If You Could Go Back and Change One Decision in Your Life, What Would It Be?


novogratz1 If You Could Go Back and Change One Decision in Your Life, What Would It Be?Recently, I had the chance to participate in an intimate salon for 65 women leaders of different ages, hosted by the inimitable Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of the Acumen Fund, and Batool Hassan, a Business Development Manager at Acumen. (This is a photo of Jacqueline, and that’s my left shoulder on the bottom right…) The evening gave us all a chance to stand up and speak honestly about our lives. We were each asked to share with the group our answer to the following question:

For the older generation:

If you could go back and change one decision in your life, what would it be?

and for the younger generation:

What is your biggest fear?  What’s holding you back?

Since I’m 43 and there were women there in their early 20s, I declared myself a member of the older generation and answered the first question. I spoke of my regret at having masqueraded all my life as a Practical Person (corporate attorney, etc.) when really I’m attracted to pursuits that are supposedly less grounded, like book-writing and prodigious chocolate-eating. But of course I don’t completely regret the choices of my early adulthood. I enjoyed my years as a lawyer, and in a twisty-turny way, they led me to where I am today.

Five of us were also asked to give longer talks, and I spoke about — what else? — the powers of introversion! Many people came up to me afterwards to share their own experiences of being quiet in a world that can’t stop talking.

Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to have our own salon here, asking the same questions. So here goes: If you could go back and change one decision in your life, what would it be? (If you prefer, you could also answer the question about your fears for the future.)

(My participation in the women’s salon was my latest foray in my Year of Speaking Dangerously. For those who are joining me by participating in the public speaking part of the QUIET Revolution, please also post a comment on how you’re coming along. And remember, you can join at any time.)


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  1. Phil Holmes on 30.08.2011 at 20:36 (Reply)

    I have no decision in my life that I would change. I say this not because my decisions have been uniformly excellent and that I have a life that is beyond reproach; rather, it is because I cannot go back in time and see myself making any major decision in any way other than the way I took. I can wish that I had been a different person at major decision points. But, I was not.

    I am curious, though, about how drastically my life would have changed if I had made a different decision about where to go to college. In my life, that is truly the place where it seems clear that two lives were offered, and I chose one. So much of my life now stems from that decision, and while I am not unhappy with my current life, and understand that in any event, the same person would have gone down the other path (and would have encountered analogous versions of the challenges I have faced), I am often intrigued by the question… what if?

    Oh, yes. And if I written that damned novel that every English major carries.

    1. Susan Cain on 31.08.2011 at 10:43 (Reply)

      Hi Phil,

      Your post leaves me with two burning questions:

      1. Why not write that novel now??

      2. Why do you think the university decision was so crucial? Were you deciding between two very different schools?

      1. Phil Holmes on 31.08.2011 at 22:14 (Reply)

        Great questions, Susan, and thank you for asking them so directly.

        Regarding the novel, I think I have the usual fears: am I really good enough to do this? Will what I put on the page ever come close to what is in my head? But, beyond that, beyond the usual fears, lies something else. I hate the idea of putting out something good that is not understood, that is not appreciated. I hate the idea of making myself vulnerable in my writing and being rejected. I am not proud of those reasons, but I think they are true.

        Regarding school, I wonder about my college choice for two reasons. First, I come from a family that does not value education, so I had to do much of it on my own (figure out which school to go to, figure out how to pay for it). So, there are more of my fingerprints on that decision than might otherwise be the case. Second, I married (and later divorced) a woman I met in college, and moved to Virginia as a result of that marriage (where I still live and where I found my current partner). Those important events would not have happened had I chosen a different school, I don’t think, so it’s easy to wonder about the ramifications of a different choice.

        And now that I think of it, you put your finger on another piece of it. I turned down a major urban ivy league university for a much smaller liberal arts college… so, yes, there were stark differences there, too.

