How did you become an adult after messing up your youth?
January 9, 2009 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Did you spend the years out of high school and into your early-mid twenties royally fucking up from an academic standpoint, bouncing in and out of college--but then went on to be a successful, productive adult despite it? What did you do? How did it happen? Yes, this question is young and silly but I need the advice of those older and wiser.

To make this short, I'm exiting years of a spotty academic career with still no degree. Neither working full-time at low-paying jobs, volunteering in areas that inspire my passions, classes that interest me, or telling myself to suck it up and just get it done have resulted in the motivation to do classwork. I'm almost into my mid-twenties. I'm facing a world where all of the jobs that I like and have benefits like health insurance require a bachelor's degree, and I have no degree in hand, appreciable job history and references that might sub for a degree, or any indication that my college wants me back to finish said degree. Frankly, there's no indication that at this point I'm mature enough to go back and get my damn homework done anyway.

I need some form of reassurance that my life is not doomed to mediocrity. That I can turn it around, and there is some route I can take that will lead me to being productive and mature. What did you do? How did you go from being an unmotivated fuckoff to a productive person? Working for more years? Joining the military? Going on a spirit journey? Anything?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Your life is probably doomed to mediocrity because that's where most of us fall on the old bell curve. At least in any given context. Each of us, however, have the capacity to excel at something. For you, it may not be at a job. That can be a hard pill to swallow at first.

It is more important to find something you love to do and work hard to be exceptional at that, whether or not it is career-oriented. Perhaps you will discover that the reason you have dawdled in school is that you are doing things that you think you should instead of what you really, truly, deep-in-the-soul want to do.

It is a terrible drag on the heart and mind to strive for things because others have gotten you to think you should. True enough, there are times when you have to do things you don't want to out of fiscal (or other) necessity but pursuing your parents' or friends' goals will not help you be happy and successful.
posted by trinity8-director at 2:53 PM on January 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

I know someone who took ten years to complete a degree, with many false starts, and is now doing well. A former housemate of mine dropped out twice, and then got a job paying £20k - something I wasn't earning four years out of my arts degree.

I can't comment on insurance issues being not-American, but it's okay to take a few years away, pull your head together, and give things another go. If that's what you want. I know if I did my degree now I'd go for something different, purely because I didn't know I wanted to study it until now.
posted by mippy at 2:55 PM on January 9, 2009

Here's a question, did you have a series of successes early in your life? Did things come very easy for you,a nd then when it started to get hard, you panicked and dealt with it by not dealing with it?

What do you like to do? What do you want to do? Do you have passions?

If you don't have any of those things, and have no direction, I would normally say that you or your folks need to cough up the money for you to go take an aptitude test from a qualified career counselor and see what that tells you. But even if you did that, I don't think you should try school again.

You suggest the military flippantly, and I wouldn't suggest it, but it does make non-fuckoffs of former fuckoffs. I'd also suggest a volunteer mission like Peace Corps or similar. The point is to get you out of your current environment and current malaise.

Frankly, I knew I wasn't ready for college. I wanted to go live on a kibbutz for a year or join Peace Corps or do something else with my life for a year. But my parents said, "Go now or we won't pay for college". So I went, and did horribly for the first year and a half because I wasn't ready. I tried. I just wasn't ready. (There are other factors there, but that's another story.) So I'm not sitting here on an ivory pedestal. I got through college and have had two successful careers, burgeoning on a third. But I was also a hard worker outside of school, I could outwork anyone, and I read and studied and learned on my own, I had common sense and great street smarts. If you don't have those you have to get them.

I don't know if this helped.
posted by micawber at 2:56 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had several friends who followed this path and just seemed to get their act together in their mid-twenties. There was no golden moment . . . I think the best way I ever heard it put was "I stopped worrying about what I was supposed to be doing and started leading my own life."

I was on academic probation for pretty much the first three years of my college career before something clicked in. Two years later I graduated, by no means top of the class, but a solid student with a precise destination in mind.

