Creativity, introversion and going all-in, with Michaela Chung

by Joanna Pieters | Follow her on Facebook here

‘A writer who is not writing is a danger to herself’, says Michaela Chung. She’s the creator of the hugely popular website Introvert Spring, author of two books and in-demand expert on how to thrive as an introvert. She joins me to talk about her own creative and writing life.

Michaela shares how a creative crisis led to growing her website from 5 thousand visitors per month to 19 thousand, in just 30 days. It’s a process she still repeats every time she feels blocked, bored or frustrated – which, she laughingly admits, still happens regularly.

I love this story, because it’s something so many of us experience. But it’s easy to take boredom as a sign we need to do something else, rather than that we should go in deeper to our work.

“The more I go without writing, the more I think it’s this huge thing”, says Michaela, “but it’s not. You need to make it a practice so you don’t let the fear build.”

We also talk about the overlap between introversion and creativity, balancing our inner artist with our inner manager, and what happens when we stop feeding the ‘writing dogs’ inside us.

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Prefer reading? My conversation with Michaela Chung

Joanna Pieters: Hello and welcome again. Today I’m talking to Michaela Chung, who is an expert on being an introvert. She’s the author of two books, including The Irresistible Introvert and the Year of the Introvert, which the year’s worth of prompts and inspiration. Her website, Introvert Spring, is probably what she’s best known for and she’s written hundreds of articles on introversion launched for online courses and has a busy YouTube channel. She’s also been featured in the Chicago Tribune, CBC radio, and plenty of other places. She coaches and teachers about introversion, but particularly about introverted charisma, confidence and connection, and how to avoid the classic introvert problems. Often very true creatives as well of overwhelm and burnout. Michaela, the world I work with have highly creative people, overlaps with yours considerably, and I see you fitting absolutely into the idea of a highly creative person. I get this real sense of a need to create, have a need, not just have ideas in your head, but to make them real. What does it mean to you to lead a creative life?

Michaela Chung: Yeah, great question. It’s great to be here. It’s true. I am a very creative person. I don’t quite feel right if I’m not creating and to me to live a creative life, it truly is your whole life because you don’t put creativity in a corner. Nobody puts creativity in a corner because you need the inspiration from all areas of your life and creativity can be a in the way that you prepare your meals, in dance and singing, in poetry and in seeing the world differently. I think that’s ultimately a key characteristic of a creative. As they look at the world differently, they, they see things, they look at things from a different angle.

Joanna Pieters: And is that what you do? Do you see the world from a different angle for most people?

Michaela Chung: I can’t say from, from most people, but I, I think I do. I look at things like a lot of introverts maybe more closely and then I make the connections in my mind that make me think that it, I see things differently. So I don’t know if maybe it’s not that I see things differently, but I’m able to make new connections that gives me a new perspective.

Joanna Pieters: Let’s talk about a time when you’ve hit a particular creative challenge and how you came through that. Can you talk us through that?

Michaela Chung: When you sent me an email asking me to kind of come prepared with a story of a creative challenge. I’m like, well, Jeez, should I talk about last week or two months ago? It’s like a regular thing. Right? And I joke with my, um, my colleague Marco who writes for introverts spring that, uh, you know, every three months I kind of have like this existential crisis, like, oh my goodness, you know, what am I going to do now? Am I still being authentic? And I feel a little bit like, you know, kind of creatively challenged, I don’t want to say blocked, but just like, I’m trying to find that spark again. But the time that actually stands out the most is when I first started introverts spring, uh, back then it was, you know, I didn’t really have a business plan for it.

Joanna Pieters: It was me blogging and I tried a bunch of stuff. Like I would make cartoons, memes, infographics. I wrote funny blog posts, really emotional blog posts. I was trying different things. Uh, but after about six months, I was like, I’m, I don’t know if I can write any more about introversion now. I was like, this seems like maybe it’s run its course and I, yeah, maybe I want to quit this introvert writing thing. And again, back then I wasn’t, it wasn’t a business, I wasn’t making any money from it. And then I just told myself, you know what, I’m going to, instead of quitting, now I’m going to do a 30 day challenge, uh, and just post a blog post every day for 30 days. And if I want to quit after that, then I can quit. And what happened was that as it is with creativity, the more I started to write, the more inspiration I had.

Michaela Chung: It’s like every time I would write a blog post, I’d come up with another idea for a new blog post or meme or info graphic. And so it again, it’s like creativity is the thing you can never use up the more you use it, the more you have. And doing this, this 30 day blogging challenge really rejuvenated me as a creative. And it actually, uh, was a turning point in my website. So at that time I had about 5,000 visitors per month and you know, it had been that way for several months. And, which is, you know, for a very new blog was, was pretty good. Yes. So great figures. Yeah. Because I wasn’t doing, like, I didn’t advertise or particularly focused on SEO and I was like, you know, my goal is during this 30 days to double my traffic. So in that month I wanted to have 10,000 visitors.

