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Feeding My Introverted Nature — While Working an Extroverted Job

Published:
April 2, 2024
April 1, 2024
Read this article about embracing your nature as a social introvert in an extroverted job. A few tips could help you find a better balance.

I have a secret identity: I’m an introvert who does an extroverted job.

And I mean a very extroverted job. I’m a campus minister at an all-boys Catholic school, a role I’ve held (at two different institutions) for almost 20 years. My work involves running retreats, coordinating all-school liturgies and prayer services, facilitating games and icebreakers, leading large groups and small groups, and basically any other face-forward, conversation-based task you can imagine. I’m comfortable sharing deeply personal stories in front of a group and starting conversations with unfamiliar faces. In fact, I’m sure many of my students and colleagues would be surprised to hear me describe myself as an introvert.

But I am. While I get a lot of joy out of my work, what really nourishes me is time spent in solitude and quiet. I love to write, to immerse myself in a novel, to watch a movie with the lights off and my phone on the other side of the room. In the warmer months, I go for walks at night, just me and my headphones, letting the energy of the day dissipate into the night air and bringing myself back to equilibrium. Time spent like this makes me feel more like myself, reminds me what’s really important, and allows me to reenter my busy routine with greater peace of mind. They are sacred moments.

It took me a long time to realize how valuable they really are. When I started my career, I thought that being an introvert was a liability. As a young adult trying to establish myself in my job, I was anxious to prove my worth. Most of the other campus ministers I knew were natural extroverts (or at least seemed more comfortable than I did presenting that way). They thrived on constant conversation and activity, could talk to anyone, and spent their free time on retreats throwing footballs and playing card games with students. On the other hand, I found myself worn out after too much time “on,” and needed to retreat to some quiet corner to get my bearings. During down time on retreats, I wanted to hide out in my room with a book, or take a walk to some corner of the property where I could be reasonably sure I wouldn’t see a single student for at least 20 minutes.

“When I make room for what nourishes me, I’m happier, calmer, and better able to face life’s many surprises and challenges.”

I realize now that these are just different styles of approaching ministerial work, and neither is right or wrong, good or bad. But at the time I thought there was something wrong with me. If I didn’t make myself 100% available at all times, including on breaks, I felt like I was letting my students down. I felt like I was letting God down. God had called me to this work, after all: if I couldn’t handle it, that must be because of my own selfishness or deficiency. For a few years, I tried to be someone else, someone who could be energized by interaction and activity, someone who didn’t need quite as much quiet. I even pushed writing — something that’s always been core to my identity — to the margins of my life, thinking I had to focus on more important things.

But over time I realized, with the help of friends and colleagues, that the only way to successfully do my job — any job — was to do it authentically. For me, that meant striking a balance between the outward-facing nature of my work and the quiet, solitary things that made doing that work possible.

“When I make room for what nourishes me, I’m happier, calmer, and better able to face life’s many surprises and challenges.”

It began with taking a 15-minute walk around the block whenever I felt overwhelmed. Eventually those grew into strolls down to the waterfront at lunch. On retreats I gave myself permission to disappear into my room during free time, knowing that someone would come and find me if I was needed; I always emerged refreshed, ready to give my full attention to the rest of the day. And I became intentional about setting aside protected time for writing, realizing I didn’t need any more justification than the fact that it was important to me. When I started writing frequently again, it was like rediscovering how to breathe — how had I ever fooled myself into thinking I could live without it?

These days, now that I’m much deeper into my career and have two kids, I’m even more intentional about that balance. I find those quiet, sacred moments where I can: writing on the train to and from work, or maximizing the precious hours after the kids go to bed. On the weekends, my wife and I work out alternating schedules so that we can both get the nourishment we need. It’s a tricky balancing act, but an important one. When I make room for what nourishes me, I’m happier, calmer, and better able to face life’s many surprises and challenges.

It’s also true that embracing what nourished me made me better at my job: more attentive, more caring, more able to respond to its demands with creativity and balance. That’s important, but it’s not the most important thing. Our purpose on this earth isn’t to become the best employees we can be, but the best human beings. Embracing what nourishes us allows us to be more authentically ourselves, to draw closer to the person God calls us to be. 

Creators:
John Dougherty
Published:
April 2, 2024
April 1, 2024
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