Less money, more fun
August 2, 2010 8:45 PM   Subscribe

I've recently come to realize that my job isn't fulfilling or challenging, and is making me depressed and helping ruin my personal relationships. Should I stay at this job and be unhappy but well-compensated, or leave and make half as much but possibly be happy?

Several years ago, through some crazy confluence of events, I ended up in a position doing something I previously knew nothing about and getting paid a lot of money to do it.

Now, 2 years into that position, I realize I haven't been happy in it for a while. This was supposed to be an infrastructure engineering position, but about 95% of my time is spent patching up a seriously deficient product that our client selected and that we cannot extricate ourselves from. My days have been endless time spent detecting what is broken, helping the vendor's support team find files and logs they need to examine these problems, go back and forth for months until eventually the problems resolve of their own accord. I feel like this is an operational position and that they don't really need my brain to do it.

I have always worked for this company, since 2003, and have been promoted every 18-24 months, so I've never done the same job for that long.

Feeling completely useless at work has led me to be distant from those closest to me. It's hard to feel disengaged all day at work and then get out of that groove and actually connect with people.

Besides having a fatter 401k and decent savings, and a ridiculous amount of crap I bought to make me feel better about this job, I feel like I have nothing to show for the past 2 years

So I am considering multiple steps to resolve this.

1) Talk to my boss. I had already talked to him months ago that I need more "action," and he addressed that by suggesting I handle an occasional ticket unrelated to our project. Those are fine, but account for only an hour or two a week. So I need to have a more serious talk with him about finding more stimulation or move to another department.

2) I think I might like to step outside of IT and explore health care. I was thinking of just "sucking it up" at work for the next two years while working through an EMT program, Paramedic program, get nursing pre-reqs under my belt, and then quit to get an accelerated 1-yr Bachelors in nursing. I feel useless having a skill that isn't really helpful to anyone except megacorporations, so I feel like nursing might be a good choice.

3) A good friend I have worked with for years who is now at another company has come to me with the possibility of working with him. I want to work part time, I think, and at 3 days a week, I'd be making almost exactly half what I'm making now. This has the possibility of scaling up to a full time position if I want it. This position would be providing server and storage support and engineering in a small data center and for multiple small clients. I would become a lot more marketable, as I wouldn't be in the kind of pigeonholed position I am in now. I'd also be a lot more stimulated, and forced to pick up new skills.

4) If none of the above pans out, I could also start applying for similar pigeonholed positions, as my current specialty is in demand, and another workplace might actually require more from me.

If I quit my job today, took on a second roommate, and lived frugally, I could get by for years or even decades on occasional consulting gigs. I'm not worried about losing my house or ending up eating garbage, although heaven knows I'd love the freedom.

Precipitated by my relationship with my partner falling apart, I just started seeing two therapists, after a decade long break from therapy. This has led to a lot of introspection and searching for a root cause. I don't feel like I'm overreacting, as I distinctly remember being happy at all the other positions I've held, due to the work being varied and interesting.

So the question is, should I follow some combination of my numbered plan above? Should I stay and try to MAKE myself happy somehow, or throw caution to the wind and do something that will give me more free time for creative and outdoor pursuits and help me develop professionally?
posted by MonsieurBon to Work & Money (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Be happy and take the new job :)
posted by smokingmonkey at 8:52 PM on August 2, 2010

You do not need a new Mercedes as much as you need a life. You are self-aware enough to realize that the job you have is turning you into an asshole (no insult intended, but isn't that what you're kind of saying?)
posted by deep thought sunstar at 9:01 PM on August 2, 2010

I feel useless having a skill that isn't really helpful to anyone except megacorporations, so I feel like nursing might be a good choice.

This is kind of a weird way to look at your skillset, for a couple of reasons.

1) Your skill is helpful to anyone who relies on that corporation, by extension. Just because you're somewhat removed from customers doesn't mean your job isn't helping people.

2) If you really want to help someone directly, your current career pays very well. Why not donate the difference between a nursing salary and your current salary to charity? I can almost guarantee that that would do more good.

