Career advice for someone who missed out on life by being too shy?
January 25, 2012 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Career advice for 29 year old, formerly very shy and still kind of quiet, smart but not exceedingly so, interested in writing, languages and the humanities.

I was extremely shy for the majority of my not that short life. We're talking social anxiety, avoidant personality type, the whole shebang. So shy I made Cs in classes where participation counted rather than speak up. So shy I avoided potential new friends rather than make one "mistake" when I spoke to them. Still, though, I managed to hang onto some friendships and nurture them. I've always been very interested in human relations and the human condition, but felt like my social anxiety kept me watching from the sidelines. In the past five years, I've overcome much of my social anxiety. I'm still quiet in large groups but I make friends easily and have no problems talking in one-on-one situations. I love people and more than anything I want to help, more on a micro basis than a macro basis. One person at a time. I worry that my history of social anxiety has handicapped me, however, leaving me with interpersonal skills that are below par. Ultimately I hope to write fiction, but I'm not even sure if I have talent in this. What can I do at this advanced age to get my interpersonal skills up to where they should be? I want to have a career that involves emotionally intense interaction with other people. Additionally, what are some suggestions for a career? English major, Spanish and Italian minor. Extremely interested in psychology, ie I read about neuroscience for fun. Would like to be therapist or social worker but realistically, will my delayed social skills hinder that career? Also: I'm intellectually curious and want to do something at least kind of intellectually stimulating and challenging. I can't see myself being a receptionist or a kindergarden teacher for the rest of my life, even if I might enjoy that for a while.

I guess I'm just trying to find some ideas and feedback on what works for my highly introverted but caring personality. INFP all the way. Already went through therapy starting five years ago and it's how I got over my shyness. Now I still feel like I'm not quite on the level of others as far as interpersonal skills because I lack 20 years of experience.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Working in a hospital, especially a teaching/university hospital - in any number of positions - is a very emotionally involved and interactive environment. It's busy, it can be exciting and offers a lot of possibilities for growth. Nursing is a fantastic field if you are suited to it. There are any number of therapy related positions that work in hospitals - physical therapists, respiratory etc. Something there you might explore. Your language skills might be very useful in a hospital (esp. spanish). Take a peek at some major hospitals' job lists to get a sense.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:04 AM on January 25, 2012

I think you're being way too hard on yourself. Many of us have had "delayed development" in the social arena, and we're in no way handicapped or hindered. And at 29, you're not at an "advanced age." I mean, please.

Would like to be therapist or social worker but realistically, will my delayed social skills hinder that career?

If you're good at interacting one-on-one with people, and want to help at a micro level, I don't see why you wouldn't be successful at this. Of course, you'll have to go back to school for a few years, but if you're really interested in psychology, the motivation will get you through it. Spanish fluency will help you tremendously with a career in social work.
posted by desjardins at 8:21 AM on January 25, 2012

I think you're on the right track with the therapist or social worker ideas. Your experience with social anxiety will probably be more of an asset than a hindrance because you know what the patient goes through. You will definitely get the intense one-on-one emotional interaction as a therapist or social worker, and given your interest in psychology and desire to help people, it sounds like a natural fit.

Related to ecorrocio's post - if you do choose to pursue a career in health care, I would not recommend becoming a nurse. As an INFP who has worked as a nursing assistant then as an RN (albeit briefly) in inpatient facilities, I have to say I found both jobs overwhelming and draining. Nursing does involve intense emotional interaction, but it's accompanied by stress due to how constant that kind of interaction is. However, if your coping skills (more specifically, your ability to remain unflappable in the face of confrontation or unpredictable, high-pressure situations) are strong, you could very well have a different experience. Health care occupations I would recommend for INFPs: radiology or ultrasound tech, PT or PTA, OT or OTA, speech pathologist, all of which tend to be more one-on-one and generally less hectic than bedside nursing.
posted by constellations at 8:58 AM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just to give you some advice on your enjoyment of writing. It's not easy at all. I write for fun personally, but have no grandiose dreams. Successful writing is a burden. You must write daily for hours. Similar to other talents you must practice fervently. The 10,000 hour rule is arbitrary and unscientific, but it holds some truth as kind of a 'rule of thumb' that things worth being good at will never come through anything less than extreme determination. I suggest writing for 30 minutes a day starting today. Eventually work it up to a few hours if it truly is your passion. Otherwise you can just enjoy writing for your own sake and sharing with friends, even if you are never famous, it is cathartic and a wholesome experience. Even Hemingway spent years writing for hours upon hours a day with no recognition. I just wanted to let you know...

I also think that you sound sweet and caring, and are being overlycritical on your self in terms of social skills. You need to have more faith in yourself. If you go back to school do not study more undergrad classes. Apply to some sort of masters in psychology/social work/clinical therapy (etc). Even if you can't get into a top program, these fields aren't particularly competitive since it's a labor of love due to the piss poor pay.
posted by jjmoney at 9:20 AM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

In terms of career paths, you'll probably be most comfortable working alone or within a very small team or group of people. A writer is probably a very good path for you and judging from your post, I think you have a promising future with some hard work; writing isn't easy.

If you wanted to take the science route, research in whatever field that interests you (e.g. psychology, neuroscience) is probably your best bet. Although, odds are you will be working with a team and you will be expected to present your findings, which can be intimidating.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where extroverts are privileged over introverts. We have created a society that rewards sociability and punishes internal reflection. I won't say that working on your sociability is bad. In fact, many natural introverts learn how to act more extroverted because it makes life easier. But, there is nothing wrong or under-developed just because you don't necessarily live up to what society expects of you. Introverts are not flawed. They're just different.
posted by fanipman at 9:49 AM on January 25, 2012

You sound a lot like me. Periodically, throughout school I took career-placement "tests." My top results were always a funeral director or funeral home worker. I thought that was so weird. I dismissed that idea. But, looking back, I think it would have been a good fit for my personality. I'm quiet, reflective, empathetic, work well with one-on-one interactions.

I always leaned toward counseling and psychology. I think your set of social skills would really work for these careers and would be such an asset.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:16 AM on January 25, 2012

In my experience, some of the best social worker types are introverts. They can be great listeners and very empathetic. Depending on where you live, you might be able to find some interesting positions without necessarily being a professional social worker. If in the US, maybe you could be a settlement worker, helping immigrants. Sometimes community health clinics/mental health clinics have a community support worker that helps people navigate all the practical challenges of their lives that don't figure into the doctor's mandate.

This can be easy stuff to do on a volunteer basis, you could try it out and get some experience. In the off-chance that you're in Canada, I could give you some ideas.

I wouldn't worry about being behind other people in social skills. I would bet that your particular experience has given you a unique and valuable perspective. You overcame something that was holding you back and affecting your life negatively. You understand what it's like to face a huge obstacle and fight to get over it. You could be in a great place to help others do the same.
posted by beau jackson at 10:57 AM on January 25, 2012

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