“Let’s switch wards.”
He said it jokingly, but I had a feeling there was a kernel of truth behind the request, because the truth is this: my husband, whose most recent calling was as priesthood teacher, is an introvert. And teaching? Being in front of a room full of people? It’s his nightmare.
If you’ve never heard the Jerry Seinfeld joke about public speaking, it goes like this:
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Such is the case (although, okay, preferring death over public speaking may be a BIT of a stretch) for many introverts.
So what do you do when your calling requires it? Or even if your calling doesn’t require public speaking, most callings require dealing with a variety of people — but what if doing so provokes anxiety for you and drains you?
Never fear: there is hope. And while being an introvert in a calling that requires being social may never be easy, per se, it is absolutely possible and can be incredibly rewarding… But hopefully following these tips will make it a little easier.
Know That You Are Enough AS IS
If there’s one thing I would have you take away from this whole article, it would be these words from my friend Jeremy Clark, a Marriage and Family Therapy student at Utah State:
“You don’t have to be extroverted to be a ‘good member’ of the Church. It’s okay if you dislike ward activities, speaking in sacrament meeting, or commenting in Sunday School, ‘for the Lord not as seeth; for man looketh on the outward , but the looketh on the ‘ You don’t have to be an extrovert to do well in your callings. You don’t have to fake charisma or enjoy public speaking.”
It’s fine, I’m just weeping. His words are that perfect.
Remember that talk by Jeffrey R. Holland about how the Church is like a choir? He said:
“On those days when we feel a little out of tune, a little less than what we think we see or hear in others, I would ask us, especially the youth of the Church, to remember it is by divine design that not all the voices in God’s choir are the same. It takes variety—sopranos and altos, baritones and basses—to make rich music. To borrow a line quoted in the cheery correspondence of two remarkable Latter-day Saint women, ‘All God’s critters got a place in the choir.’ When we disparage our uniqueness or try to conform to fictitious stereotypes—stereotypes driven by an insatiable consumer culture and idealized beyond any possible realization by social media—we lose the richness of tone and timbre that God intended when He created a world of diversity.”
All of us — introverts, extroverts, ambiverts — have a place in God’s plan and in His Church. Those of us who struggle with being social and participating in more “extroverted” callings are still part of that plan.
Each one of us has unique strengths to bring to the table. For one person, that might look like speaking confidently and happily in front of crowds. For another, it looks like reaching out to one person in the ward over text. For someone else, it’s quietly setting an example of reverence and humility in their pew on Sunday.
When things seem overwhelming, remember that we all have a different role to play — and none is better or worse than another. They are simply different.
Be Honest With Leaders
When I was on my mission, a ward member said something that really affected me and changed my perspective: “Half of revelation is information.”
That sentiment was recently echoed in an amazing Ensign article entitled “My Willing Heart, My Bishop, and My Schizophrenia.” The gist of the article is this: the author, Sarah, has schizophrenia (amid other mental illnesses) that had been in remission for several years — so when she received a calling in Scouts, she felt okay about proceeding. Yet by the end of the first Scout’s meeting she attended, her brain was so overwhelmed that she found herself rocking back and forth in the corner, humming to calm herself.
Her bishop, who saw her in that state, released her from her calling on the spot and commended her willingness to serve. They met together the following Sunday. She writes:
“In our meeting the following Sunday, my bishop explained the revelatory experience of extending callings. He said he would think of all the well-qualified people in the ward, weighing everything he knew about them, and would pray about it. He then explained that he could only receive inspiration based on what he knew about an individual. When he didn’t have all the information, he could call a person who was completely worthy of having that calling but physically incapable of fulfilling it.
He said part of his training process as a bishop was to learn how to better ask the right questions to gather more information before taking the matter to the Lord. My bishop humbly explained that the Lord was working on training him to better meet the individual needs of the ward members.
He went on to explain that because I knew of my illness and accepted the calling anyway, my sacrifice was akin to the sacred widow’s mite, for “of [my] want [I] did cast in all that [I] had” (Mark 12:44). He said that my acceptance of the calling was more important than my actual ability to fulfill it, because the Lord understood my illness. He lovingly explained that part of the reason he’d been inspired to call me as a Scout leader was that the Lord wanted the bishop to understand how willing I was to serve.”
The Lord knows we are capable of great things, but He also recognizes that we each have struggles and trials — and we can be honest about those with our local leaders. That doesn’t mean we should turn down a calling, but that we can explain our circumstances to our leaders (especially our bishop) to allow us to all be on the same page. At the very least, you can brainstorm together and learn some skills and new ideas to make the calling more customized to your abilities.
There is so much strength in vulnerability, so be willing to bear your heart to those in leadership positions. It can greatly strengthen everyone involved.
This one may seem simple, but it carries great weight.
“Breathe,” advised Jeremy. “Remember to take deep breaths and center yourself in the present moment if you find yourself feeling nervous, anxious, or overwhelmed. Mindful breathing lowers your heart rate and blood pressure while reducing stress levels on the body.”
When it comes to being mindful in a stressful environment, there are several exercises you can do to reign in chaotic or negative feelings. Harvard Business Review published an article in 2012 about practicing mindfulness in such situations (particularly at work) entitled “Train Your Brain to Focus.” One of their suggestions includes “Applying the brakes.” They wrote:
“Your brain continuously scans your internal and external environment, even when you are focused on a particular task. Distractions are always lurking: wayward thoughts, emotions, sounds, or interruptions. Fortunately, the brain is designed to instantly stop a random thought, an unnecessary action, and even an instinctive emotion from derailing you and getting you off track.
What can you do? To prevent distractions from hijacking your focus, use the ABC method as your brain’s brake pedal. Become Aware of your options: you can stop what you are doing and address the distraction, or you can let it go. Breathe deeply and consider your options. Then Choose thoughtfully: Stop? or Go?”
Make It Your Own
When it comes to callings, know that there is no gold standard or “right” way of fulfilling a calling. Because each of us is unique, we will fulfill our callings and responsibilities in our own distinctive way.
One Reddit user wrote, “You do the calling in a way that you are comfortable with. Don’t follow others’ agendas or anything like that [—] learn from others but don’t be like others.”
Remember that you were called to preside in a calling right now, not someone else — so you only need to be you! God knows you and He wants your strengths, your passions, and your perspective to touch the hearts of those whom you are serving.
Another Redditor wrote:
“Sometimes all of us are asked to do things that are difficult for us. For introverts, it is draining to have very social callings and it is not as rewarding as it might be to others… BUT, for me, if I remember that Heavenly Father and the Savior know this about me and know how hard it is, then it helps. The blessings we receive are often very personal in nature and I have found the blessings for doing some of the most difficult things to be the sweetest. Being introverted doesn’t absolve me from the responsibility to be obedient — to open mouth and share the Gospel, or to conduct all types of gatherings with a bunch of people, or whatever — but He does bless me in specific ways that are greater than the difficulty it takes to do them. As I have looked for these blessings and tried to understand that He knows exactly how hard it is, it has helped me a little to keep at it, have patience, and serve with all the energy I have (even if it means I collapse on the couch to read a book for a couple days afterward).”
God truly does understand what you’re going through in all aspects of your life, including in your calling, and He wants you to succeed. So pray for strength. Pray for energy and power beyond your own when you need it!
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether we are introverted or extroverted — we all need help from above when it comes to fulfilling and thriving in our callings. And by applying these ideas (and asking Heavenly Father for an extra measure of His help), we can do just that.