Introverts can come under a lot of scrutiny in the workplace. We often despise the open office design, remain quiet during large, boisterous group meetings and secretly hate the “fun” office parties and holiday events. Even when we enjoy the work we do, an overbearing environment mixed with colleagues and bosses who don’t understand how to recognize our strengths (or make us feel like we’re “less than” because we don’t want to spend our break times socializing) can leave us feeling empty, drained and miserable. We begin to feel our passion and purpose slowly fading away and find it difficult to even find the motivation or energy to get through the day.
If you’ve ever experienced anything like this, please hear me when I say this: you’re NOT alone. As isolating and discouraging as your daily routine may seem, there are countless other introverts in the same boat as you who are desperate for a fresh start or who want to find a way to advocate for themselves in a way that’s genuine and authentic to who they are and what they need. Although it may seem like there’s no escape from your mundane routine or draining environment, there are actually a few key strategies to finding your inspiration and motivation, to advocating for what you need and to making sure your working with your strengths instead of against them. You just need to learn these three things…
Own Who You Are
There’s nothing more difficult than trying to get what you need without knowing who you are. Since our preferences, needs and strengths are often at odds with the world around us, it’s especially important for us to know why we think, act and feel the way we do. When you understand how your brain works, or why you find it difficult to find a specific word mid-conversation, or why you feel the twinge of anxiety and annoyance at the thought of a “networking event”, you’ll be able to manage your needs much more easily and freely. You can release the guilt and confusion that come from not understanding yourself and be ready to give others an explanation for what situations, projects and environments work best for you. Here’s what you need to know about an introvert’s brain to help build your sense of self and inner confidence.
First, introverts process information and external stimulation through a long, complex pathway. We take in lots of information, processing it all through the thinking and planning area, then traveling to our long-term memory to make connections with past experiences, and finally landing in the emotional center of the brain. When we attend an event, have a conversation or step outside our front door, we’re constantly evaluating, thinking and reflecting to make sense of our world. Because of this, we may find it difficult to find a specific word during conversation – especially one that’s emotionally charged - since we’re processing not only our current situation, but also any past experiences, thoughts or emotions that might be related. Or, you might find that you really dislike being interrupted when you’re working or deep in thought. This is because we become so enveloped in our thoughts that we have to pull ourselves back up out of that every time we’re distracted or asked a “simple”, but unrelated question to what we’re currently focusing on.
The second tip relates to the chemical messengers in our brain called neurotransmitters. Introverts are particularly sensitive to the neurotransmitters dopamine (produces a "feel good" response) and adrenaline (associated with excitement and movement). This means that we become more easily overwhelmed by noisy environments and prefer quieter, more relaxed environments most of the time. For example, introverts may experience a "feel good" response to a quiet library that offers a comfy lounge chair and the soft smell of coffee wafting in the air, while extroverts may find this environment boring or under stimulating. Since our brains are more sensitive to the "feel good" neurotransmitters, busier environments are more likely to cause a sense of anxiety or uneasiness. This can also be why introverts appear to "zone out" or have difficulty thinking, finding the right word, or keeping a conversation going in more stimulating environments. In turn, we can appear distant, aloof, uninterested, or bored during such times. As you know, this can cause serious hurt, confusion, or disconnection in our relationships, families and work places!
Knowing how your brain works is such a powerful tool to owning who you are and getting what you need. With all of this understanding, you’ll be much more prepared to ask for what you want and explain to colleagues and supervisors how your specific skills and strengths can be utilized. Which brings me to my next point…
Advocate for Yourself Authentically
When we hear the word “advocate” we either think of an energetic, go-getter personality type that boldly stands up for what they want or a group/organization that works to fulfill their mission for a specific purpose or need. When we think about advocating for ourselves, it can bring about feelings of uncertainty, reluctance or embarrassment at the thought of trying to explain our “introverted” ways to yet another person (who will probably have a facial expression of confusion or pity). But the type of advocating I’m suggesting is based on being authentic and genuine to who you are. Asking introverts to use extroverted skills to advocate for themselves simply doesn’t work. We don’t need to hear more about what we “should” do – we need to know how to use the strengths we already have to get more of what we need and less of what we don’t.
