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Thread: Urban planning: not a career for shy people?

  1. #1
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    Urban planning: not a career for shy people?

    Hey everyone,

    I'm a first year Geography student still trying to figure out what I want to do in life. I wanted to go on and get my masters in Urban Planning after I got my BA, but I don't think I gave this plan enough thought. I'm really passionate about Urban Planning, and I know I would love studying it in university, but I'm not sure if it would be a wise career choice.

    I attended an open house at the University of Waterloo where an urban planning graduate told us about how Urban Planners do a lot of interacting with the public and how they give a lot of presentations. I don't think I would be any good at this, since I am shy to an insane degree. I'm much better suited for a job where I can work independently without a lot of interaction, and I guess this would not be a career in Urban Planning.

    I'm thinking about dropping out of university and studying Computer Programming at a community college. It's not something I'm particularly passionate about, but at least I know I have the right natural skills.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    There is interaction with the public in urban planning, but there are other opportunities in the realm of planning that do not require as much interaction. You may want to look into specializing in research like working for a public policy institution or agency that does planning-related research, ULI and APA come to mind in the US. If you like computers I would also recommend specializing in GIS and maybe going that route with a career. GIS-related positions often have less interaction that public or communty planners. Best of luck!
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  3. #3
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    This might be hard for some to believe, but in my personal life, I'm relatively shy. Meeting new people and striking up a conversation is awkward for me (unless I've had a or three under my belt ). I'm typically not the one who takes the first step.

    When I began my professional career, I realized that trait would not work and I would have to adjust--and quickly. I made the adjustment and I'm doing well. If I can do it, anybody can.

    Guess I have a Jekyll and Hyde personality.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I am an introvert. It has not impeded me. Public speaking was a difficult hurdle, but it only takes experience. The one-on-one situations are ok except for the small talk. I have been a director since my second job, I have learned how to put on the act. There is a niche in planning for all types. You could be a full time number cruncher or GIS person who never leaves the computer.

  5. #5
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    I'm quite shy, although those who have met me at Alefests, and my Myers-Briggs personality type (ENFP, barely E) would say otherwise.

    My position in comprehensive planning is perfect for my level of shyness, IMHO. The phone isn't ringing off the hook, and the bulk of my interaction with the public is limited to scheduled meetings; there's very few unsolicited visitors. Even then, when they come to discuss comprehensive planning issues, odds are they're not going to be as adversarial as those meeting to discuss zoning or subdivision-related current planning issues.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    shy?

    Quote Originally posted by f77 View post
    Hey everyone,

    I'm a first year Geography student still trying to figure out what I want to do in life. I wanted to go on and get my masters in Urban Planning after I got my BA, but I don't think I gave this plan enough thought. I'm really passionate about Urban Planning, and I know I would love studying it in university, but I'm not sure if it would be a wise career choice.

    I attended an open house at the University of Waterloo where an urban planning graduate told us about how Urban Planners do a lot of interacting with the public and how they give a lot of presentations. I don't think I would be any good at this, since I am shy to an insane degree. I'm much better suited for a job where I can work independently without a lot of interaction, and I guess this would not be a career in Urban Planning.

    I'm thinking about dropping out of university and studying Computer Programming at a community college. It's not something I'm particularly passionate about, but at least I know I have the right natural skills.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Hi f77, here's my honest opinion....

    I agree with the other planners that even though you are shy, there are still roles that you can take on without a high degree of public speaking, presentations and stuff. Jobs like that would be like GIS, policy planners, even economic developmenmt types....but quite honestly from my experience, these people never got promoted above a certain level....At least in the firms that I worked with, you have to be 'out there' and speak, and also speak with conviction about.....planning. You probably know more knowledge wise about planning but someone else with less knowledge will always get ahead. The reason is planning is such a wide and vague field....anyone can sound like they know what they're talking about and get more credit than you. And if you remain to be someone who's 'shy' you'll probably end up as a 'specialist' and get pigeon-holed in doing the GIS stuff but never get promoted to the high level of like associate directors, directors, ect.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    There are all sorts of specialities, some of which do not require dealing with the public at all. Having said that, anyone who gets anywhere in urban planning over time has to be comfortable talking to the public and dealing with adversarial relationships. Bluntly speaking, if you are getting anything done you are being yelled at a lot (more via email than in person, but I find that even worse.) And you can't really yell back. So you need to have strong people skills, almost political skills. Making small talk about people's families and interests seem irrelevant in the short term but help you build relationships that are essential, at least on the local level.

