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.