Talk me off the ledge
December 7, 2011 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Having a pre-midlife crisis. What do I do next? Talk me off the ledge.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a veterinarian, a journalist, an artist, a writer, a librarian. OR open an orphanage (actually wrote out a plan for that one).

Somehow I wound up in finance, which has sometimes been good and sometimes not so good. Lately it's been awful. Different management and responsibilities led to me screwing up, which led to management taking stuff away from me without (in some cases) even telling me, which made me more anxious, which made me screw up more, which has ultimately led to a situation where I've been under a lot of scrutiny (more anxiety! more screwing up!) and I cry a lot. I'm still having nightmares about things that happened weeks ago.

I know I should be look at for other jobs, but:
1) Even though I KNOW I'm at least moderately intelligent and capable of some good shit and have had some really positive feedback in the past, I feel like suggesting to people that it would be a good idea to hire me is a shitty shitty lie.

2) I have a really hard time assessing what I can handle (out of college I had a series of admin jobs because I had no idea that those intimidating-looking job descriptions actually probably translated into something I could easily learn/do, and I'm behind other people in my age group because of this). I still have a problem with this.

3) I HATE CUBICLES. I can't focus for shit when people are talking around me. I do my best work when I can be part of a team and also have access to privacy and quiet. I know this is a pipe-dream in today's world, but it's a big source of misery and distraction.

4) I'm scared of another bad job situation, of bosses who manage through intimidation.

5) I recently found out I have ADD and am still struggling to sort out how to manage it.

6) Everyone wants someone organized. All the job descriptions have "excellent organizational skills". I suck at organization.

7) I do NOT work well under pressure. Under pressure I get flustered and make more mistakes and cry.

8) Just quitting would be bad, I have a few pre-existing conditions that would make health insurance a big challenge. But I just want to quit.

9) With a boss who believes in me and supports me I frakking move mountains. With a boss who is critical and intimidating it's like I lose half my brain cells and just feel frozen. Like I'd be doing good to work up some drool.

I get leads on finance jobs and I just don't follow up on them. I know it's the best way to just find a transitional point to get out of here and to something better but I am just DONE with finance. I'm not applying for other jobs because I can't get my non-finance resume sorted out. (Which I just realized as I typed this).

At my best I have really kicked ass and made a big difference. I have good ideas, tons of them, I talk my colleagues through work and personal problems, I come up with ways to make excel and powerpoint jump through hoops and simplify processes, I sweet-talk people into believing that's it's really ok if we put x1 on the website instead of x2, I raise money for orphaned wildebeasts, I find the spelling error on page 3, I dig through google to find that in 1980 in Zimbabwe X and Y happened, I work late, I come in on the weekend. Right now I just feel like it was some other person who did all that stuff.

I really just want to quit everything and go back to my hometown and rent a cheap apartment and watch TV all day.

I'm sorry that this is all over the place but any insight would be helpful. I know I need to find a way to calm myself and just take one step forward in a way that is not stupid or destructive. But first I have to sort through all this other stuff and it's making me a little crazy.
posted by bunderful to Work & Money (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh - I have some savings, enough to pay the bills for a couple of months in current city or perhaps more in cheapercity. Not counting COBRA.
posted by bunderful at 10:13 AM on December 7, 2011

I recently found out I have ADD and am still struggling to sort out how to manage it.

Getting treated for this will help most of your other problems, especially 1, 3, 6, and 7. If I were you, my very first step would be to consult a psychiatrist.
posted by desjardins at 10:32 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm sorry I didn't mention that - I'm working with a psychiatrist now and we're in the process of tweaking meds. Meds help me focus - learning to get that focus directed in the right place is a challenge currently in progress.
posted by bunderful at 10:35 AM on December 7, 2011

What DO you LIKE?

Consider volunteering in one of those areas or taking a class in it, as part of a bridge to a better job.
posted by maurreen at 10:39 AM on December 7, 2011

When I was a kid I wanted to be a veterinarian, a journalist, an artist, a writer, a librarian. OR open an orphanage

You know what all those professions need?

Someone who knows about finance.

That's your path. Now, go be awesome.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:42 AM on December 7, 2011 [14 favorites]

Response by poster: Good idea - I know that was probably rhetorical but I like art, writing, editing, research, fixing things, making things better, helping people, and libraries.

