Seeking reading suggestions to help me find my calling
October 14, 2013 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm seeking some non-hokey things to read or to listen to in order to nudge me to find my next career calling in life. I'm in my early 30s, and I've been in the same industry for the last 10 years. It's an industry that seems very glamorous from the outside, but I stopped giving a shit in a big way a long time ago. I'd love to get some suggestions of books that helped you jumpstart a new career or made you think about your career possibilities in a different way.

I've known for a long time that this industry, which I have a bachelor's degree for and that I've worked in for so long, is not for me. However, making ends meet has always been a priority for me, so I've had to work, and the jobs I've gotten have been in the industry that I'm qualified for. I'm now in that situation where I have a good, stable job with a great income, and I feel like I have too much experience to start from scratch. I'm married and looking to start a family soon, so giving up or substantially lessening my income isn't really an option or something I want. Going back to school at this point full-time is not an option I'd consider due to time and income lost, and I refuse to pay to go back to school part time aimlessly.

My job isn't terrible, and I know I should be grateful for what I have. I just know, and have known for a very long time, that this industry isn't what I want - though with my experience, it would be very easy for me to just continue working in it, getting promoted, and feeling more and more trapped. At my age I feel like many doors have closed, and that they will just keep closing if I don't make a move.

I definitely have skills that are transferable to other industries, and I have been job hunting, but nothing seems to spark my interest. I'm not depressed, and I have hobbies and interests outside of work (none of which I'd really like to translate into a career). I am just at that point where I can say with little hesitation that I really have no idea what I'd actually like to do next, and it's quite frustrating.

I cope with my job apathy by focusing on other things in my life - I work hard during the day, but I don't do anything work-related outside of "work hours," and I choose to focus on the things that make me happy (like yoga, reading, drawing, hanging with my husband and friends, and travel). I'm not unhappy overall, but I just feel like there's a big hole in my life where some modicum of fulfillment should be. I keep hoping to have some sort of epiphany, but it's just not happening.

So I turn to you, Mefites, since I need some inspiration. I'm a pretty voracious reader - are there any good reads out there that might help me think about things differently, or that might help me come to that career realization that I'm looking for? My tolerance for hokey self-help stuff is quite low - I think The Secret is one of the worst things ever published, for example. However, I do follow The Artist's Way, so I'm not a total curmudgeon when it comes to taking artsy life guidance from a book.

Any suggestions much appreciated!
posted by emily37 to Work & Money (19 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
If starting a business is on your radar, you might look at books from this series:

The only one I've actually read is the "E-myth Revisited" book. Skim the first few chapters that get very hippy-dippy, and focus on the part where he talks about why small businesses go sideways because would-be owners don't realize how much stuff there is to do that doesn't relate to delivering the goods. I think he's spot on about that.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:34 AM on October 14, 2013

Response by poster: Ah, I didn't even mention the "starting a business" angle. It's worth mentioning that I've never really had a desire to start a business for a couple reasons: one being that I have no idea what I would do, and the other being that I know quite a few people who own their own businesses, and they have zero free time. I really like my free time.
posted by emily37 at 11:39 AM on October 14, 2013

I'm married and looking to start a family soon, so giving up or substantially lessening my income isn't really an option or something I want

Does your spouse make enough income to cover your family's expenses for some period of time after you have a child or two? Starting a family might in fact be the exact right time to let some of your income go (at least temporarily) because the joy you will derive from motherhood is just the type of fulfillment that you seem to be concerned about being unable to find in the world of employment.
posted by Dansaman at 11:48 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was by Barbara Sher. It has writing exercises similar to The Artist's Way. I flip through it now and then and I'm not even looking for a new job.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:59 AM on October 14, 2013

I got a lot out of Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:59 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding Po Bronson. Also: Do What You Are.
posted by Shoggoth at 12:54 PM on October 14, 2013

Two things that worked for me and a gift I saw the other day in Facebook.

I must say that The catcher in the rye, and Walden, read in my 20's, drastically impacted my life in a very positive way.

Here's what I bumped into the other day. Maybe you need to give some long-term perspective to your life to find what really matters to you.

That said, I don't think a book (article or blog) is enough. Have you tried volunteering for something that you really care?
posted by saul-bass at 12:56 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rather than focus on the industry, think about the tasks you enjoy.

Write them down.

Think of it as a "functional resume", in which you are looking to translate the parts of your job that you enjoy, but into a different environment.

I will say that I DID take the big steps, I quit my corporate job to teach high school English for two years. The kids ate me alive and it was so HARD and I got paid such SHIT, and frankly, if I know then, what I know now, I never would have done it.

When I got laid off from my 25 year career in Telecom, I learned CRM Administration ( and that helped me gain the skills I needed to take off in a new direction. I did have to step back and start out at a lower salary than I was used to, but I have been able to recover my footing somewhat.

I really caution you. If there's any way you can make a lateral move where you are, and just do the things you enjoy, that would be a better thing that trying to figure out what would make you happy in a career.

My job is quite pleasant, but I don't LOVE it. I like the folks I work with, the company I work for is decent enough (although, I am looking elsewhere because of things going on in our corporate structure.)

There is no "Job Charming" and even Cowboy Firemen Astronauts wake up some days wondering if they have to put out yet another space barn fire. Jobs are like that, even the most glamorous and exciting of them gets routine.

It may be that once you start a family that you'll appreciate being able to do your job easily with very little mental energy expended, so that you can go home to your kids and be on for them.

Making a lot of money means that more doors open in your future, so yes, you may have by-passed the opportunity to be a Model Vetrenarian, but being Director of Mobile Implementation may be a possibility.

