Unemployment angst
April 11, 2005 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I can't get a job I don't hate. As a result, working invariably leaves me too depressed to work, eventually. And yet, I need to support myself somehow. How?

Obviously the ideal solution would be to get a job I don't hate. This rules out any job that is mindlessly repetitive. Which seems to leave only jobs which require college educations; after two attempts at obtaining one, neither of which I could afford, I've determined that this is not the route for me. I've tried seeing psychologists and taking antidepressants to make the boring jobs more tolerable, with no luck.

Someone's going to ask what sort of work I'm looking for, and my standard answer is "something with computers, preferably programming", but I'm open to suggestions of something eaiser for a 23-year-old college dropout to get into. Apologies if it seems I'm just using AskMe to whine, but I don't know who else to turn to.
posted by squidlarkin to Work & Money (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have any sort of entrepreneurial bent? I've been successfully self-employed in the computer field since dropping out of college several years ago.

Try to think of a product or service people would pay for and then make it a reality.

Raw "programming" to spec is on an outsource trend. Don't get yourself caught up in a dead end. On the other hand, you can outsource implementation of your great ideas. See Scriptlance...was a real eye-opener for me.
posted by trevyn at 12:30 PM on April 11, 2005

People go to college to avoid having to work boring jobs (and, by the way, even after graduating many of us still don't escape the drudgery). I really think you're going to have to suck it up and go back to school. State schools are almost always more affordable than private, and you can still get loans and scholarships. With a B.S. in computer science you should be set to start down a career path as a computer programmer. I'm not sure whether you'd be able to do so without a degree in the current job market. But hey - you're going to be working for, what, about 45 years? A four-year investment into making those years not miserable is NOT a high price to pay.

But are you sure programming is what you want to do? To get an idea of jobs that might suit you, take the myers briggs test. Then look at this list of jobs that might suit your type. You could also pick up a copy of the book "What color is your parachute", which a lot of people swear by.
posted by hazyjane at 12:36 PM on April 11, 2005

I tried computer programming for a year or two, and if anything's mindlessly repetitive, that's it.

Have you considered a position in sales? Food service? Driving truck? There are a lot of non-repetitive jobs that don't require a college education.

And you may find that you hate even non-repetitive jobs. Just because a job requires a college education, doesn't mean it's fun.

The most important thing to do is discover what makes you happy, and pursue that. (This is easy advice to give, but difficult advice to live by; I know what makes me happy, but I haven't the guts to pursue it.) Think about what you value, and why you value it. Then try to find a job that either involves that facet of life, or grants you the time and/or ability to explore it.

For example, I want to write. I don't have a job that involves writing (and, in fact, I don't like my job), but I do have a job that grants me incredible flexibility with time. I can make time to write. Work may leave me discontented, but it's tolerable because I see it as a means to an end.

Good luck!
posted by jdroth at 12:38 PM on April 11, 2005

Response by poster: trevyn: I'm no fan of the 8-hour day, and I'd love to get paid for what I do rather than how long I sit there, so I'd say you're on the right track. I don't really have any ideas, though, except for some games that would be terribly expensive to produce and have dubious market value. I'd love to hear more about your experiences... feel free to email me if you'd rather.
posted by squidlarkin at 12:41 PM on April 11, 2005

You could always do what I did -- go to a country where English teaching is in demand (make sure it's in demand before you go, otherwise a college degree will be required), go to Berlitz there and work as an English teacher for a while. I think everybody should leave their native country for a while, particularly if your native country is America.

Don't discount college forever -- I was 28 before I started, and going anytime before that would have been a colossal mistake for me. But now? Best decision I could possibly have made.
posted by jennyjenny at 12:42 PM on April 11, 2005

I think it's great that you realize that there are things you just simply *can't* make yourself do, no matter how much therapy and meds you take. Although this is probably stressful now, it might be a really good thing, because now you know you can't "settle" for something that you don't like.

I've heard that career counseling can be a good thing - basically taking a perspective that what you like to do is what you should be trying to make into a career. Good career counseling should be a very active process that would involve looking into your past experiences to find ones that turn you on. The counselor should also know about different types of careers that would use the skills that you like using. Here is Richard Bolles' guide and cautions about online counseling - I found it useful and informative.