    Good luchk whatever you decide. If you don't want to deal much with people, doing GIS or transportation planning can provide some shelter - or working at a large firm where you don't do the presentations. However, I repeat my main point that if you ever hope to move up in the world of planning you will eventually need to talk to people in public.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    I am a shy person. I have been a planner for about 10 years and for the most part my shyness hasn't been a problem. I am less shy as a result of my work. I am comfortable with public speaking and public interaction.

    The only difficulty I run into is that I don't contribute as much as I should in department meetings. The people who like to talk dominate the meetings and I have trouble getting a word in edge-wise. After several failed attempts to say my piece, I give up. So I am more likely to listen and formulate opinions on what is being said. This works for me because I am deliberative and need to think about something for a while before I decide. So what often happens is as the discussion winds down, someone will ask my opinion and I will tell the group. This sometimes works against me because I may not have anything to add and I resent being put on the spot.

    A shy person can make it in planning. Either by finding a discipline that does not require as much people interaction, or working around their shyness limitations. For example, one of the ways I get around my problems in department meetings is talking with my coworkers more one on one before or after the meeting.

    Toastmasters has helped me with my speaking and interacting skills too.

    Good luck.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by otterpop View post
    I am a shy person. I have been a planner for about 10 years and for the most part my shyness hasn't been a problem. I am less shy as a result of my work. I am comfortable with public speaking and public interaction.

    The only difficulty I run into is that I don't contribute as much as I should in department meetings. The people who like to talk dominate the meetings and I have trouble getting a word in edge-wise. After several failed attempts to say my piece, I give up. So I am more likely to listen and formulate opinions on what is being said. This works for me because I am deliberative and need to think about something for a while before I decide. So what often happens is as the discussion winds down, someone will ask my opinion and I will tell the group. This sometimes works against me because I may not have anything to add and I resent being put on the spot.

    A shy person can make it in planning. Either by finding a discipline that does not require as much people interaction, or working around their shyness limitations. For example, one of the ways I get around my problems in department meetings is talking with my coworkers more one on one before or after the meeting.

    Toastmasters has helped me with my speaking and interacting skills too.

    Good luck.
    Totally agree with Otterpop about those people who just loves to hear the sound of their voice and dominate the meetings....These are usually the people who state the bleeding obvious and have no substance in what they are saying. From my experience, these are also the shamless brown-nosers who get promoted very quickly.

  10. #10
    You could volunteer to do some public presentations of quantitative data. Those are the easiest because they don't involve a lot of personal opinion, which is perfect for those who are shy. Then afterwards, a lot of the audience will approach you first with questions and comments, which also alleviates the "taking the first step" in conversations.

    I would say at a Director level it's all about meeting people and networking with anyone. My boss made so many connections throughout the years that when we have a question about anything, he has someone in mind to call AND they remember him. That is essential in running a well-rounded planning department.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    I am firmly in the shy-planner camp. People's comments here are right on. As sort of a generalist municipal planner I would actually like to develop more specific technical skills rather than go up the path to Planning Director. Unfortunately I'm not quite sure how to get there. I'd rather be making maps than shaking people's hands at neighborhood meetings or trying to lecture people on smart growth.

    Could there be a shy-planner division of APA? It's meetings would be online using anonymous handles...kind of like this.

  12. #12
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    Me too f77!