  2. Anne Elliot on 30.08.2011 at 22:13 (Reply)

    I agree with Phil’s overall point. It’s so easy and tempting to say that if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have gone to law school (I’m mid/late twenties). I graduated into the worst legal job market in over a decade - and so my post-graduation job options didn’t live up to my expectations. I’m somewhat shy and introverted, even timid, by nature, and in some ways, going to law school was a bit like being thrown to the wolves (law students, as a group, are not nice people). And like Susan, I feel the tension between being a Practical Person and having a creative soul. (I, too, would enjoy a life of bookwriting and prodigious chocolate-eating. Perhaps we should form a support group?)

    Even though I sometimes wish my law degree away, a year after graduation, I don’t really think I would give the experience back if I could. Yes, it was hard and frequently unpleasant and caused me a lot of angst. But. I learned a lot about myself in those three years, including that it’s important to my sanity to have some sort of creative outlet. I became a stronger person - less timid, more likely to speak up. (I know that statement may reflect some implicit biases against introversion, but on the other hand, I’m not sure it’s celebrating introversion if you’re letting everyone else trample on you). I’m more willing to try new things because I’m less afraid of failure. And I don’t think I would trade the person that I am now to have avoided the trials of law school. My mom often reminds me that someday I may be glad I went, and who knows? Maybe by the time I’m 43, I’ll also be able to say that my law degree led me (even if indirectly) to a happy place.

    I have many fears about the future, but I don’t think I’m ready to discuss them here. :)

    1. Susan Cain on 31.08.2011 at 10:54 (Reply)

      Anne, I would say the same thing as you, that my legal education made me stronger. It forced me into so many situations that seemed frightening at first — conducting mock trials, leading negotiations, and learning to enjoy the company of people who truly love to argue. It was really empowering to know that I could handle these things in my own understated way. I don’t think the desire to feel free to speak and to stand up for yourself reflects a bias against introversion. To me it’s more about the freedom to speak in your own particular way.

      What are you doing about that creative outlet though? In my case, I took a leave of absence from my firm after practicing for seven years. I had no idea how I was going to spend the leave, but the VERY FIRST NIGHT I started writing…and haven’t stopped since. That was in 2001. Curious what kind of outlet you’re seeking.

      1. Anne Elliot on 31.08.2011 at 15:41 (Reply)

        Thanks for the thoughtful response, Susan! I liked what you said about learning that you could handle intimidating situations in your own understated way. I will keep that in mind.

        As for creativity, I have (improbably) taken up acting! I took a public speaking course at the beginning of my third year of law school, and although I did not love public speaking or have any particular gift for it, I did love the theater exercises that were part of my course. My instructor was amazed at the difference between my performance giving a dramatic monologue and my usual performances giving speeches. I loved the way acting made me feel. I got involved in my school’s “law revue” the next semester and took an acting course in a nearby city this year. Acting classes in my current city are a little hard to come by. I may look into Toastmasters for the public speaking practice. I have no plans or even any particular desire to turn acting into a career, but it is a fun and (for me, liberating) hobby.

        Question for you: when you turned to writing, did you have specific things in mind that you wanted to write about, or did you just start doing it?

        1. Susan Cain on 31.08.2011 at 19:55 (Reply)

          That is absolutely fascinating about your foray into acting. Funny, I’d never before thought of trying acting, but as I read your words, it made perfect sense and I found myself itching to try it….though I am now recalling that I once took a playwriting class where we would read each other’s scenes aloud at each meeting. I didn’t find this at all intimidating, but I didn’t have any talent for it! there was one young woman in the class who was a professional actress, and it was amazing to see the life she could breathe into the most unimpressive lines.

          RE: your question about my writing — I just started doing it. I started in 2001, after quitting law, and wrote a memoir (in both sonnet and prose form), part of a novel, many essays, and a book proposal for a book on women and business. Never tried to publish a single one of these works - they’re still sitting in my hard drive. Then in 2005 I started writing a book proposal for the introversion book, and somehow I knew that was the one I would try to publish.

  3. Poppy on 30.08.2011 at 22:43 (Reply)

    Yes, what Phil said.

