how to find a rut, get into it, and stay there
July 20, 2017 6:17 AM   Subscribe

Just to check before I resign myself to struggling through more conventional life plans: are there actually any real, obtainable socially isolating jobs with a living wage anymore? What are they, and how do you obtain them?

Please don't answer with stuff like "lighthouse keeper" and "forest ranger." From what I understand, the first job is nonexistent, and the second is scarce and highly competed over by environmental science people. I have no environmental science background, am allergic to pollen, and mosquitoes eat me alive.

"Lab technician" is more practical in the sense that this job both exists and is obtainable. It's not really obtainable by me, not without going back to university, but this suggestion is a step up. What kind of certification would I need to aim for?

From previous asks about this kind of thing, "long distance truck driver" and "cleaning services" are both pretty practical. However, how do you get these jobs? For the first, you need a commercial driving license at the least, right? And for that you need to get experience driving large vehicles, etc. For cleaning services, how do you go about getting that job? Ask a temp agency?

Other factors:
- proposed location: Ohio, 2018
- liberal studies and TESOL background (but I don't have an education background, a teaching license, or the nerve/personality to be an actual teacher; I currently teach English in Japan, which is not really teaching)
- from what I can tell, I'm a competent writer, at least when it comes to academic writing. I mean, I don't fucking know. The journalism professors gave me positive feedback, but there's that other tiny little aspect of journalism, the whole going out and interviewing people. And also, jobs ???? My history professors also gave me positive feedback and one tried to like, sell me on switching majors.
- I don't really like or enjoy anything, so it's best for me to pursue work that I am able to do. I would like practical job-seeking advice, with steps included, if possible, not the usual direction toward therapy. I'm aware of my own, purposefully unspecified mental illness, and I am relatively functional and stable. What I need is help keeping my life stable by forming concrete, practical plans for the future. And the only ideas I have about the future involve my strong preference for not having to interact with people very much.

For now, the plan is return home, get some kind of tutoring job, and go back to school for ... something. Either I try to get a masters in TESOL (giving up on social isolation) or I just straight up aim for something (a license, a qualification of some kind) that will get me a job where people will mostly leave me alone.
posted by automatic cabinet to Work & Money (17 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Two possibilities:

MeFi's own Michele in California has a blog about how to be a freelance writer from home. That sounds right up your alley given your experience.

Another option is programming. There are a lot of software development contract jobs that are socially isolating. To get those jobs you enroll in a bootcamp or other form of job training, then put a resume up on LinkedIn. I get full time telecommute offers all of the time via that platform, and I don't even have my job status set to "looking".
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:24 AM on July 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm assuming that by "socially isolating," you mean you're able to put your head down and do your own work without having to interact with people much, if at all? I prefer jobs on that spectrum, too, though you're right that they're hard to find.

My first job that was like that was as a grant writer for a nonprofit, which could be a route to consider if you're a good writer. I spent about 75% of my day at my computer writing. I still had to interact with my bosses and other staff, of course, especially to get more info about the programs I was writing grant proposals for. But in general I was able to control my own schedule and plan for the day and not interact with people constantly.

I'm currently a project manager and it's difficult because I find interacting with people all day draining, so I'm transitioning into web development. As a developer, I have to interact with proejct managers and my bosses, but not with clients, so it's generally a lot more low stakes. I'm also able to immerse myself in a project on my own for hours on end.

Feel free to memail me if you want more info on how to get to either of those careers.
posted by anotheraccount at 6:24 AM on July 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

How is your Japanese? Freelance translation can be pretty socially isolating, which is not a plus for most people but looks like it could work in your favour, and being a competent writer is the main requirement (along with knowledge of at least one foreign language).

