Career Obsession, in Moderation
February 12, 2014 10:51 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop stressing myself out endlessly about career decisions, while also still making the appropriate decisions/choices?

I have finally come to the (likely very obvious) conclusion that my career/future type things are intrusive, obsessive, and problematic. I'm a few years out of school and have been figuring things out like other folks with similar backgrounds. I've had some jobs that I've generally liked, have made a few decisions to try out new territory, took notes, had mixed success, whatever! But the thoughts! Oh the endless, endless calculations. I really just want them to end, at this point, so that I can focus a little bit on enjoying my life, doing things that make me happy, etc. PLUS, when the time comes for me to actually make a decision (for example, I'm waiting to hear back from a second interview), I wrack my mind with over-analysis and unnecessary contingency plans when, most often, continuing to wait is the best bet.

Though I have had employment for most of the last three years, it has often been precarious -- low-paid, not enough hours, temporary assignments, etc. -- and I've noticed that this kind of uncertainty (like will I start to run up credit card debt this month?) is a huge trigger for my anxiety. I feel caught between two modes -- a breezy string-things-together-and-experience-things! mode and a make-serious-moves-to-establish-a-career mode, but not really reaping the presumed benefits of either. In terms of my personal beliefs, I really don't value money-as-such and don't want to get pinned down by debt or getting used to an extravagant life. But I'm finding that my thought processes about "should I say yes to this deferred grad school admission in a field I'm only iffy about" or "should I drop everything and pursue nursing?" type thoughts are just tearing me apart. Essentially, I'm at my wits ends with this.

Just to be clear: I'm in therapy. I meditate (sometimes). I've always been someone who likes to plan new projects and think about the future, but I find that I'm not being very successful with anything like projects or plans these days because of the hulking career future uncertainty and the accompanying cognitive somersaults.

tl;dr: Help me make peace with my sudden-onset storms of career planning, please please.
posted by elephantsvanish to Human Relations (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
How can I stop stressing myself out endlessly... while also still making appropriate decisions/choices?

You can't. These two are at odds.

As long as you believe that the quality of a decision hinges on overthinking it... you'll continue to get swept up in torrents of what-ifs and whyfors.

Are you a born optimizer? Do you have a million interests and enough capital to pursue any of them? Does your brain want to question every premise, investigate every nook, slink down every cranny?

Classic choice paralysis. You have too many open doors. Close some of them.

The world is wide. You're young. There are a million ways to be happy. Pick an interest, pursue it, and don't look back. If it doesn't stick? Toss it and try again. "Appropriate" is an adjective best applied in hindsight. If you're using common sense and the tools available to you, you're already making the best decision you can. Passion comes with time, skill and experience -- it's not innate.

I keep two lists. One is for the present - the goals and projects I'm working on right now. The other is for the future - the millions of possibilities always tugging on my consciousness. "Let's go to architect school!" "How do you use arduino?!" "What if I wrote a screenplay in twenty-one days?"

If my future looks boring, I know where to go... 'cuz the fantasy don't stop.
posted by fritillary at 12:02 AM on February 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

Try doing things that are productive but not necessarily high-stakes. Things like taking a single class, volunteering somewhere, creating a project for yourself or teaching yourself a particular skill, making an appointment to meet with someone in a field you're considering and asking them about it. By starting small you can get a taste for a particular area and decide whether you want to pursue that direction any further before making any huge decisions, which should decrease the anxiety considerably.
posted by cosmicbeast at 12:10 AM on February 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Decide what you want NOW, and then do the things that get you to that goal.

The rest is noise.

If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. It's too open and up in the air and it makes too many decisions.

Whatever you decide to do for the next year, you don't have to do it forever. A lot of your decisions don't have permanant impact on your life.

If I were you, my career goal right now would be: a permanant position, with good pay and benefits. Full stop.

Once you've defined it, you'll realize that it's pretty simple and the decisions make themselves. If you're only applying for jobs that fit that criteria, then no matter what decision you make, it's the right one.

If your anxiety isn't treated, I can't recommend getting that taken care of enough. Therepy is good, Celexa is fantastic!

Nursing will be there, grad school will be there, you don't have to hare off right now and do that.

I've had three distinct careers in my life, and frankly I did nothing more than decide: "I need a good job, I'll start applying for things that fit my criteria."

It's easy to say, "don't over-think this," but that's my advice.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:57 AM on February 13, 2014

One technique is to make an appointment with yourself to do your worrying during a set time period. Set aside Sunday evening from 6 to 7, for example. If you have an intrusive thought, just be like, "thank you, brain, for your concern about my career--I will set this thought aside now until Sunday at 6" and maybe write down the thought if you want to be sure to remember it.

