Starting over at 24
November 23, 2012 7:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm 24 and very recently my first serious relationship (7 years) ended. Starting over with my life after my first traumatic upset and in need of some recommendations for... well, life (career, relationships, finances, the whole gamut). (please forgive the length)

At 17, freshly graduated from high school, I moved (read: fled) to Texas to live with my ex from my home state of Michigan, leaving behind my family, friends and quite literally everything I knew. I did it with zero life skills, I now realize. A little over a week ago, my ex and I called it quits due to some trust issues and a lack of happiness on both counts, though our communication lines are open and we talk about trying again in the future "as fully functioning adults." I had been working odd jobs and going to school to be certified as a pharmacy technician, with my ultimate goal being pharmacy school. Things went south just a few weeks before my midway-point and due to the living situation I had to leave the state without finishing, quit my job and pile my worldly trappings (not much) into my van and drive away. In the process, I left (again) my whole life - my friends, my dog, my home, my hobbies, my boyfriend, the state I'd learned to love as my own, and it was and is extraordinarily jarring and physically painful. My ex and I are close and there is still a lot of love between us, and although he frequents my mind and I am brokenhearted, I know that I must focus on making myself a better person, so I've come full circle and I'm back at my childhood home trying to start all over again. I have no friends in the area anymore and I've been dealing with all of this mostly alone (hence the wordiness, I suppose).

I feel that when I fled my home and tried to force myself into adulthood with no tools or knowledge, I doomed myself to become dependent on my ex, socially unskilled and financially tactless. I've become uncertain about my career path and came home with a slew of personal problems (I have a DBA which I don't know how to dissolve, I owe tuition on my former program and can't pay, I am emotionally arrested in development and very depressed, etc.). Reading queries from successful adults and people who really have it together on this forum, I feel small and stupid and entirely unprepared for the world and I hope badly that I'm not judged too harshly for my circumstance. I feel that I made an impulsive teenage decision and failed to learn how to be a grown-up along the way, and I don't want to spend a lot of time moping around feeling sorry for myself over it.

I have two queries for all of you, the first being personal: has anyone else ever been in a situation like this, where you had to begin again especially as a young adult? Is it possible to pick up the pieces and make something good again? Should I be so consumed with shame? How do you move forward after reaching that place?

My second question is this: I would like to re-start college and do it properly this time (being at home gives me more freedom to do so and I know I won't be afforded this opportunity again). I would like to go into the medical field and have considered nursing school. What would it take for me to be accepted into a program for nursing in the Flint/Detroit area and what are some good schools for those of you with experience?
posted by znith to Education (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My ex and I are close and there is still a lot of love between us...

This helps absolutely nothing. I mean, in theory, sure, having a good relationship with an ex is an okay thing. But being close and having regular contact and still having feelings? That's bad news bears. The longer he's in the picture, the longer you'll stay brokenhearted.

Reading queries from successful adults and people who really have it together on this forum, I feel small and stupid and entirely unprepared for the world

Hi, moderately successful adult here and I steadfastly refuse to believe that anyone had their shit together at age 24. I certainly didn't, and neither did any of my friends. That was about four years ago and the sea change between now and then in my peer group is incredible. But, yeah, you're not in some sort of horrible black hole of immaturity. These are just emotional growing pains and you'll make through just like everyone else you're looking at.

Should I be so consumed with shame?

Short of, I don't know, murder, you should never be consumed with shame. You tried something, it didn't take, now you have to keep going. Having your plans not pan out isn't a mark of shame or failure, it's just what happens to people. You need to be prepared to fail over and over and over again. That's what being an adult is: picking yourself up and keeping on keeping on.

Also, feel free to MeMail me about the DBA. A Texas DBA isn't terribly difficult to dissolve, but it can be a little tricky (that sort of stuff is my day job.)
posted by griphus at 7:31 AM on November 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

Should I be so consumed with shame?

I think (hope!) you know that the answer to that is no, of course not, what good purpose is shame serving you? Making you feel bad so that you never take risks again? Impossible while alive and human!

