Introverts are known for their inwardness. Jung characterized them as having a propensity to direct (“vert”) their attention inwardly (“intro”). According to Jung, this inward focus leads to the development of intensive interests that reflect the nature of the self. Extraverts, by contrast, prefer to direct their attention and energies outwardly, developing interests that reflect and cohere with the world around them.
In my latest book, My True Type, I characterize introverts as seekers of self-knowledge and extraverts as seekers of world-knowledge. As Jung himself was quick to point out, this is not a hard and fast rule, but speaks to general personality patterns or tendencies. After all, there are times when even the shyest of introverts must engage with others, or when the most gregarious of extraverts must pause to reflect on their lives.
Although Jung seemed to reject the idea an introvert can somehow morph into an extrovert (or vice-versa), he did believe that time and growth are likely to produce a balancing of the personality which he called individuation. Especially in the earlier stages of life, introverts feel they must look inward before looking outward, with the reverse being true for extroverts. But as time goes on, Jung suggests that each type will gradually become more open to and confident with switching their direction of focus. While this basic principle is surprisingly helpful for understanding the overall life trajectories of introverts and extraverts, in this post, we will focus primarily on its implications for the careers of introverts and extraverts.
Introverts’ Career Path
Introverts rely on their self-concept as a sort of roadmap for discerning their career path. The “do what you are” dictum is a characteristically introverted idea. Consequently, many introverts feel compelled to seek a deeper understanding of themselves before making big decisions about their careers or college majors. They feel it is only through understanding themselves that they can discover what they have to offer the world.1
In using the self as a template for action, introverts can be viewed as more independent-minded than extraverts, trusting themselves more than they trust the world. Introverts also tend to be more concerned with the notion of authenticity. For them, this means identifying and holding firm to their own preferences and convictions, even amidst external pressures to do otherwise. They are wary of “selling out” or “selling their soul” for the sake of conformity or convention.2
Unfortunately, what we might call introverts’ “self-knowledge project” often takes longer to complete than anticipated. Clearly defining the self and formulating a clear career path can at times feel like shooting at a moving target. This can produce mounting frustration, as introverts eventually feel forced to make choices or settle for certain jobs before they feel authentically ready. They then experience a sort of divided life comprised of their “day job,” on the one hand, and their “true passions,” on the other. While this scenario is terribly common and often unavoidable, it is still off-putting to introverts who want their inner (read: true) self to be accurately reflected outwardly, where it can be seen and validated by others. Without external validation, introverts may feel incomplete due to inadequate reconciliation of their introverted and extraverted selves.
Since it can take years, perhaps decades, for introverts to find a satisfying external expression of their inner self and personal talents, those who finally achieve it may experience a sense of shock or disorientation. I personally know several introverted writers who, after many years of using writing as a lens for self-discovery and self-expression, reached a point of satisfaction; they had explored what they had to explore, and said what they needed to say. While satisfying at one level, it ultimately engendered a need for self-reinvention.
Among other things, introverts’ course of reinvention may include greater openness to extraverted activities, such as devoting more time to marketing their work, connecting with others, etc. Since they can be so consumed with following and developing their own interests in the first half of life, many fail to reap well-deserved financial or social rewards. So for some, a greater focus on promoting their work may seem a natural way of balancing the scales, ensuring they are adequately recognized or compensated for their efforts.
With that said, it is neither easy nor advisable for introverts to put the extraverted cart before the introverted horse. However unfair it may seem when extraverts enjoy rapid success, introverts’ inner need for authenticity tends to keep them on their own slow course, hoping that someday they will be justly rewarded.
Unfortunately, others often fail to understand the introvert’s need for authenticity. This may inspire them to pressure the introvert to take the quicker or pre-established route to status or financial success (“You should just go to medical school like your father!”). This of course only worsens matters, leading introverts to feel more alone, isolated, and misunderstood.
Extraverts’ Career Path
While introverts look inward and use the self as the blueprint for their career path, extraverts look to the world for inspiration and direction. They are naturally more concerned with fitting in or keeping pace with what others are doing. Hence, authenticity can mean something entirely different for extraverts than it does for their introverted counterparts. Namely, extraverted authenticity involves consistently engaging with and responding to the outside world.3 We might even say that extraverts are happiest when they “lose themselves” in external affairs.
