Thriving As An Introvert: Jennifer Landis-Santos of Career Wellness On How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts
Surprise someone. Have you ever gotten a phone call or a text, or email from someone out of the blue? One that you found yourself telling someone else about it? Use your genuine care and memory of conversations to check in on people at different points throughout your life. You can reach out and see how things are going (follow up on a family member who was sick, a move, a kid starting school, etc.). Or reach out randomly to someone in your current orbit that you don’t speak to often to let them know what you value or admire about them. Follow up with someone from your past and tell someone what you learned from them and how it is currently showing up in your life. This is a powerful way to maintain relationships and genuine connections in your network.
In a world that often rewards outspokenness and social networking, introverts can sometimes feel sidelined or overlooked. The workplace, educational institutions, and even social settings can often seem engineered to suit the strengths of extroverts, leaving introverts searching for a space to flourish.
However, introversion comes with its own set of unique strengths — deep thinking, the ability to focus, empathy, and keen observational skills — that are invaluable but often underestimated. The question then becomes: how can introverts not only survive but also thrive and succeed in environments that seem skewed towards extroversion? In this interview series, we are talking to introverts, business leaders, psychologists, authors, career coaches, organizational leaders, and other experts in the field who can talk about “How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Landis-Santos.
Jennifer Landis–Santos is the founder of Career Wellness. She began her career as a children’s therapist for child witnesses of family violence. With 20 years of combined experience in counseling and coaching she has had several career pivots, working in higher education, the finance industry, and as a community leader in local government. She finds joy accompanying clients through various life changes, particularly career transitions. She has served as a consultant to offer “Career Wellness Checkups,” for individuals at all points on the career arc from recent graduates to retirement.
Jennifer holds a Master of Arts in Counseling, is a Certified Career Counselor with the National Career Development Association, a Professional Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation, and a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach. She was trained in Executive Leadership Coaching at Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership where she is currently on the faculty of the Health and Wellness Coaching program.
In 2020 she launched a Covid Coaching offering effort with volunteer coaches that mentor and support high school students in their personal and professional development.
On a daily basis, she spends quality time with her family, being outside, and learning more about social justice and human transformation.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I appreciate the freedom and independence my childhood afforded me. Dusty gravel road. Tucked away in the trees. Playing in the creek. Surrounded by adults. Strawberry pie. Riding my bike. Dreading school. It was key in part because I didn’t have other kids around. The opportunity to attend college marked an awakening, socially and spiritually, and I grew up in many ways.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?
I started my career as a children’s therapist, accompanying child witnesses of family violence. That position was incredibly rewarding and meaningful for me. From there I worked in higher education and went back to the mental health field of prevention work (which in that capacity was education about avoiding drugs, suicide, and violence). Those roles helped me solidify that I wanted to move towards coaching; as I find it incredibly exciting to accompany people as they envision what they’re moving towards instead of focusing on what they want to prevent.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Thriving As An Introvert. In order to make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does “Introvert” mean to you?
Great question. Sometimes I think Introverts are misunderstood as shy or anti-social, but the truth is it’s about how you recharge your energy levels. Introverts do this often by spending time alone or in nature. We are often very skilled socially but generally prefer to have more structured social interactions — for example to make plans instead of meeting up spontaneously; or in work settings, have an agenda for a meeting. Usually introverts prefer to get to know others in one-on-one interactions in deeper ways, rather than connecting with a larger number in a more casual or superficial way. But beyond all of these stylistic points, it really has to do with needing some time alone to recharge, regroup and process.
Can you help articulate a few of the challenges that come with being an introvert?
- Awareness of energy levels — this self-knowledge can lead one to be hesitant or apprehensive of larger social dynamics where there’s a lot of people and it’s not structured, feels more superficial — so we may unnecessarily avoid events because we think it will be too draining. Which may or may not be the case.
- Thinking through ideas and processing in our heads, sometimes it’s hard to keep people on the same page with what’s going on in our mind if we are not intentional communicators.