Good luck in figuring out and pursuing your interests - it's certainly worthwhile to give this a lot of thought and exploration.
posted by jasper411 at 12:45 PM on April 11, 2005

jennyjenny, you don't have an email link in your profile but I am curious about teaching English abroad. If you don't mind, I would like to hear about your experiences. You can email me at the address in my profile. sorry for the small derail squidlarkin
posted by rooftop secrets at 12:47 PM on April 11, 2005

Response by poster: How do I find a career counselor? Don't they cost money?
posted by squidlarkin at 12:49 PM on April 11, 2005

i think you have to dedicate yourself to a longer term goal. it doesn't have to be college, but for a lot of people a structured 4 year program is a good way to do this. what i'm trying to say here is you have to be willing to pay your dues if you want a good job. college or otherwise you should expect some sucky times especially at first.
You're only 23 so make a goal of doing something good by the time you're 30. Spend your 20s trying to balance btwn having some fun and making progress towards your goal.
tha's my advice. course you have to pick a goal--if programming is it, then there's no question you could be doing that at an adequate level by age 30 in a relatively cushy evironment.
probably, there isn't gonna be some good idea that equals great job right away.
posted by alkupe at 12:57 PM on April 11, 2005

Response by poster: I've done the Myers-Briggs. I'm INT*.

INTJ - Scientists, engineers, professors, teachers, medical doctors, dentists, corporate strategists, organization founders, business administrators, managers, military, lawyers, judges, computer programmers, system analysts, computer specialists, psychologists, photographers, research department managers, researchers, university instructors, chess players. They have a particular skill at grasping difficult, complex concepts and building strategies.

INTP - Physicists, chemists, biologists, photographers, strategic planners, mathematicians, university professors, computer programmers, computer animators, technical writers, engineers, lawyers, forensic researchers, writers, artists, psychologists, social scientists, systems analysts, researchers, surveyors. Highly analytical, they can discover connections between two seemingly unrelated things, and work best when allowed to use their imagination and critical thinking.

You see my problem? I must stress that while I'd like to have a degree, I've tried and failed, and another attempt is not remotely financially possible, even at a state or community college.

alkupe: Sounds like good advice, but my problem is I have no idea how to go about it. My work history is a long string of short jobs, which doesn't make me a good risk, and it's going to stay that way until I find something I can tolerate for at least the medium-long-term.
posted by squidlarkin at 1:01 PM on April 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

Programming isn't for everyone, so be wary of going down that route unless you're absolutely sure. It can be a frustrating, boring pastime, and unless your personality is capable of coping with the minutia of it then you're not going to like it. From the sound of you, I'd maybe push you towards a Support Tech style role. From your Ask Me statistics it's obvious to me that you're the sort of person who enjoys helping other people do what they need to do, and this seems like an obvious fit for you.

I'd reccomend finding a smaller organisation (lower paying) that'll give you a wider range of problems to deal with and a higher degree of autonomy.

The frustration you're feeling at the moment is also probably colouring your outlook on life. Tell me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression that most things bore you at the moment. This is probably due to a lack of motivation caused by the unhappines you feel at work. Get yourself a hobby that involves other people and/or being outside. It'll give you something to concentrate on outside your work and should improve esteem and motivation in all aspects of your life.

Also, if you're flighty, then accept the fact and get on with having fun and doing different things. If you do a job and you don't like it, then change the job. Don't feel pressured by the fact that you can't seem to settle down. There will be time to settle down when you're older and have more responsibilities.

Also - Double agreement on the Myers Briggs thing. Your determined personality type won't be 100% accurate, but it's a good way to highlight the sort of person you are.
posted by seanyboy at 1:12 PM on April 11, 2005

Actually, I wasn't thinking of Myers Briggs. I was thinking of DISC. I'm not sure what the difference is, but my DISC profile helped me understand myself a lot.
posted by seanyboy at 1:14 PM on April 11, 2005

I have to say I don't have a clear idea of your interests - you don't want a job that's mindlessly repetitive, and you've determined with some level of assurance that you're not the college type, and yet you want to pursue computer programming? What is it about programming that appeals to you? It's a job focused on minutiae, for nerds who don't get bored too easily by constant reconfiguring of details...

