The Introvert's Career Guide
I was 18 when I learned I’m an introvert. For Christmas that year, my dad had given me a copy of the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain and in reading it, I began to see the past 18 years in an entirely new light. As an introverted child, I could spend hours alone in my room, whether I was reading, making up stories for my American Girl doll to act out, or playing music. I didn’t like sleepovers or parties, and I was perfectly content to spend my weekends with just my family, instead of at a string of friends’ houses. I hated group projects, preferring to work on my own, and in 6th grade, when we were allowed to go to the library instead of outside for recess, I thought all of my dreams had come true. I carried many of these traits with me when I started college — I cringed every time a professor told us to “break into small groups” to discuss a topic, I spent my Friday and Saturday nights either on city adventures or in my room reading or watching movies, and I was savored the occasional evenings my roommate (as much as I adored her) spent at home. But while these traits went largely unnoticed when I was younger and living at home, in college I began to notice how different I felt from my fellow students. I couldn’t understand why I relished a quiet Friday evening reading, while it seemed as though everyone was going out. I tried forcing myself to go out to a bar, but the noise and the crowds felt as though they were suffocating me. There must be something wrong with me, I thought.
I thought this until I read the book, Quiet, and learned that not only was there a name for how I felt and acted, there were people like me in the world. There was a reason why a day full of classes, my work-study job, band rehearsal, and club meetings left me feeling drained, and why I felt better after I had spent a few hours completely on my own. There was a reason why bars and parties were the complete opposite of my idea of “fun.” There was a reason why the prospect of having my room to myself for an evening or two had me skipping in the days leading up to it. I am an introvert.
There are countless definitions of the term “introvert”, but the simplest one is this: an introvert derives their stimulation and energy from being alone, while an extrovert derives their energy from being around other people. Again, there are hundreds of ways to define both introverts and extroverts, and it’s completely normal to have a few traits of both, but this is an easy distinction. In addition to how introverts receive stimulation, introverts often work at a more deliberate pace compared to extroverts, and often prefer listening to talking. Extroverts tend to be the life of the party and thrive on large social settings such as cocktail parties and networking events for example, while an introvert would rather devote their energy to smaller groups or their alone time, and prefer deep discussion to small talk (I have a horror of small talk!).
Often when I tell people I’m an introvert, I’m met with a response something like, “But how can you be an introvert? You seem so outgoing! You’re not shy at all!” And that’s where we come to an important distinction. Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy spending time with friends, and may even enjoy parties or other social functions, but they recharge by being alone. They are not afraid to speak up, as a shy person often is — it may just not be the right environment for them to do so because they are overstimulated.
Just as I learned about myself as an introvert in college, I’ve learned even more about myself as an introvert as I navigate the workplace for the first time. For the first few weeks at my job, I would come home at the end of the day completely drained and not understand why. It wasn’t as though I was rushing from class to class all day, so I wasn’t physically tired. Then I realized that I wasn’t tired, per se, I was overstimulated from being constantly surrounded by people all day. I like the people I work with and I enjoy my job, but 8+ hours of constant, never-ending socialization is a long time for an introvert. I work in an open office which means that my workspace is simply a desk in a big room full of people and ringing phones and conversations and all kinds of noise. I have to be constantly “on” because there is often no alone time to recharge during the day, and my day often involves meetings, conference calls, and even simple tasks like chatting with my coworkers. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely enjoy the people I work with and have learned so much from those small conversations here and there, but it takes a lot of energy to get through the day. In my nearly 10 months of working, however, I’ve learned a few tricks to make my day as a working introvert easier:
Even though I work in an open office, there are a few things I can do if I need a few minutes to recharge and escape the constant stimulation. For example, my office has small conference rooms and even smaller rooms for private conversations. If I’m feeling too stimulated, I’ll sometimes take 30 minutes to an hour to answer emails and work alone in one of these rooms. From the moment I close the door, I feel myself exhale a huge sigh of relief at finally being alone, and it does wonders for my energy throughout the day. Some days I’ll run an errand to take a few minutes for myself, or I eat lunch at an odd time from everyone else so I can read my book and get some alone time. Think about the layout of your office and the structure of your day to figure out how you can take a few minutes to recharge if you need to. Can you snag a small conference room to work privately for a little while? Can you build “alone time” into your day? If it will help you do your job to the best of your ability, don’t feel guilty! Take the time you need to recharge and refresh.
Large group meetings can often be a stimulation nightmare for an introvert. With multiple people trying to talk and the conversation bouncing from one person to the next, I often find myself feeling overstimulated, losing track of what I wanted to say, and not being able to speak up in a meeting if I haven’t prepared properly. Before a group meeting, I take time to go over the purpose of the meeting, prepare any talking points I want to bring up, and jot them down so I don’t forget in the midst of a fast-moving conversation. If I start to feel overstimulated, I take a second to center myself by taking a few deep breaths and focusing on who is talking and where the conversation is going. This way, I don’t lose track of my thoughts and my talking points before I know it. If you find yourself getting overstimulated in meetings or large group settings, go in with a plan and an intention, and take time to get centered as needed to set yourself up for success.
A full workday of socializing is a long time for an introvert, and coming home completely drained isn’t fun. Take time after your workday to recharge however you need to. We’ve talked about creating an evening routine, but this is especially important for introverts who need that quiet time at the end of the day to recharge for the next day. For me, going for a long walk, relaxing on the couch with an episode (or two or three) of my latest show, and then reading in bed before I go to sleep leave me perfectly energized for the next day, but everyone’s idea of relaxation is different. Think about what you crave the most at the end of your day and ensure that you make time for it. Whether it’s a walk, a nap, a cuddle with a pet, journaling, reading, or anything else that leaves you feeling content and calm, make sure that this is part of your evening routine.
Introverting in the workplace can be a challenge because it seems as though the workplace is set up for extroverts. Between the open offices, networking events, meetings, and simply being around people all day, a full workday can leave introverts feeling completely drained and unable to maximize their potential. Take time to self-reflect to assess if you think you are an introvert and, if so, what you need to do throughout your day to ensure that your unique qualities shine.
For more information on the power of introverts and strategies for success, check out Susan Cain’s TED Talk, or her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking!