Sometimes, your passion for your career will override your discomfort, like working in a people-centric job as an introvert.
Let’s discuss how to be successful spending all day interacting with people… when you secretly hate being around people. (Okay, “hate” is a strong word, but you know what I mean!)
I’ve known I was an introvert ever since I was a child. My younger sister loved spending time with friends and going to sleepovers. I’d plead with her, “Don’t you just want to stay home? We can watch movies!!” She’d look at me with disgust. “No way!”
I felt so much comfort being home with nothing to do and spending time with my family. I was perfectly happy being a homebody — and wished my siblings felt the same way. In addition, among my friends, I was known as “the quiet one.” “I just don’t have anything to say…” I’d shyly tell them.
Years later, I’d plan out all of the cool things I would tell my high school friends when they asked me what I did over the weekend. In reality, I was watching a marathon Spring Break show on MTV. I dreaded having to spend time with people, especially if it was with people I wasn’t particularly close with, or at a place that was unfamiliar to me.
Of course, as luck would have it, I married an extrovert. He gets antsy if we aren’t around people and would be thrilled if we had social gatherings every weekend. He makes friends with everyone. The local grocery clerk knows his birthday, and people at Chipotle start to worry if they don’t see him after a few days. I silently suffer in order to make sure he is happy… but let’s just say the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t change my preference of staying in and being socially distant from others.
Wait, You’re a Therapist?!
I work as a therapist. I know, right?! Why would someone who dislikes being around people spend most of their life being around people?
I guess my passion for therapy — and desire to help make a change — overrides my discomfort. I learned very early on in my career that I was going to have to make some serious changes in order to survive the amount of energy this was going to take.
The first thing I should point out is: I don’t hate people. I care about them quite a bit. It’s just that it takes a ton of energy for me to be around others. I don’t feel recharged spending time in social situations; I feel drained and exhausted.
For anyone who knows what it’s like working in the mental health field, most people start out working for an agency, such as a hospital or community mental health center. There is a very high expectation of productivity to be made and, as a new therapist, a typical day was spending nine hours and eight straight one-hour sessions with eight different clients five days a week. (Yes, you read that right!)
Many times, I’d get home around 8 p.m. and feel completely dead inside. I’d have just enough time to sleep… and do it all over again! So here is what I’ve learned over the course of my 20 years of surviving — and thriving — in a people-centric job (even as an introvert!).
5 Ways to Survive a People-Centric Job as an Introvert
1. Set boundaries (and actually follow them).
The only way a person can tolerate the amount of energy it takes working in a people-centric job — and spending several hours each day listening, carefully responding, and holding space for others’ emotions — is to have clear boundaries in place. I understand this is much more difficult in the beginning of your career than later on.
As a therapist, for example, I didn’t get to make my schedule when working for an agency. However, I could limit the amount of intakes I did a week: I could schedule my own clients and be mindful of whom I was seeing each day. I could also use vacation and paid time off wisely, and made sure I was scheduling enough downtime for myself when I was free during the evening and weekends.
If there was a particular client who was especially challenging, I’d make sure to refer them out so that they’d get the care they needed (and this would help me protect myself, too). I made sure I was taking care of my sleep, eating well, and exercising at least once a week, so that I could tolerate stressors as best as I could. When I’d come home from a long day of work, I had to tell my husband I needed an hour of not talking. I took that time to just zone out, hole up in my introvert sanctuary, and not feel like I needed to pay attention to anything (or anyone) during that time.
2. Practice mindfulness, whether it’s meditation, reciting positive affirmations, or whatever works best for you.
The more I can maintain a positive attitude, the more relaxed and centered I feel. I would practice mindfulness in the mornings before a day full of clients. I’d think about how I’d want my day to go, how I wanted to feel, and about positive thoughts and intentions.
I would then spend about 10-15 minutes imagining the day, hearing positive words of affirmation. I’d think about any problems that could happen and how I would handle them. I’d even imagine the absolute worst and plan out how I would respond. After all, we introverts like to think things through before speaking!
This way, I could start my day feeling ready, prepared, and in control (an introvert’s favorite things). Throughout the day, I’d hear my positive words. I’d also spend a few minutes between sessions reminding myself of them and feeling the strength from those words. I’d focus on all of the good things from the day and this would help me continue to feel energized.
I’d often leave those long days feeling better than a day I had just to myself. I knew it could have been easy to just give in to the stress, exhaustion, and dread. However, the more I fought against that, and focused on the good, the better I felt and the more I could tolerate.
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3. Know what helps you feel recharged.
For me, this was the easiest part of being an introvert: I knew exactly what helped me feel recharged and relaxed. It was spending the day reading a really good book (and not something related to work). It was sitting in a quiet space and enjoying my first cup of coffee in the morning. It was taking my dog on a walk in the mornings and evenings. It was spending time binging my favorite TV show with no other plans scheduled. It was going out to dinner with a loved one or cooking dinner together. It was making ice cream, crocheting, or learning to play piano.
Making sure I had something like the above scheduled between social activities, or during a stressful work day, was so helpful for me. The only difficult thing I had to learn about this over the years was that there was nothing wrong with needing these (often solo) activities to help me feel better. There is so much pressure placed on us in this fast-paced, loud, busy, social society we live in. Just because we introverts prefer to spend some time in a quiet place, away from others, does not mean we are “bad” or “wrong” to enjoy it.
For me, I learned I could enjoy social outings much more if I made sure I limited the amount of interaction I had scheduled and also made sure I had time solely devoted to myself. It’s my reward — and I enjoy it so much more after I put in the time and energy being around others.
4. Embrace your introvert superpowers, like active listening and problem-solving.
Believe it or not, being an introvert really does give us superpowers: we are excellent listeners, detail-oriented, and great at thinking through decisions and problem-solving. As a result, being an introvert helps us be very good at relationships. One example of this is how 99.9 percent of us hate superficial small talk. So because of this, it only feels comfortable forming genuine, authentic, intimate connections with others.
In addition to that, we are also pretty low-maintenance. We’re totally okay if we see friends every once in a while, not every single night. No pressure at all! Who wouldn’t want to have that type of person as a friend or partner?
Being an introvert has truly helped me excel at my career and become an amazing therapist. I’ve learned to be able to embrace my introvert superpowers and use them for good — while also protecting myself (and my energy). I hope everyone else who identifies as an introvert can do the same.
5. Practice being outside of your comfort zone.
Okay, please don’t be upset with me when I say this, my fellow introverts, but… I think it is good to push ourselves every now and then! I know it’s easy for us to avoid certain things — like that get-together Friday night where we won’t know anyone. But avoiding uncomfortable situations can limit us if we rarely try to step out of our introvert comfort zones (both personally and professionally).
You are never going to be an extrovert (and neither am I) and that is okay. However, you can try to do something uncomfortable and see if it pays off. In one week, I went to a business networking group (I did not know a single person there), had an all-day interview with a potential employer, saw some new clients in person, and started my blog! I know, who is this crazy person?!
Although I wouldn’t suggest doing all of these things at once, maybe doing one or two new things might actually work out! And if it doesn’t, you just go right back to lounging in your PJs, turn on that show you’ve been dying to watch, and bask in the glorious feeling of peace and happiness. You can practice being social tomorrow. (Right?)
Want to learn more about the mental health strategies I have discovered as a trauma therapist? Please check out my blog at TherapistSecrets.com.