    I wish I’d been a different person at different points in my life, but all of the decision points I’ve made in life have led me to where I am now. Life ain’t perfect by a long shot, but I recognize that where my life fails my expectations, it’s not my choices that made it so.

    I do sort of idly wonder the same kinds of questions - what if I’d gone to a different university? Followed different interests? I got into something theater-like in college; what if I’d gotten into theater sooner? I gave up on using my psychology degree early and switched careers just 5 years out of college; what if I hadn’t? But I don’t particularly wish I’d done things differently, I just wish I could sit back and watch the lives of my alternate-world cognates like a movie, just to see how the path not taken turned out.

    I am what Andrew Taggert coins a “Spinozist” (http://bit.ly/gzZ2pb) - all that I am is part of me; my work, my home life, my interests - all just facets of who I am. So the creative side of me that yearns to write insightful and wise essays is also fed by the creative problem solving that is IT work. So while there may be things about OTHER people I’d like to change, I’m pretty comfortable with myself.

    Since I’m 36 and feel like I’m right in the middle age-wise, I’ll take a stab at the second question as well. What’s holding me back? I only have time in this life for the things I can do; I don’t have time to work full time, be a daughter, wife, auntie, and friend, become a famous photographer, learn to quilt, and do all of the other things I’d like to do. I have to pick and choose which things to do, and with the recession of the last three years, I’ve slimmed down my choices just to a bare minimum in order to get by. So it’s my human limitations that hold me back - needing to get 8 hours of sleep, needing to get so many hours of recharge time per week, needing to keep a roof over my head, needing to maintain relationships. It’s also partly my introversion - if I didn’t need that time to recharge, I could build my hobbies into a second career. And partly a touch of shyness - if I weren’t so self-conscious, I could market my photography, get my work out there and line up photo shoots.

    Fears? Oh, yes. Mostly, I’m terrified that the economy is going to ruin a lot of us before it starts to think about improving. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, I’ve given up some of my hobbies until the economy improves and the stress it’s causing me lessens. I’m afraid to invest into much of anything right now, not knowing if I’m going to need those resources free in the future.

    1. Susan Cain on 31.08.2011 at 10:57 (Reply)

      “And partly a touch of shyness – if I weren’t so self-conscious, I could market my photography, get my work out there and line up photo shoots.”

      OK, this is something we’re going to have to address at this site! It’s a shame for you to hold yourself back like that. Hmm. Want to try listing the first two steps you’d need to take to market yourself, and then we’ll find ways for you to do them palatably?

  4. Casey Bell on 31.08.2011 at 02:42 (Reply)

    Three decisions come to mind, two involving the death of dogs, one regarding my choice of degree path as a college student.

    I went to college in the mid-70′s and had a real hard time choosing a major. I was “undecided” for most of my first 2 years. My dad thought I should study business but I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the idea. I took an introductory computer class that included a little bit of programming and I liked it enough that I thought I’d like to major in computer programming, but it turned out that my school (California State University, Hayward) didn’t offer any computer related degrees at the time.

    I’m sure there were other colleges where I could of gotten a computer degree but I found the prospect of changing schools, a longer commute, and higher tuition too daunting, so I stayed at Cal-State and got a business degree. Four years later I was a dishwasher and that business degree had done nothing for me. I eventually went to a community college and studied programming and ended up working as a software tech for a while but my career never took off. I often wonder what would have happened had I been bolder and followed my instinct when I was 20 and did whatever it took to get into a school where I could major in software.

    Switching to dogs now, I had a mixed breed dog I named Casey. I got him when I was 37 and had him for 14 years. Old age had slowed him down considerably but I was stunned one day to be awakened by the sound of him stumbling and falling in the living room. Something was clearly wrong as he couldn’t walk two steps without falling. My gut told me it was time to have him put down so I carried him to the car and drove to the vet.

