career in communications with communication skills below par?
January 7, 2013 12:43 PM   Subscribe

I love words, people, learning about the human condition. I am an emotional, artistic, warm and fuzzy person on the inside. But my shyness makes me come across as quiet and maybe even a little cold. My people skills probably aren't the best. Can I excel in a people oriented career like teacher or guidance counselor, where my true interests lie? Or does my personality doom me to work in something dry and (to me) boring at a computer?

The great paradox of my life: I am interested exclusively in fields that require excellent people skils; I don't quite have said people skills. My interests are in psychology, teaching, languages, counseling. All are centered on words and verbal skills. All require interaction with other people. Yet I am an introvert's introvert, once extremely shy and now just a little quieter than most. I enjoy working with people. I have no technical skills whatsoever and no interest in technical fields. I can't do math. My computer skills are so poor that I can hardly use Microsoft Office Suite. All signs point to a career in human services or language/literature teaching, but I doubt my interpersonal skills. I can't see myself being, for instance, a therapist, when even my best friends joke about how quiet I am.

What to do? If I pursue a career in a field that truly interests me, will my sort of standoffish, introverted, quiet personality be a major obstacle?

For those who put any faith in such things, I am INFP all the way (90 percent feeling!), but probably come across as INTP because I'm just too shy to come across as warm and fuzzy (even though I truly am).
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, I once had a therapist who barely said three words during our sessions, so it's possible to be employed that way. (I didn't like her for it, but she must have been good enough for others to be in that fairly large practice.)
posted by Melismata at 12:54 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

What skills do you currently have? That might help determine if there is a shift that could be made that uses your existing skills and gets you starting to use the skills you want to develop and use.

Are you starting your work life or is this a midcareer transition?
posted by pointystick at 1:08 PM on January 7, 2013

So long as you want to be around people, I don't think it's a problem that you don't speak out much. It sounds like what you want to do is listen, and introverts are perfect for that.

So teaching might be a bit of a reach. But therapist, guidance counselor, social worker, HR, tutor are all decent fits precisely because you're an introvert. The hard part is networking. The more that your client base is floating around, the harder it will be for an introvert. So an institutional gig might be a better fit in whatever niche you find yourself.

No matter what, networking is a must these days. Even an institutional gig will have turnover. So don't think you can play the introvert card forever. Play to your strengths, but shore up your weaknesses.
posted by politikitty at 1:09 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

My point of view is that in the world of work, degrees, and sometimes even skills unfortunately, count less than people skills, communication skills, and who you know, and therefore I would say to you that you should try to improve your inter-personal skills to the maximum extent possible but still within the natural parameters of your personality and comfort level. You could try something like Dale Carnegie. Push yourself out of your comfort zone to see how far you can go.
posted by Dansaman at 1:17 PM on January 7, 2013

You might want to read this new book I've been hearing good things about: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.
posted by trillian at 1:19 PM on January 7, 2013

This is addressing the guidance counselor or mental health therapist or other type of direct-helping profession. You can do it, but you will have to get over, at least to a large degree, being shy. If you're afraid to speak, respond, confront, or discuss something with someone, your helpfulness is going to be very seriously limited. The point of working in that profession is to help someone, right? Start with helping yourself to get over the shyness and become confident in your interpersonal interactions.

I think anyone can get over being shy if they're motivated enough. I would have considered myself shy several years ago, pretty fearful of talking to people, speaking in front of groups, etc. and I'm now regularly involved with teaching groups of people, and meeting new people for client intakes, working regularly with people, and I'm pretty confident about it.

I once had a therapist who barely said three words during our sessions, so it's possible to be employed that way.
Just as a note, this does not at all indicate that the therapist was necessarily shy. This could be a choice on the part of the therapist depending on her style of therapy. And if her choice not to be responsive to a client WERE actually based on being shy, she would be a terrible therapist.
posted by so_gracefully at 1:23 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

You can learn interpersonal skills! I used to be painfully shy as a kid... I managed to function as an adult, but then I got training in negotiation and mediation and actually LEARNED how to interact with people. I always thought it was just something you have or you don't, but it's not!

Join Toastmasters, read Getting to Yes, look for classes in improv comedy... all of these things will give you some tools for communicating better and being less reserved. Dale Carnegie is a good suggestion too.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:24 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't think you can get away with being shy forever. It's going to hurt you professionally.

However, consider the possibility that your warm-and-fuzzy nature is being taken advantage of by extrovert propaganda that tells you that the only worthwhile way to "help people" is by being a guidance counselor or some other person-to-person nurturing profession, and if you don't do something like that, you're not really "helping" people.
posted by deanc at 1:25 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might like working as a school speech therapist. I love linguistics and words and vocabulary and literature and language, but am definitely introverted and shy.

I work in a school with kids in small groups or individually. I see preschoolers and kids in elementary ages (through 5th grade). It's rewarding, but it's tough. Even though it's working with kids and small groups, I still feel like I need alone time at the end of the day to recharge.