My suggestion is to list things you enjoy doing, things you're good at, things you consider important or exciting, things you're curious about trying, and things you really dislike, and do some comparison shopping, as it were. Give yourself free reign to consider all extremes - personal trainer, lawyer, electrician, sculptor... just let all random possibilities in and point out to yourself why they would or wouldn't be worth considering - that will help you narrow down what's interesting to you and what isn't, and may inspire options that wouldn't otherwise occur to you.
posted by mdn at 1:16 PM on April 11, 2005


as an ex-career counselor, it sounds like you may need to shift your focus from "living to work" to "working to live".

you may never find a job that you are extremely passionate about, although I sincerely hope you do. The drive to find a job that fulfills us in every way is something rather recent in human history. While it is lovely when it happens, it doesn't always happen for everyone and, even when it does, it may not happen consistently.

Instead, think about something that you DO feel passionate about...even if it isn't a paying job. Maybe it is being a musician or an artist. Getting involved in a community of people who share your passion, even if it doesn't pay the bills, is what can lead to self-actualization. Then focus on a finding a job that allows flexibility, or where the people you work with are pleasant, or which has a pleasant atmosphere. The job is not your passion, it supports your passion.

Try working as a temp for awhile in order to get to "know" a company before you commit for permanent employment.

Who knows? You may end up working for a company that offers tuition reimbursement. Or, you might START a few night classes that help you to embark on a new career. After all, you don't always have to COMPLETE a degree in order to interview for a new job. Just the fact that you are working on it is sometimes enough.

Best of luck.
posted by jeanmari at 1:21 PM on April 11, 2005

I have a lot of empathy for your situation squidlarkin - despite our having many differences.
Motivation is such a big thing and you can't buy it in a can. I admire or envy those sales-types with their perpetual rosey outlook (+ a good act when they're not feeling it on the inside).
I would certainly 2nd the counsellor idea, particularly because you've gone the medication route. It's for the ego boost on the one hand - whilst you might not feel positive about your situation, counsellors will help you identify things that will be most attractive to employers.
I'm thinking compromise is your best bet. Reality says you have to work. Combine a crap job (maybe even reduced hours or part/time?) with a modest sideline plan on the computer front. Get a buddy (or use the counsellor) and draft a 1 page notice about services you can offer - give it out to all your friends and family and their friends with an offering perhaps to do something free upfront or the like.
That would at least be putting bait in the water to see if there's a business in the making. And if you get a bit of work, that could help you leverage at a position like Seanyboy described - doing assistant-support-type work (in so many fields) is a buzz - enough to keep anyone interested or at least unbored.
posted by peacay at 1:26 PM on April 11, 2005

What makes you so sure you've "failed" at college? Yes, you dropped out twice, but all that proves is that those two particular schools, at those two particular points in your life, were mismatched. College certainly isn't for everybody, but if a Bachelor's is something you want, then don't let the outcome of your previous attempts be an obstacle. Regarding finances, if you are in need of financial aid, then wait until you're 24 to go back- you'll be eligible for much more aid that way (from what little I know about financing college.)

But on the whole I ditto what others have said about needing t just suck it up and deal. We all have to jump through hoops and do things we don't want in order to pay the bills. Nobody is just going to hand you a great job- you have to work your ass off to get it and keep it.

Good luck.
posted by elisabeth r at 1:31 PM on April 11, 2005

Get a blog. Show the world that you can put together a coherent sentence and communicate your thoughts. Start hacking away on open source projects. It doesn't matter what, just get code out there with your name on it. The more code the better. Start learning new skills. Pick up new languages. Experiment. Document the acquisition of your new skills. Plaster your resume everywhere. Go to every computer user group meeting in a thirty mile radius. Network. Hang out on IRC. Continually highlight your strong communication skills, your programming prowess, and your eagerness and intense desire to learn.

Congratulations, you're now more employable than 80% of the programmers out there. Most any IT head with half a brain will be willing to pick you up, but he'll pay you crap since he's taking a "risk" on you as you're so young and undereducated.