The first step to advocating for yourself authentically is to get rid of all of your preconceived notions on what it means to “advocate for yourself”! Let’s completely redefine our understanding of this concept. As an introvert, advocating for yourself is about (1) understanding yourself, (2) educating other people on your strengths and preferences and (3) finding ways to work with your strengths instead of against them. It’s very important to accept that what works for you is perfectly acceptable. We receive so many messages about how being a team player, having boundless energy and sharing your thoughts spontaneously during group meetings is the right way to be. Although this approach works great for some personality types, this way of being is actually completely counterproductive and counterintuitive for most introverted personality types. And once you understand why these methods don’t work, you’re much more likely to feel prepared and justified to explain these differences to others.
Let’s look at some examples to clarify this point. Here’s the scenario: You don’t speak up during group meetings, but instead wait to be asked for your opinion. Extroverts often think this happens because you don’t know enough about what’s being discussed or you’re shy or insecure. Since this is what would be true for them – and they’re assuming that you interact with the world in the same way they do – they make an incorrect judgment about your behavior. The truth is you’re taking in all that is being said and need time to formulate your own thoughts. You think it’s polite to be asked for your opinion as opposed to interrupting others. But without understanding your own behaviors, you’ll be tempted to accept others’ misunderstanding of who you are.
In this type of scenario, there are a few ways to take advantage of your strengths and use them to help you advocate for yourself in a way that’s genuine. First, if you have an idea of the topics that might come up during the meeting, make a list of comments, questions or thoughts you’d like to make before the event. Consider making your statements toward the beginning before there are lots of other competing voices and opinions. Second, if you think of something you wanted to say at the meeting, but forgot to mention it, send an email to the important members of the meeting with your thoughts. This shows that you care about what was discussed and that you add meaningful content, as well as gives those members a chance to read your thoughts without the distraction of more vocal peers.
Let’s look at another example. Let’s say you don’t self-promote or share your achievements or successes without being directly asked. This can create a lot of frustration for introverts, as most of us don’t want to appear that we’re bragging or talking about ourselves too much. Extroverts often think this happens because you haven’t achieved much, so you have little to share (although this is usually far from reality). The truth is you’re probably private about your inner world and aren’t looking for outside approval. You’re happy knowing what you’ve achieved and don’t feel like you need lots of praise or congratulations from others. The challenge here is that although you might not need much external appreciation, you end up not even being recognized for what you have accomplished and thereby miss out on opportunities for promotion or advancement simply because others don’t know what you don’t tell them. But how do you share your achievements without betraying your humble nature?
The key here is in how you share this information to others. Most likely, you’ve had some interactions with those who can’t seem to stop talking about themselves or what they’ve done and the last thing you want to do is portray yourself in the same way – so you hardly talk about your successes at all. But this doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. Here are some quick tips to help you highlight your strengths without appearing pushy or salesy.
- When talking with co-workers or supervisors, weave your accomplishments into the conversation. Talk about something you achieved or a goal you reached when it relates to the topic at hand. You can even add a linking sentence between what you’re talking about now and the accomplishment it reminds you of. For example, saying “Yeah it feels great to see your hard work pay off! Last year when I…” or “I was really proud of my team when we…” or “I really enjoyed working on…” gives the listener more context for understanding what you did and why you’re sharing it now.
- Talk about what you’ve been working on or projects you’re currently a part of. Talking about what you’re doing is a great, subtle way to give others a peek into what talents and skills you have without seeming like you’re tooting your own horn.
- Make sure you put your name on anything you create, supervise, help with or organize. Don’t dismiss or belittle your part in any project, event, fundraiser, research, etc.
Advocating for yourself isn’t about listing your accomplishments or even necessarily telling your supervisor what you need. It’s about how you present yourself in all aspects of your work and realizing that you don’t need to do things like an extrovert to be helpful, engaged or strong. When you know the things that work for you – like taking small breaks to regain clarity or writing down your thoughts before a meeting – you display your strengths without even saying a word. And THAT’S the power of advocating for yourself (introvert style).
