Midlife crisis: Suggestions for a career path out of media?
January 13, 2014 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm nearly 40 years old and by some measures, successful. I graduated from a top university and have been employed by major companies for nearly 20 years of my professional life. I've grown increasingly dissatisfied with my chosen career though, and I was hoping some of the wise minds here could give me some advice. Details follow.

My entire career has been in the media. Unfortunately, the media isn't what it used to be. I joined the media because I liked words more than numbers and I was a liberal idealist. My work in the beginning had meaning. The Internet has changed all that. All we do is chase clicks (and ad dollars), with the goal of distracting, rather than informing our audience.

I started on a part-time MBA a few years ago. I thought it would be interesting to get a professional degree, and if I was going to deal with numbers and chase money, I might as well get paid better for it. There were already plenty of media refugees getting the JD, and the MD was too much of a commitment. Plus, I ostensibly joined the media to better understand the world -- and money makes the world go 'round.

Now, I'm about 75% done with my degree, and I'm wondering what I should do with it. I know myself a little better now. I make a decent wage, and have some savings, so I'm not so interested in high salaries. I still yearn for meaning in my work though.

I'm also looking for work that's sustainable, work in which I can develop a body of knowledge and win respect for my mastery of it. I had once believed media fit this mold. Put enough years in at the copy desk, or on the beat, get a sense of your audience and how stories should go, and your experience would be valued. The Internet has invalidated this type of experience as well.

My MBA opens doors in the consulting and investment banking worlds. I think careers in those fields would be more in line with my idea of sustainability than the work I do now. The problem is, I've never been a fan of long days, and those professions are notorious for long days. There is much more to life than work.

I've also realized at this stage in my career that I've seldom been promoted to management because I've never been the type to overwork to impress the boss. (Well, that, and I don't fit the mold of an alpha male.) I'll do an excellent job within my 8 or 9 hours, but I just don't have it in myself to torture myself that way.

I'm not so young anymore either. I'm cognizant of the time I have left on Earth. I've always been very conscious of my health. No job is worth risking that. I don't want to spend the rest of my life acquiring a fortune. I'd rather spend it enjoying a modest income. But maybe the extra hours is what's required for the mastery I'd like to enjoy. It's been widely observed that the more education and the better paid you are, the more you work -- to recoup the cost of education, to better leverage that education, and because the opportunity cost of down time is greater.

Academia might fit the bill for me, given my predilections, and given the fact that I have savings -- but maybe some time in the marketplace might help raise my value in the marketplace as well.

Others have suggested entrepreneurship, seeing my reluctance to put in long hours as simply a reflection of my disenchantment. Find something I love, and I should have no problems working hard. It wouldn't be the best use of the MBA, but using the MBA isn't 100% necessary.

This is all a bit unfocused, but I've seen some smart folks respond here, and I'm hoping to hear from some of you -- if not to get an answer, then just some feedback for more orientation. Maybe there are other resources I should pursue or questions I should ask myself. Or, on a more basic level, do you enjoy your work? What do you do? Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
A natural flow for a media person into the private (or public) sector is through PR or Communications jobs. If you are comfortable with social media that will add to your marketability. PR doesn't have to be evil--you can do PR or communications for a non-profit or institution (museum, school, etc.) that aligns with your interests. You do have to become expert in whatever field you choose to enter so that you can respond to most questions yourself without having to call on your subject matter experts. The expectation is that your expertise is communications and that, whatever field you enter, you'll have a "ramp up" period while you learn the basics. Your interview and investigative abilities will give you an edge that will allow you to come up to speed quickly.
posted by agatha_magatha at 8:59 AM on January 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

Also forgot your question about what I do and if I enjoy my work. I have been in Marketing and Communications for over 30 years. It has allowed me to work in a variety of industries which keeps things fresh. I've worked for publishers, toy companies, software companies, non-profits and currently, for a public transit agency. Each time I've changed industries I have had a bunch of new things to learn.

The most fun I've had with the learning curve was when I worked for a non-profit that focused on saving fish habitat. I got to travel all over the state to pristine and not-so-pristine wilderness areas, learned how to fly fish and learned just enough about riparian habitats and anadromous fish to be dangerous.