(note that I'm not trying to justify staying at your current job in which you're unhappy - just urging you to reconsider a complete career change unless you have better reasons to move into health care. The other job with your friend sounds like a great opportunity!)
posted by ripley_ at 9:04 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Save money, ditch the job, go on extended traveling. Possibly forever.
posted by alex_skazat at 9:14 PM on August 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is advice I give for everything, to be honest.
posted by alex_skazat at 9:17 PM on August 2, 2010

Best answer: I can say from experience that nothing will grate on your life like unhappiness spurred by the place you spend at minimum 40 hours of your week. I quit my last gig (very similar to yours in the promotions, well paid, etc.) and took a job which I wanted SO badly, but which paid much less. I have never once regretted it. I LOVE my job now, and the money is slowly ekeing back up to what it once was.

Only you can answer what is the most important thing about a job. But I can say that for me, working environment and the kinds of tasks I was doing turned out to be way more important than funds, and you sound a lot like me.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 9:17 PM on August 2, 2010

Response by poster: deep thought sunstar:
That's exactly what I'm saying. No insult taken. I guess I've answered my own question. :)

1) My skills help a company continue selling widgets to people who don't need them. But that does support possibly hundreds of thousands of workers globally who work for this company and its suppliers. So yes, it is helpful to them, in that they can then buy widgets from other companies, and of course, feed themselves and their families. Of course, working for my friend will still be deeply involved in widget-making.

2) I give a great deal to charity currently (sorry for violating that thing I remember from religious school that anonymous charity is the highest form of charity). From what I can tell, nursing would pay me a lot more hourly, so I could work reduced hours for what I am paid currently.

Related to charity, it was the rash of recent disasters in developing nations that made me upset that all I could do was send money, rather than providing any real, hands-on help.
posted by MonsieurBon at 9:22 PM on August 2, 2010

Do you know any nurses? Nursing is quite, uh, "operational".
posted by blargerz at 9:28 PM on August 2, 2010

I agree with everyone. This job totally isn't worth it. Sure, try #1 if you want -- but I'm getting that you are looking for Major Change and #1 isn't going to give you that.

I've had a non-traditional career/life trajectory with several major leaps of faith along the way (particularly in the financial realm), and so far, the money part has worked itself out every time. Staying in a position you hate because it's sounds like the more prudent thing to do or the thing you "should" do is waaaay scarier than living the life you truly want. You know?

Good luck :)
posted by hansbrough at 9:30 PM on August 2, 2010

Why not take the part time job and devote your extra time to working on your nursing degree? Or start applying for other jobs (which you say exist for your position- yay for you!) which might fulfill you more? Or look for jobs which would apply your current IT skills to healthcare, which might make you feel more fulfilled in your work (there's more to healthcare than nursing)? You have so many options! Talk to your therapist, go through your finances, and do something! You sound way too young and have way too many options to be this unhappy and stuck
posted by MadamM at 9:31 PM on August 2, 2010

From what I can tell, nursing would pay me a lot more hourly, so I could work reduced hours for what I am paid currently

Ah, fair enough - I assumed it would be the other way around. That said, would you really be able to work reduced hours while breaking into a new field? That seems unlikely, but I'm not a healthcare professional.

Related to charity, it was the rash of recent disasters in developing nations that made me upset that all I could do was send money, rather than providing any real, hands-on help.

You sound like a really nice person, and I don't think you should be upset by that. I know that society places more value on helping people face-to-face (and it just feels better somehow), but realistically your money is likely to help more.
posted by ripley_ at 9:44 PM on August 2, 2010

Happiness and relationships over money and work. Almost every time.
posted by smorange at 9:51 PM on August 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, take that job and shove it.

