Help me find happiness in my current job, or one that suits me better?
March 5, 2013 9:27 AM   Subscribe

I am unhappy with my professional life, but have no idea what I’d rather being doing. Does a person exist who can help me either figure out how to be happy with what I’m doing, or figure out what I really want instead? And if so, how do I find them?

Long, and possibly skippable/skimable backstory:

My professional career started with an incredibly huge break. Two years out of college, I was hired as a project manager for the website of a pretty big bricks and mortar retailer. For the first three years, things went very well. I was doing a good job, was told so frequently, and was given the raises to back it up. Despite having very good sales, eCommerce wasn’t a big focus for the company (we were a branch of marketing, rather than our own department.) As things started to grow, and people were pulled in different directions, I assumed more and more responsibility, until I found myself being the main business lead for the website for the better part of a year. I didn’t always love the work, but on the whole, things were going very well.

Right around the three year mark, the company decided to put more of a focus on eCommerce, and there was a pretty big reorganization. This resulted in two significant changes:

1. My boss, who had been very hands-off, now needed to be looped in on pretty much everything.
2. The project management team was greatly expanded, and a new role was created to manage this team. This role went to a member of a different team.

#2 meant I had been effectively demoted (I would no longer be directly reporting to my boss) but I agreed with the decision, as I wasn’t ready to take on a role managing others.

For the first year under this new arrangement, I was still doing a good job in the eyes of the company, and still had successes I was personally proud of, but I was starting to become pretty unsatisfied with the job on the whole. The increased involvement of my boss was probably the single biggest issue I can point to, but in general, I found myself becoming increasingly unhappy with the whole notion of working in eCommerce for a retail company. Things started getting pretty bad in the second year under the new arrangement. It wasn’t until the end of the year that I actually received any real feedback that the company was unhappy with my performance, but I’m certain there was a growing dissatisfaction on their part throughout. Sunday evenings and nights became incredibly dark times for me, having to face the prospect of another week at work. I was having terrible anxiety and was often unable to sleep.

Towards the end of this period, there was a ray of hope: My wife and I needed to relocate to a new city for her career. I began applying for jobs in the new city, and very quickly began discussions with another bricks and mortar retailer who was interested in hiring me for a similar position. I flew out there, met the people I would be working with, and came away feeling like the organization would be a much better fit. I accepted the position and we completed the move to the new city. I definitely had some concerns that I’d be bringing some of my baggage with me to the new position (and even typed up, but never posted, and anonymous Ask about how to avoid this) but convinced myself that the new city and new job would be enough to break me of my old habits, and I’d be right back at being the great employee I was for the first few years of my old job. Unfortunately, a few months in at the new job, I’m probably about 80% of the way towards being right back in the same mindset as I was at the old job. I can attribute a lot of this to disappointments with the new company, but I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t acknowledge that at least some, if not the overwhelming majority, of the problem sits with me. Yes, there are things that I wish were different, but at the same time, I have no enthusiasm whatsoever for tackling new projects, and can only begrudgingly move current ones along.
So, backstory out of the way, here’s where I stand now: I’m fairly convinced that being a project manager for eCommerce Retail isn’t for me. But how can I decide how much of the baby to keep if I throw out the bathwater? Perhaps being a PM in another industry would suit me better? Or perhaps another role in retail? I know nobody can really answer these questions but me, but I have no idea how to begin exploring them with myself. And if I need to make a significant change, I don’t even know what it is I would want to be doing instead. Part of my concern about making any drastic changes is that I don’t feel like I have any marketable skills outside of being a PM. I’ve got a liberal arts degree in an unrelated field that doesn’t really present much in the way of professional opportunities. I know tons about the structure of eCommerce Websites, but can only dabble in coding.

And yet: I have tremendous guilt about not being happy with my current situation. The economy sucks and the pay is very, very good. I am so ashamed with myself for not being able to just suck it up and do what’s asked of me. There’s a huge, huge part of me that just wants to figure out how to make this job work for me and be on my merry way. I really don’t know if that’s possible though. But at times I feel legitimately embarrassed that so many people are out of work, and I have a job that gives me more money than I need, and I spend so much time thinking about how much I don’t like it.