    The vet was very young and I sensed that she hadn’t been finished with school for all that long. She diagnosed him as possibly having a brain infection but said there was a chance that some anti-biotics might help. Against my better judgement I decided to give the pills a try. I took Casey home but couldn’t even get him to swallow the pills. Long story short, he spent most the night struggling to breathe and in the morning he was dead. I’d give anything to be able to go back and have the vet put him down like I had planned so he could die peacefully rather than suffering needlessly for so many hours.

    My other dog regret involved a beautiful dog that I had after Casey. She’d been my brother’s dog but he didn’t have the time or the interest to care of her so I adopted her. Millie was so happy to be my dog and get the attention my brother never gave her. She was a good listener and responded well to my commands.

    My yard wasn’t fenced but I was planning on getting it fenced “real soon”. Well, one night as I was watching television Millie went out into the yard and spotted a racoon. She chased it into the street and got hit by a car. She died within 5 minutes. It was incredibly painful for me, I cried everytime I thought about it during the next 6 weeks. If only I could go back and decide not to procrastinate about putting that fence up. I’ve never had kids but if losing a kid is any worse than losing Millie, I don’t see how a person could survive it.

  5. JoB on 31.08.2011 at 09:15 (Reply)

    As I prepare for retirement in two weeks (Really? That soon?!), I have spent time lately thinking about both questions. I agree, some of my decisions have been flawed, but all have led me to where and who I am now. Several years ago I allowed a trusted friend to convince me that taking a supervisory position in a town 170 miles from home, where my husband and dogs would remain, would be a good idea, it the move would be rewarded. That person long since ceased to be considered a friend as the year that I spent away from hearth and home was quite painful, and the forecasted promotional opportunities never materialized. That being said, I learned a great deal in that year about what is important to me and about my strengths and weaknesses. The experience allowed me to be more compassionate to those who are lonely or struggling with a personal dilemma. I just have keep telling myself the Stuart Smalley affirmaton: “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me!”

    What do I see in my future? I wish I had a magic glass, but I think it is going to be better than the last 62 years, and they are pretty hard to beat.

    1. Laura on 03.09.2011 at 07:35 (Reply)

      @JoB I’m helping an author make an ebook out of his new book REBOOT! right now. I was looking over the book for formatting issues, but found myself quickly getting drawn into the topic. The subtitle is “What to Do When Your Career is Over But Your Life Isn’t” and it’s all about how to plan and have a “good” retirement. Phil Burgess, the author, has lots of motivating stories about real people (rather than the usual famous suspects), as well as many great sidebars and resource lists. I’m not close to retirement yet but I found the whole topic really fascinating, and loved his attitude that “if we must retire to something, we should not retire to retirement. We should retire to work (paid or not), because good health and satisfaction in later life are most likely to come from working.” My favorite chart in the book is all the different forms that “working” can take, later in life. A lot of great projects on the list for introverts.

      So when I think about the question “If I could go back and change one decision in my life” I realize I still can change one big FUTURE decision in my life: how best to spend my last decades on this planet. If I make the right decisions, it will impact me, my family, and hopefully other people, in a good way.

  6. Starthrower on 31.08.2011 at 09:26 (Reply)

    This question about regret has come up a lot lately. Some say they have no regrets because every thing that has happened has made them who they are today. I don’t bode well with that school of philosophy. They have not made me who I am anymore than a sliver in my hand years ago made my hand what it is today. Slivers happen!
    More and more I have come to realize that I need to humble myself and look at choices I have made as being absolutely pointless. I did not grow from them in any way. Instead, I am struggling today with the aftermath of those choices. Obstacles, slowing up my progress, is all they are. Like a sliver, one choice from long ago festers. As if it was in the bottom of my foot preventing me from enjoying a pain free walk in the woods. The sliver will not be there forever, but what will be lost is the time I could have been enjoying pain free, all because of one single choice that I regret. Pain that happens when we aren’t the cause of it is hard enough. But pain to yourself, and others that could have been avoided, that’s tough. Life is too short to ignore regret. I need my children to think long and hard about every major decision they make.
    I have regrets because they have made me who I am NOT today. At 44 I can see that clearly all the youthful smugness set aside. With that I will add that I have made many choices that deserve all the credit for who I am today and I do like who I am and where I’m at. Those choices help me to deal with the time wasting, pointless, no good sliver!