If you're pushing thirty and still in this same place then I might be a little more concerned.
posted by tkolar at 3:00 PM on January 9, 2009

There will likely be far more eloquent replies to your query, but all I can suggest is that try and find something that really does interest you and see how that can fit into what you percieve as a "career-goal". Personally, all I ever wanted to do is go hiking/backpacking forever and see cool new things and I ended up as an archaeologist. Worked for a while and now I'm a computer nerd in my 40's. I was a terrible student by the way and I had to claw my way through college, just trying to overcome my sense of absolute boredom with the system.

Look, my honest response is that there really isnt any sure-fire way to motivate yourself that ultimately doesnt come from you alone. Maybe you do need a "spirit journey". Take it. Whatever it is that clears your head, do it. And also, you are still quite young, and certainly not alone in your confusion. Perhaps a little commiseration is in order.

Anyway, good fortune to you, and dont beat yourself up over this. There is no deadline for finding yourself and trust me, this will not be the first time you have a crisis of doubt in your life.
posted by elendil71 at 3:01 PM on January 9, 2009

To answer your initial question - yup, I pretty much did. I only spent a few months in university, but I bailed on it in a less-than-classy way and went out to work.

There were a couple of things that let me do that and still get a decent job. First of all, I'm in IT, where there isn't a lot of standardization and you can sometimes get by on what you know rather than certifications. If my passion were, say, engineering, I couldn't really have pulled it off.

Second of all, I worked in small, local companies, where there aren't a ton of restrictions and big HR departments. I started at the bottom - tech support - and worked my way up over the course of a few years, getting promoted from there into IT. From there I moved into another IT job through a friend. I anticipate that any other job changes will probably be through friends and acquaintances, since I'll be at a disadvantage with a cold resume dropoff because of lack of degree.

In other words: Choose a field where a degree/diploma isn't strictly required - not trades, not engineering, not teaching, etc. Look for small companies where you can get to know people, network, and advance. Take a crummy job with those companies and spend a year or two trying to advance. Be really good at your job, impress everyone you can, and network for other opportunities.
posted by pocams at 3:01 PM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is the point in memoirs where some of the most successful people in the world write, "... so I started my first company." (See: Richard Branson)
posted by crickets at 3:02 PM on January 9, 2009

This is the point in my memoirs when I went back to college and studied my ass off.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:08 PM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

First: Define "mediocre". There is no way to quantify what that means - one man's mediocre is another man's wildest success is another man's crushing failure.

A lot of getting the most out of life is in understanding what you want to get out of it - not what some societal norm says you SHOULD get out of it, but truly what you WANT. And it's OK to not know that. You're young - I'm not trying to sound condescending, but I mean you have plenty of time to think about what you want. There's no deadline.

The life of "mediocrity" that you so fear that you're destined to live may in fact turn out to be the most fulfilling way you can possibly live. Set no store in standards other than your own; there's no one yardstick by which "success" can be measured for every human.

Work enough so you can pay your bills, don't spend enough that you have to work a job you hate to pay those bills, and live your life. If you're fortunate enough to be in a loving relationship, that in itself is "success" - and if you're not, there's nothing wrong with that, either.

Appreciate what you have, in all aspects of life, and at some point something will indeed inspire you. Until that time, don't fear that you'll be "mediocre" forever - you won't.
posted by pdb at 3:12 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

It didn't happen overnight, but I can say that after spending years fucking around in Austin, moving to New York really forced me to get my act together, so I tend to agree with the new environment suggestion. And there's nothing wrong with going to college later in life -- for me it worked out well. You will be more motivated and more mature than most of your peers, and probably more satisfied when you finally get your degree. So keep getting stoned or whatever it is that makes you happy as a twentysomething. Nobody's forcing you down some sort of college->job->spouse->house->cancer route except the IRS.