I love my work because I love writing and even with all the new technologies, it all comes down to being able to communicate ideas quickly and clearly. The medium is just a tool.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:07 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding agatha_m. I made the move from TV news to PR/communications for universities about 15 years ago, and it was a great move.

The field has a lot of what you say you're looking for. To do your job well, you have to get to know and work with an interesting set of people, from old tenured grumps to fresh-faced students. Wisdom and experience are valued, and people give you lots of respect when you show you're willing to learn and then use what you learn to advance the institution's mission.

Universities are also often more flexible and understanding about work-life balance. There will be times you'll need to work long hard hours, but they are likely to be offset by calmer times.

Best of all, to me at least, is making the move from being "impartial" (which in the news business sometimes means "find any naysayer and give him/her a platform") to being an advocate for something you believe in. It makes the work much more satisfying in both the short and long runs.

Feel free to MeMail me of you want to talk more about this, and good luck!
posted by underthehat at 9:16 AM on January 13, 2014

Others have suggested entrepreneurship, seeing my reluctance to put in long hours as simply a reflection of my disenchantment. Find something I love, and I should have no problems working hard.

Sorry, I don't agree. I've been self-employed for about a decade. Even if you loved the main focus of your business, you'd still have long periods of drudge work, putting out fires, dealing with annoying people, and basically having to force yourself to work when you don't feel like it.

I'm lucky in that I was born with an intense drive. I have friends with less drive who have failed as entrepreneurs because they couldn't get through the periods of heavy or unpleasant work.

The payoff, of course, is that at some point you're making enough money to hire minions and take month-long vacations, but getting there is a long, hard slog, and if you don't like working long days, I'd suggest a job of some sort.
posted by ceiba at 9:31 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Others have suggested entrepreneurship, seeing my reluctance to put in long hours .....

I saw this post in the morning and came to comment on it and provide another point of view. I am going to pretend I didn't preview,though, because my POV is a bit different.

If you go into business for yourself, it can be by whatever criteria you decide is important for you. It doesn't have to be working 24/7 (and if you do, charge accordingly, and get paid well for it).

But things to think about f you go this route: What projects/type of service/work do you want to provide (define it narrowly if there are thngs youdon't want to do or places that you don't want to be)? What do you want to learn? Will people pay for what you do? Charge accordingly (as in 2 to 3X what you were paid/hour as an employee).

Self employed. The last few years,I earn the same or a bit more than my previous salaried job and I work fewer hours. You can also pivot if you get bored ... but to me it was the corporate jobs in general that defined the entire job, environment, hours that you sit n the cube whch may be 24/7, etc, and you fit into the square peg or else. In my experience, it hasn't been that way, but YMMV.
posted by Wolfster at 10:58 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I went from the media (newspapers) to being a librarian. Part of my motivation was that I was sick of telling people what to think, often a lot of it recycled pap provided by advertisers, publicists, promoters, etc. The amount of actual journalism seemed to be diminishing all the time, and the facts weren't allowed to upset advertisers. Anyway, libraries to me seemed to be about books (yay!) and helping people find out information for themselves instead of being fed a particular line.

This was 11 years ago and some of the starry-eyed idealism has been battered out of me by the relentless "I don't care if it's right as long as I can have it right now" mentality of some people, but there are people who actually care about the research as well. So that's good.

The drawback is that you do need a professional qualification. I don't know where you are, but in the US you need a Masters (I think). It was easier here in Australia where we have Graduate Diplomas, which are post-grad but not as involved as a Masters. I got mine in a year full-time, working part-time. Having invested in an MBA you may not want to contemplate something else.

However an MBA would probably be very well-looked upon in the library world, where people are generally trying to rebrand libraries as being awesome trendy places and apply business-type models to something that will never ever ever make a profit (inherent contradiction from my point of view but that's the trend). The Communications angle suggested by others above could be a good thing too, librarians are generally (and I include myself in this) not the best at communicating how wonderful they and their libraries are. You'd be likely to command a certain amount of respect just for your knowledge and skills, and could definitely build on them while learning new things too. And with the knowledge that libraries are ultimately about helping people, which might fit in well with your idealism.

If libraries don't interest you - and that's perfectly fine if they don't - other things I thought of moving into when I was leaving the media included publishing (like book publishing, this was before the big ebook boom), publicity (variation on communications really) and/or marketing.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:07 PM on January 13, 2014

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