    1. Barb Markway on 31.08.2011 at 12:01 (Reply)

      I really appreciate your honesty! And your writing is poetic. Sometimes I feel out-of-step when I hear people say they have no regrets, or everything happens for a reason… Thanks for such an insightful comment.

      1. Starthrower on 01.09.2011 at 20:38 (Reply)

        Thank you for “hearing” me Barb and letting me know that you did.

  7. Debbie on 31.08.2011 at 11:26 (Reply)

    I think if I could change one decision in my life, it would have been to pursue a more artistic life rather than an objective one. My first career desire was as a preteen in the late 60s: I wanted to draw cartoons for Walt Disney. I ended up listening to people who really didn’t know me but told me I should go for the lifestyle and money with an MD. I ended up changing majors halfway through college from pre-med to English while trying to combine the two on the side by practicing medical illustration. After raising the kids and fiddling with a couple of administrative type careers, at the age of 53, I have my own home office and I’m ready to be true to myself. I’m getting that drafting table I’ve always wanted and bringing out the drawing tools. What will become of it…I don’t know. I just feel I have to give it a chance.

    1. Susan Cain on 31.08.2011 at 20:06 (Reply)

      This sounds very exciting. Will you pls check in with your progress? And perhaps share a drawing or two? Would love to see them.

    2. Luna on 01.09.2011 at 08:26 (Reply)

      Good for you! I hope you have much success and better still much happiness and enjoyment.

  8. Matthew Hunter on 31.08.2011 at 13:12 (Reply)

    So many responses given so far resonate with me! I have plenty of decisions that I continue to regret. Periods of personal insecurity have led me to say some hateful things in the past. My transition period from financial consultant to theologian/nonprofit manager included a shaky stint as a teaching golf professional. I sometimes cringe when I think of that two year period! And then I have uncomfortable moments where I realize I was immature in ending a past relationship, and given a second chance, might have chosen to remain with a person I took for granted so long ago. I describe such realizations as “uncomfortable” because I am now a very happy husband with a beautiful one-year-old daughter. I’m so grateful that my life circumstances have ricocheted me to this point.

    For me, it’s not so much that I wouldn’t change a thing about myself or my past. There’s plenty that I regret, and wish I could revisit and (hopefully) handle in more constructive, compassionate ways. It’s the present I would not change for anything. I’m so enamored with Amanda and our daughter Sigourney. So, if any changed decisions meant I could not be part of their lives, then I’d take a little regret and lingering guilt any day.

    1. Susan Cain on 31.08.2011 at 20:07 (Reply)

      Lucky Amanda and Sigourney!

  9. ladams on 31.08.2011 at 14:30 (Reply)

    Right off the bat I’d change my decision to change only one decision to a decision to change several dozen decisions. Let’s round it up to 100 - because I’m greedy and I like having a lot of room to work. }:} Also, I’ve learned from hindsight that things that you think at one point that you wish that you had done differently may turn out to be things you’re glad you didn’t do. For instance, the one-that-got-away guy from college that I was (at one point) desperately sorry to have never dated joined a weird political faction later in life and became very nastily argumentative about his views. The end result is that I would have been sorrier for having been more intimately connected to him in the long run than I ever was about having turned down the opportunity.
    If I’m allowed to speak in broad strokes, I would have avoided tunnel vision to the greatest extent possible and used the energy I poured into one single-minded pursuit into several other areas of interest. I’m actually doing more of that now, but I can’t help wondering where I would be right now if I had changed my way of thinking earlier on.

  10. EJ on 31.08.2011 at 14:41 (Reply)

    I’m 28, but I feel like I have a lot of past and (hopefully) a lot of future, so I’m going to answer both questions.

