Join 3,495 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Career options for the culturally confused
June 12, 2011 4:06 PM   Subscribe

What could I do as an nth career at this point?

I'm not very good at connecting with the world, and I've struggled with what to do for work for a long time. If I tell you my thoughts about positives and barriers, would you tell me what paths you think could provide good opportunities and how I should come up with a good direction?

I've never been happy with any job I've had, nor have I been fired. I always quit. Longest jobs I've had were 6-8 years each. I'm rather independent, organized, and spatially oriented. I taught ESL, had a good unionized job. Way too much people contact. I don't particularly like people contact, although I loved being on the bargaining team. I was good for our benefits, but not for the relationship with the employer. I was a court transcriber from home. But for the bad audio, I'd still be doing that just for dollars - it was a breeze for me (except for the audio anguish). Now I'm back at university, did some geology and first year sciences. I'm doing well above average, and I love the geology. The math is hard, but I can feel brain cells growing, and it's nice to understand integrals and such. Thinking about mining or building technology at BCIT for September, the former more fun and focussed, the latter could be more independent.

Thing is, I never fit into any subculture, really. Very good teacher, but not a teacher type. Love geology, but expect I would be uncomfortable with the mining industry values and culture. I'm different (what you call a very special snowflake) and while I do try to fit in, I do stick out. The best money I made was selling a couple of houses at a peak of the housing bubble. I would love to do more like that, but don't know what I need to learn. (These were just owner-occupied, simple stuff.) Since teen years, I always wanted my own acres to homestead on. Now I'm not strong enough to fully take that on, but I still have quite a lot of knowledge and aptitude for working with food plants. If only I had a clue about business -- but I think that is much about people and connecting with what they want, not my strong point. Houses I can at least understand, and they don't change rapidly like other products. Had a longstanding interest in what's now called green building technology.

Well, I'm 50 years old, and while I've been using computers for more than 20 years, I'm not fascinated by them, so despite that being an "obvious" direction it's not for me. Well, thanks for reading this, and I would like to know your thoughts if you'd take the time to share them.
posted by Listener to Work & Money (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Are you knowledgable about home systems? Maybe you could be a home inspector, the type who comes in and checks a home over as part of a real estate transaction? Maybe you could get connected with an existing business that does this, so you don't have to do all the bookkeeping, drumming up business, etc yourself. It would involve having contact with people, but you'd be working through a checklist of things about the house that you need to look at - so it wouldn't require a lot of spontaneous "what does this person want" calculations.

Could you do laboratory work, using your science aptitude? There's an ongoing need for lab workers in many industries, from mining to medical.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:54 PM on June 12, 2011

Become a writer; you've had a rich life and it's time to share your experiences with others. Your post is well constructed, so I don't think you need help organizing your thoughts into the written word. Good luck!
posted by Renoroc at 5:07 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Be an online teacher for online university courses.

You don't have to be the "teacher type" yet it leverages a lot of your interests.
posted by Murray M at 5:18 PM on June 12, 2011

As you don't know what you want to do, the first thing I would suggest is to get to know yourself better. Do some personality testing and values analysis - there are huge amounts of this sort of thing available on the internet, and if you know someone in HR, psychology, therapy/counselling, or a similar field, they could help you sort through the stuff that's most useful. I recommend you look into Myers-Briggs, DISC profiling, and Wealth Dynamics - get hold of Roger Hamilton's book "Your Life, Your Legacy".

Be very aware that these sorts of things are descriptive not prescriptive, and every single personality assessment test I've ever seen suffers, at least to a small extent, from the confusion of beauty for truth. You are a far more complex individual than your answers to the tests; however, the answers to the tests will help you clarify what drives you.

(I'll place a sidebet at this point on you being 3 out of 4 of I,N,T,P in Myers-Briggs; high C in DISC; and "Creator", "Dealmaker" or "Trader" in Wealth Dynamics. :D)

Most of these tests will come with some suggestions as to careers or businesses in which people of your basic type have done well and been happy. These are a good place to start. Before you commit to any of it, try them out - get yourself a job, or line one up for post-graduation.

