What to do with my life
December 28, 2009 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Please tell me how I can find out what to do with my life?

Of course you cannot really tell me what to do with my life. Of course in the end I have to make up my mind and come up with a decision. But maybe you can help me a bit with my struggle or point me into the right direction (if there is any).

About me: I am from Germany and 27 years old. Athough a lot of people say that this is no age, I often feel like I already passed passed the zenith of my life without really archieving anything.

After school I went straight to university and started studying economics. After one year I found out that economics is definitely not the way I want to study economics and switched to political science. After four years I graduated in political science (inbetween I spent one year at a British university).

In the same year I worked as a freelance researcher for a small NGO and started my Master’s degree in International Political Economy which I am about to finish now (only have to write up the last bits of my thesis).

I am an excellent student, I have a scholarship and I already worked as a teaching assistant for the master course while being a student myself. Everything in my life was/is orientated towards an academic career. I never ever really had job outside academia.

Ok here is the catch: I also suffer from depression and it gets worse each time I have a long and unstructured writing project like my master thesis in front of me. I like the research part, I like the reading part and I like to think about theoretical problems. I don’t like doing empirical work and I especially don’t like writing everything up in the end. I find it extremely boring. I procrastinate and I suffer unitil eventually everything becomes meaningless and I think of applying for some lousy jobs with no intellectual requirements at all.

I had (and have) psychotheraphy, I took antidepressants (did not really help in the end) and also spent two months in residual therapy (best decision of my life but as soon as I got out I lost everything really fast again).

I think, one reason why I still haven't finished my master thesis is because I am really afraid of the next step. Or to be more precise: I don't know what this next step will look like.

So far I really liked the job of being a teaching assisstant. It is a demanding job but not too demanding. I can live out my narcissism in a positive way. And I get instant gratification in the form of positive feedback. Something I do not get by doing research. However, there is no way to be a teaching assisstant for the rest of your life (at least not in Germany).

Should I still try to go for a PhD (although I know it will be hell for me)?. What are other options (also outside of Germany)? Are there any books & tests I can consult? Personal stories?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
All I can say is: You can feel that way at any age, despite any level of past success.

You aren't past any "zenith" in life. Your feelings are not abnormal. Many people feel like they've "missed out" or "failed" or whatever - regardless of their previous success. Even people who'se peers may view them as wildly successful feel this way.

You already mentioned therapy. I have no experience in therapy, but perhaps don't give up on it.

The world is huge, there are infinite possibilities. You seem to have a fairly clear idea of what you don't like to do - maybe you need to step away from academia, take a trip, do something, and figure out what you want you DO like to do? The world is far, far more than academia. You are young. You will continue to be young for quite some time - don't let that be an excuse, or you'll be saying the same thing when you're 37, and saying "Gee, why did I think that 10 years ago?).

Volunteer work? Find religion? Go backpack around? Check out a monastery? Take some art classes? Take up music? Dance lessons? Acting? Skydiving? Paragliding? Surfing? Graffitti? Skateboarding? Poker?

Find what you like to do... and do it.
posted by TravellingDen at 7:17 AM on December 28, 2009

Why do you want a PhD? I ask because it seems you chose a path out of expectations, meaning you were "trained" to think "well it's this school, then this, then you get a job, then life is dandy." I only speculate because I did the same thing. While having goals, education, and a great job is wonderful, fufillment is even better. You far reached your zenith at 27 and don't compare others who seemed to have done so. It doesn't mean they are happier than you. They're probably just keeping it to themselves.

Not sure about teaching assistant jobs outside of Germany (as in the US) but why can't you be one the rest of your life or at the very least be a substitute teacher?

Don't be so hard on yourself though and try to analyze every move less. If anything, has a therapist explored the notion that you may be a little OCD with the running/over analyzing of thoughts?
posted by stormpooper at 7:25 AM on December 28, 2009

Also, understand that it's quite possible to live a full life without ever having "achieved" anything. You seem to be struggling with this peculiar western conceit that we're all supposed to strive and attain some indefinable, lofty, notable goal. To make a name for ourselves somehow. To be the first across the finish line, yada-yada-yada. Oh, and you're supposed to have "achieved" everything at a younger and younger age. It's largely bs designed to keep you on the treadmill for life.

The depression isn't helping, but I have a feeling it's a circle of reinforcement...depressed because you haven't "achieved" because you're depressed because you haven't...
posted by Thorzdad at 7:33 AM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

You know that scene in a movie where the woman jumps off a bridge in the fog. In this context, it was not suicide. It was a visual of a leap of faith. You will jump too. (eventually)
Carl Rogers said one of his patients was mentally heathy when he declared "I don't know what I'm going to do, but I am going to do it.
posted by JohnR at 8:14 AM on December 28, 2009

I like the research part, I like the reading part and I like to think about theoretical problems. I don’t like doing empirical work and I especially don’t like writing everything up in the end.

People get jobs doing research. Now, I myself don't know exactly how to get such a job because it's not where my interests lie, but it is totally possible for 'researcher' to be your job. Think about what you like to do and ask around and find out where those jobs are. You don't have a choice between PhD and janitor, here. There is a whole world beyond the university.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:18 AM on December 28, 2009

One of the Catch-22's of academic life is that you are asked to make choices about what you want to do before you really know what it is like to do a particular job - day in and day out. I have a masters degree and, while in school, felt like I was always waiting for something to come, living in a state of limbo aimed at some future I could not define.

Have you considered getting employed for a few years before considering the PhD (you sound very employable) - either in academics (research?), or outside the academic world....? Get some experience in the world, work, live, learn to enjoy.

Your complicating factor of depression adds a difficult dimension. From my experience (at my 49-year old "zenith"), I'd say it never really goes away... ie. "fixing" your career won't fix your depression. In fact it just makes it harder to make decisions. So... I'd try to separate how you deal with depression and how you deal with your career choices. One will not fix the other... in my experience anyway.

Hope that helps
posted by ecorrocio at 8:34 AM on December 28, 2009

I didn't go the grad school route, but have a good friend who just finished his PhD and said a lot of the same things. If you're not sure about continuing grad school at this point, I'd put it on hold after you finish your master's - you can always go back later. Maybe you could work for another NGO? Take a teaching/research position that doesn't require a PhD? I'm sure there's a lot of opportunities out there for someone with your education and experience.

If it helps, I'm about the same age have been going through the whole "what should I do with my life" thing for a while now. I think it's a lot more common than most people realize...
posted by photo guy at 12:23 PM on December 28, 2009

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