If your true passion would lie in teaching though, and you like words and stuff, and are a good listener, being a school-based speech therapist could be really fitting for you. A LOT of my job is listening--to how students construct verbal sentences, to how they produce individual sounds.
posted by shortyJBot at 1:25 PM on January 7, 2013

No matter what field you select, you're going to want to bump up your computer skills. You don't have to be a programmer to learn to make and use spreadsheets, some basic HTML, and that sort of stuff. Practice in your spare time, fiddle around with various programs, and think about taking a basic class, maybe at your local library. I can't do arithmetic in my head, but I can certainly use a calculator to figure out interest rates, etc..--it never hurts to get comfortable with life skills for living in the real world.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:41 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi there, I work in corporate communications. Whilst it's undeniable that my team is mostly extroverts, there are a couple of introverts, and one very much introverted person. It can be done. However, let the record reflect his career path has been hurt by his introversion; he struggles where other team members do not; tries to avoids some fairly inescapable parts of his job; and subsequently earns less than most other people on the team with his experience and tenure.

The less introverted people do not suffer from any of this - indeed, they are regarded as reliable, professional, and efficient. The key is not having to speak all the time, but knowing when to speak, and ensuring your work speaks to the right people. I do not think teaching would suit you at all.

More broadly, there are a huge range of jobs that include "dealing with people" - many jobs in the health industry like nursing, doctoring, physio, interpreter at a hospital etc. Don't put blinkers on if you can avoid it.

More broadly, I personally feel that interests are grossly overstated as a factor of job satisfaction. There are lots of things I'm interested in; I've only had jobs in a few. One of the things I was most interested in was one of the worst jobs I've ever had. Conversely, one of the things I had no interest in whatsoever was one of the best jobs I've ever had.

"I like pies/making pies, therefore I should be a piemaker" is a really bad metric for thinking about job suitablity. Things like, "I enjoy high pressure situations"; "I need the flexibility to work part-time without hurting career progression"; "I like stability, and don't care so much about renumeration". etc etc.

Additionally, you talk a lot about what you can't do in this question, but what about what you can do? Forget about personality traits; there are people with every personality trait in every job out there. What skills do you currently have in language/learning/literacy etc? What skills are you acquiring? How old are you? (i.e. how do your skills in any area stack up with your peers? A 20 year old with essentially no skills is a much easier sell than a 50 year old, and how they think about their careers and getting a career will be different). What work experience do you currently have? Let that shape the jobs you are looking at currently; changing or starting careers is more of a long game, accomplished with incremental steps rather than huge leaps.

I get the sense from your question that you are putting a lot of identity weight into possible job choice. OP, it doesn't have to be that way, and you will almost certainly be happier if it's not. I am not my job. My job is a means to pay for my house and deeply satisfying lifestyle. It has given me a set of skills, but this is not the sum total of my skills nor potentialities. If you start thinking about jobs less as a quest for identity and deep source of validation, and more as a means of getting money without sucking too much, it will go the better for you, I promise.

And for god's sake, learn how to use a computer to a basic degree - there's simply no excuse these days and I guarantee that every single job you apply for will have someone with all your skills, plus the ability to use a computer. It is a good investment to make.
posted by smoke at 2:15 PM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Like you, I love people but am also very shy and can come across as cold in social situations. Fortunately, as it turns out, I do really well in human services jobs because the interactions are so structured and the roles are so clearly delineated that most of my "am I doing this right?" insecurities don't come into play. Plus, if you're working as, say, a language teacher, the entire exchange is centered around you showing off your skills in front of a bunch of people all day. I think you'll find it surprisingly easy to relax with others when you're engaging your strengths at the same time.
posted by granted at 2:21 PM on January 7, 2013

The less introverted people do not suffer from any of this

I should clarify - I mean the people who are still introverted, but less introverted than him.
posted by smoke at 2:22 PM on January 7, 2013

People with high levels of introversion tend to do better one-on-one - so, in my experience, teaching was a complete nightmare because of the number of children and the need to constantly be interacting - that was just overwhelming. Private tuition would work better instead.

Therapists on the other hand often deal with one or two clients at a time and the job doesn't require you to speak a lot, it just requires you to facilitate your client's speaking.

With that much Feeling, you'll be easily overwhelmed by too much stimulus and not able to give enough of the Feeling to others, which will be the thing that will drain and disappoint you. So maybe focus more on the one-on-one professions.
posted by heyjude at 2:34 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You sound like a sociolinguist! We're all awkward, but it's great because we just get meta on it. Some of us sit behind computers doing crazy math equations out of words, but others are doing field research in little villages in strange countries with funny languages. While even others are just getting to know the people around them and discovering things about how they interact. The possibilities are really endless. Everybody talks everywhere and it's all interesting!
posted by iamkimiam at 3:36 PM on January 7, 2013

I don't think you should rule out teaching. I'm very introverted and pretty socially inept, but I've taught at college as a TA and enjoyed it enough that I'm looking at it as a possible career. Shyness and introversion don't hurt you as a teacher as much as you might think, because your interaction with students is highly structured and confined to a narrow subject matter. It's true that you might suffer from stage fright and anxiety at first, but guess what, even the most alpha extrovert types feel that (often just as much, I believe), and you get over it quicker than you'd think. I was terrified of teaching before I started precisely because I thought I was too shy and awkward, now it's one of the things in my life that I most enjoy (and it's probably made me less shy along the way).

By the way, I wouldn't be at all surprised if psychology is a field with a higher than average proportion of introverted people. (This is famously true of actors.)
posted by zeri at 4:55 PM on January 7, 2013

« Older Abortion Payment   |   Please name this song! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.