I know what you’re thinking. Introverts are suited to roles where they have lots of time to work alone. We might love working with others but we need to mind our energy, so we are better to stick to solitary careers where we can introvert spectacularly without interruption. Right? Well, not necessarily.
When I’m not hustling away building my empire at Pop Your Career, I’m working a day job in the public service. I’m in management and my role is client facing. Between my team, my boss and my customers, I rarely get a minute alone. I work long hours, I am constantly challenged and you will often find me at the front of a meeting room, presenting, delivering training or leading conversations with managers from across the organisation. I talk loudly, laugh hysterically and thrive on bringing my team together to focus on a common goal. Am I a super hero? Just kidding. I’m a hard-core introvert, and I’m here to tell you that anything is possible.
A few years ago when I completed my DISC AdvancedTM Consultant and Facilitator Accreditation, I learned that energy is a little like a rubber band. You don’t need to stretch much to complete tasks that come naturally to you; for introverts, these are often tasks that can be completed in solitude, or that require an internal focus. To complete tasks that fall outside of your energy wheelhouse, the rubber band stretches more. If you stretch too far, the rubber band snaps. Similarly, if you stretch your rubber band consistently over a period of time it can weaken and eventually break under the pressure. This is what we don’t want. The rubber band weakening translates as burn out and the rubber band snapping is even worse. A breakdown.
Does this mean that we should stick to those tasks that don’t stretch us, so that we don’t burn out or break down? Absolutely not. Life would be incredibly boring If we didn’t challenge ourselves and we would miss out on loads of amazing life experiences. I can honestly say that I have never been happier in a job, even though I am stretching my energy rubber band on a daily basis. Here are some tips that might help you if you are considering a career path outside of your energy zone.
Recognise which tasks are energy-spending
First up, you need to recognise which of your work tasks are stretching your rubber band the most. Are there any specific tasks, encounters, actions or people that feel more difficult or draining to deal with? Think about those days when you come home from work exhausted. What were you doing that expended your energy?
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Decide if it is worth it
Once you identify these moments, you can start thinking about how important it is for you to continue that type of work. I am certainly not suggesting that it is a good idea for you to race out and get a job that continuously stretches you outside your comfort zone. That would be pure madness. What I am suggesting is that you don’t use your introversion as an excuse – if you love your work, you should explore how you can incorporate it into your career. You do need to decide though, if straining yourself is worth the rewards.
Set some boundaries
If you do choose a career path that stretches you energetically, you should set some clear boundaries for yourself and those around you. This might include clarifying your working hours, turning your phone off when you leave the office, limiting travel or events, minimising unnecessary meetings, not working from home or on weekends or changing to part-time work. Communicate these boundaries to your family and work colleagues so they can be considerate as well as keeping you accountable.
Take regular breaks
One of the boundaries I have put in place in my job is regular holidays and I spread my annual leave across the year so that I get a break every three months. In the past, I have pushed myself and have gone long periods without a holiday. This has proven to be extremely ineffective as my health has suffered and it has taken me a long time to recover. Now my manager keeps me on track by pushing me to book my breaks in advance.
Manage your energy daily
We’ve talked about holidays, but it is important to manage your energy on a daily basis and be conscious of how you schedule your day. We all have different preferences, so decide whether you prefer to stack your energy-spending tasks together or spread them across the week; try some different options and see what you respond to. Regardless, you should ensure that you pause throughout the day, step outside to get some fresh air and recognise when you are feeling a little burnt out.
Live what you love
It is really clear to me which parts of my job make me flourish, and which parts I despise. Interestingly, it is the traditionally introverted tasks like data analysis that drive me absolutely batty, whilst public speaking and leading a team really light me up. I know that my favourite tasks are the ones that drain me and some days I come home absolutely beat. But life is too short to take the easy road.
My final piece of advice is that if you love it, make it happen. Sure, you will get tired and at some stage in your life you will push yourself too far. You might even do it more than once. I promise you though, that it will all be worth it and it is the highlights you will remember in the long run. Don’t let your introversion be a dictator. Choose your own adventure.
Photo by Andrew Neel