- You may inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings if they share something that you need to process on your own, and you don’t respond to them in a meaningful or appropriate way because you’re processing what they said in your mind.
- We may compare ourselves to people who seem to be more “glossy” — which we can define in this instance as outgoing or socially comfortable — both in large groups and in smaller interpersonal and larger more visible ways
I’m sure that being an introvert also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that introverts have?
- Connections with others tend to be deep and meaningful — you can pick up where you left off even after years pass with people you care about.
- Introverts have a filter — typically we tend to reflect on what we say before we say it. It can be hard to watch people who are more external processors — they may lose others’ respect because they say outloud what they are thinking — which may lead them to come across as odd or impulsive. With time and accumulation of a lack of filter, others can be leery of them or they might lose some respect.
- Relationships of introverts tend to be genuine — you’re likely to remember what you’ve heard / learned about someone you care about, you genuinely listen to others because what they are saying matters to you, you’re not just waiting for your turn to talk.
- People may feel safe with you — You tend to think before you talk and don’t share others’ personal information in passing without thinking.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an introvert? Can you explain what you mean?
- Introverts don’t like to socialize. This isn’t true, it’s more about providing some structure and / or space for the social interactions.
- Introverts are quiet. Not necessarily — some are, but there are many variables that go into one being “quiet” such as cultural and gender expectations, trauma history, and comfort level with those in the room.
- Introverts are awkward. Yes, this can certainly be a thing; but often introverts are socially very skilled because they can often intuit things about other people. Often the awkwardness just comes from a preference to hang back from the limelight. The focus is really on how do they recharge and maintain energy levels rather than their social performance.
Do you have any role models who are also introverts? What have you learned from them that can help introverts navigate the challenges and benefits of introversion?
One of my role models is Christine Wahl, an executive coach who founded and directed the Leadership Coaching Certificate at Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership. She is a proud introvert. She embraces this about herself and her embodiment of this acceptance was eye opening for me. Christine is sought after for her wise counsel and pragmatic approach that has supported the transformation of leaders and organizations all over the world.
Eckhart Tolle, who I’ve never met, is a contemporary spiritual teacher, whose calm, non anxious presence comes from the inner peace cultivated through silence and stillness — one of the benefits of introversion.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the “Five Things Introverts Need To Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Surprise someone. Have you ever gotten a phone call or a text, or email from someone out of the blue? One that you found yourself telling someone else about it? Use your genuine care and memory of conversations to check in on people at different points throughout your life. You can reach out and see how things are going (follow up on a family member who was sick, a move, a kid starting school, etc.). Or reach out randomly to someone in your current orbit that you don’t speak to often to let them know what you value or admire about them. Follow up with someone from your past and tell someone what you learned from them and how it is currently showing up in your life. This is a powerful way to maintain relationships and genuine connections in your network.
- It is ok to be seen and not heard at work. Be visible. Show up authentically in ways you feel comfortable. Maybe you don’t want to speak into meetings often, but you feel more comfortable communicating in writing; so you comment via email, chat, or Slack in meaningful ways that can make a positive difference in your team or organization. Connect with people one-on-one instead of groups. Show up in person for events if applicable, even if you don’t talk a lot. Embrace your nature and resist the pressure to talk just to talk. Have something to say. Recognize the urge to speak may come from our noisy, anxious culture and you don’t have to jump on that bus.
- In daily life, pay attention to the rhythms of your soul. You will do your best deep thinking, focus work, and be your most compassionate, kind, empathetic self when you are rested and restored. What daily and weekly practices must you do to make that happen? Maybe it’s lying in bed a little longer in the morning to have some time to yourself before you jump into the chaos of the day. Maybe it’s baking, or intentionally paying attention to the trees or flowers in your neighborhood. Whatever it is, recognize it as restorative and embrace it.