Extraverts’ outer focus often proves beneficial when it comes to achieving quick career “success.” One reason for this is success is commonly defined in extraverted terms. Namely, both success and extraversion are thought to involve external growth and expansion—more money, more fame, more status, more opportunities, etc. These things have little to do with introverted strengths, such as self-awareness or depth of understanding. Indeed, one could even argue that self-awareness contributes to self-consciousness, which could feasibly curtail worldly success.
The seemingly effortless way in which extraverts achieve success can be downright infuriating to introverts, who may characterize extraverts as “all shine and no substance.” Extraverts may retort by claiming that “the numbers don’t lie, “the market determines value,” or “we’re giving people what they want.” In other words, introverts and extraverts fail to agree upon what constitutes real value. Is value signified by depth, nuance, and complexity (introverted value) or by breadth, accessibility, and popular appeal (extraverted value)?4, 5
The truth is that introverts furtively envy the popularity of extraverts, while also failing to see that depth, in many respects, precludes breadth. If this were not the case, then we could all be experts at everything. Extraverts, on the other hand, may secretly envy the depth, self-awareness, and independence of the introvert. These traits, after all, are what they seek (even unwittingly) as they move toward the second half of life. Having satisfied their need for worldly success, extraverts can discover that peering inward opens up a whole new world of riches to be explored.
To learn more about introverts and extraverts, be sure to explore our books:
My True Type: Clarifying Your Personality Type, Preferences & Functions
The 16 Personality Types: Profiles, Theory & Type Development
The Introvert’s Quest for Identity & Vocation
The “Day Job” Reconsidered: Insights for Artists & Creative Types
- For the sake of accuracy, it is typically the IN personality types (i.e., INTJs, INFJs, INTPs, INFPs) who are most concerned with acquiring self-knowledge. The IS types can resemble extraverts in their tendency to act (S) before the underlying idea or insight (N) is fully understood or explicated. Hence, the observations of this article will be most evident when comparing IN and ES types.
- More specifically, ISTPs and INTPs place great trust in their own logic, strategies, and methods (Ti), ISFPs and INFPs in their personal tastes, feelings, and moral sentiments (Fi), ISFJs and ISTJs in their personal routines and cherished traditions (Si), and INFJs and INTJs in their impressions and insights (Ni). Of all the introverted types, ISJs are probably the least independent-minded due to their reliance on historical or cultural traditions and authorities.
- More specifically, ESTPs and ESFPs attune and respond to new sensations and experiences (Se), ESFJs and ENFJs to relationships and reputations (Fe), ENFPs and ENTPs to circulating theories and ideas (Ne), and ESTJs and ENTJs to objective standards and methods (Te).
- One can see political implications here. Namely, if democracy involves a “majority rule” approach, it must be characterized as an extraverted political system. The introverted ideal is well-embodied by Plato’s notion of the “wise king” (IJ), as well as by various anarchist conceptions (IP).
- This also brings up important questions regarding how introverts can get their voices heard. If Google, for instance, always returns search results for the most popular websites, then it is using an extraverted bias. But how else, besides popularity, could Google measure value? One way is by viewing certain organizations (e.g., The Washington Post) as “experts” or “authorities,” after having long-established their capacity for high-value publications. But this is still, in some senses, an extraverted method, since these authorities have in large part been established through extraverted channels. The lone introverted artist or freelancer, therefore, can seem to have few choices beyond praying that their quality work is eventually discovered or allying themselves with a recognized authority that has enough extraverted power to promote their work. Both options are problematic. The former runs the risk of the introvert never being heard or discovered, while the latter requires a certain measure of “selling one’s soul” to an institution that tries to avoid excessive “boat rocking” in order to maintain its position as a mainstream (rather than radical or esoteric) authority. As soon as an introvert decides to go too deep or becomes too esoteric, his or her popular appeal typically plummets (again, the inverse relationship between depth and breadth).
Very well summarised! I am an INTJ (on some days an INTP though), I am almost 50, and I continue my search for the true self. And yes, I did go to a medical schoo because I could not decide what else to do, and my parents were physicians; graduated from it without any difficulties, but with a sense of the lack of challenge and fulfilment (and I felt guilty, as I knew that some people would have dreamt about becoming an MD, but for me, internally, it did not mean much). I changed my job a few times, I enjoy my hobbies (several), and actually I have recently started enjoying my life…. It is never too late.
