Feeling overwhelmed with career change options
April 17, 2010 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Training? Tech writing? Career counseling? Occupational therapy? Help!

After extensive research and career skills and interest inventories over a period of months, I've narrowed my search down for a job that fits the following criteria:

1. It fits my skills.
2. It won't bore me to tears.
3. It pays enough.
4. It doesn't require me to work long hours.

So, I have four candidates. In addition to the preceding four qualities, I'm looking for something I can do for an employer. I don't want to be self-employed. I've done that, and it's too stressful and time-consuming hunting for clients. I also need structure and I'm not so great at imposing that on myself.

I'm willing to go back to school if that's what it takes -- which it would for the last two. I already have teaching and training experience (though these are transferable skills from teaching intro English classes as a grad student, and my current job, which involves training census takers).

I have limited tech writing experience. One of the classes I taught in grad school was business/tech writing (two semesters of it). I also wrote classroom manuals for carpentry apprentices for two years as a contractor, interviewing subject matter experts and researching online and with books. My boss said I was one of his best writers. In addition, I edited self-study manuals for real estate licensees. However, I'm not a techie and I don't know how to write software manuals. I don't even know what FrameMaker and Visio are, except that they are programs that I understand most tech writers should know. I'm certainly willing to learn them and I expect most community colleges would offer them.

I have a friend trying to break into the training field too. She is a member of ASTD and is going to take me to their next meeting. She says there is a test that people can take to certify them for training.

There is no local chapter of STC in my community that I can find. I've heard it's not worth it anyway.

As far as being a career counselor or occupational therapist, these are the two things that keep coming up for me because of my interest in helping others. Social work also comes up but I have been warned away from that because of the stress level.

All these careers have good occupational outlooks. I have checked the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Right now it is daunting not knowing how to break into any of these fields, and tempting to just go back to school (yet again!) and get an internship and be placed into a job, if possible.

I feel overwhelmed, confused, and frustrated. I just don't want to be a bag person, and I have focused on pursuing artistic dreams and not building a lucrative career in one field. It's time to start that, and I am very late in life to be doing this. I just want a secure, long-term day job I don't hate that pays enough to live on and allows me to continue to pursue my arts in my spare time. I've had some really cool jobs, but they're always contract positions. I get the impression that my humanities-oriented skill set just isn't desirable in the capitalist marketplace and that I'm never going to be financially secure.

I'm also a "highly sensitive person" who is easily overwhelmed by external stimuli, especially when I am forced by society's expectations to be overly busy and to be more of a people person than I am. That was why I thought maybe I should become a counselor, because then I would only be dealing with one person at a time. However, I was told that even this would be too overwhelming for an artistic, introverted HSP.

Right now I feel like there is no place for me in this world and I'm going to die in poverty because I can't be a peppy little people person who can multitask. I don't think my culture values who I am or what I have to offer. It's hard to keep a positive attitude in the face of so much frustration, especially in the current economy.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Occupational therapy may be a good career choice for you. There can be a lot of external stimuli, particularly if you work in an inpatient setting (i.e., in a hospital), but you could also choose to work in an outpatient clinic, which would be more sedate.

The key is to think about whether you can deal with sick or injured people in a very hands-on way every day. Occupational therapists don't get the sickest patients, but people will be struggling. The upside is that the profession provides a structure for how to interact with these people. You introduce yourself and your role, you perform your assessment, you develop your recommendations, and then you provide training, equipment and support for the patient.

I am a trainer in a hospital. I like it - I get to be creative and I like helping people. My mother, who I would describe as a HSP (I just took a HSP inventory to get a better sense of what you are talking about. I came up a little short of highly sensitive, but some of the measures on the inventory really spoke to me [avoid violent media!], so I would call myself fairly sensitive, FWIW) is a dietitian. She is also a Reiki master and a yoga instructor. She works as a dietitian in a hospital to support her other interests, which also include art, writing, and spirituality. I think occupational therapy would be a better choice, simply because it pays more.

IMHO, I think it will be easiest to transition into a job as an occupational therapist. You get the degree, you get licensed, and then you ARE an occupational therapist. I think the paths into the other careers are less clear.

Hang in there. It is tough to be sensitive, and you CAN carve out a niche for yourself in the world. Feel totally free to memail me if you have questions about being a trainer or working in health care or anything else.
posted by jeoc at 4:13 PM on April 17, 2010

I’m a medical writer and based on the description of your personality (introverted/overwhelmed by people), I think any type of writing would be great fit. At my last fulltime workplace (medical writing) most of my colleagues were introverted and loved the material so it made it a pleasant environment. I know that you don’t like doing the contract thing or freelance thing, but I do want to point out that you can get a lot more free time for less work, although it requires that you look for clients.

I’m also posting, though, mainly to address this:

“I get the impression that my humanities-oriented skill set just isn't desirable in the capitalist marketplace” and “I don't think my culture values who I am or what I have to offer.”

Please challenge these beliefs. You don’t provide a background, but if someone created something (even information) that was interesting, unique, novel – I would look at it/consider buying it and I think other people would, too. If you are trying to fit yourself into premade square peg jobs, it does not mean “I don’t fit the peg, therefore I don’t have something of value.” Unless you are you trying to create these things or trying to create your own job many many times and failed, why are you making this conclusion?

You may not agree with the above statement, but just for yourself, challenge the belief. Even if you look for a new career, your unique backgrounds, skill set, and perspective will bring something to the job. Don’t destroy your belief in these other parts of who you are – you are valuable, in addition to your humanities training.
posted by Wolfster at 5:11 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are thinking of a career in Occupational Therapy then I would strongly recommend that the first thing you do is either some voluntary work in a day centre, or go and shadow an OT in a hospital for a few days. Not only would this support your application by demonstrating that you have properly researched the career, but you might discover it's not for you.

There are a number of specialties that OTs work in, so it would be a good idea to sample some of them. As an OT I've specialised in mental health, but have also worked with people with learning disabilities and in social services (meeting peoples needs with equipment or adaptations). There is a wide enough choice of specialties to choose from to suit your personality, at least in the UK, and you would get to sample some of them in your student placements. I don't like working in large, acute hospitals, so I avoid them. I prefer to work 1:1 with people in the community, helping them to overcome their difficulties in the real world.

I do not regret retraining to be an OT. It is very stressful at times. Some people do get caught up in working long hours and not being able to switch off when they go home. I go through those phases too, but thats alright, because I enjoy my job. Also I know I could leave if it got really bad as the job market is pretty good for OT's and has been consistently strong since I qualified over 10 years ago. Thats quite a luxury. (Disclaimer: I'm in the UK, have a car, live near 2 major cities, etc etc, so have always been able to find work)
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