Rookie Mormon

Part 6: Can a shy introvert be an effective Mormon missionary?

Are you an introverted LDS church member who is considering serving a full-time mission? Do you wonder if you can be an effective full-time missionary?

Of course you can! I'm an introvert myself, and I was a successful missionary. I also know other introverted missionaries, all of whom were great successes. I'll try to explain here how it can work, and I'll give you some things to look out for, too. But first:

How do you know you're an introvert?

If people have always told you that you're a shy person, that's probably a clue. But for more objective proof, I recommend taking the Human Metrics Jung Typology Test, just to make sure. Your four-letter personality type should start with an "I" if you are an introvert. My score came out as "INTJ." This basically confirmed what I already knew: I was shy and a big nerd. More on that below, but for now, confirming the shyness is good enough.

How can an introverted missionary contribute to the Lord's work?

  • Research on team diversity shows that a diverse team, made of of both introverts and extraverts, is most effective. Surprising, maybe, but the old phrase, "it takes all kinds" is really true. If you get paired up with an extraverted companion, you are more likely to be an effective companionship! (Assuming you both do your best to get along, of course!)
  • You will run into other introverts, and even teach them. The world is made up of both introverts and extraverts, and they can't all be extraverts.
  • Research shows that you are more likely to make a connection with people who share your personality traits. That means that you might be especially good at teaching other introverts.
  • God wants introverts to learn the gospel too! They are waiting for you.
  • So: Keep an eye out for other introverts, and connect with them. Try to befriend them and get to know them better. They will appreciate your patience. They may even wonder why a fellow member of the shy club would leave home to become a full-time missionary!
  • And can you teach an extravert? Yes! You'll find that many extraverts will have a deep respect for both what you do and who you are. They will recognize that you are doing your best in a very extraverted position as a missionary. They will value your gifts--assuming you let them see what your gifts are! More on gifts below.

How can an introverted missionary do his or her best work in the mission field?

Please take a look at this article: 5 Things to be Sensitive to as an Extravert or Introvert

Generally speaking, extraverts recharge by being in the action, and by being around people.

Introverts usually recharge by finding some time alone to think and relax by themselves or in a quiet environment.

  • If your companion is an extravert, allow them to be outgoing and be around people! It is healthy for them. They might even want to listen to loud Motab music. That's fine and healthy, too! In whatever doses you can handle, that is.
  • If your companion is an introvert, you may need to push your companionship to do extraverted things sometimes. It may not seem fun to go outside and do missionary work some days. You may both agree that stopping people on the street to talk to them is really not very fun. But part of life is growing and learning to use our gifts to deal with a problem directly, rather than using our weaknesses as a crutch. So find ways to push your companionship forward without giving in and staying home.
  • Introverts don't necessarily deal with the pushy, noisy, ever-changing outside world as well as extraverts do. And sometimes it can be hard to deal with extraverts. So, reward yourself! Recognize that being extraverted for short periods or being around extraverts can be hard, and celebrate your alone time! When you're not able to be in quiet alone time, make plans--how will you use your time alone tonight, or tomorrow morning? That can be really fun, and can help make your day more interesting. I liked to paint and draw and really pour myself into my gospel study, following all the scripture footnotes sometimes, or writing out my own ideas about things at other times. I still have a photo that I really like--I had painted a watercolor postcard for a new member family in our ward, a seascape featuring a large rock near the beach, encouraging them to live the gospel with strength. I took a photo of the painting for myself, and gave them the painting. I felt like it expressed feelings that I had for them that I couldn't communicate to them directly.
  • Find your gifts! (See next section)

How can I find and apply my gifts?

  • Write down all the gifts that you have that you can think of. Think about what others have told you too. Do you have specific talents? Are you a nice person? Do you like to do service? Are you friendly to the downtrodden? Are you good at reading and researching? Do you enjoy being intellectual? Do you like music? Are you good at listening for the voice of the spirit? These are all helpful on a mission! (And you'll have opportunities to pick up new gifts, too.)
  • If you know your four-letter personality type code, mentioned above, look it up on the Personality Page website! Read about your gifts. Add them to the list. Get to know yourself better.
  • Read about dealing with your weaknesses on the same website! At the bottom of each "Portrait of a" page, there is a little green "tree" icon, called "Personal Growth." Read it and get to know yourself better.
  • Now that you know your gifts and weaknesses, remember: Try to maximize your use of your gifts during your mission in order to be your best missionary self.
  • You do not need to "play up" your weaknesses around your companion or your church leaders. That doesn't mean "don't be humble." Far from it! But God has given you all the gifts you need to be an effective missionary. As far as weaknesses go, if talking about them makes you more likely to use them as a crutch, you don't need to talk about them at all.
  • Nobody ever asked why Einstein wasn't a good painter. If you're not an extravert, that's fine. Just make sure to remember what your gifts are, so you can use them when opportunities arise.
  • Don't push yourself to be too extraverted for too long. This can prevent you from finding opportunities to use your gifts! (But do push yourself sometimes!)
  • You can do a door approach or hold a conversation in introvert mode. Listen, ask questions, and don't feel pressured to manipulate people or respond to their arguments point-by-point. Don't get caught in an argument. Stay cool. Other introverts will respect it. Extraverts will often wonder what makes you seem so chill! They are envious of that gift sometimes.
  • Remember: You have nothing to fear. God will help you. Your mission president will help you. Your bishop, stake president, family, and friends are praying for your success.

Go forth and serve (even if you need to do it quietly, like a ninja.)

If you are preparing to serve a mission, congratulations. I think it's awesome that you care about this topic. You will be so much better prepared than people who didn't take the time. But if you meet another introvert missionary, and they could probably use a boost (most can), please share what you've learned.

In my own experience

While I sometimes pushed myself too much to be an extravert (and sometimes paid for it with some seriously quiet furrowed-brow time when I got home at night), I had a wonderful mission. It was a success by any measure. As a complete nerd, I really grew out of my shell more than I could have hoped, and found that I really did have gifts for relating with people.

God led me into some awesome introvert friendships, too. I remember one introvert we were teaching got so excited over our new friendship that he invited me over early one morning to teach me "shogi," the Japanese game of chess! We spoke quietly about the game in his living room, and his mom brought me and my companion a warm meal of "udon" noodles with scrambled eggs and a thick slice of ham on top. With the warm morning sun lighting the translucent sliding door panels and making the entire room glow, it felt like we were in introvert missionary heaven.

Overall, my favorite measure of my mission success is this: I made new friends, got to use my gifts, gained new gifts, and I grew closer to God. Anything beyond that is just icing on the cake. Enjoy your mission and believe in your introvert gifts!