You can do most of your client-hunting and networking online, rarely (if ever!) meeting your clients face-to-face. I've worked for years with clients I have never seen IRL.
posted by doctorpiorno at 6:27 AM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Indexing might be another way to make decent money very part-time in a way that complements your skills. There's a USDA course (?! I know, it's weird) in Indexing, or their was, and while it's definitely something librarians do for extra money, it's not limited to librarians. It's pretty interesting work, if you like the mechanics of searching, thesauri, and stuff like that. In the future when every single text is actually searchable all the time, maybe it won't be necessary, but until every search AI has a built in and perfect thesaurus, and no print books are sold, there will be a market for indexing.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:37 AM on July 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's not lighthouse-keeper-level social isolation, but being a proofreader means you spend a lot of time not talking to anyone. My husband is a proofreader and he works in an office with normal office interaction stuff, but his main job does not involve talking to anyone or going anywhere. He sits at his desk and reads. But there are likely proofreading gigs that are work-from-home, since proofreading isn't necessarily something that requires anyone to be in an office (husband can't work from home mainly because the proofreading jobs he's had involve sensitive legal and financial documents that his employers need to keep tight digital reigns on).

Having been a ESL instructor positions you well for this line of work. Husband used to be a high school English teacher. If you can grammar, this can be a good fit for you.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:40 AM on July 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

I worked as a hotel night auditor for several years. It's very isolating. Current average pay appears to be in the low $20ks annually.

Hotel Size
small < -    pay    + > large
small < + isolation - > large

Specifically, at a large hotel you might have (co-)desk clerks, cleaning staff, and bar staff to deal with early in the shift, but they don't work with you on the audit.

At a motel without a restaurant/bar of its own, the night auditor is the only employee on-prem from 11pm to 7am, so you are als,o minimally, a desk clerk. Check 'em in, check 'em out, maybe hand out an extra towel or two, tell 'em where's the nearest liquor store or whatever; pack 'em off and get back to work.

Most FT auditors work Sunday night through Thursday night. Monday night is busy, then business sags until Friday. Thursday night is slow, and Sunday night is dead. There were times when I neither saw nor spoke to a soul (including phonecalls) from the time the 2nd shift clerk left until the 1st shift clerk arrived.

Many of my colleagues were working their way through school. Many, it seemed to me, were on what we now know as the autism spectrum. At a small motel, the service and PR expectations are very low during these hours. You learn some social formulas and apply them, scoot the customer off to bed and get back to work.

The audit itself is child's play if you are literate and numerate. Even in the 1970s when I did this and the registers were not computerized, I got this job without experience on the strength of an interview and the fact that I was attending college.

I used to bring a guitar and a sci-fi novel to work. On a Sunday night, I had next to nothing to do for at least four hours.

About the hours: I simply switched when I went to work and when I went to sleep. I personally found it easy. Easier than second shift, which somehow left me with no free time at all.

Good luck.
posted by Herodios at 6:51 AM on July 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. Just having options to investigate and plan for over the next few months helps to ease my mind.

(And unfortunately, my Japanese is terrible.)
posted by automatic cabinet at 6:57 AM on July 20, 2017

For the first, you need a commercial driving license at the least, right? And for that you need to get experience driving large vehicles, etc.

There are specific "truck driving schools", there are vocational schools, some community colleges will offer CDL training. There are a bunch of all of the above in Ohio.

There's also such a thing as "medium" or "short"-haul trucker, where you travel, say from Cleveland to Pittsburgh on Monday, return to Cleveland on Tuesday, etc etc, or make runs from a shipping depot outside a city to stores or other customers.

For cleaning services, how do you go about getting that job?

TBH, I'm not sure most cleaning services really pay a "living wage", and I know a lot of services send in teams to clean, so I don't know how isolated you'll be. I don't see why you wouldn't just apply directly to the company itself - either call or walk in and ask for an application. Even if they don't specifically say they're hiring, companies like this are almost undoubtedly used to people just walking in off the street looking for a job, and they'll have a process to cover that.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:01 AM on July 20, 2017

Before you rule out translation entirely: if you don't have other plans until 2018, are already immersed in Japanese society at the moment and your day job doesn't consume all your free time, getting your Japanese to a high enough standard to translate non-specialised texts and media (think marketing copy, magazine articles, videogames, etc.) is definitely doable. Plus it will keep you entertained during your stay. :)

Just to give you an idea, a lot of my translator colleagues started their careers with a JLPT N2 certificate. Many of them never bothered to take the N1 test, and that hasn't stopped them from having successful, decently paid careers.
posted by doctorpiorno at 7:10 AM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not sure how it works in Ohio, I live in New York, but here in NY you'll need a commercial driver's license for any job where someone pays you to drive -- whether taxicab, small box truck, or fullsized trailer. Different jobs require different endorsements: I got a CDL for vehicles under 40,000 lbs. without trailers, with endorsements for passengers and school bus driving.

