Career Counseling for the Neurotic

Should our neuroses factor in to our education and job choices

Posted Jun 24, 2012

People are often curious about others' career choices--why someone would chose to become a podiatrist, plumber, or therapist.  As someone working in a university setting, I often see individuals who are in the process of choosing their professions--those who are weighing several professions and trying to decide what will make them happiest over the long-term. It is a challenging process and one that causes many such anxiety that they ask others for advice or take a test in the hopes that the test will identify the perfect career for them. 

Professions are often chosen due to recognition of one's strengths and weaknesses, as well as aspects of personality.  Tests providing guidance in the best careers for people often rely on assessment of these characteristics and many of these tests are useful.  But should your psychological symptoms guide your career choices?  Apparently some say "yes!"

I came across this article that identifies the best careers for shy individuals and that recommends the path to take to pursue these careers.

As a somewhat shy person, I was intrigued. But as a therapist I was quickly horrified because the article suggested that shy individuals pursue online degrees in order to avoid contact with others  and recommended careers that involve little human contact.  Although this sounds fairly harmless at first, it goes against all that we know is helpful in breaking out of shyness and social anxiety

Avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations maintains anxiety and shyness. If you become anxious in situations, you often avoid them in order to avoid the anxiety. But if you avoid anxiety-provoking situations, you never learn that you can handle the situations or that your anxiety will naturally decrease if you stayed in the anxiety-provoking situation. The body naturally reduces one's anxiety over time (usually 20-40 minutes) if the person stays in the situation. Unfortunately, anxious individuals usually do not remain in an anxiety-provoking situation long enough to realize this. Instead, they bolt at the first symptom of anxiety. This only serves to maintain an individual's anxiety.

Exposure to anxiety is key if you do not want your anxiety to guide your life.  Anxiety is part of being human, but we call it an anxiety disorder when it starts to interfere in a person's life and guide the person's decisions.  So if an individual is choosing jobs due to their desire to avoid social situations and the anxiety that is experienced in them, the person's anxiety is guiding the person's life and may prevent the individual from truly reaching their potential and pursuing the career that would bring them the most fulfillment.  

Most shy individuals want human contact--they just fear it as well.  Shy individuals often suffer from loneliness and depression because of feelings of isolation.  Choosing a solitary career would only exacerbate this.  Many therapists and doctors are shy individuals and their practices are built on contact with others.  Their careers provide them with a way to connect with others within the context of something that they are confident about--their knowledge about their field.  And nothing brings one out of their shell like confidence

So to all of you shy people out there--choose the job you want, not the job that is dictated by your shyness. 

About the Author

Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University and specializes in anxiety disorders in children, adolescents, and adults.

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