A cunning plan
September 4, 2012 4:46 PM   Subscribe

I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Problem is, I just turned 45. Help me work out what to do next.

I'm single (about 18 months now, after 20 year marriage) but with a LD'R' [not serious] in another state, empty nester (kids are 20 & 21 and living away from me), no parents, with a degree in Multimedia Studies. I have about $100,000 in savings. I live in rental accommodation on the Gold Coast, Queensland. I work freelance as a research assistant for academics, and as a document designer/formatter for mining consulting company. I have recently recovered from a nasty bout of depression/anxiety and been diagnosed with ADD. I have one dependent, a 10 year old indoor cat (called Gordon). My current and only goals are: lose 35 kilograms, learn to drive (a car).

But, I want a plan. Maybe a career plan? Maybe a travel plan? I could do anything, if I knew what it was I wanted. I could study a Graduate Diploma in Research Studies next year where I work with my academics, which would lead into a PhD (but I fell into working with academics in this field, and acquired a great mentor who kept me coming back- it wasn't something I actively sought). I could move interstate. I could travel the world, and leave Gordon with the ex until I came back. I could study project management. I could do more work with multimedia. I could go live on a commune and grow my own vegetables.

How do I know what I want to do?

[If this sounds unbelievable, I spent most of my life first doing what my mother wanted, and then supporting my partner in his career and life choices while raising the kids. I don't know what I want.]

So, how do I find out what I want to do next?
posted by b33j to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
What do you spend most of your time doing? What are you most interested in? What brings a smile to your face every time you run across it? If you have a choice, and it sounds like you do, do something related to that thing you really enjoy. Honestly, most people don't have that choice.

At least not in the U.S. right now with its insane slide toward feudalism.
posted by Glinn at 5:03 PM on September 4, 2012

Does the university where you work/freelance have a career counseling office? (This is very common in the US.) They may be able to set you up with a career counselor who could help you explore jobs and fields that would be a good fit for you. There are also several tests they may be able to give you, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (for personality type) and the Strong Interest Indicator (for interests) that could help you narrow the search.

There are also several popular books on career choice, like "What Color is Your Parachute?," "Do What You Are.," and "I could do anything If I Only Knew What it Was." These all have quizzes and reflection activities to help you figure out what sorts of work you find most satisfying and fulfilling.
posted by pompelmo at 5:16 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could you speak with some sort of career counselor? I know they have a bunch of tests they can give you to help you identify jobs you might be good at, ones you'd never have thought of yourself, or so they claim. Your local university might have someone in the career office who does this, or maybe even your local labor department/state employment office/ or whatever you folks call it there. It's never too late to re-invent yourself, and 45 is young!

Have you traveled much? Can you afford to go backpacking for 6 months?
posted by mareli at 5:16 PM on September 4, 2012

I'm going to give this a stab, but obviously you have to define this yourself, OP. This is what I would suggest for you based on some of the things that you stated.

Make a list and through it into work or excel (things on your list from your post such as lose 35 kg, learn to drive), but also put investigate career, etc.

I would start just doing the first two. You don't mention an exercise regimen but a really, really easy what to start is something like couch to 5 K (don't know what podcasts you can access there, but the NHS version from the UK is great). You just slap on a set of headphones and do what the person tells you 3 days a week, walk, walk run, until it finishes a few weeks later with 5 K-it is only 30 minutes total 3X/week. I think that this would give you a feeling of accomplishment and if you have just finished with anxiety/depression/etc, I'm sure your GP may have mentioned that exercise is usually helpful for mild depression. This is just an idea, but you can pick some other activity that sounds fun to you (cycling? climbing?) but have it end with an accomplishment and something that you have never done before (i.e. ride 100 miles). After this tack on food stuff, but you will have done integrated the activity, which would be part of the goal.I can put a medical journal article cite here but that isn't the main part of your question.

After you start doing the first exercise regimen for a few weeks and it is a habit, then look at adding driving classes (or have a friend show you this). Obviously, this ends with a license but this should also help you feel confident/positive and you accomplished another goal and more independence.

THEN I would try to tackle your other goals and reassess.

For your career plan, I would break it down into steps:

1. You have enough of a background to make a list and throw on deal breakers and "must have" for your next job.

2. Then do info interviews (description in there, not retyping it) to find essentially one or two prospective jobs that hit your list. You may want to sit down with the academic connections that you have and ask other questions. As a prospective grad student, I would ask questions about funding over the next 10 years (for grants) or even as a grad student.

3. From the info interviews, you should have asked (or go back and ask) what those people did to get to where they were. I usually interviewed people who made career changes and had the job that I wanted. From your description, I think that you will have an easier time of this than most people. You have life experiences to know what you like/don't like and it sounds like you have been successful in getting some of what you want or even building your own career.

Then revisit the other goals again.

Some of the things on your list: travel, join a commune make me wonder...are you running away? That's why I would recommend accomplishing small goals, building stability, and re-asking the question again. I'm saying this as someone who has traveled a lot...the goal was a drive to see the country/culture, not just "Should I travel?"It does help to get you out of your head...but if you haven't then make a few week trip a goal. OR as a reward for learning to drive? Rent a car and take a road trip to places that you have always dreamed of visiting for a few weeks.
posted by Wolfster at 5:34 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's how you will know: TRAVEL! You're single, you have the money to do it... drop off the cat and start packing! The plan should be to leave as soon as you can, plan how much money you are willing to spend and return when you run out.

