As I have searched for my one “right” career, I have felt tired and frustrated at times and just wanted someone to tell me what I should do. That’s why career tests are so popular.
While I don’t believe that there are specific careers “meant” for introverts, or that there is one “right” career for that matter, I do believe that the more clarity an introvert has about her energy needs, the more successful she can be in career decision making. Sometimes it’s more about the HOW than the WHAT.
There’s no need to automatically assume that you can’t do a certain type of work just because of your introversion. It’s about knowing yourself and finding the best fit – wherever that takes you. So be open to exploring options.
Recently a woman asked about what to do now that she’s finishing her degree in Sociology – only to learn that she’s an introvert. She felt that, since most of the jobs in the Sociology field require working with people, had she known about her introversion sooner, she would have chosen her career path differently; in the direction of technology.
I understand the feeling that you might be heading down the “wrong” career path. Sometimes it does require a significant shift in direction. But sometimes, it’s about doing some tweaking to make it a better fit. It’s important not to default to stereotypes in your decision making.
I’ll give a personal example. According to the Humanmetrics Jung Typology Test, I have a strong preference for introversion (89%). My first “professional” job after university was working as a program coordinator, mentor and workshop facilitator at a non-profit organization. I worked with groups of up to 20 youth in a six month program, supporting them daily in skill enhancement and in making decisions about career direction (including job search or return to education/training).
Taking on multiple overlapping programs back to back over a couple of years, it was my first real understanding of my introvert energy needs. I overdid it. Eventually, when my contracts came to an end, I decided to leave.
Feeling burnt out at the time, I was questioning whether this was the type of work I was “meant” to do. I loved it (well, parts of it). I was good at it (most days). I provided value for people that was uniquely about me being the one who showed up for them (and received some very touching comments as a result).
But I couldn’t “handle” the daily face-to-face in the large group (and intense) setting. Over time, I realized that I needed to do some tweaking, not leave the profession all together.
Now many years later, I continue to do similar work in terms of the outcome – I help others make positive changes in their lives – to be happier. However, knowing more about my energy needs, now my HOW is different. Entrepreneurship is my ideal fit. As a result, I still do work that matters to me, but I don’t burn out anymore.
Here are my key takeaways regarding careers for introverts:
- HOW matters: As you’re making decisions about your next steps, think more in terms of HOW you prefer to work versus WHAT work you’ll do. This is where you pay attention to your energy needs. Assuming that your work will involve people in some way, how can you ideally structure work to include time for quiet solo activities so that you can fill up your energy tanks? How would you prefer to structure your interactions?
- Follow what interests you: Forget about the stereotypes. Follow where your energy naturally wants to go. What energizes you? What can’t you stop thinking about? Explore possibilities with an open mind. Career testing can be helpful at times, but consider the job titles that show up in your results as ideas rather than answers.
- Think back to why: Why did you go into sociology (or whatever your educational focus or career path was) in the first place? Whatever attracted you is probably still a factor. Your WHY can be as instrumental as your HOW. For example, as a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. It was about helping people plus there was a sense of intrigue about problem solving and technology. It’s all part of what I do now (just in a different way than I would if I was a doctor).
- Get creative: Find ways to make the separate pieces fit. Let your creative juices flow in brainstorming possibilities. Add your skills, experience and education to the mix here too (but not in a limiting way – remember, this stuff can be learned).
- Research: You’ve come up with possibilities, now do some research to determine how they could become reality. You’re looking for a great fit for you (not only about job titles, roles & responsibilities, but also about workplace environments). The same job can feel very different in two different companies (size, culture, office layout etc. all matter).
- Clarify by doing: We would all love to come up with the perfect fit immediately. But the truth is that it usually takes time. As you have more life and work experiences, you will learn more about yourself and can then further clarify through contrast. Warning: this does require change, risk, courage, reflection, self-care, and the willingness to look at the experience as growth (not failure). For quite a while, my limit was about two years in a particular job. Then I felt the need to move on – closer to what I learned was a better fit. I trusted my intuition.
Careers for introverts don’t need to be based on default stereotypes (after all, being an astronaut, techie, or accountant may not speak to you as an inspiring career option). Know yourself, including what your personal energy needs look like, and uncover (or create) a career that suits you. It’s your life and work – you get to choose what it looks like!