    My main regret is a pattern of ignoring things because I was either too busy or fearful to address them. Some of these things probably wouldn’t have BEEN things if they had gotten a little attention. I’m a terrible multi-tasker, and I tend to act in extremes, with intense periods of working non-stop on something while ignoring everything else, and then long stretches of doing the bare minimum, still ignoring everything else. While I know that to some extent this is just ME, I wonder how much I can control, or how much I can control while not messing with the peace my lifestyle gives me. I guess this isn’t a regret, exactly, so much as a question about how malleable people are.

    My biggest fear is that I won’t be able to sustain my life in the career path I think I would be happiest following. I am an architecture grad student now, and I would like to run my own business-of-one. I’m not a networker, and money doesn’t motivate me (even though I know I need it)-if anything it de-motivates me. If projects just happened to fall in my lap, I would do a good job (I’m very conscientious at work), but what if they don’t? And they probably won’t, in this economic climate…

  11. Sarah Jones on 31.08.2011 at 16:23 (Reply)

    If I could change one thing I would stay for my senior year of high school, instead of graduating early. Graduating early was certainly an accomplishment, but I did it for the wrong reasons: boredom, insecurity, and a lousy relationship. What I didn’t realize at the time was that if I stayed for my last year, I could have pursued things that interested me more. I would have had better guidance on choosing a college and furthering my education. I wouldn’t have burnt out at junior college and dropped out, only to return 15 years later as a working parent of four. I did get out of that lousy relationship before graduating, but had I stayed an extra year I would have had a year of fun, building already existing relationships instead of starting from scratch, discovering myself, and doing everything that normal 17-year-olds do.

    1. Debbie on 01.09.2011 at 11:18 (Reply)

      I know how you feel, Sarah. I would like to have my own graphic design business but would prefer it to be just me and have jobs “fall off” the tree for me to do. I realize, however, that today soliciting business can be a lot different than making cold calls and feeling like you have to be so “pushy”. Don’t forget you can have a website (a marvelous tool for introverts) and LinkedIn would be another great resource for potential clients. I haven’t even gotten my supplies together yet, but I’m looking forward and imagining my success. It’s a powerful motivator. PS: Try Chris Gilbeau http://chrisguillebeau.com/ for more help. He’s great!

      1. EJ on 01.09.2011 at 13:52 (Reply)

        Debbie, thanks for the link and for sharing your thoughts! Even though I know I’m not the only one who’s intimidated by these things, it’s nice to hear from them as a reminder : ) A website is a project I’m currently working on, but yeah, I should probably join LinkedIn as well.

  12. Maureen on 31.08.2011 at 22:40 (Reply)

    I would agree with the above comment, many of my decisions have been flawed but they have made me who I am and I have learned so much! I think it is so important to really look at a decision you’ve made that you regret and think about what you can take from that experience. I know my children will make many mistakes as they move forward into adulthood and I ask them not to be afraid of the wrong decisions they may make, not to beat themselves up (as we are all so good at doing) but to continue to really look and who we are and what we want out of life and go for it!

  13. Luna on 01.09.2011 at 07:46 (Reply)

    I never ask myself that question, ever, instead I ask; what have I learned and what will I do differently next time? I absolutely do not believe in going back nor do I believe in regret. It is a big waste of time and serves no purpose. Everyone makes mistakes and will continue to do so all their lives the mistake is to think that a different decision would have altered your life and somehow made it better. We are who we are partly because of the decisions we’ve made and we become better if we choose to learn from them. I have met so many people who are stuck ruminating on the “if I had only” path and it makes me sad for them. As long as you are living and breathing you can change anything if you have the will. If your marriage is profoundly unhappy figure out why and work on it, don’t sit around thinking if only I had married my high school sweetheart. If you want to write the novel hunker down and do it it’s not too late. It can be incredibly difficult sometimes but nothing comes for free.

  14. Debbie on 01.09.2011 at 11:21 (Reply)

    Sorry, Sarah. My reply was meant for EJ. I clicked the wrong name…

  15. Elaine on 02.09.2011 at 14:40 (Reply)

    I would neither marry nor live with a partner. Except for raising my daughter, I would live alone.