Joanna Pieters: Were you planning on doing that organically, or did you have a plan to promote it as well?

Michaela Chung: No, I mean I had a Facebook page, but it was really just, yeah, I just thought that’s my goal. 10,000. I didn’t advertise or anything and just creating, um, everyday, consistently, even if I didn’t feel like it and posting every day and by the end of the month, uh, or even like before that midway through I was like, oh my goodness, I feel so happy. I just felt really happy and fulfilled every day because I was living in that kind of creative space every day. And to me I see creativity as a connection to your soul as a connection to a higher power. So it’s like I was communing with my authentic self and with a higher power every day. So I was happier than ever. And and that month I had 19,000 website.

Joanna Pieters: From five to 19?

Michaela Chung: Yes. All because of the 30 day challenge. So it was a real turning point and I realized at that moment that you could recreate the spark that, you know, you could now I call it game changing, so when you’re feeling like I’m done with this, I’m bored, add a game changer, something new, a new way of doing it. Like um, you know, throughout the years I’ve just tried different things. When I feel bored I take it from a new angle. I try writing about dating or I try writing more humorous articles or do more webinars, you know, I’ve just, I need to try new things.

Joanna Pieters: What was the difference in the writing you were doing in the 30 day challenge and the writing you were doing before it? Was there a difference?

Michaela Chung: I don’t think it was. It was so different. I think the thing about doing like a 30 day challenge and, and just writing more is each post might not be better. Like not every post is going to be amazing, right? There were some that were kind of like, Eh, throwaways, but I found whenever I do that, like I’m creating more, that’s when at least one of them is like really, really hits home with people. Um, you know, I’ve had a post become, become viral, like it had over 170,000 shares and there wasn’t. That wasn’t during that time. That was a different occasion. But you know, it’s always during those times when I’m consistently creating that suddenly like a gem comes forth.

Joanna Pieters: It’s really interesting because so often what is this issue of skill and mastery isn’t just getting things out because I think if we all go blogging once a week, it’s very easy for a perfectionist to get in the way and said, well, this one isn’t quite up to the standard I wanted to. Whereas did you find that with the 30 days where you’ve committed to putting it out, whatever.

Joanna Pieters: Exactly. Exactly. Not letting perfectionism get in the way and just not making a big deal of it. I think the longer I go without writing, the more I think it’s this huge thing and I, but it’s not, you know, you need to, uh, make it a practice so that you don’t let the fear build and build because this is not a big deal. Now you’re just creating something. You’re putting it out there and the more that you let go of that perfectionism, the more you will be able to connect and actually, um, get better. So several years on from that, you’re still writing continually about introversion. So what was some boredom about, do you think? Yeah, well, I think all creative people feel like they need a certain level of change, of variety, you know, we want that, especially for me and I’m in the inf P for those of you who know what that is. I, I really liked seeing things from a new perspective, like I travel a lot. I like trying new things and um, it felt limiting, but that’s because I wasn’t seeing that, you know, there’s so many different ways to talk about introversion.

Joanna Pieters: Is that something that you continue to do then? You said that when you get bored, you try a new approach. Is that your conscious go-to now when you recognize that feeling?

Joanna Pieters: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, and like I said, every three months I’m like, oh, what am I going to do now? I don’t know. I think I’m done writing write everything I can. I do this thing actually that I was inspired by Julia Cameron’s book, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, the artist’s way. I follow her steps to reignite my creativity, awaken my inner artist, and so if I’m feeling kind of blocked, uninspired, I will consciously make an effort to reconnect with my intuition with my artists by doing the morning pages and often I’ll do like a solo artists retreat so I will actually go off on my own for a couple of days. Like I’ll book an Airbnb in a nearby city or a nearby city and that, that will rejuvenate me.

Joanna Pieters: What do you do in that retreat time?

Joanna Pieters: I try to disconnect as much as possible. I mean disconnect from social media. I’ll probably, I’ll usually still, um, sometimes I’ll want to use my computer for research and actually still writing things, but mainly I try to slow down and spend a lot of time in nature, go for walks, uh, do some journaling, maybe do some visioning, like on one artist retreat I, I went in and I stated a sweet little cottage by the ocean. It was in Tofino Canada. And so that’s really like a surfer town. Yeah, it was just, you relaxed. I did some visioning for the year. Lots of journaling took books, went for walks, that sort of thing.

Joanna Pieters: And you do that by yourself? Yes. Very appropriately for an introvert. Yes, exactly. I’d like to think a bit about your process of creating. You see, you’ve written something I suppose to think recently in your instagram feed, which I was fascinated by it. And you say a writer who is writing is a danger to herself. Could you expand on what you mean by that?

