Quarter life crisis (work or study or travel?)
August 26, 2014 2:14 AM   Subscribe

I've been having what I suspect is a quarterlife crisis for several months and luckily I've pretty narrowed it down to three options/priorities. However, that's the snag. I can't decide between the three (work, study, travel and a bit of play). Any thoughts much appreciated.

- Study in the city of my dreams (one year program) then travel afterwards in the European winter (I'm Aussie, so this is a big deal). This study is purely for interest, not to retrain, so it's not like I'm trying to escape a career I'm not interested in. And that's the problem. My industry's so saturated a 12 month gap would almost certainly kill off my career, and it is plausible I would want to return to it.

- Work in the city of my dreams in current industry, and hope I get time off to travel in late 2015 or early 2016 (all the jobs advertised at the moment are permanent fulltime).

- Work in a much smaller city on a 12month contract which would really add to my resume (same industry as current job). So the 12 months means I would still be guaranteed to travel (albeit in the European winter). However, the difference here is the city has a reputation for being boring and cliquey. But I've successfully found ways around both issues in the current (country) town I'm in, which is a tenth the size of this smaller city. So though I'm put off by the reputation of this city, I know I could probably find ways around them. The only issue that might be hard to find a way around is ethnic dining--it is one of the more white cities in the country, and that would be my issue--where I am at the moment, it's a 2hr train or drive to the city of my dreams which has ethnic food galore, while this smaller city, it's a bit more effort to jump on a plane. I know it shouldn't bother me, but it does.


- Study what I've always wanted, in a city I've always liked, then go travel (bearing the European winter) and hope a 12month gap on resume is not career suicide
- Work in a city I've always liked, but unsure if able to get time off to travel (I would be looking at 2-3 months' travel, so squishing my 4 weeks of annual leave won't cut it)
- Work in a city that is known to be cliquey and boring, but would really prop up my resume, then go travel (bearing the European winter).

If any of you are thinking, why don't you just stay in your current job and leave for Europe early next year--the answer is I could, but I would rather not wait 6 months to access opportunities that only a city (even the smaller one) can provide--I'm interested in taking night classes in random subjects and in obscure sports (badminton, fencing) that the country town I'm in doesn't offer, and by country town I mean it's about 100k population so the next option really is a city.

Thanks for any thoughts you might have (even if it means pointing out that it's best for me to stay where I am).
posted by glache to Work & Money (18 answers total)
Take a permanent job in the city of your dreams and spend a month each year for the next N years doing the travelling that you want (during agreeable seasons, even).
posted by drlith at 2:22 AM on August 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best advice I received before moving across the Pacific to a city I knew nothing about and to a job I was not quite sure I'd like was, "There is very little you can do in your 20s that you can't easily recover from."

Go study what you wanted in the city you've always liked.
posted by astapasta24 at 2:31 AM on August 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

I don't know; it's true you're young and it's only a year (or a little while), but these kinds of choices have a way of spiralling people away from initial plans.

The thing about extended travel is, if you're not careful, it's easy enough to coast on the charms of a beautiful city and neglect the development of your social value (as opposed to the value you consume). Anonymity and the feeling of a lack of consequences make it possible to drift in the experience of difference, which it's easy to take as meaningful. Which it is -- it's sensually and philosophically stimulating, but the things you get out of it are ephemeral, and they can cost you. Lost opportunity in your 20s wouldn't be as potentially impactful if it were 1998 and you could be more confident you could easily recoup your losses in a decent job back home, but here we are, in harsh 2014.

If you could get something more lasting out of this experience, some capital that's likely to translate across borders and give you better odds later on, that'd be best, I think. I don't imagine that would be the course of study. (The exception, imo, would be if it's a renowned program with career-making brand power, but you say it'd only be for interest.)

Have you been offered the 12-month contract? How much value do you think it would add to your resume? If it would springboard you into better opportunities, could you do that and then try to work in the city you like, at a more financially (or creatively) rewarding level? Just trying your chances with work there with your current experience might not be a bad alternative, depending again on opportunities.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:20 AM on August 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

Just because a job is advertised as permanent fulltime, it doesn't mean that you are locked into it forever. You can just as easily take a permanent role in dream city and leave it after 12 months to travel as you can take and leave the 12 month role in the smaller city.

