
And just like the timing was right for me then, and at the points in my life I am aware of and not aware of, the timing just might be such that being here on INF club, reading this guide, (my very first guide, by the way) has fallen into your lap. Well, not literally, but I think you get the idea.
So let's move on, with haste.
It comes in 2 parts.
1) I share with you my personal story
2) Then I share with you a set of guidelines around how you can best discover what work you want to do
It's there, within you. To use a StarWars analogy, this guide is here to help you find the Force that is already right there, within you.
part I: my story
a) my early life & education
I was born in a town outside of London, an area they call Greater London. I have always lived here, in 3 different houses, but in 3 towns all within a 5-mile radius. My grandparents were born in north India (a region called Punjab), and settled here in the 60s. My mum is the eldest of 5 siblings, and my dad the youngest of 7. Mum was born here in England (at the same hospital as me, in fact), whilst my father was born in India but moved over when he was just 2 years old.
My parents both came from pretty humble backgrounds and worked hard to give themselves - and their two sons (myself and my brother) - a decent, middle-class upbringing. My brothers is 5 years younger than I am and, like siblings do, we share our similarities as well as our differences.
As a young child, I was cute, naive, playful and well-behaved. I remember many a family wedding where I'd sit there quietly and still, without any fuss, for the duration. Other kids would be racing around, or otherwise getting ants in their pants and having to fiddle about with some toy, whereas I was quite content to sit just sit there and daydream, or play with my toys.
My earliest memories of school were being timid; I remember taking my homework and my grades seriously, and I remember being bullied by this other kid for a little while. At this same school, the apparatus in gym class (we call it PE here in the UK), used to terrify the hell out of me. I used to freeze and cry the more I was encouraged to walk and balance on the apparatus, a couple of feet off of the ground, but a couple of feet higher than I wanted to be, thank you very much. I remember bursting into tears at one point over a piece of homework, it had all gotten too much for me. My parents were perceptive enough to take me out of that school and put me into a nicer one, when I was still 4 years old and in my first year of school. (It's amazing just how much we can remember from our younger years, isn't it?)
At this new school, I felt more comfortable and at home. It was smaller, like a big house, and the classes were half the size. I obediently jumped through the hoops necessary, got good grades, and set myself up for one of those "sensible" jobs. I was always the affable guy who got on with everyone, kinda knew everyone, was a "geek" if there was any crowd that he was a part of, and yet was never really part of any crowd in particular. I kept myself to myself a lot, and my life was school, then homework, then sleep and then school again. This is how it was throughout primary (elementary) school and then into secondary (high) school.
Blindly jumping through hoops, yet I was a curious learner, I found a lot of subjects fascinating. Whether it was Ancient Rome in Latin, or World War 2 in history, or creative writing in English, or space in Physics. I think the variety of subjects kept me sufficiently-engaged throughout my school years.
That is, until the age of 17 at which point we're forced to choose 4 subjects here. Having narrowed down my post-school options to the "prestigious" ones - medicine, dentistry, law, banking... medicine was the only one that I really had any interest in, due to it concerning the human body and helping others.
I really didn't enjoy those last two years of high school. I was just not interested in the subjects I chose, which I had done because I had chosen medicine. After 5 years of being in the same class, these were mixed-up and we had new people join from outside. This was unsettling, I think. I found this all a bit unfamiliar and disorientating, too.
As a skinny, young-looking and innocent kid, I felt less and less like one of the others. I felt young. Different. Did I even want to do Medicine? I didn't know what the hell I wanted to do. Medicine was the most-appealing of the narrow range of prestigious choices laid out before me as clear, A -> B career paths. Medicine being a looooong career path; not the most sensible option, especially for someone who doesn't really know if he wants to do it or not.
I've no idea how it was possible to know what to do at that age. As Emilie Wapnick has previously talked about, there's a point at which the "What do you wanna do when you grow up?" goes from sweet and innocent and funny when as a kid we say things like 'spaceman' or 'secret agent', to a few years later when we suddenly have to have a serious answer and magically have an answer. It just isn't possible.
If I felt like a fish out of water in those last two years at school... university was *hard*. I felt even more like an alien. My familiar life of school, home, school, life, suddenly came to an end. I was suddenly in this place with all this freedom and I just didn't feel ready.