You want to finish your academic work, but aren't motivated to do it. If you aren't motivated and just want to get it over with, then maybe you're taking the wrong classes. I learned to play to my strengths in college (and am trying to afterwards), and that's what helped me finally get a degree, at 33, which incidentally has almost nothing to do with the actual job I ended up getting.
posted by swift at 3:30 PM on January 9, 2009

Failed 11th grade, good grades but poor attendance. Was repeating 11th grade while my friends were getting ready to graduate and making plans to go to college. I was supposed to go to summer school, night school and then I might be able to catch up, but it was overwhelming and I just bailed. Worked in shitty jobs from age 17 to age 25 when I realized it was insanity. Got a GED, went to college, graduated with honors at age 29, got a job working for Uncle Sam and the rest is history. Also like swift, my degreee has nothing to do with how I now make my living.
posted by fixedgear at 3:37 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I dropped out of high school. I got my GED. I never went to college. I was a class A fuckup. I make a little less than 200 large a year (i'm 29 now, but for a long period of that time I was still making extremely good money.) I am 100% self-taught with the only real claim an Internet connection and a computer.
posted by arimathea at 3:41 PM on January 9, 2009

C- high school graduate. When I was 29, I realized that I was never going to be a rock star, I was sick of being broke, and I'd better hunker down and learn how to do something by which I could earn a living, and do it well. I guess I'm fortunate that in my chosen field it's not hard to stand out from the crowd because most t-shirt printers are really incurious, mediocre people. It's been a little tough ferreting out the exceptions to that rule so I could learn from the people who know the trade, and reading material is scarce, since trade publications are mostly trying to sell you stuff you might or might not need, but I've been able to glean concepts.

Aside from that, my path has been: Learn from mistakes -- document, experiment, quantify, measure, keep up with technology, look out for bottlenecks, & care. That's pretty well gotten me to the top of the heap as far as knowledge & quality. That, & a few years in the fast-food industry taught me to be quick with my hands, and to practice efficiency of motion, so I'm also fast, which makes my work profitable as well as good.

The last couple of years, Iv'e been concentrating on organizational & people skills, now that I've pretty well got the "putting pictures on T-shirts" part covered. Having happy employees & a smooth workflow seem to be keeping my boss happy with me as a manager, as well as keeping him happy with the product my department churns out.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:50 PM on January 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

I goofed off until 30, when I had my oldest child and realized that I needed the ability to support both of us if circumstances led that way(which they did). Since I have an innate math ability and a underlying practical nature, in the many jobs I had since high school I had often been tasked with keeping the books and doing payroll. I learned about small businesses as time went on, mostly thru osmosis. So at 30 I started to go to school at night, taking enough accounting classes at the local junior college to allow me to sit for the CPA exam. I studied hard and passed it.
Is it the career I would have chosen at twenty? I would rather be doing something creative but I'm not that talented and obviously have no burning desire to express myself or I would have made it more of a priority.
So I have something that will always pay the bills. And I have a damn good life. Not all of us can be judged by career. I choose who I work for, finding clients for the most part who are interesting and I genuinely like. I have expanded into litigation support accounting which is very interesting work and I surround myself with people I love and enjoy who feel the same about me.

I need some form of reassurance that my life is not doomed to mediocrity.
This quote I find problematic. Do you feel you need some kind of outward validation that you're not a loser? Don't waste your time with the trappings of perceived social stigma.
Read Grumblebee's response to finding your passion -
what you do to earn pay does not necessarily define you, but sometimes it can lead to possibilities that you hadn't considered.
posted by readery at 4:05 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hmmm. I finally graduated from college 8 years after I graduated from high school. This was because it took me awhile to grow up. I failed miserably at college on the first try, took a few years off, worked a series of retail jobs, and then somehow just felt ready to try it again. I wanted to be a college graduate. It was important to me. I wanted to be educated ... to know how to write well, how to be analytical, how to ask good questions and how to find answers. It didn't matter to me so much what I majored in as long as I emerged as an educated person.

I got a degree in communications, because it seemed to be the easiest way for me to get through. I actually enjoyed it a lot the second time around, and did pretty well. Some sort of competitive streak that I never knew I had kicked in and once I graduated, I found a job in network TV news and have had a pretty wonderful career.

All I can say is that I just needed a little more time than most to grow up. I was motivated to finish college because it felt important to me. It's not too late for you. You just have to want something badly enough to be willing to work hard for it. The self discipline to achieve has to come from your own motivation - I don't think anyone has magic words that will just hand this to you.

