Thriving As An Introvert: Jor-El Caraballo of Viva On How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts
Communicate! While introverts roughly make up half of the population, there’s an overemphasis on extroverted behaviors, leading many people to assume that everyone works the same way. This just isn’t true! I’ve found that the key to feeling good in my own skin, and maintaining healthy relationships, requires communicating openly about how introversion impacts how I move throughout life. This means speaking honest and open about the need for recovery and depth so that other people in my life know where I stand. This can cut down on a lot of misunderstanding, and even help deepen relationships too.
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 Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC.
Jor-El Caraballo is a therapist, co-founder of mental health practice Viva, and the author of The Shadow Work Workbook and Self-Care for Black Men. Caraballo received a BA in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and MA and EdM degrees in psychological counseling from Teachers College at Columbia University. He has been featured as a mental health expert across many magazines and websites, including Mind Body Green, Men’s Health, Healthline, Insider, Self, and more, sharing advice and insight on self-care, interpersonal relationships, dealing with trauma, and more.
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?
Of course! While I currently live in New York City I grew up in a small town in North Carolina in a pretty conservative area. I grew up as a highly sensitive and introverted person, and as a Black boy I can say that didn’t fit the mold of how I was “supposed” to be. I liked reading, books and music more than I enjoyed sports and I spent a lot of time trying to understand people and the stories of their lives. My upbringing was pretty average working middle class in the south to African American and Puerto Rican parents. Those cultural ideas always gave me insight and curiosity about other people, the greater world out there and how I fit in, which I think ultimately led me to spend my career working closely with people and living in the best city in the world, New York City!
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?
I spend the majority of my time working as a mental health counselor (a therapist) helping people manage their mental health and find meaning in their lives. It’s very rewarding work and something I look forward to each day. Me and my business partner, Rachel, started Viva over five years ago with the aim of creating more accessible and culturally responsive mental health care. We were both fed up with our previous roles and wanted to create something of our own that meets people where they are in their mental health journey with reasonable fees, flexible scheduling and a variety of providers with diverse professional and personal experiences.
I always had an interest in psychology and was curious about how people “work.” However, it wasn’t until I took an introduction to psychology course, for dual enrollment in high school, that I learned more about psychology and counseling as a profession. After that, I never looked back!
Along with work at my therapy practice Viva, I am also an author and my latest book Self-Care for Black Men is out November 7, 2023!
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?
Being an introvert means being someone who has a rich inner life. By this I mean someone who thinks deeply about topics, tends to observe more quickly than act, and seeks to deeply understand themselves and the internal worlds of those around them.
Most people who are introverts tend to also require a significant amount of recovery time after highly social activities, as that can drain us more than it might a typical extrovert (who mostly gains energy from time with others). Being introverted doesn’t mean you’re someone who doesn’t like people — it just means that spending time with people typically costs you more energy than it does others.
Can you help articulate a few of the challenges that come with being an introvert?
Introverts are often misunderstood. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow introverts complain about being called “stuck up” or “stand-offish” because they’re not gregarious personalities. It’s my experience that dealing with the misunderstandings of other people have can often be the biggest challenge. I’ve also dealt with friends or loved ones feeling personally maligned if I need time to myself to restore, even if I really enjoyed our time together. Other than that, I think it’s often tough for introverts to accept ourselves as well as we battle through those internalized messages and stereotypes that make us feel “wrong” for just being who we are.
I’m sure that being an introvert also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that introverts have?
Absolutely! One of the biggest benefits to introversion is a sense of personal depth and understanding. This often manifests in high levels of agreeableness in groups, but also in thoughtfulness. Introverts are keen observers and often read social situations quickly and I think the ability to do that, and feel comfortable with more depth, helps build rich connections with others.
Because of those rich inner lives, introverts are more prone to self-reflection and introspection. While this can sometimes veer into anxious and shameful thinking, routine self-reflection often provides great insight into our deeper thoughts, feelings and motivations. This can help us more clearly understand our own needs, and how to chart a path going forward that feels right for us.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an introvert? Can you explain what you mean?
It’s a common myth that introverts are “shy.” People assume that because someone is reserved and observant that they are concerned about being negatively evaluated by others and feel anxious because of that. That’s not always the case for introverts, as we can be reserved but not shy.
I’d also add that it’s a myth that introverts must be lying about having a good time if they need to recharge after. While I have compassion for how someone quickly unplugging might feel for the other person in the scenario, that need to recharge is necessary irrespective of how good a time an introvert has had. Needing to recharge isn’t about having a good time or not, it’s about expending a lot of energy and needing time to just re-center and ground ourselves.
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?
I don’t know that I necessarily have role models per se, but I do take a lot of inspiration from anyone who takes their time with life. I often feel there is so much pressure to hustle and grind, which often comes at the expense of time to regain balance and restore. As I’ve gotten older I appreciate that time even more. My path to self-acceptance has also greatly benefit from author Susan Cain’s work. It is not hyperbole to say that her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, changed my life.
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.
