Not lazy just scared to work full time
August 31, 2008 6:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm scared of having to work for a living. I'm terrified I'll feel hollow and depressed and unfulfilled. Is this normal and part of growing up and entering the real world?

Next month I am entering the first year of my official program at the university I attend. I'll have on full year of classes and then the next year will be a year long internship / clinical rotation in which I basically work 40 hours a week (and take exams).

I'm really terrified. I've never worked full time and have been a student for my entire life up until now. I've been at a community college (for four years. I took a the long road to figuring out what I wanted to do!) and I don't know if I am just feeling nervous because so much is changing and I'm now at a large university or what, but I am really really really scared. I've only had two real jobs before. One was for 19 hours a week at a department store. The other was more in line with the field I am going into now which was 12 hours a week and I enjoyed it a lot. I was in school full time when I had both jobs so I was balancing a lot.

I'm just terrified I'll hate working. I love school and learning and thrive on that environment. I've considered graduate school but this doesn't really address the fear I have about working full time.

At the same time I am frustrated because I do want to earn money and contribute to my household. I feel it is unfair that my husband should have to support us completely forever.

I just worry I won't be able to make it in the workforce. I think that is my biggest fear- that I won't be able to handle it. That having a job and doing the same stuff every day will make me feel hollow and depressed. One thing I like about college is that every quarter I have new challenges and a new schedule. When I get discouraged or tired or stress, I always see an end in sight at least and know I have a break coming up and that I'll start a new quarter with new challenges soon.

The field I am entering has interesting options for schedules. Night shifts, day shift, evening shifts. 12 hour shifts. 7 days on of 10 hr shifts then 7 days off. But some of these shifts would aggravate my depression and anxiety issues and even that flexibility doesn't alleviate the anxiety and stress I feel about entering the workforce.

I started seeing a psychologist last week to help work on my anxiety issues. How can I best address these issues so that he can help me? I feel embarrassed about admitting this, like I am weak and can't contribute to society. Is some of this just normal, growing up feelings? Can this be worked out with good therapy?
posted by rainygrl716 to Work & Money (22 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I had that same feeling when I first started working professionally full-time. I'll never forget those first few Monday mornings realizing that I had to be there all day, Monday through Friday, for the rest of my life. That feeling slowly faded. Luckily, I worked with a good group of people who I grew very close to and still remember fondly. It's a big step but one that everybody has to face.
posted by Zebtron at 7:00 AM on August 31, 2008

Is some of this just normal, growing up feelings?

Yes, very much so. I empathize greatly with this post. I will say that for most people, the issues with work dissipate as you get used to working. The first year of working full-time can be depressing and weird for someone who is used to a school environment. There's a lack of that specific kind of structure, there's a lack of guideposts, and there's a lack of that newness to which you become accustomed at the change of every semester. It's bad at first. But you do get used to it. I imagine fi your work is interesting to you, you will even grow to enjoy it.

The other was more in line with the field I am going into now which was 12 hours a week and I enjoyed it a lot.

This makes me think you'll be fine within a year or so. Just allow yourself to adjust.
posted by millipede at 7:04 AM on August 31, 2008

As the others have said -- it's quite normal to feel this way in anticipation of working full time. At first it may well feel like all this work is draining the life out of you and is a completely unreasonable way of living. And indeed, this is actually true to some extent... but the good news is that as time goes on, you will:

a) Grow used to it, learn how to adapt yourself and your habits to it so that you can continue to live your life how you want without being overly affected by your job. The truth is that when you're young, a lot of your day tends to be spent doing little to nothing, and with a little organization it needn't affect you too much to devote some of those hours to working instead.

b) You'll also come to see that (unless you're in completely the wrong job) there is actually some benefit to be had from the experience of working -- apart from making new friends and learning new skills, there's actually an amount of truth to the cliché about 'building character'.

c) As well, you'll learn how to take control of your career and your lifestyle so that you can steer yourself a job that you not only don't mind, but actually find enjoyable, fulfilling, useful, challening and/or easy.

In short, things will get much better. With all that said -- talking to a counsellor or psychiatrist can still definitely be useful for dealing with these kind of feelings, which in the short term are unpleasant and can also be destructive and impeding.

Good luck -- you'll be fine, really.
posted by Drexen at 7:30 AM on August 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

I started seeing a psychologist last week to help work on my anxiety issues.

Good call, and you will be absolutely fine. I think the fear/dread of working full-time is totally normal for anxious people, and it's usually in the abstract before beginning a job.

I've gotten this a whole load of times, and when it resurfaced during work, it was only in jobs I was awfully glad to have left when I finished - the good places, I never got the feeling back other than wishing I had a longer weekend, or not feeling well a particular day and wishing I could be in bed, etc.

