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December 27, 2012 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I officially entered my mid-30s in 2012...a year in which I got my BA and have continued to maintain my mental health. Though I feel good about my accomplishments this year, I am at an impasse. Please help!

I spent much of my 20s behaving like a hot mess, and a few years ago I finally decided to get the help I needed. After I started seeing a psychologist and completed my BA, I felt much better about myself and my life started improving.

Since I graduated, though, I've felt as though my life has slowed down a bit. I've done well with long-term-ish temp jobs but have struggled in finding something full-time or permanent, and I'm still asking myself what I want from life. Because I was surrounded by so many younger people, I feel mentally and emotionally much younger than my age, but I know my energy is going to plateau soon.

When I saw the "Most Popular AskMe Posts" thread on the gray, I identified with the "I'm 30, what should I do before I'm 40?" questions, but I have a few specific goals and I'm at a loss as to how to accomplish them (and/or don't know if I'm doing the right thing). Specifically:

Work: I would like to find a permanent job that I won't hate. For the past few months I've been working as a file clerk at a nonprofit, which has sharpened my admin skills. I'd love to get a job at a college so I can get my MA without landing myself in the hole. While I don't have a big formal background in copywriting or copyediting, I have some experience in those fields and sense that I'd be good at them.

Creativity: I've always written and taken great pride in my writing and verbal abilities. This past November I completed NaNoWriMo and finished a draft of a novel. I'd love to write professionally and/or get my novel into publishable shape. My greatest experience is in music and film criticism and fiction, but the fields for this kind of writing are kind of saturated. I've written a great deal for free and would love to make the jump into professional writing, but I haven't the first idea how.

Health: I'm moderately active (I walk 2-4 miles a day), but I've lapsed into "carb-itarianism" over the past few months. My boyfriend and I will be doing Couch to 5K this year so that I can be a little more active before my energy goes. I also know that I need to do something about my diet so that I'm not living on ramen noodles as much.

Travel: I have a few small savings accounts and would really love to go to Ireland and England for a week or two this summer.

Other special snowflake details: I deleted most of my social networking accounts, and I don't smoke, drink, or do drugs. I'm unable to have children and don't have confidence in my ability to be a good parent. There are a few avocations I pursue, such as theatre, chorus, and knitting. At this point, I have a fairly full life, but I want to get my professional life in order.

How should I get things together for myself before I get too old?
posted by pxe2000 to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
It's possibly not as creative as you'd like, but if you went into technical writing, you could sharpen your writing skills and possibly find some work that is more permanent than general admin stuff.
posted by xingcat at 12:08 PM on December 27, 2012

Work: Aim higher. Focusing on finding a job you "won't hate" will get you just that. Focus on a job you "will like/love" instead. Think about things you actually like doing -- if you want to explore copy editing but can't get a copy editing job, get a job in a department that does it and move your way in there. This could be a good way to find out about publishing as well.

I also recommend not worrying about getting everything done before you're "too old." Just live your life. Make goals like traveling and then get a savings account. Put money aside each pay check. Make goals like exercising more and find a fun dance class or whatever floats your boat.

The focus here should be on doing things that make you happy while you're doing them. That makes working towards goals and getting your shit together much easier.
posted by Kimberly at 12:14 PM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Network with professionals in your area - you're probably still young enough to mingle with the various "young professionals" organizations (2). Use your contacts at the nonprofit to meet as many other nonprofity/advocacy people as humanly possible. Make yourself as useful at work as you possibly can (your job right now is, in fact, to obtain awesome recommendations for your next job, no matter what your official job description says.) Help with the grant proposals and with the literature your organization sends out to gain stronger experience with the editing (but recognize that that's an industry that's hard to get into.)

Write that non-profit literature, too - start a blog for your organization or something similar. Build up that portfolio - submit articles to magazines so that you can say you've published in a bunch of places. Start with the folks who give you copies or whatnot, but progress upwards ASAP. Buy a copy of last year's Writer's Market from a used bookstore for copious details. (Be aware that writing really is an absolutely saturated field, in non-fiction as well as fiction: the best scenario is one where a company hires you to write things for them.)

Also keep alive all those contacts from your college/university: keep in touch with both professors and students, keep attending events, join the alumni society and actually talk with people/meet them in person. LinkedIn works well for that - it's stunningly unsocial.

Figure out what kind of master's degree you'd want and focus your efforts at finding a college job in that department if you can; also network the crap out of that subject area (this is a good reason to keep showing up at your college's conferences and coffee hours and the like.)