1 . First and foremost, I think it’s important for introverts to see introversion as a valid way of being. Starting from a perspective of acceptance is critical in existing in a world in which you’re continually reminded how extroversion and more gregarious traits are most often prized and rewarded.
2 . Practice self-compassion. With all of those expectations of how you “should” be in order to succeed it’s important to counter those messages with ideas that are more accepting of who you are and how you work best. This is something I’ve done throughout my career, especially at certain times when I might feel anxious or overwhelmed by a big meeting or presentation, but that anxiety doesn’t mean you need to change who are you. Self-compassion is an important piece to success no matter what industry you’re in.
3 . Discover what works best for you. There is a lot of pressure to work and communicate in one way that is presented to you because that’s the way things have always been done. That can create a lot of pressure on how you should continue to navigate professional relationships. But, there’s more flexibility than others would lead you to believe. Give yourself the space to explore what ways of reaching out, collaborating and engaging that feel fulfilling and natural for you, as you navigate other expectations.
4 . Create down time. Being an introvert means that spending time with others takes more energy from you than it gives you. I’ve found throughout my life that it’s necessary to create recovery buffers after high-demand social situations (big meetings, conferences, tough conversations, etc.). I’ve found that while it can sometimes be hard to make that time, I’m always super grateful and feel restored after taking that intentional time to recover.
5 . Communicate! While introverts roughly make up half of the population, there’s an overemphasis on extroverted behaviors, leading many people to assume that everyone works the same way. This just isn’t true! I’ve found that the key to feeling good in my own skin, and maintaining healthy relationships, requires communicating openly about how introversion impacts how I move throughout life. This means speaking honest and open about the need for recovery and depth so that other people in my life know where I stand. This can cut down on a lot of misunderstanding, and even help deepen relationships too.
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?
Don’t be ashamed to do networking on your own terms! Many of the networking events out there are an extrovert’s dream — you talk to a lot of people very quickly in one setting and you can quickly hit your number goals for new contacts to make. For introverts, who often crave depth, it’s OK to think of networking in a non-traditional way. Use social media to your advantage and foster connections online, in your own time. Give yourself space to have meaningful conversations and not just focus on performance metrics. Build real relationships. Make one-on-one meetings with people you’ve talked to and want to get to know better. Don’t feel pressured to network in the way that everyone else does.
What are some practical tips you can offer to introverts who want to succeed in the workplace, which is often geared towards extroverted behaviors?
There can be a lot of pressure to perform in a certain way, and of course, some of that can’t be changed especially when it comes from higher ups and leadership. On the other hand, I think that self-advocating is really important for introverts in the workplace. Oftentimes we have processes that we fall back on because they’ve always been that way, but there can sometimes be room to make your work process and style your own. For any introvert, I think it can be incredibly helpful to learn what works best for you and then work towards finding compromises no matter what work environment you’re in. It can make a huge difference in your quality of life with respect to work, and may even increase your efficiency and productivity.
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?
Being introverted doesn’t cause any negative mental health effects. However, external pressures and internalized messaging about who and what you should be can absolutely cause a lot of internal distress and impact self-confidence. Identifying those messages and challenging those scripts sets up introverts for greater overall well-being. As a therapist, I think that’s essential for introverts to best take care of their mental health.
In your opinion, are societal views on introversion changing? If so, how do you think this impacts introverts positively or negatively? Can you please explain what you mean?
Yes and no. We’ve collectively progressed in some ways at understanding differences in personalities and working styles, and you can see that in online conversations around mental health, working styles and relationships. At the same time, I believe we still have a long way to go in not reacting negatively to others who may be different than us. I think that continuing to build awareness, having meaningful conversations about introversion and working styles can help us continue to create workplaces that feel comfortable for as many people as possible.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Life is full of uncertainty, yet as humans we work so hard to seek security and comfort through control. Rainer Maria Rilke’s quote always brought me a lot of comfort in dealing with the ambiguity of life: “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
When I experienced an unexpected shift after college, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to move forward with my graduate school plans. As I was exploring my options and trying to figure out what to do, I ended up having a once in a lifetime experience where I traveled colleges and military bases presenting on sexual assault prevention with 3 other recently graduated college men. That trip led to another chance encounter which led me to Teachers College Columbia University and the rest, as they say, is history!
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. 🙂
Thank you. It’s a big part of work’s purpose to help people develop better, and more accepting, relationships with themselves. I think this is particularly important for not only introverts but also Black folks and other people of color. This is, in large part, what drove me to write my latest book Self-Care for Black Men. I’m very passionate about creating spaces for people to take better care of themselves and that’s a movement I want to be a part of.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can keep up with my therapy practice Viva at vivamentalhealth.com and @vivamentalhealth on social media. You can also preorder my upcoming book, Self-Care for Black Men, out November 7, 2023! Connect with me on Instagram @jorelcaraballo and sign up for me my mental health newsletter Coffee & Contemplation.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thriving As An Introvert: Jor-El Caraballo of Viva On How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.