vocation

Why I Embrace My Introversion

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By Alysha Clark

As I have explored the doctrine of vocation, I have joyfully discovered the myriad ways in which God gifts people to fulfill the cultural mandate through the productive and creative active of work. No one vocation honors God more than another. Whether you are a teacher, minister, counselor, engineer, webpage designer, electrician, bank teller, truck driver, cashier or professional athlete, you can honor God and reflect and continue his good work in the world.[1]

In the same way, God has created us with unique personalities. Whether you are ambitious, diligent, easygoing, energetic, competitive, flexible, meticulous, talkative, neurotic, imaginative, task-oriented, open-minded or procedural, you can use those traits to thrive in building culture and reflecting the imago Dei in a complementary sphere of work.

As I consider how God has created me, it is easy to see how my traits contribute to my work—I am analytical, task-oriented, intuitive, conscientious and driven. These qualities could form most of the recipe for a productive, high-achieving worker. But one of my strongest and most defining personality traits is my introversion.

How could introversion possibly serve as an asset for working and serving others? Introverts are supposed to be sensitive and unambitious and risk-averse. But through the years I have come to see my introversion as a source of power and one of the means through which I can fulfill my vocational calling.

Introversion is not a deficiency or a handicap.

The Power of Introversion in an Extraverted Culture

The United States seems to place value on extraversion; people are encouraged to speak up, assert themselves and “win friends and influence people.” But even though the United States is one of the most extraverted countries in the world, up to one half of Americans are introverts.[2] Most of the time, introversion is seen (even if just implicitly) as a social deficiency. Something must be wrong with you if you would rather eat your lunch at work alone or play independently during recess or only invite a few close friends over for a birthday party. Introverts are perceived as shy, neurotic and hermetic (which is certainly not true of every introvert; all introverts are different). As a result, many introverts may try to train themselves to act extraverted so they can be more successful in business or avoid judgment from others.

But believe it or not, introversion is a great thing. Some very successful people in culture and business are introverts. Without the work of introverts, we might not know the theory of gravity (Sir Isaac Newton) or relativity (Albert Einstein); we wouldn’t have the masterful works of Schindler’s List, E.T. or Indiana Jones (Steven Spielberg); literary classics like Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell) and Paradise Lost (John Milton) would not have been written; and Linux and Google wouldn’t exist.[3] Even successful CEOs can be introverts: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Charles Schwab (Charles Schwab Corporation) and James Copeland (former CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu).[4] So the question is not whether introverts are good workers; they are. But how can introverts harness their strengths and weaknesses to do good work?

Perhaps the simplest way to explain the difference between extraverts and introverts is to say that extraverts gain energy from interacting with others, whereas social interaction depletes energy from introverts. This difference is neurological. Introverts tend to be more reactive to external stimuli, which is why they become overwhelmed by noise and activity more quickly.[5] As a result, introverts are characterized by the quiet and cerebral. Modern business practice promotes external activities like collaborative brainstorming and rapid-pace decision-making. Opposite of this, introverts often thrive when they can work alone. They exhibit creativity in their independence.[6] Once an introvert works through a problem on his own, then he is comfortable to present his ideas and collaborate with a partner or team.

An overgeneralization about introverts is that they process ideas slower than extraverts. This is partially true. Some introverts prefer to take more time to work and deliberate before forming ideas. Others, however, are very fast analytical thinkers, but they do not process their thinking out loud; once they have weighed all the factors in their analysis (which may happen very rapidly), they pronounce their final conclusion succinctly and clearly. Contrary to the typical stereotype of the MBA, introverts “listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.”[7] Extraverts often speak to think; introverts often think to speak. These characteristics are not bad; they are just different.

Introverts and extraverts approach problem solving differently: Extraverts are better at multitasking and handling information overload and are often more goal-directed. But introverts are more careful and persistent thinkers. They “think before they act, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately.”[8] When introverts are given the freedom to work independently without interruption, they can be very productive and perhaps even better workers than their extraverted peers.

My introversion is a source of power and one of the means through which I fulfill my vocational calling.

Introversion as a Gift of Diversity

Introversion is not better than extraversion, or vice versa. Yet we are wired differently and thus perform best under different conditions and excel in different types of tasks. In the church, we talk about spiritual gifting the same way. Paul instructs us by saying,

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.(Romans 12:4–8)

And again,

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:8–11)

Within the context of the local church, we are careful to teach that all spiritual gifts are important and one is not better than another. (And by the way, both extraverts and introverts can be gifted with any of the spiritual gifts.) We are just different, and we are all important to the body.

In the same way, introverts and extraverts are different, and both of our strengths and work styles are important for the cultivation of the world and service to God’s kingdom.

Making Peace with Who We Are

I am proud of my introversion. God made me this way. Introversion is not a deficiency or a handicap. I have been able to use my introversion to perform well in almost every job I have ever had — including working as a hostess and waitress in a family restaurant. I have dreaded certain aspects of my work because of my introversion — like cold-calling patients or running client meetings. But these experiences have only been a small part of my work experience, and those discomforts have pushed me and helped me grow.

As culture continues to expand, we introverts will have even more opportunities to find our calling in work. Just as we consider how we can use our skillsets and areas of interest to work, introverts should seek to carve out their space and use their unique strengths to serve in their vocation, working the way God made them to work.

Note: For anyone who is struggling to understand or accept their introversion, I highly recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet and her nine-episode podcast by the same name. The podcast focuses more on understanding and encouraging introverted children and adolescents, whereas the book discusses introversion throughout life, including in childhood, in the workforce and in the evangelical church.

[1] Of course, there are a few jobs that are likely irredeemable and cannot be used to glorify God, like a pimp or a drug dealer or a con artist.

[2] Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012), 3–4.

[3] Ibid., 5, 80.

[4] Ibid., 53.

[5] Susan Cain, “The Long Runway,” episode 1 of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, February 4, 2016.

[6] Cain, Quiet, 73–75.

[7] Ibid., 11.

[8] Ibid., 168.

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Alysha Clark

Alysha works in clinical trials research in Research Triangle Park, NC. She is currently pursuing a ThM in New Testament Studies at Southeastern Seminary and enjoys exploring the convergence of theology and work in the world.

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