How I Found a Career That Had Introversion Written All Over It

an introvert finds a career that works for her

I’m an introvert. Through and through. At one point in my life, I tried not to be. When I was younger, it was painful to be seen as the wallflower. The wet blanket. The bookworm. The too serious, too quiet, too moody, too sensitive one. I wanted to be fun, popular, and witty. To speak up in class, relax at parties, be comfortable in groups of three or more.

But I couldn’t pull it off. Not even close, if you want to know the truth.

In those days, I didn’t appreciate the strengths of introverts. The beauty of deep, quiet, sensitive introspection. The complex thinking and capacity for connection. The thoughtful compassion. There was no internet to guide me to my peers. No website to search. No secret Facebook group to join. No “introvert revolution.”

But, thankfully, I found my path anyway. Not only did I find self-acceptance for my introverted ways, I found a career that had introversion written all over it.

Let me explain.

My Career Path

In my 20s and 30s, I worked as a teacher in the public schools. Although there were things I loved about my career, as you might imagine, teaching isn’t the easiest job for a sensitive introvert. Managing large groups of needy little souls can be overwhelming and exhausting.

After a few years of introvert-mayhem, I found a niche in the education field. I landed a job teaching gifted children. These kids were more intellectually advanced than their peers and needed different approaches and content. They typically were frustrated with the slow pace in the regular classroom and already knew the material that was being presented. I invented the metaphor of the rainforest to describe them, because many folks were uncomfortable with the label “gifted.” Like the rainforest, these kids were highly sensitive, intense, complex, creative, and misunderstood. So, it was at this time that I coined the term “rainforest mind.” Happily, this job met my needs for depth, sensitivity, creativity, and small group interaction.

But when I turned 38, I decided to make another change. I had been a client in psychotherapy for a few years, diving into my own shadowy realms. As a therapy client, I was encouraged to be deep, sensitive, and introspective. Yes, introversion was actually appreciated in this field. What a relief! But could I make a career out of this?

I decided to return to college and become a licensed psychotherapist. OMG. Introvert extravaganza. As a therapist, I have deep conversations, powerful experiences, and emotionally intimate relationships with one person at a time. No small talk. No pressure to be pithy. No loud, obnoxious, collaborating coworkers. My sensitivity, my empathy, and my ability to listen deeply are all valued — and essential.

And if that weren’t enough, remember those rainforest-minded kids? Well, I specialize in working with highly sensitive, creative, smart, often introverted souls. It’s so satisfying.

I am not making this up.

But that’s not the end of the story.

From Extrovert Wannabe to Introvert Queen

After a number of years in the field, I wanted to expand my influence. Share what I knew about these rainforest-minded humans, so that others beyond my world in Eugene, Oregon, would benefit. Lucky for me, by this time, blogging was a thing. The internet had emerged. So, introverts had a way to be influential without leaving home. Hallelujah!

I started a blog called Your Rainforest Mind. I had no idea what that might actually involve. It was tricky at first. There was a lot to learn. But, turns out, it’s pretty remarkable. I mean, really. I’m interacting with people from all over the world from the comfort of my kitchen table. I respond when I want. I take all the time that I need. People share their experiences with me. And there are never any parties.

Amazing.

If that weren’t enough, a small press asked me to write a book. So I did. I wrote. Sitting alone by the fire at my favorite café. My book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was born. It has a small but dedicated following. And that’s how I like it. No overwhelming, terrifying requests for TV interviews or PBS specials. Just webinars and simple podcast interviews from my trusty laptop. Comfy, cozy on my sofa.

Back in my teaching days, I couldn’t have predicted how my life would change. But now, I work with and write in support of humans who are told they are too serious, too moody, and too sensitive. Who can feel like wallflowers and wet blankets. Who are bookworms. My readers would even tell you that I’m fun, popular, and witty.

Yes, I still avoid parties and groups of three or more. But I’m okay with that.

I’ve made it from extrovert wannabe to introvert queen.

How You Can Do It Too

If I can do it, so can you. Here are some tips:

1. Do you have a rainforest mind?

If you’re not only an introvert and a highly sensitive person, but if you’re also an avid reader who loves learning and who’s been called an overthinker, a know-it-all, brainiac, geek, or too smart for your own good, you may have a rainforest mind.

There are other clues. Do you feel like not enough and too much at the same time? Are you passionate about learning but perplexed, perturbed, and perspiring about schooling? Do you have perfectionist tendencies? Do people tell you to lighten up when you’re just trying to enlighten them? Are you overwhelmed by your own empathy and intuition? Do you have so many interests and abilities that you can’t choose just one career path? Do you feel that it’s your job to save the world? These are some signs of rainforest-mindedness.

It’s important to know this about yourself because people may tell you that you’re so lucky to be so smart. You may not feel lucky. You may be dealing with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and perfectionist paralysis. Understanding your rainforest mind can make a huge difference. A good place to start, of course, is with my blog: Your Rainforest Mind. Then, you may want to check out my book, which you can find here on Amazon.

2. If you’re struggling to find a career path, you may have multipotentiality.

This is common among the rainforest-minded. With multipotentiality, you have many interests and abilities — and you want to explore all of them! It makes it hard to find one career path or to stay in one job for very long. Once you master the skills in the job, you may want to find a new challenge. I write about this on my blog and in my book; Barbara Sher writes about it in Refuse to Choose, and Emilie Wapnick writes about how to find a career when you want to do everything in her book How to Be Everything. Give yourself time to explore many options. Know that you can have many jobs and careers over your lifetime. You don’t have to stick with just one thing.

3. If you’ve grown up in a dysfunctional family — like many of us have — give yourself permission to try therapy.

It takes courage to choose to face patterns of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and alcoholism in your family of origin. Being an introvert and/or highly sensitive person, you might appreciate a process that allows you to travel into your depths and feel your emotions. You’ll want to find a psychotherapist who comes from an attachment theory perspective so that they have a depth approach and who understands rainforest minds. There will be issues that you’ll have because of your family patterns and other concerns because of your rainforest mind — and you might need help sorting all of that out. The therapy process will be worth it. It can lead you to your authentic self and to the fullness of all that you are.


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4. Keep a journal, explore an art form, write a blog, meditate, or create a Soul Collage deck

…because these are all ways to build your self-confidence and self-understanding. If you’re looking for more on giftedness for yourself, read The Gifted Adult by Jacobsen. You can also find articles for yourself and for the children in your life at Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted.

So, if you, too, have been an extrovert wannabe, if you’ve been rejecting yourself for your sensitive, quiet, introverted, rainforest-minded soul, it’s time for a change. Time for you to be your authentic, sensitive self and embrace the introvert queen (or king… as the case may be).

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Paula Prober is a licensed psychotherapist, consultant, author, blogger, and tango dancer in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. She consults internationally with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. Her book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released in June 2016. She blogs at Your Rainforest Mind, a blog in support of the excessively curious, creative, smart, and sensitive.