I'm curious about ecology, botany, and sustainable living but those things are more of a knowledge gap for me.

I really like figuring out how to make something work - html tags, how to convert 100 text files into one excel file. I'm *slow* at this, but I like it.
posted by bunderful at 10:44 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Meaning, I bet the veterinarian would love to expand their business ... if only they understood finance. The journalist would love to break open a big story ... if only he knew something about finance. The artist wants to open a studio. The writer wants someone to handle their contracts. The librarian needs someone to write grants. The orphanage needs someone to balance the books.

Money makes the world go 'round.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:45 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not to be glib, but you have a lot of complaints and no plan to make things better. You should make a plan. If you find yourself incapable of planning, you need to take a vacation and fall back on the support of friends, family, and maybe a therapist.
posted by blargerz at 10:45 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cool Papa Bell is wise. All of the faults that you're pointing out aren't really any different than anyone else's. Some people have figured out that most of us are just faking like we know what we're doing anyway. You're going through a rough patch, treat yourself well, the way you would a good friend, take a deep breath, and then start formulating a plan. It sounds like you know that you need a positive work environment with some structure and a boss who is a capable leader. When you start interviewing, remember that you are not desperate for a job, you are looking for the right fit for your skill set so that you can be all those things you know you are good at.

Freelance and startups are probably not a good idea until you have a better handle on your ability to organize and self-direct.

Good luck!!
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 10:51 AM on December 7, 2011

Best answer: Regarding 1), and even Right now I just feel like it was some other person who did all that stuff, it's really common to feel this way and is called impostor syndrome.

Personally, I think counseling would be an excellent idea, and probably some cognitive therapy, because you seem to be concentrating on the bad when you know you've got a lot of good. You need to learn how to counter those inner voices that sabotage you before you get started.

You may be depressed, but more important, you lack self-esteem and the ability to judge yourself objectively. A good counselor can help you get to the root cause of this or at least develop better coping strategies.

I can't focus for shit when people are talking around me.

You may well find that as you treat your anxiety, your irritability declines precipitously. Alternatively, this could be the ADD manifesting.
posted by dhartung at 11:10 AM on December 7, 2011

Best answer: You sound like you would fit in very well in any number of nonprofits!
posted by yarly at 11:18 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I wanted to be an architect or an astronaut. I ended up being about six other things, often at odds with each other, completely by accident. Incredible, enough people considered me an "expert" at them that they paid me lots of money. Now I'm retired. Life is strange.

  • If you really have an ADHD diagnosis, and not just an internet diagnosis, get medicated. There are so many wonderful drugs for this problem today.
  • Regarding "Everyone wants someone organized." You know why? Because they're not organized themselves, and they need help. Remember that you're far from unusual here.
  • Bouncing off Maureen and Yarly, I agree that non-profits might be a good match for your work allergies, because you can find low-stress dedicated people who like to do good, not necessary push for profit. Education and medicine might also work, especially specialties like those who work with the disabled or elderly.
And relax. You sound so young and excited. Calm down and think about what you love, and then start looking (slowly) for something in that field.
posted by rokusan at 11:29 AM on December 7, 2011

Best answer: I'd agree that a lot of your problems stem from your ADD.

Take a deep breath. There's a lot of denial you have to let go of when you finally accept a diagnosis. So it can actually feel a lot worse for a while because you don't have any denial telling you it's all good, but you also don't have a good grasp on your treatment program.

Don't fight the stress. Own it, forgive yourself for it, and try to move forward. It takes a lot of mindfullness, and it's exhausting. But I haven't found a better way of handling it that doesn't just kick the can further down the road.

It's the holidays. Most people aren't at the top of their game this time of year, and most non-retail businesses accept it. See how much vacation time and sick time you can wrangle. See how many holiday obligations you can get off your plate. Treat this like a nasty case of the flu, and see if your doctor won't help you. Depending on your comfort level, you might want to work with your GP for this so that there isn't a psychiatrist associated with medical leave.

One thing that helped immensely was a class my doctor made me take. I'm sure Kaiser implements it to root out the drug seeking, and I resented it at the time. But being around people going through that same transition was invaluable. They asked the questions I was too distracted to ask, and they put together some side effects I would have never connected with ADD.

