5 Steps to a Better Career When You Have Social Anxiety

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Individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD) may find it difficult to pursue a fulfilling career. Aside from the social and performance obligations of the job search, for example, interviews), many with social anxiety simply feel unprepared for the working world—in a "wish I could hide in my closet forever" kind of way.

First things first: Identify if your social anxiety is under control. There is no sense venturing out into the world of work with severe social anxiety.

If it's not, see someone, such as a family doctor, counselor, or other professional. Or even just tell a friend or family member as a starting point.

Assuming then, that you managed to lessen the impact of your symptoms of social anxiety, there is still the business of finding a career that you can love.

This process is not unlike that which would be undertaken by any other job seeker, perhaps with a few caveats. 

Below are five steps that you can take to get yourself on track for a career that makes you happy.

Step 1: Understand Yourself (Self-Evaluation)

No, not in a existentialistic kind of way.

In order to identify the best careers for you, it is important to first understand your interests, priorities, goals, and strengths.

This kind of exploration is often referred to as "career development"—and there are actually professionals who make a living out of helping you sort all of this out (perhaps a job you had not considered?).

So, if you have the means, locate a career counselor and arrange for a consultation. That person will likely have you complete a number of inventories (kind of a like a psychologist would, only these have to do with your aptitudes and interests). Examples of the inventories you might complete could include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the Strong Interest Inventory.

The results of these assessments will help the career counselor understand how your personality, temperament, interests, and skills combine to make you a good candidate for various fields of work.

If you don't have the means to visit a career counselor or just feel anxious about it, you can even take the MBTI online for a fee or complete a free online career inventory.

Once you've got an idea of your skills, interests, and aptitudes, it is time to identify your priorities.

Ask yourself the following question:

What do you want to be doing five years from know? If social anxiety were not an issue, what would you see yourself doing?

And, make the following list:

What are your priorities (what do you want/not want from a career?) if social anxiety were not an issue?

Your answers to these questions, combined with what you have learned from career counseling should give you a better idea of the career direction that ideally you would take. Whether that means being a computer programmer, entrepreneur, or teacher, the goal of this step is to simply have a short-list of suitable careers.

And, ask yourself:

What are the job prospects like for the career that you have chosen? Are you likely to find a position in this field?

What is the compensation like for the job you have chosen? Is it a livable wage and an improvement from your current wage? How important is that to you?

Once you've got the answers to these questions, you will be in a better position to narrow down the career options that lie in front of you. If you are working with a career counselor, that person can help to narrow this down for you as well.

Step 2: Training/Education

If you've chosen a new career that requires extensive education, such as advanced degrees, hopefully you are still in high school or just entering college, and have lots of time to choose a major. Hopefully, you also have the financial resources to follow through with your chosen career plans.

If, however, you've chosen a career without such stringent educational requirements, it might make just as much sense to choose a focused approach to building your training and education.

For example, you could do the following:

  1. Approach a leader in the field to act as your mentor. Ask if you could send emails every once in a while asking for advice on various aspects of this new career. Promise to act as a mentor for someone else just starting out, after you've gained professional expertise.
  2. Ask that mentor what would be the best workshops, individual courses, articles, and books related to your new career. Then attend/read those workshops, courses, articles, and books.
  3. Volunteer in a capacity that gets you closer to your new career. Take on extra challenges in your current job that may stretch you toward that career you are seeking.
  4. Complete a certification that will give you an advantage in your new field and something that you can add to your resume and LinkedIn page (oh yes, you should have a LinkedIn page!)
  5. Take a MOOC (massive open online course) related to your chosen career. Many of these courses are taught by professionals from well-regarded institutions. Though they are tuition-free, you may need to pay in order to obtain a certificate. The most important part of taking a MOOC is following through—since you have nothing invested it may be too easy to just let it slide.
  6. Join an industry or professional association related to your new career.

Step 3: Plan for a Job Search

What sorts of steps will you need to take to plan for your job search? These might include the following:

  1. Brush up your resume. If you are not confident in how you have presented yourself, ask a friend, family member, or even a resume writer to have a look and give you feedback.
  2. Work on your job interview skills. If you have lived with SAD for a while, you may not have ever gone on an interview. Plan ahead by thinking of interview questions that you may be asked, and what your answers to those questions would be. Try to run through a mock interview with someone to take the edge off of your nerves and build your confidence.
  3. Start looking for jobs through online job boards, newspaper listings, and by networking with friends, family, and coworkers. Let others know that you are looking to change careers; you never know who may be the person who connects you to your next job.

Step 4: Stay Current

Once you've entered a new career, try to stay current by keeping up on your training. Make yourself indispensable at work, but also try to come up with innovations that make the work of yourself and others less tedious.

Doing so will add value to the company or organization and help you to gain recognition when social anxiety may hold you back in other areas.

Step 5: Stay Where You Are

By gosh, what if you go through all these steps and find out that you are actually in the career best suited to you? Or, what if you get through Step 1 and discover that teaching/waitressing/being a small business owner is probably your best bet—and that is what you are already doing?

In those instances, take it as a sign that you've already made some correct choices with respect to your career. It may just be that you need to better tailor your actual job to your strengths, interests, and skills. For example, if you prefer one-on-one client meetings to giving large presentations, perhaps you supervisor could slant your work in that direction.

Just be sure that you are not just tailoring your job choice as a way to avoid dealing with your social anxiety. Always keep in mind what you would most like to do if social anxiety were not an issue.

Some people, regardless of social anxiety, are introverted and prefer time alone to recharge batteries. If that is you, it may be fine to have a job that keeps you out of the spotlight.

On the other hand, if you are an extrovert whose social anxiety makes it hard to schmooze at corporate events—but you desperately want to and crave the social interaction—well that is a problem related to your social anxiety that needs to be solved.

The advantages to staying in your current career may be many, so it should certainly be given serious consideration if that is the outcome of moving through these steps.

In the end, it may all come back to Step 1 and discovering who you really are and where you want to end up—and that is okay.

A Disclaimer

If you have been living with severe social anxiety and support yourself through disability payments or by living with family members, don't let this article get you down.

Each person with SAD has unique circumstances, symptoms, and levels of severity. What is a success for you might be different than what is a success for someone else.

Try to focus on improving from where you were yesterday instead of comparing yourself to other people. As long as you are working with a mental health professional about your situation, you are moving in the right direction.

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