Michaela Chung: Yes, it does go along with what I was saying earlier about how if I’m not creating, I don’t feel right, and it’s like I’m forgetting the name of the author, author who wrote bird by bird. Uh, she talks about how it’s like you have these dogs scratching inside of you and you have to feed the dogs. Otherwise they kind of get out of control and that’s how I feel about, about writing. And, and also Liz Gilbert talks about this, how like if she’s not actively creating, she’s actively destroying something in her life and it’s like that you start to. Because I think the creative likes to fixate on things and or at least maybe it’s an introvert thing as well, but just like obsessed and fixate and if you’re not fixating on whatever you’re creating, then you kind of like find flaws in your life. Overthink things and you know, just spirals.

Joanna Pieters: Yes, I completely agree. I think they’re the. For me, it’s a real overlap with creativity and introversion is the fact that that is this living in one’s hedge create a huge amount of energy from that list. These connections that we’re building these dots that were joining and actually if we don’t have an outlet that it takes, it finds its own outfit, which may not be positive. Exactly. For you when you’re not writing, what form does that danger take?

Michaela Chung: Um, what form will. I mean definitely overthinking things and I think I’m just not my best self so I’ll get a little bit more agitated and um, I don’t really. I feel like I make choices that aren’t authentic to me. And this is, I mean, um, this also goes down to that that kind of struggle between your artists and your inner manager have to make it in the business world. Like get through life. You kind of have to have that manager side who prevents the artists for setting herself on fire. But then you have the artists who needs to be center stage. And so I find when I get too focused on the manager aspect, which would look like, you know, focusing on admin and doing all this should be and, and, and that kind of thing. Then I don’t feel like myself. I feel like just a shell of myself, I feel disconnected with kinds, which kind of like, it’s like having this little nine inside of you that you know it’s there and then when you’re at home by yourself is when you’re like, something’s not right. I feel disconnected.

Joanna Pieters: I’m curious, you said every three months you go through this process of, of self doubt and what am I doing? Is that a tool connected to your, the manager getting, getting the upper hand or is that a separate thing?

Joanna Pieters: Yeah, that’s a, that’s a good question. Um, I think there was kind of a period where like a year where it was like my introverts spring really started to become, um, you know, I really had to focus on it being a business, right? I, I needed to focus on it being like a solid source of income. And that year was when my manager was most in charge. And um, that year I did I have those moments, not, maybe not as much. I think I just had a big moment at the end of the year where I was like, Whoa, you know, I got to reassess. This is not the direction I want to be going.

Joanna Pieters: That’s interesting. I know in my life I had quite a long period of time away at my manager was taking control and actually I didn’t have that self doubt because it was powerful enough to shout it down, but resulted in a very big process of going, Whoa, what am I doing? After several years actually.

Michaela Chung: The manager is powerful!

Joanna Pieters: But the thing that we do have to deal with without the manager gets the upper hand is this whole having a voice and being heard and having this charisma in a world that is whether we see it as very extrovert or very loud or just unfriendly to creatives we have to thrive in that world. And that your first book was about this idea of introvert charisma. What is that?

Michaela Chung: Yeah, it’s true. So the irresistible introvert was mainly about, um, you know, revealing your interpreter charisma. So I like to see it as you know, you’re not putting on something, you’re revealing what’s already there, so you’re shedding that mask of extraversion and revealing that quiet glow, that intrigue a, that true authentic presence. Because if you think of a time when you’ve met someone and before they even said anything, you’re like, Whoa, I. there’s something different about this person. I’m really interested in this person and that shows that charisma is not just about what you say, it’s about all this other stuff that’s going on. I mean there’s like body language and and that sort of thing. The way you carry yourself, but it’s also a presence. So the book is about helping you to reveal that that authentic presence and also navigating life as an introvert. It can be, can be challenging to be just be yourself. When you know the world is telling you to just fix yourself and be more like an extrovert. Just get out there more

Joanna Pieters: because it’s easy, isn’t it, for that way of being to become invisibility, which actually if you want to get your creative work outfit or any work is difficult because it involves building a business, building an audience, finding people to appreciate your work. Is it a mental transformation that we were an emotional transformation that we have to go through before we can really get to grips with it. The ability to be quiet but not invisible.

Michaela Chung: I think a huge first step is awareness with like any, any transformation. One of the most common comments that I get from people on my website, introverts spring is, you know, I thought there was something wrong with me. I never knew I was an introvert. This is a revelation to people and that’s where it all begins. The transformation begins with understanding themselves and knowing there’s nothing wrong with them. It’s okay to be an introvert.

Joanna Pieters: That’s so powerful isn’t. I’m not broken. I’m not weird. I’m okay. Yes, exactly. Is it then allowing that to be your presence in the world?

