4 Tips For Introverts Whose Jobs Force Them Way Outside Their Comfort Zones

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Camp counselors. You know the type: loud, energetic, and overly friendly. They fit the bill for being the administrators and the instigators of the general insanity that is your typical summer camp experience. They work long hours with few breaks and minimal compensation, take over the child care responsibilities of strangers, and live in cramped cabins void of AC for weeks on end.

They’ve got a lot on their plates, but they seem to love every minute of it.

As a kid who attended summer camp, I wanted to be my counselors when I grew up (as I suspect most campers do). Though I didn’t know I was an introvert, I began to recognize that their mannerisms were very different from my own. While they were having a blast singing at the top of their lungs and dancing like crazy to camp songs, I preferred to sing quietly and stand still. While they constantly encouraged group activities and team building, I often shied away, wanting to go off on my own or stick with the one or two friends I’d come with.

Growing older, I realized that I was nothing like my counselors. At first, this disappointed me. These were my role models. But as I came to grips with realizing and accepting that I’m an introvert, and as my future loomed over me, the camp-counselor-me I’d envisioned began to shrink away.

Nonetheless, this past summer, I found myself back at camp, filling a position I thought was completely wrong for me. When training began, I found myself surrounded by outgoing strangers. I felt more than just out of place; I felt alone. At training, the speaker asked people to raise their hands if they identified as an extrovert. It seemed like every hand was waving in the air, asserting how truly wrong I was for that place.

The details of my job lent themselves well to any extrovert: Be energetic and silly with the campers, produce small talk with parents, encourage cabin unity, socialize constantly.

The anxious introvert in me was freaking out.

Four Survival Tips for Introverts

One might say that camp, as a workplace, is ideal for extroverts — and repellant to introverts. Some of you may find this predicament to be familiar, working jobs or at companies that don’t lend themselves well to introverted employees.

Though the odds seemed stacked against me, I was able to find ways to not only survive my job, but have the best summer I’ve probably ever had. Here are four tricks I used:

1. Find people who value you. This was the most important one for me. As the summer progressed, I quickly learned that I was not the only introvert around. Not only that, but I was able to bond with many of the extroverts, too. This is a survival tip I apply to my life outside work as well, because surrounding yourself with people who care about you — whether your temperaments are similar or not — makes life easier and a lot more fun.

2. Use your breaks to your advantage. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into social activities that will drain you more than energize your tired, introverted self. This was something I didn’t learn right away. This summer, I only had a few hours a week away from campers, and I needed every moment I could find.

However, as a natural people-pleaser, I felt like I was letting my friends down if I opted out of an adventure. But ultimately, I felt better — emotionally and physically — after I was able to get some proper rest. I performed better at my job when I had that time away, and was a better friend when I wasn’t overtired and peopled-out. Reading a book, watching Netflix, hanging out in a relaxed setting with a close group of friends, taking a nap — these are among the things that recharge my social batteries.

3. Remember that your introvert needs are valid, too. I was blessed this summer with very understanding and sympathetic supervisors. However, getting myself to actually ask for the help I needed was another story. As an introvert, I often find it more comfortable to continue struggling on my own than to “put myself out there” by asking someone to take time out of their day to make my life easier.

But really, we shouldn’t think about it like that. I’m an INFJ personality type, and we are nicknamed “the Advocate.” However, my advocacy tends to start and end with other people. I have a hard time advocating for myself and my own needs, but by working at a place surrounded by extroverts, I was able to observe some of their healthy habits of self-advocacy and learn from them.

(What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality test.)

4. Find what makes you love your job. In the moments when you hate your job or what you have to do for it, cling to the things that keep you there. For me, this meant a few things. I clung to my newfound community. I thrived off the spiritual enrichment I felt as I progressed in my faith while working at a Christian camp. I felt joy over a meaningful conversation with a camper or the hug a homesick girl gave me on the last day when she didn’t want to leave. There were so many good and life-changing moments I experienced this summer, and none of that could have happened if I hadn’t stepped (way) outside my comfort zone.

Sometimes, you really need a job. If you live in an area with a less-than-perfect economy, you may not get your first choice. You may wind up in an introvert-unfriendly career like sales, the service industry, or a company that believes only in group work (shiver). If you’re not currently employed in your “dream job,” there are lots of things you can do to make your experience more enjoyable.

Or at the very least, bearable.

Despite the hardships related to my position as a camp counselor, I was able to ultimately have a great experience. Not to say it was easy (it definitely wasn’t), but I learned so much about myself, as well as how to work in environments in which I do not feel at ease.

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  • Melanie Chisnall

    I WISH I’d read this post 21 years ago when I was a prefect at a school camp. Like you mentioned in your post, I also never knew I was an introvert. I just knew I felt… different. I needed alone time and no one wanted to hang out with the quiet girl, that was boring. I totally agree with your first tip here – finding people who value you, as you are. At 34 years old, I no longer try and explain my INFJ ways to people who ask me why I’m quiet. I seek out fellow introverts, which has been awesome! I do have extrovert friends, but I’ve explained that my energy batteries only last 2-3 hours and social events are really limited. I needed to read this one today, as I’m just starting my own online biz and it’s so hard to put yourself out there as an introvert. Thanks for writing and sharing!

  • Shelly Ani

    I was in a similar position at a camp. I genuinely believed that I could help even though I knew I was introverted and quiet until I overheard someone comment that camp was not suited for “quiet folk” because the campers would not want to reach out to them/talk to them about anything. I was already feeling different and misplaced because there was so much “noise.” I felt like they did not need me because I was not the extrovert they wanted. I never volunteered there again. I wish I read this post then. Remembering these points, especially the first- finding people who value you as you are and the last- finding what makes you love your job would have definitely helped me back then. Who knows, I could have even found fellow introverts who felt similarly about being in a new environment. I feel more confident now though, also as an INFJ so perhaps someday I’ll volunteer at a camp again.
    Thank you for sharing your experience and tips. I really helped 🙂