6 Ways to Thrive as a Sensitive and Ambitious Introvert11 February 2018 / By Megan Malone Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on February 11, 2018
Are you a hard worker who feels like your work regularly goes unnoticed or underappreciated? Do you set many goals but keep most of them to yourself for fear of judgment and failure? Are you desperate for success but get exhausted just thinking about attempting the traditional routes to getting there — networking and ladder climbing, among others? If you found yourself nodding along to each of these questions, you may be a sensitive and ambitious Introvert.
Sensitivity and ambition are rarely used in the same sentence. Ambition is linked to leadership and success, while sensitivity is generally thought of as a character flaw. Despite the apparent contradiction, many Introverts display both traits. And yes, that includes Thinkers, who can be just as sensitive as Feelers when they have a strong preference for introversion. Some sensitive personalities might even consider themselves to be a Highly Sensitive Person or HSP.
As an INFJ, I identify strongly as a sensitive and ambitious Introvert. I grew up believing that I couldn’t get ahead being both quiet and sensitive while simultaneously ambitious and goal-oriented. For the longest time, I thought I had to pick one or another. Over time, I realized that my greatest career fulfillment, and the majority of my professional success, has come from embracing both of these paradoxical traits.
If you’re an Introvert who believes you can’t get ahead being both sensitive and ambitious, here are six tips that will help you thrive in your career.
1. First and most importantly, stop being someone you’re not.
When I first started a career in marketing and sales, I quickly realized that most of my colleagues had very different personalities from my own. So, as I’d done for most of my life, I adapted my personality to fit in with the people around me. While this worked in the short-term, I wasn’t happy with the person I was in the office. And as much as I believed my mask was helping me advance in my career, I wasn’t fooling anybody.
Because I was so stressed and unhappy in my job, I would often get emotional at work. I had panic attacks in the restroom. I’d spend my commute crying on the phone with my mom. The tough Extravert facade I was putting up was hurting me both personally and professionally. After years of damage, there was really no option but to show up more authentically at work.
While this is challenging at times, it’s also resulted in more money, opportunities, and growth than I ever experienced when I was trying to be someone I’m not.
2. Accept that most traditional methods don’t work for you.
While many of my former colleagues swore on the effectiveness of Dale Carnegie training and self-help books by Malcolm Gladwell, I never found those development tools to be especially useful. As an HSP, I’m already in tune with the feelings of others. I didn’t need to learn how to listen more to my co-workers. What I actually needed, was advice on how to work among people with entirely different motivations than my own.
Many sensitive and ambitious Introverts aren’t motivated by the traditional measures of success. Therefore, conventional methods of succeeding don’t work as well for us. To figure out what will work -- and it’s usually a personal journey -- we first have to identify where our motivation comes from. This leads us to the next point.
3. Pinpoint where your satisfaction comes from.
Where does your ambition come from? For me, it is a drive to help others succeed and the personal fulfillment I experience when that happens. To a lesser extent, I’m driven by the freedom and flexibility that comes from my current freelance career. As a sensitive and ambitious Introvert, you may find the most satisfaction from one of the following non-traditional measures of achievement:
- Finding inner peace
- Making a difference in the world
- Helping others Feeling secure
- Experiencing financial freedom
- Making life more comfortable for your family
- Spreading positivity
- Developing original ideas
- Encouraging and supporting others.
These are only a few of the many measures sensitive and ambitious Introverts may use to define success. Once you pinpoint where your desire to achieve comes from, you’ll be able to find methods that work for you and find more authentic fulfillment in your career.
4. Identify what is holding you back.
As a sensitive and ambitious Introvert, fear and self-doubt are two of the most prominent things that have held me back in my career. I’m not alone in experiencing these roadblocks. I recently surveyed 59 INFJs about what was holding them back. The majority responded that the biggest obstacle is stepping outside of their comfort zones.
External stimuli have a more profound effect on highly sensitive people than “regular” folk. What we see on the news or experience on-the-job impacts our emotions deeply, and it often affects our thoughts and behaviors, too. We are constantly reminded about the dangers of being too emotional at work. Therefore, stepping outside our comfort zone into something that could expose these perceived weaknesses becomes a substantial mental hurdle. It’s much easier to avoid it than face it head-on.
Whether it’s leaving your comfort zone, removing yourself from a toxic environment, fear of failure or rejection, or all of the above, determining what is holding you back is one of the first steps sensitive and ambitious introverts can take on their journey to a more fulfilling career.
5. Quit comparing yourself to everyone else.
While sensitive-and-ambitious Introverts are likely disciplined and goal-oriented, they may lack some of the other typical traits of ambitious people, like competitiveness. When we see someone doing well when we are not, we immediately feel disheartened. Instead of raising our own game, we think there must be something innately wrong with us. This mindset holds many sensitive and ambitious Introverts back.
