Help me get my shit together work-wise
September 12, 2013 10:20 AM   Subscribe

This is a work question, but probably is more psychological than practical. I’m 32 years old, currently unemployed. That’s no big deal given the economy. What is a big deal is that despite my “best” efforts, I’ve been in and out of work or dissatisfied for my whole working life.

I quit university (studying physics) aged 19, and then became a tree surgeon. For a couple of years, I lived and breathed tree-climbing, before getting bored. I drifted along for a few more years before a (probably stress related) problem forced me to stop. After a year of doing nothing except trying to resolve my health, I got an admin job part time, followed by another part time admin job. I was eventually laid off, by which time I hated using computers as I was getting eye strain and migraines. In amongst this, I also did some accounting courses, but didn’t pursue them for the aforementioned reason. Perhaps needless to say, I’ve never been able to afford to move out of my parents house, as my income has been so erratic and low.

In terms of “what I’d like to do”, I’ve always wanted to live in the wild, like some old timer pioneer or something, and as a kid, I thought this would be feasible. The older I’ve got, the more I’ve realised that that kind of lifestyle isn’t feasible in the UK. I’ve looked at living abroad (e.g. Canada or Sweden), but my sketchy career history and distaste for full time work has made that unlikely.

I’ve mainly worked part time, as I find that every time I work full time, I end up either ill, or with absolutely no time or energy for hobbies or socialising. I often have great problems with muscle tension, which leads to backache, knee problems, headaches, and so on. This has limited my work options on a number of occasions. Why do I hate working so much that I end up with health problems? Is that just the nature of modern work, am I barking up the wrong tree, or am I just “lazy”. I actually like “working” if it is for myself e.g. I look forward to my car breaking down as I enjoy fixing it. I can often be found making my own bread. I used to make my own outdoor equipment and clothing in order to save money.

I just feel like I’m not very materialistic and am more interested in self reliance than trying to integrate into the job market.

I’m no stranger to self analysis. I’ve wondered whether I have Aspergers (seems likely to me, although I appreciate self diagnosis means nothing). I certainly have some level of social anxiety, which could be a bigger factor than I appreciate. I’m a great worker, so that’s not the issue, and can pick up new skills quickly, and enjoy doing so. I’m definitely a perfectionist, so maybe that is causing me to burn out too easily.

I’m not really interested in specific job recommendations (unless they are going to be mind blowingly different). I’m interested in understanding why I feel this way, and working out how I can at least get enough of a work ethic to move on with my life. I was a high flyer at school, but work-wise I’ve not really gone anywhere. Maybe I could come to terms with not having achieved my “full potential”, but I at least need to be able to make a living, which at the moment is eluding me.

I envy people who can just do any job, and not mind about it too much.

I could mention many other factors, but they might sidetrack the issue, such as my obsessive love of the outdoors, my difficulties with the whole concept of authority, my desire to take a nap most afternoons, my highly religious upbringing, my mother who lived through my achievements. All of these things could be factors, but I’ve personally gone round in circles trying to get to the bottom of this.

I’d be interested to get some outside perspectives on this, especially from anyone who has been in a similar position and got out of it, or from anyone who thinks they can psychoanalyse me in a way which might give me something to work with.

P.S. I’ve posed this problem to a few therapists, who haven’t been terribly helpful. I think I may be “ a difficult case” as I don’t think the answer is obvious, like “you’re in the wrong job”. I’m not able to pursue therapy at the moment because I can’t afford it and live in a rural area.
posted by UncleCaveMan to Work & Money (20 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you plough all your energy into jobs and then burn out quickly. Do you think it would help to take a more balanced approach (ie. like your example of people who "do any job and not mind about it too much") if you had plenty of other stuff going on in your life, eg friends, regular meetup groups, hobbies, good causes, activism?

This leads me to my favourite topic: volunteering. Are you doing it? If not, why not? It will get you socialising, you can try out a ton of different careers at a taster level (social, caring, forestry, mentoring, teaching, I could go on) and it looks great on your CV for the future.

