5 Limiting Beliefs About My Introversion That Stalled My Career

IntrovertDear.com introvert career limiting beliefs stall

Early in my career, I lived in Washington, DC, and I heard all the time about the importance of building a network. In DC, networking is serious business — there are conferences, roundtables, and happy hours practically every day. I hated all of it. I was the guy who leaned against the wall at events. I’d pretend to check my phone or maybe make another pass at the refreshment table — anything to not have to talk to someone. I wondered what it would be like to have a natural conversation with a stranger.

I’m an INTJ personality type, so I do my best work when I have a few hours of uninterrupted silence in front of my computer. The thought of going to a networking event or a happy hour at the end of a long day turned my stomach. For months, I avoided networking altogether. However, that summer, I saw examples of networking that was working for other people:

  • My roommate landed a new job through an acquaintance
  • My mentor had one of his friends who’s an executive write a $5,000 corporate check to sponsor a big event to help a tough neighborhood
  • A coworker used her contacts in PR to run a campaign that got over 50 million impressions

Like it or not, people were using their networks to make a big impact. Maybe there was something to this networking thing, after all.

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The Advantages of Being an Introvert

I decided to see if there was a way to grow my network authentically. Through a ton of reading and some uncomfortable experimentation, I realized introverts can actually be better connectors than extroverts. That’s because we’re better at creating deep relationships. When we connect with someone, it’s powerful and we’re loyal. We’re selective about who we give our attention to, and we’re more skeptical of smooth talkers. We’d rather have one deep conversation than 20 instances of small talk. We love to help, and we only ask for things when we really need the help.

These things aren’t true for every introvert, but as a whole, introverts have a real advantage at creating relationships. It’s time we recognize that advantage.

The Psychology of Meeting New People

When it came to meeting new people, my biggest enemy was me. I used to question why someone would ever want to talk to me. I thought there was no way I could compete with the uber-extroverts for the attention of influential, interesting people. At one point, I was ready to write off networking entirely and just stick to the small group of people I already knew.

But once I started approaching people, I learned that being a VIP or a smooth-talker didn’t matter nearly as much as I thought it did. With a little experimentation, I realized all I needed to connect with anyone was a little curiosity and the courage to start a conversation.

In the end, my problem wasn’t my age, rank, or introversion. My problem was the limiting beliefs I told myself about introversion. A limiting belief is any idea you hold about yourself that, although isn’t true, limits you because you believe it’s true. Any time you tell yourself you can’t do something that’s within the realm of possibility, that’s a limiting belief.

Limiting Beliefs About Introversion That Held Me Back

Just like I had the wrong idea about networking, I found that I had other limiting beliefs about my career. Here are 5 that I identified:

1. “Some people are born extroverts. I’m just not wired to be good at talking to people.” Reality: When I tested this belief, I found that people actually prefer talking to introverts because of one trick up our sleeves: we listen. My active listening made people feel comfortable and valued. I realized what I thought was a weakness (not being able to think of a lot to say) was actually an asset (thoughtfulness, and good questions).

2. “I’m not smart/experienced enough to offer anything to someone more senior than me.” Reality: I learned there are a variety of ways to help others, such as giving a book recommendation, writing testimonials, or being a beta tester. These are ways to help people that are well-suited to my introversion.

3. “If I start a conversation I’ll get embarrassed, or worse, ignored.” Reality: I did an experiment where I spoke to five random strangers in a day. It was terrifying at first, but I found that in the end, the interactions were positive. We talked about the weather, or where a stranger got his cool shoes. I realized the stakes of starting a conversation were never as high as I was making them in my head.

4. “I just have to be myself, and eventually I’ll get noticed for X (a new job, a raise, a promotion, an award, etc).” Reality: I could write a whole article about this limiting belief alone. I wish we lived/worked in a society that spontaneously recognized great work and automatically gave promotions to those who deserve it most. Unfortunately, we don’t. I found I have to communicate to my boss and others what I’m doing well. It’s not shameless self-promotion, but making sure I’m valued at work. For me, the best way to do this was in our weekly meeting, presenting metrics for the things I’ve accomplished.

