How to continue when you feel you're falling behind every day?
December 5, 2013 6:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm in my mid 30s and feel like life has passed me by and it's too late to fix it. Looking for help on handling the situation so it doesn't consume me. Lot's inside.

I was always interested in technology and bettering myself as long as I can remember. When I came to consciousness around about 11-12 I started working with computers that eventually led me down the typical geek path of code, technology, etc.

I come from a middle-upper class background somewhere in East Africa, a minority group in the country that has done very well. From birth I have been surrounded by similar people (peers).

I moved to the UK in 1999. Initially it was supposed to be a stint for my undergraduate degree in CompSci, I always knew I wanted to get a university education but my ambitions never really went beyond that. I realised in my undergrad that I was actually quite good at it and through a series of happenstances more than anything ended up doing a PhD in applied CompSci (systems) in a relatively good place.

While I held my own and managed to get the degree I was never really the best at any of it. I doubled down with even more determination, got a post-doc role and worked harder and more intensely. All this was intermixed with the typical geek ambitions of wanting to run my own company, etc. Again, fuelled by desire, ambition, ego and wanting to emulate others successfully in that sort of situation.

It's been over 10 years now, and I'm now in my mid 30s and very confused and disillusioned. I have no house, I live on a per-salary basis, I have no relationship, life has kind of passed me by. In contrast all my peers who came here did their undergraduate degrees and moved back. I'm not particularly successful at anything I do at all (middling). Of all, I feel like I'm in the worst position so to speak.

I understand our circumstances are different. They moved back into family businesses, lots of support, etc. I am pretty much completely isolated here. I have no real friend or relative network. I work to live and live to work. As things get worse, I work *even* more because I feel I should be making more effective use of my time.

Even with contemporaries in the UK (family friends) I find people are able to live much better lives than me -- they are able to afford more, have
their own houses, can go on hoilday, don't live paycheck to paycheck. In short, even if the UK is more competitive and harder, I'm still doing relatively

The major point is I can't seem to find a compelling reason for doing what I'm doing any more. I seem to be doing it more out of spite that I will be successful than an actual love for any of the subject. The only thing that seems to give me any joy is actually writing code which is quickly overcome with the feeling that it doesn't matter because it doesn't contribute to a better life anyway.

In retrospect had I known what I know now I would not have taken the path I did. The thing that kills me is that intellectually I still believe in what I do, I believe in the subject, the area, I believe in doing science, in doing good. But materially life is getting so tight and so painful I feel like giving up, the tune of which is the constant thought that the more time I spend doing this the further back I fall from having any happiness at _all_.

I'm looking for some help on how to handle this so it does not consume me. Or, some advice from people who have been in similar situations to tell me how they handled it. I am very isolated and lost at the moment, and despair is setting in.

I can't help feeling I gambled and lost, and I constantly have to remind myself of the drive and ambitionI used to have which doesn't seem inherent any more. On bad days I have to stop myself thinking that I was stupid to feel I could be materially successful in a first world country and that I have what it takes to be successful and contribute to the cutting edge of science. On my worst days I feel I lost out on way of life and lost out on
another and that's it. Here's where I stand.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry you're having a tough time. It sounds like your isolation from your home country and your peers may be an even bigger issue for you than career.

It's hard to answer your question without knowing more about your situation. You worked hard and got a doctorate in applied computer science, and at least part of you still enjoys that field (you sometimes say you like it and sometimes say you don't, but the not-liking it seems to be tied to the lack of material success). Why haven't you found that material success? I'm in the US, but around here I doubt there would be any shortage of well-paying job opportunities for someone with your background. Are you having trouble finding a job you like, or finding a job at all? Is it just the lack of material success that's bothering you, or your career in general? What would you like to be doing that you're not now?

Socially, you said you feel isolated. Do you want to move back to your home country and your group of friends? Would you be willing to make a concerted effort to make friends where you are now? Could you break that live-to-work cycle to work on your social life?