I know it feels like you've Ruined your life, but you are, in fact, still young, smart, healthy, and have great opportunities ahead of you. Start looking into what, if anything, you could do with credit from your schooling in Texas. Start googling around schools nearby and talking to them about what you'd need to get in. Ask graduates how good the program was. I have a friend who went to Oakland University for her initial nursing degree years ago and has had a good career, but I know she had other possibilities nearby at the time, too.

I also didn't have my life together at 24 and am now a surprisingly functional adult. A big step toward that was to stop wallowing in shame and indecision and to simply start taking steps toward a better career, even though I didn't know if they were the Right steps. Aside from looking into schools, check out your social media to reconnect with old friends and making new ones. Friends nearby will help you get out of your own head (which is currently not acting like your friend) and make more job/school/social connections.
posted by ldthomps at 7:38 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did this successfully and I didn't have a home to go back to. It's definitely doable. The most important thing to work on is a source of income that looks okay on a resume. You should also start looking at college programs, but TAKE YOUR TIME. College is expensive and not something that you should rush into without a plan. This is not your only opportunity, trust me.

Local hospitals and nursing homes or rehab centers are usually hiring. Pay attention to entry-level jobs AND jobs that require a short certificate program, like phlebotomy. Hospitals often hire internally so even a housekeeping job might benefit you 3-4 months down the road. Research this!

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:19 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't be so hard on yourself. Plenty of people have made mistakes in the name of love at around that same age (maybe almost everyone! including me!).

You were halfway through the pharmacy tech certification with a goal of going to pharmacy school, and now you want to consider a different health career path (nursing). That's fine, but are you sure you want to make this change? Nursing and pharmacy are very different jobs, aside from both being health related. Nursing generally requires a ton of communication and interaction and dealing with human bodily functions, whereas pharmacy allows you to work more independently and maybe not even have to deal with patients directly or in a much less intimate/physical way. It just seems like if you have credit that might be still valid towards a way to earn money to continue your education/as a career stepping stone, and you are still interested in that career path, it makes sense to think about pursuing that instead of starting something different. Alternately if you're uncertain, it might make sense to try to learn more about both jobs or if possible, do a little shadowing so you know for sure that you are going after the path that will make you the happiest in your career.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:21 AM on November 23, 2012

1. Is it possible to pick up the pieces and make something good at age 24? Absolutely. It is possible at any age, but it is actually easier the younger you are.

2. Your life isn't anywhere near as ruined as you're feeling it is, and from what you've written there isn't anything you've done that about a billion people have done (or something similar). In a lot of ways you should be proud that you took a risk and went off and lived someplace else and looked to see what else was out there. There is bravery in that, even though you think you were just totally reliant on your partner.

3. Stop talking to your ex. It is totally fine to have a healthy relationship/friendship with an ex, but that can't happen until everyone has processed and gotten over the relationship and breakup. You need to gain distance from them. Not just geographical, but also emotional and psychological. Talking to themand keeping in contact isn't going to help you through this, it is going to make it a) hurt more and b) last longer.

4. Start doing things. Join some clubs. Attend some meetups. Volunteer. Find a way to be out with people and to start rebuilding your friend network. The purpose is part just distracting yourelf, part resume building, and part developing a new social network.

5. Just keep reminding yourself that none of this is the end of the world, the majority of people have gone through something similar (or often worse), and that you can and will come back from this. Breakups are hard. Moving is hard. Changing your life direction is hard. Doing them all at once... very hard. But you're through the worst and now you get to focus on your future. You can make it a bright one.

PS - When I was 24 I had no effing clue what the hell I was doing, I had no career path, I had a seriously messed up dating situation that caused major drama, I had not a lot of friends, I lived in a crap apartment, and I weighed almost 100lbs more. I'm 30 now and my life is amazing and fantastic. Those late 20's years are majorly transformative ones for a lot of people. You're right there with the rest of us, don't worry.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:22 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a really, really common situation for women in their 20s to find themselves in. You didn't say if you have kids, but if you don't, it shouldn't be very hard to reboot your life from here. If you do, then you'll probably need to look at getting assistance from women's groups or government programs to get you started.

