I’m an introverted SLP. Did I pick the wrong field?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that question.
I’ve even asked it myself.
I can’t quite remember when I decided that being loud, outgoing, and extroverted was the “right” way to be.
Maybe it was in elementary school when my teachers would scold me for talking too quietly when I was speaking in front of the class (while my classmates snickered).
Maybe it was in my high school art class when the loud, boisterous guy next to me would yell, “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you ever talk?”
Or maybe it was because the extroverted kids seemed to be recognized more often, and more well-liked than us quiet kids.
Perhaps it was a combination of experiences. Regardless of when the shift happened, at some point in my life I’d decided I was broken and I needed to be fixed.
So I repeatedly forced myself into situations that required me to be more extroverted.
I pretended that was just my natural state (although I doubt I was fooling anyone but myself).
I even remember the questionnaire I took when I got a job waiting tables while I was getting my master’s degree.
One of the questions asked if I’d prefer to be doing research in a lab or if I’d rather be in a setting that required lots of “networking” (or as I like to call it, constant “peopling”).
I lied and said I was a “people person” and that I definitely would NOT want to do research in a lab.
It wasn’t until my first marriage fell apart in when I was in my late 20s that I finally came to the realization that I was, in fact, an introvert.
Which explained why I didn’t feel fulfilled doing a lot of the things that my very extroverted ex-husband enjoyed doing.
It was around that time that I came across the following three books:
The Introvert Advantage by Dr. Marti Olsen Laney
The Introverted Leader by Dr. Jennifer Kahnweiler
Quiet by Susan Cain
After years of wondering what was “wrong” with me, I’d finally got and answer.
Contrary to the assumption I’d made my entire life up until that point, I wasn’t broken after all.
So if introversion isn’t a character flaw, why had I spent the first 30 years of my life thinking it was?
As it turns out, it’s because that’s what society was telling me.
According to the three books I’ve mentioned above, this belief is embedded in our culture.
That means that those of use who are introverts have to have some solid strategies like this one I’ve outlined in my priority list for introverted SLPs.
Is introversion a strength or a weakness (or both)?
In Susan Cain’s book, she explains how the “extrovert ideal” dates back to the early 1900s in the days of Dale Carnegie, the famous business man who wrote the seminal book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.
During the course of his career, Carnegie would grow to become a successful salesman and public speaker, and would create the Carnegie Institute where he would mentor other businessmen.
What Carnegie had done represented what many people would do to lead successful careers during the Industrial Revolution.
There was a rapid increase in the number of people working outside of the home and becoming employees.
Because of this, there was constant pressure to outshine others in order to appeal to employers and get hired.
Over time, society began to associate these qualities with success, and it eventually became a cultural ideal.
According to Dr. Laney, researchers in the mental health fields have even written reports claiming that extroverts are happier.
She goes on to point out, however, that many of the measures of happiness used in these studies may be biased towards extroversion; so those findings may or may not even be accurate.
Dr. Laney also points out that some mental health professionals consider introversion as a sign of mental illness.
It’s no wonder that some of us introverts feel broken and misunderstood.
Not only is introversion not a sign of disease, it’s actually a strength in many situations. All three of the resources I’ve mentioned above go in depth in to explaining why this is the case.
Both Dr. Laney and Susan Cain discuss why introverts and extroverts react differently to stimuli, why they respond differently to both social situations and to being alone, and what both personality types need to feel whole and calm.
My impression from both sources is that much of the research on personality types is relatively new, but according to what we know as of now, it appears that introverts have a longer pathway for perceiving a stimulus than extroverts do.
Introverts may take longer to respond because they are likely planning, thinking, and engaging in internal monologue.
Because of this, they may take longer to process and respond than extroverts, especially when put on the spot.
Social situations that require a lot of interactions therefore take a lot of energy meaning that too many of them can leave an introvert exhausted (while it may leave an extrovert feeling invigorated).
There is a plus side to being introverted though.
While alone time can make extroverts feel anxious, it can leave introverts feeling rested and recharged.
This means that we tend to thrive in situations where we’re allowed to be self-directed and work alone on a project that may seem tedious and boring to others.
We may also have more tolerance for work that requires us to put our head down and get it done (for example, all that paperwork we have to do, or academic writing required in advanced degrees).
But the real question that I’ve grappled with is whether or not introverts are capable of succeeding in roles that require us to interact with others on a regular basis, or that require excellent communication skills.
Being a speech-language pathologist, for example.
How can introverts survive an extroverted workplace?
As Dr. Jennifer Kahnweiler points out in her book (The Introverted Leader), it’s not only possible for introverts to succeed as leaders; but there’s actually many introvert qualities that can be an advantage.
Because introverts often engage in internal monologue and planning, they’re often well-suited for roles that require strategic thinking and execution.
Yet obviously, the reason we often assume that leaders are more extroverted is because many extrovert qualities are also desirable for people in leadership positions; such as being assertive, being articulate in high-stress situations, or commanding the attention of a crowd when giving a presentation.
This means that if we want to succeed, we have to find a happy medium between our natural state and situations outside of it.
As an introvert myself, I’ve had to force myself in to many situations that required a large amount of “extroverting”.
And while I regret the self-loathing that typically ensued throughout many of those experiences, I don’t regret that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
When it comes to succeeding as an introvert (in any field), we need to ask ourselves two questions:
I can’t ultimately answer this question for you in every situation you may encounter. But what I can do is share some examples, and my thought process I’ve used throughout the years.
It’s not ideal for you to wear yourself out doing too much “extroverting”. That will only leave you burnt out. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.
But on the other hand, avoiding certain situations can often create more anxiety around them; and there are some instances when we have certain obligations.
Putting ourselves in those situations strategically can help us gain the skill-sets we need to navigate those situations when they are unavoidable.
Additionally, a large portion of the world are extroverts. If you’re an introvert, there’s a good chance that someone you love is an extrovert.
If we want them to give us our “introvert time”, isn’t it only fair that we do some “extrovert things” with them too?
In order to be able handle “extroverting” when we find it necessary, we have to be strategic about when and how often we do it.
That’s why my primary strategy is to group the tasks that require “extroverting” in to “high priority” and “low priority”.
I give you a detailed outline of how I do that in this FREE downloadable list here.
So can SLPs be introverts?
Of course they can.
It’s just a matter of owning your strengths and strategically conserving your energy.
So first, you’ll want to figure out what your “low priority” extrovert tasks are.
Then make a list of your high priority tasks.
Use your personal list as your survival guide to determine which activities are a “must do”; and which activities are non-essential.
Then ruthlessly cut the “non-essentials” from your life. No apologizing necessary.
I’ve actually created a sample of my “low priority” and “high priority” tasks so you can see how that’s done.
I call it the Introverted SLP’s High Priority List, and you can download the entire thing right here.
Use this as your survival guide to get through your day …so you can be present for your clients without burning yourself out.
Click here to download the priority list now.
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