Really breaking into programming isn't hard at all. As for a college education, they're highly overrated. Don't sell yourself short because you don't have a piece of paper. All it takes to make it in most fields, and programming is definitely one, is brains and balls. At the end of the day, talent trumps all.
posted by nixerman at 1:43 PM on April 11, 2005

You live in Minneapolis, right? I have friends there who didn't graduate from college. They started out working temp jobs, turned those into fulltime jobs with computer companies, and went from there. I've never temped myself, but I've seen this happen again and again with people who do. Temping also gave them a chance to see various kinds of computing jobs and determine which one worked best for them.
posted by GaelFC at 1:44 PM on April 11, 2005

Response by poster: I've been trying to compromise. I've been working temp jobs exclusively for several years now, but the depresson has hit me on enough assignments that I'm rapidly running out of agencies willing to give me assignments.

A tech support job does indeed sound like something I'd enjoy, which is why I've applied for dozens of them, none of which I received.

I've been out of work for a month now, with no leads. I'm not looking for my dream job anymore, I'm looking for a way to survive without bursting into tears every other day.
posted by squidlarkin at 1:50 PM on April 11, 2005

Any entry-level or near-entry-level job is repetitive and boring. You'll eventually move up to something more satisfying, or more likely burn out. There's not a lot you can do about this.

It doesn't particularly matter where you start. If you're going to be good at something, you have to know the whole thing, and you spend your first few years learning the basics of every part of it. I did this in publishing, in the editorial, design and production areas.

Almost everyone reaches a mid-life crisis, followed by a change of career. In my case, it was law school. Be careful what you decide on, though. I loved every minute of law school, but hated being a lawyer.

I've ended up doing as little lawyering as possible, and spending the rest of the time doing what I really enjoy -- reading and performing music. It also helps that I found a wonderful wife.

Good luck. The only thing you can be sure of is that you won't know what suits you in advance.
posted by KRS at 1:54 PM on April 11, 2005

I can't really speak to what you SHOULD do, but I have to say that the lack of a college education, while definintely relatively limiting, is not ABSOLUTELY limiting. For example, two of my best friends either didn't go to or dropped out of college; one of them is the second-in-line in the IT department of one of the largest weekly magazines in the country, and the other is one of the first employees of what is now a major multinational IT/web company. So it can be done.

I guess what they both had in common is that they figured out what they absolutely loved, found entry-level work in that, were willing to take some risks, and came out on top.
posted by delfuego at 2:17 PM on April 11, 2005

How about finding interesting items and selling them on eBay, combined with some good web design? Many people make their living this way.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:24 PM on April 11, 2005

I'm not looking for my dream job anymore, I'm looking for a way to survive without bursting into tears every other day.

ah, that's kind of a different problem than I was addressing before. I've been in similar situations; in NYC there are always more temp agencies if you need 'em, so I commonly ended up going back to that. Other things tried (by me or friends) included:
-waiting tables/ bartending / stripping - very flexible, cash income; most people aren't satisfied in these jobs for the long term, but good to save up money while you consider options (more hedonistic = more cash, tho' you're a guy so stripping is probably not likely)
-carpentry/ set painting - small theatre companies often hire people willing to do odds & ends at decent wages, and they're usually pretty cool people, plus sometimes the projects are fun. Can be boring & sometimes tiring, though.
-craig's list/ odd jobs - do you have a car? offer to help people move, etc. Also can be physically draining, but on the other hand you kind of feel like you actually earned a living that day...
-work for organizations you respect/admire - even if the work's boring, if you like the group (I have worked for both political and artistic groups I liked) you're less likely to feel like crying :).
-farming - sounds a bit nutty, but it's almost summer and this is a way I spent one summer, when I was around your age - basically living on an organic farm and helping with the weeding etc & living on their land... depends how tied you are to your neighborhood, but summer is a good time to explore options, travel, live cheap, camp out, etc, if you're the type up for a little adventure.

I still think it's worth your really trying to figure out what you want, though. I mean, you're definitely young enough that you should by no means let it stress you out - you have plenty of time. But don't listen to people who tell you to suck it up. You only live once; figure out how to make it worthwhile. You have a short term problem (find a job that doesn't totally suck to get through the next few months to year) and a long term problem (figure out what to do with your life), and they're related, so keep both questions in mind.
posted by mdn at 2:29 PM on April 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

In the 21st Century, college isn't necessarily an issue. There are many pathways into the professional world. Many employers are more interested in samples of your work (portfolio, demo reel, etc.) than they are in where/how you got your training.

I DO have a college degree, and it's pretty worthless. I have a masters degree in theatre (directing). I do direct plays, but I don't get paid for it.

Instead, I get paid for web/print design, programming, film/video editing and teaching design-related subjects. And I learned all this stuff without schooling. I learned it by reading books and experimenting on my PC. Eventually, my experiments looked good enough to show to employers, and that got me work.

I DID have to take boring jobs to support myself, while I was learning the design skills, but now I don't have to do those jobs any more.

I agree with many here that it's almost impossible to find meaningful work without "paying dues." Those dues MIGHT include school, but they might also include working for very little pay, doing boring work while you're learning a skill on your own, etc.

You're very lucking to be living at a time when there are many ways to learn skills -- especially computer related skills. Almost all software is available in free trial versions, and there are tons of inexpensive (or free from your library or the web) resources to learn from.
posted by grumblebee at 2:52 PM on April 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm an INT* myself, do tech support work, and it is a good fit. Since you've looked into getting jobs in the field, you clearly feel like it's something that'd interest you and that you'd have some skill and talent in. If you've just been responding to want ads online and in the papers with a resume, I'd suggest you reconsider how you're looking for this kind of work. A career counselor, as mentioned above, may help, but a cheaper path would be to pick up What Color is Your parachute which was recommended to me recently. You should definitely be able to find it at your local library. Give it a read and give its job hunting techniques a try.

I'm using it for a different goal, but I have been impressed with its suggestions.
posted by ursus_comiter at 3:03 PM on April 11, 2005

An awful lot of good ideas and support but I think the problem is your depression not the job. There are jobs that suck and there are jobs that can be depressing but the tone of your question and responses strongly suggest depression/failure/futility as a repetitive theme--It is quite possible that a job or school forces you to confront the consequences of your depression. There are many very good medications specific dosage(s) and combinations of antidepressants can be critical--a little talk therapy should also help Good Luck Frank
posted by rmhsinc at 3:49 PM on April 11, 2005

"something with computers, preferably programming"

You really don't need college for this. You need initiative, talent, practice, intellect. Senior programmers typically do have training if not schooling under their belt, but it sounds like you just need to get on your feet. You don't need a CS degree for that.
posted by scarabic at 3:52 PM on April 11, 2005

Don't let anyone rose-color tech support. While it can be a good job, it has been my experience that it is good while you are learning new things and becoming familiar with whatever you support and once you have that "mastered" it becomes boring and repetitive. In fact, most jobs become boring and repetitive after a time.

My best friend and I recently had a conversation about this. He too would get to horrible points with every job where he was bored and hated work. Then he would change jobs and be better for awhile. He felt that if he got a job doing X (insert your dream job here) that it would magically be better. He later realized that he would probably dislike that as well after a time.

He made the decision to realize that the part of work he liked was learning new things - so he resolved that his professional life would be one where he would find the most interesting job he could, work that job until he felt he had mastered it, and then move on to something else.

I too, do not have a degree, yet I have very interesting work that came from starting in tech support. The other great thing about tech support is once you have had a support job you can always go back to it. To help yourself along in this direction you might consider getting an A+ certification. Perhaps seeing a job as a means to an end (more interesting work later) will help.

Finally, I want to add that finding worthwhile projects once you hit the "mastery" phase of a job is both a way to break the monotony AND make yourself known to higher-ups as someone worth promoting to something more interesting. This is how I got all of my interesting jobs.
posted by jopreacher at 4:11 PM on April 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

I think rmhsinc is on the money. Work is one thing. But if you're getting depressed to such an extent that it's overwhelming you (and at least in your descriptions here it seems it *might* be) then no job will alleviate those feelings for long. Who gave you the meds the first time? Are they worth re-seeing - just to discuss how you feel? Can you get access to some sort of counselling (in addition to work stuff - although they might help or refer you to someone themselves)?
Otherwise friends/family are often/sometimes good to vent with and they may have some positive suggestions too.
posted by peacay at 4:55 PM on April 11, 2005

With rmhsinc and peacay. The problem isn't the jobs; everybody has boring jobs at one point or another, and everyone's job is boring or depressing sometimes.

Repeated crippling depression is not a normal or healthy response to a boring, repetitive, or otherwise shitty job. Your real job ought to be working on whatever it is that's generating this reaction. This will probably involve a sequence of medication, talk therapy, and months to years of work. There is probably no way around the medication, no way around the talk therapy, and no way around the long time frame.

There's nothing for it but to find some job that's less intolerable than others and stick with it for a while while you're spending most of your energy sorting yourself out. Eventually, with work, it will get better and you'll be able to break the cycle.

I hate to be gloomy, but a friend of mine sounds a lot like what you describe but around 15 years older before it hit the fan. He's spent the last while bouncing between mental institutions and living with family, friends, and acquaintances, and is now in a shelter while he's trying to file for disability. Get help now, and keep getting it. It's going to suck too, but I assure you the alternative sucks far worse.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:13 PM on April 11, 2005

I think rmhsinc is on the money. Work is one thing. But if you're getting depressed to such an extent that it's overwhelming you (and at least in your descriptions here it seems it *might* be) then no job will alleviate those feelings for long.

Different people have different needs, and squidlarkin may benefit from therapy etc, but I will note that when I was temping / job-hopping, I was very depressed. Talk therapy just made me self-obsessed & I often left the therapist's office in tears, more convinced myself through talking about it of how bad everything was; meds helped a little in that I didn't burst into tears constantly, but I still just kind of felt flat and unsatisfied, and they sometimes had SE, and I sometimes just wouldn't get a new prescription, and things would get bad again... anyway, all this is to say, I suddenly stopped really needing a therapist and meds when I went back to grad school and figured out a way to live that I felt was true to myself. I'm not saying everything's perfect these days, but... yeah, orders of magnitude different.

That may or may not be the case for other folks, but really bad, fully diagnosable depression can be caused by not having found a way to live that suits you, and taking meds will often not really solve the problem, but just delay the symptoms, leaving you with an underlying feeling that things still kinda suck, but, whatever, oh well... which isn't the best life to live.

So, the poster (or others dealing with this question) should consider all sides of this, and I know I often end up beating this particular horse, but psychiatric meds aren't magic answers and depression is a perfectly normal response to a life you find unfulfilling. Maybe you're living a life you would consider fulfilling if only your chemicals weren't out of whack. But maybe you're living a life that simply does not meet the needs of who you really are. If you can't possibly explain why you should be unhappy, then turn to drugs; it might just be a glitch in the system. But if you think there are reasons for you to feel unhappy, address those reasons. The outcome will be more satisfying.
posted by mdn at 6:13 PM on April 11, 2005

Response by poster: I think mdn's got it right. For the remainder of the thread, can we assume his/her assessment is correct?
posted by squidlarkin at 6:53 PM on April 11, 2005

mdn adds a good perspective.

I'd never actually advocate drugs - that's got to come from a Doctor, although people generally ought to be aware that it could be an option that may help.
I agree that being depressed is normal. But it's kind of hard in here not to canvas around all the possible points of assistance - but if someone is so moved to post an AskMe question, I'd be favouring talking it out with someone, preferrably of the counselling persuasion. Even if only for a single session - bounce ideas around, hear some feedback - if it doesn't sit right or sounds unhelpful or as mdn found, exacerbated negative feelings, then quit.

But there's so many issues that are unknown here - squidlarkin has to sift for what they think might help. Talking is the original and best form of mood stablizing we have when we feel we can't overcome adversity ourselves, isn't it?
[Mind you...this armchair psychology is all the more retarded from internet limitations]
posted by peacay at 6:58 PM on April 11, 2005

Some free-exploration time, if you can find a way to get such a thing, could really help you. I'd really brainstorm, if I were you, to find ways to amass some new experiences. Maybe you just haven't tried enough stuff, and that's why you can't see what would make you happy.