When you're busy and using your skills, and you've gotten to know where the bathroom is and slipped into a friendly routine with your coworkers, full-time work is a series of tasks/responsibilities/interactions, and you're not facing into the unknown every day, and if you get engaged in things central or peripheral to your job, your time will go faster and you'll most likely be pretty good, which is a nice feeling that makes work more pleasant as well.

(Not that simple with casual or unskilled work, but that doesn't sound like what you're describing. Which makes it much easier, as you presumably have passion or at least an interest in what you'll be doing.)

Incidentally, I ended up reading Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway last time this came up, and it helped, and gave me some thoughts to churn when I was stuck in the churning cycle. It might be worth a try if you haven't read it before.
posted by carbide at 7:59 AM on August 31, 2008

Working sucks. I'd tell you to find any way you can get out of it but I understand that isn't an option. I think the most you can do is visualise what you're going to get out of the job, and hype yourself up for it.
posted by saxamo at 8:16 AM on August 31, 2008

I wouldn't sweat it too much. Most Real Jobs don't have homework, which makes a surprisingly huge difference.

If you can, try to work at a "young" company; some place with a lot of other people in a similar position. I lucked into working for a mid-size startup after college, which was great. Lots of other people in the same situation (not unlike freshman year of undergrad)
posted by meta_eli at 8:26 AM on August 31, 2008

Psychologist good. I went to grad school because I didn't want to go work. Got an M.S., miserable the whole time. Went to work for two years (knowing it would suck on day one), got paid a lot, was the most miserable I've ever been in my entire life, hands down. Grad school again for a Ph.D. in a different field, been about 2.5 months now, and I'm very, very happy.

Start planning graduate school now. Figure out some profs who will write you letters and stay in touch with them. Start exploring intelligent grad school choices.

Less science-y grad school advice:

More science-y grad school advice:

Work for a year or two to save up some money to ease the transition into grad school. (Depending on the field you work in and your grad program, it can make you much more attractive to grad schools, too.) Figure out your timeline--when to start studying for the GRE, when to take the GRE, when to start doing applications, when to quit your job, when to start saving up vacation for grad school interviews, an (attempted) perfect end to your apartment lease. This gives you a hard exit and makes work suck less. That day in the future when you turn in your 2-4 week notice is incredible.

Food for thought about science-y grad school for men and women:


I am very unlazy, too. I don't like 9-5 (8-5+), and I don't like to be told what to do.

There is nothing to be ashamed of about feeling like you can't "handle" work or whatever. Sure, some of it's normal anxiety and feelings of inadequacy to work through. Go and work for a bit, realize that you could do it. Fact is though, it just destroys some people's souls more than others, and if there's any way they can get out, they should. Life after grad school? Pick your program carefully, and one thing at a time.
posted by zeek321 at 8:38 AM on August 31, 2008 [4 favorites]

rainygrl716, what you are worrying about is completely normal to go through. crucial is what you do next. if you do settle into a safe job (because you're afraid you might not cut it otherwise and these guys don't seem to notice or whatever) that bores you, you do have a rather decent chance of setting yourself up for a midlife crisis. look around. use the internship/rotation to find something you are really fascinated by. treat this as a scavenger hunt. try to find the one thing you have to know more about, that you can't stop asking people about, that you want to get the hang of now. things that frustrate you, that you are convinced there must be a better way of doing may be one area to look into. read anything about the field of your choice, which I assume to be a medical area, talk to knowledgable people about what's cutting edge, what interests them and what they can't get enough of.

it's okay for that process to take time. it's okay for you to not decide for a while. but then you do, throw all you have at it. if that means graduate school, fine. breath it, dream it, eat it up. there is nothing better than really enjoying something and getting paid to do it. you won't be able to stop yourself from excelling.
posted by krautland at 9:04 AM on August 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

I felt the same way as you.

Look at it this way - hundreds and millions of people have been in the same position as you and made the transition and been fine. Or you could remember that once you start working full time, chances are you'll be making more money, which will allow to pursue things you really love outside of work. Making sufficient money to do some of the things you love helps to provide meaning to your work life. Just because you leave school doesn't mean there aren't other challenges and learning opportunities out there. The world is full of fun and interesting things to do in your free time. I'm looking at taking an adult education photography class this fall. I also want to take cooking classes, join a book club, a movie club and play D & D. In fact, my one problem is that I can't find enough time to do all the things I want to do. There are tons of things you can get involved in post-college that will be right up your alley.

One other thing - not having the thought of the studying that I could/should be doing hanging over my head all the time is a tremendous freedom.