I couldn't at all get on board with the whole "go out and party" type vibe, even though I tried to, but it just felt exhausting and empty. I didn't really know who I was back then, and I certainly didn't find "my people" at university. Going out and trying to be someone I wasn't wasn't only exhausting, but it made me unhappier. I'd lock myself up in my room for days, exhausted and frustrated, with no direction or purpose and just really lost.
I ended up going to uni twice, each time feeling unsettled and lost. I dropped out, both times.
b) finishing education & starting work
I came out of university, the second time, in 2010. It wasn't too long after the global recession, so the economy was still suffering and it was tough for graduates and other young people. I was still drawn to people though, and also money. Recruitment ticked both of those boxes - and I didn't need a degree to do it.
It was only a few weeks into recruitment that I knew it wasn't 'it' for me. But I needed to do something. I needed some stability and some routine. And actually, I learnt a lot. I really came out of my shell and learnt to wear a very effect sales mask. I mean that it in a good way - I learnt the ways of the world, the confidence to engage with folks older than I was, to feel like I was in a position of authority - or partnership - as this recruitment consultant. My inner confidence, in a professional, working domain, developed and grew.
At my first company, my boss was an @sshole and a micromanager. And the culture wasn't great - 8.30am to 6pm, and often later, with a 75-90minute commute each way.
I didn't then know about my introversion of my sensitivity, but it's no wonder that I found myself exhausted and depleted of energy at the end of each week.
I left this big recruitment firm to join a much smaller one with a far better culture; the working-hours and commute were the same, though there was less pressure to be seen sitting at your desk.
It had a nicer, more family-like feel and I had more autonomy to operate as me without the micromanagement. In 2014, I finished the year as the #5 top-performer in the whole company, and I was the youngest in that top 5, in terms of both age and recruitment experience.
That said, with the same hours and doing the same (sales) work in an open-plan office, with a lot of calls and meetings… this sensitive introvert was exhausted.
Most Thursdays I'd go to the pub with colleagues, exhausting myself even more. Through so much social interaction and not enough sleep, this was the perfect concoction for pretty much constant tiredness.
Up until that point, I think it was the sheer competition (the inter-company league table) that kept me going. It felt a little again like school, where one could gain kudos through good grades and it was a case of fighting for pride. Just that now, it was no longer good grades that earned your pride here, it was money for the company. And, of course, that equated to more money in your pocket, too.
The thing is, much of what I was doing was moving someone from one company to a similar one, doing a similar role, perhaps with slightly more seniority, and a little more money. That's it. And I just didn't give a sh*t.
The banking industry wasn't one of my favourites by any means. I was living out of alignment, both in terms of the impact I felt I was having, and the day-to-day reality of what I was doing. It left me feeling both frazzled and disconnected from who I was.
My inner voice felt like it was getting louder and louder. A key turning point came when - in that year of 2014 - I was sat at the Christmas party having been presented with the Employee of the Year award just earlier in the evening. Everyone around me was drinking, talking loudly, and generally having a good time. I remember sitting there, in my own bubble and a spectator to the scene happening around me, and thinking I should be happier than I am right now. Why aren't I?
This was then compounded by my having an absolutely awful start to 2015. I had a big pipeline of 'deals' that fell through.
A week away with the family in Barbados in February helped everything become very clear. I had some time and headspace (literally, see below) to actually let things simmer, and I also had recently started using the Headspace App.
I just knew that my time in recruitment was up, and that I had to make a change. I had already started reading career change books and blogs, stories of folks who had moved away from their dull, corporate careers to do something that was more "them". My inspiration at the time was growing, but it was overwhelming with so many options available, and the belief I had in myself was low.
I was doing a lot of reading in this time. I had been reading about psychology and self-help stuff for a couple of years already, and I somehow stumbled across Positive Psychology after reading a book called Happier, by Tal Ben-Shahar.
Psychology was something I had found extremely interesting, and this science was calling out to me. I had some unfinished business with university having dropped out of a Bachelors', twice, and this was the opportunity to gain a Masters in something I was really interesting in, and give myself some time to really explore what I wanted to do.
I handed in my notice the day I received an email offer confirmation from the University of East London, one of only five in the UK to offer the Masters in Applied Positive Psychology.
Alongside the Masters, I did a career-changers' course with Escape The City. It was a lot of information-gathering and reflection, and with lectures only a couple of days every 3 weeks, I became very isolated and in my head.
I was trying to figure out from science and books *what* to do with my life. I felt hopeless. I reached one of my lowest ebbs when the Masters programmed ended, and the education business I started building just didn't work out.