But before you jump into nursing, talk to some actual nurses and people in RN programs. I've been going through a lot of introspection related to life direction and career change lately as well, and informational interviews have been invaluable.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 10:20 PM on August 2, 2010

Best answer: Immediately start living as if you were making the smaller amount of money, and bank the rest. Do this for as long as it takes to confirm that you'll still be happy (at the new job) if you have less cash on hand. Then, change jobs and be content (or keep the job, knowing that the money actually enables things that make you happier, and start looking for a similarly lucrative job in a new place where you might have a better time -- I personally moved from one job of five years being basically miserable to a similar job where I've been for five years and really, really happy, and the money's better, too.)
posted by davejay at 10:22 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Besides having a fatter 401k and decent savings, and a ridiculous amount of crap I bought to make me feel better about this job, I feel like I have nothing to show for the past 2 years

Happiness is experiences, not stuff. Whatever you decide to do, remember that your mad money is better spent having fun and enjoying yourself than on piles of stuff.
posted by lizbunny at 10:43 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Leave the job. Happiness is priceless.
posted by MT at 11:06 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd go for option #3. I think you should leave your current position because you have somewhere else you'd rather be, not because you think quitting will make you happy.
posted by macinchik at 11:08 PM on August 2, 2010

Take the job with your friend, and to find out if you're serious about health care in the long term, work part time or volunteer in some kind of hands-on caring role.

Don't launch into nursing for financial reasons, or because you want to feel better about yourself, because you may well end up miserable again. Do it because you love being around people and helping them feel better, even when they smell bad/throw up on you/are horrible to you because they're in pain etc.
posted by penguin pie at 11:50 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Should I stay at this job and be unhappy but well-compensated, or leave and make half as much but possibly be happy?

Would you rather be happy or unhappy? The rest is details.
posted by jeff1010 at 1:40 AM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: This reminds me of the times I've called my Dad for advice. The conversation goes like this:

Me: "Dad, I keep banging my head against this wall. I have a big bruise on my forehead."

Dad: "Don't do that anymore."

You seem to have thought your options out well enough. If you get into an EMT program, you will get a taste of what it's like. You may find you don't like some of the aspects, but you may find you love it. You might even be able to use your current skills to help volunteer in the event of disaster. Don't they need IT help and/or logistics at disaster sites?

If you worked part time, you'd retain some degree of structure and stability, while retaining your marketability should you find you need some back-up job in the future. You could use the extra days to return to school, yes, or get involved in volunteer work that would help you decide if the health care field is for you.

The only catch I see is being clear about what you are going to do with the part-time job, and making sure it doesn't turn into a full-time job by nature of "oh, could you come in on Thursday and handle this?" If you've spent this long in a job that clearly sucks your soul dry and makes you unhappy, you might want to talk to your therapists about how you will set boundaries with employers in the future to avoid it happening again.

Since you say you have enough income even in the event that this job at your friend's place didn't work out, and can get consulting gigs, what's the worst that could happen?

You have to be your own advocate for your happiness. Your current company may like you as an employee, but they are about their own bottom line. As long as you continue to serve their functions, they have no motivation to listen to your pleas of "get me out of this situation." You are not helping yourself or society by remaining in a job that frankly, can and will be filled by someone else as soon as you're out of the picture. You don't need anyone's permission to do what you want, but you have mine if you want it.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:00 AM on August 3, 2010

I would just like to point out that right now is a very very bad time to be looking for work.

If you can stand it, I would recommend staying in your current job until you're accepted into a nursing/EMT program or find position elsewhere. Once you have an 'escape plan', I guarantee your outlook at your current job will improve measurably.
posted by Jugwine at 4:50 AM on August 3, 2010

I was in your position 8 months ago when I left a job that paid close to 100k for an unpaid internship. It was the same type of situation-I just kind of fell into it without really having any background in it

There are some things I really miss about being rich. My car died in may and if I had my old job, getting a new (used) car would have been pretty easy and not at all financially taxing.

However, once I actually bit the bullet and left that job, I never felt, for even a moment, that I was making the wrong decision.
posted by orville sash at 5:15 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ultimately you need to make some pivotal changes in your life.

But while you stick to your job, just work the minimum hours possible. Spend the remaining hours of the week on 'life'... rediscover what ignites you...

