What I’ve Learned as an Introvert Working in Extroverted Jobs

An introvert serves a customer coffee

As an introvert, extroverted jobs have given me the opportunity to test what works for me — I understand my limits better.

My first-ever job was in an ice cream store. Scooping ice cream involved interacting with customers — sometimes long, overwhelming lines of them — as they came in on hot summer afternoons looking for sundaes, shakes, or a sugar cone. But even as someone who gets stressed out by crowds, I had fun with it. (I did, however, breathe a sigh of relief when I could go home to relative quiet.)   

Most of the jobs I’ve held since my ice-cream-scooping days are considered “extroverted”: working in outreach-related higher education roles, in sales/business development, as a teaching assistant both abroad and in my graduate program, and as a museum guide. 

Estimates, such as those shared in Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, indicate that introverts make up one third to one half of the U.S. population. And, in extroverted jobs across the world in general, there are probably more of us out there than people think, either inadvertently or purposely masquerading as extroverts

Introverts bring value to the workplace, whether it’s an introverted or extroverted job. Through experiences in extroverted jobs, I’ve learned a lot about both myself and the nature of introversion. And I hope that the insights below help other introverts in similar situations recognize their own needs and what they bring to the table.

7 Things I’ve Learned as an Introvert Working in Extroverted Jobs

1. I now know my limits and don’t overextend myself.

This is one of the most valuable pieces of information about my introversion that I’ve gained from working in extroverted jobs. Extroverted jobs have given me the opportunity to test what works for me and what doesn’t as an introvert. I’m sure I understand my limits better than if I rarely had jobs considered “extroverted.” 

These limits are all related to my own well-being as an introvert, rather than me putting myself in a box and imposing limitations on myself. For instance, I know when my energy is drained and I need to spend the next hour on a quiet solo task rather than join the impromptu chat out in the hallway. I know when I need to use my lunch for a walk in nature or nap versus when I can be more social. And I know that I shouldn’t overload a Monday with meetings, since I need significant time to myself at the beginning of each week to counteract the overwhelm I often feel. 

2. I’m not as shy as I thought I was (but it’s okay to be shy).

I’d learned the difference between “introverted” and “shy” while doing theater throughout middle school, high school, and college. But extroverted jobs taught me that I can walk up to people, make calls, or speak in front of a group without needing to psych myself up… most of the time. 

In college, I worked in a relatively quiet office for work-study, which I enjoyed and which suited me well. It involved occasional interaction with people outside of the small staff, and it was a very balanced job in that regard. But I also volunteered as a campus tour guide, which I loved. This experience helped me figure out that if I’m genuinely passionate about whatever it is I need to talk to people about, I’m not shy, because talking comes naturally. 

That said, I am still incredibly shy when it comes to networking (speaking of knowing my limits!). And I’m okay with that, since I’d prefer to form connections more organically, like if I’m at a conference chatting with others while waiting in line for food or before a presentation starts. If mingling-focused networking events were like high school, though, I’d be voted “most likely to go home early.” (See “knowing my limits” above.)

3. I can put on an extroverted mask, but it’s not always needed.

Yes, introverts can pretend to be extroverts. A 2019 study by psychologists at the University of California-Riverside, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, set out to investigate whether introverts would be “happier” if they pretended to be extroverts for a week, based on a theory that extroverts were happier than introverts. The study found that they did tend to be happier after that week after interacting more than usual with other people, though the study left the door open to speculation about future questions, like what the effects would be on introverts pretending to be extroverts after a prolonged period. 

As for me, imagining myself in the situations where I pretend to be an extrovert: Sure, I enjoy doing “extroverted” things in moderation, and they make me happy, whether at work or in my personal life. Yet the extroverted mask, however naturally it sometimes feels to put it on, isn’t me “fake it till you make it” doesn’t work. To be happy at work, I have learned that I ultimately need coworkers to see me — and accept me — without that mask. I’m happiest when I use my introverted superpowers (listening, creativity, empathy, intense focus, and imagination, for example) toward my extroverted job.

4. I need space to do focused work.

Introverts love having — and need to have — their own private sanctuaries. Experience in extroverted jobs taught me that I need that quiet space and time at work, too, whenever possible. 

I can work in an extrovert-friendly open-floor plan office… sometimes. When I was in that situation in a few different jobs, I had fun chatting with coworkers, but I needed to get outside and take time to myself on breaks. I also felt like I was in a fishbowl — anybody could be looking at me at any time. 

At work, I’ve learned that I can enjoy being more social, and have more energy to form genuine connections with others, if I have my own space where I have alone time to be productive throughout the day.

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5. There are certain times of day when I have more “extroverted” energy than others.

I’ve learned that my energy for interacting with people is only partially consistent with my energy levels in general. Mornings and early evenings are my higher-energy times. But they’re not necessarily my higher-extroverted-energy times.

For instance, first thing in the morning, I need to be alone with my coffee and knock out quiet tasks (like answering emails) so that I’m caught up and can start preparing for any other work on my agenda. This is actually one of the times of day when my energy is at its highest (I get most of my writing done in the mornings before work or on weekend mornings, for example). But it doesn’t mean that I also have extroverted energy at that time. I’ve realized that I need to do the intensive introvert-friendly solo tasks that require focus at the beginning of the day to gear up for the rest of the day.

Once I’ve had that alone time to recharge and maximize productivity, however, mid-morning is a great time for me to interact with other people — it’s perfect for meetings, presentations, etc. Just past noon or so, however, I hit my afternoon slump, which lasts until about 3:00. But, funnily enough, extroverted activities, whether chatting with coworkers or completing a more extroverted work task, help me power through that slump. By late afternoon/early evening, when my energy picks back up and I’m unwinding from the workday, I’m ready for my introverted alone time again. 

6. I can handle tough conversations… as long as I have time to prepare for them.

A tough conversation does not always include an outright confrontation, which I (like many introverts!) struggle with. Other types of tough conversations are almost as scary, though, even if they don’t center around a specific conflict you have with an individual. Over the years, whether it was telling someone we were out of their favorite ice cream flavor or that they needed to improve a grade to pass a class, it’s never been easy to tell another person something they may not want to hear.

However, tough conversations are often necessary in extroverted jobs that involve working with people. Handling tricky conversations is an area I hadn’t known I could be confident in, and I attribute this to my extroverted jobs.

As an introvert who likes to be prepared, I plan out what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it. I tend to be empathetic, so I’m instinctually mindful of how the other person is going to react. If time permits, I go through several versions in my head of how to start off, in order to ensure I’m coming up with the most compassionate way to address the issue at hand with the person I’m speaking with.

7. A well-rounded workday makes me happiest.

If I’ve been working on a repetitive task that has started to drain me, I love when the opportunity to interact with others comes up, whether it’s to talk about a mutual interest that helps me get to know that person better or even a fun, lighthearted conversation.

I do enjoy small-group chats or 1:1 conversations where I can genuinely connect with others; as an introvert, I usually prefer this to speaking with or being in a large group. But, as was the case when I was a tour guide, I sometimes also enjoy speaking with larger groups, depending on the situation. At the end of the workday, though, my alone time is a welcome introverted respite.

Overall, as an introvert who has mostly worked in extroverted jobs, I’ve learned that a well-rounded workday makes me happy. A balance of creative projects, steady, repetitive tasks, and interaction with others is what works best for me, because it allows me to use some of my introverted strengths, tap into my potential through testing my limits, and learn more about myself overall. That’s all any of us can hope for, right?

My fellow introverts, what have you learned through having extroverted jobs? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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