Best dayjob for introverted, creative people person
April 11, 2010 9:50 AM   Subscribe

How do I balance my need for financial stability with my desire to spend a good deal of time and energy on creative pursuits?

I'm looking for suggestions for specific ways of making a living that are compatible with my creativity.

I'm a singer/songwriter, poet, visual artist and fiction writer. I can live comfortably on a minimum of about $30K per year. Right now I'm in a contract job as a trainer that will end in July. It pays enough and I'm decent at it, but not looking forward to unemployment.

I need a long-term, secure job that doesn't suck all my energy or creativity, so journalism, which I've done for years freelance, is now out. (Not only is the field all but dead, I am an introvert and found it very draining). I need a job that is flexible with time off but that offers more structure than total self-employment.

I'm at my best when working one on one with other people, or in small groups teaching, training, or helping them. Jobs that have worked out well for me have involved tutoring (though not classroom teaching), administering aptitude tests, and helping amateur writers make their work more professional (with me that turns out to be a combination of editing, revising, and coaching).

I'm not so great at "pounding the pavement" looking for clients, and prefer a more structured schedule, so having my own writing business for a while resulted in alternating periods of laziness and burnout to make up for the laziness. I never liked investing the time needed to prospect for editing clients. Therefore, I'd prefer to work for an organization that allows for flexibility but offers some structure -- not too much though.

I have considered becoming a social worker because I love to help others, and it seems like it's not a 9-5er yet there is a certain structure involved in meeting clients at particular times. Rather than work in a welfare office, I'd prefer to be in direct practice in a clinic and see clients. (Less stress). I also like working as part of a team and I know that social workers liaise with other helping professionals regularly.

I don't mind returning to school for an MSW. But before I make a decision, I need to consider whether it's a good idea for me.

One motivating factor is that even though I'm an introvert, it gets too lonely and solipsistic just doing art/music/writing projects and I never get the feeling I'm making a contribution directly to the well-being of others. That's important to me, as is the security. It's been stressful to be in and out of contract job after contract job., having to live off savings between them and having to constantly be a job-hunter. That just doesn't suit my personality. I'm burnt out on it and the investment of energy no longer seems worth it.

Any suggestions, feedback, or encouragement from the hivemind is most welcome.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking as an introvert, if working in journalism left you drained, I think being a social worker might possibly kill you.


You might MeMail The Straightener, who's a social worker and freelance writer. He could probably give you a decent picture of how the stresses compare.
posted by Lexica at 10:01 AM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

hoo boy....I'm reminded of an acquaintance who explained to all of us once that he was going to switch from being a line cook to a nurse, because he needed a less stressful, demanding job.

Seriously, though...if you're an introvert, do you think you can draw the mental boundaries you'll need to not feel completely drained by spending all day one on one with people in distress who are turning to you for help, in a bureaucratic/financial context where you might not be able to offer them many quick solutions?
posted by availablelight at 10:27 AM on April 11, 2010

I don't understand how an introvert who wants to be an artist would be helping things by going to school for a Master's in Social Work...and then spend all day working with people whose lives are very messed up.

No offense but it seems you are conflating your ideals (helping others, being creative) with the reality of your personality (introverted, artistic).

I'd take a step back and think about what sorts of interactions with people don't leave you drained and go from there. I don't see how doing social work would help you.
posted by dfriedman at 10:32 AM on April 11, 2010

I'm not a social worker, but I thought the job entailed long hours and low pay, along with the MSW bill. Have you ever thought, though, about being an art therapist or adult literacy teacher? I would guess both of those have flexible hours, help people, and make use of your talents.
posted by Houstonian at 10:49 AM on April 11, 2010

Lots of time + little money = social work.
Little time + lots of money = sex work. Escort, phone sex, dominatrix, web cam, stripping, porn.

In NYC my friends with years of experience and MSWs are having a rough time finding anything, so I wouldn't see it as a great way to get a job soon--that would be more like a 3+ year plan. You can also try being a caseworker, which doesn't require a degree. If you're bilingual (somewhat, you don't have to necessarily be fluent, but conversational) you could probably get a job as a caseworker right now. I don't know where. If you're not bilingual, in NYC you would have a rough time getting something now. This is all very regional, though.

Might want to look at methadone clinics with mandatory counseling, they don't necessarily need an MSW.

