I used to be crazy, now career me up!
September 18, 2008 4:34 PM   Subscribe

My many bad decisions about education and work that have left me in dead-end jobs. What's the career of my dreams? And how do I get it?

But first, some quick background on how I got here. I have bipolar disorder which is now treated to the point where I have essentially no symptoms. My years of mental illness led to lots of bad decisions with education and careers (and lots of other things, too). I went to a third-rate university, got a degree in international relations and have worked in call-centres since. About two years ago, my years of non-treatment caught up with me and have been off-work since. Since I'm now well, I'll be going back to work in the near future (my last call-centre job's still open for me), but I'm finally in a position to start making long-term plans.

I also have a severe circadian rhythm sleep disorder. I'm seeing a neurologist about this. My sleep patterns are very disorganised and I suspect that even after treatment I'll find it difficult to keep to a fixed schedule.

I asked a more general question about this a couple of months ago and got some good advice. This question's rather more specific: What career options should I be looking at and how do I get there? All the career advice I've seen has been aimed at people who are making these decisions for the first time, or people who are switching from an established career. I'm switching from no career, which makes things a little more complicated.

My current situation:

Awful employment history. No experience in anything other than answering phones. 2:1 degree in international relations from a poorly rated university. I enjoy programming, but have no qualifications; I'm reasonably competent, but probably not at a professional level. I like solving problems, working under pressure and rather enjoy dealing with crises. I'd prefer to deal with people rather than technology. I'm think I'm academically able enough that I should be able to complete any course of study fairly easily, however if I do a second degree I'll have to fund it myself. I'm 26 and live in England.

What I want:

I have nothing specific in mind at the moment. But I've lived on very little money for years and I want to end up financially comfortable. I want to be able to catch up with people who've a few years' head-start; it would need to allow a reasonably flexible schedule from the beginning; and obviously it needs to be something where my history of mental illness won't necessarily hold me back. I'm willing to put in plenty of time and effort, though.

So, AskMe, what career or professions should I be considering and what will I need to do to qualify myself for them?
posted by xchmp to Work & Money (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your needs are too vague to be tended to here.

The only useful answer to the few things you've been specific about, lots of money, couldn't really care about anything etc, is whore yourself out: i.e. get into the City. But I bet you lack the drive to get on there.

You seem quite young. You have plenty of time. Take it easy and say yes to everything, and perhaps you'll discover something you care about. Then do that, and really do that.
posted by cincinnatus c at 5:10 PM on September 18, 2008


This is what popped into my head when I read your question: If you prefer to deal with people rather than technology and are reasonably intelligent, I'd say you should try to get an administrative assistant-type job at a company in an industry you think you could possibly be interested in. You have a university degree and can answer phones, which--unless things are really different between the US and the UK--would already qualify you for an interview at many places for that type of role. Use that job to establish your job history while exploring more specific career options in your free time (also use that job to network with people across a range of functions within the company to see if anything strikes your fancy, career-wise). Eventually it will probably bore you out of your skull, which will give you an incentive to make the next step.

Of course, that suggestion would force you to work regular hours--but then again, it's good to just be able to show potential employers at your next (third) job that you can be relied on to show up for work, which may incline them to trust you with a less rigid schedule.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:43 PM on September 18, 2008


Could you work in academia? Find a research assistant job in a uni lab or office that needs a fairly skilled coder but not necessarily a hardcore CS major, arrange for flexible hours, and take a couple classes on the side in programming?

Academia is not always kind to untreated mental illness, but as long as you've got it under control and you worked in a reasonably laid-back research center, I think you might be OK.

(Full disclosure: I was the crazy systems guy with a crap sleep schedule, working in an academic research group, some years back. Since your issues are controlled and you're responsible about your treatment, you should have a vastly easier time of it than I did.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:57 PM on September 18, 2008


Your needs are too vague to be tended to here.

OK. How do I identify my needs better?

Lots of money isn't really my goal. I just want to be able to, eg. not worry about a food budget, afford to buy a house eventually, travel a bit. That kind of thing. I've experienced crushing poverty, it would be nice to be on the other side of that.

Of course, that suggestion would force you to work regular hours--but then again, it's good to just be able to show potential employers at your next (third) job that you can be relied on to show up for work, which may incline them to trust you with a less rigid schedule.

Unfortunately working regular hours may just not be possible. The last time I worked regular hours I ended up averaging 3.5 hours a night. For a year. And I just about managed to do it, but that kind of sleep deprivation isn't something I ever want to experience again. Being that tired gets in the way of networking and impressing employers anyway.
posted by xchmp at 6:03 PM on September 18, 2008


You indeed are young, and seem directionless. As someone who's quite a few years older than you, and has transitioned through a couple job fields, I can say that you can plan and plan to your heart's content, but sometimes life has its own ideas. Money is a really boring goal for a job. Sure you can make money (behold the dullards in suits in finance who clutter downtown), but are you learning about yourself, other people, what the world's like?