Note: almost every single thing you said you wanted to do runs you the substantial risk of having to move to do it. Spread your network out to other cities and get on the same page on the issue that your boyfriend is on.
posted by SMPA at 12:18 PM on December 27, 2012

You would be amazed at how much writing you can do in pretty much any job, if you let it be known that you write.

To that end, volunteer to do newsletters and promotional materials for the non-profit you're working for (so you can put it on your resume).

Then aim for positions that are primarily administrative, but have some component fo marketing in them.

As for getting your MA, for what? Why? Don't just keep going to school for the sake of going to school. It makes your brain settle for piddly jobs because 'you're not through yet.'

Yes, working at a college may afford you the opportunity to do this, but it will be at the expense of lower pay and crappy benefits and also a MUCH smaller job pool.

Most corporations have a Tutition Aid Program that will put about $6000 towards continuing education. For example, BellSouth paid for my MBA. Typically its in a field that could benefit the company, so an MA in Underwater Basketweaving may not be eligible.

Instead, concentrate on getting an awesome job. You may have to start in a meh job in an awesome company, but you'll have a chance to learn and grow. Look for jobs in creative companies, Advertising, Marketing, etc.

Personally, I get a great deal of satisfaction being the go-to person for my software and super-fancy Excel spreadsheets. You may get your jollies differently.

As for the 100% creative portion of what you like to do, that's your hobby. You can see if you can get your novel published (personally I'm leaning towards self-publishing to see if that's a thing.) Do volunteer work where you get to do writing.

You may not be 100% fulfilled in your job, but you can really enjoy your job and enjoy the steady income, good benefits, congenial co-workers and the challenges of your actual work. Sure, I'm not curing cancer, but what I do has value, worth and dignity.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:36 PM on December 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I can't help with the career part, but if you need advice with your travel plans, I can offer some advice. I'm Canadian and have been living in Ireland for 4 years with an English boyfriend, so between the two of us, we can offer some insight into both countries. Flights are usually cheaper if you land in England vs Ireland. Air Transat offers some great deals, especially in early June or mid-September. To travel between the two countries, Ryanair is usually really cheap (tickets for a dollar, but then there's taxes and baggage fees. It's a very "no frills" airline/flying sardine can. Feel free to message me if you want!
posted by fruitopia at 12:38 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

SMPA has awesome work recommendations and ideas.

What do you like to do? You sense you have a talent for copyediting/writing.. but do you like it or is it just a way to pay the bills? Look at agencies*, companies that need marketing or publicity people.

* Be careful - any place that likes to brag about "we're fueled by RedBull," unless you like lousy hours and lousy pay, steer clear - they trade on people's excitement about working with high profile clients to work them to the bone because they are (mostly) too young to know better. Suss out working environment carefully - look for internships or contract jobs there if you can, to get a look before you leap!

Creativity: Check out goodreads and other sites for newly published authors, forums discussing how to get published - the mechanics and players, not the writing. Talk to other writerly people and see if you can find people who can mentor you, or at least point you in the right direction.

Health: "Before your energy goes"? Sheesh, you're in your 30s, not dead. :) Diet is really key here - the one thing you will find is that you can no longer totally eat like shit and get away with it like many of us could in our twenties. That bill will come due faster and harder than ever before. More veggies, less carbs, some protein. Learn to cook things you like!

Start with Couch to 5K. Look for other cool physical activities you've always wanted to try but never have - hiking (check out the AMC), rock climbing (check out MetroRock or Boston Rock), snow shoeing (EMS / REI / LL Bean)... and so on.

Do you know if you like to run? There are running clubs (very casual, very approachable in your area, just do some googling). A bunch of my friends who did Couch to 5K now run regularly, and some are now marathoners. Remember the only one you are competing with is yourself.
posted by canine epigram at 3:13 PM on December 27, 2012

These are all great answers. I'm favoriting and Best Answer-ing as fast as I can.

One quick response to Ruthless Bunny: I have two very specific ideas in mind, should I go back to school. I'd either like to write another draft of my novel, or a master's thesis on postmodernism and genre (with a specific focus on Paul Auster's New York Trilogy). I know I'm at my best when I have a sense of structure, and getting my MA in creative writing or literature seems like a good way to get that. (Additionally, if I go back to my alma mater for my MA, one of the professors has ties to the NY writing scene and to Auster and Delillo, and would be a good thesis advisor for me.)
posted by pxe2000 at 4:47 PM on December 27, 2012

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