Maybe figuring out what you want your life to look like will give you some direction.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:00 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want a higher standard of living, look at possibilities in the US. You say you're east African. There are so many tech companies here who are trying to hire people of color into tech roles… especially if you can find a job outside of the Bay Area or New York City, you should be able to raise your standard of living significantly with a job as a PhD computer scientist. Look at Seattle, Austin etc.

I don't know if that will help your feeling of cultural alienation; but having more spending money also means more opportunity to visit home.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:11 PM on December 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

For transparency, I'm a sock puppet. There are times when I don't want to put my entire life in here, and some of it may be applicable to this, so...just so you know.

It's very hard to figure out what your question is here. Remember you can always purchase a sock puppet just for a particular question, if you want to add more and retain anonymity. Or you can reach out to a moderator to add more information.

Just some ideas.

Are you in academic life now? You mention this: a post-doc role and worked... If it helps and it may be hard to see it when you are in it, but academic life, especially PhD years/post-doc yrs, and even faculty can be isolating. It also doesn't pay much vs. other careers.

If you don't believe me, you may want to check out Chronicles for Higher Education (the forums). Many people are miserable in that environment, not sure why. But it may help to read it and realize that you are not alone. I did that and it spurred me on to do something, which was to ultimately leave academia. I don't feel as isolated now. I wouldn't say that I earn heaps, but certainly more than I did in academia.

I left academia years ago, but it wasn't until I left that I realized how poorly one is paid if you stay in the system. If you are still doing postdocs, now is the time to exit (and you probably have more than enough experience). Or if you have an academic position,maybe reassess what salaries are in other fields. Trust me, for sciences/computers/etc/ it is higher,but it depends if this is what you want. But I'm not entirely sure if this is what you want.

What comes across in your post more than anything is the isolation. What do you want the most? To connect to other people? To go into business for yourself? I think that you could get some of these things, but for the moment, I am having a hard time reading your circumstances and defining what that is.

We could probably give you a recommendation if you point us towards what you want or need next.
posted by Dances with sock puppets at 7:11 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know how you feel. I would have made a lot of different professional decisions if I could do it all over again, but I didn't have to do it all over again: I was valuable with what I had, and it was just a matter of finding out how to exploit it to live a better life. It's never too late. You are one of the few people with smarts and enthusiasm out there, and people are looking for people like you.

MeMail me if you want.
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 7:17 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

With a phd in comp sci you could probably solve your monetary issues by getting a job in the US, california or boston or if you want to stay in europe, sweden, norway or germany. Canada will pay a bit less than the US, but also has a semi-socialist bent and is a little more easygoing. I've had quite a few coworkers from the UK and they mostly agreed that the money and opportunities were much better in north america.

A new job might at least solve your money issues and maybe even your fulfilment at work issues. (2 out of 3) The rest of it, I'm not so sure, but in the US and Canada at least your accent (if British) will make you stand out in a good way for socialization and dating. Maybe getting away from your so called peers will give you a fresh perspective.
posted by captaincrouton at 7:57 PM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

In my experience, a new market can change everything. I was in a position fairly similar to yours. Then I moved to Boston and suddenly I was worth more professionally, people were much easier to deal with, and dating got a hell of a lot easier. Sometimes you just need to find the city that is the right fit. Best of luck.
posted by originalname37 at 8:19 PM on December 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, I forgot to say that when I turned 25, I felt like I was old. Then I turned 30 and thought: "I was so stupid to feel old at 25, but now at 30, I really AM old". At 35, I thought: "I was so stupid to feel old at 30, but now at 35, I really AM old". By 40, I realized that I'm as young as I'll ever be and life is much too precious and short to quibble about how many times the Earth has gone around the Sun since I was born. It's never too late. Life hasn't passed you by until you are dead.
posted by originalname37 at 8:28 PM on December 5, 2013 [47 favorites]

I'm in my 30s, I have over $100k in student loans, I make about 150% of the US federal poverty line, and I'm having to find a new job because it turns out my boss thinks it's okay to wave guns around at people during arguments. Yay! But you know, some people have it worse. Some people have it better. There are very likely to be at least a billion people on the planet who have it worse. That doesn't mean your problems aren't worth addressing, but I think perspective helps me. I cannot keep comparing myself to others, it just makes me feel lousy and when I feel lousy I get nothing done.

