Tempted to "waste" another year of my life, will I probably regret this?
March 18, 2014 10:46 PM   Subscribe

After two years of intense work and study, I would like to take (at least) a couple of months to pursue my interests. That's not very likely to result into better job offers, and at 31, it's not like I have plenty of time left to get ahead in my profession. Yet there's a field (and volunteer job) I've become quite attracted to in the last few months and would like to explore in more depth. Where do you draw the line between what you would like to do with your life and what you know is more likely to get you better paying positions? Is it a good idea to follow one's (well-intentioned, yet perhaps impractical) dream, at least for a while or is it generally wiser to suppress those desires and keep one's nose to the grindstone and on the rat race?

In my early 20s, I became fascinated with new age philosophy , an interest which took a lot of my time and somehow caused me to neglect my career development. I later mildly regretted not having invested that time and energy in getting a graduate degree and finding a better paying job. Although I am now employed and above the poverty line, my budget has always been tight. The problem is that at present I have become very interested in learning more about an alternative educational model which I believe could make a big difference in many people.
I would like to take (non-for-credit) courses on the subject and volunteer to teach . The courses I want to take cost money, and the time I would spend learning and teaching could otherwise be used to gain more standard credentials which could help me get a better paying job. The thing is that at present I feel more attracted to the idea of exploring this social service project than to the prospect of keeping struggling to advance in my field. I wouldn´t give up my current job, but I would temporarily stop trying hard to get ahead. It seems down-to-earth enough at the moment, although perhaps not very wise from an strictly financial point of view. How much does it matter to do what is pleasurable and interesting, rather than what is convenient and more likely to create better income?
Thanks for sharing your wisdom on the topic.
posted by Basque13 to Human Relations (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Based on your previous question, it sounds like you do enjoy distractions and you don't sound very driven. Do you feel ambition about the alternative education model you want to pursue, or is it just an interesting distraction that will taper off?

I spent a year unemployed pursuing a hobby of writing for small pay, but now I have a real job and I do that new job in my spare time. I didn't regret that year at all -- it helped me plant roots in my dream field and it was a break from work after I had already built up a good resume. Now, I work full-time and I am living a practical life, but I am not giving up on my dream job in hopes that one day it works out. It's about finding the right balance between realistically securing what you need vs. pursuing your dream.

Do you have the income and time to pursue this other interest? Or if you're honest with yourself, do you not really? Years ago, I wouldn't have been able to have a full-time job AND pursue my writing dream, but I paid my dues and now I make a rather decent income with flexible hours and I have plenty of time to keep my writing dream alive. I think it could be worth letting your idea breathe for a little while and see if you're still passionate about it once your career/income is more secure.

Everyone would want to do a job they love that makes them excited to go to work when they wake up in the morning. If you seriously believe this alternative ed model will do that for you and do it long-term, that is a satisfaction money can't buy. But I'd also say, no one wants to live paycheck to paycheck either.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:07 PM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why do we make money? We make money so we can spend it on things we want, things that make us happy. By choosing to do something that makes us happy, we cut out all that fiddling about with a proxy for happiness. Instead of going through the indirect pathway of doing something that doesn't make us happy so that we can make money so that we can spend it on something that does make us happy, we cut straight to the heart of it.

Now, whether the sum of all happiness is greater if we cultivate the ability to make more money over time versus doing what makes us happy and accepting less money down the road is an open and insoluble problem. Ya puts up yer money and ya takes yer chances.
posted by gregor-e at 11:16 PM on March 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have taken a few breaks from working or studying, or have taken part-time roles to let me enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle, and have never regretted doing so.

I recognise that my friends who have kept their noses to the grindstone constantly have ended up in a better financial position than me. Also, other friends who have also taken breaks have not always had such a good experience as me - I have always landed on my feet in terms of getting jobs quickly (touch wood!).

When I decided I really wanted to focus on earning some more money so I could buy my own place, I put my nose back onto the grindstone. Having said that, I have never considered myself anywhere near the poverty line and only you can make the call on whether the tradeoff is ok for you.
posted by AnnaRat at 11:31 PM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've kinda lived my life following this model. I've (as usual) ended up on the forefront of things and been finacially sound, if not doing very well, depending.

It costs more to follow your "gut," but you often end up with opportunities to make more $$ if you are ahead of the curve as an Early Adopter.

Also, you won't hate yourself if you are Doing Good.