For a particularly good place to start, in the UK, check out BTCV. They do a lot of outdoors stuff, which might be right up your street!
posted by greenish at 10:29 AM on September 12, 2013

I just feel like I’m not very materialistic and am more interested in self reliance than trying to integrate into the job market.

Any one of the things you listed can contribute to your situation - social anxiety, idealism about the "perfect" job, perfectionism, laziness, physical tension, Asperger's, etc. I would just like to point out that self-reliance isn't part of that if you're still in your parents' home and able to not work for long periods of time. In many cases not *having* to do full-time work to survive can be more of a hindrance than a benefit. There's a reason birds push their young out of the nest. If they *can* fly, and don't have to, they won't.
posted by headnsouth at 10:44 AM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think that you need two things.
1) to consider anti depressants
2) an unconventional form of "employment"/self support.

I was a lot like you, and I got those two things, and now I'm pretty happy. I have a ton of suggestions for jobs you might want to consider, but you said you don't want recommendations. If you want to hear my ideas, send me a memail- there's tons of jobs I think you could be suited to.
posted by windykites at 10:45 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're in the UK have you thought about working off-shore oil rigs and living in northern Scotland?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:50 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just feel like I’m not very materialistic and am more interested in self reliance than trying to integrate into the job market.

You're not incredibly self-reliant if what you're doing is living off of your parents.

Also, I realize that you may have been the smartest kid in your class a long time ago, but it counts for nothing, as you've discovered. So that whole, "living up to my potential" stuff, that ship sailed. About a decade ago.

Many of us have jobs that aren't what we had in mind when we were kids. But, we MUST work to pay our bills and make our way in the world. I'm furious with your parents for letting you ossify at the age of 19, with no ambition or seemingly any real skills for navigating the world AS IT IS.

So get ahold of yourself, you aren't too good to work. You don't have to like it, no one expects you to, you just HAVE to do it.

If you were in the US, I'd recommend a year in Americorps, then looking into the US Forestry Service. I think the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs may be what you are looking for.

Go to school for a trade, enlist in the military, do something that makes you employable.

You can't go on like this forever. You just can't!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:52 AM on September 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

you just HAVE to do it


Find and read How to Survive Without a Salary (subtitle: "Learning How to Live the Conserver Lifestyle"). For a start, anyway -- browse through similar titles too.

It is totally okay to "admit" that you do not care for a career and to opt out of that entire idea. You have skills, you're not lazy, you're not materialistic -- great! All of those things will serve you wonderfully well in staying away from "career."

Many things you already do can be turned into income streams. Things you fix or make -- that's labour, and virtually any labour is good for money so long as you're not fussy about how much money.

In my view, labouring at things you enjoy, or labouring at things that are useful, makes for a far better life than labouring away at nonsense that brings in a big salary. Consider how many entire industries exist solely so that people can have "jobs"; they don't generate anything useful. Our economy suffers from a lot of make-work junk. It is entirely ethical to not want to participate.

You say you were a tree surgeon. I don't understand why you don't still have that as a sporadic income stream, because that's a very marketable skill. And you can do some car repairs! And sewing! It sounds like you have a great 'career' ahead if you can just forget the idea that you require a 'job,' and focus on developing your skill sets into assorted small income streams, and tinkering with your lifestyle so that it's sympatico with a low income and you're not actually suffering for it. My own income is sort of marginal but in many ways I live quite luxuriously; much of that involves buying nearly nothing from normal sources -- it takes work to do that, though, but if you'd rather do that kind of work than the kind that generates a paycheque, why not? With copious DIY and staying away from the usual income-disposal places your outgoings will be a fraction of that of your peers, and that means you're free to get your incomings from the most random assortment of projects.

