Careers for People Who Are Bad at Math

Ideas for the not-technical.

Posted Sep 04, 2019

Magister Mathematicae, CC 3.0
Source: Magister Mathematicae, CC 3.0

Careers are ever more STEM-centric, which means lots of math. So what’s a “not a math person” to do?

Fortunately, ample math-light careers remain. Here’s a sampling.

Psychotherapist, Counselor, or Coach. Of course, especially because this is Psychology Today, this gets a spot on the list.

Social worker. This warrants the #2 spot because the effective social worker not only gives clients money and other benefits but understands their psychology: what will motivate them to better their lives. Plus the job market will likely stay good — there's no sign that the number of people in distress will decline.

Politician. Among careers that don’t require math chops, a politician is among the most impactful:  even a local politician's vote or executive decision can affect thousands of people. And if it's a state or federal official, millions of people.

Mediator. If you’re a lawyer or psychologist with a gift for conflict resolution and, alas, for marketing, you could make a living in this rewarding career. To avoid having to compete with the zillions of attorneys who want to escape contentious lawyering, it helps to specialize. Some niches: landlord-tenant, divorce, or employees in a particular field. For example, one of my clients specializes in mediating disputes between postal workers and management.

Haircutter.  The good haircutter needs to be a “psychologist:" s/he asks questions, listens, and intuits what will make the client feel most confident. S/he also senses how to converse during the haircut: go deep, be casual, or silent. Haircutter ranks near the top in job-satisfaction surveys.

Teacher. If you can motivate kids to behave and work hard to learn academic material, this, of course, can be a rewarding career and not just intrinsically. It’s mythic that public school teachers are underpaid relative to the job's intellectual, physical, and temporal demands. To wit, teachers have among the lowest average SAT score of any white-collar profession. Teachers typically teach 8:30-3:00 and less on “minimum days” (plus correcting papers, creating lessons, etc.). They work in pleasant surroundings— no dangerous roofs, sewers, nor clanging, carcinogenic factories. And today, when more jobs are part-time, temp, or with few benefits, the vast majority of public school teaching jobs are full-time and super-benefited: teaching is among the few jobs in which you get lifetime job security after just two or three years and, after you retire, a pension. Plus, teachers, mid-career, in many coastal cities and suburbs can earn six figures. And yes, you get the summers off.

A case can be made for the person who’s not “a math person” teaching math. That’s because naturals at math typically use a different process to do math than mere mortals. The teacher who struggled to get through math is more likely to use a process that most students can understand. That person also is likely to have more empathy for strugglers. Plus, the typical math nerd is stronger at math than at explaining and motivating students.

Non-STEM sales or fundraiser. Sales and its nonprofit analog, fundraising, are among the more lucrative careers that don’t require an advanced degree. Here are a few sales niches that might particularly appeal to Psychology Today readers: wedding venue and catering sales, senior housing, and personnel recruiting—the latter is sales because you’re selling companies to buy you as the person recruiting its new employees.

In the nonprofit realm, psychologically oriented folks might enjoy being a fundraiser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association for Gifted Children, or Autism Speaks.

Graphic artist. No, you probably can’t make a living taking months to splatter paint on a canvas. But you might make a living in art if you can quickly produce quality images that will move people to buy or donate.

Writer. Similar to the above, you’re probably not going to make even a ramen-and-cat food living writing fiction. But writers can make a living if willing to forgo creative wildness for business writing, for example, fundraising letters and speeches, marketing copy, annual reports, or PR media pitches.

Attorney. This is among the more lucrative careers that require little math.  Of course, tax, estate, and some corporate lawyers need to crunch numbers but many others don’t. Some specialties of potential interest to the psychologically oriented: divorce law, estate law, and employment law.

People manager in a non-STEM field. Niches that might be of interest to the psychologically oriented: professional associations such as the American Psychological Association, employee assistance companies, and education administration—education has a notoriously high administrator-to-teacher/professor ratio.

The takeaway

Of course, this is but a sampling. Even if none interest you, at least it may be reassuring that you can have good employment prospects even if you’re “not a math person.”

I read this aloud on YouTube.

This article is part of a series on suggested careers.