When I was 24, I was a community college drop out working at a grocery store with a pile of debt and still living with my parents, and by the time I was 30 I had a solid, well paying career in IT. The first step I took was getting a job sorting mail for the government, and then took opportunities as they came to me. Sure, I was and am behind my peers from my age group, but life isn't a race.

Just take it one day at a time.
posted by empath at 8:25 AM on November 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also I say it looks okay on a resume because you shouldn't be obsessed with the perfect job...just nothing illegal, and "odd jobs" only if you can spin them to look like a single committed responsible job/business.

Think, too, about going back to Texas and finishing your current program. At least call the school and explain the situation so you know what's going to happen. They may simply disenroll you and not bother trying to collect. The only way to know is to ask, communicate, face your problems head-on.

Keep in touch with your friends, by the way. My biggest regret from that period of my life is that I abandoned a lot of people who cared about me out of shame about my past. There's no need to do that in the era of Facebook, email, and affordable long distance.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:27 AM on November 23, 2012

I'd call the school back and see if they'll hold your spot for you so you can resume next term.

Secondly, my immediate goal would be to get back to Texas to finish up school.

You talk about fleeing a lot, and while it may feel good in the moment, pulling up stakes and running away at the first sign of trouble isn't going to serve you well in the future.

Call around to your friends and see if you can couch surf until you can get a job, get a room/apartment and return to school.

If you liked Texas, had friends, a job, a life, why exactly was your reaction to ditch EVERYTHING, regardless of financial and emotional entanglement and run to a home you hadn't lived in for 7 years?

Let's just say you took a little vacation, and now you're ready to go back "home". Now, if you're committed to staying in Michigan, see if your former pharmacy school has an outpost where you are and see if you can finish up there.

You can get an RN in a Community/Junior College. Typically all you need to start is a high school diploma or a GED. MCC has a program, and it looks very straight forward. Out of state tuition is $2772 per semester (12 credits) then In-state would be $1478 per semester. THAT is an educational bargain!

You may need to sit out a year for in-state tuition. That's cool. See if there's a job to get. You're in one of the worst areas for that in the country, so you can't afford to be picky. Although I went on-line and there are some decent jobs on Linkedin, so check those out.

All you really need to do is form a plan and execute on it.

If you want to stay in Michigan, your plan looks like this:

1. Get job for a year.

2. Register for MCC.

3. Attend MCC for 2 years

4. Graduate with RN

5. While doing all of this, meet new people, make new friends, get new life.

Now is not the time to negotiate a relationship with your ex. Leave that alone for now. Sulk for a few days, then get up, and get out there!

You're fine!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:03 AM on November 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm sure your questions will be well-covered by the other respondents. I just wanted to say one thing: 24 is sooooo young. It is really, truly, very VERY young, and not having your life together at this age is totally normal, common, and to be expected. Give yourself a break, forgive yourself everything, take a deep breath, and begin your new life.
posted by parrot_person at 1:26 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

has anyone else ever been in a situation like this

Hmm, basically everybody who graduates from a 4-year college who didn't have a very clear, well-planned strategy for post-school?

Maybe it's not quite that ubiquitous but the reality is that a lot of us went into college without much of a real plan, worked our way through the system (bearing in retrospect an uncomfortable resemblance to the way grass works its way through a goose's digestive system) without being nearly as well socialized or developed for actual independence as we believed, and got deposited at the other end, around your age, with a degree we didn't know what to do with, or that was only really fit for qualifying us for more school. Plus, in most cases, I would guess, a whole lot more debt than you're saddled with. In many ways you're ahead of the game. You've learned the danger of drifting with the prevailing currents of your life, deferring too much of the necessity of self-direction in favor of the maintenance a relationship.

Maturity isn't figuring out how to do everything alone, it's being able to accept and not feel embarrassed about everything you don't know (and here in the USA a great many of us know virtually nothing at 24, believe me). In a world where it's far from unusual for people to change careers half a dozen times in their working life it's virtually certain you'll be in this boat again... What can change is your grace and efficiency at dealing with it. I didn't have much of either at 24, neither did most everyone else I knew.