Responding to job ads and going to job interviews is for saps. Avoid both of these. You have no control and very little power in a job interview, which is partly why employers like to do them. Unless you're desperate for money, you are far better off initiating a conversation with a real person who runs or works in a senior position in a business that is big enough to use you, and small enough that he/she can decide whether to do so, in order to learn about who they are and what they do. Then if you like what they tell you, and they are impressed with you, you work a couple of days for free, spend that time figuring out what you could usefully do in their enterprise, and make an offer to be employed or put on contract to do that thing.

If you wanted to be a geologist working in the building industry (for example - other things that may appeal to you may include landscaping with a specialty in food-producing gardens, or post-mining environmental repair/re-greening), find someone who already is doing that. LinkedIn is a good source of leads, your lecturers will have some idea, local architectural or surveying firms will have some idea, geologists' professional association will have some idea, etc. Write a letter expressing your interest in working in the field, and ask if you could meet for lunch to have a chat about what's involved; follow up with a phone call. Most people are happy to do a bit of basic mentoring, to tell you all about how they got into what they do, if you ask nicely and offer to pay for lunch. The experience of someone being interested in them at all is fairly rare, for most folks. :)

The next step is work experience, volunteering, an internship, or similar. You have to find out if this is feasible in the industry at all--if not, the industry probably runs mostly on solo operators who contract for work--and to achieve that, you need to convince them that you are serious, intelligent, can be moderately useful, and at the very least, won't get in the way. Medium-sized businesses are easiest for this, ie 20 to 100 employees who all answer (probably through a heirarchy) to one manager or owner-manager. They are big enough to have actual HR policies and can accommodate the concept of a work-experience person, and small enough that the decision to do so will be at the discretion of someone you get to talk to, or their boss, and that will go a lot easier if the person you talked to is keen on the idea.

Don't do it for more than a week, unless they offer during that week to hire you. Your task is to work out what they do, who their clients, suppliers, competitors and cooperators are, and where you can add value to their processes. Actively ask that question on about day three: "If I was to work here, given my skills and interests, where could I add the most value for my time?" By then you should have a fairly clear idea what the answers will be. Time, ie you speeding something up, is always a great value-add.

Ideally, you will end up being contracted to achieve a specific and measurable outcome or set of outcomes; these are by far the better sorts of jobs for you to have, especially if they don't particularly care how it was achieved so long as it was achieved. As you are a uni student, part-time work may suit you better anyway.

I don't get the impression here that you're desperate for money, but even if you are, some variation on the above approach very much makes you stand out from the pack of job-seekers. For some immediate easy income, you could put up ads around your university offering assignment proofreading, and separate ads offering what amounts to tutoring in building a vegetable garden - this should be easy enough to market as a means of saving money on groceries. You come by to have a look at their yard, tell them whether or not they could have a garden, how much work it would be and what they could expect to grow; if they like the idea, they can pay you $X (I suggest two hours' worth, definitely not less than $100, as you need to weed out the un-serious) to provide a layout diagram, a list of plants, a schedule of what needs to be done to the garden and when, and a list of common pests and problems and how to fix them. They can pay you $X+$Y to supervise them (or to supervise some laborers whose wages they will pay - other uni students are great for this, and there's a margin in ongoing hire there) to actually put the garden in. Don't personally do the work except to demonstrate. You can advertise that at the local supermarket notice board as well - there may be a nice little business in doing that - "The Garden Tutor". Call them every month to see how the garden's going, and ask them for recommendations to others. You could branch out easily enough into appearance-oriented gardens, however the competition is probably going to be stronger in that field, and food production is your niche of interest anyway.

If only I had a clue about business -- but I think that is much about people and connecting with what they want, not my strong point.

