Thriving As An Introvert: Author Staci Gulbin On How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts
… Be Yourself. Although the world is more extrovert-friendly than not, there is nothing but pride to be had to be an introvert. Say it loud and proud and use your unique qualities to process the world in your own way and share it with the world in a way that you are passionate about. Whether it’s speaking, singing, dancing, writing, inspiring, painting, or otherwise, let your voice be heard in the way that feels most natural to you. The world could use more introverts to enlighten others with their introspective view of life.
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 Staci Gulbin.
Staci Gulbin, a registered dietitian since 2010, is a graduate of the Institute of Human Nutrition and Teacher’s College of Columbia University and has treated hundreds of patients over the years for nutrition-related issues ranging from weight management, diabetes, heart health, renal health, and bariatric nutrition pre- and post-surgery. She has also been a freelance writer for various health platforms including Shape.com, Health.com, GoodRx.com, Livestrong.com, as well as Vita Sciences, Cdiabetes, and Casa de Sante since 2011, and has been featured as a nutrition expert on websites like OprahMag.com and EatThisNotThat, to name a few. Staci has two published cookbooks currently on Amazon.com, “The High Protein Bariatric Cookbook” and “The Healthy Bariatric Smoothies Recipe Book,” and she is currently working on finding representation for her self-help/memoir that chronicles her recent five-year battle with various health crises and life lessons she has learned from these experiences. Staci has a website and blog at www.lighttracknutrition.com related to new health food products, nutrition tips, and evidence-based wellness advice, and she plans on releasing a podcast with related content in January 2024.
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 grew up in a small town in Maryland called Glen Burnie with my parents, an older sister, a younger brother, as well as various pets over the years. I was always “the shy one” and was usually seen curled up with a book from the age of 3 years old. I always had friends in school, was voted Most Likely to Succeed in both middle school and high school, was voted on the Homecoming Court in high school, and was a member of a variety of clubs to help with my resume for college applications such as drama club and Vocal Ensemble. However, despite these activities, I kept to myself often. I enjoyed learning and excelled in many subjects in school, but I noticed that from middle school and onward, I especially enjoyed English writing classes. Such classes were a way for me to communicate without saying a word out loud. I could get all the ideas floating through my mind onto paper and express my creativity.
Writing got a backseat as I entered college however, and I focused more on science classes since my dream was to go to medical school. When that didn’t work out, I went to graduate school at New York University for biology to give myself time to discover what my passion was. While there, I saw a flier for a nutrition program at Columbia University and thought I would give it a shot. Long story short, I decided to complete the coursework to become a dietitian, which was a “scenic route” as I call it since it took nearly five years to do once I graduated from NYU. Eventually I found my way back to writing when I discovered that although I enjoyed nutritional counseling, I needed an outlet for my creativity. I became a freelance writer in 2011 but did not decide to pursue it as more than just a side hustle until 2016.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?
I currently work part-time as an inpatient registered dietitian at a local hospital and write part-time on my days off. Writing started off as a way to make some extra money and to have a creative outlet, but over the past few years I have been working towards making it my full-time job, which I hope to achieve in the coming year.
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?
To me, “introvert” means someone who is more reserved and enjoys spending time alone more than being the center of attention in a crowd. Although they enjoy spending time with those they care about, introverts tend to prefer to socialize in small doses since it saps their energy to do so.
Can you help articulate a few of the challenges that come with being an introvert?
A few of the challenges that come with being an introvert are the way people perceive you at first and dealing with social situations. I find that at first impression, people often think I am fearful of talking or may come across cold to them. However, it is quite the opposite. I was never really afraid of public speaking growing up. In fact, I volunteered to be a morning announcer in high school and was the host for my high school’s Battle of the Bands. I am not fearful of talking, but I just like to think through what I am going to say before saying it, and sometimes that hesitancy can seem like I am fearful or cold.