One common habit of ambitious people is that they only compare themselves to the person they were yesterday. Measuring your success by how it compares to someone else will only distract and deter your personal and professional achievements. This is true for everyone but perhaps especially relevant for sensitive Introverts.
6. Surround yourself with other sensitive and ambitious people.
One of the fastest ways I found to quit comparing myself to others was to surround myself with people who were just like me — sensitive and ambitious introverts. Since we’re not a large percentage of the population and many of us still live behind a mask, I made connections as many introverts do — online. It’s been a great way to learn to accept myself and determine what I want in life.
Surrounding yourself with like-minded people helps you to stop viewing others as competitors and, instead, as a common tribe with similar goals. I cheer for the success of friends (who some might consider competitors), and they support me in return. Ambitious and sensitive Introverts can search for like-minded communities online via Facebook groups, mastermind groups, Meetup.com groups and more. It may take awhile to discover exactly where you fit, but you’ll know once you’ve found it.
If you’re a sensitive and ambitious Introvert committed to living as your authentic self, you will have a less traditional and possibly even more challenging professional path than other ambitious people. But this doesn’t mean that you won’t achieve all your goals and more.
The more you learn about yourself and commit to living authentically, the more naturally success will come to you. Discover what is holding you back, determine how to overcome it, and surround yourself with like-minded individuals. All of these things will help you to thrive as a quiet and soft person in our often loud and tough world.
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Mariya (not verified) says...
I've been meaning to say this for some time: thank you so much for creating this platform and writing such insightful articles. It's so encouraging and relieving to read them, especially in times when you feel like you are... from another planet. I especially like that you don't just focus on INFJs (which I am also one), but address introverts/intuitives more generally.
Thanks again for your great work,
Harvey Atkins (not verified) says...
I am an intj tried-and-true and it doesn't resonate with me what you said about fear and doubt I'm don't see that in myself and my path at all and I have been very vulnerable and come in contact with the status quo in graduate school and in relationships and these other kinds of people and the world I've not been successful
Rai (not verified) says...
Thank you for creating this platform. While I am not an INFJ (I am an INTJ), almost all of these posts have been very helpful. They have helped me solve many short-term and long-term problems.
Gilbert Wong (not verified) says...
Your blog came just at the right time for me. I was feeling pretty down and unappreciated, felt that no one understood me. Your article lifted me up and I feel that I’m a special person with qualities and values to live up to. Thanks again.
QuietAmanda (not verified) says...
You mean I’m not weird after all?
Yking (not verified) says...
Thanks for this platform Megan! I can definitely relate as an INFP. You are very insightful, encouraging & inspiring! I appreciate you ?
KerryR (not verified) says...
I’m 55 and felt like I don’t fit in my whole life. Finally with the help of articles like this I’m beginning to understand myself better and how I can relate to others. Thanks Megan!
Harvey Atkins (not verified) says...
I'm an intj but it doesn't resonate for me what you said about fear and doubt I was always living in a vulnerable way and always getting slammed maybe because I push the envelope too much in graduate school and relationships in the world with these other kinds of people
soph (not verified) says...
Thanks for writing this article. I am a INFP type, I'm feeling I dont fit into every workplace I have tried. I have tried office call centre, retail and warehouse, Childcare and they weren't for me .
I'm quite a senstive person and am quiet around extroverted people.
I have realised quite late on in life things weren't working for me , I need find something rewarding, and interactive. Its just finding the balance.
Jeff Isabelle (not verified) says...
I've been fortunate as a unaware INFJ. As I knew as a boy that I was thinking much differently than peer children. I was wondering about the adults definitely. I was introverted but responded only to things after taking the reasonable time to come up with my own logical answer. So some thought I was either slow or different at least. One thru six are excellent points, plus you will develop many more tips depending on the career path certainly with the family support or not that is around you is what I have learned. I had very low family support as I was thought to be different growing up in the seventies.
Those that thought I was slow, well I left them in the dust in many areas of thought but also in physical activity quite readily. I was quiet but did every sport possible very well and them some as if I had a serious bucket list for life itself underway.
The one INFJ trait that persists is the “thinking trait” so the time taken to figure out an issue or problem or a challenge as we take it seriously. Once you encounter these scenario’s a few times they are easier to deal with. Just not the first time is my experience. Then its routine with incredible speed as an introvert, whalla! I was labeled in my early teens as “Spock” oddly suddenly, so then I knew I was thinking differently on a daily basis. I was being told as much by my friends and nicknamed?
So in 2018 I’ve been a graphic designer now for 42 years within an extreme broad range of projects including on-demand support for government for 21 of these years. During this time I experienced amazing things working with fellow designers, co-workers and executive staff.
The most important issue as a INFJ graphic designer is to have the necessary design autonomy to control the design aspects but to also manage all expectations of the client all at the same time with your skill level.
If not then “run” away from the job very quickly before it becomes a nightware for you the INFJ.