Michaela Chung: Yes, and it does take time. When I first found out I was an introvert, was in college. I was in a psychology class and I took a test and for me that was. I exactly felt how, you know, people will say they felt I, I felt like I was vindicated, like there was nothing wrong with me. I stood taller, I was happy, but then for several years I didn’t do anything about it because there was nothing out there for introverts and it wasn’t until I started my website where I started actually providing tools, you know, working on myself and actually like helping other people to uh, navigate this well, like how do you, how do you embrace your introversion in a world that pressures you to be an extrovert? How do you navigate the energy challenges and the communication challenges because introverts tend to speak more slowly. We tend to overthink things, you know? And so that’s when I really started to see changes in myself and fully start to accept myself.

Joanna Pieters: Yes, this is big perception isn’t that introversion is somehow equates to lack of confidence, which I think we know is completely untrue. But it’s that perception isn’t it? And it’s, it’s a reality that quite a lot of introverts and creatives perceive that about themselves simply because it’s a take that the world has about them.

Michaela Chung: Yeah. Believing that they, Oh, you know, I’m just shy. That’s a big one. That word is, it’s tricky because a lot of people think introversion is shyness and no, it’s not the same thing. You know, introverts can be confident and they can be social. It’s just, it has to do with energy. Introverts need more time to time to ourselves. And when we give ourselves permission, we feel like that’s okay. That actually boost our confidence.

Joanna Pieters: So living in a way that’s, that’s true to you. So your latest book is Year of the introvert. Is that about helping people to really become comfortable with their own identity? It’s this wonderful series of daily prompts.

Michaela Chung: Yes. So as with all my work, it’s all about embracing your introversion and having the tools to, you know, live your best life as an introvert, there are monthly themes and actually one of the monthly themes is creativity. That was one of my favorite chapters to write because as you can tell him, I am passionate about creativity and I’ve done a lot of work to cultivate creativity to, to nurture it, I guess you could say, and actuallyput my work out into the world. So I share that in these daily nuggets of inspiration, whether it’s a couple of paragraphs of inspiration or I have some monthly features. So I have a monthly book-nook, a listing recommended books on the topic for the month, so it be, you know, books on creativity. And one of my favorite things that I added was a monthly fortune cookie.

Michaela Chung: With the monthly fortune cookie, I chose six fortunes and so you roll the dice or just use like an online dice app and you know, whatever number you get on the dice, it’s number two. Then you just read the corresponding fortune for the day. And so it’s kind of a playful book because I love daily inspiration books. I use them almost as like a fortune teller. So I flip it open and it’s kind of like my horoscope for the day, you know, reading that. So that’s my little message for the day, you know, that’s just for me and that’s like my hippy dippy artist side coming through of like, what’s the universe telling me today? Uh, so yeah, you can read it, you know, month by month or you can use it that way. Flip it open for, for inspiration. Read one of the fortune cookies, you know, it’s a fun book that you can give as a gift or have on your coffee table and just dip into daily.

Joanna Pieters: So I’m sensing a real connection with the story you first told us about the transformation in your business and your life being about the daily engagement with what you were doing. And it’s really the same coming from the same place. It’s about continually engagements and not self examination, but self-awareness.

Michaela Chung: Yeah, that’s a great way of putting it because introverts are very interested in looking inwards and a lot of introverts are self development junkies. And so it is a way of, for me, yes, a continuous growth is important and that’s part of, you know, needing change, meaning needing to be connected to my authentic self. And so this book is a way of having that daily, you know, the opportunity for daily growth, daily inspiration, and a reminder of what’s important as an introvert because it’s easy for us to get lost in our own heads, isn’t it?

Michaela Chung: Yeah. And any of that reminds me, one of the comments I also get a lot is, you know, I, I feel like you’re inside my and you really get me and it just comforts me to hear your stories and to know that you’ve experienced the exact same things as me. And, and, and I think that’s a big, big part for introverts. We feel alone and when we want to be alone, but yet we have that human need to be understood and to connect. And so I’m, I am really grateful that my work, and particularly this new book, the year of the introvert can provide that for people where they can just dip into, to any part of it and think, oh, someone gets me.

Joanna Pieters: Because actually so many of the struggles we have all shared, they’ve experienced experiences we have, of living in our heads of being an introvert or creative. Actually very, very common when we actually dare to be vulnerable about them.

Michaela Chung: It’s true, isn’t it funny how all these universal things that, that we share as humans are the things we feel most most ashamed of and we don’t want to talk about even like, and this is a silly example, but like going poop. It’s like everybody goes poop, why do you have to be embarrassed? But, uh, you know, other more serious things like loneliness and a rejection. Everybody, you know, people have all these hang ups around money and so many people are experiencing these things. And yet we feel so isolated because we’re scared to talk about it. Scared to be vulnerable.

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