It is not easy earning an honest living. During the spring and fall, I put in 80 or more hours a week. I do this every day, at least 12 hours, usually longer. Depending on the semester, I teach four to six college courses and independent studies, which run about three hours each. I have a private psychotherapy practice that I do at least one 12 hour day. I consult with an insurance company three hours a month. And I write. For every hour I spend with a patient, I often do another hour writing notes, drafting letters to attorneys, making phone calls to lawyers, physicians, and Parole /Probation officers, and doing research. For every hour in class, I typically put in three more preparing and refining lessons, grading papers, writing student recommendations, answering student questions by email, and meeting with other faculty. Writing articles on behavioral science topics also occupies another 10 to 20 hours a week. This does not include commuting, errands, housework, dealing with emergent matters such as car problems, eating and sleeping when possible, trying to maintain physical fitness, trying to stay current in my field by reading, continuing education commitments to maintain my professional license, and oh yeah, trying to find time with my handful of very valued friends. A woman? A dog or cat? Not know. Wouldn’t be fair to them. Fishing? Shooting? Other interests? No time right now.

The good part is I am doing what I enjoy, and what I went to school for. I am virtually self-employed, and more or less make my own schedule. Much of my work, I can do in the comfort of a coffee shop, which is where I am as I right these words. Granted, nearly all of my work involves sitting at a desk- which is why I have to compensate with hours of running, weight lifting, and body weight exercises, aka calisthenics.

When I was growing up, my father berated me constantly for being lazy. He was forever doing and undoing projects around the house. He would paint something, nail something together, than tear it apart and do it over again two weeks later. He was bored. He insisted I help him with these repetitive projects. I balked at this. Therefore, I was lazy. This was a very concrete interpretation of something deeper and more complex. I got that a lot when I was a kid. I like to work. More specifically, I like to create, accomplish, and learn. I can do this with physical, hands- on work, mental work, or better yet, something that combines both. I love producing something with my mind or hands, than stepping back and admiring my handiwork. However, I can’t stand spinning my wheels, doing something, mindless, repetitive or pointless. If it is not meaningful, and I cannot fathom the point of it, I have trouble forcing myself to do it. I do not move quickly or productively on pointless tasks. I can get through it, but it won’t be a job well done. I go numb. I lose energy. My mind wanders. Part of this is the AD/HD I likely have at least in a mild form (Psychotherapists do diagnose themselves). Part of it is my need for meaning, which is an introvert trait. Three central reasons introverts crave meaningful work, and have such trouble with mind-dulling repetition is:

We need to work our brains.

Introverts crave learning. We love talking about ideas and concepts. We are curious and inquisitive about the world around us. We want to know things. One way to do this is through productivity, actively exploring what works best through a trial and error process, which is actually enjoyable. Trial and error learning is about exploration, observation, and problem solving.

We need to feel connected to the world.

Introverts do not isolate themselves from the world. We look for a small number of intense connections with the world. Our work is one way to do that. When I write, I like to think about the people who will read it and what they will think. When I teach a class of 18 students, I want to see the light in their eyes when I say something that gives them an aha moment. Doing therapy, when I make a positive connection with the type of patients most other therapists can’t –e.g. – addicts, alcoholics, and violent offenders, and even sex offenders, it is an accomplishment. I need to feel that I am reaching people’s minds, and influencing their decisions. In psychotherapy, it is referred to as planting a seed, when you say something that resonates with the person; something they can connect with that causes them to reconsider their previous view of themselves or their behavior.

We need to feel that what we are doing matters.

An introvert cannot fake it, at least not without being drained. We can’t do something we feel is futile or senseless with a smile. I need to know that what I do matters, and is important. If I can prevent someone from beating their wife and kids through my words, the cops won’t have to. If I can inspire a young person to go into police work, corrections, or substance abuse or mental health treatment as a career, I have done something important. If my written words reach someone and teach them something, it is gratifying.

Not all work can be fulfilling and enriching all the time. IF you have found something that is, you are really privileged. Introverts in particular will function best and be most productive if they can find work that matches their personality type.

 

Written by David A. Porter, MA, LADC
Private Practice clinician
Adjunct Faculty in Psychology and Criminology
Freelance Behavioral Science writer