I am feeling stuck in a serious rut. How to reboot?
February 26, 2015 8:24 AM   Subscribe

In my mid-20s, going nowhere, full of shame.

This question is long, in the hope that it will provide useful information I haven't been able to zero in on.

I'm 25 years old, living in a major city. For the last few years I feel like I've been spinning my wheels. Even when I make "progress," it's like I'm going backwards. For instance, after many long, introspective conversations with my boyfriend, we finally moved in together two years ago-- but now we're codependent and we fight all the time and it has me wondering if it was the right choice. Or my job-- my last job was a nightmare (bad hours, abusive boss, life-consuming), so I found a new job, but it pays slightly less and I feel like I'm not learning any new skills or preparing myself for a better future position. (It's in print publishing, and most of the skills seem minor or nontransferable... managing schedules, quality control, etc.)

I guess what has me thinking about this is that I recently attended my cousin's wedding. She is seven years older than me, but in many ways, she has lived the life I wish I had led. I moved away to a fancy top-ranked college, she stayed near home and made the most of her opportunities. Now I'm living like a pauper working in publishing (which I have gradually come to dislike), and she's director of an interesting program in a field we're both passionate about in our home city. She travels for work, I do not. She owns her own home, I live in an overpriced apartment in a boring neighborhood so that my commute is managable. She's studied abroad, I have not. She takes risks and leadership opportunities, I hide at home in fear of embarassment. It's kind of the big fish / small pond analogy-- she is the big fish in a small pond, I decided to become a big fish in a big pond, and I'm not only unhappy but ashamed. I don't know why I chose this-- I transferred to a better school on the advice of an ex-boyfriend and now I feel stuck here. I've known for years I wasn't happy but I've tried to stay the course, and I feel this has only led me to feel not at home anywhere. I miss my family, I miss my "roots," but when I tried to move back home after college, I couldn't find any job opportunities and I moved back to my college city, where I got a job immediately. Everyone I went to college with is long gone, and I don't know why I'm here anymore. (Well, I do-- it's my boyfriend's home city and he is not on board with moving to my less "exciting" home area.) I work at my university. I don't particularly like my university culture, or the city where I live. My boyfriend's family is nice but they all have different values than me. I care about family and being self-sustaining and being real to myself, they are kind of social "strivers" (who also care about family, but don't seem interested in expanding theirs). They have been nice to me, but I know they'd be happier if their son was dating someone from an upper-middle class background. My boyfriend himself wants to be successful (he's thinking about law school) but I feel like he's waiting for me to take the reins-- like once I do something, he's motivated to do it too. This is exhausting and I wish he'd take a leadership role in his own future. I don't feel inspired to be my best self by this relationship, and in fact, I've become a bitter, unhappy version of myself who feels stuck and cries every day. I feel like I can't give because I don't feel like my own needs are met-- I'm exhausted by the codependency.

To some extent I know these doldrums will eventually subside. I had a lot of debt after graduation (some accrued during my failed move-home experiment), and it will finally be paid off late this year, which will be huge. I will be able to save a LOT of money. But I'll also be 26, and I feel like I'm really running out of time to work on this "finding myself" thing.

The other big part for me is that my sisters have started having babies, and I have missed everything, naturally, since I live far away. I try to visit a lot but I feel like I'm missing so much. I miss baby showers, hospital photos, first birthday parties-- this year I missed Christmas. Right now I see my family about twice a year, which to me feels like way not enough. But I don't want to use all my vacation visiting my family... I'd rather be around my family, and use my vacation to go on vacation! Plus, visiting has become difficult-- my parents are both becoming difficult to deal with, but when I visit I usually have to stay with them, so instead of spending time with my sisters and their new families, I end up spending a lot of time appeasing them.

I guess I feel like I need a serious reboot. I've thought about going back to school, but I don't know for what. I could probably get into a top literature PhD, knowing that I have great references and I'm good at applications (see: Esther Greenwood), but it seems like it would compound my current problems (poor, no career path, not living where I want to live). I thought about getting a two-year computer science degree, but the field is intimidating to me as a woman and a mere tech-dabbler. I would like to get my masters as an excuse to just... move... and maybe I could find the funding to do this? Mostly I'm just so tired of living in a city I don't like, in a claustrophobic relationship, with all my friends gone, and a job that will go nowhere.

