Don't just sit there. DO something!
November 28, 2012 2:17 AM   Subscribe

So, you know that "career" thing people have? I managed to spend 2012 without one. The timeout was enlightening, but now I'm itching to move on to a brand new phase. Um, how do I do that?

Last January, I left a high-pressure editorial job at a popular website because a) I didn't see the POINT of what I was doing. Getting money and health insurance in exchange for writing meaningless, mind-numbing slideshows is a First Word Problem for sure, but that was all I did all day. Every day. b) It turns out I was clinically depressed at the time. (Thx, hindsight!)

It's almost a year later, and I'm feeling much better. My therapist is the bomb, and Wellbutrin is the shit. And I've been busy-ish: taking classes, freelancing with a single company to feed myself, and thinking hard about what comes next. The problem is that I'm still not sure. But that's not really acceptable, because last week one of the legs on my IKEA bed broke, and I had to replace it … with a milk crate.

It's time to get a real job with real money: I don't believe I'm ambitious or focused enough to work solely for myself. (Or maybe I just don't understand the steps to take to do that.) I'm afraid, though, of losing my autonomy, burning out again, or revisiting the creepy, suffocating feeling that I'm wasting my life in a human terrarium. And I'm not even sure about what types of jobs to go for now, anyway.

Have you ever been in this uncomfortable, nebulous state of mind? Do you have suggestions for snapping out of it? I'm 28, and if I don't get on with things I could easily find myself broke and kicking around the same ideas at 38.

Thanks a million.
posted by jessca84 to Human Relations (8 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
We Americans have a weird way of thinking that our work equals our life. You say you've been taking classes, so something outside of work interests you. Expand on that. Take a job you'll like well enough and that pays well enough to go do the things you love to do.

You don't need to be your work. Your work can just help pay for what you want to do.
posted by xingcat at 4:38 AM on November 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

Yup, again, I'm seconding Xingcat. If the Hawthorne Effect has taught us anything, it's that it's not the actual job that keeps us going, it's the people we work with.

Perhaps sign on with a temp agency to dip your toe in the water. Go on a bunch of different assignments to see what kind of environment you enjoy. Do you like working in banks, advertising agencies, hospitals, small busnessess?

Or apply for the best sounding jobs you can find, based on money and benefits.

Remember, Work for YOURSELF, not a the company. Don't over identify with the job, the title or the company. Work is what you do to make the rest of your life great. All that money, all that healthcare, it's so freaking awesome.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:55 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is editing (and writing I'm assuming?) completely something you don't want to do anymore, or was it just that one job? I know the industry is a bit depressing right now, and so many of the job ads are for those "The top 5 cat videos on YouTube!" button-pushing jobs, but there are good websites and good media organizations out there. There are also plenty of good places (not just in the media, either: non-profits, schools, businesses that don't suck) that really need a hand working out what they're doing online, and though you don't want to get them making slideshows and listicles, your knowledge of how to write and promote things online could be really valuable in enabling them to share good quality information/content/articles with a wider audience.

I'm primarily a journalist and editor, but it's my skills as a web editor that have really opened doors for me in the industry, because so many media outlets are floundering in the digital world, and many smaller places can't afford/justify bringing in a web-only person, but they're delighted to have a writer/editor who can also do online. Those places are especially great, because everyone thinks you're magical.

If you just want a total career change that's one thing, but otherwise, don't discount your knowledge of SEO and Twitter-friendly headlines -- those skills don't have to used for evil.
posted by retrograde at 6:20 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Most of my work in the world of web content has been on intranets. Intranets can be legitiamtely huge. They go beyond HR announcements and forms :) Good organizations are realizing that having easily read content will save time and confusion!

So, yes look at businesses, look at government positions. (NIH has writers and editors for both the external website and the intranet). Look at companies that hire contractors for government agencies. Look at web development companies that do contract work. Sometimes they get contracts to overhaul the content so that it is readable, attractive and of course orgnanic SEO. Some outfits still hire people for SEO. If it is a company looking for a contractor, they are probably stuck in the old model of cram as many words as possible even if they are irrelevant crap SEO. I would stay away from those! But organic SEO is a fabulous thing to shoot for.

Personally, I've always loved taking complex subjects (scientific, technical or policy) and creating content that is easily findable and usable.
posted by Librarygeek at 8:16 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

An observation:
Once upon a time (last year) you had a job that felt suffocating. You quit it, took up free-lance work, and managed to spend a year surviving and growing.

You have already proven that you can take control of your life. If you choose the wrong job, you can leave it and try again.

P.S. I'm a little jealous of your bravery!
posted by jander03 at 10:30 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

The breaking point of getting diagnosed with anxiety/depression was getting a pink slip in a round of layoffs. I had three weeks left of health insurance, so I booked it the next day to my doctor for a full workup and talked about how scared I was that I was going to revert to my Post Graduation Unemployment Funk. We talked a bit about how depressed and self-destructive I was, and she set me up with a medication regiment.