Also consider the (other) classic working-my-way-through-school jobs like waitressing.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:07 AM on April 11, 2010

I'm facing a similar decision right now--I write fiction, poetry, paint, but still need to make a living. Here are the options I've considered:
  • Adjunct teaching - this is an option for me because I have an MFA. Teaching college courses part time is draining and doesn't pay great, depending on the area, but the schedule is more flexible than with other work. If you haven't actually taught in a classroom situation, it's actually less difficult than it would seem after the first semester, even for an introvert. Since you don't have an MFA, you might consider waiting another year and applying to a fully funded MFA program (do not pay for an MFA), which would let you teach part time, take a few classes, and give you plenty of time to write. It will also give you a ready-made community of writers to interact with. My MFA experience, overall, was mixed; feel free to MeMail me about it.
  • A boring desk job with lots of down time - that's my situation now. It's all right, but kind of existentially draining, and it's difficult to just sit around doing little all day. But I have health benefits and it's easy. Look for office/administrative/library assistant jobs in colleges to maximize things like vacation time. There's some variation on how stressful these jobs will be, but I've worked for two colleges and my husband works for one now, and we've found it easier than other jobs, if no more lucrative.
  • More active part-time work in food service or retail - The day goes much faster. If you can work for a decent company (Starbucks or Whole Foods or a restaurant owned by Outback Steakhouse) you might be eligible for benefits; you might also make wages approaching what you're currently making, particularly if you're an awesome, experienced food server.
  • Full time writer - this is what I'm aspiring towards now; I don't mean journalism, as I suspect I'd find that as draining as you do, but fiction writing, likely supplemented by some sort of part time work from the above list at least initially. For me, this has meant taking a long hard look at my writing interests and passions and where they intersect with market demand. Let's just say I'm not writing a lot of poetry these days--there's just not enough money in it.
Though I don't know how much any of these options appeal to you, I don't think an MSW is what you're looking for. That's the kind of job that just really saps everything out of you and is more appropriate for people who are truly passionate about it. If you're an uber type-a social person, you might be able to make it work and still have energy to write--but from your description of yourself, I feel skeptical.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:25 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have heard that social work is a quick road to burnout. Also, I was giving someone a ride who was getting their MSW and they were telling me how they had to (for school) spend their summer doing some sort of internship, and all they could find was something that paid minimum wage to do the 12am- 7am shift in a halfway house for teenagers coming out of juvenile hall. Meanwhile, they were floating big student loans. They said they wished someone had told them to look at all of the details ahead of time: the costs of everything in the program, a true estimate of the living costs that they'd add to the loans, how difficult it was to find the kind of social work job that they wanted and the types of jobs they were having to consider after not being able to get one of those jobs... I don't mean to discourage you, but do your research carefully.

A random suggestion: what about working as a Communications Associate for some sort of nonprofit devoted to helping others? You'd be working on a team and writing newsletter stories, press releases, educational reports, and web copy, and maybe also editing other staff's writing and teaching them to become better writers. The trick will be getting such a job, but once you got it, it'd be a stable desk job that you probably could avoid taking home with you, but a stable desk job with some meaning. Just avoid the higher-level Communications Director type jobs, where you'll end up managing entire communications campaigns or repositioning the organization. Make sure they have a good vacation benefits package, and over time, see if you can negotiate to part time. $30k is realistic for this kind of job even at entry-level if you're in one of the bigger US cities, especially with the years of editing experience you have.
posted by salvia at 12:39 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not a social worker, but I work in social work services and lots of my friends and family are social workers. I think that going in with the attitude that you will be able to help people will lead to a lot of frustration - they will have complex problems that are often difficult to solve without a change to society, and will often find it hard to engage with services. I also think that you could find working with other agencies is often less of a team approach and more of it "get this service user off my turf". This is not a criticism of any agency but all will have high thresholds, high caseloads and low resources. I think balancing social work and creative pursuits must be extremely hard.

I don't know enough about the USA/Canadian (I assume you are in one of those countries) job context to comment very usefully apart from that you seem to be successful as a trainer so perhaps this is something to investigate further - maybe in public or voluntary services if the helping people thing is important.
posted by paduasoy at 1:17 PM on April 11, 2010

You could sign up in the temp pool at a local college and investigate jobs that way. I work in higher ed and my hours are my own--it's more accepted there, and I have proven myself worthy of their trust.

Be aware of my experience with subsistence jobs: you are going to be different from other folks there who do it there because it's their career--my "friends" at my last subsistence job stopped speaking to me the day I told them I was going back for my master's. So it's a different kind of burnout from working too much but is equally unpleasant.

Also would recommend doing the computer program career assessment offered by your college Career Center.
posted by PJSibling at 1:22 PM on April 11, 2010

If you have any kind of scientific aptitude, you might consider Occupational Therapy. You can work in this field on a contract basis, make a great hourly wage, help people, and then take time off when you want. I know several people who are either occupational or physical therapists, and they have great lives that are financially stable and allow them to pursue their personal creative goals.
posted by megancita at 2:19 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

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