What are the best jobs for introverts? Let me tell you a story, one sometimes-introvert to another.
Once upon a time there was a hard-working introvert who, when faced talking to another living, breathing human being, sought cover in a dark cave by a stormy ocean, the thundering of the waves drowning out her whispered responses to small-talk queries:
How about this weather we’re having?
The cave knows neither rain nor shine.
Doing anything fun this weekend?
The cave is my home.
Why are you applying for this position?
Work from cave! Work from cave!
Reader, that introvert was...not me. Nor was it any other introvert I’ve ever met, though if you listen to people talk about introverts—or worse, read advice they’ve written about working with us—you’ll think all introverts are looking for careers where they can detach from society completely. Did you say you have an opening for a socially inept cave dweller? Sign me up.
The truth is, while many traits of introversion, such as independence and a tendency toward privacy, seem apt for more subdued or remote jobs, the assumption that every introvert thrives when they spend the majority of their time alone is based entirely on a stereotype—a stereotype that fails to depict anyone, introvert or otherwise, as a whole person.
Let’s look at it this way: Introverts are people who, more often than not, get most of their energy from themselves, their own thoughts and interests. But, and this is a big but, because they represent up to 40 percent of the population, this introspective set is incredibly diverse. As in, so far-ranging that when I polled my office about who identifies as an introvert, the responses included: yes, no, yes but an extrovert when I need to be, half and half, and the shrug emoji. Introversion, or personality, rather, is a spectrum, and there is no one-job-type-of-job-fits-all scenario for anyone. (There aren’t nearly enough caves, either, but I digress.)
More than that, there’s plenty of proof throughout history that introverts are good at basically any kind of gig—even the ones that don’t seem like a natural fit. Emma Watson, the actress who played Hermione Granger, is an introvert; Meryl Streep is too. Presidents Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln are and were introverts. Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Warren Buffet, George Stephanopoulos, all introverts. Even singer Christina Aguilera told Marie Claire in 2010 that she’s one, and the woman, a Mickey Mouse Club alumna, has spent literally her entire life in the spotlight. It’s clear that introverts aren’t destined to reshelve library books or work in IT unless that’s what they really want to do.
That’s the key word there: want. If you’re wondering what kind of job, you, an introvert, should do, ask yourself what you want out of your career. What excites you? What are you passionate about? In what kind of work environment are you most happy and productive? What gives you energy and what takes it away?
Think about any kind of work you’ve done, paid or unpaid, full- or part-time, whatever. Focus on the moments you felt most alive. What stands out? For me, I think of the lunch rush at the pizza place where I worked during college and the first time I interviewed someone for a story and knew the conversation we were having mattered. Fast-paced and collaborative, but also purpose-driven. I also think of people, the most creative people I’ve worked with, the funniest, and the most thoughtful. Despite sometimes craving alone time, I find those people invigorate rather than deflate me.
Given that assessment, I continue to think my being a writer and editor is a good fit, and funnily enough, those suggestions often crop up on “best jobs for introverts” lists, but not for the reasons I just named—for the opposite. I love being around people, and the job I chose allows me to float merrily between human connection and independence, a happy mix that some other introvert-leaning folks might or might not enjoy.
And while there are times when, yes, I need to recharge, take a personal day, or not be in back-to-back meetings, there are a lot of people who feel the same way, regardless of personality type. Those needs are met through boundary-setting, not shoehorning everyone who enjoys some amount of solitude into similar job descriptions.
You see, although it’s tempting to typecast people, or even yourself, it’s rarely accurate or helpful. A Walt Whitman line comes to mind: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Your personality might check every introversion box, but you’re still you. Your life experiences, your preferences, change the way you live and work. You contain multitudes, and that’s not something to brush aside simply because someone says, Wouldn’t an oceanside cave be a better environment for someone like you?
Maybe it would—for a weekend trip off the coast of Maine. But that’s an Airbnb I’ve yet to discover, not a career. I’d definitely be back at work on Monday.
Read more: 12 Inspiring People You Should Know