What is it you really want? That's what you need to figure out for yourself. Good luck. It is definitely not too late.
posted by Kangaroo at 4:28 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I grew up in a low socio-economic area, and went to a public school. My parents weren't rich but they always did whatever they could to help me out. I was always a great student at High School but by the time I reached the 11th grade, I started to slack off. Looking back at it now, I think it was just burn-out. I had excelled for 10 years and now I just wanted to relax. By the time I graduated at the end of the 12th grade, my grades had really slipped and I basically bombed my HSC exam (the Australian equivalent of an SAT).

Upon leaving High School with less than stellar results, I bummed around for a bit and then took a job with my brother at a radiator warehouse as a store-person. It was hard work but I enjoyed it. It was only a summer job though to tide me over until TAFE (a college) started in the new year (1997). College was my only option for further education given that my grades essentially precluded me from any decent University. I had dreams at the time of being a director or a camera man at one of the local TV stations. Upon starting my course, I soon learned how hard it was to break into that field. I did pretty well in my course but again, towards the end, I kind of gave up, a combination of me once again feeling pretty burned out and also focusing more on my part-time job as a telemarketer in the evenings, where I had risen through the ranks to become a shift supervisor.

In 1998 I took on a role at the telemarketing company as an admin assistant. I was good at typing, good at fixing computers and they liked me, had an opening and it paid well. I stayed with them until they closed around mid-98. With my only real skills at that stage being telemarketing, I moved in and out of telemarketing jobs over the course of the next couple of years, mixing it up with the occasional admin role and a job at a video games store.

All the time I still pretty much lived with my parents, who were Labor voters (for US-ians, Labor is a left leaning party similar to the Democrats). That they would vote this way was of no surprise, especially given that they lived in an electorate which was a strong Labor voting seat. However, the Labor Party was, federally, in Opposition at the time. The Prime Minister of the day, John Howard, was a member of the right-wing Liberal Party and he had announced in 1998 that he planned to introduce a Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 10%. In the area I lived, this was a potential disaster waiting to happen. For most people in my neighborhood, an extra $5 or $10 a week on their shopping bill could, quite literally, break the bank and the GST threatened to do this.

Although Howard announced his intentions to do this in 1998, it wasn't until 1999 that I started to care. Before this time I never had any interest in politics. But as I looked around where I lived and saw the potential impact this GST could have on some of the poorest people in the country, something stirred within me. I started to take an interest in politics, the Labor Party and began to (gasp!) read the papers. I went to the public library most days and immersed myself in Australian political history, which I found fascinating.

All of this made me want to go to University so I could study politics, but of course my previous school grades precluded me from this. But as luck would have it, my local TAFE had a program which guaranteed entry into University for people who successfully completed the one year program. It was only for certain University courses, but again, as luck would have it, a Politics degree was one of the courses that I could gain guaranteed entry into if I passed. I signed up and through the course of the year 2000, I worked my arse off and graduated at the end of the year with a guaranteed place at University.

I started my Politics degree in 2001, and in the same year I joined the Labor Party and helped them fight the federal and state elections of that year. On a state level we were victorious... federally, we lost, which was a crushing blow. But the highs and lows of 2001 were useful experience for someone starting their political life.

Meanwhile I worked hard at University and as I neared graduation at the end of 2003, I was offered the chance to do an Honours Degree, since my lecturers thought I would do well in Honours. Again, by this stage I was feeling a bit burned out, but I accepted. In 2004, probably one of the hardest years of my life, I successfully completed my Honours while fighting the 2004 federal election... which Labor lost again. This was another crushing defeat (we really wanted to get rid of Howard like you couldn't believe) but by this stage I had learned to accept the highs and lows of political life.

At the end of 2004 I met a woman who would become my girlfriend, and who I would fall deeply in love with. In 2005 I took some time off from what was 5 years of study and in the middle of the year successfully got a job in the Queensland public service. This job led to a dream job for a political nut like me and at the start of 2006, I started a job as a political advisor. In 2007 I asked my girlfriend to marry me, and she said yes. We're getting married later this year. I'm still working as an advisor for the same boss. Life is pretty great.