I felt stuck for a long time, and found that the Parachute book and career counseling and such weren't really helping, since often they look to what you've done in the past to figure out what you should do in the future. My past experiences weren't helping me much; I needed to have some new experiences in order to figure stuff out.

I found a way to live for free (moved in with family) and spent some time trying out my whims. I took a non-credit class in Japanese. I went away to a cheap motel in a picturesque area (off season) for a week. I volunteered for a harried mother and for a documentary that needed research and tape-logging. I went to any movie that caught my eye. I designed a survey to catalogue the members of a subculture that interested me. I made some mail-art. I did yard work and fixed a bunch of stuff at the house.

None of this actually spelled out for me a job title, but all of a sudden I was happy and involved with life, was getting creative ideas and plenty of little opportunities to make money that kept my bills paid. I did realize that I probably should be my own boss, so now I'm starting a business. You might realize something different, e.g. you really want to collaborate, or problem-solve, or manage people. I think you'll be able to tell pretty quickly, if you were able to try a bunch of new situations out for a few months.
posted by xo at 7:23 PM on April 11, 2005

Squid, what do you love? Not work-wise, but aside and apart from work, what do you love to do?
posted by LarryC at 8:04 PM on April 11, 2005

What about moving? Sometimes the excitement of a new city, a new climate, and new people smothers the tedium of a job. At least for a while.
posted by mono blanco at 8:57 PM on April 11, 2005

Squid (or others dealing with this question), forgive me here, but I think mdn might leave out one important "compound maybe" -- maybe you've been legitimately unfulfilled and depressed for long enough that it's actually had a physical effect. If it's become hard to even visualize any path to fulfillment, that might indicate clinical, on top of situational, depression.

As mdn said, meds alone won't do anything. You need to improve your situation. But it's possible that an attack on both fronts is neccessary. That you were "taking antidepressants to make the boring jobs more tolerable" is such an Orwellian vision... it makes me think you were set up with unreasonable expectations of what legal drugs can do, or perhaps you were not really on board with the treatment program.

I would have been pretty pessimistic about it myself. I'd always been skeptical of the fuzzy explanations of clinical depression and antidepressant medication. But I recently heard it framed in a way that finally made sense. I now picture a foam cushion that's been squashed for so long, with such weight, that it doesn't spring back, and offers no padding anymore. I'm no medical authority, but this sounded plausible to me and doesn't contradict what I've read:

There are legitimate reasons to feel depressed. But prolonged time in a depressed mode without relief can sort of reset the balance of certain brain chemicals. You end up with a baseline blue (or black) mood, from which problems drag you extra-low and pleasures can't lift you very high.

Antidepressants can help prop you up a bit to a normal state, where your problems are just problems, not a great black vortex of infinite despair. You're at least capable of seeing a glass as half-full rather than only half-empty. This can uncork some energy to do what's critical to long-term success: attack your problems and make your situation better (read Parachute books, research financial aid, explore, find your passion, etc.) Meanwhile your brain is gradually readjusting to a normal baseline and full range of emotional response.

I've known a couple people to have great success with a few months of meds & some renewed effort -- so it's not neccessarily a slog through a lifetime of therapy. You already know meds aren't a magic bullet, but maybe if you have realistic expectations they could help you help yourself. Good luck, whatever you do.
posted by Tubes at 1:07 AM on April 12, 2005

I've been thinking about your situation a lot, and I think the best way to look at your dilemma is to take a 3-stage approach. First, you need to stabilize your current situation. Then, you need to find a "good enough for now" job. Finally, you need a long term plan.

In terms of stabilization, I think you've got to do everything you can not to lose further ground. You mentioned that a lot of temp agencies in your town will no longer work with you. If this trend continues, you may find yourself in a really, really difficult situation where you'll be wishing you had even a boring job to pay the bills. Therefore, you're going to have to find a way to get by in the shitty jobs until you can find something better. This is where medication could be helpful. I've taken medication before when my life has been bad, and it lifted me up out of a hopeless nothing-can-go-right feeling into a state of mind where I was confident enough and ready to take steps to improve my life. Also, when I was your age and working as a temp receptionist, I tried to look at it like a sort of role-playing game. I didn't feel like the job defined me at all, and I knew it wouldn't be permanent. And I determined which temp jobs were, for me, better than others. I didn't mind answering phones, but I hated filing and refused those assignments. Much better to refuse an assignment in the first place, if you can afford to, than to quit halfway through!