5. “If I approach somebody, they’ll see through me. They’ll know I’m ‘networking’ and think I’m phony.” Reality: I learned that if I approached a conversation with the mindset of generosity, people recognized my authenticity. My rule of thumb is to only talk 20 percent of the time in a conversation and to ask questions to get the other person talking as much as possible. My conversations stopped being the trite — “where do you work,” “what do you do,” etc. — as soon as I brought curiosity and generosity to the conversation.

Once I identified a limiting belief, I was on the road to getting rid of it. The next step was to think of a time when my limiting belief wasn’t true. For example, if I thought hard enough, I could remember times when I was funny, eloquent, or influential in a conversation. I thought of times when a conversation with a stranger (even the hotel receptionist or the barista) went well and I felt a connection. I realized my limiting beliefs weren’t always true.

After I started questioning my limiting beliefs, I decided to act on them. I framed every conversation with a mantra: “This is just a test of my limiting belief. If it doesn’t go well, I’ll test another approach.”

Today, I don’t have a huge network, and I don’t need one. But I do have a small group of people I stay in touch with who I like and respect. I know if I need their help, they’ll be willing to help me at a moment’s notice. That’s my definition of a great network for an introvert. 

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Read this: 5 Tips to Make Networking Less Painful for Introverts Who Hate Doing It

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  • Janja Krisa Kolenc says:

    Wow, this is a great one! I’m INTP and am actually just working on this, not treating my introversion as some kind of disability.. Actualy came on Introvert, Dear after a few weeks (I’m quite busy these days) to check around a bit if someone has written something similiar already, and bam, there you are, right on the first page. One of the steps I made is not using my introversion as an excuse all of the time, not even with my family/friends. Or at least rephrasing it differently “hey, sorry, I’m really tired today, what about Saturday?”. Anyway, I sometimes think we introverts can have a bit too much self pity, eating us away, so I hope this article enlightens some to take a different view on the whole introvert-extrovert thing

    • Bennett Garner says:

      Janja, so glad you liked it. Great point about not viewing you introversion as a disability! Also, love your example of rephrasing. The way we say things hugely impacts the way other people respond.

  • Bennett Garner says:

    Hi everybody! I’ll be checking the comments over the next day or two if you have any questions or insights to add about this article. Happy to talk about it!

  • Pippa says:

    OMG – all those SO apply to me – and then I feel aggrieved by the outcome which is that sense of not being valued, being overlooked etc etc
    So- my No 1 barrier – thinking that people are thinking that I am too heavy and deep and serious (which I tend to be a lot of the time) – but then in practice being amazed when I make people laugh and they are so surprised that I, of all people, have a sense of humour (I don’t realise it myself until people start laughing) If only I could just relax and trust that being the authentic me will be okay and enough – but that inner critic has had too much practice to l et go without a fight!

    • Bennett Garner says:

      Great insight! This is a CLASSIC limiting belief that I hear a lot from introverts. We’re naturally drawn toward deeper conversations and one-on-one connections. That’s not a problem! It’s an advantage.

      The tricky part is getting from small talk to deep conversation without surprising people right out the gate. I’ve found asking good, open-ended questions to be the best way to make the transition. Let the other person take the conversation deeper, then you can meet them there.

    • Elise Hanssen says:

      I second this! Im glad its not just me. Im gonna write these five limiting beliefs on a piece of paper, and my own, and work myself through them.

  • chikashikaari says:

    Great article, Bennett! The first 3 beliefs are probably the ones I experience all the time. I like to meet new people, but I always think that I have nothing really interesting to say in comparison to those charismatic extroverted people who act like they know everyone for the last 100 years. ))

    • Bennett Garner says:

      My mentor at work is a naturally charismatic guy, and it was tough for me to see how easily he connects with people. Once I started testing my limiting beliefs, I realized that being smooth-talking wasn’t the only way to be great at meeting new people.

      If you ask good questions, you’ll make the other person feel valued and important. That’s a better skill than smooth-talking. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  • Samantha says:

    Thank you for these really great points, Bennett 😀 I’m all for smashing limiting beliefs! I’m on my new journey if not worrying what people think & just going for confidence & speaking my mind. I fear people won’t be interested or invested but the fact I have friends who I make laugh & love me say otherwise.

    • Bennett Garner says:

      What a key point. People are never as mean and judgmental as you think they are. Most people, if you give conversation a shot, will like you – just like your friends do.