When Mapping Their Life’s Purpose, Introverts Take an ‘Inside-Out’ Approach

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The notions of introvert and extrovert were first outlined by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in his classic work, Psychological Types. According to Jung, the definition of an introvert is one who is inclined to direct his or her attention inwardly. Extroverts, by contrast, are more outwardly oriented, preoccupied with the transpirings of the world around them. While critics may be tempted to consider the association of introversion with inwardness a bit banal or cliché, such presumptions can have the unfortunate effect of blindfolding us to the many treasures contained within this singular insight.

Introvert Self-Awareness and Self-Definition

Because of their inward orientation, introverts tend to keep at least one eye on their inner state of affairs. This may include awareness of their thoughts, moods, feelings, and bodily sensations. In short, introverts are practitioners of self-awareness, carefully monitoring and calibrating themselves.

With that said, awareness of their moment-to-moment inner life is not sufficient for many introverts and must be complemented by a meaningful self-concept or self-definition. This stems from the introvert’s desire for a unified self, that is, a self that is coherent, meaningful, and persists across time. In my research and experience, working out a unified self-conception is deeply valued among introverts, serving as a foundational starting point for all that they do.

In this vein, Elaine Schallock has observed that introverts take what she calls an “inside-out” approach. Namely, when it comes to mapping their life’s purpose and direction, their first instinct is to turn inwardly for guidance; they look within to determine how they should engage without. The self serves as their compass for navigating life.

Authenticity and the ‘Search for Self’

Introverts also place immense value on their personal authenticity. As we’ve seen, they strive to ensure that their life choices reflect their core self.

Considering the central role of self-knowledge in the life of the introvert, it is unfortunate that many introverts discover that clarifying their sense of self is not as easy as they hoped. Indeed, it can take years, even decades, for them to feel confident about who they are and what they ought to be doing with their lives. This lack of clarity can be deeply frustrating, leaving them with two less than ideal options. Namely, they can either:

1. Attempt to put their lives on hold until they finally figure themselves out.


2. Make important life choices apart from perfect self-knowledge, which can feel risky or inauthentic to the introvert.

Because of the inherent challenges associated with the process of self-definition, introverts may at times envy the extrovert’s willingness to act without self-consciousness. Taking what Schallock calls an “outside-in” approach, extroverts routinely seize external opportunities without constant reference to their self-understanding. In other words, they show little resistance to being shaped and guided by the world around them. The introvert, by contrast, fiercely resists this sort of conformity, preferring instead to pave her own path. Even before Jung, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had put his finger on these essential introvert-extrovert differences:

“There is a view of life which holds that where the crowd is, the truth is also [i.e., the extroverted view]…There is another view of life which holds that wherever the crowd is, there is untruth [i.e., the introverted view.]”

Introverts and extroverts also have different ways of measuring value. As Kierkegaard suggests, the extrovert ascribes value to that which is popular or widely agreed upon. Democratic or “majority rules” approaches can thus be viewed as characteristically extroverted in nature. Conversely, introverts are inclined to emphasize intrinsic value, in which the worth or value of something is assessed by the individual. On this view, value is not determined by popularity or other external metrics, but by the degree to which something is considered useful or meaningful to the individual. This approach is reflected in philosophies emphasizing the rights, liberties, and values of the individual.

Introverted and Extroverted Parts of Personality

Despite the above distinctions, Jung was quick to point out that there is no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert. All introverts have some measure of extroverted needs, values, and propensities, and vice-versa for extroverts. Moreover, he espoused that, in order for introverts to experience wholeness, they must be willing to explore and develop the extroverted parts of themselves.

To better understand the introverted and extroverted elements of their personality, it can be helpful for introverts to discover their personality type (e.g., INFJ, INTP) and explore the four functions that comprise their type. As discussed in my book, My True Type, this can help them better understand their needs, values, motivations, and inner conflicts. It can also aid their search for the right career and relationship.

Introverts and extroverts are different types of creatures, in many respects taking the opposite approach to their life and work. Operating from the inside-out, introverts derive much of their value and guidance from looking within. They sense that optimal living requires knowing themselves and acting in accordance with who they are (i.e., authenticity). They thus embark on a “search for self” in hope of clarifying their strengths, interests, and values. Unfortunately, “finding themselves” is rarely easy and may be slowed or complicated by a host of factors. This may compel them to discover their personality type as a means of clarifying the foundations of who they are.

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Read this: Why Introverts Struggle to Figure Out Who They Are  retina_favicon1