    I as well like f77 am looking into planning as a career choice. I am in a MS program in conservation policy and planning and the classes I felt most comfortable in were the Advanced Planning and Seminars. I am somewhat introverted but during those classes I always felt like I could stand up and get my opinions and questions out.
    This is different from my professional experience where I tend to not put myself out there to get exposed and shot down.
    I have been involved in several GIS and environmental studies and hope to continue that in planning.
    How do you all think I would fare as a planner?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I'm shy in social situations. But, when I'm doing a planning-related presentation, my professionalism kicks in, and my shyness isn't a factor. It helps to be confident in what you are presenting, and if you are passionate about it, that is even better. And dealing with customers at the counter comes pretty easy, cause I really enjoy being helpful.

    In most planning jobs you usually do have to do a lot of hand-shaking and a moderate amount of shmoozing. But, it isn't enough to really make an issue of it, in my experience.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    I am a shy type, MB type INFP, and I feel that this explains a lot of my leariness to this type of work. I have trouble talking on the phone or telling people "no" (something that can be a huge part of a planner's job.

    But I have survived nearly 4 years in this racket and it has its good points. I would seriously consider your own personality first before you get too far into the profession.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  15. #15
    Dan Staley's avatar
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    Well, if you go into government, you'll start out in current planning, and you'd better figure out a way to overcome shyness. If you go private or MPO, you can sit at your desk all day & only occasionally interact with the public. I've worked with very few shy planners but they are out there. What I do notice, though, is the shy ones become animated when they are passionate and that energy helps them overcome being shy.

  16. #16
    Oh....

    I am a very shy person, yet I am very passionate about urban planning. I'm not big on socializing and interacting with people just seems awkward for me. I'm starting grad school in September and somehow I never thought about this. Help... This is getting me anxious.

  17. #17
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    I have always been painfully shy myself. But you can and usualy do overcome it once you become a planner. I have had to step way outside my comfort zone now that I have started my own consulting firm. In my personal life however I am still painfully shy.
    Pat

  18. #18
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I can't add a lot to what was already said about shyness once you are in the profession. I will say that your personality may change while in college. My first roommate was painfully shy, while I was a former class clown and very gregarious. By the time we ended the first semester, he had come somewhat out of his shell. Likewise, my brother went to college very shy, but gradually came out of his shell. They both remained introverted, but were still very comfortable in conversations.

    THough I'm pretty loud, I stay quiet in staff meetings unless I really have something to say. I'm very self-conscious about brown-nosing and I want to make sure everyone feels like they can say their opinion.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by f77 View post
    Hey everyone,

    I'm a first year Geography student still trying to figure out what I want to do in life. I wanted to go on and get my masters in Urban Planning after I got my BA, but I don't think I gave this plan enough thought. I'm really passionate about Urban Planning, and I know I would love studying it in university, but I'm not sure if it would be a wise career choice.

    I attended an open house at the University of Waterloo where an urban planning graduate told us about how Urban Planners do a lot of interacting with the public and how they give a lot of presentations. I don't think I would be any good at this, since I am shy to an insane degree. I'm much better suited for a job where I can work independently without a lot of interaction, and I guess this would not be a career in Urban Planning.

    I'm thinking about dropping out of university and studying Computer Programming at a community college. It's not something I'm particularly passionate about, but at least I know I have the right natural skills.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    First of all, since you are only in your first year of school, you have plenty of time to work on your shyness. You just have to decide whether you will let it stop you from achieving your goals. In my freshman year, I was so socially awkward, I was afraid to walk down the girls wing of our dorm and I did not eat in the dining hall for months because I was afraid to go alone and/or afraid to ask anyone to go with me. Okay, it wasn't easy, and it still isn't but I have supervised and worked with and for a variety of male and female planners, many of whom view me as a mentor. I also meet with company presidents, deputy mayors and all sorts of other people, withoutt fear. And the main reason I can do so is because I am confident in what I do and people respect me for what I do. A little confidence goes along way. And isn't that what shyness is all about - lack of confidence in certain situations. I am still socially awkward, but now I am the master of my planning domain, so I actually look forward to imparting knowledge and as someone else said - just plain helping people. But I still will probably be the guy by myself in the corner at any Opening Reception of an APA conference.

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