Do I need a career change?
May 12, 2014 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Not sure if career is the problem of if it's just me...

I have several things going on and it is hard for me to pinpoint what exactly is causing the problem. Here is what I know:

- I'm female, 40-something and single.
- I have had a chronic insomnia problem for many years, probably caused by chronic anxiety. Within the past couple of years it has gotten much worse. When I don't get enough sleep (sometimes I only get 2 or 3 hours at night) I get chest pain and pain radiating down my left arm.
- I was a software developer for a long time, though my degrees are in a different field (still technical). Within the span of 20 years, I have had 9 different jobs. I have quit 3 of them without having another job lined up first, and was terminated from 1 due to some self-sabotage.
- After the last time I quit, I couldn't find another job in my field and ended up in IT as a "programmer". It is really customizing and configuring off the shelf software. I've been in IT for 3 years, and am now on my 4th job.
- I have a lot of experience, and I know a lot of different languages now. I'm good at problem solving and writing code. I'm a hard worker and conscientious. But I've never really felt comfortable in this field. It has to do with the people more than the actual work. I have encountered some really nasty people in this field, and have been the target of abuse by at least one at every job. The focus in the groups I've been in seems to be proving how smart you are, even if that means putting someone else down or stealing credit for their work. I am getting less and less tolerant of it, and the problem seems to be getting worse. I don't know if it is the same in other fields, or even other companies or geographical areas. I have an idea that in people-focused fields such as nursing, or education, this might be different. But I just don't know. I know I can't keep going this way, because it's costing me my health, and it is hurting the people close to me. Any advice or input appreciated.
posted by jenh526 to Work & Money (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you?
posted by oceanjesse at 8:48 PM on May 12, 2014

Are you being treated for your anxiety? Because the anxiety itself plus the prolonged lack of sleep will colour the way you view your work situation.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:59 PM on May 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oi! I had the same thing! And it was hormones caused by peri menopause. It was NOT "anxiety".

I was also working a corporate job and I thought I was going crazy. The hormones would give me a pain in my breast bone and I would have insomnia. Also some heart palpitations and digestive issues. So. Much. Fun.

First of all, go see a female doctor to take care of your health. Get all the blood work and hormone levels and thyroid, etc. checked. Ask and insist about peri menopause, because that's a real thing! It can keep you up at night, cause panic attacks, the whole thing. That's physical, not mental.

I feel your pain with s/w engineers, I do. Maybe you do need a career change. Consult for a while, figure out your core interests (mine are cooking, gardening, etc. not viable but I like them)... can you transfer it to insurance? Or helping elderly people figure out the in's and out's of the healthcare system? Just some ideas to get you going away from what you are doing now, that could be beneficial to you and other people.

What you are going through is okay and valid for someone your age. Just go to the doctor first and get the physical stuff worked out before you get labeled and label yourself, okay? Even then, don't apply the label to yourself. You are still a human being and maybe you are just going through a hard time and need a little support. {{{hugs}}}
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:02 PM on May 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

It is my experience that people like the ones that both you are not universal in every workplace, and may occur more in your field than others, I dunno, but they're pretty common across the board. That doesn't mean you have to put up with it, but it does mean you need to have skills in place to deal with unpleasant people no matter where you go.
posted by Sequence at 9:03 PM on May 12, 2014

I have a lot of experience, and I know a lot of different languages now. I'm good at problem solving and writing code. I'm a hard worker and conscientious.

Since it sounds like you are good at what you do and the main challenge is dealing with coworkers, have you considered going into business for yourself and offering those skills as a service?

Do the research first (ie, pay per hour/average rate for your industry, etc.), but if the work is out there and people for it, I think that this would solve some of your problems. You would not need to deal with people day in/day out and escape the office politics/drama/soap operas, ad nauseum meetings for 10 hours to do 3 hours of work, etc. You may not have to work as many hours to make the same income. It could work to alleviate some of what sounds like anxiety, which may be work-related.
posted by Wolfster at 9:59 PM on May 12, 2014

Best answer: I have encountered some really nasty people in this field, and have been the target of abuse by at least one at every job.

Yup, that's programming jobs! Those kind of problems are very very common, and there is a huge amount of sexism in the industry that is just now starting to be acknowledged. There are good situations out there, but they are rare. Bigger companies with serious management/HR processes tend to be better than "We're hip we don't have managers" start-ups, which tend to devolve into "Lord of the Flies" scenarios. Also being a programmer at a company where code is tangential to the business tends to be a lot better than being at a software company, because they have a "normal" culture in place and don't buckle to every stupid-ass Agile scrum no-walls Rails magic whim of the Brogrammers.

It's not impossible to find a decent situation, and you're certainly not alone in switching jobs a lot. I'm generally considered good at my job and yet in a 15 year career I've been laid off three times, been let go because I turned down cross-country relocation once, and hassled into quitting by a fascist psychopath once.