What have you done, to reboot yourself in your mid-20s? How do you escape inertia? Should I move back home with job experience under my belt, or am I an idiot who doesn't learn her lesson? I'm going to keep working steadily until I pay off my debt, but then what?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
From reading your question, it sounds like what you want to do is look for a job in your home city, break up with your boyfriend, and move back to be near your family.

This sounds like a totally reasonable thing to want. I don't think you need to apply to a new school program to have an excuse to move. You can apply to jobs in your hometown from your current location -- just explain in the cover letters that you are planning to move.

Also, I would call your sisters and discuss how you're feeling with them. They may have ideas about careers in the area, or may offer to have you stay with them, or may just provide you with support and let you know that how you're feeling is pretty normal.

Also, you sound really down on yourself. Can you try to find a therapist, maybe, or at least carve out some time to be nice to yourself?

You aren't a bad person and you're not somehow "an idiot" for not having your life 100% worked out by your mid-20s. Wondering where you are going is TOTALLY NORMAL. (In fact, I bet your cousin looks at your life and says wow, she doesn't have to travel for work, she went to an awesome school, and she's in a big city, she's so lucky! Here's a secret, traveling for work sucks. Don't judge yourself by the Facebook version of someone else's life.)
posted by pie ninja at 8:45 AM on February 26, 2015 [23 favorites]

I'm just so tired of living in a city I don't like, in a claustrophobic relationship, with all my friends gone, and a job that will go nowhere.

this seems like the most important thing. it doesn't sound like the life you're living now is what you want. what does a life that you love look like? what can you do right now to make your life more like that one, the one that's happy, fulfilled and not full of inertia feelings?

I can't tell you want to do, but I was in a similar boat. what i did, is move back to where my family was, started to spend more time with my acquaintances to get a small friendship circle going and got a job that I'm good at. it's not a perfect job and may not be my lifelong career, but life is a marathon, not a sprint. so take it one day at a time and see where your journey leads you. it's tough because i left a relationship I wanted to stay in even though there was nothing good left to hold onto. I knew the best decision for future me was to walk along my path and to build a life for my future that I could be happy in. good luck
posted by lunastellasol at 8:46 AM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Make friends, get a new job, and explore your city, sometimes without your boyfriend.

Don't break up with your boyfriend because of this issue. I think he likely feels the same way about himself, and both of you need to take steps to take care of yourselves. I don't think this is impossible while remaining in a relationship, I just think it takes some bravery to break out of the co-dependence you've fallen into. Cities offer a lot of fun things to do - meetups, classes, wandering, shows, bars, museums, etc. Maybe say, hey, boyfriend, every Saturday, let's spend some time apart doing our own thing but not being at home. This gives you time to figure out/remember what makes you you instead of thinking about what make "you+boyfriend" you+boyfriend.

I am essentially you (or your boyfriend) and this advice is to me as much as to you. If I have any success, I'll let you know!

(Alternatively, ditch your boyfriend, but don't do it because he's "smothering" you. I think you're smothering yourself, just like he may be smothering himself, and if both of you commit to taking time to love yourselves this smothering will stop and you will both be more attractive/better partners. Still, you have a lot of other issues with him. While I don't think he's your main problem, you may be able to find someone better suited to you.)
posted by papayaninja at 9:05 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

You've got all these different value systems that are pulling you in too many directions for you to think about what you actually want. Making more money. Being who your boyfriend and his family want you to be. Being successful and "making it" in the big city. But then the pull towards home, family stuff, not enjoying where you live right now or your job. And to top it all off you've got the quarter-life-crisis "I don't know what I'm doing with my life and I have a new understanding of the relentless passage of time!" panic blaring in your ear.

It is totally totally normal to not know what you're doing at 25. I think the worst thing you could possibly do now is to think that you've run out of options because you're "running out of time". Don't settle with this life that is making you miserable. Don't stick with it out of that false panic about running out of time. It's not true- you're still really young and all sorts of different things could happen in your life.

