Finding a meaningful job or career is of great importance to introverts. Perhaps more than anything else, they seek work that allows them to be their authentic selves and to “do what they are.”
They want their career to incorporate and embody their personal values, interests, talents, and personality. In order for them to feel whole, introverts want their outer life to reflect and represent their inner life. As long as others can’t see them for who they really are, they are apt to feel incomplete and dissatisfied.
It is therefore unfortunate that many introverts struggle to translate their inner life and talents into a career that is both personally satisfying and financially rewarding. In this post, I will explore what I see as the top three career challenges for introverts.
1. The Self-Knowledge Problem
Since introverts want a career that reflects and builds upon who they are, the first step, in their minds, is to clarify their identity. Indeed, finding a career and “finding themselves” is, in many respects, one and the same thing for introverts.
Unfortunately, many discover that finding themselves is not as easy as one might think. In today’s complex and pluralistic world, clarifying one’s identity, values, and worldview is no small task. In my recent article, Introverts’ vs. Extraverts’ Career Paths, I refer to this as introverts’ “self-knowledge problem.”
This problem is really twofold in nature. Not only does it point to the inherent challenges of understanding oneself, but also the problem of having to act with incomplete knowledge. Unlike extroverts, who may ignore the “look before you leap” dictum, introverts want to know in advance if they are headed in the right direction. They may thus go about gathering information ad infinitum, feeling they are never quite prepared to take decisive action.1
Because their search for self may consume years, even decades, of their lives, introverts are often forced to settle for a “day job,” hoping that one day they will find their true self, and along with it, their true calling. Settling for a day job is never entirely satisfying to introverts, which can feel like a waste of time, or worse, like “selling their soul.”
Fortunately, there are a few ways introverts can expedite their search for self, one of which is to identify and understand their personality type. While it is true that all introverts have some measure of personal uniqueness, they also share many important similarities in the form of their personality type. It is for this reason that knowing their type obviates the need to completely “reinvent the wheel” with respect to understanding themselves. My latest e-Book, My True Type, focuses specifically on helping individuals identify and understand their personality type (e.g., INFP), as well as their type’s preferences (e.g., I, N, F, P) and functions (e.g., Fi, Ne, Si, Te).
2. Reconciling Authenticity and Marketability
Introverts and extroverts take opposite approaches to life. In seeking direction for their lives and careers, extroverts look outside themselves. They are moved and directed by the winds of the world. If the winds start blowing in a new direction, the extrovert will naturally change course accordingly, especially the EP personality types.
An ostensible advantage of this approach is popularity and worldly success. By attuning to the needs and desires of others, extroverts can more readily modify their approach and products to maximize desirability, as well as profit margins.
Introverts, by contrast, are guided by their own inner compass. Focused largely on their own interests, they can be somewhat oblivious to the world around them. Their primary objective is to follow their own interests wherever they lead. Thinking about what others want from them is usually more of an afterthought. This can lead to high levels of self-awareness, as well as to the development of specialized knowledge and skills.
While the introverted approach has its advantages, because of its highly specialized or idiosyncratic character, introverts may struggle to find a market for their work. This is especially true for intuitive introverts (INFJs, INTJs, INFPs, and INTPs), whose products or services are often ideational and therefore harder to attach a price tag to.
And it is here we encounter the proverbial “starving artist.” Starving artists are often introverted and may suffer from the fact that:
- The specialized nature of their work may be difficult for others to understand or appreciate, and/or
- They put too little thought or effort into marketing or popularizing their work.
They desperately want to believe that their work will “speak for itself.” And while there is certainly some validity in this idea, the fact remains that if only a few people are exposed to their work, its influence will be limited.
But what about the Internet and social media? Aren’t these the great levelers for introverts? Can’t introverts simply publish their work and wait for it to spread like wildfire? Perhaps to some extent. Any introvert can now easily publish or advertise his or her work with just a few mouse clicks.
But to say that the Internet is the great equalizer is to overlook the more fundamental truth that introverts are often ahead of, or on a different wavelength than, their contemporaries, and are less interested in catering or peddling their work to others. Like it or not, the internet is still dominated by the most popular and the most powerful, many of whom are extroverts (or large institutions).
Introverts who are keen to this reality are faced with some tough choices. One option is to simply follow their bliss and hope for the best, acknowledging the possibility of forever remaining starving artists.
Another option involves joining forces with a company or institution that can take care of certain extroverted matters, such as sales and marketing. While this option could be an ideal one if the organization were to afford the introvert full creative freedom, this is rarely the case. Both for-profit and non-profit institutions realize that certain types of ideas or projects are apt to sell better than others. This means the introverted employee will, at least to some extent, be asked to conform to the needs and objectives of the organization. So although joining a company may solve some of the introvert’s extroverted problems (e.g., monetizing their work), it may require an undesired compromising of their introverted ideals.
Another option for introverts is to select a specialty area with good prospects as far as popular appeal or earning potential. The problem with this approach is it puts the extroverted cart before the introverted horse. Remember, introverts strive to fashion a career around their personal interests, not the other way around. The exception to this might involve introverts whose primary goal is to achieve fame, wealth, or power. For them, looking around for the optimal market would ostensibly align with their inner values.
In light of the above, it is probably fair to say that most introverts never fully resolve the fundamental problem of staying true to themselves, on the one hand, and finding a way to secure rewards and recognition for their work, on the other. While often frustrating, this tension is not always a bad thing, but can serve as an ongoing source of challenge and motivation.
3. Valuation and Promotion
Extroverts display ample confidence when dealing with others. Indeed, they are at their best when they “lose themselves” in external affairs. They rarely hesitate to charge “the going rate” (or more) for their products or services. Seeing the market as the primary determinant of value, if others are willing to pay top dollar for something, they see no reason to stop them.
While introverts typically understand the intrinsic value of their work, they may fail to see how, or to what degree, it is important or valuable to others. Even when they do sense its larger importance, they may feel anxious or guilty when it comes to pricing or selling it. Rather than pricing their own work, many feel it more authentic to allow others to decide what it is worth to them.
Hence, introverts may shy away from direct selling, which to them, not only feels inauthentic, but somewhat manipulative and smarmy. In this sense, introverts can be their own worst enemies when it comes to reaping material rewards for their labor.
This is undoubtedly why so many introverts are happy to pass the baton to others with respect to sales and marketing. Introverted authors, for instance, have long been content to publish their work through publishing companies. Without denying certain advantages of using a publisher (or record company, etc.), what seems to happen, more often than not, is introverts end up being severely undercompensated for their work, receiving only a meager percentage of total sales. This is another way introverts ostensibly “shoot themselves in the foot,” unwittingly allowing others to over-indulge in the fruits of their labors.3
1. This is highlighted, for instance, in the Enneagram type Five, and to a certain extent, the Four, both of which are characteristically introverted types.
2. Among introverted types, the desire for material wealth is most common among ISP types and is largely attributable to the values associated with Extroverted Sensing (Se).
3. And this is precisely why the idea of having an agent was born. Paying an agent, who is incentivized to work as the introvert’s advocate, is in many cases a better bet than simply accepting the first offer from a publisher, record company, etc. This points to another career option for the introvert, one which I failed to mention earlier: partnering with an extrovert. A potential downside of this option is that the extrovert may not fully understand the introvert’s work and thereby runs the risk of misrepresenting it. Hence, introverts may feel compelled to spend ample time educating or vetting their extroverted sidekick to ensure their work is accurately portrayed.
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Read this: Why Intuitive Introverts Need Meaningful Work