You do have to get on with the 'random assortment,' though. Invest in tools, shop yourself out to friends to do light tree work. Tell people you can fix minor car issues. You do need a network of sorts to do this, admittedly, but for better or for worse loads of people are broke and happy to hire somebody with no insurance or guarantees off a local classifieds site. Virtually anything is worth a few bucks. People will buy your bread off you if you have it for sale. It doesn't take much to turn labour into money, and so long as you are content to have little money -- and to be serious about having it as a lifestyle, making sacrifices now for a retirement sympatico with no working man's pension -- you really do not need a job job.
posted by kmennie at 11:03 AM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

Just some things to think about:

• What about getting an evaluation by a psychologist and a psychiatrist and trying some of the solutions that they suggest? I don't mean this in a negative way, but there may be underlying problems that are holding you back (i.e. not finishing/barely starting uni, not working due to "muscle" problems, etc.). You also mention that you suspect that you have challenges and if these are treated, it may increase functioning at a workplace.

• It sounds like you pride yourself on self-sufficiency. But here is a question: Is this at cost to your parents and are they sacrificing something for this (i.e. are they spending money on you when it could be used towards their retirement). Also, what are your long-terms plans for this? Surely 30 years from now, this can't be part of the equation. Again, this is not meant to be harsh, but to ask the question whether it could hurt others, which would be the opposite of self-sufficiency.

• What about sitting down and doing a cost-benefit analysis for various jobs? For example, there are jobs in the US that would definitely give you an opportunity to be outdoors all day long. There are negatives, too, however (i.e. some are high-risk, lower salary, etc.). But consider sitting down and making a list of what are 2 things that you would like out of a job and a deal breaker and see what meets your criteria. I know that you may not view it this way right now, but there are jobs that can give you opportunities and open doors and let you do things that you cannot do in everyday life.

• Even though I just said some of these things, I do understand aspects of what you are getting at and sometimes have a problem with those same issues. However, I was able to adopt an attitude to get me to stay at full time jobs for at least a certain time period, which is as follows: Make a list of what you want to learn at your new workplace(it also helps if you pick workplaces that will let you learn skills you want for future jobs or your own life). Anywho,maybe it is how to use a program, learn how to repair Y, learn skills that people in other departments have. Then at the workplace, go after these projects, learning how to do these things, or even your lunch hour (i.e. talking to and learning from another coworker). This philosophy helped me see the positives and why to stick around at a workplace. If you would like more suggestions on this last part, feel free to memail me.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 11:21 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you lack a challenge in life, combined with a lack of motivation.

Have you considered joining the Royal Navy?

I ask this question because you sound a lot like me in my late 20's. Joining the US Navy changed my attitude and life around real quick. No offense and not an exact parallel to you and your personal state, but it helped me grow up, get my act together, and start acting responsibly - all while giving me varied challenges and letting me travel the world. I was never meant to work a desk or perform the same daily routine over and over and over and over... sounds like neither are you.

Hop to it, buddy.
posted by matty at 11:29 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perhaps needless to say, I’ve never been able to afford to move out of my parents house, as my income has been so erratic and low.

This situation is not sustainable. Maybe you should work on this piece before you attack anything else. Sounds kind of backwards, but is not necessarily so, if you look for something like a watchman/caretaker/building super kind of position that would afford you a place to live, or at least to stay for long stretches. You're handy; someone should be glad to have you in that kind of position. Combining this with the kinds of tricks kmennie is suggesting might be the closest you can come to that sort of pioneer lifestyle you are craving.
posted by BibiRose at 11:40 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am very similar to you in how I feel about work. I never thought I could work full time. I looked around me and didn't understand how anyone could stand to work 40 hours a week. I thought I would collapse if I had to work full time.

Then, the company I worked for part time, made my job a full time position and I had to work full time or quit. I decided to save up as much as possible so I could afford to buy my own place. That gave me a goal, a reason to force myself to work full time. I bought my condo and now I have to work full time. I can't suddenly stop working and I need a full time salary.

I got used to working full time much quicker than I thought I would. I had given full time work a try when I was aimless and felt similar physical symptoms as you. When I first tried full time work, I would come home feeling sick and just sob.