Books do slightly the same thing. But what I dislike about trying to treat my ADD with books is that I employ my hyperfocus to get through the book, which tends to exacerbate my more problematic ADD traits like time blindness and ignoring the small stuff that needs to get done. I've had to retrain myself in how I read books. I read them during my 20 minute commute, full stop. It allows me to read a decent amount without getting absorbed.

I know I haven't focused on the job aspect. Like someone going through a depressive episode, do not make big decisions. ADD tends to lend itself to fantastical whimsy without thinking through the results. We like that we aren't entirely certain of the results. The mystery excites us, and giving in to that stimulus allows us to focus on something else. That's why stimulants actually allow a person with ADD to slow down, despite making normal people crazy hyper.

That said, you know finance. And the great thing about finance is that it's incredibly portable to all industries and there are a vast number of roles incorporated in finance. I was in a tax position struggling with the detail oriented aspect of the job when I finally realized that I needed to get help. While I didn't leave my job, I was let go shortly after starting treatment.

I was so angry and bitter at the time. But unemployment did give me a month to get my shit together. And I got incredibly fortunate that I was able to find another job as a tax analyst that uses my existing knowledge base in a way stresses my Big Picture qualities while limiting the Detail Oriented nature of the business.

I still need organization skills. Everyone needs organization skills. And I've had to work hard to figure out how to overcome my natural unorganized ADD habits to create a system that works for me. So I don't mean to imply that you can find a job that completely accepts the cognitive difficulties that ADD creates. But I dealt with it in interviews by being upfront with the fact that I'm naturally a disorganized mess.

It's an easy answer to the ominous "What's your biggest weakness?". And then I stress that being aware of the issue has also made it one of my biggest priorities. I'm constantly reading lifehacker to find new ways to tweak existing systems, I rely on Outlook a lot. Every meeting gets an email saying "this is what we talked about, this is my part, this is yours. Let me know if I forgot something I need to do." Every task gets into Outlook or it disappears. I spend twenty minutes a week cleaning out my desk.

My natural disorganization has made me the organized person in my department. And my current boss appreciates it. But I cannot stress enough that I would not have been able to land or succeed in this job if I had not made significant progress in my treatment.

If you'd like, feel free to MeMail me. I think human connections are invaluable to the recovery process. Hopefully you get something from my answer, and conversely writing out my experience reminds me of the things I need to do to stay on track.
posted by politikitty at 11:39 AM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Do you have sick leave? Or short or long term disability? Consider taking some time off. If you have neither, but have some saved vacation, consider taking some of that.

If you know that you can and have been a kick-ass worker in the past, you likely will be one again in the future. If you have a recent diagnosis of ADD and are working to figure out meds, it's not unreasonable to be freaking out. The meds might be contributing to the sense of panic, and the extra sensitivity. The diagnosis is probably making you feel feelings, too. It's kind of a big deal!

I've been where you are. Time off has helped. Talk to your psychiatrist.

Then, while you're off, find someone who can help you develop strategies for dealing with the ADD. Hack your life, type stuff. Don't worry about what kind of work you want to do in the future, just get yourself feeling better now, then when your head is on straight you will be able to think about things more rationally and made decisions based on your strengths and interests rather than out of a place of fear and panic.
posted by looli at 11:53 AM on December 7, 2011

Response by poster: (Um. It just hit me that taking ADD meds with 2 cups of coffee might have been unwise and might have contributed to some of the freakout. But I still need to sort out this stuff so please carry on, I appreciate the advice!)
posted by bunderful at 12:20 PM on December 7, 2011

Just to help deal with the here and now; It's scary the first time your career goes off the rails but many people suffer some kind of burnout in their mid to late 20s. Refocus on your core work responsibilities by writing down notes whenever you're dealing with management. Concentrate on covering the basics well, rather than moving mountains.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:28 PM on December 7, 2011

Bouncing off Maureen and Yarly, I agree that non-profits might be a good match for your work allergies, because you can find low-stress dedicated people who like to do good, not necessary push for profit.