You might also be able to take some of the classes from your one year study program while working in dream city, swap to a shorter period of full time study and then travel (the 'bit of everything' option).
posted by AnnaRat at 4:52 AM on August 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is not a quarterlife crisis. This is a choice among three options that are all appealing.

I'd recommend taking a permanent job in the city of your dreams. If your heart's really set on a 2-3 month chunk of travel, build up your savings and your resume and, once you've got enough cushion, leave the job to go travel.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:15 AM on August 26, 2014 [10 favorites]

If you've never experienced a high latitudes winter (and aren't, say, into skiing), I would wait until spring to go to Europe. Unless you want to limit yourself to around the med, it's dark and cold and feels neverending. February in Germany was some of the worst weather I've experienced, and was incredibly depressed. So dark.

I say go to big city once you get a job there. Maybe go the medium sized place for the 12 month stint, then look for a job in big city. But if you want a stable career in the field you're in, you might not get the chance to do the multi-month backpacking trip. It's a pretty big risk.
posted by kjs4 at 6:34 AM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

That is a difficult choice. Have you tried tossing a coin? For me, that always helps me feel what I really want. Think about what you will regret later in life for each choice.

Whatever you do, don't go to Europe during winter. Most Aussies and SE-Asians I have met while they were doing that have been deeply shocked by the cold, the damp and not least the darkness. They had imagined something bad and it was worse.
posted by mumimor at 7:56 AM on August 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Agree that traveling in European winter is... not fun. Gets dark early, lots of accommodations close down, your feet get wet and cold, and you are always on the move. Sitting in a park for a rest break is not comfortable so you end up spending money at a dreary cafe. Never again.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:03 AM on August 26, 2014

To answer your question directly, I think that unless you have an outside source of funds (e.g. family support) or significant savings, you should stay with a job. The best job you can get, irrespective of city--say, a job in your dream city, since almost assuredly the job will not really be "permanent" and you will have some time between jobs to travel. But it's 2014, not 1998, and I have seen happy-go-lucky decisions made by my friends in their 20s have serious unpleasant repercussions now, in their early 30s.

Regarding high latitude winters: they are indeed dark, wet, and cold. That bright sun and sparkling snow you see in postcards? About 25% of the time in most places. A job in your ideal city would also give you the opportunity to see what time of the year, and what places, are best for traveling.
posted by epanalepsis at 8:42 AM on August 26, 2014

It wouldn't be a 12-month gap in your resume (which no, is not career suicide. Stealing money from an employer is career suicide. Not working for a year is often called things like parenting or unemployment and people somehow find a way to work again.) if you're studying. You'd be studying.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:13 AM on August 26, 2014

But it's 2014, not 1998, and I have seen happy-go-lucky decisions made by my friends in their 20s have serious unpleasant repercussions now, in their early 30s.

Eh. I quit a well paying job in my mid 30s to go travel for 3 months and it hasn't had the slightest negative impact in my life. I'm making almost twice what I was making before I left. Nobody at any company worth working for is going to knock you for taking a few months off to travel or otherwise improve yourself, assuming you have the money to do it.
posted by empath at 9:40 AM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nobody at any company worth working for is going to knock you for taking a few months off to travel or otherwise improve yourself

Hmm, when people airily support this idea, I sort of feel they should mention what they do for a living. Quite a lot of people have the opposite experience.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:13 AM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is not a crisis, quarter-life or otherwise. Faced with this choice, if I was in my mid-20s, I think I'd toss the first idea because money. Even if school was free somehow, I'd still have expenses while in school and I think it would be hard for me to make money while taking classes. I did it while I was in undergrad but I don't feel the need to do it again. Plus I'd study for a year and have made no money or very little money for a year, then how would I pay for a few months of travel? I'd worry too much about money to enjoy traveling or school.

