I am a 29 year old introvert (ISFJ) woman who struggled with the responsibilities and expectations placed on me by being a gifted kid. I am the first person in my family to attend a four-year university and graduate, which I did with a high GPA and multiple awards.

Immediately after graduating I entered an environmental advocacy fellowship program that is prestigious and competitive, but it made me miserable. I was depressed, gained weight, and entered into a terrible and destructive relationship during that year because I so badly needed any type of support. I’ve worked in environmental NGOs ever since.

Now my job is communications and media relations, which is also prestigious and competitive. The highs aren’t high enough to justify how low I feel when things are bad. I see more gray hairs every day. I am afraid to quit because I am finally making decent wages – $44k per year – and have another 18 months to pay off a loan.

I came across this post and it got me thinking: http://mailbag.penelopetrunk.com/2012/03/04/how-to-find-meaningful-work/. I want a job making 45-50k, not in politics and not in the environmental field, where I can work well with people AND not have my family members disappointed that I’m not living up to my potential. I want fewer gray hairs and more days where I go him smiling. I think human resources or office manager or something like that appeals to me, but I have no idea how to make the transition or even be considered for those jobs.

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9 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Your biggest problem is that your family tells you that you’re not living up to your potential.

    It should be a red flag to anyone when someone tells you that you’re not living up to your potential, because honestly, that’s not a fair criticism of anyone. Here’s a post about that:


    But the real problem is that you did well in school because you are smart and you follow rules and you care about doing what people ask you to do. Your family thought that would translate to you making a lot of money. But it doesn’t.

    Your needs are to take care of people and make them feel good. And when you are not doing that, you fall apart (eating, whatever). Your family doesn’t see the whole you — they just see the smart, good student you. But you are a person who has high emotional needs -you need to be connected to people and helping them and you need to be someone keeping order.

    There are not high paying jobs in this regard. But there are high reward jobs in this arena. You probably have one. You do not need to make more money than $44K. Making $45-50K won’t make a bit of difference in your life. You are just trying to make more money so you can tell your family.

    Don’t do that. Start living your own life. Start respecting the things you value instead of thinking they are not enough.

    And, an aside: The most fulfilling job for someone like you is a wife and a mother. Because while people don’t pay a lot for the skills you offer, the skills you have make for incredibly high-funtioning, highly fulfilling family lives.

    I hope this helps you to see yourself more clearly. And I hope you will start taking care of yourself instead of trying to be someone you’re not to please other people.


  2. juliette
    juliette says:

    I really liked this response, Penelope. I hope this ISFJ finds the courage to just be who she is! Life is too short to live for other people. Dig deep, ISFJ!

  3. Gwendolyn
    Gwendolyn says:

    Wife and mother? Really? I cannot believe I just read that as advice from a career coach. Give me a break. With what the OP wrote, you clearly need more infomation before suggesting that as her “career path.” As an educated woman like the OP, I am really offended by that answer. I hope you have more relevant advice to others; hard to believe from your response that you are a professional coach, albeit one that I would never ask the time of day. Unbelievable. Hope the OP goes elsewhere for some better advice. Personally, I think some advice like looking into technical writing or librarian work would be more helpful.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Gwendolyn, I find it offensive that you think just because a woman is smart and educated doesn’t mean she shouldn’t aspire to be a wife and a mother.

      Is it somehow an unworthy task of smart people?
      It is somehow a waste to give everyone an education? Do you advocate people having to prove they want to work 8 hours a day away from the family before they get an education?

      Do you think everyone is suited to take care of kids all day? If not then why do you assume everyone is suited to work outside the home all day?


    • blazingsuth
      blazingsuth says:

      Gwendolyn, I echo Penelope’s advice. I am also a highly educated woman and to be brutally honest, I can’t imagine having kids and leaving them with a stranger while I go off to work. It’s going to kill me to leave my very interesting, challenging and engaging work to do it; if I’m really lucky I’ll be able to keep my hand in and work part time eventually. But I’m going to do it anyways because I know it would be worse to keep working and hand my kids over to strangers (why bother having them if I’m just going to pass them off to someone else to raise?).

      Here’s the thing, some (many? most?) women are born to be nurturers. It isn’t really possible to nurture others in the workplace. Feminism tells women to be all that they can be, but what if their truest desire is to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted children? Is that somehow wrong? Why?

  4. B. Ellen
    B. Ellen says:

    I make more than $100,000/yr. in the behavioral health field as a contract manager. There are many lucrative, rewarding positions in many different arenas where helping others is the ultimate aim. Ponder what you love to do and don’t squander what you do well. Combine your passion with your talents and you’ll find that you really enjoy your work. But don’t forget that your work is not your life. Until you figure it out, volunteer and do other things that are meaningful to you. You seem to have a good heart. You’re already on the path to peace with that alone. I wish you the best. -B. Ellen

  5. downfromtheledge
    downfromtheledge says:

    Ditto on being an introvert (INFJ) who was the first person in the family to go to/graduate college with awards. I feel inferior all the time for being so “booksmart” and not having that translate into making a ton of money. My dad makes more than me working at a factory, and idiots who drank their way through school have gone on to huge success. I wonder why I worked so hard for so long only to end up with so little.

    I also gained a lot of weight when I went from college into a profession that was something I believed in strongly and loved, but brought too much attention. I don’t want people looking at me and talking about me; I just want to quietly do my job and help people and make a difference. I continue to contemplate leaving my field for something more blend-into-the-background-ish. Sometimes I am just not sure all the anxiety is worth it.

    When I really look at the period when I put on all of that weight, I had gained professional success but lost a 7-year relationship and the hope of having a family. I really identify with Penelope’s statement about the need to take care of others. It was kind of ironic what she wrote about finding true happiness from being a wife and mother, as that was originally what I always wanted to do; I didn’t even WANT to go to college. I am lucky to have a job that is focused on helping people, mostly kids. Still, it doesn’t fill the void.

  6. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    @Downfromtheledge I’ve read quite a few of your comments on PT’s site, and even checked out your blog. I don’t know if you are in a financial position to do so or not, but you should get career/life-coaching from Penelope. You come across as someone smart but stuck. Reminds me of Allie Brosh.
    I hope things work out for you in the new year. Take care

  7. Christopher
    Christopher says:

    I am a 25-year old male ISFJ, and can relate to the comments above. I have often thought, “it seems like everything I’m interested in or supposedly good at won’t bring in much money for me,” or “I just don’t know how to make the dollars that it seems I’m capable of.” But worst of all I for some reason can’t decide what it is I should / could do and love it.

    I know I have talents & am capable. I excelled at playing the violin as a kid, before becoming burnt out. My grades were always excellent in school, then I got burnt out from school. I excelled at photography as a part-time job in college, then lost interest. I excelled at acting in our local theater after college. I have always been told that whatever I put my mind to, I do well. People say I have so much potential, and can do anything I want. I just can’t ever decide what it is I want to do.

    In college, I ended up getting the same finance degree my dad got from the same university he attended. I strongly disliked it. I then took a Johnson O’Connor aptitude test which said I should have studied psychology, sociology, journalism, advertising, marketing, or public relations. I am someone who has tons of ideas, is always finding a correlation between things, loves architecture and design, enjoys making people happy, loves making the world a more beautiful / better place. I like solving problems.

    How does one make up their mind in life? Indecision is paralyzing.

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