The second step is the good-enough job. For this, you're probably going to have to gain some kind of skill - one that's quite easily acquired. Leaving programming aside for the moment, which may take too much time and effort to break into right now, what are some things you could do that might give you enough money and enough freedom to get out of the rut you're in, start saving, and maybe start thinking about your education again? For example, a friend of a friend put himself through college by working as a locksmith. I think this skill is quite easy to learn and pays well. I've also met a tow-truck driver doing the same thing, and he seemed quite happy. How about training to be a plumber? I don't know how long the course takes, but I do think the work pays well and gives you the freedom to work when you want to. Also, going back to your Myers Briggs results, you might be happy working as a teacher. So how about tutoring high school kids? Did you happen to rock the SATs, for example? If so, you could perhaps teach for Kaplan or the Princeton Review or something, either classes or as a private tutor. There's also the option of doing a cheap TEFL course and teaching English overseas. If you research it properly, you should be able to do a month-long course for 500-800 dollars, maybe in Thailand, and then find a country where you could teach and earn enough to put some money aside for the future.

The third stage is where you start working towards a long-term goal. This is where you start to take steps to realize your dream of becoming a computer programmer, or whatever it is you ultimately decide you'd like to do. This is where the Myers Briggs results could come in handy, or where you could see a career counselor using some of the money you've started making in step 2. In this stage, college becomes a real possibility, and it may be your best path to happiness - but you don't have to decide on that right now.

The main thing is, you can't think that you're going to go out tomorrow and get a dream job and that the problem will be fixed. But you also need to keep reminding yourself that the temp jobs are not your life, and that there is more out there for you if you make a commitment to work towards your goals gradually and systematically.

On preview: I'm sorry this comment is so long, but I hope some of it may help at least a little bit!
posted by hazyjane at 2:46 AM on April 12, 2005

Also, what Tubes said!
posted by hazyjane at 2:48 AM on April 12, 2005

Yeah, I'd just like to emphasize what I said above about making lists of things that interest, appeal to, or just come naturally to you, and allowing yourself to really consider all options, no matter how far out they might initially seem (far out as in crazy unlikely and as in, sounds boring/ weird / random). I think hazyjane's advice that you think of it as a three-tier issue is good, too.

Generally, in looking for work, you're looking to fulfill four levels: short term results/benefits, long term results/benefits, short term personal enjoyment, and long term personal fulfillment. The first category basically boils down to money, I think (& health care, nice office, yadda yadda). The second also includes stuff like 'respect in the field', awards & honors, that kind of thing. Both of those categories are really about external assessments, though, and you can have good numbers there but still feel empty...

Short term enjoyment is important - that you like going to work in general, that the tasks you handle on a regular basis are enjoyable enough for you. I found graphic design worked for me for this; I could get sort of caught up in a project and time would pass quickly. But long term fulfillment is also important. That's where graphic design didn't work for me, because I was just never going to be good enough to look back over my life and feel like I'd done something interesting. That was nagging at me all the while. I realized I was the sort of person who really needed that angle, so I began really thinking about what that meant to me.

Different elements may stand out as the most important part for you; it's worth trying to figure out what you want out of a job. Then go through some possibilities, and note where they match up and where they don't. Again, you're young and just exploring options at this point; you can get work-work as a carpenter or man w/ a van or bartender or temp, so long as you keep yourself focused toward the next step, and don't get bogged down in the day-to-day. The 40 hr week might not be the best bet to maintain energy for working toward the next step, so if you can find ways to reduce costs as much as possible and try to live off the odd jobs, that will give you more time to really explore what you want.

You could also pursue an intermediate step here, as hazyjane suggested - get a useful skill. There are a lot of programs for these kinds of things - some are literally one-day conferences that end with certification while others may take a few months or even years. I do martial arts, so know a lot of people with certification for personal training, yoga instruction, massage therapy, & other physical fitness-related stuff - these programs are everywhere. I'm sure there are similarly ubiquitous certification orgs in other areas.
posted by mdn at 7:05 AM on April 12, 2005

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