Mum realised that something was up. I wasn't myself, I was very low and not wanting to see anyone and just particularly low. She coaxed me into getting myself checked out. I went to see a psychiatrist who told me I was displaying symptoms of "a bit of depression and anxiety".
This was the start of my self-care journey. Anti-Depressants, group therapy and individual therapy. It was much-needed (again, TIMING); the medication was the short-term strategy to help level me out a little, but the medium-longer terms strategy was having an awareness of certain behaviours and patterns, and going about best managing them. It sounds so clear-cut and scientific, though of course mental health and issues of the mind and soul are, in general, not that at all.
I have implemented various things into my life. Getting enough sleep, yoga, journalling every day, nourishing friendships and family relationships (and being selective about these), and generally just respecting my boundaries and my energy more.
For me, I realised that one of the biggest keys to my happiness is managing my energy.
Developing this strong, more stable core has enabled me to operate from a place of calm and balance, and thus in a better place to move towards that work which we want to do.
My journey has been a real zigzag, to say the least.
It was this unhappiness with my job that was weighing on me for so long, and which was really the start of this journey of mine. Work is very important to us INFPs and INFJs, us introverts and empaths, and inevitably the domains of 'work' and 'life' overlap.
My journey towards finding fulfilment in my job has actually led me to so much more.
It set me on a path that has led me to really embrace who I am, and what I want, and continually listen and move forward. This not only applies to work, but other areas of my life - whether it's relationships, money, where I live, my creative projects outside of work.
I am closer to my best self than I have ever been and yet, I feel, not as close to it as I will be this time next year. It is ongoing work that reaps more benefits for those who stick with it and act with consistency.
I wish you the best of luck on your journey. May the quest to find your ideal job bring you much joy and nourishment... and perhaps even a lot more you hadn't anticipated, but will steer you and your life on a course that is your own.
part II: 10 rules for being happier at work, and in life
I have come up with a set of guidelines that help one progress on this journey through less choppy waters. There are no easy, magic shortcuts. But there is a roadmap which can help show you the way.
Things that you can do *right now* if you are feeling dissatisfied with your current job. The impact of having a job you are more aligned with is quite phenomenal. Inevitably, with work forming a big chunk of our day - as well as us introverts and empaths really needing our work to nourish us.
A lot of us get stuck in the over-thinking, dreaming, wishing for a better life mode. And never take action.
Many of us (the majority, according to Gallup) are not engaged nor fulfilled with the work that we do. For us introverts and sensitive folks, we don't tend to be the ones who can just grin and bear it. Many of us need to feel connected with what we are doing, working in an environment that suits us.
Knowing you're not unhappy, but being unclear on which direction t take, is one of the most difficult things one can contend with. I was in this phased for a *long* time, before I started to make changes.
Here are a few things to help you move forward right now, if you are an INFP or an INFJ (or an otherwise 'sensitive introvert') currently unhappy in your job, but with no clue where to go.
I hope this list might help you:
1. Take a break
In amongst the day-to-day hectic ness of life, it's very difficult for us to know what to do. I think of when I was working in recruitment and constantly busy and frazzled. We aren't in the right headspace to think or act rationally nor, crucially, to listen to our intuition.
Taking some time off can allow for this. Whether that's a week or two away, a retreat, a sabbatical, taking some time off can be a really good thing for you.
2. Start putting pen to paper
Journalling has been one of the most powerful things I've started to do, and continue to do daily. It helps me organise my thoughts and reflect, making realisations I wouldn't otherwise make. A friend of mine described it as helping you untangle a ball of yarn. In this case, that ball of yarn may be a bit chunky and knotty, but writing may well help you start to untangle some of those knots and break that chunky ball down.
Especially when it comes to making important decisions, I rally use my journalling to help me get my thoughts out, and it helps clarify what I'm feeling and what I might want to do / decide.
3. Join a career changers' community
There is nothing more than going through something really difficult than doing so with another bunch of people going through the same thing. Communities like Escape The City and Live Your Legend are examples of these, but you'll probably find many other others on MeetUp and otherwise. As someone who did a lot of peeking under the covers before I took any action (i.e. delving into stories and blogs online), getting involve a real-life community was an absolute game-changer for me. Really, really powerful.