Why? I can only describe it as the INFJ’s ability to process information and visual 3D information at about four times the normal rate and keep going to completion. So not an IQ necessarily but pure thinking and visualizing speed within ones own mind.
I would sit with a client for a simple to complex project for about 20 minutes yet I complete the design in minutes on a napkin with 30 -50 requirements within a sketch using unified modeling or a custom process etc… takes shape immediately within my mind, and I did this for years.
Many of my fellow designers are excellent designers and are great people but we all work and think quite differently, quite often for many reasons which provided excellent diversity. Yet do we know the mechanics of out natural thinking and visualizing processes between all the MBTI’s 16 personality types?
Often my work had been chosen over fellow designers, not seeing all the projects I didn't realize this until after a couple years went by, then I was made aware as designers refused to submit work if I was present. Honestly I never understood why at the time, now I do. I asked why? As I certainly didn’t win every contract or project, yet I was on excellent terms with everyone. I was told my skill level was extremely high but I didn’t feel that was the case then. I know it was my experience so to many that’s the same thing, but not to me.
- Many are quite competitive, rude or silent if the INFJ appears to pull things out of the ether.
- My talent was overlooked intentionally not encouraged lately the last five years, refused training.
- In such cases the INFJ must simply seek a better and more supportive employer if at all possible.
- A INFJ risks being painted a target one minute then next targeted by jealous management types.
- I’ve worked for years with full autonomy which is perfect for the INFJ. A two person graphic team.
Now most graphics teams today are larger and specialized.
Micromanaging by inexperienced managers is a rampant issue as things are getting more complex not simpler.
Often I’ve asked to provide a solution to a problems in a group meeting in the open and I proceed after to gather the data and forward as asked. The INFJ solves a issue out of the ether beyond my pay grade due to our traits where we want to help everyone. When really now we are setup as targets by inferior middle managers trying to protect their jobs. See 10 years ago I didn’t have a manager to report to, all I did was make executive management look good.
Senior management looks good but middle managers see eventually that my successes pile up that they perceive as stolen opportunities from the middle manager’s success ladder on the way to the top.
The managers take on a disliking towards you for conflict managing the manager as technically you are just doing your job. So it’s time to move on to a new job for most INFJ’s.
As we are highly misunderstood. In that management processes do not allow for talents to be identified and built upon that get it all.
Now in 2018 I have quite a different perspective of myself and work in general, as personally it’s so important to work alone as my own boss independently now for the best results.
I cannot believe my life now from what I've learned about INFJ's and myself. To realize that most INFJ's work for themselves is best must be experienced. Then the many conflict issues should go away for an INFJ as long as you are a manager that’s reasonably proficient.
I find being an INFJ and being a designer as a perfect career choice. As a teen, I was given three option: Psychologist, Helicopter pilot/ Graphic Designer. Here I am and I have know about the personality types on now for perhaps 5 years now. So as I look back I was clearly a typical introverted INFJ A-T type working at a high pace for years quite happily.
Now, about two months ago I was diagnosed as having PTSD. So now I simply relax and feel much better but my mind is amazing its time to put health above all else. I am also planning now as its the time. So I hope this helps others as I don’t mind speaking about my experiences when it’s possible.
Kaitlin Jack (not verified) says...
Wow. Everything I didn't even know I needed to hear said at the perfect time. I am a sensitive and highly ambitious INFJ through and through and this article resonates with me deeply. I just turned 18 and I've been having a serious dilema (classic quarter life crisis?) in choosing the career path I wish to pursue. I've been struggling to figure out how in the world I'm ever going to manage to find a career that is in a field I find interesting (psychology, neuroscience, biology, and the performing arts are all lifelong passions of mine), involves fulfilling work (entrepreneurship, writing, counselling, research, and/or humanitarian work are all things I would love), but also pays the bills. All while my parents don't understand why I can't just "get a decent job that pays well." You have no idea how comforting and relieving it is to simply know that there is someone else out there in the world who thinks the same way that I do. Thank you for your words!
Pepper (not verified) says...
Reading this was immensely therapeutic. Thank you for writing it.
As an ambitious and highly sensitive INFP, who also worked in marketing and sales, I struggled for decades trying to balance my introversion (which I love) with being and HSP (which I also love,) in a world which left me exhausted and depressed, which I hate!
Like you, I cried on the phone to my mum when I was travelling to work, cried in the toilets, and even faked sick days to avoid the daily microagressions. Indirect and (not so) subtle jabs about introverts, about my character, and critiscms cloaked as constructive criticisms plagued my days as a marketing professional. I eventually left that field to go into web development. It's easier (I'm surrounded by other introverts and HSPs), but it's an industry that is slowly succumbing to the extrovert way of life as extroverted managers are being shipped in to tackle the "scary quiet" and take down the introverts with dreadful team lunches, endless meetings, way too many away days. . .
So I thank you for putting into words the struggles of the ambitious and sensitive introvert.