Bonus: You will lose weight doing so (since you will be walking a lot - especially if you chose to travel with just a backpack), it will take your mind off depression and you will have enough time to think about what you want to do next. (But hopefully these thoughts won't even cross your mind because you'll be experiencing so many wonderful things) If the opportunity to travel is there now you should grab it. Who knows when and if you'll have the opportunity to do it again soon.
posted by [vagabond] at 5:38 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Travel! You could combine travel with the organic farming thing by doing some WOOFing, which would also definitely help you loose weight. If I was you though, I would go somewhere exotic for a bit, just to say you did it. I think the fact that you mention the "travel the world" part is a signal that it is something you are interested in doing, so why not seize the day while you have the money, time and inclination? All the other stuff can wait. Travel for a few months, come back and reassess where you are mentally. Maybe on the way back from somewhere really foreign you could do a bit of travel to potential new places to live?
posted by smartypantz at 5:52 PM on September 4, 2012

Thank you - I will look into career counselling. I tried once turning my passion into my career, and really it didn't work very well - eg graphic design is not the same as Sunday painting. Most of the time, you often have to either recreate someone else's design, or accept the bad taste of your client. I also find it hard to remain interested in the one type of thing for a long time - once I master something, I tend to want to do something else. Continuuing to do the thing that I mastered can be really really tough and no fun.

Sure, I want to travel - but I'm not sure where to, and I think if I don't have a good idea about that, the travel may well be wasted. WOOFing is a great idea, but I want to get fit before I try that as I suspect I would feel very embarrassed just now trying to get much done.

I also don't have any superannuation (or not much - I think you call it 401K) and no assets other than my savings. So I wonder if I should be somewhat careful.

Running away is a great question, but there's nothing to run away from, and nothing to run to. I am sort of anchorless, for the first time in my life, after years of taking care of other people, the only person that needs taking care of is me - and while I appreciate this - it leaves me at a loss.
posted by b33j at 6:11 PM on September 4, 2012

Have you taken some time off just for yourself? I'm in the middle of a career transition, and my first impulse was to dive in to working hard as soon as I left my last job. But that didn't allow time for reflection that I needed. I'm taking a few week-long trips here and there, but mostly I'm trying to read, write, think, try new things, meet new people, and see where following my interests leads.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:32 PM on September 4, 2012

Without super that $100k savings is a bit of a misnomer - that's your retirement fund.

And I'm learning (slowly) to sit and wait for what I want to make itself known. Your goals are fine (although the C25k is not as easy as depicted - I'm 5 - 10 kg overweight and it was not nearly so simple as 'run walk run') (I'm bitter because a week later I am still hurting, goddamn jogging) but that overall aim isn't something that will come out of doing. Only listening.

What are your values, what parts of your life to you love? I realised that what I love to do, within my job, were things that match better with another job (or at least field). I'm considering a PhD (possibly down the Gold Coast, coincidentally) so I'm a little biased towards that, but I don't think you can/should do it just because you're looking for direction.

Taking care of yourself, after so long concentrating on others, is a shock. It will take a while. There will be trial and error, and mistakes, but you have a great chance to really think before you do. Freelancing/small business is a bit of a mefi cliche, and I usually hate it, but maybe if what you love is graphic design, selling bits and bobs and things that you've designed. The whole pretty stationery thing is out there, etsy and madeit are things you can use, and you only need to do what you want to do.

But working out what you want will only happen when you listen to yourself. And not just what you tell yourself about yourself, observe yourself. What moments do you lose yourself in, what moments energise you and make you happy? And in those happy moments, what are you telling yourself then?
posted by geek anachronism at 6:47 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just sent you an email
posted by jennstra at 7:02 PM on September 4, 2012

Okay, this is kind of cheesy, but a decade ago I was not sure what I wanted to do next, but knew I needed a change. I started working through some of the exercises in What Color is Your Parachute and it really helped me to realize that there are things that I love that I wasn't doing at work, and that the things I was doing at work were very draining for me.

I now am working in a field where I love the work, going in to work is energizing, and so many of my work needs/expectations are met: I have lots of autonomy and flexibility, I get to learn as part of my job, I work with smart, interesting people, my employers are appreciative of the work I do, I am not micro-managed, etc.

Caveat: The author of this book refers to God a few times, but not in an overbearing way. Generally it's a solid guide and is based on you and your values and experience, rather than on what the author thinks you should be.

Good luck! This is a very exciting time in your life!
posted by lulu68 at 8:16 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you don't have much super, you might be wise to be at least a tiny bit careful. Currently facing the prospect of giving half of my already inadequate super fund to my recent ex (no grumbling - she deserves it) has made me very aware of how precious a resource this can be. But.

You are alive and healthy now and for who knows how long. You have enough savings that you can be careful but still have a lot of fun. How about something like buying one of those 'round the world' tickets, allocating $x to your trip and seeing where the mood takes you? It might even be possible to do at least some of your current work on the road? In any case, focusing all your activities on what you want for a change may help to clarify what you really want in a broader sense.

As far as figuring out what you want to do when you grow up - if you find out how, could you please let me know? I just turned 51 and still don't know what I want to do when I grow up. I've more or less decided to avoid the problem by not growing up at all.
posted by dg at 8:34 PM on September 4, 2012

On one hand, you might need to give yourself a year or two to decide anything big. You can be open to options if something awesome comes up, but it can be helpful to know that it might take a while to research and choose your next grand adventure (whatever it may be) and that deciding is part of the adventure.

On the other hand, there is this excellent advice from my mother: "If you don't know what to do, just do something."

Or both!

As for what to do, one thing you could do is go for a long, leisurely bike tour.
posted by aniola at 9:24 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

learn a language! It's great fun. and will give you a reason to travel:)
posted by sparkle55 at 3:11 AM on September 5, 2012

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