4 Career Choices That Let Introverts Thrive

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.

Final Thoughts

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. 

* * *

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.”

 

Notes:

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

Comments

Guest (not verified) says...

Can introverts contently execute a career in technical (electronics) sales and marketing management. The transition being engineering R&D to marketing/sales? Are studies available in this area?

A.J. Drenth (not verified) says...

Hi there, It really depends on the individual as well as the nature of the position. For most introverts, a day full of direct selling is apt to be quite draining. If selling is balanced with more behind-the-scenes tasks, however, it could be a better fit. Understanding and believing in the product or service also helps, which it seems would true in your case. As with any position, you'll need to weigh the pluses and minuses to see if it is well-suited to your strengths and interests. All the best, A.J.

Guest (not verified) says...

Thanks A.J. Your right about the "behind the scenes" tasks. I enjoyed working with engineers as customers. That is problem solving task rather than closing a sale. However, it was really tough to act like a hungry sales person as expected. I would recommend introverts, if they have the opportunity, to work directly for a savvy business manager rather than a sales manager. BTW, I like this site in my retirement. Will recommend it to younger folks. If you have more studies to share with retirees, I would appreciate reading and responding to posts of what you have.

GuestCColleen (not verified) says...

I am also a retiree who would love a peer group form about lessons learned in living and thriving as a INFP. My career was dedicated to educating people for immediate employment and careers in California. Interestingly, my employer was the first to conduct the Meyers-Briggs testing at a staff development early in my career that lead me identify myself as an INFP. My Superintendent (now life long friend) was committed to teaching to students' strengths and giving students self knowledge to apply to their personal life journey and career development. She also understood how this same knowledge could be applied to staff development and organizational development. She leveraged her staff's talents until we became one of the most successful programs of its kind in the United States. Since our success as a program was and is predicated on our students' ability to secure and maintain employment and promotability, plainly matching temperament to career is a powerful tool in Career Technical Education.

My role in our organization was Staff Development, Leadership (Deputy Superintendent), Curriculum Development (local and State Level), program development, regional economic development, articulation development to other major private and public post secondary education to facilitate students' career development and organizational and program accreditation. We served 10,000 high school and 1000 adults students per year. What the Sperintendent gave this INFP was a cause inline with my value system (INFPs rarely work for wages alone) and a place and freedom to grow myself and the organization. What I gave her, our students and our organization in return was dedication to excellence. I cared about each student and staff member on a personal level because, literally, with my empathic nature when they hurt I hurt. I could see gaps in curriculum and ways to improve it. I had "the big picture" as applied to organizational and regional development and was given plenty of quite, reflective time to research, build, and improve program.

That perhaps is the biggest take away lesson for an INFP's career development plan, find something that is aligned with your values and find the most fertile suitable environment to grow it in.

Guest (not verified) says...

What is the best personality type for B@B technical sales. Purpose: Market Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) "design in" electronic component and subsystems. Help negotiate and finalize multi-year, complex, technical contracts.

Guest (not verified) says...

Did you do recruiting and placement too? I always worked with a "head hunter" when it was time for me to move up; or, in another direction. Like you, the money was good, but not a driver for me. I also worked for bonuses + salary. The private placement folks were best at internal corporate contacts within my particular field. They worked outside of HR. They also had direct industry experience to leveraged. Even as I'm retired I'd like to also help young folks find themselves before getting trapped in an unfit career. I'm thinking of a non-profit with access to student bodies. I want to leverage my broad industry experience. I'm a good researcher. Can you give me some guidance? I suspect certification is a requirement in CA.

Colleen (not verified) says...

INFPs are great listeners and counselors. You are well intentioned, However, students in California are given free access to career exploration and counseling in high school, There are also numerous courses, inventories, and other career development tools on the web created by the State and Federal government such as O*Net. I frequently refer young people to these resources. Qualifications for career counseling in California schools is specific. Your education and your State credential must match the requirements. Adults are given the similar opportunities through the Employment Development Department and various workforce development programs and grants.

Retirees are the greatest untapped resource in our communities. Most of us have amazing credientials and experiences. Approach your local high school, community college, university, library, Y, Boys and Girls club, Big Sister/Brother, religious community, community center, small business assistance agency, parks and rec, etc. and ask about opportunities to volunteer. Think about helping other seniors find employment and develop skills. I have met widows and divorcees who need help resume writing, practicing interviews, and job hunting, Find a fit!

Guest (not verified) says...

Great advice. Thank you.

padah says...

I am retired and bored. I had been doing accounting job all my life. I want to go back to work but pursue a different career path, if that is possible. I have another side to my personality. I am on the borderline of being an extravert and introvert. I am intuitive, creative, organized, and work well in a structured environment. I wonder what career suits this personality.

Guest (not verified) says...

You might consider teaching or mentoring in a group setting. Have you thought about volunteering or working in an after school program?

Guest (not verified) says...