- Organize meaningful gatherings. Use your ability to connect on a deeper level, and host opportunities for others to make meaningful connections rather than perpetuating superficial interactions. Many of us crave being known / seen on a deeper level as we navigate a society that has become accustomed to scrolling and quick, transactional exchanges. And there aren’t many spaces where we can connect and be seen and heard by others. Use your gifts of introvertedness to offer a gathering where people can make meaningful connections with each other.
- Lean in. Sometimes we are used to more transactional or superficial interactions, but introverts can observe and see people in a way that can be powerful for the other person. Leverage this and make a meaningful connection; don’t shy away from the intimacy that may come with it. I am newly committed to this after getting two pieces of feedback from people — not in the moment — but months later. In the first instance, I was speaking with a friend who was going through a marital separation, I reflected back something that I noticed in his body language and wondered out loud how it was connected to his mental space; months later he reached out and told me that our conversation helped him realize he had to make the next move in the course of navigating the relationship. Another instance was a work colleague that I didn’t know very well; I reflected on what a difficult and unusual situation she was in. A few months later at a social event she confessed that no one had ever seen her so deeply before. These interactions happened because I chose to speak up and share my intuition — I offered it in a gentle way, without being attached to it; letting them know I could be way off base — they are the experts in their life so they could let me know if it resonated for them or not.
How should an introvert navigate social relationships and networking, activities that are often touted as extroverts’ forte? Do you have any advice for introverts in these areas?
As an introvert, be aware of what you need, and also don’t let it hold you back. Be mindful of the stories you hold about yourself… For example, this commonly held belief: “I’m an introvert so ‘I’m not good at’ being in a large room with people.” It is true it is not your preference, but the notion that you’re “not good at it” isn’t necessarily true, and it can be an obstacle to connecting. If you do not walk down a hallway, you don’t know what doors may or may not open for you. Set realistic goals for yourself; an example can be to have a meaningful conversation with one or two people at an event and leave early rather than avoid it all together. That can be a success. It’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to “work the room” as you might see more extroverted colleagues doing. Hold your awareness about your energy closely and also lightly; with flexibility as different possibilities present themselves to you.
Have you noticed any specific ways that being an introvert affects mental health or overall well-being? Any tips for introverts to maintain good mental health?
Sometimes introverts don’t share their thoughts or feelings with others which can lead to isolation and loneliness, which of course affects mental health. Tips for introverts to maintain their mental health:
- Routine self care — what does that look like for you? Being in nature? Working on puzzles? Exercise? Reading? Watching a movie? Spending time with animals? Don’t let these things slide just because you are busy.
- Design your day to balance your energy: If you are around people a lot during work, make sure to get some alone time with your out of work hours
- Have someone to talk to on a regular basis. Someone who knows you and gets you on a deeper level.
- Intentionally incorporate fun into your life. Sometimes introverts are so focused on meaningful work, which can be heavy, that we forget to look for fun. How often do you have a belly laugh? How can you add more?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m a sucker for quotes. Here’s two of my favorites, especially as it relates to introversion:
- “Once you realize how beautiful you are, you will find it hard to keep the company of those who do not.” — Unknown
- “Do not fear the winds of adversity. Remember, a kite rises against the wind rather than with it.” Unknown
They are relevant because they relate to self acceptance and self-compassion, which we all need! The first one is helpful because of the way that introverts may compare themselves to others who may be more extroverted and “command a room” or “be glossy.” The second relates to what I mentioned earlier, that as introverts we may become overly protective of our energy levels at times and avoid challenges, which might be an opportunity to grow.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Love this question. I would love to see us do a better job (ha, pun) as a society of providing opportunities systematically to young people in schools that help them develop more self-knowledge and awareness of their strengths and how to apply them to work.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
For a variety of reasons, I haven’t really engaged in social media, but that’s changing for me as I feel more and more called to share best practices and wisdom I’ve gleaned from others over the years and support others to connect the dots — to envision, define, and move into a life well-lived.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Wow, thanks for this opportunity! Wishing you the same — may you and yours be well.
Thriving As An Introvert: Jennifer Landis-Santos of Career Wellness On How Introverts Can Thrive &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.