Inventory what you have, first, and then see what you can do with it to turn it into something better. A lot of people pick one thing in life and settle down and are happy with that. A lot of people including a lot of very smart people end up reinventing themselves repeatedly because they're not content that way. Being in that group is not a bad thing, but it's not what early life usually prepares you for.

(If you want someone to talk to who ISN'T annoyingly comfortable in their mid-30s life, feel free to drop me a line, I'm really fascinated by talking to people who're doing life-reboots while I'm going through mine.)
posted by Sequence at 8:39 PM on December 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

The UK has lots of meetups, many about tech topics, or about anything else you might be interested in, including a few for East African expats. Having connections, even loose ones, can open up all kinds of surprising opportunities.
posted by the jam at 8:52 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

On bad days I have to stop myself thinking that I was stupid to feel I could be materially successful in a first world country

But are you in London? London is a completely different level. If you had to make a list of the top 5 places on the planet where the world's most educated, most highly skilled, wealthiest, most advantaged people still struggle to get ahead financially, London has to be in the top two or three. You're not just striving for material success in a first world country, you're striving for material success in one of the two or three most difficult places to do that in all the first world countries combined.

Why not come to the US for awhile. Austin is a great example of a place where you could make a very high salary and have a low cost of living at the same time. You could have a few hundred thousand dollars in the bank after a few years.

When I came to consciousness around about 11-12 I started working with computers that eventually led me down the typical geek path of code, technology, etc.

On the other hand, here's a thought that may or may not apply to you. You actually may have enough money but may be managing it in a way that's not ideal. I say this after a long and storied history of friendships with tech geeks who got high-paying tech jobs at absurdly young ages. Because a lot of these guys never learned to cook, a lot of them never learned to clean, and a lot of them never even learned to do their own laundry. So the solution has been to spend an astonishing amount of money eating out or ordering in. Maid service. Laundry service. Spending full price for the latest gadget on the day it comes out, even though the price will drop by half in six months. Having a fancy apartment you never spend any time in, which is almost devoid of furniture, with a fancy kitchen that has never been used. When I was 19 and in college I had a boyfriend who was 23 with a tech job in NYC. He made around $12,000 per month. I remember when we had been dating almost a year he proudly told me that he had saved up almost $10,000 dollars. My jaw almost dropped - where had all the rest of it been going?? I was supporting myself entirely on $900/month. I could not fathom how someone could be making 13x what I was and had been able to save almost none of it.

So, I apologize if this part doesn't apply to you. But it might be relevant to take a look at your finances and budget, and see if there isn't anywhere that money might be trickling out unnecessarily.

Even with contemporaries in the UK (family friends) I find people are able to live much better lives than me -- they are able to afford more, have
their own houses, can go on hoilday, don't live paycheck to paycheck.

This is a cliche, but it's still good advice: don't compare your insides to someone else's outsides. You really don't know what is going on for all these people. They could be absolutely swimming in debt. They could be putting forth happy images to the world even if the reality for them is the opposite of that. People like to project images of being happy and successful. It's not always the full truth. You never know what goes on behind other people's closed doors.

I am pretty much completely isolated here. I have no real friend or relative network. I work to live and live to work.

I think this situation would make most human beings feel quite sad and lonely. Being very lonely might be coloring your perception of everything else in your life. Even if there are some things you might rationally like to make changes to, overall loneliness can still color your feelings about those things. Could you make it a project for a few months to work on this, and see if that doesn't help?

