Go for the easy thing, or the unknown?
January 7, 2010 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Return to the career I once had (the known--when I was happy) or stay in school for the unknown (when I'm not happy)? Better yet, how should I make decisions when you have lots of options and interests for the long term?

I used to be an IT consultant. Did well, liked the job, got paid well, and enjoyed time outside of work. It was never was my passion though. I decided to quit. The past two years have seen me enroll in school for health sciences pre-reqs, temp, and travel the world on my miles gained from IT consulting.

I applied and was accepted into one of the top Urban Planning graduate schools, because its something I'm interested in and I thought grad school would be the next logical step. I moved away from Chicago to a Sunbelt, more suburban state. First semester has been difficult psychologically. Classes have not been exactly what I forsaw, and although we are all friends, I don't really feel in my element socially. My passion for social causes doesn't come close to the other students, and I wonder how this might come out in Interviews. And I'm am terrified about having to look (and not find) a job in the location I want (which is Chicago). Urban planning jobs are limited. Less than 10% of last years graduating class had found a job. I knew this before I came in, but I thought my ability and school could overcome this. I'm not so sure.

My family is paying for school and expenses, which comes to me at great psychological cost, as I spend money guiltily. At the other end, I wouldn't have went back to school if I were paying out of pocket (I would never go into debt). I loved the working, real-world life because of the flexibility it offered and the feedback when I did a great job.

I feel like every second I stay in school, the less employable I am.

Over the break I threw my resume up on a website. Note, this resume has nothing from the past two years. I got a phone call within 12 hours, but didn't think much about it. Fast-forward 2 weeks. I get a call regarding a job-- a very interesting (as IT jobs go), non-technical job, that will start soon. It's concrete, it's with people I've worked with before, and will pay alot--enough so I can commute on weekends to Chicago. It's a 6 month contract job, so I can start looking for work in Chicago, or something more permanent. They really want me. It feels good to be wanted.

My options are:
1. Stay in school- keep trying to get Urban planning internship that will lead to a job next year, find a job in Chicago after graduation
2. Stay in school for another semester and re-evaluate options near the end of the semester.
3. Take a leave of absence from school take the job. Re-evaluate options during summer.
posted by sandmanwv to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In this economy, I'd go with the job. My GF is an urban planner who has her own consultancy, but there are a lot of un/underemployed urban planners out there. Taking a leave of absence would be ideal, or maybe transferring to an extension program in Chicago that would accept the credits.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:50 PM on January 7, 2010

Frankly in this economy I'd take the opportunities where you can get them, so if you're able to take the position and be happy then I think your path is clear.
If however you're looking at banging your head against the wall of this bad economy trying to get into a former profession, that may have been inadequate in some other way when you left, then I can think of no better way to spend time in a bad economy than to improve your skills/education etc. in school; let's face it, no one (almost) likes having to go back to school but it's hard to think of a time when I regretted it after doing so when I had that new job & life that it afforded me.
posted by RENNER8592 at 2:52 PM on January 7, 2010

No matter how far you have gone down the wrong path, the correct answer is "turn around."
posted by nickjadlowe at 3:00 PM on January 7, 2010 [10 favorites]

Urban planning jobs are limited. Less than 10% of last years graduating class had found a job. I knew this before I came in, but I thought my ability and school could overcome this. I'm not so sure.

You're right to be worried. I have a Master's in Urban Planning from 2007 and most of my classmates do not work in the field (including me). If I could do it all over, I'd network, network, network and not be picky at all about where I wanted to live. It really is who you know in urban planning, which doesn't seem to be as true in IT.

If I were you and had your job offer, I'd take it without thinking about it.
posted by desjardins at 3:43 PM on January 7, 2010

Best answer: First, I think your families' help is fuelling some of your ambivalence about your program. I suspect that part of the guilt you feel spending money lies in the fact that you're not willing to pay for your graduate program, but are willing to let your family cover your expenses.

You're smart to not want to go into debt - who would in this economy? That said, putting your own money on the line is a terrific way to crystallize the difference between a passion and an interest.

I'm not necessarily saying that taking their help is bad - indeed it can be a wonderful feeling to know that you have the support you need to pursue a dream. But, there is a difference between "I love this and truly believe in it. I'll do whatever it takes, can you help me make this happen?" and "I like this enough, and since I don't have to pony up for it, I might as well."

Second. Don't be too concerned that you're not getting the kinds of kudos and pats on the back that you're used to in your IT work. You're a student, that's part of the deal - you get good at what you're doing by being bad (or average) at it, at first. If you have to work harder for praise, work harder. If you study with people who are naturally less than forthcoming with the 'good job,' then decide soon how much feedback you need in order to be happy and seek out professors/students who are known for being encouraging and supportive.

Should you stay or should you go? Who knows. For now, bracket your concerns about the market for urban planners. You chose this field for a reason. You need to take that reason - that kernel - and look at it up close. Polish it. Ask questions about it. What made you choose this? What do you like about it? What kinds of happy day-dreams do you have about doing this kind of work?

There is some important truth about yourself in the choice that you made. Your job for the moment is to figure out what that truth is and see how much it does or does not match up with a career as an urban planner. Don't assume that a bad market means that your dream job can't be your real job. Do assume that a vision of what your dream job is emerges from knowing yourself very well and knowing the field you are working into very, very well. If, after an exhaustive excavation of both, you still can't see where you fit, then you should quit - you're not in the right place.

Best of Luck.
posted by space_cookie at 7:04 PM on January 7, 2010

Be happy. You'll never regret being happy.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:23 PM on January 7, 2010

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