Passion vs. Security in Career - Which should I pursue?
February 24, 2012 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Hello. I'm facing a big career dilemma and I would love some feedback. The short question is whether I should call a job I already declined to ask for it back (it's been 5 weeks), but in order to best explain what is causing this dilemma and (hopefully) get some advice, I think I should give some historical context. My apologies in advance for the long question and thank you for any perspective and/or advice.

For five years (2004 - 2009), I was working in my dream field in a fairly good position -- the pay was not good and I was always worried about money, but I loved the work and subject matter so much that I would only leave if I could find something better in the same (extremely niche) field. In July 2009, my budget was cut and so was my position. Since it was such a niche field with very limited possibilities where I was and am currently living, I started looking all over the country for something similar without any luck, as these types of positions are very few and far between. I then received an offer at a local organization (Job A) that was very prestigious and paid better than my previous job, but not in the specific field that interested me. Given the economic reality and the fact that I had just met someone I started seriously dating, I decided to take the job. Three months later, a colleague recommended me for another job that would be in the field I wanted, a big promotion, and at a very prestigious organization (Job B), but was out of town. My significant other knew that I had been looking for jobs elsewhere before I met him and said he would be supportive if I found my dream job, but I also knew he was very hesitant to relocate or date long-distance. Fast forward four months and I had interviewed and received an offer -- not only was it everything I described above, but it paid very well for the city in which it was located (almost twice what I was making before when adjusting for cost of living) and I loved every single person with whom I had interviewed -- it seemed like a place where I would fit in really well.

But my relationship had become much more serious by then, and despite his initial promises to be supportive, my SO was not willing to make the move after all -- we could try long distance but he said it would only be OK with him if I came back every weekend, and I didn't feel I could do that without jeopardizing my performance on the job. I went back and forth in agony (at the time I was almost 36 and also very much wanting to get married and start a family), so I ultimately decided not to take the job -- which I almost immediately regretted. I stayed in Job A for another nine months, then took another position locally (Job C) which was more closely related to my passion, but not exactly it, and was a more senior role but required me to take a big pay cut. That said, I thought it would get me closer to another position like Job B.

Fast forward another 10 months and Job C decides to restructure my department, basically forcing me to resign. I ask my boss from Job B for advice (ironically, even though I didn't like that job, everyone there loved me and I really looked up to my boss there), and she told me that they had just posted a job more senior than and a little different from the one I had before which would report not to her but to a new boss we would share, and asked if I was interested. She also told me how much it paid, and it happened to be much much more than anything I had made before. I told her I would have to think about it, as I really wanted to make sure that the next job I took was the right one. In addition, I had started phone interviews with another job (Job E) in my dream industry at an amazing organization, although not at the level I wanted and working for a boss who had not yet been hired, out of town, and I wanted to see how that would proceed. A couple weeks later, around the same time, my old boss contacted me to ask again whether I would be interested in Job D, and Job E said they wanted to fly me out to interview. I agreed to do an exploratory interview with Job D and made arrangements to fly out and interview with Job E. It seemed like the interviews with Job E went well, but I was very worried about how they would respond to my situation with Job C, so I was not sure how I did and when I came back I formally applied for Job D. This all happened to be right before the holidays.

A few days after returning from my interviews for Job E, the HR representative called to say they all really liked me and asked to have my references. Then, a few days after the New Year, the hiring manager called to offer me Job E, which was very flattering, but the reality was that the title would appear to be a step down (even though the level of responsibility was similar to jobs C and D), the salary was low for the very expensive market (it would amount to about a 25% pay cut when accounting for cost of living), and the relocation package was less than half of what it would actually cost for me to relocate. But, it was an amazing organization and there was talk (though no promise) about re-evaluating title and salary structures in the future. I asked for a week to decide, explaining that it was a very important decision because of the move involved. The hiring manager asked to meet in the middle at four days and the HR rep called to (very nicely) tell me she heard I had asked for a week, and wanted to know if I had any questions she could answer for me and whether I had any other offers she should know about. I told her I didn't have any other offers (which was true at the time) and that I had a number of questions, but that they were mostly for the hiring manager and that I was working on setting up a time to speak to him. I spoke to the hiring manager the next day and asked him a bunch of questions in an effort to assess the long-term career potential associated with taking the job, and I also told him about my concerns with title and pay (I had expressed my concern about not meeting the person who would be my boss earlier). He said that he knew he could not get me what I was initially asking for (I asked for what cost of living calculators said would be equivalent to Job C) and said he needed me to give him a "bottom line number" to go back and negotiate with -- I gave him a number that I thought might be attainable (although it would still amount to a big pay cut) and he asked me if I would take the job if he was able to get that number. I said I that in addition to learning what was possible in terms of salary, I wanted to spend some more time speaking with my potential direct report, as I didn't get to speak with her one on one during the interview. I came away with the understanding that he would set up the call and find out about salary simultaneously. He said he wanted to talk the next day, but I didn't get the information about the call with the direct report until a couple of days later and even then I didn't hear anything about the salary.