Are you interested in getting married? Could your family friends introduce you to anyone in the UK?
posted by cairdeas at 9:02 PM on December 5, 2013 [9 favorites]

It seems to me the core contradiction here is you want a lot of material success AND you want to do what you love. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, you get one or the other. You do something you love and don't make a lot of money at it or you do something you're not super-happy about and make a lot of money at it. Opportunities for both exist, but there's frequently a compromise there.

The other thing is: You're discovering one of the problems with our current model of capitalism, which is all that work you're doing, any value you generate beyond your salary is going to someone else and not to you. You mention starting your own business. Have you done any of that? Looked into freelancing or consulting? Or are you spending all your time making someone else richer because you want to be "productive" as we currently define it?

And finally, I get a lot of...I don't want to say helplessness, but you clearly don't act as an agent in your own life. You fell into a career. You wandered into Britain. You're a really hard worker, but you seem to be hoping the fates will blow material success and a relationship and all that your way the way they did your career, you know? Maybe turn some of that tireless work energy into finding a relationship? Here's the question for you to consider: What do you actually want in all this? Because a lot of your life seems to be built around things just...happening to you rather than you taking initiative and making them happen.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:10 PM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I find people are able to live much better lives than me -- they are able to afford more, have their own houses, can go on hoilday, don't live paycheck to paycheck.
At least one of a couple things is going on here:
1) They have a higher debt threshold than you do, and are in more debt than you think they are.
2) They are receiving more ‘help’ than you realize, in one form or another, which you don’t know about. Maybe they inherited the house, or have a small trust fund, or their dad is a commercial pilot and they get free plane tickets… it’s endless. You just don’t know.
3) Your expectations are off and/or you are doing something wrong with your own budgeting.
4) We were stressed out and felt like we were living paycheck to paycheck because we were saving nearly half our income and it was so default that making a savings payment felt just like paying a bill. Are you trying to do something equally crazy? (Savings, paying off student loans, sending money home….???)

Or, some advice from people who have been in similar situations to tell me how they handled it.
I saw a therapist (highly recommend). I am working really really hard to stop comparing my situation to others: I don’t know what help or hardships they’ve had. We’ve all had various experiences of hardship, help, resource access, luck, money, losses etc… You just don’t know anyone elses’ whole story, ever AND no one’s life is perfect.

It’s hard because we have access to so many people and so many stories, all the time. I catch myself identifying as peers people in places is aspire to be – not to my next door neighbours in my apartment building (with similar income, rent, a baby, a used car, etc…). I compare the good parts, without considering the sacrifices, the constraints, the choices they’re making that are different than mine. Everyone is making trade offs, we just don’t always see what they are.
People like to make themselves look good. Take it with a grain of salt.

I agree with Ghostride The Whip - I think you'll feel better about things if you start making active choices. If you acknowledge your agency in the choices you made so far (you choose to move to the UK, etc.) then you can choose to change things too. It's responsibility and freedom all wound up together. I choose to have a boring day job because I don't want to work as much as you do, and I like hanging out at home with my husband and our friends (and our cats!).

And yeah, lots of people find first-world capitalistic cultures not all they're cracked up to be. There's trade-offs with everything, truly.

I’m an expat too – from the US living in Oz. I do NOT having everything 'together' (does anyone, really?) Me mail me! (Sequence, you memail me too!)
posted by jrobin276 at 9:47 PM on December 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I echo jrobin276's sentiments. We never have enough information about other people to make valid comparisons. A person driving a nice car may not be able to pay for it. A person with a spouse may have silent marital problems. And it may simply be that they worked on different things then you over the last 15 years. Life hasnt passed you by, you just spent your last few years a different way. If you want to go a different direction it will take time to catch up, but you can start today!

Finally, there is probably someone out there wondering why they are not yet at your level in some domain that you are successful at.
posted by jander03 at 9:59 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds perhaps like you are feeling more than a bit of imposter syndrome. It happens to a lot of academics, and especially to folks who have overcome sexism, racism, and/or classism to attain their achievements, but of course still struggle with the effects of internalized oppressions, because that stuff is really hard to completely rid oneself of.

You note, for example, that you are from an upper middle class background in your home country. So your peers who returned to that context have been able to take advantage of that relative class privilege. You, meanwhile, have taken the more challenging route of breaking your own trail in a country where perhaps your background equates to relatively lower socioeconomic privilege. And look what you have accomplished despite the obstacles that likely presents!

Not knowing which East African country you are from, I hesitate to make assumptions, but it seems likely that you are working against a bit of racism in the UK as well, that perhaps many people whom you are comparing yourself to do not have to deal with. That wouldn't necessarily feel like much at the time or for any particular small incident, but the cumulative and long-term effects - lost professional opportunities due to other people's racism, lost time and energy having to deal with it emotionally and practically - can be significant. Yet look what you have accomplished despite these likely obstacles!

And that's not to mention building a career and a life as an immigrant to a country that is far from home, both physically and culturally.

I agree with other posters that comparing yourself to others is unhelpful. But if you're going to make those comparisons anyways, make sure you are making accurate comparisons, and not excusing away the real, significant (though cumulative and subtle rather than obvious) effects of your background and circumstances. It sounds to me like you are being far, far too hard on yourself. You have taken the more challenging path, which is commendable. And it is hard. It is hard professionally, and it is hard personally. Its hardness has been statistically verified, as well as anecdotally documented in many instances. And you still have attained a truly significant level of academic accomplishment, and work that you find intellectually satisfying in a field that requires talent and hard work! Do not sell your considerable accomplishments short.

Do seek out stories of other people in similar circumstances as yourself - either memoir or fiction. Do spend some time thinking and mapping out what it is that you want out of life, which goals are your highest priority at this point in your life (and they may change, and change again, and that's okay), and how best to work toward those goals over the next five years or so. Consider the usual AskMe advice for how to find and build yourself some community in a new location where you have no ready-made community. Consider therapy or similar type support in the mean time to help you make those plans, help you see your accomplishments more clearly and without that lens of persistent self-doubt, and just generally help you get through until the planning and community-building start bearing fruit.
posted by eviemath at 10:30 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was walking home from work and kept thinking of miscellaneous documentaries and radio segments and books and stuff that resonated with me and may also help things click with you.

Therapists can help with this stuff. It's easy to intellectualize all this stuff and really hard to internalize and feel. What helped me most was hearing lots of voices and stories, and finding voices and stories that were just right and made a little something click for me... so if you want a long list of media suggestions, MeMail me or ask me to post it - I don't want to go all crazy over your thread!

You should know that I initially wrote a much longer and detailed post because this is something I've struggled with sooooo much myself, and this is the advice I need too. ;)
posted by jrobin276 at 10:50 PM on December 5, 2013

No offense, OP, but your post seems really scattered and I can't quite figure out what the core of your question is.

I get a familiar sense from your question, however. I used to have a strong, almost unquestioned feeling that hard work was the key to everything. If I worked hard, good things would (automatically, I guess) come to me. If I failed at anything, it was because I hadn't worked hard enough (no matter how hard I actually did work). It seemed pretty clear cut, like a rational system: input sufficiently high level of "hard work," and Success pops out.

No doubt some of this sense was instilled through my upbringing, with incredibly hardworking immigrant parents who had to fight for a better life. But there was definitely also a passivity to it, at the same time that there was great ambition. I ticked all the right boxes and did well within the school system because that was what I was supposed to do, and I gloried in that; but I didn't necessarily learn a lot about what success meant to me, and how to keep motivated internally when external factors were removed. I had some vague and very lofty ideas about what I wanted, but not very clear plans about how to achieve these things. I also wanted to do everything and--perhaps because I did actually manage to do a lot for a long time--it took a long time before I got to a point where I had to make clear choices about choosing to prioritize some things and let others go.

Here's the thing, OP. Hard work does not automatically mean success. It has to be the right kind of work, targeted in the right directions, and then you have to have a lot of luck and other factors in your favor on top of that. Also, what does success mean to you? You write like this is an obvious thing and that you clearly don't have it, but I'm not sure what you want. (For instance, I'd absolutely love to have a degree--that's something I really want right now. So you're doing really well in some very important ways, which some of us are jealous of!) Some of the things that you mentioned in your question: you don't have a relationship, you don't have a house, you live on a per-salary basis. You can work to solve all of those, but I get the sense that you feel like you're somehow supposed to have something else or something more. What's this "I gambled and lost" thing? What did you gamble? What did you lose?

Are you a postdoc still? Most of the new postdocs I know (in the hard sciences) make okay salaries, some even make very good ones. But even "okay" seems on par with mid-level non-degree jobs in their field, the sort of salaries plenty of people scrape by raising families on. I expect in computer science this baseline is probably skewed up. If you're working for a company, naively (not knowing your market there) I would expect your salary to be higher than average. So why are you living paycheck to paycheck? Is there a lot of debt from school? Do you need to send money home to help out? Less that optimal spending habits (if you don't actively keep track of your budget, this is probably the case--and I'm not trying to be hard on you, I don't keep good track right now either, but I know I should)? Are you saving up for a house? What about dating--what have you tried? Do you have an idea about the qualities you bring to the table and what you would yourself want out of a partner? Believe me, I know how hard that can be without a friend network.

You don't say where you are in the UK. Shouldn't that make a big difference? Are you in London? I get the impression from British friends that compsci/programming is largely centered around the financial arena there. I can totally see how that could be soul-sucking.

You mention "ambition" and "ego" in your question, along with a sort of overarching defeatist sense that you've failed. Were you always really smart and talented when you were young, expected to achieve Great Things, but it was never filled out how to do that or what exactly those great things were (other than cultural messages you got elsewhere that success = relationship, house, riches)? Because I totally get that. My parents never went to college but scrimped and saved to send their children, seeing it as the key to a better life than they had, and my childhood was focused on getting to college...without a lot of clear idea on what happened after that.

Like I said, ticking all the boxes and "working hard" doesn't automatically mean you'll be happy. The awesome thing is that you can actually learn how to be happy.

You mention the act of writing code giving you joy. Pay attention to the things which make you happy. (That's advice from my therapist, which I now give free to you.) You mention life being materially hard. That'll certainly make any kind of clear decision-making difficult; is there anything you can do to ease that? Or give more details about exactly what it is that's so hard so we can maybe make suggestions?

I think I feel you, OP. I have experienced and am still experiencing a lot of things which sound very similar to the impression I'm getting from you, although I can't quite tell. Things which have helped me, which may or may not apply to your situation, include:

+ Finally feeling like I deserved to feel better and actively seeking help. This was a big one, and it included seeking out a therapist (which I took a long time to work up the nerve to get around to doing), exercising regularly in a way I enjoyed and stuck with somewhat consistently (which made me not only feel better about my attractiveness--and it probably didn't hurt my perceived attractiveness from others, either--but more importantly made me feel better about my inner and outer abilities and strength, both physical and mental), and taking better care of myself in general. This included allowing myself to have more fun, and becoming more comfortable spending money in ways that benefitted me, which are things I have always had trouble with.

+ Finding alternative methods to achieve my goals. I spent two years fighting to stay in a relationship that was a bad fit, in a city I loved but where I couldn't find the kind of job I wanted. (Incidentally, I am one of those people who really needs/wants my job to mean something bigger to me than just a sounds like you are one of those people too. This is OK. Just something to be aware and balanced about.) I eventually left the relationship and found a fantastic new job in a different part of the country, and although it hurt tons, took a long time and was a lot of work, I think we're all better off. I tried really (really) hard, for years, to make friends among my coworkers in my new job, but it didn't work out all that well and I was incredibly lonely and rather hurt. Eventually--through repeatedly putting myself out there, I was able to find people outside of that who I got along with really well and in a mutual way; I also eventually found a new relationship. I was getting frustrated with not feeling heard at my job or that I could fully participate in some of the projects I wanted which had to do with education, about which I feel deeply passionate. Eventually I found a way to feed this love through other outlets, volunteer and (sanctioned) work for other departments. I took a professional development class, a very condensed and difficult program. I promised myself that no matter what grade I made in the class, I would feel good about my participation in the class, because I knew I'd learned a lot, worked really hard and given it my all (much better than I ever did in college!)--and *that* was what I wanted to focus on, my own actions which I could control and my internal validation, not the external validation from others. (I ended up making an A. But even if I hadn't, I felt good about what I'd put in, and that part was what mattered to me.)

It wasn't as easy as it sounds. All this was really hard--not just "hard work" hard, but "scary, intimidating, and I don't know what will happen" hard. And I could see how it kind of sounds like it's giving up or otherwise not "working hard" enough. But like I said, you get to choose what that means for you. In fact, you have to. Like others, I noticed a sense of waiting for things to happen to you, and I think you might feel better, and be able to continue, if you feel like you can take charge of making things happen to yourself.

Oh, and please don't give up on science, or doing good in the world. We need that.

I guess this is pretty long--I just started typing and kept thinking of more to say. I guess it felt familiar. Good luck, OP. Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by spelunkingplato at 11:13 PM on December 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm in my late 30's and after my life blowing apart on all levels I took time just to self care - doing night classes or creative things.. that even if they didn't make the earth move gave me some time away from stresses or something new to consider. I also like cinema a lot.

A year ago I left London, although I'm from there the loneliness was brutal (friends were mainly married and kidded and moved away) and though I loved my colleagues.. I was lucky with them, my life did not feel rich.

London is insane .. if you are there.. highly skilled and hard working folk killing themselves with stress and living like students at 40. Even the aggressive commute did me in. I wound up in A and E.. that run down.
I was burnt out, lonely and uninspired.

In an unusual act of self love.. I though "**** this" and left. I now live in a country cottage near an interesting city.. where I only know one person well and am setting up my own business. I'm a work in progress, but aren't we all?

Think about what gives you pleasure (or used to if you can't connect with that right now.. think back to childhood) think about seeking some balance between work, self care and leisure.

Is there any way your job can be bent to focus more on the parts you do still enjoy?

You sound very skilled.. everyone whose done I Doctorate I know said it nearly killed them - so you have resilience on your side.. and if all else fails you sound very welcome in the US! You're not alone with all this.
posted by tanktop at 1:48 AM on December 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Inventory what you have, first, and then see what you can do with it to turn it into something better. A lot of people pick one thing in life and settle down and are happy with that. A lot of people including a lot of very smart people end up reinventing themselves repeatedly because they're not content that way. Being in that group is not a bad thing, but it's not what early life usually prepares you for.

Good Lord, all the years I wasted being miserable and envious before I realized I was in the second group. I'm a housewife as of one month ago - and I'm going insane. Questioning yourself and your choices all day long is exhausting. It's a way to torture ourselves, and it's insidious.

OP, comparing yourself to others is toxic - but as spelunkingplato said, this Ask will sound familiar to soooooo many people. It's damn hard being in the driver's seat.
posted by polly_dactyl at 8:07 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pure technical work (or pure creative work, for that matter) is very low paid and primarily a privileged pursuit for the independently wealthy. For regular people without wealth or connections, we must do work that is a mix of technical and "soft skills" to support ourselves. My best advice is to think of what other (non-computer science) skills and talents you naturally have. Make up a list and get feedback from friends. Then, set about honing those abilities. Next, you will have to get out of low-paying work that is very technical and instead find work that requires many general life skills with only a modest technical background. That will solve your financial woes. Personally, I embraced the challenges that come with a career that requires 10% technical competency and 90% “other” skills. I still must use my brain to come up with solutions for the best way to get a project to come together under pressure and time constraints.

Good luck!
posted by 99percentfake at 9:24 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Someone MeMailed me for my list; it can be viewed here:
posted by jrobin276 at 8:46 PM on December 10, 2013

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