Right now, I teach as an adjunct instructor and work as a tutor on campus at a local community college. I have a master’s degree in English. The feedback I receive from students and my supervisors indicate that I am doing an exceptional job. I love my work. I find helping students to write and communicate more effectively to be deeply satisfying. I love explaining things and answering questions.

Here is the problem: my husband and I are moving because he got into graduate school, and the school he was accepted to is the only one anywhere near our new apartment. That college is not hiring right now. I have Asperger’s, do not drive, and am an INFJ. I have multiple chronic illnesses (MCAD, PTSD, POTS, CFS, Fibromyalgia, suspected EDS) that cause food allergies that can change overnight, severe pain, exhaustion, and other symptoms. These illnesses can be managed, but they will likely never go away. My husband is also an INFJ, and neither of us

I have multiple chronic illnesses (MCAD, PTSD, POTS, CFS, Fibromyalgia, suspected EDS) that cause food allergies that can change overnight, severe pain, exhaustion, and other symptoms. These illnesses can be managed, but they will likely never go away. My husband is also an INFJ, and neither of us wants to have kids. His siblings already have kids, and my siblings will have kids, so we don’t even have any meaningful pressure from either of our families to contend with.

I am trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Prior to getting severely sick a few years ago, I was a workaholic. I love school, and I love working. I had three jobs in grad school and graduated with a 4.0 and a publication in a major journal. I graduated undergrad early by taking overloads, and I worked and was heavily involved on campus and still graduated summa cum laude. My professors encouraged me to be a researcher and talked a lot about my potential.

Despite my Asperger’s, I do care a lot about people, and I like how the formality and purpose of school lets me keep my interactions with people semi-scripted, warm, professional, and useful. I am able to connect and to be useful to others. Since I got sick, working part time is challenging. I might be able to work full time if the job wasn’t intellectually or physically draining, which is why I have considered an office job.

However, I fear I would be wasting my potential, my degree, and the time my professors invested in helping me. In addition, the pay for a secretary is mediocre. That’s not all bad, and my husband doesn’t care how much money I make (obviously, as he is also an INFJ, and we care about our values more than anything).

We are very good at being happy and meeting our needs with very little money. I am 26, and we have been married for five years. Our income has been below the poverty line all five years, and I would still say we have the best relationship of anyone we know, and we haven’t ever had urgent needs we were unable to meet.

I have considered becoming a speech pathologist, but that would mean getting a second bachelor’s degree and a master’s, which would take about three or four years, a lot of work, and cost a great deal of money. Working part time as a speech pathologist, I could make more per hour, but I fear that that potentially higher part-time income is negated by the student loans and time lost to getting additional degrees.

I have worked as an editor in student positions in the past, and I have loved that work, but again, there aren’t editing jobs where we are moving. Even if there were, it seems unlikely that I would be hired because I only worked as an editor as a student. I worked at a library when I got sick, and again, I loved the work, but the position I held was high energy and full time, and I couldn’t physically do it once I got sick. The part-time jobs at libraries often pay even less than secretarial positions.

I have been working since I was fifteen, and I have gotten to try a lot of jobs and get a sense of what I am good at. The longest I have ever lived in one place in my entire life was four years, and my husband’s five-year program will ground us and give us a chance to put down roots. I don’t want to waste that opportunity.

Ultimately, I want a job that allows me to answer questions and help people. Because of my Asperger’s and illnesses, that job needs to be low stress, and it can’t be physically demanding. I would rather find full-time work so that I could afford insurance, but I’m not sure I’m physically capable of it anymore.

I don’t know if I should feel guilty about wasting my potential or not, and I don’t know if I should make a serious effort to earn more money or not. I have been reading you blog for several years now, and I’ve read your fiction and non-fiction. I know you have Aspergers so you understand me. And I trust you and your opinions. What do you think?

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15 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    You already know what you should do. Take an easy, low-stress, part-time job.

    This is your problem:
    “I fear I would be wasting my potential, my degree, and the time my professors invested in helping me. In addition, the pay for a secretary is mediocre.”

    If you don’t value money then you don’t need good pay. And your professors don’t care what you do with your life. Sorry. You are not doing any sort of research that will improve their reputation so they don’t care about what you do.

    It sounds like what you care most about is having a good relationship with your husband and getting to tell people what you know. You can do that in a wide range of jobs. You don’t need to be in academia and you definitely don’t need another degree.

    There are bazillion retail jobs that reward people for memorizing inventory. You could do that job and answer questions and have scripted conversations, etc.

    What you are not facing is your snobbery. You want to be admired for your knowledge. That’s probably not going to happen for you. You don’t have a Ph.D. and you cannot work full time.

    I think you should focus on taking care of your health and having a good marriage. It sounds like having a good marriage will be your achievement. It’s no small achievement. Also, most great marriages have no kids. So you are set up well for meeting that goal of yours.

    I think you just need to come to terms with who you are. We all do. Every adult has this problem. It’s a work in progress.

    • Wendy
      Wendy says:

      As an INFJ with Asperger’s, I would say not to go into retail, because that tends to be hell for INFJs. Unless you do stocking, which is physically demanding so that’s out. I never was in a retail or food service job I didn’t hate, and I did them for 5 years. When I finally quit, the euphoria cured my depression for a whole year.