The classes cost about $2500 (including using their bus for road test) and that was for 10 lessons over a 3 month period. After that my driving jobs were a school bus, and later driving for Access-A-Ride (NYC's paratransit service to the disabled, Ohio probably has something similar). Both of those did require some minimum of social interaction: don't lose your temper at kids, greet your passengers, treat the elderly with respect (even if they act oddly), make sure the passengers are safe and comfortable. Also, the shifts require you to keep odd hours, sometimes starting around 3 or 4AM.

If that might be too much for you, then trucking in general has no passengers to serve. On the other hand, trucking is supposedly the next industry on the list to downsize their workforce once automated driving becomes feasible. Also, be aware that if you have a CDL, any penalties for DWI or any impaired driving are increased, even off-duty in your own car, and your job will be subject to random drug testing.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:43 AM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For the first, you need a commercial driving license at the least, right? And for that you need to get experience driving large vehicles, etc.

There are specific "truck driving schools", there are vocational schools, some community colleges will offer CDL training. There are a bunch of all of the above in Ohio.

Ah, thanks SG for reminding me.

You don't need a CDL at all to be a courier. Couriers drive their own cars (usually) and respond to a central dispatcher. Could be cross-town or cross-state. Could be between offices or sites of a single large company.

Instead of 'loads', a courier transports physical documents and small packages. Contracts, deeds, titles, other legal documents, charts and graphs and images, displays for conferences, blood and tissues samples, organs for transplant . . . anything small that requires a physical presence over there.

A friend was a courier and then a dispatcher covering greater Cleveland. Some days drove many short trips, some days drove across town once or twice. Slept in his own bed each night.

A brother was a courier for longer trips. Drove from one corner of Ohio to another or maybe Dayton to Columbus to Cincy and back to Dayton. Slept in his own bed each night. Sometimes he delivered documents, sometimes custom machine tools to a factory. His very first LD courier trip was delivering what he described as "ten pounds of horse jizz" from Select Sires outside Columbus to some farm in SEO. Or maybe it was the other way around.

No CDL, no college, no connections. Just HS, DL, and willingness to drive where dispatched. Prolly get a drugs test. Minimal social contact. Think in terms of your DHL driver: drop it at the desk, secure a signature, "Thanks, have a nice day" and out the door. No money, the financial transaction happens elsewhere. Pick-up is the reverse of these steps.

The number 75,000 sticks in my mind -- as the number of miles driven in a year, but don't quote me. This will impact choices of vehicle and cost of insurance, of course.
posted by Herodios at 8:24 AM on July 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are you currently employed? My state's department of workforce development constantly hosts job fairs with truck driving jobs. All you have to do is walk around and pick up applications/drop off your resume. If you have a pulse and a clean drug test/driving record you're generally good to go. They are practically begging for people and will pay for training and CDL.

I don't know much about machinists but here, if you're able bodied and are good at math, they'll give you paid training. It pays very well and you're working with metal, not people.
posted by AFABulous at 8:34 AM on July 20, 2017

Best answer: If your plan is to return to school, I'd recommend you start looking at potential jobs at a local college, since they usually provide tuition assistance and that would help your finances. A college or university will be one of the better places to find a lab tech job as well, since it's more likely to offer decent pay and benefits. If there's a veterinary school of medicine, your possibilities expand to becoming a vet tech. Local vet hospitals employ them, too, but I have no idea whether they can afford to pay a living wage.