I think you'll be fine. Enjoy what you have now and when something new comes along, find ways to enjoy that.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:16 AM on August 31, 2008

With work, attitude is everything. If it is something you approach with dread, there is no doubt you will be miserable. I'm not saying "suck it up" and pretend you like something you don't, but when you are deciding what career path you are going to take, focus on the things that you find interesting/fun/fulfilling. Of course it is going to be a drag some days, that's true about everything in life. But if you decide well about the career path you take, there will be days you work long hours without a break and you won't even notice the time pass.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:49 AM on August 31, 2008

You'll be able to explore all manner of interests outside work...just be prepared for being tired until you're used to working a full working week, especially if you work shifts, and for having much less flexibility over your time than you did at college.

Having said that with any luck your job is going to be interesting and will allow you to learn new things and pose new challenges. You'll go from being clueless to getting good at it to taking on more responsibility/promotion or whatever. In any case you'll learn something new all the time - if there is no set career path in your field you may have to make it clear to those higher up that that is what you want.

Also remember that if your particular job does not meet your requirements you can always go and find another, that will.

From my own experience I don't think that you ever feel that you 'know' what you're doing in most jobs that require a reasonable level of qualification. I've been working in my field for 5 years now and no, I still don't feel I 'know' what I'm doing most of the time because as soon as I am good at something I find myself doing more complex work/getting more responsibility and am required to do stuff I've never done before - no lack of challenges at any rate ;)
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:05 AM on August 31, 2008

I think it is a normal part of growing up, yes. You say you'll have exams during your first year, so that should keep you motivated and learning new things. And look at it this way - it is only 40 hours a week, the rest of the time is totally yours. Try to find peers/friends at work that you look forward to seeing. If you have time, you can always take an evening class in whatever interests you to keep yourself alive and interested. : )
posted by Penelope at 10:07 AM on August 31, 2008

It's not as bad as you think. Having FREE TIME without homework after 5 p.m. helps a lot. Also, having money coming IN rather than going OUT is also very cheering. The only thing that sucks is having a nonflexible schedule and 8 a.m. every day for the rest of your life...but that's pretty well nonnegotiable for me, so oh well.

I always figured I'd hate working too, but I actually like it for the most part.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:09 AM on August 31, 2008

Hollow and unfulfilled. Yep, that sounds about right, welcome to adulthood. I actually like my job and believe in it, but the truth is college was definitely the best time of my life and there are many instances when I yearn for it.

Listen, I'd love to say that you will get over your anxiety, get a fulfilling and rewarding job, and figure out your life. But judging from recent example, this probably won't happen for awhile.

You will probably bust your ass just to get a job, find out it isn't exactly what you wanted, question what you wanted to begin with, bounce around a few other jobs in the next few years, get frustrated, watch some of your friends get good jobs, feel left behind, question your own self-worth, etc.

But on the bright side, this seems to be the new paradigm.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 10:28 AM on August 31, 2008

Good for you for admitting you're afraid - and good for you for doing something about it. I bet therapy will help a lot.

I find when I'm afraid of something, I'm usually assuming all the worst possibilities are definitely absolutely going to happen, and none of the best possibilities will.

From what you've written, I think there are some really good possibilites that are very likely.

The other was more in line with the field I am going into now which was 12 hours a week and I enjoyed it a lot.

So you've already experienced having a job you enjoyed a lot.

And from having just two jobs, you've learned something important: jobs are not all alike. Some workplaces are pleasant. Some are awful. Some co-workers are great. Some are not. Some jobs are challenging, interesting, fun. Some aren't ... but some are.

I love school and learning and thrive on that environment.

Some jobs offer a lot of opportunities to learn. I work with computers, and I'm always hired by my clients for the skills I have - and yet I've had opportunity after opportunity during the past several years to learn new skills, new information, and new tools.

Here's a secret: a good employee is really valuable to decent employers. An enthusiastic new worker who comes in saying "I love learning new things!" is a joy to a hiring manager.

Here's something you could do while you're finishing the coming school year: find people working in your field and ask them about their work. Ask them what they like and what they don't like. Ask about earlier jobs they've had and how they compared. Ask them about their great bosses and their problem bosses, their difficult co-workers and their favorite co-workers. Ask what they've learned on the job. Ask how they negotiated for the work options that were important to them, whether it's salary, schedule, vacation time, or benefits.

Even people who love their work don't love every last thing about it every minute of the day. But learning what makes a job work well for you and how to negotiate those things can help you understand how much control you have over your work life and help you focus on the highlights rather than the bad bits.
posted by kristi at 2:02 PM on August 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

This has given me a lot to think about. I appreciate all the links provided and the book recommendations. Since coming to metafilter my amazon wishlist has grown quite a bit! It is nice to know that what I am feeling is normal, though.

I think part of my fear is being trapped. My degree leads to one job, basically, specialization and different areas to work in after graduation. Luckily for me it is an in-demand job (my husband went through hell getting his job and his experience was exactly Wayman Tisdale described so I know how hard that can be). Most of the graduates have work lined up before they get out of school, so I probably won't go through anything that terrible in the job search process.