My suggestion is that you pursue a job that you think is beyond your capabilities, really push your boundaries. Something that seems really cool, but unobtainable.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:09 PM on September 18, 2008


'Do something you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life'. -John Lennon
posted by docmccoy at 10:33 PM on September 18, 2008


It sounds like you need to work for yourself (start your own business).

You sound like your skillset is mostly in personal relations; are you any good with your hands? Do you play any instruments?

Buying unloved (but fundamentally well built) musical instruments and reconditioning them can bring in decent money (my dad does this on the side, but he's a violin teacher and can pass along the reconditioned instruments to his students). He could make a *lot* more money than he currently does but it'd involve hunting around Craigslist/garage-sales/&c. and he's not that great at socializing with people and driving bargains. There are, probably, instrument makers who might take up apprentices in your area... I know that there's a 2 year program in Calgary, AB (Canada) that teaches violin-making (I want to say lutist, but google searches return what I'm not thinking of), so there's probably something closer to you. Problem solving and creativity are HUGE when it comes to instrument repair/restoration. But, it almost requires that one is familiar with that kind/family of instruments. Hell, if I had my dad's instrument playing talent, I'd totally be into this field (but alas, I have skill but no talent in music).

Do you have any hobbies or interests that you could leverage into a small business?

How's your eye for design? Ever visit a website and balk at the ugliness or ungainliness of it? Web coding is a reasonably decent line of work and you wouldn't need to keep regular hours.
posted by porpoise at 10:48 PM on September 18, 2008


If I was to do it over I'd go into construction. Building houses is good physical and mental exercise; it's a flexible job (though work begins on a regular early start.) It can be lucrative. It can be an outlet for creativity. And the physical work might leave you tired enough to sleep!
posted by airplain at 10:53 PM on September 18, 2008


So, of the things suggested so far, academia sounds interesting. Starting my own business also sounds interesting, but I'm guessing it would be easier if I had contacts and experience. I'm much better at academic stuff than anything requiring, y'know, practical skills.

I've been thinking about this further since I asked the question and I think the obvious path would be for me to get a postgrad qualification to open up my career options. So I could convert into computing or law, or I could get a further qualification in international relations, politics or a related subject, which could either into research or maybe a doctorate, although financing. I'd guess that computing is likely to be much more flexible than law in terms of schedule, and my less than impressive work/health history would be less of a problem, but I'd welcome other opinions.

I definitely don't need advice on following my heart or doing what I love best. This is about planning for the future. Maybe something will come up, but I don't see any reason not to get on the path to a good career in the meantime.
posted by xchmp at 12:41 AM on September 19, 2008


Volunteer work is an excellent way to trial working in a new field, recover from a patchy work history and build a network of contacts.

www.do-it.org has UK vacancies for volunteers.
posted by the latin mouse at 2:16 PM on September 19, 2008


the latin mouse: I agree completely, which is why I'm already volunteering (actually, I found the voluntary job I'm doing now through do-it). It's definitely a good suggestion though.
posted by xchmp at 3:42 PM on September 19, 2008


I found that managing a movie theater after university was great for my schedule. I slept in, worked 5 pm to 2 am, had fun and learned all about stress management, being a manager and working with all kinds of people and customers. Years later I still find that nothing at work stresses me out any more. After getting use to the idea of the worse thing that could happen at work being my building burning down with 3500 people inside that I am responsible for - no annoying boss or coworker can get me down!
posted by saradarlin at 2:19 AM on September 21, 2008


I completed my undergrad only two years ago, and I'm only one year older than you, so I could sympathize ...

"I enjoy programming, but have no qualifications; I'm reasonably competent, but probably not at a professional level. I like solving problems, working under pressure and rather enjoy dealing with crises. I'd prefer to deal with people rather than technology. I'm think I'm academically able enough that I should be able to complete any course of study fairly easily, however if I do a second degree I'll have to fund it myself. I'm 26 and live in England."

Seconding your move to take up further qualification in the IT field. The best people whom I know are natural problem solvers, thrive under pressures and crises, and are adept people-handler. You should also seek the kind of IT work where you have the chance to interact a lot with users -- support work would probably be suitable for you.

Just taking up an additional part-time graduate diploma plus 1 or 2 of the most common IT certifications would be enough to get your foot to the door. The rest, of course, is up to your own personal skills.

After a couple of years of solid grunt work, you could probably try to transition to the leader / management levels. Typically, the higher up you go, the lesser actual technical works you would have to do. A lot of emphasis would be placed on your people / communication skills instead, and this is where you could shine.

I'm not sure about the IT job environment there in England, but the money is good enough for me (in Singapore) to make a decent living while saving up for further study.
posted by joewandy at 10:50 PM on September 23, 2008


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