What I hope this story teaches you is that yes, there is hope. In my experience, you need to find what it is that excites you and gets you passionate, and then drive unswervingly towards that goal, as I did. But the irony is that I didn't find that goal until after I bummed around for a while. Indeed, I think had I gone to Uni straight after high school, I'd have dropped out. No way could I have done another three years on top of the 12 I'd done at high school. And no way would I have studied politics back in 1996. In short, it took some time away from study, some time in the real world, to find myself and learn what it was that I really wanted to do with my life.

Finding out what it is that you want to do with yours may mean that you need to do research on ways that you can get there, like I did. Also, don't assume that your dream job or calling in life will involve University or college. It might... it might not. Just remember... the key is to find what you want to do, what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and contribute to society, and then do what it takes to get there.

Whatever you end up doing, remember that there is hope, but that at the same time life really is what you make it. Good luck!
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:23 PM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Previously... I left school after grade 10 and then was kicked out of uni, and my partner was expelled from school and doesn't have a degree, but we've both forged successful careers.

The US is a whole different market, though, with your ridiculous credential creep and need for health insurance - have you thought about working elsewhere?

Good luck in your job search!
posted by goo at 5:43 PM on January 9, 2009

I partied my way through undergrad, dropping in and out over the course of 8 years. After graduation, I was disappointed to notice that there were hundreds of other people with humanities BA degrees competing for the same entry level jobs. The fact that I wasn't handed a job right out of undergrad making $35k or more a year was a big wake up call.

I worked a lot of different jobs, temped, waitressed, cleaned rich people's houses, sold stuff on ebay and worked some pretty awful secretarial type jobs. I also traveled fairly extensively, lived a carefree bohemian life and read a lot of books, so there were some things about this lifestyle that I really liked.

Then, at some point, probably while sitting in a cubicle at a job I hated, I had a revelation about what my dream job would be. I figured out what I needed to do education-wise in order to get that job. I applied for a program in this field. The school actually liked that I was a bit older, had sewn my wild oats and had been in the workforce. I started school again and this time I was ready to do well. Since I knew intimately what the low-level workforce was like, I was seriously motivated to excel. I graduated and ended up getting my dream job.

Anyway, so yeah, there is hope for people who are slackers in their 20s.

If you aren't ready to finish a 4 year program to get into your desired field, why not learn a trade and practice that for awhile? It can feel really good to work with your hands.

Another thing you might want to look at is whether you have Adult ADHD...not being able to finish or do homework seems like a red flag to me.
posted by pluckysparrow at 6:13 PM on January 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Can you lead a decent life without going to college? Certainly. I have many friends who have done it. One friend of mine failed out of college while I went on to get an MS and he makes more money than I do and seems quite happy with his life.

Maybe you're not at the right school. Maybe you're not studying the right thing. Maybe you can get a job doing what you want based on the sheer power of your personality. The important thing is not to worry about past failures but focus on trying new things until you find a happy place. Step one may be get the hell out of town.
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:59 PM on January 9, 2009

There's an industry somewhere where no one will so much as blink at your checkered past, and you'll probably be really happy there.

For me, that was Hollywood, but I only got there after eight years of royally fucking up at being a human being-- mental health issues, dropping out of four-year uni due to same, re-enacting that entire "walk the earth"/ "be a bum" dichotomy from Pulp Fiction for six or seven months, having a bunch of really crappy relationships, screwing up my credit, getting in a car accident that left me visually impaired, etc. etc. If there were benchmarks for "this person is competent to exist," I'd've missed most of them at any given time.

And then it got to "Hey, wait, the current situation is better than the last few-- but it's still going to fuck me up pretty good if I don't get out and do something else. Maybe I'd better quit finding situations that are going to fuck me up."