I wouldn't count actually doing next steps like updating your resume or filling out applications as part of this time, but I would count web surfing while daydreaming. Bookmark it and check it Sunday at 6.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:15 AM on February 13, 2014

You need to get more information on each career path. People obsess when the stakes are high but there is insufficient information: "If nursing turns out to be enjoyable like the time I volunteered in a hospital and I can get paid $X within two years like nurse friend Jamie, it will be worthwhile. But if it turns out boring like my anatomy class and I have tons of trouble finding a job like nurse friend Pat, then I will regret it. Both could happen, or other options in between. A lot is on the line."

You need to do little experiments that get you more information. Shadow a nurse for a day. Volunteer again at the hospital. Ask your friend what the interview process is like. Borrow someone's classroom notes from nursing school and read them. Every time you start to obsess, ask yourself what concrete thing you can do to learn more about your career choices and then do it. Keep getting more information (specific to you) and the decision will become easier and easier. One day the decision will be obvious.
posted by cheesecake at 8:53 AM on February 13, 2014

Thank you for the responses so far. It's helpful to hear concrete ideas about how to discern a path forward and how to break down information. Just reading these comments make me feel calmer and more collected.

Going along with the suggestions so far, can anybody suggest exactly how to stay disciplined about scheduling "career time" versus "time I'd rather not feel like the world will end if I don't make a decision right now?" I think what makes the thoughts about career so compelling is this underlying conviction that "if I don't solve this now, very bad things will happen, so I must keep thinking, even though it's 2:30am and I know this is toxic for me." I think I need to set clearer boundaries with myself and let myself appreciate my life.

(Also want to add that I did a few concrete things today: decided to close one door (grad school), blocked off a set amount of time today for resume rewriting and even shooting off an app. It feels great. Thank you for the support, as always :) )
posted by elephantsvanish at 10:06 AM on February 13, 2014

It's tough to realize how great it is to truly have so many opportunities available to you. When you're over-thinking and flirting with so many scenarios, I believe it is moreso because of the fear of the unknown. Fear of the future and that you can't know the "right" answers. Well, as they say, when one door closes, another opens. All of these scenarios and possibilities is like a security blanket that you can cling to because you're not really sure what you want, or what to do. This can definitely be paralyzing if you don't resist the allure of daydreaming and put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. I've realized, the only remedy is to take action. Do something rather than think about it. Start off small and simple if feasible, but get out there. Living in your head will almost always get in the way of living your life.
posted by lunastellasol at 10:30 AM on February 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Using logic helps me. I may feel like I need to figure something out right then, but logically (since I'm not *that much* of a night owl) 2 am is not the best time for decisionmaking. Any decision I come up with at 2 am is going to be crap, so maybe write down anything I want to remember later, and then promise myself I will figure it out when I'm alert and awake and thinking clearly.

Also, there is a big difference in saying to myself, "don't think about that now" (guess what I'm going to think about? Only one thing, and it's going to be THAT.) versus saying to myself "there is a time and a place for thinking about that, it IS super-important to think about that, so maybe I would rather set it aside until I'm in the proper time and place so I can give it its due."
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 2:34 PM on February 13, 2014

Choose a time and date for 'career worrying', and then - this is key!
Set a bunch of reminders.
Like physical alarms on your phone, and a note on your calendar on the wall, and a friend to remind you about it.

You want your subconscious to be absolutely reassured that it's ok, you aren't going to forget about The Important Thing, and there is no need to keep churning over the thoughts like a washing machine.

Each time you think of it (especially 2.30am!), just tell yourself that it's ok, you will be looking at this stuff tomorrow night at say, 7pm.
You also put a piece of paper next to your bed, and you note anything extra you are thinking of (Eg: Should I become a scuba diving instructor?). Your brain is churning to make sure you don't forget this (semi-not) brilliant idea/aspect/worry you are thinking of.
Make sure you won't forget it, then stop worrying about it.
posted by Elysum at 2:54 PM on February 13, 2014

I feel like you're one notch too low in the "hierarchy of needs" to be worrying about the direction of your career. You can't know the direction of your career when you're rightly worrying about a steady paycheck. Get to a steady paycheck first, if at all possible. Remove the anxiety about paying your bills and security, and rest there for a little while, then start to observe what you like and don't like about this steady job, what you're really good at, what you aren't. If it is possible to get to a steady paycheck position, I think much of this stress will seem less urgent and intense, and you'll start to see clearly where you want to go.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:13 PM on February 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

« Older Is this just...   |   Can I automatically log (via email) my internet... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.