When it comes to social situations, it can be difficult since it takes a lot of energy for me to attend events with lots of people. I prefer and thrive in one-to-one or small group interactions versus larger group interactions. After a social event, I become very tired and fatigued for several days afterwards during which I tend to isolate and watch movies or cook to unwind.
I’m sure that being an introvert also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that introverts have?
I think that introverts have several advantages, one of which is the keen ability to assess situations. I find I enjoy observing others, seeing how they communicate, and watching nonverbal cues. This has helped me to become a more compassionate nutritional counselor and has enhanced my ability to detect certain emotions that people are feeling through their facial expressions that they may not openly share, which aids me in making my clients feel as comfortable as possible.
Along similar lines, I feel that introverts are great listeners and take time to process what someone is saying before responding. This has been a helpful trait in building rapport with my patients and clients, in creating stronger bonds with family and friends, and has helped in my writing since I am able to recall what someone has said to me in certain situations that may inspire a short story or inspirational quote.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an introvert? Can you explain what you mean?
I think one of the biggest myths about being an introvert is that we don’t enjoy being around others or are shy. While that may be true for some people, I am not afraid to talk, but rather enjoy more intimate conversations versus crowds. I enjoy reflecting on what I am going to say before saying it rather than being spontaneous in my speech or being the center of attention.
Another myth about introverts is that they are unhappy or arrogant. Some introverts may possess those traits, but for me, although I may look unhappy or cold on the outside, I am often just observing and reflecting on what I have seen or am seeing. I enjoy looking at situations going on around me and potentially learn something from them or become inspired to write on a topic related to a situation I have seen or experienced. Introverts are just reflective and spend a lot of time processing their thoughts rather than speaking such thoughts to others.
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 have any specific role models who are introverts, but I admire anyone who is confident enough to be themselves, introverted or extroverted, without feeling like they have to conform. It took me up until the past several years to embrace who I was as an introvert and be proud of the way God made me. If I wasn’t an introvert, I don’t think I would have experienced life quite as deeply and in turn, I don’t think my writing would be able to reflect my experiences as much.
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”?
1 . Take Time Outs.
Recently, I was becoming overwhelmed at my work at the hospital since I have to assess patients in person day in and day out with chronic illnesses or serious acute injuries. I was mentally exhausted by the end of my assessments, and that was before I had to start charting. In turn, I started making mistakes in my chart notes that my boss noticed. I realized at that meeting that I was not taking time outs during the day to recharge. My boss then provided me resources at the hospital that would provide a quiet space or counselors to talk to if I started becoming overwhelmed. This workplace event taught me that I need to be open to taking breaks if I am feeling like my emotions are getting the best of me, and to not be afraid to utilize resources like counselors or therapists to help me talk through my emotions.
2 . Find or Create Ways You Can Thrive.
If you work or live in an environment that does not create a peaceful place for you to recharge, then you must take action to create those spaces for yourself. If you are feeling overwhelmed often at work, look for a quiet space in the vicinity of your workplace where you can take a few minutes or so throughout the day to reset. In the hospital where I work, there are units that have walkways where some chairs are placed for people to sit in and take a breather, or there is a quiet room on the first-floor office area where they serve coffee and play relaxing music for staff.
Let your supervisor know of your anxiety and overwhelm so that you can get permission to take these breaks so that you can be at your best and most productive. If your supervisor does not provide the resources to help support your mental health, then it may be time to find a new workplace that does.
When it comes to home, it is a necessity to have a peaceful space where you can go after a long day and breathe, meditate, or read. It can be as simple as a chair in your bedroom or backyard, a supportive pillow on your bed, or a spa pillow in your bathtub. Just somewhere you can go to decompress if you are feeling overwhelmed. If you don’t have a space like this, it’s vital to create one.
3 . Have Emotional Outlets.
Along with having peaceful spaces to recharge, it helps to have emotional outlets to help you recharge as well. I know for me that when I feel a panic attack start to come on, or I have had a particularly stressful day and feel on edge, I go to my quiet space in my den and paint. Or, if I am too tired to paint, I pull out my facial masks and creams to give myself a spa time at home or take out my cosmetics to paint my face or nails. For you, your outlet may be cooking, baking, gardening, or reading. Whatever it is, have the tools for such outlets ready and available at any time so you have your outlet accessible whenever you may start to feel a state of overwhelm.
