After years of recession-fear blahness, I have decided it's time to take some risks. Help me chart a course!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is a lot longer than I had hoped when I started writing it, so thanks for reading.
My current situation: I have a decent job doing programming for a web company. The job itself is okay. I have opportunities to learn new skills although, for reasons that with be explained in more detail, my lack of interest/passion is impairing my ability to take advantage of those opportunities.
The company is okay. Work/life balance is not exactly to my liking, but it's not terrible. There are people in the company who joyfully work 60 hour weeks and whose personal lives and interests outside their careers appear to be non-existent, but I choose not to follow their example. I occasionally feel pressure to work longer hours than I do, and I have a feeling that I am not schmoozing as much as I would need to in order to advance myself politically in the organization, but if I ignore the fact that I'm probably not going to acquire the esteem needed to move up the ladder, my job is okay.
The work? The work is another matter. I feel frequently burned out on the work itself. I've followed a pattern of jumping from one company to the next to keep learning new skills. I get a new job, learn a bunch of new skills, realize I don't like the work anymore, and start looking for a new job. While this has worked out okay as a survival strategy, I think it's time to seriously consider the possibility of changing my direction to get somewhere I *want* to be, so I'm not repeating the mistake of saying "Where can I easily get to from here?"
The problem is that I can get excited about learning a new technology or starting a new project, but the fundamentals don't really change. I need the momentum to keep up my interest level (hence the jumping from company to company) but at the end of the day it's still model, view, controller... model, view, controller... with few variations, over and over and over again. Not very intellectually stimulating. I have little passion for it and I rarely feel challenged.
So I know I have to change something. I have to commit to changing my direction. It's time to spin the wheel and see where I end up.
Pragmatics: I have money saved, enough to help me transition in whatever direction I want to go. Not a million dollars, but a lot. Way more than six months of expenses. I've spent the last few years working and living a Spartan existence in bare-bones apartments. I save most of what I make. I don't have a car, I rent, I don't have any serious financial obligations beyond my rent (which is cheap for where I live) and groceries. I am in a relationship which is probably my single biggest commitment, and I have a whole barrelful of worries about how my relationship with my partner is going to work out when/if I'm in a transition period and not earning much if any income.
Then there's the matter of what direction to go. The biggest problem I have is that I have too many options. There are too many things I'm interested in that have *some* promise or chance of working out, but I have trouble assessing the risk of each option. I feel like I'm stuck at a fork in a road on a very foggy night.
Here are, in no particular order, my ideas for Thing To Do Next:
1. Get a grad degree in mathematics.
Math was my first passion so a return to it seems like a good way to re-envigorate my life. I have a strong interest in the material, but I don't know much about the prospects post-graduation. Are there copious teaching opporunities for math people? Is it like the humanities, where there are a hundred graduates for every job and nobody has insurance? Does math parlay into other careers easily?
2. Get a grad degree in writing (MFA).
Writing is my top passion as far as creative fields. I've been writing short fiction for a few years, published a piece in an obscure journal, and I've taken a stab at a novel. I daydream often about getting accepted into a good MFA program, making some important connections, getting published, and landing a teaching position. Assuming everything works out, of course.
But this is very risky. There are many more wannabe literati out there than there are teaching positions or book contracts. Even if I got into a good program, the odds are pretty good I wouldn't see any extrinsic benefits viz. employment opportunities, and I might end up right back where I started. If there weren't as many risks, if I suddenly inherited tens of millions of dollars from some great uncle, and knew I was set for life, this one be my #1 choice. But getting mired in debt with nothing to show for it is a concern.
What would a "worst case scenario" be? I spend two years in school, and all I can do is become an editor or a copywriter. Both are professions I am interested in, but probably wouldn't pay off the grad degree.
3. Go to a trade school and become a mechanic.
On the opposite end of the employment spectrum, part of me really wants to put all this lofty talk of graduate degrees and teaching positions behind me and go into a trade. I thought about becoming a diesel mechanic, mostly because of the high employment prospects and getting away from a desk job. There's some inherent risk here in terms of the cost of education but assuming I got the proper education, the skills are in demand.
4. Find another programming job that I like better.
I have no shortage of job opportunities so it shouldn't be too hard to experiment and find a company I like. I've only really worked for one kind of company, so I'm sure there are other experiences I'm missing out on. The downside is that I've already almost burned myself out on this kind of work, and adding another year to my resume isn't going to open up any new options, although it may reduce my misery temporarily.
Freelancing or contract work is another option. That might give me enough creative freedom to pick and choose projects that I am more interested in. But I would still run the risk of having to come crawling back to a full-time job if I can't make enough money to stay afloat. Again, mixing up my work style would probably improve my mood, but it wouldn't open up new options for me.
5. Working for an education or cultural institution.
My values align more closely with educational/cultural institutions. Every company I have worked for is building some kind of commercial product. I would rather do the same work, but contributing to an institution I respect, even if I get paid less.
This is has the same problem as #4. Even if I like the product of my work better, it still won't open up many new options.
6. Technical writing.
I don't know a lot about what technical writing is like as a job, but my logic here is: I have experience at tech companies; I like writing and have some skill in it. Therefore, I should try to combine the two.
7. Transition to a writing/editing job, somehow.
I think I would like to try a writing or editing job, but I don't know how to get experience.
My biggest problems right now:
1. Fear of failure. What happens if I get into a program or I get a new job and I don't like it? What happens if I run out of money? What happens if I graduate and I can't find a job? The economic climate is still terrifyingly hostile to anyone going slightly off the beaten path. How can I do this in a way that isn't going to burn bridges or make me worse off than I am now?
2. How do I handle being in a relationship while experimenting with my career? I would be fine with taking on these risks by myself, if the worst outcome was that I end up broke and sleeping on a friend's couch. But I split rent and living expenses with my partner, so I feel like scaling back my lifestyle (which I must underscore is pretty minimalistic already.. I don't get out very often) would necessarily impact my partner. How can we talk about this in an adult way?
3. My stress level while worrying about this has forced me to become increasingly irritable and withdrawn, neglecting friends and family. I don't want this to happen, but it seems to occupy a lot of my head space. I get stressed out just thinking about switching directions, so I don't feel like socializing, which makes me more stressed out, ad infinitum. My fear causes a lot of (understandable) frustration from my partner as well.
4. How does a person switch careers anyway? I hear a lot of stories about the lawyer who quit a big corporate job to become a baker, but not a lot about less risky moves. Is there a resource for people who want to safely transition to another type of work without jumping off a cliff?
I would appreciate any advice about how to try out some of these options before commiting fully, or just useful information about the individual career options I've named. I'm keeping this anonymous since it's about leaving my job, but I have set up a temporary email address where you can contact me so I can respond: email@example.com
Thanks for your help!