Take the chance. Make it work.
posted by jbenben at 11:48 PM on March 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Usually I would say follow your dreams but in your case it sounds like you've done something similar before and regret it. If I were you I would try to learn from that mistake. I am probably biased, though, as I am pretty against some alternative education models. If this is Steiner/Waldorf stuff then I would definitely say stay away! Otherwise research what you're getting involved with very carefully, look at any criticisms of the method carefully, and if you decide to pursue it try not to let it be at the expense of your career.
posted by hazyjane at 12:26 AM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

at 31, it's not like I have plenty of time left to get ahead in my profession

What a terrifying notion (says a 32 year old)! What makes you think that? Unless you're trying to get into a field where you age out naturally (modeling, professional football) or age out by policy (air traffic control), I doubt one early year is going to be make-or-break in career development. As long as you're doing something with that year, and can tell a good story when you do go out to start a career, by all means go do it.
posted by whatzit at 12:35 AM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would like to take (non-for-credit) courses on the subject and volunteer to teach . The courses I want to take cost money, and the time I would spend learning and teaching could otherwise be used to gain more standard credentials which could help me get a better paying job.

I think you should get the standard credentials.

If, after you get those standard credentials and the subsequent promotion (?), you decide that you still want to explore this alternative educational path, you'll be able to do that -- but in that case, you'll be doing it while working a better paying job and with more training in teaching/your subject than you have now, so you'll be in an even better position to do so.

On the other hand, if you start out on the alternative education path and then later decide to get those standard credentials and the subsequent promotion (?), you'll be doing that after having worked for free and paid to take non-credit classes for a year, so you'll be in even worse position to do so than you are now.

As a side note: it's always a red flag when you're asked to sacrifice a lot (working for free, paying for non-credit classes) but are offered nothing obvious/concrete in return.
posted by rue72 at 12:40 AM on March 19, 2014 [10 favorites]

I just took 3 months off from the work world, after my contract ended, to go back to school part time. One class was a prerequisite for a major that I want to pursue (Computer Science). However, the other? Cultural Anthropology. I'm only taking this for Funsies. And even though I'm paying for this all out of pocket, I have no regrets at all about doing this.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:06 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

and at 31, it's not like I have plenty of time left to get ahead in my profession.

At 31 you have (at the very least) 34 years of working ahead of you and plenty of time to begin several new careers.

Where do you draw the line between what you would like to do with your life and what you know is more likely to get you better paying positions?

"The late David Brenner said a long custody battle with a girlfriend over their son, Cole, forced him to curtail his TV appearances and visibility beginning in the mid-1980s, when Brenner lived in Aspen, Colo. “In a nutshell, I couldn’t work more than 50 nights a year (out of town) or I’d be an absentee father,” he said. “That was when they were giving out the talk shows, the sitcoms.” He was asked if he regretted his decision.

“I didn’t even make a decision. I didn’t even think about it. How could you not do it? I don’t mean to sound noble,” Brenner said. “Besides, I come from the slums of Philadelphia and everything in my life is profit. My downside is what most people would strive a lifetime to get to.”"
posted by three blind mice at 2:31 AM on March 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

A few years ago, I quit a stressful, nearly six-figure job to freelance, wander, and write. I ended up spending four months in a one-room dry cabin in interior Alaska with moose at my door. I turn 40 next year, and I'm planning to take at least six months to travel before my birthday.

I have been somewhat smart but mostly lucky finding work. (In fact, when I was hired for my current position, management considered my travels to be a sign of progressiveness and intellectual curiosity. It set me apart.)

I really enjoy my current job, but this past year it dawned on me I'll never become VP of anything, and the more I think about that lately, the more I realize that's OK for me. I drive a used car and manage to save nearly half my paycheck each month, which means I live frugally but can afford a lot of freedom. My tastes are pretty simple.

I'd rather spend money on well-intentioned, yet perhaps impractical dreams. If you're on a family track, things might be a little different, and that's totally valid. I think the only things people regret in the end are not following their dreams and not having the family/friends they want. Everything else is negotiable.
posted by mochapickle at 3:30 AM on March 19, 2014 [13 favorites]

In my early 30s, I took a year off to go to Alaska and learn about dog-sledding. Best year of my life.
And when I returned to the rat race, it was still there, and barely had missed a beat.

Carpe Diem.
posted by Flood at 4:10 AM on March 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Do you have children or other dependents whose financial security depends on your decisions?

And/or will following this alternative path put you in debt that you can't realistically pay off even if you go back to your usual career path?

If this answer to either of those questions is "Yes," then you probably shouldn't do it.

But if the answer to both is "no," then I'd refer you to this wise quote from a speech Bill Waterson gave:
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.
posted by yankeefog at 4:41 AM on March 19, 2014 [34 favorites]

I think one of the most important questions here is, who will feed and house you during your time off? If it is yourself, and you have no one depending on you for financial support, then go forth. If someone else must make a sacrifice so that you can pursue this, then I think you should wait until you can do it yourself.

Make sure this is following an interest, and not hiding from some other issue.
posted by Houstonian at 4:55 AM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

What will you regret most on your deathbed? Following your dream, or sacrificing your dream to earn lots of money?

Once upon a time I had a very high-paying job, and due to personal circumstances/drama, I quit and got a low-paying job. I LOVED the low-paying job. It taught me skills that I still use today, and I do not regret the change one bit.