As for anonymous giving, while I believe that it is a kind and very selfless act, it is more beneficial to those around you to make your good deeds known. Inspire others so they can do the same.
posted by gttommy at 5:42 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm always in favor of happiness. This is your life you're living, right now - be happy in it.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:15 AM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: lizbunny:
I am familiar with that study and others like it. I should have qualified "nothing to show for it," but as I felt like I was in the Depths of Despair at the moment, it was hard to explain further. I have made very very good use of my time outside of work. I have been adventurous, done things I never thought I'd do, spent more time in the mountains than ever before, climbed mountains, taught myself things that I never had time to get in depth on before, started and completed many ambitious projects, and become more physically fit than ever before.

Marie Mon Dieu:
Re: time creep in new position. This is a real concern of mine. They were vague about how often I would be on call, but it sounded like I would possibly be tied to being within minutes of an internet-connected computer when I'm NOT on the clock, and that's something I would not abide.

In my current job, I can show up when I want, leave when I want, work from home one day a week, and I have 5 weeks of vacation I can use how I please. I would get no paid vacation with the new company, nor sick time.

Also, we just got approval to hire someone new here to handle the more mind-numbing parts of my job. This will free up time for me to work on resolving higher-level issues and spend more time on training and professional development.

Part of my problem is that I have developed poor work habits as a result of there not being many things required of me. That, and how stimulating my life outside of work is, combine to make me feel somewhat unmotivated when I'm here. There's a part of me that doesn't want to just give up on trying to fix a situation that I feel may be within my power to fix.
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:32 AM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: Regarding health care plans, I have three friends who have gone into nursing, and I will be talking with all of them. One even left a job here to go into nursing.

I think my stepped approach makes sense for health care. For as much time as I spend out in the wilderness, I think having EMT certification would be quite handy. If the EMT coursework and actual ER work aren't too graphic for me, then moving on to Paramedic makes sense. But if it is too much, I know there are nursing fields with, ya know, less spurting blood. :)
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:45 AM on August 3, 2010

If you've got any kind of body awareness at all, try this test:

Observe yourself physically from time to time during a full day of work. Don't change anything; just observe.
How do you feel? Are you tensing up in particular places? Do you feel any pains or aches? How are you breathing? What's your general mood? Especially at the end of the workday: what do you feel physically? How is your energy level? What is your attitude towards the people around you?

If your current job takes more energy than it gives you, and makes you less present and available to yourself and those around you, then it is chipping away a bit of your heart every day.

Sometimes it's a good idea to let your body in on the decision-making process.
posted by Paris Elk at 11:41 AM on August 4, 2010

Response by poster: Several great answers here.

I sat my boss down and discussed all of this. He empathizes, as he turned down a job making a lot more money with local government where they told him "there will be a lot of down time."

I told him that I end up procrastinating on a lot of small tasks because if I get them done NOW, then I will have less to do later. But talking it out with him I realized that always having little stuff looming over me when I could just get it done and move on is really having a negative impact on my life.

We now also have approval to hire 1.6-2.6 people to take care of the very mundane parts of my job and my supervisor's job.

I explicitly asked for more responsibility and more exposure to projects beyond my normal sphere of expertise. He agreed, and will be putting me as lead on several of those projects, and set me up as lead for some larger projects down the road.

We also discussed my dissatisfaction with working the occasional customer incidents that come through our system. My point was that they frequently don't take long enough to make me feel like I've done anything. He countered that if it gives me exposure to fixing problems I didn't already know how to fix, then it's a useful learning experience.

In discussion with a friend on this topic, he pointed out that "the only thing better than a more interesting job that pays half as much, is an interesting job that you already have and pays you well."

So I'll be working with my therapist to figure out if this is really just an attitude and procrastination/attentional issue, or something that I need to get out of. I may be drawing some parallels internally between this job and the relationships with my family and ex-partner, where I feel like I put off trying to fix things or even recognize there was a problem until it was too late. I don't know whether these are accurate or useful parallels, but they seem to exist nonetheless, and I feel motivated to address them at my current position.
posted by MonsieurBon at 12:23 PM on August 5, 2010

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