I really don't think I would have gotten used to working full time if left to my own devices. I had to be forced to work full time. My parents are generous, so I was never forced to work full time until the issue was forced with my employer.

If you had told me a few years ago that I would be working full time and still feeling sane, I wouldn't have believed you. I really think it's a matter of finding a situation that will require you to work full time. For me, it was being able to buy my own home. For you, it might be something else.
posted by parakeetdog at 11:42 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, two people in my family appeared to be constitutionally unable to function as normal employees and also need to be outdoors a lot. You sound a little like them. Both wound up owning small businesses; it's probably the reason a lot of people wind up as building contractors.
posted by BibiRose at 11:44 AM on September 12, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments. They are all good, so I won't favourite any in particular.

Some clarifications:
I pay my parents money every week, so I cost them something between little and nothing. I don't ask for money, and I don't get freebies. If I want a car, I buy one. If I want to go on holiday I pay for it etc. The main material benefit I get is somewhere to live.

I'm starting a sports massage course, which should lead to good pay and flexible hours, so all is not lost. Asked in a year's time, once I'm qualified and hopefully employed, the question could be retrospective: Why has it taken me so long to reach the point of getting my shit together?

I had to give up tree surgery because I have Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, a serious industrial disease. It also precludes me from doing any work involving power tools.

I'm not sure which answers seem to strike a chord the most. Probably windykites re:depression. I have tried Prozac and it had no effect. Also Ruthless Bunny about being too good for work. Although I think he/she is living up to their name, as I find the overall tone of that answer needlessly harsh. And I think the answer is perhaps more subtle, in that I don't just think I'm flat out too good for work - I have worked quite a bit (with a little creativity, there are no gaps on my CV) - but I think I tie my self worth to my work so much that I feel too good for some jobs, and over-excited about others.

I might just have somewhat answered my own question :-)
posted by UncleCaveMan at 12:16 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I’ve always wanted to live in the wild, like some old timer pioneer or something, and as a kid, I thought this would be feasible. The older I’ve got, the more I’ve realised that that kind of lifestyle isn’t feasible in the UK.

It's not feasible anywhere, even if you didn't have "backache, knee problems, headache" etc. Subsistence farming is more than a full time job.

To be honest, your expectations in general for what life should be like sound really completely unrealistic. I have a "desire to take a nap every afternoon" too, but I like being able to support myself more than I like naps. I like making bread and sewing and fixing things too, but that's because that stuff is "play", not "work". Everybody has "difficulties with the whole concept of authority." Everybody gets bored at work sometimes (or most of the time). And this:

I just feel like I’m not very materialistic and am more interested in self reliance than trying to integrate into the job market.

is just an infuriatingly obtuse bit of self-justifying flummery. Self-reliance is integrating into the job market, one way or another. You're not self-reliant, you're being supported by your parents.

The common thread in the jobs you list having done is that you are "perfectionist", you get stressed out, that stress manifests as physical ailments, and then you get bored and/or fired. "Perfectionist" is code for "likes to do things my own way" -- which, again, nobody really enjoys being told what to do. The difficult lesson you need to learn here is that it may well be that you're not being a perfectionist, you're just disregarding the collective experience and knowledge of those around you who set the job up in the first place.

These are all symptoms of never having had to support yourself, really. You're in the habit of being in complete control of your own time, nap, socialize, putter around with hobbies, and you're being supported by your parents so you've never really needed to buckle down and earn anything. So of course those are hard habits to break!

The "high flyer at school" thing fits well too: you're smart. You didn't have to work very hard at school, you were able to coast along and get good grades without putting in much effort. You pick up new skills easily, so you never had to learn how to work at learning skills, either. So while those around you were struggling in classes and in the process learned how to work at a task, you never had to learn that lesson. You've spent your whole life floating along the path of least resistance, because so far you've been able to get away with that.