Also consider technical services work at a library. This isn't IT stuff, it is the work involved with acquiring materials, cataloging them, and otherwise making them available to the users. Much of this type of work can be performed offsite if the library has a policy permitting it. Again, a university-level library would be able to provide better pay/benefits, and they would consider your familiarity (doesn't have to be proficiency) with a foreign language a benefit. Technical services work involves very little interaction with the general public. You'd interact with your coworkers, but these departments are not terribly large, and after training, the work is largely self-directed. I'm a loner by preference, have good writing skills, stumbled into this line of work, and it's pretty close to ideal for me (though sadly, we're not allowed to work from home).

The problem with truck driving jobs is that they're going away. Automation will hit the trucking sector hard, as self-driving trucks are already being rolled out in Europe and are being tested here in the US. So that's a field where the number of jobs is expect to shrink dramatically, and soon (within ten years). As for cleaning service jobs, they're hard work and most services pay low wages with poor to no benefits, unless they're union jobs (increasingly rare).

Another possibility, if you're up to the hours and physical exertion, is working in a bakery as a baker or baker's assistant. The work hours are mostly overnight, so there's little interaction with customers.
posted by Lunaloon at 8:51 AM on July 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Mostly agreed on proofreading, but keep in mind that it may not offer the flavour of isolation you're seeking. I'm a copy editor and I work from home a lot, which is pretty isolating. I enjoy my job and I like being alone, but the interactions I do have can be stressful. I often face pushback from writers over certain edits (I work for a larger organisation and have to conform to a style guide), and I sometimes end up in kind of a "teacher" role, so it may not be the best job if you're looking to get away from that.
posted by littlegreen at 11:16 AM on July 20, 2017

I haven't read all the other answers, but it depends what you mean by people mostly leaving you alone. If you're fine interacting with people through writing and the possibility of the occasional in-person meeting, a lot of office jobs will fit your requirements. I find social interactions super draining but am fine working in a law office since 95% of my interaction with coworkers and clients is through email, and even those emails are only a few a day. Most of my time is spent alone in my office.

My recommendation would be programming though. Based on the experience of friends, you could take a several month course (eg. Bitmaker) and find a job where (1) you almost never have to interact with anyone, and (2) you can almost exclusively work from home.
posted by ersatzhuman at 3:03 PM on July 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Where in Ohio? I used to make credit cards for Chase in Westerville. I only talked to people when I felt like it. There are no real qualifications; I even had horrible credit at the time. The downside is that the pay was pretty lousy, but you worked three 12-hour days and had a four-day weekend every week. That four-day weekend gives you a lot of flexibility to pursue other interests as well. In terms of social isolation, one of the co-workers I talked to most frequently was deaf, if that gives you an idea of the conversation that went on.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:57 PM on July 22, 2017

I have been a custodian for over four years. I have a college degree but I am not very adept socially so it's a field that is comfortable for me. It's hard work though, as others have said, especially if done on a full-time basis. I was fortunate enough to have a full-time, union job for a state university in California with retirement benefits, and ended up leaving because I was burned out after two years. It can be exhausting, and the social interaction is sometimes more than you might imagine. While no one is expecting a socially outstanding custodian, you do have to interact with people, smile, say hello, and while you can get by with that, it really helps to have the knack for making small talk and connecting with people. In fact, I have been working on-call for a school district for the past 13 months and although I have interviewed for a permanent position, I am still on-call and I think the custodians who are permanent are the ones who have good personalities and have learned how to connect with people and be pleasant. In fact, for a school district, being pleasant is not enough. If you're shy, you're not likely to get a permanent job. And in my opinion, if you're not working at a state institution or a school district, janitorial work is not really worth going into. If you want to work your way into that, that's one thing, as the benefits can be outstanding. But I am content to be a part-time custodian, as anything more than 24 hours a week results in severe burnout and unhappiness and spending excessive money on other things to make me happy. I couldn't be a career custodian, but some have done well at universities and school districts and have retired with good pensions and bought houses in Mexico, for example. But if you're working for a private company, forget it. The pay will be minimal and you will not be able to survive on that pay. Private universities are not much better.
posted by jdaniel2017 at 9:19 PM on October 22, 2017

« Older Three women walk into a bar and...   |   Transform me into a Ninja Warrior Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.