How do you start over at 35?
January 9, 2011 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Question: Trying to rebuild after leaving an abusive relationship; how can I recover my lost sense of self, while facing a competitive job market?

Am afraid of risking time and money on unrealistic choices that might add to an extensive repertoire of crappy experiences. Not sure I won't crumble, faced with the long haul involved in finding worthwhile work. Need short-term, affirming experiences, and a plan.

This past year:

- left a five-year, cohabitating relationship with an alchoholic subject to rages. Working life was restricted by visas and constant emotional exhaustion.

- was laid off. Work history has been demoralizing and deskilling, best described as 'non-profit admin'. Can't face more of the same. Unemployed 6 months.

- made a transatlantic move back to my hometown; currently staying with family and caring for an aging parent. Struggling to rebuild old friendships.


- dealt with depression, anxiety, agoraphobia; lifelong underachievement and academic failure; perfectionism and ADHD traits. (First clause is no longer a live issue - if anything, I've got a strong impulse to make the most of my life and am more relaxed than ever.)

Am in my mid-thirties. I accept that starting 'fresh' means accepting challenges, but starting in the mailroom might be more than I can bear. Also, in many ways, I'm just getting to know myself again.

Am torn between 1) picking up unrealized ambitions (the dream was a PhD in cognitive science), 2) committing to a newly discovered art form which gives me great pleasure, and 3) pursuing a career that has market value and a shorter lead time to income generation (social work or occupational therapy; also have some experience in 'communications officer' work).

1) is complicated by a spotty record and a loss of intellectual confidence (and relative poverty). But *loved* CS. 2) is cathartic, absorbing, motivating. Have been encouraged to pursue it by peers and mentors, but am sure it means poverty. 3) would tap into some of my natural skills, but am concerned I'm a good candidate for burnout.

Which of these paths makes the most sense - from both psychic and economic PsOV?

Any ideas around how I can maintain self-respect, and stay open, when starting from the bottom?

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Are you past-tense me? Like you, left an alcoholic rageaholic. Had a lot of debt and a dearth of confidence. It sucked big jagged rocks.
The good news is that you are out of a craptastic, soul-crushing relationship and things are going to get better. It may seem crazy now with no job and the monumental sounding task of rebuilding a life but you have already done the most important, best thing. You are out!

Now, you have some practical things to decide. When I first got back on my own, I wasn't really emotionally ready (although you may be and if so, awesome!) to go for the gusto, grab the brass ring, all that stuff. I found a job in my field that paid a living wage and didn't give me too much emotional investment or overtime so I had time to sort things out in my head and in my life. That was good for me. At 35, you have oodles of time to pursue almost any path. As I got sorted out, I made some more proactive career decisions and have maneuvered into a job that suits me. It took a few years and there were some ups and downs, but give yourself permission to try a few things if you have to.

I think you are wise to recognize that you are getting to know yourself again and I bet as time goes you will be pleasantly surprised that you have more resilience than you realized. If you're like me, you may also pick up some completely new hobbies or skills because it just feels right. It can be a good time to let yourself try on some new things (literally and figuratively).

Good luck & memail if you'd like; my email is in my profile too. Congrats on starting over; good things are coming your way.
posted by pointystick at 10:42 AM on January 9, 2011

I'm sorry to hear about your situation. You sounds like a strong persontho, remember this is something you can draw on in future.

To be honest I don't think it's possible for Internet strangers to advise you which of the three proposed paths to take. Each of them has advantages and drawbacks, and only you can decide which is the best fit.

What I would advise you though is to take time deciding. I am in a vaguely similar situation to yours, minus the abusive relationship. I realised at the beginning of last year that I was at a dead end and needed to make fundamental changes in my life. The options were similar to yours, and so's my age. One decision I made early on was not to rush into something half-baked just because I felt that urge to change.

I went back into therapy, and am now slowly working my way out of the bad place I was in. I decided that if this means I lose a year of my life, it won't be a tragedy (my first instinct had been "oh God, oh God, I am so old, I must hurry finding my career patrh!!"). Other people will probably suggest therapy too, and it sounds like you could benefit from it.

