Need unstressful work
February 3, 2016 6:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm a reasonably bright person with no practical skills to speak of and a lot of social/cognitive limitations. Is there a job I can do? Is there any way to make money?

Right now I'm taking some time off for mental health (supported by my partner) but this can't go on indefinitely; at some point I'll have to get a job. I am trying to figure out what I can reasonably do. It doesn't have to be full time but it does have to be paying. I am in Seattle, if that matters.

I have a college education, no professional qualifications, and no specialized skills. I have Asperger's and am extremely shy and anxious. I don't like dealing with customers in stressful and time-limited situations, loud noises and constant stimulus, and ESPECIALLY people yelling at me. I have trouble making eye contact and have kind of a "slow processing speed." Oversensitive, especially at the moment, because I'm going through some big mental health stuff. I have trouble being on time and getting up on time and sticking to 9-5 schedules but a lot of tenacity in getting projects done.

I like intellectual challenges but grad school/academia isn't a realistic option for a lot of reasons. I am a decent writer and vaguely creative in some unquantifiable way. Know a bit about film and literature.

Fields I have worked in: retail, food service, administrative support, libraries, education, film programming.

Is there anything out there I can do? Any kind of work that might be a good fit? It doesn't have to be much, as long as it pays something.
posted by thetortoise to Work & Money (24 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
I share a lot of these characteristics with you, and I have carved out a reasonable niche for myself as a dealer in antiquarian books, maps, and prints. It doesn't pay very well and there's no security in it, but if you put some effort into it you get the occasional payoff.

A lot of sales can happen online, through websites such as abe and biblio, and on ebay. You can find things to sell at auctions, estate sales, and through private contacts that you develop with other dealers and collectors.

It takes a lot of time and effort, but the upside is that you almost never have to be at a certain place at a certain time, and if you don't like an individual you just stop dealing with him or her. Online customers you basically never meet in person, and rarely even speak to on the phone.

I should mention that my wife has a dependable full time job, so that changes my situation considerably. Still, my business is slowly growing and within five years or so (fingers crossed), I hope to be able to support us both.

Being in Seattle would be a big plus for you because it's a large urban centre and will have many people buying and selling various things of value. Also if I am not mistaken Seattle has a lot of connections with Asia, which is a big market now for both buying and selling.

Good luck!
posted by crazylegs at 6:53 AM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

The best work I can think of for you is temp office drudgery. Either data entry or filing should be pretty relaxing.

It won't be stimulating, but if you're lucky, your workplace would allow headphones. Then you could listen to podcasts or whathaveyou.

You would have to show up reliably and probably during regular business hours, that's basically the bare minimum of office jobs. Being flexible with that generally requires being higher up in the food chain.
posted by Trifling at 6:55 AM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

The least stressful job I ever had was as a night receptionist at a nursing home. There was some interaction with people but it was people you knew and was mostly pleasant. The rest of the time I worked on easy little administrative projects. I was responsible for any safety concerns too, but that basically meant knowing the disaster drills and calling 911 when necessary.

It didn't pay much but honestly I sometimes wish I was still doing that job.
posted by Jess the Mess at 6:59 AM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

Similarly, night clerk at a hotel is pretty quiet work according to an old friend of mine.
posted by lizbunny at 7:03 AM on February 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

I echo the suggestions of receptionist. The receptionist at our very nice, quiet law firm downtown with almost zero walk-ins ever seems to enjoy her job. Her only complaint is that she gets bored. She is paid a nice salary to sit there, look semi-professional (and this is even pretty flexible) and answer the phone. That's it. She knits a lot.
posted by quincunx at 7:09 AM on February 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

Lionbridge, Leapforce, and Appen have part-time, flexible work-at-home jobs that might suit you. Lionbridge's Internet Assessor job and Leapforce's Search Engine Evaluator job pay fairly well, especially when you consider that you don't have to spend any time or money commuting. (I don't know as much about the other jobs these companies offer, but there may be some that pay a lot less.) The work is not terribly demanding if you have good reading and reasoning skills. It's moderately interesting. You don't have to speak with other people at all, ever. Any communication with the company is via email, webinars, etc. You work at home, by yourself, setting your own schedule.
posted by Redstart at 7:14 AM on February 3, 2016 [33 favorites]

I'd recommend learning Excel. As an analyst, I have the opportunity to sit quietly for hours crunching numbers and not interacting with people (If I don't want to.) I learned Salesforce, so I have a thing where I do data analytics for this specific program.

Another thought is to become a developer, if you're good with logical stuff, again, being a Salesforce developer on-shore can be kind of a thing. You sit all day long working on your shit and you may only have to talk to your team at Stand-Up once a day.

So if you're open to obtaining new skills, those are the ones I recommend.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:15 AM on February 3, 2016 [15 favorites]

Redstart's ideas sound good to me for your current situation. (I think I at one point might have done something like that, years ago? Back then it involved rating search terms and results, not sure if that's changed... if that's what it is, be aware that it's crushingly boring, but if you can do it at home on your own time, maybe put some music on, it might not be so bad.)

Maybe have a look at those and other freelance jobs

Temping, not if you can help it... lots of unpredictable people and environments, punctuality matters a lot, there's stress from being the low and disposable person on the totem pole, lots of different masters to please and it's not always clear who they are... Would be careful about reception, really depends on the setting; in some places you don't just greet people, you have to be a kind of guard dog.

A book store or library clerk job might be good, if you have a bit of help getting there on time.

For later, when you're a bit more on an even keel - have you ever considered getting into film editing, or visual research (finding and arranging licensing for stock footage)? I know a couple of quiet, smart people with strong aesthetic sense who do those jobs and like them. If you're interested, maybe you could learn a bit, or try it on a volunteer basis while you're getting through this moment. (Although, not sure there's a lot of film production going on in Seattle - but maybe there is?? - but working with archives, or doing research in some capacity might suit.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:44 AM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I also thought that you might suit work as some kind of an analyst. What you call a "slow processing speed" may well be "ability to dive deep into a problem" to the right kind of employer - not everyone needs to be able to answer a question immediately, especially if they can come back in an hour with a much better answer. The other things that popped into my head were freelance proofreader, fact-checker, researcher, basically anyone whose job is to work alone and have high attention to detail. Some organisations may not be right because of the (very valid) "nobody yelling at me" requirement, but loads of companies will recognise the value of this set of skills.
posted by ukdanae at 7:51 AM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

Freelance (book, writing) editing?

I have a friend with various health issues who captions video, that seems a bit easier to get into than editing and she enjoys it, but it pays poorly.
posted by momus_window at 7:57 AM on February 3, 2016

I agree that data entry or something that deals with number manipulation would be something you could do without having to deal too much with external stimuli. It would be awfully boring, but sometimes boring jobs (with distractions) can be rewarding in themselves.
posted by xingcat at 8:12 AM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cleaning homes as an independent operator seems like it would be good for you. You're usually alone, you can take your time, it's a project you can complete, you can take on as few or as many customers as you want. You usually don't have to be there right at a certain time; it's more like a window of time.

The major issue is starting the business. You might be able to find someone who has too much business and is looking to offload a few customers.

(Similar to what another person said above, cleaning is a job I genuinely miss!)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:38 AM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

What do you enjoy doing?

I have this theory that the things you liked to do when you were a kid are relevant to the work you need to be doing. I liked writing, reading, designing stuff, planning stuff, making treats, and being outside in the woods whenever possible, so I find that jobs where I get to read, write, plan stuff, make templates, make treats, and/or stomp around in the woods make me the happiest. (I have done all of these things to support myself; still looking for something that lets me do all those things at once.)

I really loved being a barista at a not-too-busy coffee shop. Something about having an apron and a counter between me and the customers made me feel a little more confident and protected when connecting with people. (I'd go out after and people wouldn't recognize me, since the counter was part of who I was to them.)

I also really liked being a legal secretary. Sure, it was important to be there on time (like any office), but I would roam the hallways and had a lot of downtime. And it was just specialized enough to stay interesting. Being a strong writer was very helpful there.