The only way to break those habits is to break them. You have to learn how to work, and the way to do this is to do work. Find a job. Any job. Whatever it is, stay at that job. Even when it gets boring. Even when they make you do things you don't want to do, or in a way you don't want to do them. Instead of stressing yourself out trying to be a "perfectionist," trust that the boss knows his business better than you do -- and if not, well, it's his business -- and go with the flow instead of fighting against it. Make it a concrete goal, with a date circled on the calendar for when you're going to do it, to move out of your parent's house and start actually being self-reliant instead of just pretending you are.

That's it. It will be hard at first. But then it will get easier.
posted by ook at 12:18 PM on September 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

The main material benefit I get is somewhere to live.

That is a substantial material benefit.
posted by ook at 12:22 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

First, please go to a doctor and get a full check-up, including a mental health screening. Get all of your questions answered! There could very well be medical treatments that might provide enough of a psychological boost to make engaging with strife and struggle seem less impossibly daunting. After that, the very first thing you need to do is create some sort of discipline in your life.

What do you do all day if you're not working, going to school, or making any kind of effort to eventually do either or both? Sit around and read? Wander aimlessly? You need a schedule, a regimen -- ANYTHING structured will do you a world of good. Making a task list and sticking to it, even if it's just "9 AM make breakfast, 9:30 AM work on my resume, 11 AM apply for some jobs, 12 PM eat lunch," is the enemy of depression. Take up a regular volunteering position. Join a social club. Enroll in even one single university course. Start a class that teaches people how to make their own clothes or build their own furniture. Sign yourself onto something that requires commitment, focus, and drive. You will not be able to start your own business, move out of your parents' house, or skip off to the middle of the woods as long as you remain opposed to the idea of sometimes having to do things you don't feel like doing.

Your parents have been sacrificing themselves for your comfort, and have remained accepting of your inability to contribute for well over a decade, but you've never accepted the fact that you will need to sacrifice some of your personal freedoms in kind in order to legitimately care for yourself. They will not be around forever -- what then? None of these things are liable to change as long as you keep embracing your self-created excuses (ask how I found out!). Start holding yourself accountable instead of shrugging it all off and letting it all slide.

If you believe that your discomfort with authority is somehow unusual, or that the degree of its severity may entitle you to continue eschewing work and school for another few decades, you haven't met enough independent adults. Being in an office for 50 hours a week makes me sick and weary inside and out, sitting in front of a computer all day every day has destroyed my eyesight and posture, I have chronic migraines and suffocating anxiety, and having to put on a happy face exhausts me in a physically and spiritually. All of this kinda sucks, sure, but I have to eat and keep a roof over my head, and even if I had the kind of family that would lend any support to me at 32, let alone take care of everything for years just so I don't have to try to find work, there is no part of me that would accept it unless I was literally starving or freezing on the street. I pride myself on self-reliance and am willing to do everything in my power to maintain it. At some point, you seem to have accepted not having to work or take responsibility for yourself as your lot in life; now, you need to cast it off.

For most people, yes, full-time work is usually tiring and boring. It just is, them's the breaks. The trade-off for sacrificing time to the altar of wage slavery is that we can generally do whatever we want during the hours we are not scheduled to be at work, although we are unlikely to have as much free time as we'd like due to the aforementioned "make-work" tendencies. It is incredibly rare to find anyone who is gainfully employed but feels as though they have enough free time. This includes people who are self-employed, people who work from home, and creative professionals who are engaged in the very careers they always dreamed of. Pretty much none of us feel as though we have enough time and energy to do whatever we want to do, unless we are living off of inheritances, investments, or come from old money, so "if I get a job, I won't have enough leisure time" is not a valid excuse to continue doing nothing. From what you've explained, you've already had more leisure time than most of us get in a lifetime.