  16. Paula on 02.09.2011 at 17:06 (Reply)

    When I was in my 20′s, I moved halfway across the U.S. to take a teaching job that didn’t work out, partly because of factors beyond my control, but partly because I didn’t really want to be a teacher and wasn’t particularly good at it. Then I took a business job, but that turned out badly too. So I packed up, returned to my home town, and moved into my recently widowed mother’s house, intending to get my own apartment as soon as I had a steady job. Instead, I lived there on and off for 10 years. It wasn’t a good situation for me for many reasons: we had a fraught relationship, she was a hoarder, etc., so I often regretted not getting out of there sooner. On the other hand, having a landlord who wouldn’t throw me out if I was short of money freed me to take chances. I stopped working as an employee and became an independent contractor, which took a while to establish. I rethought my career. I worked abroad for a while without having to make elaborate arrangements for storage and pet care. I saved enough money to eventually buy a house. And living with my mother actually improved our relationship because she began to take me seriously as an adult. In retrospect (many years later), I feel that the overall effects of living in her house were positive.

  17. Brennagee on 06.09.2011 at 13:44 (Reply)

    Like Phil, I believe I took the wrong path in college. It was there that I chose security over creativity. I bypassed my initial desires to be an English teacher or a child psychologist and chose the more practical business degree. Everyone said English teachers don’t make any money and psychology would require an advanced degree (I could barely afford an undergrad degree). I met my husband in a business law class. He is intelligent, loving and a great provider. I was happy to stay home with our 3 children because the business world and the jobs I held there were completely unfulfilling. Our kids are school age now. I love them dearly but sometimes feel overwhelmed with all the details and energy required to raise them well. As an introvert, I cherish solitude and time to go within myself. Each of my family members is a precious gift, I would never wish them away, but I long for simplicity. I am finding more and more outlets for creativity (like my website) and writing classes, but less and less time to fit them in. I want to do all aspects of my life well - motherhood, marriage, writing - but I often feel I am biting off more than I can chew. I wonder what life would be like if I had chosen a career in college that I found meaningful. What if I followed my heart instead of my head?

    1. Debbie on 06.09.2011 at 14:02 (Reply)

      I know it may sound a bit trite, but hang in there. I, too, am an introvert and raised two children as a full time at home mom. Fortunately, I was able to share those many responsibilities of our children with my husband. He had a schedule which allowed him to go with our daughters on field trips and other activities that I found overwhelming. They got really close to their dad as a result. We also made sure that our daughters were involved with only one or two things at a time outside their school schedule so that I wasn’t running around too much. Try to stay in the present…there are so many things to enjoy with your children as they are. They will come to value your quiet approach to life. Explore their temperments; maybe you have a fellow introvert who needs your help being true to himself. The time WILL come when they will need you less and then you can allow the time you have been “marinating” to enhance your abilities as a writer. Keep a journal in the meantime. You can find so much meaning in your life right now…you just have to let it happen.

      1. Brennagee on 07.09.2011 at 11:58 (Reply)

        Thank you Debbie for your perspective. I appreciate your insight as an introverted stay at home mother. I am working on being very present at all times. I focus on writing and exploring when the kids are in school. I focus on family and different exploring when everyone is home. I find writing to be therapeutic and enlightening. I have learned a lot about myself through my writing (my husband has learned a lot about me too). I’m finding a balance between family and writing by simplifying - removing the unimportant.

  18. The Quiet One on 13.02.2012 at 07:38 (Reply)

    At 55 years old the only decision I would change was not a decision that I felt I had the power to make at the time. When I graduated from high school I wanted to become a teacher and teach junior high/high school math. During my senior year I tutored in a freshman math class and loved the sense of accomplishment in helping a student understand a concept that they had struggled with. Instead I allowed my father to convince me to study engineering because in the mid 1970′s there were more jobs for engineers (especially women)and not so many for teachers. Because of my upbringing (I’m not Asian, but identified with many aspects of the Asian culture you describe in your book regarding filial obligation) I followed my father’s wishes. I left college after 2 1/2 years. Not until I was 41 did I go back and finish my degree. I have a degree in English Rhetoric and Composition that led me to a career as a pharmaceutical sales rep.