As you stay in your career, your opportunities narrow to a certain degree, but they become more lucrative and exciting too.

Although I'll say this about that. I do NOT want one of those jobs where I'm doing email at 10:00 PM because of stuff going on in AsiaPac. I'll leave that to the big swinging dicks.

It helps to know what you want your life to look like.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:57 PM on October 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

I definitely have skills that are transferable to other industries, and I have been job hunting, but nothing seems to spark my interest.

Since you don't want to take a pay cut or go back to school, it sounds like your best bet is to investigate other fields where your skills are valuable. When you say you are "job hunting" do you mean you're looking at job postings?

I ask because I've been sort of idly looking at job listings for roles that are functionally similar to my current jobs in other industries, and those listings never fail to make the jobs seem sooo boring and unfulfilling.

But then I realized that maybe it's just that I don't know enough about those industries to fill in the blanks. I can look at a job listing in my field and I know enough to read between the HR-speak and understand what the role would actually be like, but since I don't know enough to do it for other fields, the descriptions just sound boring and lame.

So I've started doing "informational interviews" (honestly, more like casual chats) with friends who do similar work in other industries, and it's been super, super helpful.

I think the other thing is thinking about what's really important to you in a job - not just the work you do on a regular basis, but all the peripheral stuff as well: your work environment, your coworkers, working mostly alone vs. in a team, the values of the firm/organization. What have you liked/not liked in past jobs, and how important is it to in your overall sense of satisfaction?

For instance, I realized that, in order to be happy in a job, I need a good team to work with (ie, coworkers I like and respect), I need to constantly have new things to learn and new problems to solve, and I need to be given a certain level of autonomy in my work. If I have those things, I'm happy, and if I don't, I'm not. For instance, I really hate data entry but I will do it with a minimum of fuss in a job where my main criteria are met. But I had another job where the work itself should have made it my dream job, but my boss was so horrible and I had so little autonomy that I was miserable.

Thinking about it that way helped me open up the horizons on what sorts of jobs I was looking at applying for.
posted by lunasol at 1:20 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Eek, I'm sorry, I completely ignored your request for reading suggestions! I will second the recommendation for What Should I Do With My Life and strongly recommend reading and doing the exercised in What Color Is Your Parachute.
posted by lunasol at 1:37 PM on October 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding What Color is Your Parachute? -- reading it helped me move from social work to advertising, two seemingly disparate fields, but its focus on functional skills and what I really love to do (not just what I've done at work) helped me make the transition.
posted by missjenny at 2:03 PM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I commented in a recent thread (where you might find more good suggestions) that I enjoyed Cal Newport's So Good They Can't Ignore You.
posted by sapere aude at 2:45 PM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

It might sound hokey, and it's certainly more diagnostic than inspirational, but Strengths Finder is a useful way of working through the tasks and activities that are important and pleasant to you, and reassembling them into specific possibilities.
posted by Theophylactic at 3:00 PM on October 14, 2013

For books, I found The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success enormously helpful.

Alain de Botton said something once that I find enormously helpful. I can't find the exact quote, but it was something like "Notice who you are jealous of. That's a good clue to what you ought to be doing yourself." (For professional jealousy, of course.)
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:19 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been working through What Color Is Your Parachute as well, and I have to say it actually made me think of myself in a different way- to whit, I do not have to write for a living just because I like to write (for fun) and am good at it. I've been stuck in that mindset for years.

That book contains a variation on the Holland Code test. I did the one in the book, and then months later I did two different versions. All three use very different questions, yet my results were almost completely consistent across the three tests. That gave me a lot to think about- and when I look at the jobs which my code is assigned to, I can totally picture myself doing them. It's worth a shot, anyway!
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:21 PM on October 14, 2013

My tip is test, test, test. Create a list of possibilities, find out what they do on a minute-to-minute, second-to-second basis, and try that. Do a part-time or volunteer version of that for a while. See if you really like it. Based on what you learn, refine the list. Repeat until you find what you are happy with.
posted by shivohum at 5:25 PM on October 14, 2013

Zen and the Art of Making a Living is less hokey than it might sound.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:41 PM on October 14, 2013

OP I strongly, strongly urge you to reconsider dramatic vocation changing prior to having a kid. My daughter is 2, and I can tell you, having a job where I'm able to autopilot, put in less work and get good results because I know the job, I know the organisation, and I know the shortcuts is so, so invaluable now. And it was superinvaluable when my daughter was <1>
So that's number one. Number two a firm belief of mine that A job is more important than THE job, in that lots of people all over the world are doing my "job" in a helluva lot of different ways. Additionally, my own work experience has shown that - for me - the work environment makes much, much more of a difference than the actual work I'm doing. Different organisations and teams have very different cultures, and when you find the right one, I think it's a lovely, special feeling.

So, when my friends are in the same spot as you, I often think the easiest (sometimes the only) thing they can do to change it up and retain a similar salary, is to work in a different industry or organisation - but doing the same work. Charities, and restaurants, and sports events need accountants, too, you know? It's worth thinking about, I reckon.

But yeah, don't throw away a cushy job you don't hate just before you have a baby.
posted by smoke at 8:19 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Amen to what Smoke says. It was so so so so so great that when my daughter was born, my job was comfortable & mentally throwaway. Prior to that, it irked me to no end; but once Lil AFAC came along, BOY WAS I GLAD.

And since then (a period rife with underperformance and a singularly poor memory) I have manages to secure a new position & get two raises.

Having a kid does help one hone the "what really needs to get done, and what can safely be dropped" skill.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 12:55 AM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

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