It took a long time to find a job designed for my introverted nature. Until now, I’ve spent my entire professional career masquerading as an extrovert, in sales and marketing roles where an assertive, outgoing personality was part of the job description.
I was constantly being stretched, which is healthy, but I spent most of my time at work a little uncomfortable, feeling like I couldn’t fully be me.
I am now a content marketing writer, a role that allows – and in many ways, requires – me to escape into a quiet world of solitude and exist solely with the words on the page. It’s wonderful.
But as I emerged from writing an ebook today, I realized the importance of those stretching experiences along my professional journey.
Expanding My Comfort Zone
I began my career in a recruiting agency as a headhunter, which is a sales job – and one perfectly designed for an extrovert. Pressure, numbers to hit, cold calling, and aggression were all requirements, and while I (surprisingly) did very well and even won several awards, I had to push myself daily to do my job.
I had an incredible mentor to whom I will always attribute part of my success with that company, and so much of my success throughout my career, because of the foundation she helped establish. She’d so often look at me and say, “Shannon, your comfort zone doesn’t exist.” Which was true, in that context!
There are plenty of introverts who excel in sales, and I can’t speak for all of them, but it was challenging for me because of my temperament. And all of those challenges shaped me profoundly because I had to overcome so much fear to succeed.
As my career progressed, each position stretched me in ways that allowed me to grow significantly, personally, and professionally.
Because of the discomfort, I believe each role was exactly where I was supposed to be at the time to shape me into the person I am today.
Extracting the Extroverted Goodness
As I stepped out of the small, quiet room where I’d been writing into the noisy, open concept marketing department, I became grateful for that first sales job and each one that followed for pushing me out of my shell. Had I begun with a job designed for an introvert, I wouldn’t be this version of myself.
My temperament hasn’t changed — I have been and always will be an introvert — but my personality has been positively impacted by all of my professional experiences, making me a friendly, social introvert with highly developed social skills.
I was meant to have a career that would extract all of the extroverted goodness from me, regardless of how uncomfortable it felt at the time.
How to Protect Your Energy at Work
Introverts may always struggle in professional environments that seem designed for extroverts: open concept floor plans, large meetings where constant interruptions make it hard to get a word in edgewise, and impromptu brainstorming sessions demanding everyone think on their feet. Learning how to protect your energy can make a huge difference in the way you feel.
Here are three tips to help you guard your energy in work environments that continually push you outside your comfort zone:
1. Take your lunch break alone. This can be a game changer for introverts. Knowing that you’ll have a full hour to recharge in the middle of the work day can make morning meetings more bearable, and taking this time for yourself will help you reset for the afternoon. It may also allow you to recharge enough to still have energy at the end of the work day.
Any environment that will get you away from the office and give you the chance to be alone, uninterrupted by well-meaning coworkers, is ideal. We’ve all experienced having a colleague join us to “make sure we’re okay” and not alone, when the latter is exactly what we need.
2. After an intense meeting, go for a walk. A meeting full of interruptions can be exhausting for an introvert, and leave you feeling drained — even if you didn’t say a word! Taking a five minute solo walk afterwards can boost your productivity upon your return.
3. Seek out the other introverts. They exist in your department. I promise.
When I first started my current job, I was convinced that the entire marketing department was extroverted. But when I dug a little deeper, I discovered that at least half are introverts. I identified other introverts as I got to know them better, and also as they sought me out, having pegged me as a fellow introvert.
This resulted in the occasional, wonderfully in-depth conversation during the work day, and it gave me the courage to skip after work happy hours or make an appearance and leave when I wanted to. I seek out other introverts at conferences and work events because I know those conversations will help me stay charged longer.
Together, introverts can create a new normal by giving each other permission to protect our energy in the unique ways we need. This can be so validating and encourage us all to step into our power as introverts. There is absolutely strength in numbers.
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Image credit: @criene via Twenty20