But if the industry really isn't for you, by all means try something else.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:56 PM on May 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Please don't have too many rosy notions about teaching and education, both of those can be brutal in their own rights.
posted by bquarters at 3:35 AM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I work in education. The office politics can be just as bad or worse. Don't go into any service type of job thinking it's going to be kumbaya, because helping people doesn't always equate with a peaceful working environment.

That's not to say there aren't good places to work, or that I don't love my job, but we're people just like anybody else.

I really think that you may be projecting something or coming off diffeerently than you think you are to have had so many problems though, I don't think changing careers will help, but learning to deal better with the circumsances will, and that might mean treating your anxiety, or learning techniques for dealing with bullies, or being more perceptive of how you are coming off or learning to spot trouble before you've committed to a job.
posted by Aranquis at 4:33 AM on May 13, 2014

Best answer: Education is indeed brutal. I was a Data Engineer (I started in telecommuications in the eighties, sexism much?) I took no shit from anyone, and in the two years I was a high school teacher my stress went from around a 2 to 11! I went for a check up and my blood pressure had gone up to 160/100. I had to quit.

I've been on anti-anxiety drugs since my hysterectomy and that helps me a lot!

So as a first step, get a complete medical workup, discuss your anxiety with your doctor, ask if it's related to impending menopause, or if it's just a thing you've been living with.

As for the job situation, learn to roll with it. I find that having a wicked sense of humor will usually knife through the bullshit.

"I believe you Seth, your dick is bigger than mine."

Don't buy into the posturing from male co-workers. Just roll your eyes and shake your head. A lot of those guys have horrible social skills and frankly are big bags of insecurity, masquarading as grade-A douche-nozzle.

Once you realize that your skills and experience are just fine for your projects, these guys chipping away at your self-esteem will seem less like bulldozers and more like annoying little ants. Just shine your magnifying glass on them if they act up.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:16 AM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not an engineer, so I do not have firsthand experience in being a woman in that field. However, you say you have been a target of abuse from someone at every job you have been at. It is, alas, normal to encounter a bully at least once in one's career, but if you find yourself making enemies everywhere you go, and find that every workplace is unpleasant, that is not normal and is something you want to examine more closely.

I don't think this is something that will be solved by changing fields (and, as others have pointed out, pink-collar professions are not warm and fuzzy either). I would, first, go to your doctor and get a thorough checkup to see if your anxiety has a physical basis (like a malfunctioning thyroid or pre-diabetes, for example). Then, find a therapist, preferably someone who deals in anxiety disorders and social skill building. If you have a way of interacting with others that brings out the worst in them (for whatever reason), therapy will help; changing jobs won't.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:10 AM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies. I wanted to clear up one possible misperception - I'm not an abrasive person, I am just quiet and introverted, and I think that makes me a target for people who enjoy beating up on others to make themselves feel good.

Oceanjesse, I am in the southwest US.
posted by jenh526 at 6:20 AM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

A therapist can still help you be the best quiet and introverted person you can be. Many people are quiet and introverted, but they don't find themselves targets of abuse or bullying at every single place they work.

If you had encountered just one or two bullies - that's just bad luck and can happen to anyone. But if you persistently find yourself to be a workplace scapegoat and/or outcast, if you quit one toxic job just to find that your next workplace is toxic, too - that indicates a pattern that would be worth looking at more closely with the help of a therapist.

It does not mean you are a bad person! It means that you can improve how you relate to people so that you get treated better; or you can sharpen your "spidey sense" so you can see the warning signs of bad bosses or toxic workplaces. Unless you are very unsuited to your career, changing careers won't help with this pattern of consistently encountering bad workplaces. "Wherever you go, there you are" - and if there is a pattern in your work life chances are you help create it, even unconsciously.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:18 AM on May 13, 2014

I just want to add - you're a woman in a male-dominated profession, and it could be that the combination of your gender and your introversion does mean that you are likely to be a target no matter what. In that case, you might want to focus on taking a job at a company where engineering is just a department, rather than a software company, as DrJimmy says. You might find yourself fitting in better in the engineering department of a widget company, rather than a software company.

That is still staying in your field, which, if you like it and it pays well, you would do well to stay in unless you decide you hate it and really do want to change. Just don't seek out a female-dominated field thinking it will be better. If you want a career change, find a good career counselor (or your alma mater's career center) who will give you a battery of questions and tests like SkillScan to help you transfer your skills into a new area.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:49 AM on May 13, 2014

As Rosie said, working in a different sort of company might make a big difference. It won't necessarily pay as well, but looking into things like database management at universities and nonprofits might be better for you.
posted by metasarah at 1:33 PM on May 13, 2014

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