I think I have been discouraged by some negativity regarding the profession I am going into that I have found online. Some people I've seen online seem to think it is a dead-end profession and say to use it as a stepping stone to other paths. Also I've been discouraged by classmates who tell me I can do more than "settling" for this career path which has always offended me but probably also made me question myself in getting in this field.

Either way, I like the idea of embracing the positives and having a good mindset about working. One good thing is my mental health and my life has improved greatly by me setting up boundaries and schedules in my life, something I never learned to do as a child (or was never taught). So a work schedule, while unchanging and maybe seemingly bleak to me right now, could actually benefit my overall health and performance in life. I need to not look at it is as being trapped in a schedule, but instead see how it will help me reinforce techniques I have tried to implement this past year to improve my life.

Thank you all very much for the comments. I guess worst case I can always work part time and I'd still make enough to make it worthwhile if I absolutely hate working :)
posted by rainygrl716 at 2:24 PM on August 31, 2008

I had similar concerns. But I discovered that the main difference between being a student and being employed, is that as a student, I paid $$$ to do my work, whereas when I became employed, I got paid $$$ to do my work!

I enjoyed being a student, and didn't want to leave university, but knowing what I know now, I would find it very hard to go back - the direction of that flow of $$$ makes a difference -

$$$ can add an awful lot of fun to your life!
posted by -harlequin- at 5:45 PM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I completely understand where you're coming from.

My previous career option was as an academic - I'd say there are a lot of Professors who are people that never wanted to leave University!

My current career is being a designer-maker - I work from home, have no boss, and set my own schedule.

I'd advise you to give it a real try in the real world, but I also have to point out that you are not alone and some people make this work for themselves, as the examples I pointed out!
posted by Andorinha at 5:56 PM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm with you, rainygrl716 - working to me (at least, for someone else doing something that isn't in my heart) has always been a dreadful idea. Like you, i love learning and making my own ideals a part of what i do. Because of this inflexibility, i did suffer a bit as i went from at least 10 different jobs.

Unlike you though, i didn't complete college and always hoped that it was easier to make the transition from 4-8 years of full time academics to a full time job.

In any case, my path has lead me to believe that the people that do hold on to their ideals like me are usually holding onto something dear to them for some reason. Some of them don't even realize what that thing is that keeps them feeling hollow during their jobs, and eventually their lives in general.

My advice to you is to realize what exactly your passions are -- what are the things that you DO love to do right now (without having to make concessions or accept too many negatives)? OK, so you are fearful of having your life sucked away by 40 hours of something that doesn't fulfill you. Are there any jobs that would be more suitable?

Currently i'm working freelance as well as with a charity organization, and in both cases i encounter many people whom communicate similar fears of dissatisfaction with a 9-5 lifestyle. Many of them find some way to work part-time on something that does fulfill their want to continue growing while still holding another part-time job as a working stiff.

Keep looking around, i'm sure your feelings of dissatisfaction in regards to careers is more common than you realize.
posted by phylum sinter at 8:47 PM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it will be really empowering for you to know that you can support and take care of yourself. It sounds like your husband provides for you now.

You'll have your own money that you can spend on whatever you want (after you've paid for whatever portion of the bills you work out with your husband) and you can take satisfaction in knowing that, should you ever need to, you'll have a career to support yourself with.

School is a very comfortable little bubble. If I was independently wealthy, I'd go back to it in a heartbeat. But it's also a very artificial world. You can always get the best of both worlds and do what I did -- work on campus.

Don't be scared. I bet working will change your life in a really positive way.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 1:43 AM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

That having a job and doing the same stuff every day will make me feel hollow and depressed.

There's a really good chance that it will make you feel hollow and depressed. Look at the legions of people across the country (and world) who report to work like zombies, will trample you as they rush to leave the building at the end of the work day, and who complain incessantly about what they do for a living, their boss, their coworkers, etc.

Work, for a fairly large percentage of the world, sucks. Welcome to the real world.

The few who bounce out of bed every day delighted to be heading back to work are vanishingly small in number.
posted by jayder at 6:32 AM on September 1, 2008

People have mentioned not having homework, and it is AMAZING. Actually, even in comparison to when I wasn't working (after graduation and before starting work) I find that my social life is a lot more fulfilling. When you can do stuff just anytime, it's really easy to keep putting it off, but now that I work during the day I'm spending a lot more time with friends and getting a lot more quality out of my time with family.

Also, if you aren't scraping by as far as money, you have some control over your job. Even if it turns out that you hate the work your degree qualifies you for, there are probably a lot of other fields that would be glad to have someone with your knowledge. For example, an engineer or scientist would make a great science writer, and a law degree is a big help in the business world, etc. Maybe it'll help with the anxiety if you remember that if you really do hate it, you're not stuck there for the rest of your life.
posted by Lady Li at 10:47 AM on September 2, 2008

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