So, solve the straightforward problems. Wrap up your DBA. Someone offered you offline advice upthread, take them up on it. Let people help you. Deal with your debt. Never run away from that sort of problem, it only gets worse if you ignore it. Talk to your lender, find out about available deferments, failing that talk about payment plans. Keep talking and working with them.

Do your own research on educational programs. Call them up, ask about being connected to faculty and current or former students who can give you feedback about the programs. Research their quality online. Think about doing some personal work on career direction and so on, even just working through the sorts of personal interest inventories you find in a book like What Color is your Parachute, if you've never done that sort of thing before, really think it through. Figure out different practical options and think them through - could you do a year or two in community college and knock out some basic prerequisites? Dealing with stuff, talking to people cold, taking chances on feeling a little clueless or foolish - these are the things that will help you grow up and feel like a functioning adult.

You are talking a lot about depression, shame, and using pretty harsh language to describe yourself when you really just sound like a normal young adult who took a bit of a detour. If these are things that have been following you around and influencing your decisions throughout then thinking about dealing with them as separate issues to your pragmatic life choices could be important too.

I know I won't be afforded this opportunity again

The biggest lie in the world is that opportunity only knocks once. It doesn't pay to be complacent, it certainly doesn't pay to go with the flow and expects the results to be anything but random. But life affords us endless opportunities to reinvent ourselves. Some things (debt, children, property, family and community obligations) make it trickier or put tighter frames on the scope of change. You're position in life is fine. Take things one at a time and try to go easier on yourself, you haven't got anything to be ashamed about.
posted by nanojath at 8:26 AM on November 24, 2012

Should I be so consumed with shame? How do you move forward after reaching that place?

I think most people feel this in the early 20s. Even if you had "done everything perfectly," the early 20s presents change and instability that makes most people feel uneasy.

You mentioned no friends, no job, etc. To move forward, think of this as your lowest point. Understand that it will take time and there will be false starts, but you'll pull yourself out.

First things first. Stop seeing yourself as a failure or someone with something to be ashamed of. To tackle the shame, ask yourself what your ashamed of. Is it where you are or the decisions? If its your current state, understand that a lot of people have it worse and that theres nothing wrong with not having it all figured out yet. If youre ashamed about your choices, realize that you can't change the past. Shame is often counterproductive. Think through its root causes, dissect it, and find a way to forgive yourself for it. A bad choice, a bad outcome, etc. doesn't make you a bad person. Don't be your own saboteur. Don't set your own traps.

You have some things going for you:
1. You're still young
2. From this post it seems like you write well (comes in handy for job hunts)
3. Most importantly, you're being honest with yourself (you aren't blaming anyone else).

These might seem small in comparison to what others (Reading queries from successful adults and people who really have it together...), but you set a trap for yourself by comparing. To my acquaintances/coworkers, I tend to come off as having it together. But like everyone, there are things I have to work on too. The trap is that they compare based on the outward things but you never see the full picture of someone's life. You might not have the outward marks of material "maturity" but understand that some people never get the emotional maturity to take responsibility for their actions. This is the cliché of a spoiled, silver-spoon rich kid or the "woe is me" volunteer victim. You'll learn through your challenges. You won't fall for the trap of comparison.

Build up your confidence. Even if it has nothing to do with the material/job goals you have. Find something you like about yourself or some venue in which you can "win." it doesn't matter if you like writing short stories that no one ever reads, or if you start going to the gym, or whatever. Do something that is an easy win. Those wins add up and give you more self esteem to continue with the larger war of getting through the 20s. That war is a war of attrition. You have to find things that keep you motivated, confident, pushing forward. There will be days, weeks, maybe months where a job hunt shows no hope or school is really draining. Your small "easy win" can help you look at those periods and see progress somewhere else. You'll keep pushing and avoid the trap of self doubt.

Keep pushing forward. Be proactive. This will take time, but if you stick with it and watch out for mental traps, you'll make it.

Later bud. Good luck!
posted by rambletamble at 4:48 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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