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How 13 months of relative isolation changed me

By now you’ve all read how you should still shower and brush your teeth in the morning (wait…what?), so this article will focus on another side of sustained remote working. Specifically, my personal journey of self-knowledge gained through relative isolation from March 2016 to April 2017, when I first launched Hawkwood from my bedroom.

For context, I’m an INTJ – “I” stands for “introvert” – rendering me, in theory, well-equipped for isolation. In that respect, I’d say Myers is pretty spot-on – I feel relaxed and in control when I’m alone; I can zone in and out all I want.

But whether you’re an “I” or an “E” (extrovert), I’ve learned that we all need someone to talk to. The difference is that extroverts go searching for real people, while introverts will quite willingly settle for the voice in their own head.

Like many, I’d always viewed my internal chatter as productive – a way of pre-empting possible danger to ensure I’m safeguarded from it. It also helped me come up with my best ideas – like hollandaise sauce in a squeezy-bottle, and a clock that counts down until you hit your next big life milestone (in my case, 40); to encourage living every day to the max!

However, the longer I worked in relative isolation, the louder and more prominent a part of my psyche the internal voice became. For it was me, the “self-sufficient” introvert, who could not resist engaging with his words. He seemed to have answers at a time when I needed them most…

My mind was open. I was riding the rollercoaster of emotions that was launching a business. I was desperate for certainty in a time when I’d purposely abandoned it. How could he guarantee that I’d be successful and control the uncontrollable for me?

Over time his dominance grew, sparking an identity crisis where it was no longer clear which voice was his, and which was mine. This made him powerful. Furthermore, his words were sharp and touched nerves; he could see all my secrets.

Whilst it wasn’t always the most light-hearted chat, I’d later realise that I was receiving a gift. In our fast-paced, modern lives, the space to really learn about oneself is becoming smaller and smaller. When we find it, we seek comfort in the form of Netflix series, memes and podcasts, rather than embracing the harshness, yet opportunity, that silence presents.

Steve Jobs says you can only connect the dots looking backwards and, upon connection, I can see that this process changed me. It humbled me at a time when I needed it the most.

See, whilst much of what I was experiencing was paranoia driven by overthinking, significant positive change was in motion. When you think about something for long enough, you will find some answers. Whilst the process is uncomfortable, enhanced self-knowledge is waiting on the other side.

Reflecting on my limitations to the extent he caused me to, humbled me when I needed it the most. My newly-formed business was actually working out okay and there was a real risk I’d get cocky.

Confronting the vivid reality of who I actually am, I also discovered what’s truly important to me. I finally eased up on trying to be cool or a “right laugh”, and instead found the confidence to be more honest about who I really am.

Growing up, people had told me my main motivator in life was money and, being young, I believed them. This journey helped me realise that they were wrong. What I was really seeking was adventure. For me, entrepreneurship is the VW Campervan and money is the fuel.

So, as we prepare to embark on an enforced period of isolation, we must see opportunity in confinement. Human nature is such that we assume our reality is set in stone – things are just the way they are. But the COVID-19 pandemic proves that it’s far from it.

If channelled correctly, our horror at the current situation will open our minds. The unthinkable is now thinkable.

These new rules have the power to cultivate seismic personal realisations and motivate previously unimaginable breakthroughs. But only if we go there.

What version of you will we meet on the other side?