So insightful! The introvert career path was excellent and definitely resonated with me!
Im curious about the Plato reference in the notes though, what does the wise king refer to?
The way I see it:
Democracy is extravert; the majority is right (even if what they choose is not based on the knowledge, the wisdom, the ethics, the morality, etc), one needs to fit in.
The kingdom ruled by a wise king, the first system described in Plato’s Republic, is a introverted world. It relies on the wisdom and the virtues of the king, and, according to Plato, it is the best constitution. Unfortunately, it is not stable – the dark forces can easily take over, and persons of “inferior nature” come to power… there is the same risk internally for an introvert, the “dark force” can take over our soul and mind.
Ah makes a lot of sense. Thank you Parifal!
As an INFP, I often feel like I’ve missed my calling or haven’t received it yet even though I am 45 years old. I’ve got a couple of degrees. I’ve had jobs in my field of study (Counseling and Sociology). I’m married with kids and grandkids. I still feel like I don’t know what I want to be even though I’ve grown up. I feel like an accidental adult – I just got older, not necessarily wiser. Thanks for the writings!
I am an INFP as well and this is exactly how I feel! Not only that but I have also had similar jobs in my field of study (Counseling and Psychology). I am about to embark on another master’s degree as I am constantly faced with this idea that I have never discovered my calling.
I can really relate to that idea of being an “accidental adult.” Sometimes, I pause, and reflect on my life and think “How did I even get here? I don’t remember growing up and maturing.”
Erin Bierly says
Amanda and Nick, you verbalized my thoughts and sentiments completely! I am 45…have a BBA and MS and feel absolutely wayward and incomplete. An accidental adult for sure. I’m confused about one thing though…please set me straight…you both have degrees in Counseling and Psychology In this moment today I thought the reason I felt wayward is because I pursued a business track (which INFP’ literature discourages and I did anyway) instead of a counseling/Psychology track. I kick myself for it every day. Now I’m hearing that my interest in pursuing next a Psychology degree likely WILL NOT accomplish me overcoming this wayward feeling. OK this is a huge revelation. Would you share with me more of your feelings on the subject? I’m intrigued. THANK YOU for posting.
Well, I can tell you what has helped me with the feeling of fulfillment (to a reasonable degree):
– I abandoned the learned profession, and even the specialty;
– I moved to a field that allowed me to earn sensible money without having to put excessive time into it (this is called “good enough job” by Barbara Sher….);
– I swallowed the pride and understood that I cannot devote myself completely to just one field (this may mean no brilliant career, position, title, recognition, associations, etc.). I do not need to be a doctor, a CEO of a company, world-known expert on anything, if this is to keep me unhappy!
– I started doing all the staff I always wanted to do (playing several musical instruments, learning music theory, setting up an automated home, moving around the world, stopped excessive enjoyment of wine & beer, started writing a book, starting a few blogs and websites, learned to code computers, started reading and enjoying classical literature, always have time to help my children, developed a nice collection of music, started managing my money by means of various financial investments, etc. – I cannot remember everything!)
– sometimes I feel that I may be called a “Jack of all trades, master of none”- and I do not care.
My moment of enlightenment came a few years ago, where I felt unhappy for days, after I abandoned my family at holidays to attend an Important Business Meeting that might have weighed significantly on my career. It was simply not worth it.
Am I happy about myself? Of course there are moments when I am not. But I am much more happy than I used to be whenever I pursued any “single path” trying to elicit some motivation and commitment.
I appreciate that all people are different. I am curious if there are many people like myself, who found the consolation in the multitude, and not the perfection in one field and abandonment of all others.
I’m a 46 year old INFP (INTP?) who recently walked away from my career in banking. I’m developing a blog with the specific goal of maximum earnings for minimum time so that I can pursue living well. I’m giving myself the gift of time to just be -to live in harmony with life. I stopped looking to a career for self-expression. Buddhism teaches that everything is impermanent and that we do not have a fixed self. That truth liberated me. I am not the same person I was 20 years ago and I will not be the same person 20 years from now. My quest for self has been like trying to put wind in a box. It is impossible because the second you succeed, it ceases to be wind.
