I will never be “charming” in the typical “extroverted” way, and that’s OK. My quiet strengths helped me build a business I love.
Growing up, I didn’t want to be different. I would have loved to have had a close circle of friends, instead of just a few random friendships. As I got older, I realized I wasn’t as talkative as others within large groups of people. Parties were a double-edged sword for me — I craved the inclusion but usually spent the night waiting for it to end. I watched others command attention, then flourish in it. I was envious. I felt inferior.
How much did I miss in school by not speaking up more? I had things to say. I had opinions and questions that needed answers. But I could rarely bring myself to raise my hand and voice them.
They say confidence comes with time. And if time is all you need, then surely after several years of experience in the corporate world, I should have been “confident” enough to portray the leader they were all expecting. But eight years into my HR career, I still found myself avoiding the limelight. Maybe I wasn’t destined for professional success?
And then someone asked me if I’m an introvert.
Decades of Shame Were Lifted Off My Shoulders
“No…?” I replied, almost unsure of my own answer. Typically, I would have replied more confidently. You see, like many others, I had misconceptions about what it means to be an introvert. Introverts were nerds, they were weak. They let themselves get walked all over by others. And they were weird. They didn’t even like people.
That is certainly not me. I’ve always liked people; I find them fascinating. Others have always come to me for advice because I seem to have an innate wisdom for how people work. When I’m with my closest friends, I am quite talkative. I feel at home. Nor do I let people treat me like I’m nothing. I stand up for myself — being the youngest of three girls taught me that.
And yeah, sometimes I feel awkward in social situations. BUT I AM NOT WEIRD.
So that day, when my colleague asked me if I was an introvert, I said no. He didn’t ask with any judgement or preconceived notion of what that said about me. With his question, he was offering me a reason why I didn’t relish certain social activities. Instead of being defensive, I was curious.
He explained to me that introverts have their energy zapped when they’re around other people and need alone time to recharge. Extroverts are the opposite. And that was it. Two simple statements, and I felt like over three decades of shame had been lifted off my shoulders.
I know that some people shy away from labels, and I can understand why. It can feel restricting to be placed in a box along with its definitions and perceived restrictions. But for me, learning that I am an introvert was freeing. It meant that I wasn’t alone, but more importantly that I was “normal.”
I learned that it’s okay to shy away from the spotlight. It’s OK to sit alone in a movie theater and not wonder if you’re “strange” for enjoying the solitude. My introversion does not mean I’m destined for a lack of success in life or that I will be missing out on anything. Far from it.
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To Find the Right Career, I Focused on What I Enjoyed
As I began to embrace my introversion, I became more curious about the concept. I was encouraged by the sheer number of successful introverts, past and present. I learned about Rosa Parks, who brought forth fierce courage in the face of injustice despite being known as someone who was soft-spoken. Like Parks, Audrey Hepburn’s self-professed introversion didn’t stop her from charming audiences, and TV host/political advisor George Stephanopoulos built an entire career out of talking to people! These introverts capitalized on their quiet strengths in a world that seems to serve whoever shouts the loudest. How could I do the same?
And then it hit me: I had to focus on what I enjoy and put everything else on the back burner.
I knew I liked people. Not in mass droves, but one-on-one, I was invigorated by building deep, meaningful relationships. I felt good helping people untangle a particular problem they were facing.
I also knew I didn’t like small talk. BIG TALK was my jam. Let’s take off the superficial layers, get down to the core of it, and have some real conversations.
I knew I was never going to be “charming,” at least in the typical “extroverted” way. I was never going to be one of those perfectly polished women that networked effortlessly and always said the “right” thing. But I was genuine. I could never stand to be anything else. That honesty was a magnet that pulled my kind of people toward me, the kind I enjoyed the most.
And I liked my freedom. Years of independent travel had given me a thirst for roaming that I was only now permitting myself to feel empowered by. I wanted to sustain that freedom in my life, along with the other joys that were so often overlooked in the professional world I was trying desperately to fit into.
So I decided to stop trying.
Introversion Was Not My Weakness — It Is My Superpower
I was tired of trying to fit my square-peg self through their round-hole world. Now, as a career coach, I can confidently say that I no longer need to.
For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to explore the roads leading out of my quiet strengths. I researched all the different ways I could serve people by making use of my introversion. I no longer saw my personality as a weakness. Instead, it was a superpower.
Where those roads eventually led me was where I am today: an online business called Career Off Script where I focus on helping young professionals who are feeling lost and unfulfilled in life. I work with them one-on-one to discover their unique superpowers, strengths, and motivators. So they, too, can embrace their uniqueness and go find their own success — whatever that looks like for them.
I like to think my clients choose me because they know I’ve been where they are. It’s important to me to represent myself in my business with the same honesty that I value in all other aspects of my life. People need to know there are others like them that have had the same struggles. Luckily for me, genuineness is one of my strengths.
You might be asking, where does the freedom come in? Well, for all the challenges and frustrations that come with running an online business, it also offers the ability to work wherever I want. For a freedom seeker, that’s a hard one to pass up. Sometimes it means bunking down in cafes or co-working spots. Other times, it means enjoying the quiet solitude that comes from working from home.
Honestly, the ability to choose the type of environment I work in has been my greatest motivation for life beyond the corporate world. It’s lovely to crawl out of bed, turn on the computer, and quickly get into the zone on those days when you have to power through a project. A corporate office comes with a multitude of distractions that you have minimal control over. When I work from home, though, I get to quiet all the other noise and focus my mind.
Over to You
Are you an introvert struggling to find the right career? Here’s what I suggest:
1. Stop trying to fit yourself into someone else’s mold.
As an introvert, you may never be a superstar networker or able to effortlessly charm strangers at a party — and that’s okay! Stop agonizing over your “weaknesses” and start celebrating your strengths (because we introverts have them in spades).
2. Think about what you enjoy.
Once you’ve given your mindset a makeover, become strategic. Reflect on the tasks and activities that you enjoy (both at work and in your personal life). Notice that I didn’t say focus on what you’re good at. If you enjoy doing something — for example, computer programming or copyediting — you can always get better at it by practicing or taking a class. But if you focus purely on the skills you currently have, you may go down a path that’s not right for you.
3. Keep a journal.
To help my clients, I have them journal for a week, noting everything they do and rating those activities based on how much they enjoy them. The results tend to be eye-opening and can serve as a jumping-off point to begin researching next career moves.
The Journey Made Me Stronger
Would I have been able to reach this point in life if I were an extrovert? A place where I fit, where I have the tools before me to make a solid contribution to others? Probably. But I doubt I would have first gone through the journey of embracing who I was. It is an extrovert’s world, after all, and I don’t think extroverts have to wrestle with feelings of isolation in the same way.
I’m glad I did, though. The journey has made me stronger and more confident in who I am. I used to think I might be different. Now I know I am — and I am the better for it.