That leaves working a dream city or working in a smaller city. Why move someplace where you don't want to live? Why not strive to work in your dream city? If that means working a crappy job for less money than you're currently making, I imagine that you would still emerge in a better position that if you had studied for 12 months in dream city. Why spend any amount of time living someplace that doesn't really interest you if you don't have to?

When I finished college, I wanted to live somewhere so I moved there and made it work. I worked at a bookstore, did temp work, paid internships, etc. Now this is my home. If I want to move, I can but it's pretty rad to live and work in a city that I love. I'm generally risk-averse and when it comes to money, I'm a saver, so I'm hesitant to take time off to study something just so you can be in a dream city when you think you could just as easily work there. If you said it was your dream city and your dream to study X because you love the institution and the professors, maybe I'd think differently about this decision but I'm working with the information I have.

If you get four weeks of vacation annually and want to spend 2-3 months traveling, you can travel for one month every year that you work. If you decide that you really need to spend 2-3 consecutive months traveling and it is impossible to achieve your traveling dreams while working a job, save money so you can make your dream come true. The cool thing about money is that having it means that you can do things like take 2-3 months off to travel. You don't need to justify going to your dream city by saying you're going there to study - you can just say, I wanted to go there for a month so I went.

I might sound money-obsessed but I'm in my early 30s and I never took 2-3 months off to bop around Europe - I have had a 9-5 job since I was 24. I'm not someone who is excessively thrifty - I travel somewhat often, eat out regularly, buy new clothes, etc. but I have saved somewhat aggressively since I started working. I recently looked at my accounts (savings and retirement) and saw that I have more than twice my current annual salary saved. If I quit my job today, I could live off of my savings for more than a year. Money isn't everything but it's a bigger deal when you don't have it. So I'd encourage you to strive to get a job in your dream city.
posted by kat518 at 11:24 AM on August 26, 2014

Thanks for the replies. To clarify, I have significant savings (I'm talking 2 years' worth of salary).

@MetroidBaby I thought it was. I thought I was perfectly ok in my job here until several events forced me to think about where I was--namely a girl my age dying of bowel cancer(there's cancer in my family) amplified by the usual FB posts of everyone else was going travelling (which I've always wanted and witnessed but nothing like being aware of your own mortality as a kick up the butt). Anyway that's all semantics

Regarding my resume, I did 2 years of contracting, and now am 14 months in my current permanent fulltime job. Is that enough of a cushion?

Thanks for the tips on not going to Europe during winter. By winter I mean late Oct - mid Dec. That would still be pretty bad wouldn't it? I'm near Melbourne which if any knows is the southernmost city in the mainland and surviving through 2 winters here, I'm still not liking the 7:30-5pm hours of sunlight.

No I haven't been offered the 12 month contract, the deadline's tomorrow hence the timing of this post. Idon't want to apply for such a job if I have no intention (I think) of taking it.
posted by glache at 1:36 PM on August 26, 2014

Hmm, when people airily support this idea, I sort of feel they should mention what they do for a living. Quite a lot of people have the opposite experience.

Unix system admin.
posted by empath at 2:53 PM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing to note about your winter concerns; I am from an equatorial country, and I spent a year in Montreal, right through the icy winter. The cold outside was of little concern once I was equipped with *proper* winter gear. Slipping on ice, otoh, is another topic.
posted by TrinsicWS at 10:03 PM on August 26, 2014

If you don't like short days during winter, October to December is *absolutely* the worst time to visit Europe. In mid to late December the sun in London rises at 8am and sets by 4pm. Further north is even worse. The cold weather and long nights do have a nice cosy feel to them (and there's lots of Christmas markets and events in that time period), but it definitely gets in the way of tourism. If you can only visit Europe during winter you won't see the best aspects of it.
posted by leo_r at 3:52 AM on August 27, 2014

Alternatively, you can study whatever you want wherever you want during retirement. Also consider investigating whether taking unpaid leave is "a thing" in your industry/ country.
posted by oceano at 8:29 PM on August 27, 2014

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