And what we should do about it.
In my previous article, I argued that there is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ or unhealthy about prioritising work over relationships. Some introverted and solitary folk may be more inclined to pursue a particular vocation, and make that the centre of their life, rather than family or friendship.
However, it can be difficult for introverts – particularly those of us who are also highly sensitive and/or particularly intuitive (INFJs, INTJs) – to figure out what we want to do in life.
This is because we can lack focus.
Elaine Aron, in her book The Highly Sensitive Person wrote that being intuitive can “stand in your way because it makes you too aware of too many inner voices speaking for too many different possibilities.” This makes it difficult to come to a decision; to settle on one particular project to pursue, one particular path to take. We may decide on one thing, only to then start asking, ‘but what if?’ and ‘what about’?’
For those of us with schizoid tendencies, we also may find it hard to get clear on what we want to do because nothing really gives us any great joy or satisfaction. There’s nothing we feel particularly passionate about.
But even when we do hit upon something, we may then struggle to turn fantasy into reality. For schizoids, our inner drive might be too sluggish and our sense of self too weak. For other hardcore introverts, it’s often a lack of confidence that prevents us from realising our ambitions.
The “Extrovert Ideal” reigns supreme in Western societies. This means those of us with quieter personalities and socially avoidant tendencies may believe – (or have been told) – that we don’t have what it takes to be successful in certain roles, that we’re not suited for certain careers – because we’re not sociable/assertive/charismatic enough.
So, we turn down promotions, fail to fill out applications. We end up making do in some other line of work, one that doesn’t allow us to fulfil our potential.
When it comes to other endeavours – a creative project, perhaps – a fear of other people seeing, and critiquing our work, can stand in our way. So we don’t make the pitch, enter the competition, or even just press ‘publish’. As a result, we fail to make any progress.
This lack of confidence is not unjustified.
The vast majority of jobs, and the very nature of modern working life, can be really difficult to navigate for those of us on the more extreme end of the introvert spectrum.
Most work involves dealing with people on some level. Office parties and team-building activities aside (because everybody hates though, really), for the more socially distant amongst us, especially those with schizoid and/or avoidant traits, establishing relationships and interacting with co-workers in itself can be fraught with anxiety and tension.
The work itself might not be a problem; left alone to get on with the job we can perform just fine; more than fine in fact. We might even enjoy our daily tasks. However, the culture of an organisation, the norms associated with a particular industry (networking, collaborating), means we might just fundamentally fail to fit in. As a result, we might end up leaving that job or the field entirely.
We might also not do very well with being micromanaged (or heck, managed at all), because we have issues with authority. We like – need – our independence.
I also want to highlight another major roadblock that stands in the way of being able to build a life centred around work we enjoy. And that’s capitalism.
It can be incredibly difficult to make a living doing what we like. Our personal interests and creative pursuits don’t often transfer over into well-paid work; they won’t bring in a secure income. The big bucks tend to be made doing bullshit jobs.
So, we wind up doing work we hate, that doesn’t match our interests or align with our personalities, because we still have bills to pay. As a result, our true vocations, our passion projects, get relegated to the margins of our lives. They become nothing more than side-hustles, part-time – and usually unpaid – gigs, picked up in the wee small hours and at weekends.
This state of affairs can be particularly frustrating for introverts, because it’s important to us that we have meaningful work.
It can also cause problems for schizoids and other solitary sorts, with our niche interests and esoteric tastes.
Our options are limited. We have to work to survive. But the kind of work that pays the rent often requires us to pull against ourselves. It puts us in situations which, quite frankly, may not be good for us; which leave us too drained, dissipated, destroyed to do the things we really want.
So, what can we do about it? The answer to this question warrants a whole separate article. But I’ll say this for now:
There’s a lot of advice out there for introverted and more socially anxious folk about how to navigate the world of work in order to have a successful career. It offers tools to help us shift our mindsets and build our confidence. It’s all coaching courses, self-help exercises and cognitive behavioural therapy.
This sort of thing has its place; it can help in some ways. However, it places all the onus on the individual – it’s the quiet person, the shy soul, that needs to change. But what about getting society to change?
It’s been argued that the neurotypical workplace should make accommodations for neurodivergent (ND) people, rather than ND people being expected to adapt to environments they simply cannot flourish in.
I like this train of thought, and think it can be applied to the introvert’s situation.
Rather than ‘unlocking our introvert superpowers’ to get ahead at work, what about calling for changes to working life itself? Changes that would really enable us to ‘flex our quiet strength’? I’m talking four-day weeks; flexible work patterns; home working; a universal basic income.
This sort of substantive, material, structural change would give us introverted and socially distant folk more time, more options, more freedom, with which we would be able to lead more healthy and fulfilling lives, doing work that doesn’t require us to sell ourselves out or make ourselves sick.