A primer for introverts trying to find a less draining job in an extroverted world
Recently, my sister and I stumbled into a really fascinating conversation that has kept my mind on the topic of introversion and jobs ever since. We were talking about the struggles those of us who gain energy from within ourselves, as opposed to from interacting with others, face in finding work that helps us thrive.
It’s an interesting conundrum that we’re in, as a society of mostly ambiverts. The shifts American society has undergone in terms of what work looks like especially favors extroversion at the moment. We transitioned from farmers to makers to servers.
Jobs with elements of customer service, if not explicit customer service, now represent the majority of jobs. A quick visual from the New York Times a few year back. But beyond the shift toward the service industry making up around 86% of jobs, many jobs – even the kind that introverts might stereotypically gravitate toward – do in fact require a hefty amount of social interaction. Is the landscape of work set up to exhaust introverts and some ambiverts? It would be an interesting question to look into.
Either way, I know that I set myself up for exhaustion. Because I do value extroversion as a trait in others (don’t we all?). Extroversion is something I’ve tried to cultivate in myself because I’ve found myself leaning in to a variety of people-oriented careers. And there were some that were more successful than others. The ones that were more successful allowed me to turn on my extroverted side in the ways that were most comfortable and natural for me. Reflecting on these experiences led me to start considering a framework for how an introvert can identify their best fit job, under the assumption that some social interaction is a must-have criteria for most jobs. Again, this is based completely on my own experiences so take it for what it’s worth. I’ve shared it with a few people offline and it seems to resonate. So, here goes.
Which type of social interaction do you find makes you, even as an introvert, truly come alive?
If we know that most jobs will involve some kind of social interaction, then why not figure out which types of social interaction are the most energizing? Each introverted person likely has different preferences for their favorite type of interaction. I know I definitely prefer some situations over others. So, here’s a short list to use for reflection.
A lot of research can be done these days without interacting with people, but in many fields people still hold knowledge that isn’t made available on the internet or in books. Think about lab work and work in large, complex organizations.
I like to think of the act of interviewing in a very broad way. It could be a formal situation where you’re doing something journalism related or it could be more informal like you’re on a fact-finding mission for the business you work for.
This is on the cusp of “asking questions” and “convincing”, but ultimately a situation involving negation inherently involves figuring out what the other person wants.
- Selling / Pitching
The customer is always right and in sales situations your job is to directly or indirectly figure out their needs. You could be in a sales role in a number of different ways: one-on-one, in front of an audience (either big or small), at a pitch meeting, or other situations where you’re either trying to convince someone to buy, agree, get on board – or you’re on the receiving end. Another key element to a sales-type interaction is that typically there’s a bit of a blank slate element. Either the parties don’t have much if any history with one of two things: each other, or the idea/product in question.
- Defending / Arguing / Debating
There’s a key difference between selling and arguing. Whereas selling has some unknowns, there’s not much left up to the imagination with defending. If you enjoy talking about just the facts and having to dip into some historical context, this may be your social interaction of choice.
While much of reporting happens on paper or online, there’s a lot of conversations along the way where reporters have to update stakeholders and convince them their findings are accurate, objective, and were collected in ethical ways.
- Presenting / Lecturing
Think thought leaders. This is pretty cut and dry. Do you enjoy standing up in front of an audience and sharing (either yours or someone else’s) knowledge, ideas, etc.? It’s important to note the variations that go along with presenting, however. You may find it uncomfortable to present someone else’s ideas but you get a lot of energy when you present your own. Or, vice versa.
- Managing / Directing
This is probably the stereotypical leader situation where there’s a crew and you’re the captain.
- Organizing / Wrangling / Corralling
I like to think these situations call for a resource leader. Community organizing and project managing are some examples where leadership situations are less in the spotlight and the situations border on falling into the “being present” category of interactions.
These roles involve a combination of indirect and direct guiding. Identifying the current state, determining an ideal path, and helping the person in question find their way down that path.
- Mediating / Facilitating
This involves situations where you become a vessel for resolving the needs of others, or helping guide them. This borders on leading as it is an incredibly subtle form of it.
- Serving / Assisting / Helping
Think about any situation where you’re attending to the needs of others. It could be direct service as in a front-line customer service role or in a more indirect way, such as being on a tech, admin, or other type of support team assisting colleagues.
You’re setting the tone of the event, business, or whatever, bringing life into it in whatever way you see fit, making things run smoothly, etc.
This typically involves two or more people shooting from the hip trying to land on new and innovative ideas or solutions.
- Co-creating / Partnering
These situations can be more esoteric than many others described. Think about when companies decide to work with one another toward a common goal; a new relationship has been established. Consider the partnership that goes into curating content to execute an in-kind marketing strategy. Whatever the specific situation, this kind of collaboration typically starts and ends with social constructions and art. Another easy way to envision this is a pair or team starting up a company.
The more nuts and bolts stage of creating, planning interactions involve nailing down the specific details and organizing them in a way that suits all involved. These interactions involve setting expectations, balancing priorities, and identifying the optimal way to proceed toward goals or milestones.
- Developing / Making / Designing
Think hands on. Creating in this way doesn’t have to be creative, but it can be. It could also be technical, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s endless ways to be a maker. The commonality between all the options is that your end result is some kind of product, tangible or intangible.
But, what if I’m not into any of those interactions?
There could definitely be categories I’ve missed, and I’d love for you to fill me in. Comment below and let me know!
Or, if you can’t think of anything else and are still feeling like none of the above resonate with you… consider approaching the “what situation makes you come alive the most” a bit differently. There’s a good chance you may not have gotten a taste of your best-fit interaction type just yet. Consider these questions for reflection:
- What’s the end goal that motivates you to do anything you enjoy? Which of the above is easily conducive to facilitating that end goal?
- Do you think a strong value or feeling aligned with the mission behind the action could push you toward feeling like you’re in the zone?
- No professional experience to draw on? Think back to school, times spent with friends or family, any and all experiences count when you’re trying to figure out what makes you thrive.
What’s there to gain?
I can only speak from my own experience, but I’ve found that the more I interact with others in my preferred social roles, the less taxing I find the other roles I occasionally have to step into. Finding the job that allowed me to research, interview, organize, brainstorm, and make was key. I don’t love presenting or hosting, but when I need to do it I find I can do it with some added energy and less fear.
I also found that having my best fit job, in terms of ideal types of social interactions, has helped me have more energy to engage with the people I truly care about engaging with.
I’m really interested to hear if anyone else has any related insights or thoughts. Comment below!