Meanwhile, I had e-mailed Job D shortly after I got an offer from E and they rushed to get me in and gave me an offer for a little more than the amount my old boss had originally quoted me (which happened to be 20% more in real dollars and 70% more, accounting for cost of living, than the offer from E). I waited another day and still didn't hear anything about pay from E so I started to get nervous and called the hiring manager for E, who said he had been meaning to contact me. I was hoping to find out what he had been able to negotiate so I could weigh the two options, but it seems there was a miscommunication and he told me he was waiting to find out about salary until after he knew how my talk with my potential direct report went (which I told him at the beginning of the call had gone well). He said he wanted to confirm my bottom line number and when I'd be able to come out so he could make the negotiation -- at this point I told him I had just received another offer and I said I thought I had to think about it at least overnight. He said "I thought you didn't have any offers" and I explained that I didn't at the time I spoke to HR, but now did. We agreed that I would call him the next day to give him the information he was looking for. Then Job D called and said they would need an answer within 12 hours of the Job E deadline, pointing out (neutrally) that they had jumped through hoops to get me in quickly for interviews. Knowing that I wouldn't be able to get an answer from Job E before I had to give a decision to Job D and not wanting to piss anyone off, I called Job E the next day and told them I couldn't take the offer because I felt the title and salary were not commensurate with my experience, but that I greatly enjoyed meeting with everyone and would love to stay in touch. He was very diplomatic and said he respected my stance, but I am not sure this is really the case. My stomach sank after I made that call. The next day I called Job D to accept and I started two weeks later.

I have never been motivated by money, but now that I am 37 (almost 38) and single, yet still hope against hope to get married and have kids, I feel like I can't afford to be taking pay cuts. That said, the reality is that I currently have no dependents and no debt, and I wonder if by working in a field I'm passionate about I will ultimately make more money and be more likely to meet someone wonderful to share my life with. In addition, I have been wanting a fresh start for a long time, and moving to a new city could help with that. Anyway, I have been at Job D for three weeks and it is OK (although morale there is very low -- everyone dislikes my boss and thinks he's an idiot, so I'm not sure how much I can learn from him), but every single day since I turned Job E down, I have wondered whether I should call and ask whether the job is still available and whether they would consider reopening conversations with me, explaining that I've realized working in a field I'm passionate about is more important than great money or a fancy title. What has prevented me from doing this is a fear that they will think I'm wishy-washy and that I'll lose standing in the industry, not to mention completely burn bridges with Job D, which has treated me very well despite the fact that I'm not passionate about it and that it requires me to commute three hours a day. Meanwhile, if I don't contact Job E, I may still be able to maintain contact with the hiring manager at E (although he also might want nothing to do with me) and I don't burn bridges with D, yet I feel empty inside for 10 or more hours a day and continue to obsess about this.

My apologies again for the extremely long question...I realize this is a first world problem, but it is a huge dilemma for me nonetheless. If anyone has advice, perspective, or opinions about what I should do, I would be incredibly appreciative. Thank you.
posted by curiousone to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you want to get married and have children, the clock is ticking. You need to make that your first priority, and just pick a job and stick with it, it's a tertiary priority. Jobs come and go all your life, but the option to marry and have a biological family will just...go.

You've been flitting among your job options too much. Reach out to Job E. What do you have to lose except more time? After that, commit to whatever seems the best option you have and close everything else off except dating.
posted by devymetal at 5:42 PM on February 24, 2012

The next day I called Job D to accept and I started two weeks later.

Call me old fashioned but there isn't much to say after that. You made a commitment to this company and they to you.

Oh, wait, there is one thing: stop looking around. Greener pastures, etc.

Your only respone if anybody approaches you in the next six months (unless you are a contractor) is, "Terribly sorry but I've accepted a postion. Call me in six months to see if things have changed."
posted by trinity8-director at 5:44 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

explaining that I've realized working in a field I'm passionate about is more important than great money or a fancy title.

Is this actually how you feel? You spend a lot more time talking about salaries and costs of living in this than you do passion. I mean, we all want to do something that makes us feel fulfilled, but right now your resume looks like someone who can't keep a job for very long and the long-term earning potential of someone like that isn't great.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:50 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You just started this job. Give it a few months. Try to figure out how you can make it work for you. There's always a transition period and while you're in it, it's easy to imagine that some other situation would be better.

If you can maintain ties with Company E, that would be a good idea too -- maybe not the hiring manager, but have lunch with somebody you interviewed with there.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:10 PM on February 24, 2012

I have wondered whether I should call and ask whether the job is still available and whether they would consider reopening conversations with me, explaining that I've realized working in a field I'm passionate about is more important than great money or a fancy title.

From what I've read of your query, it sounds like your current job is a bad fit (you are not following whatever your job passion is) plus you are in a place with low morale. Sometimes people, including the potential employer, make promises that do not reflect reality.