    By the end of the 4th year as a pharma sales rep I was so exhausted that I would cry at the slightest thing and dreaded going to work each day. It took all my energy to get it together to leave home. The company I worked for downsized that year and I lost my job…and I was happy about it! I took that opportunity to follow my passion for physical fitness and became a personal trainer, yoga instructor and cycling instructor.

    The thread that I see winding through my life is my ability to teach others. I worked as a tutor helping other students perfect their compositions when I returned to college; as a sales rep I taught physicians and their staff about the benefits of the products I represented; and now I am teaching my clients about fitness, nutrition and how to have a healthy lifestyle.

    Your advice to readers of your book to do what your are passionate about is spot on: I can comfortabley stand up in front of a small group of strangers and give a presentation about fitness because I am passionate about helping people live healthier, longer lives.

    I have only recently realized that I am an introvert, and highly sensitive. I started looking for a book to help me understand what it meant to be an introvert and your book was one of only two recent publications that I found. Now I understand why I am not successful at verbal argumentation. I think of what I want to say well after the discussion has ended. I compensated for this as a sales rep by constantly looking for new information that I could take to my customers that they didn’t already know and didn’t argue with.

    Have you heard the expression “Watch out for the quiet ones”? That’s me. I often surprise people when I say something outrageous or what is deemed out of character.


  19. George on 02.10.2012 at 00:45 (Reply)

    What’s your biggest fear? What’s holding you back?

    Some call it disease, some call it sickness. Fear is one of greatest man’s route to failure. It can hold you back in life in a massive way.

    Education, school and college. Words we kept hearing from parents, teachers, religious leaders and uneducated people. Thousands of dollars were spent every year on us, students. But does adults really understand the youth of today? I think not.
    My biggest fear is pursuing a career that I don’t genuinely love. In our sick, twisted, hypocrite, weak, narrow and corrupt Lebanese society, it is believed that engineering and medicine are the only way to make a good living. Adults keep pushing us towards those majors. Adults, facing the reality and hardness of life, forgot that us, teenagers want to make a life, not only a living. They completely ignore the fact that we may love arts: singing, acting, directing, dancing… .Expressing ourselves.

    My mother once told me:” You can’t be a director, you would sleep on the streets”

    Adults often expect their children to be engineers, doctors and lawyers; regardless of their true passion.

  20. tsetsegee on 22.01.2013 at 08:15 (Reply)

    it seems like there is no future for me.I’ve ruined my life.I did so many wrong decisions.I don’t understand myself why i always choose the wrong way.I wish i could go back and change those decisions.i am so stupid );

    1. Debbie on 25.01.2013 at 07:35 (Reply)

      No, tsetsegee. You’re not stupid. You haven’t ruined your life. I know it might seem trite, but today can be the day you become true to yourself and choose again. Find someone who can help you sort things out and give you a little bit of insight and hope. It’s not over yet. You are more than the sum of your decisions. The most important thing is to find your life’s purpose and to never give up, whatever difficulties or seemingly impossible odds stand in your way. You can build a rewarding and productive life without limits.

  21. Denise Davise on 27.04.2014 at 19:22 (Reply)

    I wish I married the man I loved.
    Instead allowed someone who had I’ll intentions interfere. I am too nice
    I wish I could allow myself to first and understand that deserve a good life. Instead I am here taking care of my 86 year old mother who is schophrenic,bi-polar, personality disorder. I was once a beautiful women inside and out. People often mistook for model. I am told that I am a blessing to my parents.

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Quiet: The Book

- Wall Street Journal

Bill Gates names "The Power of Introverts" one of his all-time favorite TED Talks.

Best Nonfiction Book of 2012

QUIET has been voted the best nonfiction book of 2012
by Goodreads.com


1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

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