With all of this said: Outside of my professional life, I am very happy. My wife and I have an incredible, loving relationship. I adore spending time with her, and our new city puts us much closer to old friends and family. Also potentially important details: We’re young (late 20s) and have no kids, nor any plans to have any. She’s got student loan debt, I do not.

I’ve done a few stints of talk therapy, and have generally found them to be very helpful. But I tend to fall into a pattern of waiting until things become problematic for me emotionally, starting therapy, getting better, and then stopping. Rinse, repeat. I think I’m wondering if such a therapist exists who can really help me clarify what I want, professionally. If such a person exists, I’m not sure they’re a “therapist”, per se. Maybe a life coach? I guess I’m not even sure what such a person does.

So, in short: Right now, I have zero idea what I want to do with my life. No passions that could ever make a career. I want to figure out how to fix this. I suspect it’s talking with someone, but I don’t know who, or how to find them. I am also open to any approaches I can take that don’t involve talking to someone about this. Books, exercises, whatever.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
No passions that could ever make a career. I want to figure out how to fix this.

The fix is to realize that almost no one gets to make their passion their work. Even if they do, the passion often stops being a passion because it is now work. The idea that your job should be your passion and/or source of "self-actualization" is very new and in my opinion, very wrong. Your job is not who you are. Your job is the unpleasant thing you do so you can have food and shelter.

That being said, you should try not to be miserable at your job. However, I do not see in your question was are the specific problems with your job. Are deadline unrealistic? Is management abusive? Why are you disappointed with your new company? I realize that "project manager for eCommerce Retail" was probably not the title of your grade-school "What I Want To Be When I Grow Up" paper, but that in itself cannot be the reason for your current state. Why do you think you are so unhappy?

The larger problem is that no matter where you work, there you will be. There is no such thing as happy jobs, only happy people.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:44 AM on March 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

I didn't read every detail of your story, but you want a career counselor. They're pretty easy to find - Google for "career counselor" in your area.

They're slightly different from life coaches because they tend to confine their work to your work life. A life coach is more about broadly defined personal efficacy and satisfaction.

My partner and I have both used career counselors to great effect. I've arrived at a very happy relationship to my work life; my partner at least knows and is moving toward work that is a lot more rewarding than the corporate ticket shuffling he used to do.

It is very much possible to enjoy your work, and feel privileged to do it.
posted by Miko at 9:45 AM on March 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

So, backstory out of the way, here’s where I stand now: I’m fairly convinced that being a project manager for eCommerce Retail isn’t for me. But how can I decide how much of the baby to keep if I throw out the bathwater? Perhaps being a PM in another industry would suit me better?
So list out the things you like and don't like about your job. Fit them into categories.

1. Project Manager roles and responsibilities
2. eCommerce-specific job duties
3. Other pros and cons unrelated to the above categories

You'll then be able to narrow down what, specifically, it is that you don't like about your job. Is it the reporting structure? The lack of autonomy? The actual day-to-day work? The Project Management style of the company?

Right now, you seem to be thrashing around with a fairly unspecific unhappiness, so you need to take detailed inventory of what's working and what isn't before you launch into a new career that could be just as unsatisfying, if it's not solving the problems that are making you unhappy.
posted by xingcat at 9:50 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

What Color Is Your Parachute? is pretty much a classic in this field.

If I were you I'd try to narrow down what it is you like and dislike about your current job, and use that information to help you target a job where you can be happier.

For instance, on reflexion you might find that you really liked being relatively autonomous and dislike being closely managed - that's valuable information.

And then xingcat posted ...
posted by bunderful at 9:51 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

What are you good at that you like doing? I know you say that none of your "passions" could be a career, but there's a reason that you're passionate about those things. If you like making art, is it because you like physically fiddling with things, or because you find satisfaction in making something out of nothing, or what? If you love to read, is it because you like quiet and solitude or because you like learning new things or because you enjoy finding out more about other people's stories and lives? If you're a runner, is it because you like being outside or because you like the feeling in your body, or for some other reason? In other words, are there specific factors about your passions that could help you figure out what sort of paying job might have tasks or qualities that you really enjoy?