I second this. Non-profits desperately need people with finance backgrounds who are willing to give up the high rewards of finance for a better life/work balance. Browse Idealist listings in your area to see if there's something that sparks your interests where finance jobs haven't. Keep in mind Higher Ed jobs too--administration-type jobs, not teaching. Your skills will be so useful in either of those spheres.
posted by gladly at 1:26 PM on December 7, 2011

Some thoughts:
- stabilise things at your current job. I'm talking damage control. Work out what you need to do for your current job. For example if your in a bad self reinforcing loop around stress and reacting badly to that you need to break the loop. It might be a good idea to see if you can arrange things with your boss that you temporarily do stuff that you find easier. And perhaps take some days off. Do things that help you get your groove back. Exercise, friends, therapy etc.
- for the longer run: find ways to deal with what work throws at you. Some level of being organised is required for almost all but the lowliest menial jobs. Start creating good habits. You're young, you have plenty of opportunity to grow. Similarly distractions exist at most jobs. Find ways to deal with them. Like for instance if you have to power down and get things done maybe you can listen to non-distracting music on your head phone. Etc.
- also for the longer run: some jobs are less about being organised and more about reacting really well to events. Maybe that's more your cup of tea.
- set steps in the direction of creating a positive loop for yourself. As bonobo said: make sure you have the basics in place. Then you'll start getting better feedback from your surroundings. And improve from there.
posted by joost de vries at 9:24 PM on December 7, 2011

It just hit me that taking ADD meds with 2 cups of coffee might have been unwise and might have contributed to some of the freakout

Ixnay the coffee-ay.
posted by canine epigram at 9:42 AM on December 8, 2011

Consider seeing a career psychologist. I found it very helpful for clarifying the sorts of work and environments that play to my strengths and also how to better sell what I had done. After years of ranting about work, I now have a job where the things that irritated my old boss are seen as strengths and I really like my work.

The one I saw used a combination of writing and reflection exercises, as well as the Birkman Method test - "an integrated assessment and report system that analyzes and describes individual needs that drive and motivate workplace behavior. When needs (defined as the expectations one has about how relationships and situations should occur) are met, they drive behavior in positive and productive directions. Unmet needs create potentially negative and less-than-productive behavior. The Birkman Method integrates needs measurements to assess the occupational interests that shape career and job role fit. As a result, it does not describe an individual in a vacuum but rather in the complex, dynamic reality of the workplace. The unique construction and comparative database of the Birkman Method provides powerful insight into what specifically drives a person’s behavior, creating greater choice and more self-responsibility. It accurately measures social behaviors, underlying expectations of interpersonal and task actions, potential stress reactions to unmet expectations, occupational preferences and organizational strengths."
posted by AnnaRat at 10:45 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I appreciate all the responses. I was having a bit of a freak attack when I wrote this, so unfortunately I did not present the situation very clearly in some ways. I don't know if anyone is still looking at the thread, but if you are and if the information I'm about to share prompts any further advice, I would be happy to hear it.

1. I'm in finance, but I can't really say that I know finance. I know one tiny little cog of the finance machine. The skills I have that got me into this job have more to do with research and writing and the ability to understand a policy.

2. I'm, err, not in my 20s. Not anymore.

3. I've tried earphones. They help a little but they don't help enough with a conversation that's within about 5 feet. When I can hear both music AND snippets of a conversation I feel even more crazy. I've tried the giant over-ear boze headphones. They were better but I was chastised and told not to use them anymore. This has been a problem for years that contributes to my stress level every day. I would happily take a lower-paying job just for a quieter working environment with more privacy. I'd love it if addressing ADD and anxiety helps with this but I do not feel hopeful.

4. I'm good at planning. I have LOTS AND LOTS of plans. Deciding on a plan and being confident about following it, being sure that it's the right thing for me, is the harder part. And oh yeah, remembering that I made a plan and decided on it is kind of an issue too.

5. I've wound up where I am by second-guessing and doubting myself. I think maybe it's time to follow my instincts, even if they lead me down some rocky roads. For several weeks I've been trying to figure out who I really am and what I really want and realizing that I don't really know. I know what other people want and need from me, what other people think is ok and acceptable, and I've shaped my identity largely around that. And I'm miserable.
posted by bunderful at 11:54 AM on December 9, 2011

Re: 2. If you're past your 20s, then it's ok to call it a full fledged mid-life crisis. No need to belittle yourself.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:53 PM on December 12, 2011

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