A genuinely supportive set of housemates, a better home environment, better nutrition, and a year basically sitting on my ass on Mr. F's dime getting my shit back together later, I was applying for jobs again and not getting anywhere. This annoyed me enough that I went back to school, picked up some useful skills to toss on a resume, and got Mr. F's boss on my side when they needed some extra help at work.

That was 2005; I finished my last class of glorious two-year college last month and got my final grades Monday morning. I've got two years' experience in my field now and a few new possibilities in the works over the next couple months. I can actually point at my webpage on an industry site as part of my resume and go "Yeah, I worked on those." Shit, I even passed a math class, and God knows that never would've happened to me before.

You will, eventually, fail to suck at life, trust me. And when you do finally get your head around what you need to do to move past the sucking-at-life, you'll go back to school or into your chosen industry and be ten times quicker on the uptake, easier to work with, and sharper of instinct than any kid who breezed through college and right into the workforce. It'll be like all those dreams where you're back in high school, but with your adult wits and sarcasm about you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:01 PM on January 9, 2009

I'd like to repeat what readery said "Don't waste your time with the trappings of perceived social stigma." My own advice is this: If you are not abusing drugs or alcohol, selling your body to strangers, or getting in trouble with the law you'll be fine. You may find what you are looking for, it may find you. When it hits, you'll know it and you'll be quickly successful. The fact that you're insightful, wise enough, and humble enough to go seeking the advice of others gives me strong reassurance that you're going to do very well.

There is something in your writing though that points to issues of anxiety, depression, both? Bear in mind that as you take on the weight of the world you must monitor your mental health as much as physical health.
posted by ezekieldas at 7:14 PM on January 9, 2009

I nearly failed high school, didn't go to college after high school, moved to central Europe and worked as an english teacher for a while, came back to America and worked low-paying, qualificationless jobs until I realized that I would potentially never have health insurance or the ability to support myself without relying on someone else, and that I really, really hated working at qualificationless jobs for barely enough money to survive. And that I was not going to magically somehow become a highly-paid rock star. Was partially convinced that I was a total slacker forever, and that I was just lazy.

Spent about a year racking my brain for what I could do that would enable me to live the kind of life I wanted to live with the kinds of skills that I would like to have. Decided on physical therapy. Realized "oops, I totally suck at math." Bought really super-basic math books and studied until I get my math skills from 2nd grade level to college entry level. Started undergrad from the very beginning at 28. Did ok. After a while, realized I sucked at physics as well. Got a tutor. Worked my butt off. Passed undergrad with very nearly straight As. Did really well in grad school. Worked my butt off.

Now I'm a PT, I love it, I've got dental, and I never have to sit in a windowless grey cubicle again, hooray! I look at my degree on my wall, and it is forever proof to me that I am not lazy, that I'm no slacker, that I worked hard and did this my damn self.
posted by jennyjenny at 7:17 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

yeah, a really good friend of mine was a high school drop out and didn't go to college until he was 24. He was never really a fuck up, but was never much interested in an academic track until he was older. Now he's an artist and a builder, and doing great.

Learn to work with your hands, if nothing else. You can always find work that way, be outdoors a lot, and have a skill.
posted by Rocket26 at 7:41 PM on January 9, 2009

Yeah, I did this. Fucked around for about a decade, got my shit together around age 25.

A lot of what helped for me, cheesy as it sounds, was accepting myself.

In particular, a lot changed for me when I accepted my own priorities and goals. I spent my teens and early twenties all freaked out because I didn't know what I wanted. Turns out that was bullshit — I knew exactly what I wanted all along, I just thought the stuff I wanted was dumb and weird and I didn't deserve to get it. When I finally said "Fuck it, it's dumb and weird but it's what I want and I'm gonna work towards it," life got much much much better.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:39 PM on January 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

I was a reasonable facsimile of you in my late teens. College/Uni was the right place at the wrong time. Living w. parents for an extended period wasn't an option, didn't wanna try to have or share a place while making very little money... so onward to the United States Air Force. It didn't strike me as ideal for the long term, but I did a lot of growing up, had decent disposable income, had health ins., got to live in England for two years, knocked out some college credits via taking classes at local community colleges. Apres USAF, onward to a 4-year-school and things there went quite well.
posted by ambient2 at 10:38 PM on January 9, 2009

