you’ve ever dreamed of more than just holding down a 9-to-5 job — and instead discovering your life’s calling — you’re not alone.
Of course, both extroverts and introverts would probably agree that they’d rather be called than chase a paycheck. But many introverts have a strong need for meaningful, intrinsically-rewarding work that allows them to act authentically.
One reason for this is introverts are less sensitive to external rewards like money and status than extroverts are (blame the brain chemical dopamine). Sure, we want a good paycheck, and we’d love to get that promotion, but we often don’t seek these things out in and of themselves.
This may lead well-intending family members or friends to pressure us to take the faster or pre-established route to financial success and status (“Why don’t you go to medical school like your father!”). Once again, we feel even more alone, isolated, and misunderstood.
The Role of Personality Type
The need for meaningful work is especially true for individuals who identify as one of the four introverted intuitive personality types in the Myers-Briggs system, i.e. an INFJ, INFP, INTJ, or INTP. (Not sure what your personality type is? Take a quick, free test here.)
Intuitive introverts have an innate need to identify and hold firm to their own preferences and convictions. They’re wary of “selling out” or “selling their soul” for the sake of a paycheck.
This isn’t to say that ISFJs, ISFPs, ISTJs, and ISTPs (the “sensing” introverts) don’t want their jobs to feel meaningful as well. The difference is, sensors don’t have as high a need for authenticity compared to the intuitives, writes Dr. Drenth.
However, keep in mind that a personality system like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator only describes a person’s general characteristics, and individuals will vary based on their experiences and current circumstances. You could be an INFJ who is completely content with her 9-5 job, because you understand that your routine work helps advance a greater cause. Or maybe you’re an ISFP who feels stifled in his career and dreams of a job that allows you to pursue your own interests.
Look Inward to Find Direction
Choosing a college major or career can be a difficult, drawn-out process for intuitive introverts. They may even choose one, settle in, then later change their minds and decide it wasn’t the right path for them after all.
Intuitive introverts feel they must discover exactly what it is they have to offer the world before they can choose a meaningful career path. They trust themselves and their convictions more than they trust the external world.
“They see self-knowledge as a prerequisite to authentic action,” writes Dr. Drenth in his eBook,My True Type. “Without an adequate map of themselves, they feel lost and aimless. For them, external circumstances are far less important than self-understanding and self-direction.”
But once they have a sense of who they are and what they should be doing, they feel they can be happy anywhere.
Extroverts, on the other hand, look to the world for inspiration and direction, and they’re naturally more concerned with fitting in or keeping pace with what others are doing,writes Dr. Drenth.
The Downside: Self-Knowledge Takes Time
Unfortunately, discovering who you are takes time. Clearly defining yourself and your career path can feel like shooting at a moving target.
Eventually, introverts may feel forced to make choices or settle for certain jobs that are less than ideal.
They may experience a sort of divided life comprised of their “day job,” on the one hand, and their true passions on the other. This situation is common and often unavoidable, but it is still frustrating for intuitive introverts who want their inner self to be accurately reflected outwardly, where it can be seen and validated by others.
Without that external validation, intuitive introverts may feel incomplete, being unable to reconcile their inner self with the persona they show to the world.
Career Advice for Introverts
There’s no quick answer, or even one definite path to success. But if you’re looking for your calling, one solution is to consider a creative career that gives you some independence, such as one in writing, design, technology, or music — or really anything that allows you to share your inner world with others.
Creative work allows individuals to “harness their emotions without getting lost in them, not only producing something beautiful but discovering who they are,” suggest Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, authorities on the Enneagram and authors of the book Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery. “In the moment of inspiration, they are, paradoxically, both most themselves and most liberated from themselves.”
Along with understanding yourself, know how to take care of yourself on the job, writes Sophia Dembling in a Psychology Today blog post.
“Get the job and then figure out how to succeed in it your way,” she writes. “It’s all part of the process of getting to know your own special brand of introversion, and learning how to work with it.”