So my advice is to try and clear all that noise out and think about what you really want your life to look like and how you could get there. If you want to live back home, that is totally valid. You might have to try harder to find a job there, sure, but you're not happy in your career anyway so why not try some new avenues? You have the power to make all sorts of things happen and work for you. Following your dreams isn't just for college kids! It's for everyone! Don't give up hope!
posted by mymbleth at 9:07 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well, you know what I always recommend, and I'm completely serious about it.

More broadly, you should think about full stack service organizations, not universities. The university will always be there, but you won't be 25 again.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:08 AM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

What have I done in my life to reboot it. I have rebooted it several times and most likely will again. I dropped out of highschool then at 21 I went back and graduated. I nannied for a while, that got me a job child minding at a hotel, they needed a data entry person in the accounts department I typed fast so I did that for a while, liked it so went back to school at nights & learned bookkeeping. People quit I changed jobs and ended up in charge of 4 people keeping books for a huge hotel resort. Hated hospitality hours, quit & started a bookshop, quit that left a relationship & moved back home to help family. Fell in love, moved to the US & started all over again in a new relationship with an old friend. I never once regretted the chances I took, only the ones I didn't. How did I do it? I just did it. I planned what I wanted to do, in your case end your relationship, move & start a new job. I saved up as needed and then I did it. Seriously, I went I am unhappy here, that looks interesting lets do that thing and I figured out how to make it happen. My Dad used to say the only difference between a rut & a grave is the depth.

Nothing about your life is carved in stone, people get so set in their lives they don't realise there is not a damn thing keeping them in their rut but themselves & maybe money issues, but you are single & childless so that should be less of a problem for you. You are allowed to leave your relationship, move home, move away, go back to school, start a new job, change careers, drop out join a commune, start a business, run for office, take up scuba diving whatever the hell you want. I give you permission. I'm 46 I have no idea where I'll be or what I'll be doing at 50years old, you sure as hell don't have to have it sorted out in your 20's or ever. By the way my encouragement to do what the hell you want is tempered by the fact that you don't have to be stupid about it, I have a substantial 401k I have savings I worked my ass off to get, freedom & stupidity are not the same thing

Maybe this will inspire you.
posted by wwax at 9:11 AM on February 26, 2015 [13 favorites]

Is there some reason you can't look for a job in your home town? You can break up with the boyfriend and live with your parents, or wait for a job offer and then breakup with him to move, but.... you need a new job, and he needs to go.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:11 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Remember also that you're 25 and (doing the math) your cousin is 32. She has seven years of adulthood under the belt that you do not. You have been an adult for seven years and have spent that time doing and learning a lot of things. Your cousin spent her years from 18 to 25 learning and doing things that she then built on for the next seven years.

Comparing yourself to where she is now isn't fair or fruitful. Compare yourself to where she was when she was 25. Hint: she was not as accomplished as she is now.

If her trajectory inspires you to change your own, so be it, but don't hobble yourself by making unfair comparisons.
posted by Sublimity at 9:12 AM on February 26, 2015 [11 favorites]

Have you talked about this with your family at all? Is moving back home an option? If so, take a look at what industries are big in and around your home town. That might help guide you in terms of a career path that could help you live the life you want, even if you don't know what that life looks like yet. Just starting to take steps in any direction can help you see things you can't see while standing still.

What I see as good news here is that it sounds like you know where you want to live. A lot of people in your situation don't even know that much. You want to live closer to your family, right? So focus on that first.

In terms of your job skills seeming minor and non-transferable, you mention managing schedules and quality control. Those sound like transferable skills to me.
posted by bananana at 9:49 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've rebooted my life several times, probably once every 5 to 10 years. I don't think age has anything to do with it.

If it helps, here are some I learned along the way, along with specific ideas for your situation:

• Give yourself credit; you should have no shame and have pride. One thing that stands in your question vs. other questions that I read is that it sounds like you took steps to create your current situation (ie, picked the college/relationship, etc. etc.). Some people might even look at your life and give a very positive/narrative spin. Many people have not done half the things that you have done, so pat yourself on the pack.

