In one section of my book The Shyness Guide, I discuss the problems shy people encounter in workplaces today. Though not insurmountable, those problems are significant enough that I included this recommendation:
There are shy careers. I was hoping to one day become a field geologist or biologist, so I could live my life in one wilderness or another. There are a lot of shy people in the sciences, and I think they feel very much at home there. That’s also true of the arts, and there are fields like accounting where you can keep a lower profile more suited to your nature. Carpenters, auto mechanics and computer programmers are better-fitted to a shy life too, since they deal mostly with inanimate things. I would urge anyone still in school to move in one of those directions.
But I ended up in services – insurance claims handling and accident investigation – where you’re face to face with the public, often working in ‘teams’, in the worst possible place for a shy person.
So I didn’t follow my own advice. Why? Because I didn’t have a plan.
Well, I did take on claims/accident investigation work partly because it was a challenge. That was intentional. Like people with a fear of heights who learn to fly airplanes, I wanted to see if I could deal with it. I thought I would spend 2-3 years in it, then go back to school. I wasn’t expecting it to turn into a career.
That may sound like I had a plan, but I was really just “playing it by ear”. If you don’t know what you want to do, there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t forget that the clock is ticking.
Was my choice wrong?
Well, you could say it was a good choice. Insurance claims work, especially the investigation part of it, was interesting. I was never bored, and the increased exposure did eventually help me suppress my sensitivity enough to function without anxiety. My novel The Birdcatcher would never have existed without that experience, and maybe The Shyness Guide wouldn’t either.
Incidentally, if you’re young and looking for a life path today, in addition to those mentioned in the quote above, you might become an insurance underwriter. Underwriting can be interesting work, and it fits fairly well with a shy personality.
The problem with diving into society in the way I did – sink or swim – is bad life experiences. You can’t escape them entirely anywhere, but I could have done with a few less.
When I say that shy people aren’t well-equipped to live in the social world, I’m not only referring to our sensitivity, but also to an innate lack of understanding most of us have re the social games you have to play. There is no rule book to study. It’s mostly unwritten. Social people are born with instinctual rules, while we have to figure them out ourselves. You have to engage with people and see what happens – learn by trial and error. The trouble with that is that there are many errors and some can leave lasting psychological effects.
If you want an example of what I mean, read chapter XIII of The Birdcatcher. It’s a flashback, a story within a story, where the young Christopher Stone has an experience that haunts him for years. It might be the best short story I ever wrote. If you would like to read it, click on one of these:
Believe it or not, I had that experience twice, only slightly different the second time. Unfortunately I didn’t learn as fast as Chris Stone.
Read that chapter and you’ll see why I would rather see you go into one of those ‘shy careers’ mentioned above.
But regardless of where you end up working, The Shyness Guide has a lot of down-to-earth advice about working shy in workplaces.