      Just kidding. But seriously. I never met an INFJ whose retail job didn’t make them want to kill themselves. Don’t go into retail.

  2. jessica
    jessica says:

    26 and looking to come to terms with being an INFJ in a working world. Take Penelope’s INFJ course. Your illnesses are one thing to manage with work, personality is another. So many INFJ’s comment on here!
    Money may not be as important to you and your husband right now, but in a few years time it will be. It’s a necessity and poverty is something you should be aiming to get out of.

  3. L
    L says:

    Penelope’s take is right on. Part time work is a great idea. You can make meaning wherever you work.

    I have a few additional thoughts as a previously high powered INFJ who also came down with a chronic illness.

    When you can, move to a small town. Less central nervous system activation from sounds, traffic, etc = less pain and fatigue. No one asks, “what do you do?” They don’t care because they have jobs, not careers. It’s easier to let go of the part of you that wants to be impressive when you’re surrounded by people who value family and community above work and the status symbols of the urban/educated class. And most small town jobs don’t pay very well, so it’s easier to feel satisfied living on less.

    After a few years being totally disabled, and another few doing independent consulting part time, I took a job in Human Resources Management in the public sector. I make 3 times the average income in my small town. I have prioritized earning money so I can save up and retire when I have kids. It’s hard on my body, sure, but it’s gotten easier. When I started, I hired someone to clean my house and make pre-prepared meals. Today, I am able to handle it myself. With chronic illness, graded activity is key.

    I’ve built systems at work to increase my efficiency and I “keep” most of the saved time for myself. So there are days where I spend more time coordinating my medical care and reading articles than working. You can get away with a lot as a high performer, especially in the public sector… Bring value and people don’t look twice.

    You’d be surprised the jobs you could get with your level of education / intellect. You could probably find an entry or mid level position in human resources or another public sector department. The benefits are good. I get tons of sick/vacation time (so much that, even as a person with major health issues and tons of medical appointments, I cannot seem to use it all!). There’s great job security and chances to move up. Check out jobs with cities, counties, states, educational institutions, etc. Resource
    = Governmentjobs.com

    Finally, you say you are great at living on very little money. If you manage to work full time or land a higher paying position, there is no reason you need to spend more just because you’re making it. Check out Mr. Money Mustache and the other financial independence / early retirement bloggers. If you save up while you’re young and invest it, you may be able to retire quite early.
    INFJs tend to be happier when we are learning and working towards a long-term goal. For me, financial independence scratches both of these itches.

    I have so much more I could say on this topic, but I hope my ramblings are good for something. Wishing you the very best.

      • Anna
        Anna says:

        Also, secretarial work, aka administrative assistant, pays pretty well, probably more than an adjunct professor at a c. college (though with a more regimented time table for the long haul – read, daily routine of 8 to 5, less of a factor if a few days a week). Admin assistants though put in a lot of relationship (lots of interpersonal interaction and meeting the needs of an individual) and have a dependent dynamic. I’d seriously recommend office clerk, which is a little less pay but more autonomous work with inherent creative opportities to contribute systems, applied intelligence, and even relevant knowledge via sustained reputation built up over time.

  4. Caro
    Caro says:

    On a tangent, “most great marriages have no kids.”

    Sounds true to me! My husband and I were perfect pre-baby. An enviable relationship and now there is so much exhaustion, worry and bickering. I love my kid more than anything though.

  5. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    Question: With your husband starting graduate school,will he also be working at the same time? I ask because I was wondering about your insurance situation since you have multiple chronic illnesses and have to see doctors quite a bit. Being below the poverty level can be scary if a medical emergency comes up.

    I also second not going into retail. It can be very physically taxing and mentally taxing if you don’t enjoy dealing with customers. I’d look into the public sector as well. I don’t know why Penelope doesn’t talk more about working in the public sector. The pay not be as high as the private sector, but there can be major security in those jobs. The biggest drawback is getting a foot in the door since a lot of people stay in public sector jobs for years.

  6. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    I wanted to add have you thought about tutoring students in your new town freelance? They could be college or K-12 if you don’t mind tutoring younger students. You said you enjoyed tutoring and you might be able to gather students in your new town.

  7. Melody Maynard
    Melody Maynard says:

    I am an INFP, so we have a slightly different makeup, but similar enough to have some overlap. I work part-time for emergency services, which is all I can handle right now between illness and parenting. I too struggle with the idea of wasting my degree and knowledge, but I recognize that this may be just a season, and even if it’s not, having a great family life and great marriage is wildly important.

  8. OP
    OP says:

    This was my question. I took a city job working in a call center. I was named the top representative of the quarter after having been there for only a month. It’s easy and not stressful, and I’m good at it. I’m able to see doctors, and I have great insurance now. I don’t like being away from home so much, but it’s a small thing. Thank you to everyone, especially Penelope, for the great advice.

  9. ann e
    ann e says:

    I can’t help but wonder how living below the poverty line contributes to her chronic illnesses. For example, PTSD can be treated successfully with appropriate drug therapy and a therapist skilled in treating PTSD but this route is not cheap. Thus, she needs really good health insurance and sufficient income to cover the expenses of long-term therapy. No one should be proud of living below the poverty line for so long, especially with her skills.

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