This is one of those times when you have to follow your gut instinct while still weighing up your social/family responsibities. Will your family suffer? Then don't do it. Will your family still be in a 'holding pattern' while you work at a job you love, or even have the benefit of a happy family member who loves his/her job? That might be worth it.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:12 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Or you could use an alternative model yourself: advance your career and learn in your time off.
posted by jpe at 5:16 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Before you make either choice I'd sit and think carefully about whether you are someone prone to regret in general. If so, it might be that neither of these options is your best bet, because you will still be unhappy.
posted by spunweb at 5:29 AM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As long as you are occupied, learning new things and trying to make a difference in the world, you're not wasting time or effort. While I was in my late twenties and thirties, I must have taken a bazillion classes that had NOTHING to do with my career, mostly as a diversion and to make my brain happy.

If your needs are met monitarily in the job you're in now, I see no reason not to explore this little tangent. Who knows, you may decide to pursue that in a few years.

I've had three careers in my life, I was in Telecommunications, I taught in an inner-city High School and I'm now an analyst. They were all interesting and fulfilling to a degree.

Also, in moving into different areas, or even if you're just looking to move up in your current career, I don't see how having the classes or the volunteerism on your resume can do anything but help you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:47 AM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

How much finances matter is deeply personal. Your psychic well-being might be terrific as long as you have a place to live and enough to eat. Or you might not be comfortable unless you are doing a good job saving for retirement and have some discretionary income left over to be able to go on vacation or not worry about the bill if you have to take your kid to the emergency room with a broken ankle. How much does it matter? It's up to you.

But, okay, I think financial security matters a lot, and if you're planning to live to 100, there's no question that it does. So then the question is, how much does pursuing your hobbies matter to you? There's no objective answer to that.

All that said, I'm not sure why the age difference between 31 and 32 should make a difference in terms of you to advance in your career.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:13 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your age doesn't matter, the 'advancement' doesn't matter, if your finances will hold you, that doesn't matter. What concerns me is something someone mentioned upthread-- why do you have to pay for these classes, get no credit, and then volunteer to teach? This sounds the most worrisome. Do go pursue your passion, but think this through a bit more, and choose a more stable path on which to do make this journey.
posted by oflinkey at 6:27 AM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I wouldn´t give up my current job, but I would temporarily stop trying hard to get ahead. It seems down-to-earth enough at the moment, although perhaps not very wise from an strictly financial point of view. How much does it matter to do what is pleasurable and interesting, rather than what is convenient and more likely to create better income?

I don't understand why "temporarily stop trying hard to get ahead" is such a big deal. So you keep your job, but don't necessarily strive to climb the ladder, while pursuing other interests on the side. As long as the finances work out, meaning that you're not getting into debt and have enough money to sustain your lifestyle, why not? It sounds like you're presenting a binary choice of "do something wildly impractical" or "keep your nose to the grindstone and do anything to get ahead." But what you're actually planning is a more reasonable middle ground -- you still have your job and your income, and you're trying to fit in what you want to do around what you have to do.
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:07 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you attracted to these alternate paths because they are escapist fantasies where you imagine yourself becoming influential and wealthy without stress and drudgery? Your other question made the 4 years sound like a long escapist dream.

If you are genuinely interested in the alternative education and ready to put in hard work and potentially painful stressful times, then perhaps you are genuinely interested and should pursue it. But often people are drawn to something becomes it seems easy. It is only when they get into it that they realize it is actually hard work, or they discover that it can never become a way to make money. If this is another escapist fantasy, then do not do it.
posted by cheesecake at 8:45 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do not think you will be able to find the volunteer position that will fit you like a glove. I think you will run yourself into the ground fast. You don't mind me saying? If you can afford to spend time volunteering because you have the money for the basics, why not try to make a living helping your friends get jobs by working as a recruiter. In six months you will learn if you love it or you will be fired. I started doing recruiting earlier this month. I know your story very well because even I have fallen into the trap of thinking I could teach because I had "been there before". There are so many good, reputable fast track teacher training programs. It is better to give your days to trying out a job you can earn a bonus from then to spend your time being exasperated by your own lack of moral fiber when you finally throw in the towel.
posted by parmanparman at 1:07 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

After I graduated in the thing I wanted to be doing, I put it off for two years because I had an offer of a well-paid job in a thing I am good at but didn't want to be doing. Didn't work out for me. Apart from that the first year or two are always the hardest at a new job. Once you started and got dug in it'll be that much harder to take a few months off or whatever, unless in your field sabbaticals are allowed. So there's that.
posted by yoHighness at 3:21 AM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had to come back to this question. A business plan goes a long way. In 2012 I started a charity and ran it for more than a year. Only this month, I merged it into a new project I trusted and went back to an office job I really enjoy. I will probably not start another charity and I am happy with doing something on a board for a good while. That happy middle is where you really need to focus your energy. Essentially, making a passion a part time job is going to be less heart breaking over the long term than plunging in alone and putting everything into it.
posted by parmanparman at 3:56 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

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