4 . Practice Before Speaking.
I know for me as an introvert, although I am not necessarily afraid to speak in front of others, I become very nervous and fear saying the “wrong” thing. Therefore, if I know I have a meeting with someone, a social event, or have to speak in front of others for any reason, then I practice the days before. I write down what questions I may anticipate from another and write my answers, or I write down conversation starters and write how I would respond. I don’t memorize the answers of course, since this would come across as unnatural in the social setting, but I do skim the questions and responses, so I feel mentally prepared for the situation at hand, and in turn, feel less anxious in such events.
5 . Be Yourself.
Although the world is more extrovert-friendly than not, there is nothing but pride to be had to be an introvert. Say it loud and proud and use your unique qualities to process the world in your own way and share it with the world in a way that you are passionate about. Whether it’s speaking, singing, dancing, writing, inspiring, painting, or otherwise, let your voice be heard in the way that feels most natural to you. The world could use more introverts to enlighten others with their introspective view of life.
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 introverted person, socializing and networking is exhausting for me. However, these two aspects of life are necessary to build and maintain healthy relationships in the personal and professional parts of our lives. Therefore, to make it less stressful, I try to socialize with others in ways that are less energetically stimulating. For example, instead of happy hours or dinner parties, I try to schedule meetups with a friend or two for a meal, or scheduling a Zoom call to catch up.
When it comes to networking, instead of attending career fairs in person where there can be a lot of crowds, I try to network online first through sites like LinkedIn where I can talk with the person and have the chance to process what I am going to say before typing it. Then, once I have made a connection, I can set up a one-on-one Zoom call, meet up with them for coffee to talk further, or meet up at a job connection fair at a later date.
The key is to not put yourself in situations that you know for a fact will be overstimulating since in this state of mind you may not benefit from the experience as much since you will be fatigued from extraverted-type events, and you will in turn not be able to put your best foot forward.
What are some practical tips you can offer to introverts who want to succeed in the workplace, which is often geared towards extroverted behaviors?
I think for those introverts who want to succeed in the workplace, you should first of all find a job that challenges you either physically or mentally so that you can keep your mind busy. An introvert’s mind likes to process and reflect on information they encounter, so such situations can help keep your mind healthy by keeping it busy.
Secondly, find a job that allows you to have some recovery time during the day such as a scheduled lunch break or small breaks throughout the day, even if it is just a few minutes to do some relaxation breathing or walk around the workplace.
Next, if you start to feel overwhelmed or fatigued every day at the end of a work day, perhaps consider asking your manager if there are other tasks that you could assist with that would be better suited for you. For example, at a previous job I had to counsel patients all day long and it became mentally exhausting. Therefore, I asked my supervisor if perhaps I could take some time during the day when the patient load was slower to work on creating nutrition education handouts or make calls to vendors for free samples for the patients. This small break each week made all the difference in helping me maintain my mental health in the workplace and in turn helped me be more successful overall in the workplace.
Also, if you start to feel burn out at your job, then schedule a time to talk with your boss about your concerns and see if they can offer any advice or resources that could help you recharge mentally so you can be more successful in the workplace in the long term.
Finally, if your current workplace is just making you dread the start of each week, you feel stressed and overwhelmed all the time, and you can’t find time during the workday to recharge at all, then perhaps it’s time to start looking for a new job. In your downtime, start scrolling through job sites like LinkedIn and Indeed, for example, to see what is out there and if anything piques your interest. Then make a game plan for what small steps you can take to eventually get you to your job.
For example, I started working at the hospital when I started looking at writing as something I wanted to do full-time at some point. The first two years, most of my week was at the hospital while I took any writing jobs I could get in my field of interest to start building a writing resume. Then once I had a small portfolio, I would go online and start sending queries to editors of magazines and online sites that I found interest in to see if they had any jobs or assignments available.
