Cary Chessick had selective mutism as a child. Now, as the founder and CEO of Restaurant.com, he spends a lot of time in the spotlight. Read about his story here.

For the teen or adult with selective mutism, getting a job may seem like an impossible task. Even if you don’t have selective mutism, getting a job can still be pretty hard. Adults with SM have a tough time finding work because:

1. Interviews can be stressful for anybody, but the prospect of not being able to speak can present another layer of difficulty for someone with SM.
2. If you do get the job, there is still much talking involved while you work.

Kids with social anxiety who are in college sometimes consider tailoring their college major to something that would not involve much social interaction. For example, web programming, accounting, or engineering degrees can allow for a minimal amount of talking.

The good thing about this is that it’s a lot easier to cope with work. There’s not much expectation to speak, which is very nice. The downside is that it’s also very easy to get stuck and not talk to anybody ever. Selective mutism can be overcome slowly, but there has to be a conscious effort and a desire to do so. Some people are fine without speaking and accept it as the will of the universe, and if they prefer it that way, then that’s okay.

Even so, the progress doesn’t necessarily have to take place at work. You can always have a temporary job restocking shelves at a store or something, and work towards reducing anxiety somewhere else (like school).

So one way of looking at what kind of job to get, which I have described above, is where would I have to talk the least. The other way of looking at it is where would I get the most opportunity to practice talking. Last summer I worked as a janitor at a large office building (which I didn’t like at all and quit after three months because trash is gross), and one part of my job was this:

1) Push around a big trash can on wheels
2) Stop at each of the cubicles
3) Empty each of their miniature cubicle trash cans into the bigger trash can.

I started work towards the end of the day when people started to go home, but there were still about 3/4 of the people still working, which might be around 100 different people. Each time I’d arrive at a new cubicle, I had a chance to just say hi or ask how their day was. I didn’t do it every time because I’d get a bout of anxiety every so often, and I got a bit nervous at the thought of going to work, but over time it became less and less of a chore and more of just a habitual friendly gesture.

I learned that the more good social interactions you have, the more confident you will be. One of the reasons why it’s so hard to break out of the circle of anxiety is that it’s self-reinforcing.

To break this cycle, you’ve got to have many positive interactions to replace the negative feelings that stems from the anxiety. Most everybody was nice to me, except for maybe one or two people who were having a bad day. But after three months, you get a lot of opportunities to talk, and they add up quickly.

Common jobs that require a lot of talking (probably not a good fit for SM’s, but if you can do it, it will help out loads and help you to think on your feet):
1. Waiting tables
2. Being a cashier anywhere
3. Working at a fast food restaurant
4. Bank teller
5. Tutoring

Some jobs that require a moderate amount of talking:
1. Taxi driver
2. Janitor jobs
3. Mowing lawns
4. Working in a factory
5. Babysitting

Here are some jobs that require only a little bit of speech:
1. Reshelving library books
2. Data entry jobs
3. Photographer
4. Designing web pages
5. A Stockboy/girl at a grocery store
6. Any home business based on the internet
7. Writing books/scripts/articles

One of the most important things to remember is to do something you like. If you’re still in school or just needing a temporary job, then maybe it’s the best option to work somewhere you don’t want to. But thinking long term, a job that demoralizes your spirit, like collecting trash in my case, just isn’t worth it, and it’s better to find a job you like.

-Seth