Hello, everyone here seems very wise, and I would like to ask for advice. I am an INFP in my third year of college in California as a business major and have had doubts about my major from the beginning. But am unsure about what I want to do with my life so I have stayed in the same major. I asked the career center at the college I attend for help in choosing a major. But they basically told me they can’t help me until I know what I want to major in. I am the first in my family to go to college and would like to succeed in college to set a good example for my younger siblings. I don’t want to feel like I’m simply wasting my time studying something I’m not interested in. What can I major in that helps me obtain a job In which I can help people and make a good amount of money with only a bachelors degree?

Guest (not verified) says...

Wow - this sounds like I wrote this 3 years ago. I am only (nearly) 2 years out of college, but I 100% felt like this towards the end, especially looking towards advisors and getting the same answers. I always found myself interested in business, but at the end of the day, I wanted to help people and do work that mattered. I toyed with the idea of switching my major to non profit management, human resource management, or various counseling areas. I ended up sticking with my program in advertising, because it played to my creative side and strategic thinking side (INTJ), however after working in the industry for 1.5 years, I am ready for something new already that is more rewarding, more than just getting a decent paycheck. I will say it is hard to find all of those things in a major and I wish I would have relaxed a little in college (doesn't everyone say that? ha). I was so concerned about finding the perfect major when in reality - the money part, for most practical programs - really comes down to your work ethic once you are in the field. Of course there are those exceptions but do your research and take personality quizzes of suggested careers - most of the time I could see myself doing many of them.

While in school, I had a few passions that I always was interested in and was scared to switch majors due to financial concerns and others telling me "you can't find jobs in that area". I am not the type of person to take that risk. But, I am now looking at going back to school for those same passions (they don't go away!). In short, I picked a business degree that got me a job out of college, a salary with benefits, I liked it enough to graduate with honors, and now I can move on to something else. It all depends what path you're looking to follow. Best of luck!

GretchenN (not verified) says...

Can introverts be successful in Medical Billing and Coding? I am an INFJ, mid 30s and constantly grappling with whether I should pursue a new career path. I would love to work from home. I prefer working independently and I was reading that this is a career that can be done at home. Looking forward to your thoughts.

Guest (not verified) says...

Aren't these the options of any and every individual, regardless of personalty type?

TinaMarie80 (not verified) says...

Well, while that is true, that doesn't mean it's a good fit for any and every personality type. Myself, being very introverted, would be miserable in a career where I would have to do any cold call sales, or public speaking. But, something behind the scenes, dealing with only a handful of people, would be ideal.

velvetcactus (not verified) says...

I still don't know what to do when I grow up. I fit no existing career! Are there unusual careers for the highly unemployable?

Frustrated (not verified) says...

I am an extreme introvert working in a corporate external affairs job. At times, I can be very outgoing and communicative but most of the time I prefer helping others to achieve their goals and getting personal achievement just from being on the team and participating in what I believe to be the best situation for all involved. It is not a favorite spot to be in as I have been curse at and demoralized and finally just ignored throughout my career by different people in management. I do not have a specialty, do not excel at mundane process related job duties and now seen as a person who does not know my strengths and someone who puts forth effort in the things I like to do and nothing else. In reality, I like everything and love learning. I truly like to help others, I am insightful and independent and I learn and grow alongside the people I help. I contribute very well to the well-being of everyone involved on a personal level. I do not hold grudges and i am not a bitter person but I am close to retirement and feel that if my personality is to be attacked at every angle, I will not make it to retirement, I will be fired or layed off and I simply cannot afford that...Any advice?

INFJ1961 says...

Very insightful.

My lifelong enjoyment of popular music (beginning with 60's Motown, which I still enjoy) has culminated in wanting to map out a career in songwriting and eventually, producing recordings with other artists and employing a more ethical financial landscape for all involved. But at the very core of this, my offering is crafting a song with viable lyrics and a sound that will stand the test of time.

As far as music as a business, I don't feel I fit the norm: I'm 54, I absolutely do not desire fame, and I know more about copyright law pertaining to the music industry than even many insiders (from what I've read of their understanding). I enjoy singing, but on many of my creations, I can hear other people singing them instead, people who are performers at heart (at best, I think of myself as a recording artist, not a performing artist).

If I could find a company to work for whose ethics are on the up and up, I would probably like to join as an employee/professional. However, knowing what I know, and having confidence in what I can do, I feel like entrepreneur is the more or less required direction (though right now, I'm flirting dangerously close with the starving artist category).

I welcome your feedback and thank you for your time.

ehswift71 says...

Hi,

feeling stuck, frustrated and in limbo. I am 45, out of work and really want to change my career path, but I am not sure that I have the necessary skill set to make this transition. I just read the above post and have an important question about the last part where you say that certain personality types would be a good fit for entrepreneurship. I recently took a couple of different personality tests and scored as a INFJ/INFP. I am beyond tired of working for corporate America and really want to get into entrepreneurship but want to know if INFJ/INFP would be a good fit for this. Can you give me a hand with this.

J. Hucks (not verified) says...

Great read! I am a mix of all those traits for an introvert. This helps me rethink my career moves.

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