“I stopped looking to a career for self-expression.” Great insight! I can easily relate to that sentiment. Every job I’ve ever worked thus far has been either ok, tolerable, or unbearable. I’m ready to accept that such ideal “work” as I define it with regard to my current qualifications may not actually exist for me. In short, work may never be the source of fulfillment for me that it is for some. So, I’m experimenting with different arts such as drawing, musical instrument playing, etc., as a way to uncover latent passions. Buddhism is something else I admire and am trying to integrate into my thought processes so as not to be overwhelmed when the pressures of life seem too heavy. Best of luck with your path.
What Amanda said resonates with me too! After all these years, I still feel like there’s something out there bigger for me than what I am doing now. Now in my 40s, I still feel lost and haven’t found what I’m looking for or meant to do. I thought music was for me and I did a degree in music plus a post grade dip in education and relunctantly fell into the role of an educator (full time) which I’m only doing because its what the world did. I was miserable and I eventually swtiched to freelance teaching in hopes of having more time to explore my passion, music and tried my hands doing other freelance jobs at night while i taught by day. Just to make it through till I find the thing that I want to do but I don’t know what I want to do til this day, having failed at music and i reallh didnt want to teach it either, hence I’m still lost and i feel stuck. Though I enjoy my freedom to do what I enjoy as a freelancer, I feel very misunderstood as I constant am pressured by close friends and family to seek a proper job like everyone else, to fit into the system and the so called ‘route to financial success and status’ which most of my friends have attained, and its hard to shake off the guilt that I am different from everyone else…i am still trying to understand myself and what I want to this very day.
Debbie P says
Introvert’s Career Path – so true my friend. This has exactly been my life, finding out who I am and only then getting my career sorted out. Good work. Keep it coming.
I’m an INFJ who worked as a master’s level counselor for ten years. Couldn’t take the bureaucracy anymore, so I quit. I used to write, so I started again and poems seemed to come from nowhere. I freelance as a pet sitter to make ends meet. Couldn’t be happier.
Another great post as always!
I am glad to hear people older than me (I am 33) share similar feelings. I find it very interesting about the amount of people who have posted and have a masters in counseling. I have a psychology degree and am also thinking of getting into social work and counseling.
Well Done again! We are in the 25% minority, often misunderstood, and often become admin in academia and other enterprises.
looking forward to your 16 book series
The introverts-as-writers portion of this post made me chuckle. I made friends with many INs in my formative years and wanted to be as deep and passionate about the true beauties in life as they were, so I tried my hand at professional writing, since most of my friends were great writers. Funny thing is, I became good enough at it to be offered work at other publishers, but one day I woke up and grimaced at my own material. I was almost embarrassed and ashamed at how introspective and confessional some of my non-assignment writing was and how uncharacteristic this was of me. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being self-disclosing and tender in one’s published work; it just betrayed my true self, which I was not ok (with.) I then realized that I was just trying to emulate those writer friends of mine whom I admired for their imagination, sensitivity, and self-awareness: qualities I struggle to master. Then, I started paying more attention to typology and discovered that I consistently type ISTP. Sure, ISTPs can be great creative writers, but will they likely enjoy it? That might be debatable. So, now with my liberal arts college degree in my hand, I have no idea what to do next. My inner voice says I’m just overthinking things and need to become a nurse or engage in other hands-on work :-)
Clearly this topic is resonating with many, many people, particularly the introverts. I wish there were a more practically helpful resource on this topic, but, after reading stacks of books several feet high (including “Do What You Are”), I still haven’t found one.
I’ve spent hundreds of dollars taking every personality inventory imaginable (including MAPP, as you recommend) and I’m very clear on where my strengths and weaknesses lie. I’ve also read your e-books, Dr. Drenth, and found them profoundly insightful.
The challenge I still find as I approach the career topic from an INFJ standpoint, is that all my attempts to “do what I am” (which has been in line with all the guidance out there, by the way), does not necessarily work within the context of a culture that predominantly values ESTJ thinking and action styles.
I realized too late that the 3 different degrees I pursued as a young, idealistic woman (BA in religion, then a teaching credential in English literature when that degree got me nowhere, then another degree in graphic design when I realized I didn’t have the stamina for teaching high school) were ALL on Forbes’ “top 10 worst degrees for finding work after college” list. I soon realized that graphic design was a continual hunt for work as a freelancer (read: a SALES job–the LAST thing an introvert wants to do).