If I were in your shoes and truly felt it was a bad fit (and they like you at the last interview), yes,call them back but not with your statement above (no, from your description,you do want a salary and they were willing to negotiate before).

Whether you email or call, just say, "I've realized that the new position is a bad fit. I liked your company because of X- and Y- (positive adjectives about what you liked there) and it would help me work in my desired industry. Has the position been filled? Can we resume discussion about the possible position. If it is, I understand, but please do let me know if other positions become available at your company."

If they do come back, do continue negotiating for your were close.

What has prevented me from doing this is a fear that they will think I'm wishy-washy and that I'll lose standing in the industry,

It's a job, not a marriage. If they lost funding, you and the job position would fly out the window, too. Again, the new job is a bad fit. There is nothing wrong with asking a question, "Is the job still available?" They will likely forget you asked this question 6 months from now.

Don't eliminate yourself from the job or position before you have even asked - if it has been filled,it has been filled. If they don't want you for another arbitrary reason, okay. But a query should not make you come across as wishy washy or change your actual work and knowledge in the industry.

not to mention completely burn bridges with Job D, which has treated me very well despite the fact that I'm not passionate about it and that it requires me to commute three hours a day.

Wait until you get to that point.If you get offered and take job E, you may burn that bridge...but it sounds like the other bridge is better.

Three hour commute? Low morale? I don't think they are treating you well. It is a business; for you, too. Go for position E if you want it.Go for it.
posted by Wolfster at 6:11 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have never been motivated by money, but now that I am 37 (almost 38) and single, yet still hope against hope to get married and have kids, I feel like I can't afford to be taking pay cuts. That said, the reality is that I currently have no dependents and no debt,

Do you have retirement savings?
posted by jacalata at 6:19 PM on February 24, 2012

Thanks everyone for all the answers so far. Jacalata: I do have retirement savings, though not a great deal. Probably about $35K in my 401K and another $15K in savings accounts.
posted by curiousone at 6:35 PM on February 24, 2012

I was 38 when I got married and I just had my first last year. I'm about to turn 42.

Please take the job that makes you the most money and bank fund your future plans. PLEASE.

That is all.
posted by jbenben at 6:43 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's just because it's been a long day, but I had a hard time following your question.

It's possible that they have filled Job E, and it's possible that they will not re-consider you because you turned them down. It's also possible that they were so impressed with you that if you were to become available they'd take you on. It must likely will burn some bridges with Company D if you were to jump ship - and correct me if I'm wrong, but that is the job where you had an "in," correct? But what stands out to me is that you really have no idea if you would enjoy the job, the city, your boss, any more than your current or past positions... and I think it'd be highly unlikely for Job E to be patient while you figure out whether your frankly romanticised vision of the future is likely to play out. That said, perhaps you could discreetly find out if the job is even still open, before deciding whether to ask for their re-consideration or gathering more information about whether the job is the best fit for you.

From a hiring standpoint, I can tell you that I work with similar situations from time to time and it really is a case-by-case thing, so I can't definitely say what could or might happen... but it's a rather delicate thing that you need to be quite careful with. The thing is, you don't sound wishy-washy so much as a person who is never satisfied. If Job E is open and you really believe that it's the best move, go for it. And commit to it.
posted by sm1tten at 7:03 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You say you aren't motivated by money, yet it seems pretty much all of that long question has to do with money, status, job title, prestige...whatever you personally want for yourself on a short term basis.

Right when you got up to job E, my eyes were glazing over. If I was a manager, you would be in the flake file

I would land someplace quickly, settle down, and quit treating your career, and personal. professional, and emotional life like a pinball game, always looking for a higher score.
posted by timsteil at 7:15 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think your career path looks rather ... flaky. There is a real disconnect between how you describe yourself (I have never been motivated by money) and the whole rest o' the damn question.

I agree totally with jbenben. You should go with the position that pays the most (which, best I could follow from your question, is the current one?). Yes, Job E has justifiably written you off as a wishy washy flake.
posted by jayder at 7:42 PM on February 24, 2012

One thought: if D has a 3 hour a day commute + 10 hour work day, when do you find time to look for a husband?

I dunno, I'm inclined to say that you should make yourself happy now rather than trying to accommodate for A Future Husband And Kids financially. That may never happen, but your job issue is plaguing you now. And it sounds like planning your work life around nailing down a guy who didn't sound in love with you enough to move for you didn't go so well the first time.

But when it comes to Job E, uh.... yeah, odds are they think you are a flake and for good reason. I'd only call them up if you had a good, justifiable reason for saying, "I've had a drastic change in circumstances since I had to bail on the job." (For example, having to turn down the job because it required a move and your relationship wouldn't accommodate a move, but now the relationship is over.) I think it's time to look for Job F.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:56 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would contact job e and see if that's still a possibility. If not I'd move closer to job d to shorten the commute and then get serious about looking for a husband. Hopefully you don't have anything against dating web sites because if I were you I'd focus on them for now rather than the job stuff.
posted by hazyjane at 7:23 AM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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