I have a few friends and colleagues who are deeply invested in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, the questionnaire that boils your worldview down to a series of four letters. E for extrovert and I for introvert and so on. These friends and colleagues can rattle off their sequence of four with a fevered intensity and may even judge their compatibility with a potential spouse based on whether the mate in question is Thinking or Feeling, Sensing or Intuiting.
I am less invested. I don’t even remember my results. But I do remember the list of recommended professions — those careers I am apparently well-suited to pursue. Apparently, the people over at Myers-Briggs see me as a shepherd. I vote no, as I feel like shepherding involves a lot of animal feces and warding off ferocious wolves with only a gnarled staff and my QUICK SHEPHERD REFLEXES!
That actually makes shepherding sound kind of exciting. Perhaps I could be the Chuck Norris of shepherding.
I mention the Myers Briggs and lamb-wrangling because I’ve been thinking about what I call shadow careers — the professional paths you find interesting but decide to pass up. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sticking with professor-ing as long as I’m able. But entertaining the softly glowing possibilities of shadow careers is, I think, a common coping mechanism in academia, where you often end up trying to get a job for far longer than any human should be expected to try. All that waiting around and feeling sorry for yourself is bound to make you reconsider that five (or six, or seven) year degree. Maybe I could be a tightrope-walker! Or a royal food-tester! Or a homeless person!
Of course, there are those odd or swanky shadow careers that most of us would enjoy. Luxury hotel reviewer. Crayola crayon namer. Puppy cuddler. (That’s a career, right?) But I’ve narrowed down my shadow careers to three:
- Journalist. This is probably my most logical shadow career. I was, after all, editor of my high school newspaper and, subsequently, a print journalism major at American, home of an excellent School of Communication. I remember fondly my classes with Rodger Streitmatter and Wendall Cochran, and I was lucky enough to participate in a semester-long seminar at the Washington Post. I interned at Charlotte magazine and published a few pieces there.
Of course, in my years as an English PhD, I’ve lost my pithiness. Victoianists don’t always value concision. We spend all day reading Dickens and Thackeray and other authors who let their sentences spill across entire paragraphs. But the idea of feature writing still holds this shiny promise for me — one of those careers that seem too good to actually exist. (You can tell that my idealism has not been squashed by a real newsroom.)
Why I would excel at this career: I’m trained for it, and I consider myself an adequate writer. Why I would fail: I hate it when meeting a deadline requires relying on someone else calling me back. Oh, and I’m terrible at writing headlines. Terrible.
- Social worker. Whenever I mention that I am interested in social work, my listener launches into a lecture on why this is a horrible job and that I am hopelessly naive about its horribleness. But I’m interested in adoption and foster care, and this is where much of that happens. I have experience in nonprofits, service, and education — all fields that are often implicated in social work. Oh — and I was a grad student and therefore have a very toned Living On Peanuts muscle.
Part of me wonders if I’m interested in social work because I consider it work that matters, that can once in a while make a difference in someone’s life in a pretty significant way. (I know, I know. Red Tape. Futility. Frustration.) I think teaching literature and writing is important, of course, but you can get through life without reading Bleak House (even if it’s inadvisable). It’s more difficult to get through life without a stable family. Just ask Oliver Twist.
Why I would excel at this career: I am empathetic and truly believe that adoption is one of the most meaningful ways to build a family. Why I would fail: I’m kind of non-confrontational. See that “kind of”? Proof of my non-confrontational-ness.
- Paper engineer. As in an artist who designs in paper, not a scientist who engineers paper products. A few years ago, I heard a radio interview with Robert Sabuda, in which he discussed his new pop-up book, Brava Strega Nona! Sabuda is a very talented man (and, I just learned, quite handsome!). When you turn a page in one of his pop-ups, the images often leap forward from the page in a turning, twisting, dynamic showcase.
After the interview concluded, I was certain that I had missed my calling and obviously should have been trained cradle-forward as a paper engineer. I imagined an entire career, in partnership with Danny, designing pop-up books. I know a lot about the history and theory of children’s literature, and while I know that does not qualify me to write or design it, I feel it gives me an edge.
Why I would excel at this career: It seems to involve order and organization, qualities I have in spades. Also whimsy and a sense of humor. I have those, too, I think. Why I would fail: It involves math and excellent spatial intelligence.
While it is, perhaps, the most far-fetched of my shadow careers, I’m putting a pin in the paper engineer option. I have a lot of ideas, and I hope to begin my work as a paper engineer later in life.
I will be the Grandma Moses of paper engineering, people. Keep your eyes peeled.
So, carrots readers! What’s your shadow career?