Im going to come at this from a slightly different standpoint. I didn't screw around during my study and did very well. However when I went to the workforce, nothing felt good enough for me and I soon had a major personal crisis. I quickly realised I wasnt cut out for the workforce and soon developed a patchy work history. I teamed up with a more successful friend and found myself in a job where I could watch the people who had built their own business. Here is what I found out. Every single one of the many tens of businesses I got to observe that became successful was founded and driven by someone who either never studied, or dropped out before finishing. They each just had the gall to shrug off the past and the groupthink of the people around them.

Here is where I find your post most problematic. "I'm facing a world where all of the jobs that I like ... " All the jobs you like? You never even tried them. How can you say that? What you need at this point is to try things and see how you like them without beating yourself up about being mature and productive. As long as you are focused on genuinely giving them a good shot, keep trying until you find something that you really look forward to doing every day. Judge yourself by how well you perform in a field that you like.
posted by zaebiz at 3:01 AM on January 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

My story doesn't have its happy ending yet, but I feel confident it'll work out, despite the upcoming emigration that will prevent me going to university for another two years. I just want to wish you the best of luck in your endeavors, and say that you're only doomed to mediocrity if you accept it as your fate. Thankfully, in my case, working at restaurants and living in barns cured me of this acceptance; I can't tell you what will make things click for you.

There are many ways to live a life. Not all of them revolve around the kind of job you have. Decide whether you would like better to have a job that is fulfilling and challenging and exciting, or one which you tolerate for the fact that it allows you to pursue things you're more interested in than work. Into this equation must factor your willingness to put the work into getting any work at all. A (good?) way to figure out what you want is to find out what you don't want -- that is, what level or standard of living you must achieve to live with yourself comfortably. That's where living in a trailer and then a barn came in, for me. I am very willing to work hard to ensure that I don't have to live like that again.

Also, there's this big myth out there that says you MUST find a job that makes you dance and sing arias and poop rainbows for the sheer joy of having work that you're passionate about, and that if you do not find this magical grail, you fail at life.

This is patently untrue, and I'm not afraid to admit it. It's okay to be a(n) X because of the pay and flexible hours or because it gives you insurance without requiring a degree, allowing you to _____ (spend time with family, pursue hobbies, enjoy life, etc.). . . Rather than because you've wanted to be a(n) X from the time you were a little pup and it's so rewarding and challenging. Note that I'm not saying you should suck it up and take whatever job you can find, even if you hate it. But generally speaking, most people can find work which they can tolerate and do well in, and this work is not always related to their defining passion. And that's okay. Really, I guess this adds up to me agreeing with those who say: decide to lead your own life by your own standards.
posted by po at 4:14 AM on January 10, 2009

I excelled in HS, took nine years to get a (technical and difficult) BS, then had 12 years of highly paid professional work, nowadays some would call what I'm in the doldrums, but I consider that a matter of opinion. I think you might relax your mind on this question by realizing there is just no way to predict what will happen in the future, and just try to do what interests you. If nothing much does at the moment, maybe it's time for something along the lines of that "spirit journey" you mentioned. One or two of those questing experiences is why it took me 9 years to finish the BS. But I wouldn't trade the memories for anything. Maybe it's time for another one for me too. Thanks for the suggestion.
posted by telstar at 5:33 AM on January 10, 2009

I am now 49, happily married for 20 years, and I am back in college after many different jobs. I see the twenty-somethings like you struggling through that decade in their lives, and I think everybody goes through the thrashing around, trying to find out what it is they want to do. I did, and it was a hard time. I haven't read everyone's responses in detail (lots of great thoughts and ideas here), but I think what settled me down was to find a good partner. I don't think just running out and partnering up with just anyone is a great idea, but for me, having the right person come along made me settle down and think about my responsibility to him and our future. So, just keep going, and, as someone else said, deal with any depression issues (I had to), and try different things--don't limit yourself or worry about what people (family or friends) think about you. Good luck!!
posted by Vermillion at 7:23 AM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

First, don't stress out about it so much. Although in saying that, I remember all to well going through the exact same stresses when I was young. I was always most jealous of those people who knew exactly what they wanted to be, and then directed all their energies towards achieving that.