Once you have gained more emotional stability in your life this decision should hopefully come more naturally. [Disclaimer: I'm not there yet, I have no idea where my life is going, but I am feeling a lot less stressed out about it than this time last year]

I wish you good luck!
posted by ClarissaWAM at 10:47 AM on January 9, 2011

[ack, typos! and I previewed!]
posted by ClarissaWAM at 10:48 AM on January 9, 2011

Keep up the art when you're not at work - that can be a big help in providing an identity and self-esteem boost when work is tough. For work it sounds like something with a relatively short lead-time would be best, so I'd skip 1) and 2) (but keep up the art outside of work!) for 3).

And for 3), don't become a social worker - pay is awful and burnout is high. I'd say something more like OT or communications (which could go more IT-ward and use that CS love!) make more sense.

Other than keeping with the art, it sounds like you're doing the right thing to re-kindle old friendships. When you make a decision work-wise, also do what you can to meet others in the field and network. You've survived this far and already made improvements, you can do this, too!
posted by ldthomps at 10:54 AM on January 9, 2011

I agree with ClarissaWAM about taking some time and with ldthomps about your art being useful for identity. Having been in a milder, sort of similar situation, I think a version of #3 (I know a couple of people who did occupational therapy and seemed satisfied) is the best of these, but mostly getting into work and being able to make bigger decisions later (which could ward off burnout).

Two things, though:
1. Please don't go into a PhD program while you need to make taking care of yourself a big priority. It needn't be off the list forever, but it seems like a very hard road to put yourself on right now.
2. You're not starting over, seriously - it sounds like you're in for a change, but you've a life's experience and sound really clear-headed, and that's coming with you.
posted by carbide at 2:05 PM on January 9, 2011

A good way to illustrate carbide's second point -- "You're not starting over, seriously - it sounds like you're in for a change, but you've a life's experience and sound really clear-headed, and that's coming with you" -- is to think of your life as a series of books on a shelf. Everything you've experienced so far in your life is in the series, and you've just closed the latest volume and stuck it in its place. Now you're picking up the next one and it's lovely and blank and fresh! But it's still a part of the series, one in which the main character is constantly learning and growing and evolving. And that's a good thing.
posted by lhall at 3:02 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

This might be helpful as a datapoint, but I'm facing almost exactly the same choices right now. I'm currently just 3 weeks into walking out of a two-year marriage and barely 3 months after resigning from a soul-crushing finance job, nearing thirty and wondering how to direct my life path now.

Just a little while back I was dreaming of children, supporting my partner in his struggles as an entrepreneur and racking up small triumphs in my boring, but high-paying and full-of-potential-to-earn-a-lot-of-money career.

Now I'm thinking of a Ph.d in a field I'd always been interested in but too scared to pursue, taking up dance classes like I've always wanted to, and weighing this against settling for a less-time consuming but stable-income sort of a job.

And I'm kind of leaning towards the crazy Phd dream. Because I want some big wins in my life, or at least a big fight, and a stable boring job isn't it. But I'm giving myself a year to decide. In the meantime, I'm planning to support myself through a bit of freelancing, and have already started the dance classes.

So really, I would advice to go with 1, and take up 2 on the side. But you know best. Give yourself time to decide- as much time as you need.

Take care of yourself and all the best!
posted by roshni at 3:26 AM on January 10, 2011

I've been there - got laid off about 10 months after caring for a dying parent in hospice and then watching my job/company crash and burn. Even though your first instinct is to do something in order to feel like you have some control and direction in your life, I've also found that the best thing to do is be easy on yourself. I'm not big on self help quotes, but these two really helped:

"Do not hurry, do not rest. - Goethe

Certain emotions have to be lived through. You can't shortcut them or think them away; you have to just go through it and it takes a while. So you might as well make whatever you are feeling be your friend. Don't fight it. It's vital. Don't give in to the temptation to push aside what you are feeling now and replace it with anxiety about the future. If you take care of the present, the future will take care of itself.

Your current sadness is the food of your future wisdom.
- Cary Tennis

Besides the usual recommendations of taking care of yourself by getting sleep, exercise (even just making time for a daily walk helps), and eating well, I'd come up with some projects. One of the things I did after my layoff was to schedule some informational interviews about an industry I'm interested in. And I signed up to do pro bono work for the regional business association that supports that particular industry. It got me out of the house, in contact with people, busy, and produced work that I could point to for a work portfolio. Personally, I'd try networking in the dream field you mentioned by finding regional academic programs, interviewing professors/grad students for more information about the field and your interests, et cetera.

Good Luck!
posted by green_flash at 10:06 AM on January 10, 2011

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