Introverts are sticklers for authenticity. When it comes to their jobs and careers, they strive to “do what they are.” Despite the beauty of this ideal, they often run into difficulties when it comes to its real-world actualization.
As discussed in my latest book, My True Type, in order to do what they are, introverts must first know who they are. For them, self-knowledge must precede action. Unfortunately, many discover that nailing down their identity and purpose is far easier in theory than it is in practice. It can sometimes take years, even decades, for them to truly understand themselves—their personality, talents, values, and interests.
Even introverts with a good sense of self and purpose are not off the hook, since self-knowledge is only the first part of the equation. The next step is application, which breeds some important questions:
- How important is it for me to make money from my passion?
- To what extent do I need my passion to be widely seen and recognized by others?
- How much independence and creative control do I need with respect to my passion?
- How much effort and energy am I willing to invest in building a business around my passion?
These sorts of questions force introverts to dig deep into their core values and priorities. The way they answer these questions will profoundly impact the degree to which they pursue one (or more) of the following introvert career choices.
Introvert Career Choice #1: Day Job + Hobbyist
Introverts opting for this career choice are comfortable with not monetizing or garnering widespread recognition for their passion. They are happy to view their passion as a hobby (i.e., an “avocation”) and to simply enjoy its intrinsic rewards. In many respects, this helps keep their passion pure and untainted, since there is little attention granted to its popularity or marketability.
There are, of course, potential downsides to this option. For one, most introverts are reluctant to work an uninspiring day job simply for the sake of making ends meet. They are prone to seeing it as a waste of precious time, time that could be better spent exploring their true interests. Moreover, since introverts tend to see themselves as special and unique, settling for an ordinary job can seem a lot like blind conformity, as well as a sign of a mediocre life.1
Introvert Career Choice #2: The Starving Artist
The proverbial “starving artist,” who is typically introverted, cares more about pursuing his or her passion than anything else. Starving artists are metaphysically (and perhaps also physically) hungrier than those working “real jobs.” They are willing to sacrifice social and material comforts in order to follow their bliss wherever it leads. Like hobbyists, their passion is kept pure because they have renounced any concern for its monetization. While starving artists are typically not opposed to earning money from their work (most would gladly accept it), they are wary of allowing money to lead the way. Not only does money-seeking feel morally reprehensible to them, but they also sense that it could impair the quality, originality, and substantiveness of their work. One could indeed cite a number of artists whose creativity plummeted after “making it big.”
Even if this career choice is not granted highest priority, for many introverts, the portrait of the starving artist remains deeply inspiring. For there we find the purest picture of introverted authenticity and individuality.
Introvert Career Choice #3: The Employee or Professional
Introverts who seek to “careerize” their passion may opt to work as employees and/or professionals. An introverted biologist, for instance, might join forces with a university or a private corporation.
There are a number of potential advantages, as well as disadvantages, to introverts working within a larger organization or governing body. A foremost advantage of organizations is they, at least in theory, allow for greater division and specialization of labor. This can relieve introverts of certain extraverted business roles, such as sales and marketing, affording them more time to focus on what they do best.
As far as disadvantages go, introverts quickly learn that being an employee involves sacrificing some measure of independence and creative control. Indeed, the more they are asked to compromise their personal values, methods, or ideas, the more inauthentic they are bound to feel. If pushed far enough, they will often rebel, even if passively, or start looking for work elsewhere.
Introvert Career Choice #4: The Entrepreneur
In many respects, entrepreneurs are like artists, relying heavily on creativity and ingenuity. The primary difference is entrepreneurs tend to be more motivated by certain externalities, such as money or social influence. With respect to personality, they tend to be more extraverted.
With that said, there are plenty of introverts who possess the following entrepreneurial characteristics:
- Do not want to work for someone else; want to be their own boss
- Desire to build a financially rewarding enterprise
- Seek outward recognition for their innovative efforts
- Enjoy experimentation, a variety of tasks, and independent decision-making
- Are driven, self-motivated, and independent learners
Even entrepreneurial introverts can be reluctant to start a business before knowing themselves or their passion. Their natural process still involves looking inwardly before outwardly. But as discussed in my post on blogging and web entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship can be a viable path for introverts, especially online enterprises.
As we’ve seen with the other career choices, there are some potential downsides to entrepreneurship. Some of these are rather obvious, such as the inherent financial risks and perturbations involved. Less obvious is the fact that introverted entrepreneurs may experience a consistent tug-of-war between their inner selves and external concerns. On the one hand, they, like other introverts, want to follow their own interests wherever they lead. On the other hand, they realize that their entrepreneurial livelihood depends on their ability to give people what they want. Those who manage to find a way of balancing these opposing forces are apt to feel most successful, satisfying both their intrinsic and extrinsic criteria for personal success.
It probably goes without saying that many introverts will not fit squarely into any of the above categories.2 This is true for a number of reasons. One is that introverts are not one-dimensional creatures. They enjoy some measure of variety and do not want to do the same thing all the time. Their interests may wax, wane, and evolve over time. Changing circumstances may also precipitate shifts in their attitudes, at times prompting a “do what I have to do” sort of mindset.
Despite this, I do feel these categories broadly reflect the introvert’s primary career options, each of which carries its own set of advantages and disadvantages. In most cases, introverts learn through time and experimentation which arrangement suits them best.
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Dr. A.J. Drenth (INTP) is a self-confessed personality junkie, as well as three-time author and founder of the blog, Personality Junkie. Originally from the Midwest, he now calls California home. His favorite quote is "we don't see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”
1 This is especially true for intuitive introverts—INTPs, INFPs, INTJs, and INFJs.
2 From a type perspective, IJs and ISFPs seem most apt to function as employees or professionals, ITPs (especially INTPs) as entrepreneurs, and INFPs as starving (or occasionally well-fed) artists.
Additional Reading: Introverts’ vs. Extraverts’ Career Path