That said, it is a bit heartbreaking to observe that your parents have yet to impart these lessons upon you, particularly as you have already entered your fourth decade on the planet. The constant presence of an unconditional safety net has crippled your ability to engage with actual independence, but at a certain point, you must accept responsibility for teaching yourself how to get it together. Is there anyone you look up to? Find friends, acquaintances, and role models who can provide examples of possible solutions and just do it. I know that sounds scary and difficult, and it is, but what you're doing right now is not working. And your desire to take a nap most afternoons? Unless you have been diagnosed with narcolepsy, this is such an unimportant factor as to be a rather perplexing thing to mention at all. You know that most everyone wants to take naps instead of go to work, right? You may be under the impression that your specific objections and circumstances are somehow unique or challenging enough that their existence justifies your continued inaction. As gently as possible, I can assure you that they are not.

People work to pay rent, buy food, engage in their favorite leisure activities, and perform the feats that are necessary to engage in mutually enjoyable relationships with others -- going out to dinner or a movie, giving gifts on special occasions, not constantly having to hit up your friends for cash or loans, etc. Basically, we are all just scrambling to make our own safe little nests in the big scary world. The acceptance of sacrifice in exchange for a modicum of independence is probably the most important hallmark of true self-reliance; it is a considerably more taxing feat than, say, baking your own bread or fixing your own car every so often.

You're intelligent, talented in multiple disparate arenas, and you have basically endless emotional and financial support from your family. With a heady dose of humility and acceptance, these traits can be the makings of a very successful adult. But until you suck it up and get over the fact that the overwhelming majority of us are not so special that we can simply choose to forgo working because we don't like it, or make more than a basic subsistance living on a string of super-short-term odd jobs after years of outright refusing to work at all, the only person standing between you and adulthood will be you.

Taking the first step is your responsibility. You can do this! Good luck, I'll be thinking of you.
posted by divined by radio at 12:23 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

So, you're in your early 30s. A bit late to launch but not fatally so. I think this is a turning point for a lot of people: finding yourself in your 20s and then having the courage to jettison the unrealistic hopes and dreams of childhood and start looking at your life and options in a holistic way. I do not mean to sound maudlin – at some point not too long ago, maybe around turning 30 I had a lightbulb moment: wow, I really am never going to be an actress or an astronaut or ride motorcycles or be a long-haul trucker – all things that I was sure would be part of my future when I was a kid. That realization seems silly but I think everyone goes through that in one way or another.

Give yourself a one-day visioning exercise. Take yourself to the coffee shop with a notepad and pen. Imagine future you. What is the person you want to be? How much money would this person have? What kind of people are in this person's life? Friends? Partner? Children? What would be the biggest regret of that person, looking back, that you didn't accomplish today? See where that takes you.

Need schooling? Make a list of the kind of curriculum that interests you and start looking around.

Want to work outdoors? Make a list of those kinds of jobs/lifestyles that do that and start looking around.

If money was no object, who would you volunteer your time to? Do that.

Also: pick a reasonable move-out deadline. Maybe 3 months. Seriously. Tell your parents. Find a roommate situation in a place where you have access to public transportation and bring your bike. They are clearly able to be your safety net but that will not last forever. Make these steps while they are still there to catch you but do not reach out to them unless you're on the brink. The only thing that you should ask them for is help with medical if you need it to get on the right path. (And you UK folks don't worry about that, right?)

Keep in mind, the path meanders. You could start a job today and it might not work out tomorrow. Who cares? Keep going! Those admin jobs that didn't work out? Keep going! What the hell are you dwelling on that for? It has no bearing on your life. The tree job? Very interesting info that gave you about your interests however, if it's not helping you to think about it, then stop thinking about it. Keep moving. You'll find something. You have to.
posted by amanda at 12:43 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

The main material benefit I get is somewhere to live.

It's great that you help pay your way in the household, but please do not discount how big a support it is to have a place to live. What would rent in a comparable space/neighborhood cost?

Also, this is mostly cultural, but do your parents want/expect you to live with them forever? At least in the US, studies have shown that marital satisfaction improves when children leave. Most parents of adult children I know enjoy the extra space and freedom.

