It’s before dawn and Josh Manheimer is already at work and deep in thought. Today he’s imagining the perfect sentence that will make people tear open an envelope as soon as it hits their doormat.

Introverts need less praise from others in order to thrive, show better attention to detail and are more conscientious decision makers

From an isolated farmhouse in Vermont in the US, Manheimer writes what he unashamedly calls “junk mail”. And he’s one of the best in the world. Just Google “direct mail copywriter”. His name pops up at the top.

It is, he says, the perfect job for an introvert. Not that we’ve actually spoken. We communicate only by email. He never meets his clients. He’d far rather be out walking his dog or feeding the horses. “I do like people,” he says. “But I don’t function well in organisations with politics. I’m like a baby deer, lost and helpless.”

His struggle is one common for introverts, who make up potentially half the population. They’re not shy, but prefer an environment that’s less stimulating, quieter and more conducive to thought. And this doesn’t mean introverts can’t have extremely successful careers: the key for anybody is to find the job that fits with where you are on the personality scale according to career coaches.

Most of us have at least some introvert characteristics. We’re not outgoing in every social situation, prefer sometimes to mull over thoughts uninterrupted by other people, don’t want to express personal feelings to everybody or want to spend at least some time alone.

But introverts, for example, need less praise from others to thrive; show better attention to detail and are more conscientious decision makers. These are valuable traits in any area of work.

The heart of the matter

Some stumble into their perfect, if unlikely, occupation purely by accident.  Michael Motylinski was a lawyer in California, a job he came to hate. “You were always in these meetings. There were constant interactions with people.”

Motylinski’s change of career began when his brother asked him to officiate at his wedding. So he took an online course to become a minister, a not too onerous process.

Later, he moved to the US Virgin Islands to practise law. “I was asked a couple of times if anybody knew of an officiant,” he says. “I told them I was actually a licensed minister. Then, it took on a life of its own and I started getting calls from wedding planners, cruise ships and resorts.”

And despite the performance element involved in standing up in front of a crowd he now officiates at around 250 weddings a year. It’s ideal for an introvert, he says.

“On the day of the wedding, people are generally too busy and nervous about all the details to even notice me,” he explains. “I just stand at the altar or in the gazebo and when the ceremony begins I read my lines. After the ceremony, I blend into the background and eventually slip out the back door without anyone noticing.”

Of course, there’s more to life than work alone, as Motylinski readily acknowledges from his home by the beach. He married “an island girl” and now has two children with a third on the way.

An alter ego

And it’s possible for someone who would describe themselves as an introvert to change career track entirely. Dan Nainan now makes a living telling jokes in front of thousands of people but he began his working life as a Silicon Valley engineer.

As part of this previous role, he had to demonstrate Intel products at conferences. He loved the international travel but found speaking on stage absolutely terrifying.

It’s sort of like a Clark Kent/Superman dichotomy

He took some drastic steps to overcome his fear of public speaking. He decided to enrol on a short course with Comedy Bible author Judy Carter. It finished with a “real performance at a real comedy club.”

“I did really well,” Nainan recalls. “I showed the tape to my fellow workers and was asked to appear at a conference in Las Vegas in front of 250 people.”

From there he went on to perform to 2,500 people at the company’s sales conference. “I was doing impressions of Andy Gove [founder and CEO of Intel] at 8:00 on Monday morning so nobody was drunk. They loved it. My third show ever.”

Now based in New York he makes a good living as a comedian.

He explains the change from engineer to comedian has given him two personalities. “It’s sort of like a Clark Kent/Superman dichotomy.

“I get the feeling that when people hang out with me after shows, they are somewhat disappointed that everything out of my mouth doesn't make them laugh uproariously. In ‘real life’ I’m much more quiet and shy, and I think this surprises people.”

He’s not alone. Taking acting or public speaking classes, known as “exposure therapy” is often recommended as a means of overcoming social anxiety and shyness at work. But these terms should not be confused with introversion, explains Gregory Pontrelli, CEO of talent management consultants Lausanne Business Solutions.

“An individual can be an extrovert and also suffer from shyness or social anxiety,” he says.

Pontrelli also challenges the concept of there being ideal careers for introverts – even in an occupation commonly thought as extroverted, such as sales, there are a variety of skills required.

“Some companies make the mistake of screening candidates with psychometric tests and eliminating them from the running,” he says. “Jobs should welcome diversity of personality, including introversion-extroversion because it provides different perspectives which often leads to better decision making, solutions, and understanding clients.”

Yin and yang

This diversity of personality can be seen in the foundation of some of the world’s most successful companies. Steve Wozniak, Apple’s famously introverted co-founder, for example, paired up with the rather more extroverted Steve Jobs. Bill Gates did the same at Microsoft with Paul Allen and later with the even more ebullient Steve Ballmer. And, at Facebook, there’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.

It’s a strategy also pursued by Deidre Woollard. In Audie Chamberlain she found a business partner who is her exact opposite.  Their yin-and-yang relationship even provides the name for their California-based real estate PR company, Lion and Orb.

I actively enjoy extroverts which I’m not sure all introverts do. For me, they are a human shield

“I actively enjoy extroverts which I'm not sure all introverts do,” she says. “For me, they are a human shield. Even though sometimes they wear me out, I like going to parties or networking events with them. I just tend to duck out early.”

It’s a dynamic that works for their company. “He handles business development, loves going to conferences and picking up the phone to pitch people. I’m the one who takes meeting notes, develops strategic plans. My pitches are predominately via email while he's the one who picks up the phone.”

Nainan has found personal relationships more problematic. “I find talking to a woman more terrifying than performing in front of 2,000 people,” he says.

Some introverts eventually manage to transfer their work skills to personal relationships. Writer Manheimer met his wife Renee online. A fashion model, she lived in Peru and spoke no English and he no Spanish. But such was the power of his emails, even after software translation, that after eight days he managed to persuade her to move from warm and sunny Lima, to his isolated farmhouse.

“She had no idea where Vermont was, or even that she needed a winter coat,” he says. “We were married five months later under a secret waterfall.”

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