Things I don't recommend: Full-time editing (which gets stupidly boring 40 hours a week, plus deadlines make me anxious), anything in a restaurant.
posted by mochapickle at 8:53 AM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

With the caveat that I'm not sure exactly how to find this kind of work (though maybe others might know) because it happened via a personal connection for me, I worked for a number of years doing various internet-related things, and one of the jobs I would do (from home, as a freelancer) was to research and gather all sorts of different resources to be used in guides for employee resources. It was all online research, and I would seek out, compile, and (briefly) write up useful information on a variety of topics for different employee groups.

So, for example, the employee groups might be nurses, or teachers, or emergency services workers, etc., and I would come up with a ton of useful articles, offers, guides, advice, bargains, continuing education or professional development opportunities, maybe grants, maybe tech tips, tools, social media help, special financial assistance, application help, funding, targeted assistance, and so on, pertinent to those groups.

So, the skills were these: 1) figuring out what the specific areas of need and concern would be for each group; 2) coming up with a baseline list of possible resource areas based on this (– sometimes; sometimes the list items were already mostly set, and I only had to research and/or update the already existing items); 3) researching available online info, help, articles, advice, offers, government programs, lists etc. (and usually expanding the list based on new info learned during this part of the process); 4) *evaluating* those sources to determine if they were quality references/offers whatever, as opposed to shallow (or worse) internet crap; compiling and organizing it all in a logical, easy-to-use way, with links, headers and subheaders, etc.; 5) meeting the deadline (and being readily available to add or alter afterward, if need be).

I have to say that the person I worked for is *awesome*, so it was a great working situation, and I don't know if this would necessarily be the case, typically. My boss thought I would be bored with that kind of work, but I absolutely wasn't; it was really interesting to learn about the challenges and concerns of all the employee groups I researched, a nice challenge to try to find (free or reduced cost) resources that would address those problems and interests, and sort of amazing to follow the internet rabbit holes (which usually led to coming up with new aspects I hadn't considered), and I learned so much that I never knew before about a wide variety of professions and the challenges faced by those employees.

So, just throwing that out, though not sure if something like this addresses your situation in a satisfactory way, but I pinged on: no customers in stressful and time-limited situations; no loud noises and constant stimulus; your experience in administrative support, libraries, education. Plus enjoying an intellectual challenge, plus decent writer, plus "vaguely creative" (a certain creativity very useful in making mental connections between things in this sort of work!), plus not wanting a strict work schedule.

For this type of job, as I experienced it, It's good if you prefer to work mostly on your own, can get super focused on exploring and researching a specific topic area, are good at locating, evaluating, compiling, and organizing online information, are good at creating logical sets or groupings of such info, are a pretty good short-form writer, and don't make many typos or similar mistakes (or can do a good job of proofing your own work), can meet a deadline (some stress involved there). You don't have to do 9 to 5, but you have to be able to tackle a project and manage your own time to do that. Tenacity is a great quality! For me, it was easier to do fewer days of very long hours rather than spreading it out, because once I got into "the zone" it was easier to keep going with that concentration and focus than to stop and start over a longer period.

(Again, my former boss is the bee's knees, super organized, and would always give me a very reasonable schedule; if it was all WE NEED THIS YESTERDAY, it would not have been a good scene. So.)

If this sounds appealing, I can try to find out how to actually seek out this kind of work, or, again, other folks may have ideas.
posted by taz at 9:01 AM on February 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think some type of back-of-the-house processing work at a library would be a great fit for you. Copy cataloging, book processing, etc., something in the technical services field. These jobs are somewhat hard to get and tend to go to people with library degrees or in library school, but you said you have work experience in libraries so that may help you out.

I also want to add that a few years ago I did the Lionbridge/Leapforce/Appen thing (Appen was called Butler Hill then, and they were my main employer for about 4 months), and I found it to be the most depressing, stressful, soul-destroying work I have ever done. If I wasn't crying by the time Wednesday rolled around, that was truly something. Especially because you already have mental health issues, I would avoid those jobs like the plague.
posted by jabes at 10:32 AM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

"Fields I have worked in: retail, food service, administrative support, libraries, education, film programming."