4. Give yourself some time to 'play'
One of the things I was encouraged to do when I went through my own 3-month career changers' course, was just to get curious and playful, in an almost child-like manner. It might be doodling, it might be another creative outlet (I've already mentioned journalling), a sport, or a hobby you used to derive joy from but left by the wayside, or else something you've always been drawn to but never gotten around to doing. Go get out there and do it! Expose yourself to new situations, shake up your routine a little bit, and you may be surprised as to the feedback you get and the perspectives that are shifted.
5. Think about what lifestyle you would like
Rather than put so much pressure on the actual job you want to do or the industry you want to work in, think about the lifestyle you'd like to have. You may find that have flexibility or a remote role is just as important - or even *more* important - than the company you're working for. That's exactly what I found when I went back to a role in Financial Services, but this time with a startup and working on a remote basis.
6. Determine what your MVI is
Minimum Viable Income. This is important. If you are making a transition, it may well be that you'll have to take some sort of hit on the income side. However, figure out exactly how much you *need* not necessarily what you *want*. You may be surprised at what that figure is, how much you need to survive - and thrive. Remember, this isn't about living somewhere terrible and eating canned soups for dinner every night. What's "enough" for you, and how much extra do you need for your personal enjoyment each month. There's no judgement here, one person's MVI will be different to the next person's. But at least knowing this figure will give you clarity, and mot likely reassurance that taking a cut won't be so bad, and there's no need to freak out.
7. Take inspiring people for coffee
Before Scott Dinsmore founded Live Your Legend, he must got curious and starting talking to people. Invite them for a coffee. Someone you look up to who you're intrigued by? Ask if you can interview them. Most will be flattered. And you never know where these conversations will lead. This is also a great way for you to be able get feedback on a particular job or sector you might be interested in working in. *And* it gives you the opportunity to start building a relationship that may be useful at some stage. You never know where these conversations might lead. Have them. Get emailing folks.
There may also be a thread between those folks you inspired by, and this could give you vital clues as to what you want to do. I was drawn to folks like Scott Dinsmore, Chris Guillebeau and Michaela Chung - all of whom had built online communities and selling products/coaching.
8. Commit to taking small actions - and make yourself accountable
To avoid you going into analysis paralysis and getting stuck in a rut, it can be a good idea to set yourself tasks each week. It might be "meet 3 interesting people for coffee this week", or "mind map what I want my ideal job to look like". Whatever you do, do something - and *don't* stay in your head. The longer you do, the deeper you can get into that rut. Or, book a short trip away. Once you start meeting others in this career-changers' space, you can set up little accountability pairs or groups, to inspire and motivate one another. Accountability is very powerful - especially if you tend to be someone who needs a little kick of the *ss to take action - you now who you are! (PS. #guiltyascharged)
9. Consider a coach
If you're feeling stuck, talking to someone non-judgemental might be really helpful. Some coaches brand themselves as "career coaches", others may be "life coaches" who work with things which aren't just career-related. Really, it's all down to the connection/relationship you have with the coach. Each coach should have a certain style/approach, some are more directive, others more non-judgemental. For introverts and empaths, non-judgemental is usually the way to go - skilful coaches here will ask you questions to guide you towards making your own realisations, "aha" moments and decisions.
10. And finally…
It's so important I'm giving it another mention...
The #1 most powerful thing you can do is connect more with that inner voice of yours. Take a break, start doing yoga or meditation, get journalling. I can't overstate just how important it is for you to start developing a relationship with that intuition of yours, leaning into it to help with your decision-making process. It'll be something which takes a little time, but before you know it you'll realise just how important this relationship is.
When we are struggling with something, we tend to distract ourselves or just read more and more and more, to search for the answer. What I ty to do these days is actually *be still*. Ground myself, re-centre myself, and listen to what my heart and body are telling me.
A couple of years ago, the above would've been more on the woo side for me. I may have listened to it, but I wouldn't have really *understood* it, and I'd have looked at it with a degree of scepticism. I have a Masters in Psychology, for goodness' sake! Science has no place for intuition, unfortunately, as it's immeasurable and unquantifiable.
But take it from me, it is the most powerful part of you that exists. There's a reason they call our gut the "second brain you know. Speaking of which, perhaps the science is catching up after all; the mind-gut connection is one which is being studied more and more these days.
Thanks so much for reading, and - congrats - you made it all the way to the end :)
Has this guide brought up anything for you? Any interesting insights, aha moments or otherwise something you're going to take away from this?
I'd love to hear what you're thinking about, or any questions you have.
Just email me, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember, you can receive a special extended, PDF version of this guide by subscribing to INF club :)
Ciao for now!
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