Find Your True Purpose
Even if you know who you are and how to advocate for yourself in an authentic way, you’ll still struggle to feel truly fulfilled and motivated if you’re not living in alignment with what matters most to you. You’ll also find it challenging to give the best of yourself if you’re not doing what you were meant to do. But where do you even start? How do you discover your passion or transition from where you’re at now to where you want to be?
As difficult as it can seem to get out of where you are now, there are actually some key strategies to really jumpstart you on finding your path. First, it’s so important to get clarity on what you want your life to look like. Without a clear direction, we become paralyzed by feelings of overwhelm and fears about starting something new that we really block ourselves from even seeing the possibilities that might be there or from opportunities that could help us gain some clarity and traction in our lives. There are several important factors to consider when trying to find your path and you definitely don't want to waste time pursuing the wrong things that would just delay your happiness and success. Sometimes people think that finding their path is as simple as knowing what they're passionate about - but a truly fulfilled life also requires you to know what kind of lifestyle you want, what your values are, what you want your daily routine to look like… You want to get a full understanding of what "success" looks like to you. Without a full understanding of what success looks like to you – in every area of your life – you’ll find yourself making sacrifices in one area of your life to accommodate another or feeling happy with one part of your life, but completely out of alignment in another area. For example, if you value being at home and spending time with your family, but your “ideal” career requires you to travel for a large part of the year, you’ll feel disappointed and unfulfilled, even though you have a career you thought you wanted. This is why it’s so important to consider not only what your passionate about, but also what type of lifestyle you want. Real success comes from being clear on what you want in all areas.
Second, you have to know how to manage your fears and self-doubts. Without knowing what to do when those insecurities come up, you'll stop yourself before you even start. This is also a big reason people procrastinate, because they're scared of failing or of it not being the "right" decision. Think about it this way… if you knew you couldn’t fail, would you wait? Or would you work toward your goals with confidence and assurance that you would achieve what you wanted? We can become stuck in not taking action for fear that we can't actually achieve what we want. Sometimes we even think we have a discipline issue or lack the qualities needed to achieve our goals, when in reality our fears are causing so much doubt and insecurity that we don't take action for fear of failure – not because of our inabilities. Consciously or subconsciously, we focus so much on the possibility of failure that we miss seeing the possibility (and probability, with the right mindset strategies), of getting exactly what we want. But we guarantee failure by doing nothing and procrastinating on taking real, specific actions toward our goals and dreams. Without self-belief, you will continue to procrastinate about taking real action toward your goals and will sabotage your success before you even begin.
Finding your passion takes thought, patience, and persistence, but there's nothing more satisfying than knowing you're creating a life that's authentically you. Being able to clearly and articulately identify and express that passion will also give you the motivation you’ll need to push through any challenges or setbacks that you encounter on your way to a passionate and purposeful life. It will all be worth it in the end!
BE WHO YOU ARE – IT’S MORE THAN ENOUGH!
You might have years of experiences and interactions that would suggest that who you are and what you want isn’t good enough. You might have been dismissed, underestimated or flat out rejected for your quiet ways. But those experiences don’t have to define your future. You can, from this moment forward, reframe those experiences as THEIR misunderstandings – NOT as truths about who you are. Once you start implementing these strategies and advocating for yourself by simply accepting who you are and using your strengths to your advantage, you will experience a complete shift in what you believe about who you are and what you’re capable of. The possibilities for your life are already present inside of you – you just need to start living with the acknowledgement of this timeless truth.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, would you mind sharing it with a friend? I appreciate your support in empowering introverts to live a passionate and purposeful life! As always, please feel free to leave me a comment or question below and I’d be happy to connect with you!
Chelsey Brooke is a published writer, blogger, and internationally known figure helping introverts to fully embrace who they are and to have the confidence to pursue their passion and purpose. Known as The Pathfinder, Chelsey specializes in the areas of introversion, career achievement and success strategies and helps introverted women uncover their true passion and create a life that's authentic, inspired, and purposeful. Connect on LinkedIn.