A pretty amazing list for someone who does not like to deal with people! In the same vein, I disagree with many of the suggestions. For example, computer progamming (i.e. being a developer) requires a lot of communication unless it's a very small shop with only one or two people.

My wife's experience was that a lot of people go into library work because it seems like a sanctuary, and for some it is. OTOH, it also means that a library can be staffed with crazies. BTW, my wife worked as a student in a university library map room, and liked it a lot.

For most everyone, there is measure of serendipity in finding just the right job. You need to open yourself to opportunity. One way to get some job skills is to volunteer with a non-profit, many of which are understaffed and disorganized behind the scenes. For example, you might assist a bookkeeper in organizing paper work, or scheduling tasks. When you learn enough, you have a credential when you go looking for a paying job.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:04 PM on February 3, 2016

I worked night shifts doing stock/inventory work to get through college and it was a pretty quiet job overall. A lot of unpacking and organizing product, putting stuff in shelves, solving inventory mysteries... It gave me lots of time to think about the stuff I actually wanted to think about, but was also interesting enough at points to not drive me totally nuts. I kind of miss it, actually. Check out job listings for stock, backroom or warehouse positions.
posted by thebots at 2:43 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding library technical services (cataloging).
posted by MsMolly at 5:42 PM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you go into library cataloguing, there are few public libraries that still hire for that position in my experience; and the ones that do are looking for strong social/communication skills in my experience. You may have more luck with the companies the public libraries outsource their cataloguing to, although I have heard the pay is not very good.
posted by saucysault at 7:03 PM on February 3, 2016

I'd be careful with reception and admin jobs; while some of these positions have hit the relaxing, low-stress spot (always while temping), I've had too many where people (staff AND clients) are abusive towards you because they can be, they're understaffed and you're expected to take on PA and office management duties and do many extra hours per week for no pay at a wage you can barely live on, and life is a constant barrage of 'priority' tasks that are added to your to-do list every 40 minutes. Some employers see their lowest-paid staff as people who are desperate enough for money they can do anything to them, and who should be 'grateful'. Keep an open mind, but consider this possibility.
posted by everydayanewday at 8:59 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. I find it helpful just to see them all listed and know what possibilities are out there. The one taz posted about sounds especially intriguing; I'll have to look into that!
posted by thetortoise at 3:48 PM on February 4, 2016

It might help if you mentioned what your college education was; there's a huge difference in some cases, and different ain't bad.

I'm a tech worker (hi, Seattle!)... and we seem to be the field where Asperger's folks seem to thrive. If you have time to train up for a job, it might be worth heading that way over a year or so.

Data analysis, websites, Android/IOS, whatever; tech work is done in teams, but teams used to dealing with a few folks on the spectrum.
posted by talldean at 4:08 PM on February 4, 2016

Response by poster: It might help if you mentioned what your college education was

English and creative writing. Any tech skills would be starting pretty much from zero (I mean, I can use a computer and basic Excel), though I would be willing to put time in if it seemed like a genuine possibility. Having your strengths be in verbal/knowledge/humanities areas with this personality seems to be a poor combination for the job market.
posted by thetortoise at 4:16 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm also in the Asperger's boat, and I've been lucky enough to have supportive family to get back on something like an educational track; but I lost a chunk of time and do not have any real work experience I can draw on. Retail environments seem impossible.

What I do presently is much like crazylegs' earlier suggestion, but with a broader remit. I think of myself as a picker. I go to thrift stores, flea markets, industrial auctions, garage sales, estate sales; I eye things I believe might be valuable; and quite often if I don't already know they're of value (some things quickly become obvious, like TI-series calculators for instance) I open eBay or any number of speciality sites on my phone and see what the going rate is. Then I'll buy it and sell it on if it's good.

It's not wildly profitable but it suits my temperament well and beats the alternatives. Impulsive decisions are a liability - it's usually better to be sure about a purchase. I don't have to talk to anyone for extended periods of time, and travelling around all day seems to be a mental health plus. And I don't have to stick to any sort of schedule, although going out early usually helps. One liability is that it does require some start-up capital (both purchases and a smart phone, though you may already have the latter).
posted by solarion at 10:56 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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