Were it not for the fact that I’m still paying down debts on all of those dead-end degrees, I would happily pursue other degrees of interest (music, social work, sociology) at the masters level , but they’re also on that list. More guaranteed debt; no guaranteed work.
It’s inescapable that introverts have to choose a career that makes enough money to not rely on others to become our oxygen mask, even if those areas aren’t our passion. The challenge is that we never feel authentic in any of those roles. I can’t imagine myself feeling like I have any aptitude in the medical or tech fields, for example, where all the jobs seems to be right now.
A.J., if you could provide some practical magic on overcoming this painful challenge in ways that actually work within the context of society and with my staying who I am rather than trying to become someone else, I’d be first in line to buy your next book.
Yes! Footnote 5 nailed it. Thank you for your insights and confirmation.
It’s so refreshing to read about the introvert experience. So little is available to read to help understand and navigate it, particularly for careers. Much thanks for your work. As an INFJ, it resonates on so many levels.
I have had nearly a 15-year long struggle to find and develop a career that hit the important notes for me; meaning, layers of interest, facilitating and supporting the growth of others, autonomy, my own continuous learning, challenging without burning me out, speaks to my values, yet still solid financially – since I really do value security and deeply enjoy and appreciate high quality things and experiences. I got a business degree early on and shortly after determined I had made a huge costly mistake (following attorney dad’s advise/push), was a sub teacher for a total of 1 day (disaster), ultimately went back for masters in psychology. Though I loved school and all the writing, I felt disillusioned afterwards though. I couldn’t get my head around how little the pay was and how the prospects stacked up, given that I am not inclined to “sell” to build a practice (and had a family in the mix to consider). I shifted to get MBTI certified and got an HR certification and found a good fit in human resources. The real key though is that the company I work for has solid leadership and is full of very smart, but kind, do-good engineers (INTJs) and their core values are real and are generally in sync with mine. Also, HR is evolving away from the personnel office (I would wither under all that process and paperwork) and moving towards relationship/team building, communication and conflict resolution. Companies that understand this, use HR in a deeper way and “get” that they need to invest there. Glassdoor and other online spots put the people problems right out there for all to see. I think this, along with a growing momentum for the basic idea that doing what is right for people can also be good for business is creating more demand for people solutions which are likely to come from those with the capacity for complexity, introspection (so you can help guide others with this) and deeper than average empathy, yet practical. For me, HR has not been about benefits enrollment or worse, playing cop (ick). On the contrary, I have had countless meaningful conversations with people at all levels that share a theme of supporting growth and development in varied situations. i enjoy what I do in my career after nearly 2 decades of discontent, ok to terrible jobs situations, trying to understand how I operate since it’s so different from most, and what will satisfy the “what is my passion?….ok…how do I live well on that?” questions.
Hopefully this is helpful to those on the journey. Keep going.
Thank you for your insights. I am an INFJ who majored in business for a while and contemplated psychology and career counseling. I didn’t consider human resources until I read your comments. I will look into it.
I am an INFP. Although I may have some ENFP tendencies, I am an INFP at the core. I’m 37 and am finishing a degree in school counseling and pursuing a license in clinical mental health, allowing for future career flexibility and increased autonomy. I have reconciled the fact that no one career can define or provided fulfillment for me, however I have found outlets that will allow me to use me (Fi) and (Ne) to help others grow and aspire for greater potential which is key. Even more so, I realize that it is also key for me to pursue those aspects that reflect the creative me (Ne). There is so much more to me than any one established profession can express. I enjoy following my heart, and plan to develop interests for the rest of my life, in the areas of the arts, missions work, writing, political ideal, and more.
Interesting post – i have recently worked out after years of testing INFP that ENFP is more the best fit type re the functions’ but still i relate so much to the INFP issues – including the multiple degrees and authenticity ( the later also being really important as it’s so easy for me to get involved in jobs just cause i can do them.. but not sales).
I find the blog very helpful. And following an NF path a necessity – wherever it leads.
This is exactly what I’ve been coping with. I’m partly introverted and extroverted. I’m accurately both. I graduated high school since 2012, 4 years now, and I’m yet to find my true self. I so want to get done with college but I still can’t make up my mind as to what course and career path to follow.
I think that this post was a bit narrow when describing the types using only 1 function as opposed to the two that will be most developed at the time. The article seems to imply that n+f and s+t.