I set up a website to start blogging so that I could get more of my writing into the multiverse for other potential clients to see. I looked for webinars I could watch to learn more about writing and editing. I sent queries to reporters on Help a Reporter Out to try and be featured as a nutrition expert to help increase my exposure. I took each assignment and each online course as an opportunity to hone my craft.
Eventually, I would get more writing assignments and could charge higher rates as I gained more experience. In the past two years, I have published two cookbooks from an independent publisher who found me through my website and have been a featured expert and writer for a variety of online entities in my field of health and wellness. It may take time, but it will be all worth it if you can do something you love everyday that nurtures and best utilizes the introvert qualities that make you unique.
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?
I think being an introvert can produce a lot of anxiety since the world in itself is a very extravert-focused place with social media and online entities full of people screaming for attention this way and that at any given moment. It can be hard for introverts to find a quiet place to recharge in the busy world surrounding us at all times. In this way, introverts can become easily stressed. I know for me that being in a crowded, noisy place such as a busy grocery store can induce a panic attack due to overstimulation. I can become anxious at the thought of going to the mall. Thank goodness for grocery delivery!
It can also be stressful when you have to put on an “extraverted face” at the workplace to conform with those around you and interact with clients and patients. By the end of the work day, I am absolutely drained.
I find that it helps me maintain good mental health under these circumstances by taking screen time breaks often, taking social media sabbaticals, meditating each morning before my day begins, engaging in relaxation breathing whenever I start to feel anxious, and finding a creative outlet to help recover and recharge from overwhelming social situations.
I started painting recently to help relax my head. I don’t really think about what I am going to paint or what colors I am going to use. I just kind of let my mind relax and go with the flow while I paint to give my head a break from reflection and processing. When I am having a particularly stressful day and am too tired to paint, I may just turn on a funny show on television to allow my mind to zone out for a bit before bed.
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?
I think society is starting to appreciate the introvert’s way of life with the focus on mindfulness and deep reflection as part of self-care rituals. Not all introverts are mindful, since I know from experience that my mind is usually full of various thoughts at any given moment and I sometimes have trouble staying in the present moment. However, I think others are starting to realize that reflecting and listening to each other more is valuable, and more workplaces are creating programs to help provide resources such as counselors to listen to us when we are stressed, and quiet areas to recharge during the workday to help support mental health.
I think such positive views can help introverts to appreciate themselves more and not be afraid to embrace their authentic self since reflection and recharging your life energy is becoming more appreciated with time as a healthy way for one to interact with the world to maintain mental health.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is “Let it go.” I try to remember this quote whenever I start to worry about a mistake I made, a rejection letter from a literary agent, when someone says something rude to me, or when I start to mull on the past and wish I had done something differently. It has taken me up until recently for me to learn to be like a Teflon pan and let the small things slide off my back so that I don’t hold them inside and let them fester. This is because I know from experience that when I allow myself to hold in negative emotions, it starts to impact not only my mental health, but also my physical health in a negative way.
For example, when I start to become stressed or overwhelmed about life events, big or small, I notice my digestive issues start to become worse. I am not sure medically what connection that has, but it seems clear to me that my mental health is closely connected to how I feel physically.
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. :-)
If I could start a movement, which I hope to do with my novel if I am able to find representation, I would try and help people embrace their authentic selves in a way which they won’t be afraid to listen to their bodies and nurture their minds. I find that there is so much information online and so much pressure for people to eat a certain way, look a certain way, or speak a certain way, that we as humans have lost the ability to trust ourselves to make choices in life that are best for us and our bodies and minds. My novel talks of how I experienced multiple health scares and a serious car accident in a matter of five years, and how those experiences changed me as a person. And I think the major way they changed me was that they made me realize how life is too short to not be your authentic self every day.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can further follow my work online at my website, www.lighttracknutrition.com where I will post blog articles related to nutrition and where I will be announcing my podcast which will be released in January 2024.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!