Great question! It reminded me how often I see articles – mostly about more traditional jobs and career paths – that claim to share the best jobs for introverts. I say “claim” because the jobs they list are usually based on an assumption that the typical introvert doesn’t like people… that we don’t want to talk, see, work, or be around them. So these articles end up recommending that we become an archivist, industrial machine repairer, truck driver, animal care worker, or researcher, among other jobs. Those are all great choices! But, because the writers of these articles often collapse introversion with shyness or social anxiety, they lean heavily towards jobs that require as little human interaction as possible. In the comment threads (often more informative than the articles!), others point out that the jobs listed tend to be lower paying, involve highly specialized training or advanced degrees, or aren’t in growth industries. (This article starts out promising, but then regurgitates the same list found on every other “ideal job for introverts” post. *sigh*)
It’s not just these bloggers who think this way; many people assume that introverts would be happiest in a job that isolates them from people. That we’re just paper pushers or number crunchers, and that anything that requires social skills would be either uncomfortable or unsuccessful for us. This may be true for some, but it’s a huge generalization – remember, we’re all on a spectrum, and we all have varying levels of introvert and extrovert traits.
Trust not what inspires other members of society to choose a career. Trust what inspires you. – The Lazy Person’s Guide to Success
That said, there do tend to be some occupations/sectors that have an introvert majority, for instance information technology, engineering, accounting, counseling and psychology, writing, visual art, and library sciences. These professions often require someone to be a specialist and have deep expertise, which introverts often find attractive. They entail a balance of interaction and solitude. There’s a fair amount of autonomy that balances with working with others.
But introverts don’t thrive only in those types of jobs; it’s remarkable how many actors, politicians, musicians, entrepreneurs, teachers, public speakers, and athletes are introverts. In those cases, we have a role to play (sometimes literally!) and are required to attain mastery over our craft. The learning and practice that leads to mastery often happens in solitude and demands focus.
If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all. – Michelangelo
Since the original question was about entrepreneurship, I’ll point out that almost any of these jobs can be done as an employee or as an entrepreneur. In fact, adding entrepreneurship to the mix opens up even more possibilities. My entrepreneur coaching clients represent a wide range of businesses, from structural engineer, web developer, and sales agency owner, to acupuncturist, pharmaceutical sales, and architect. All of them are successful at what they do, and guess what? All of them work with people… every day!
There is definite truth to the idea that introverts are not instinctively drawn to careers in sales, customer service, or other positions that put us in constant, intense contact with the public. It doesn’t mean we can’t excel in those positions; in fact, we can make outstanding sales professionals because of our ability to listen, be curious, and provide someone with space to consider the options. More often, though, an introvert cultivates those skills in the context of a profession – such as entrepreneurship – rather than focusing on them 24/7.
I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate. – George Burns
If there are so many variables and possibilities, what is the perfect job for any introvert? Is there even such a thing as a “perfect” job? Maybe not perfect, but yes, there are jobs and businesses out there for everyone that are ideal for them. It’s not about a specific occupation or industry. It’s about the finding that sweet spot where your interests and talents can be regularly utilized in an energizing – not energy draining – environment.
If you can find or create any or all of the following in your work, you’re well on your way to being in an ideal work situation:
Autonomy: you have a fair degree of control over your environment, your schedule, and/or your communication methods, as well as how much or how little you spend time with people. You might not be able to control everything all the time, but you have just enough choices that you are able to honor your introvert preferences.
Mastery: you’re able to really dig in and become an expert, either on the job or through training or school. You have opportunities to become highly skilled and to use that skill on a regular basis.
Purpose: When it comes to recognition, you strive for results not because of external rewards, but because you want to feel self-respect and earn the respect of others. You’re clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing. You feel your work reflects your personal purpose, and it fulfills a bigger purpose of making a difference in the lives of others.
If these sound familiar, it might be because you know Dan Pink identified these three elements as essential for motivation (read “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” to learn more). I’ve always found them to be extremely applicable to the specific type of work in which introverts could thrive. You can have these elements present in just about any type of business. Sometimes their presence will be obvious; other times, you’ll have to choose to adopt a particular perspective that brings them into the work. Consider the three bricklayers story, which beautifully reflects the “purpose” element:
Once upon a time, there were three bricklayers.
When asked, “What are you doing?” the first bricklayer replied:
“I’m laying bricks.”
The second bricklayer was asked the same question. He answered:
“I’m putting up a wall.”
The third bricklayer, when asked the question “What are you doing?” responded, with pride in his voice:
“I’m building a cathedral.”
So back to our opening question: “So, what kind of businesses are suitable for an introvert entrepreneur?”
My response: Any kind of business that resides at the intersection of your energy, talents and interests, and the market’s needs, while providing you with opportunities for autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
One caveat: even when those elements are present, it doesn’t mean suddenly you’ll be excited about sales or enthusiastic about networking. Or, you might be! But don’t worry if you’re not. What we’re going for initially is ease, not excitement or enthusiasm (over time, the enthusiasm may build). For instance, I love what I do, but I honestly can’t claim that I’m excited about sales. Instead, I have developed an ease and comfort around the process that comes from knowing I’m in my own personal sweet spot.
It might sound cheesy, but it’s true: You can do and be anything. Listen to your energy. Listen to your heart. They will guide you to that ideal fit.
When you’re following your energy and doing what you want all the time, the distinction between work and play dissolves. – Shakti Gawain
What’s your ideal job or business? And what makes it ideal for you? Please share in the comments!