For example, I love learning lots of things about one sort of esoteric area of the world, but I also have a short attention span, so I like to delve deep for a little while and then move on to something new. I'm also really nosy about people's personal lives, and I like drama. So, I'm working towards becoming a trial lawyer. I get to immerse myself in the details of one thing for a while, learning all about some little piece of the world and about the life of my client, then I get to do a big dramatic thing, and then I get to forget about that case and move on to something else.

So, I think you need to think about your job not in terms of actually loving the company or the subject matter or the industry, but rather in terms of the sorts of tasks and projects you like, what you like about those things, and how those things map onto the discrete tasks that a given job might entail. (And yes, What Color is Your Parachute? and/or a career counselor might be able to help you do that.)
posted by decathecting at 9:55 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

You know, I really loved selling telecommunications services. It sucked when I got laid off and I had to find another gig (because staying home was making me crazy, I wanted to sew little outfits for the cats.)

I thought about what I liked about work:

1. Having a place to go where I can wear cute outfits and hang out with people.

2. Doing spreadsheets that impress people.

3. Being the expert at something.

4. Helping people with the thing that I'm an expert in.

So then I started looking for jobs that filled those needs.

Now I'm a Administrator and I do really advanced Excel Spreadsheets that help managers understand the data I extract.

Do I love every minute of every day. FUCK NO! But am I generally happy where I am. HELLS YEAH!

My Mom, a self-actualizer from before Maslow was talking about it used to tell me: "The problem with work is that it's daily."

No matter where you work, there are going to be days when you look at your in-box and sigh.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:06 AM on March 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

I disagree with the idea that you have to resign yourself to at least 1/3 of the day for 5 days a week being an unhappy time for you. If you work for 40 years, that's over 80,000 hours of your life. You are young enough to make changes and not get stuck feeling that you have no other choice. You could try to work yourself into a related field (ecommerce is a huge industry with all kinds of related opportunities), or you could try to strike out on your own, if you are so inclined, before you have kids and become more risk-averse. I have had my own business for 16 years and I can tell you that having control over your own life on a daily basis is Freedom with a capital F. Do not feel guilty about how you feel. You have a choice: grab the bull by the horns and make a better situation for yourself (whether a better job fit or doing something on your own) or resign yourself to a lot of unhappiness ahead (road sign included). The sooner you act the better.
posted by Dansaman at 10:50 AM on March 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

You sound completely stressed out and checked out mentally.

I would suggest, if feasible for you financially and inter-personally, to quit your job and do absolutely nothing for 11 months. Don't try to get Eat, Pray, Love with your time, ride your bike across the continent or anything silly like that. Just do nothing. Play some sort of odious online game during the day, eat food that's gross and quick to make.

Drink, hang out, go see people you haven't seen for awhile. Sheepishly say at parties that you're "between gigs," -- see what people you admire are doing, see what people you hate are doing. The meditative exercise will bring you to a place where you will at least know what you don't want out of your professional life.

I'm proscribing the above because it's pretty much exactly what I did in your position four years ago and now I'm sickeningly content at my current gig and living situation. Hope at least some of the above helps.
posted by godisdad at 10:51 AM on March 5, 2013

2nding What Color is Your Parachute, a lot of efficiently consolidated career search wisdom (it's sort of the poor man's version of career counseling). The book itself is good, if a little rambly and self-helpy, but I got really a ton out of the Workbook version and would highly recommend that. If you really do the exercises, devoting solid time to them and working on them in detail, they are enormously productive. I actually did it when I was about 24 and I'm still benefiting from the insights it gave me.
posted by Miko at 11:04 AM on March 5, 2013

Have you considered some type of UX/User Researcher career path? Seems like you would still be able to use your knowledge of eCommerce but also have more autonomy. Your background in eCommerce plus dabbling in coding sounds like a lot of IA-type people I know. Check out the jobs on the UPA website and see if you can see yourself in that type of role.
posted by JuliaKM at 11:34 AM on March 5, 2013

This is a wonderful comment from grumblebee about how to discover your passion and figure out how best to pursue it.
posted by cider at 12:48 PM on March 5, 2013

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