It wasn't ideal, and I eventually built up a stronger support network. But the combination of medication and being aware of my mental state has stopped me from ever getting to that point again. Unemployed, I hit ever single trigger. I had set-backs, and a week or two of backsliding at the 3 month mark. But it never came close to that Unemployed Depression that I was so scared of getting sucked back into.

So just being aware of your concerns and fears, and taking the steps to take care of yourself, I think that a 9-5 is more about scary memories, than actually being a potential threat.

As for coming to terms with most jobs not saving the world, I think that's part of growing up. Some people get to do it. But we like to buy widgets, and someone needs to edit the copy that tells us what the widgets will do. Otherwise we'd be buying useless widgets until we find the one we want. If it's something that you're good at, and it's an office environment you can enjoy, there's nothing wrong with that. From my experience, I'd say that while you need to have the skills, about 90% of job satisfaction is the office environment. And tastes will differ from person to person. My dad thrives in high pressure highly social sales positions that make me cringe, and he can't understand why I'd love to be mid-level office drone with no sights on consulting or management.

If there's something you'd actually rather be doing, by all means, go do that. But I think we're raised to put too much emphasis on status, whether it's based on our paychecks, or the perceived value of the job. If you want to make more money because you want to fund an early retirement, or take care of your parents, or even buy really shiny trinkets, that's something to listen to. If you are really drawn to a particular cause, find it. But "my editing doesn't change the world" is just residual self-flagellation from depression.

Non-profits are not suffering a labor crunch. They might be starved for cash, but the truth is that if they don't hire you, they will easily hire someone else. What job you choose truly doesn't change the world, the market is going to have x doctors, x teachers, x artists, or x bankers. Your impact on the world will be based on the rest of your life. Supporting local businesses, artists, charities. When the first world guilt creeps up, focus on your consumption, rather than your income.
posted by politikitty at 1:33 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for sharing your experience with work and depression, politikitty.

There's a significant difference between expecting one's job to save the world, and expecting it not to pump crap into the universe. I am content with the second option. And I'm not motivated to make money for the sake of making it, because buying stuff doesn't get my rocks off. The big goal is to fill up my IRA each year, move into a room with a closet, and develop the magical ability to order two drinks in a wine bar without hyperventilating -- without spending the majority of my waking hours doing something meaningless.

Turns out that's kinda hard, but it's a battle worth fighting, I think. I was hoping to hear from mefites who took stock of their particular gifts and deficiencies and figured how to to exist peacefully in the economic machine.
posted by jessca84 at 8:54 PM on November 28, 2012

I was hoping to hear from mefites who took stock of their particular gifts and deficiencies and figured how to to exist peacefully in the economic machine.

I work as a software developer, so I am probably not the best person to ask for advice about finding a job. However, I am the same age you are, and was in roughly the same place you were in last year. I was depressed and had no idea why I was pouring most of my free time into my job. I desperately wanted to quit, but had no plan for what I would do if I did. So, with much trepidation, I switched jobs instead. It turned out to be one of the best things I could have done.

I am no longer depressed due to a combination of working hard on myself and being in an environment that supports my happiness. The new work environment is a much better fit for me, which has been surprisingly effective in changing my attitude toward work and life. It is a much less risk-averse environment. More "Let's try this! we can fix it if it goes wrong.", and less "We don't want to risk failure, so let's just keep on with the old broken system." I also get along better with my coworkers and consequently enjoy coming to work more. They "get" me on a level that my old coworkers didn't, mostly because we're closer in age and have similar backgrounds. They also take notice of quality work and really believe in the product, which makes me feel motivated to do better work. Because the company is small, I also have to wear a lot of hats, which means I'm always learning. This quells my fear that my skillset will become obsolete. I feel good about myself at the end of the day. Generally I can say that there was a challenge I overcame, that I helped someone I care about, and that I learned something new.There is also less needless stress, in general--less focus on quarterly reports and more focus on producing something good. Finally, the company is liberal with its vacation and holiday policy. I've been able to spend much more time on my hobbies and with loved ones, and it's made a huge difference in my stress levels.

I would suggest that you identify your needs for being satisfied at a job and then look for a job that can meet those needs. Get training if you currently aren't qualified for the kinds of jobs that would fulfill those needs. Filling up your IRA is important, but that's setting the bar way too low. You already know you won't last at a job where you are only there for the money; figure out what else it is you need to be happy. Were there any jobs, internships, or volunteer positions that you look back on with fondness? If so, try to identify what made them great to you and seek that in your next job. Also, don't be afraid to jump around until you've found a good fit. Good luck!
posted by sockomatic at 1:12 AM on November 29, 2012

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