One way to find focus and help your mood might be to start practicing some gratitude, especially towards your current support structure.
posted by tinymegalo at 1:36 PM on September 12, 2013

I know a lot of people like you describe yourself--guys, although it's not like it *has* to be a guy thing, but it often is--in terms of wanting to be engaged, to feel productive, to do something manual, not fitting in well in the sort of full-time office environment, etc. And a lot of them have done very, very well for themselves as electricians and that sort of thing. Challenging, self-directed, nobody expects you to wear a suit or be Mr. Sales. It's definitely something to consider.

That said, I'm in my 30s, have had a bit of a twisty road myself, and currently am working on kind of the upper side of part-time. I live very spare, but I keep a roof over my head and have a significant amount of my free time dedicated to learning something new. I may switch careers once I've gotten further with that. I may not. But my biggest priority has been figuring out a budget where I determined how much money I needed to make to stay self-sustaining, even if it was in a cruddy neighborhood with an old car and so on, and then just how many hours I had to work to make that work. It has, so far, rendered me much happier than when I was attempting to have a Serious Career just because other people told me I ought to.
posted by Sequence at 1:43 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I’m interested in understanding why I feel this way, and working out how I can at least get enough of a work ethic to move on with my life.

I've only skimmed the other answers but I was struck by the common assumption that work = job. I also was good in school but found having a full-time job incredibly repellant, though my reaction was intense frustration rather than health problems. I survived one year of a (challenging! interesting!) full-time job, at age 23 I think, and haven't had a normal job since. Now I'm 52.

I figured out how to put together part-time jobs, work as a musician, work as a dance teacher, income as a landlord, income from fixing up and selling a decrepit house, etc. etc. etc. I usually had part-time work in areas that required me to analyze problems and clearly explain how to solve them, and something like that eventually became my business. Now I have an online business that I love and that lets me live anywhere in the world, which satisfies my need for a lot of variety.

It's my theory that some people just have to be self-employed. They're constitutionally incapable of doing predefined tasks to someone else's standards. In my case, I need a LOT of challenge and a sense of mastery, and my perfectionism made me want to reach higher standards than my past employers cared about.

I didn't have parents, so for me it was find ways to make money or live in a tent and eat out of dumpsters. So you might light a fire under yourself by, as others suggested, moving out of your parents' house and letting your interest in self-sufficiency show its real strength.

I'm reluctant to suggest it because the author is not the most appealing person, but you might get ideas and a bit of a kick from the Four-Hour Work Week. You might also search for "lifestyle design businesses," which can pull up a lot of non-job ways that other people are supporting themselves.
posted by ceiba at 7:16 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

A of permanent sense of sadness and disappointment with yourself, frustration with other people and confusion with the world? Yeah, I've been in this position, and am only now at the age of 33 that I've finally managed to get perspective on it.

Its not particularly encouraging i'm afraid but for me a lot of this came down to coming to terms with the legacy that comes from a pretty shitty and abusive childhood and understanding the difference that made to me.

Growing up in that situation really did a number on my head, and while growing up and getting away made a difference, I still couldn't get away from the past and my crazy mixed up ideas of the world.

Unable to really get to the bottom of it I tried to rationalize a lot of this stuff and just think myself lucky and forget about it and throw myself into my work and marriage, but just replicated the same dynamics, until my life was so unbearable I had no option but to confront it, which involved looking in some truly dark places.

Its been a long time coming and a difficult journey, but I did get through it thanks to some really excellent therapists and some really supportive friends and am really starting to break free from the past and be my real self.

Perhaps this rings some bells for you? If so, perhaps talking to your GP and accessing some sort of therapy might be a good start? I was lucky in the beginning in having private insurance to begin with but was able to self refer to a counselor at a free project which really worked for me and really gave me the time and space to talk about this stuff and finally come to terms, but the struggle still goes on.

I've been there and I really feel for you with this, so if you need any more information feel free to mefimail me, and take care of yourself!
posted by Middlemarch at 4:11 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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