You're in your mid-20's, I know you don't feel young, but you've got years before you need to be worried about the long term. If I were you, I would do anything that would make me either money or happiness right now. Or if you can, travel and get experiences. You'll not likely have ever again in your life more freedom to do whatever the hell you want than you do now, without more obligations (family, mortgage, job, etc.).

It wasn't until I was in my mid-30's that I settled down into what others would call a career. I just call it what I happen to be doing right now.

My history in a nutshell:
Went to three different uni's, for graphic arts(back in the early 80's before computers did everything), economics (to make the parents happy) and clothing and accessory design. Never got a degree in any of them.
Total work experience (post high school) in a "real job" environment: about a year at a sportswear design firm, and several months working back office on wall street, both low paying entry level jobs.
A couple months into an accessories design class, I made samples of some of my designs, and went door to door selling them to small boutiques here in Manhattan. Did well enough to quit the day job (the sportswear company) and do this only, supplemented by a few nights a week bartending. Figured out the business of owning an accessories design company as I went, from making samples, to contracting out orders, to billing, invoicing, etc.
After about a year and a half, got burned out, put all my stuff into storage, got a one way ticket to Rome (having never been out of the country before). Traveled around and lived in Europe for a couple of years, living of the money I made from my business.
Came back, was lost, had no direction, floundered, fell into a depression, almost got evicted because I had no money, got a job as manual labor for a friends business doing staging for trade shows. Started tending bar again.
After several years of bartending, I felt that if I didn't do something more substantial, I might as well give up all together. The only thing I felt I could do at that time was open a bar, because that was pretty much what I knew best.
Met my future business partner at the bar I was then working at. Being incredibly naive about the effort that would be involved and the money that would be needed, we opened the first bar, figuring out how to do it as we went. Six months later we opened the second business, then a year after that, I opened my the third, and ten years later, I've opened nine businesses, closed some, sold some, still have some. I'm in the process of opening another right now.

I own a couple of different pieces of property, spend my time living on two different continents (here in NYC and Australia), travel a bit in addition to going back and forth, and generally do pretty well. Most people would call me successful.

There are others that are wealthier than me, but they were working while I was traveling and having other experiences in my earlier years, experiences that I would not give up for any amount of money. These are the memories that are going to entertain me when I'm too old to get out of my wheelchair.

The trick is to enjoy your life now. It seems as if you aren't yet ready to do your career thing yet. It will happen when it's supposed to. This doesn't mean that you can sit back and wait for something to find you, you have to keep trying to find what's right for you, but try not to stress about it and try to have as many different experiences as you can in the meantime.
Don't compare yourself to others. You are an apple, everyone else is an orange. This is true of everyone. Everyone was meant to have their own unique life experience, and trying to make yours fit into some plan that wasn't meant to be, or into what others think it's supposed to be, only leads to a lot of grief and a lot of lost time.
Your life also has it's own time line. Sometimes it feels like nothing is going to happen ever, and life is passing you by, and then one day you will do something that gets the ball rolling and things start happening FAST. Or not. It's your time line. Only you can decide how/when things are going to happen.

This is neither here nor there, and it's just my opinion, but uni isn't the be-all end-all it's cracked up to be. I know many successful people who either never went or didn't finish. It's not the way for everybody, and it's a downright waste of time for some.There is a possibility that it is not for you, or at least at this point in time it's not for you. Don't force it if it's not there, is all I'm saying.

BTW, getting health insurance benefits is probably the worst reason to try and get a particular job. You can get your own for around $300 a month, catastrophic only for about half that. Hopefully this country will come to it's senses soon anyway and realize that employer based healthcare is outdated and inefficient, but that's a different subject altogether.
posted by newpotato at 9:11 AM on January 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

Mediocrity is underrated.
posted by fullerine at 7:56 PM on January 12, 2009

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