Business is best thought of as a spreadsheet-driven strategy game, with a very long turn cycle. Maximizing your score is fairly simple. There are only a few numbers you really need to consider, and all of these are readily available - "The E-Myth Revisited" by Michael Gerber probably has the best useful learning per time spent reading ratio, so I would suggest starting there. (Spoiler: the numbers are net profit margin %, revenue $, sales $, production $, and collected receivables $, pretty much in that order of importance.)

Business is not easy, but it is simple, and one of the nicest things about it is that you get to work with other people, whose strengths and weaknesses complement your own. You do not have to, should not, even must not, do it all yourself. The most valuable resource you have in business is your time: hire an expert to do things like accounts or website design rather than struggle with it yourself. Your time is best spent managing the business's numbers - working on it, not in it. Being a good business owner requires you to be a good teacher.

The most important thing that I would suggest to anyone contemplating starting or getting into a business, is learn about the business of business. Do not just buy the first business you see no matter how appealing it may be. Talk to business brokers, sign NDAs, look at the figures of various businesses for sale. Talk to a good accountant: the magic question to ask is "do you commonly help your business owner clients with in-depth profit and loss analysis, and do you commonly do business valuations?" If yes, pay them for an hour or so to talk you through a general overview of the process. Talk to business coaches and go to their free seminars. You will want to sign up with one if you start or buy a business, but they are an unregulated and unstandardized industry with wildly varying approaches and success rates, so look very carefully. Go along to your local Chamber of Commerce meetings. Visit business networking groups such as BNI. Most small business owners are quite happy to tell you all of the pitfalls, and most of the shortcuts to success, and to recommend good contacts.

If you approach the question in an intelligent and systematic manner (something that, from the way you write, I suspect is your normal method), you can be educated in the business of business in about three months, to a level that the typical tradesman who puts a sticker on his truck and an ad in the Yellow Pages will take ten years to get from experience, assuming his business survives that long. Most business owners don't even realize that they could benefit from business education; they think of "business education" as a Bachelor of Business or MBA degree, which basically exist to prepare people to be a tractable and trainable employee of a large corporation.

Anyway, good luck.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:52 PM on June 12, 2011 [13 favorites]

Medical transcriptionist? I imagine the recordings would be clearer at least.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:57 PM on June 12, 2011

Pick up a copy of What Color is Your Parachute? It definitely helped set me on my career path.
posted by honeydew at 7:48 PM on June 12, 2011

What is it you love about sciences and can you trace a common thread between your current study and previous jobs? I've studied geology for the last four years but my background is in theatre and writing and my current full-time job is in web publishing. I'm very interested in aesthetics and exploration and geology has this in spades - from micro to macro, the physical beauty of rocks, landforms and crystal structures, the sense of deep time, of endless process and eternal witness - essentially the metaphysics of it.

As such, the closest I've found to the perfect fit personality-wise so far has been been interpretation and communication projects within museums. I'm not a scientist but we share that sense of wonder, and I'm useful to them because I'm good at communicating it in a pretty immediate fashion.

Basically I'm saying you don't need to be an engineer to work for a mining company.
These aren't easy roles to come by in-house but there are definitely opportunities out there for non-traditional types to contribute. It might be that, as a former teacher, you could offer consultancy in directing their social responsibility programmes, eg designing outreach activities for kids. Work out what you love about the subject and how this maps to your (extensive) practical experience, and then go offer yourself out. As a fellow square pegger I find the best opportunities are the ones you make for yourself.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:30 AM on June 13, 2011

Thank you for your answers! I've actually sold my nonfiction writing as well in the past, but haven't been able to come up with a lucrative version of that, or I would pursue it. True, I'm not desperate for money, but I feel an urgent need to do *something* more interesting, satisfying, productive, constructive, something worth doing.
posted by Listener at 6:50 PM on June 14, 2011

« Older What does 'not for Verizon' me...   |  Does anyone know anything abou... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.