• You are in your 20s, not 90. You have your entire life to travel, move to another town, etc. (I do encourage you to make a change/changes, but don't beat yourself up because you haven't done all these other things that you compare to other people based on what you see on the outside).

• Any decision will not have black and white outcomes and will not be set in stone. So one I have noticed via talking to people and other askmetas that people get fixated on: What job next? Or what town next? What if this goes and that goes wrong? You might make a choice and hate a job, but love the city (hey, I did that). It is not the end of the world because then you change the job. It is a continuous evaluation and small changes to get where you want. You might get to your home town, love being with your family, but not be immediately happy with the job (or some other combination that you can't predict).

• Any decisions you make, it is absolutely okay to obtain some of the things on your list, make it part way through and say, "I don't like this outcome, or this aspect, but I now want that shiny goal instead", and change course and go for that instead. We often don't know what we want until we are in the situation.

• What I have done in your situation and it looks like you might not have done yet: Which of those things on your list are the most important? I actually get out a pencil and paper and write a list of pros/cons vs things that I liked in the past. But I would pick one or two things and go for it (ie, maybe it is move home and be part of your sister and nephew and niece's lives/along with a different job). Or maybe it is a new job. Can't answer the question for you, but make a list and focus on one or two goals and make steps to get there.

• Grad school. I am actually someone who often goes against the grain and encourages people to grad school. But in your case, I think that this is just confusing the situation and might not be a good idea for the moment (maybe a few years from now/10 years from now/or never), but not now. There is nothing in your post that suggests you have a direction (ie, "I don't know for what") or a passion, or even envision what you would do with it afterward. Furthermore, I'm saying this as someone who did have a fully funded (plus living stipend) PhD: You will incur some amount of debt. You would be financially ahead (in the next five years or so) if you work a low level or mid level job for a few years vs. go to grad school. So as an example, they will not pay for your moving expenses (and even if you have nothing, there will be expenses). It is okay to want to reboot your life, but you might end up somewhere else with an entirely new set of problems and this would just be floating through and not making an active decision (again, if you said "I'm passionate about Y, and Y degree helps me do research in Q" it would make sense).

• Some jobs would fund some of the things that you want (ie, some will pay for new training, or graduate school courses, or even relocation), although it depends on your field and/or prospective job fields. I still would not just take a job to reboot (plan out your reboot), but a job could get some of the things that you want (ie, pay for relocation, or let you take some part time courses if you so desire).

• I think taking steps (and doing a reboot) will make you stronger in that if there are things that you don't like in your life, you will make the change again.

• Making dramatic changes usually worked for me (ie, give notice a job, don't renew a lease, etc.) so that it forces me off the plank and toward the direction that I want to go. This isn't necessarily the best solution for everyone. If you prefer smaller steps/gradations and to slowly evaluate what you want, I think that this post from a few years ago (and this answer was hilarious and might be applicable) might be helpful, but it is hard to know which route you would prefer as part of operation reboot.

• If I were in your shoes, I would think through certain scenarios and talk to people who know you. So for example, I would call your sister. Don't set expectations too high (she might get too excited if you tell her you are thinking of moving there), but if you suggest the possibility she might have great feedback/recommendations, etc.
posted by Wolfster at 10:09 AM on February 26, 2015 [9 favorites]

What if you stay where you are until your loans are paid, THEN you pick up and move?

If you love your boyfriend, get to couples counseling to work on better communication. If you're feeling that you're together because it's better than nothing, perhaps start disentangling your lives and make steps to going forward separately.

26 is nothing! Stop comparing yourself to others, everyone's path is different. All my friends who got married in their twenties, were divorced in their thirties. I got married later and I missed the starter marriage. I don't regret it in hindsight.

I'm sure that your cousin wishes she had your prestigious education and was living in a big city. Everyone fantasizes about what they don't have,.

Start planning your future. You don't have to do anything right off the bat, but it's a good idea to start talking to your boyfriend about breaking up, because if you're only together out of inertia, that's not such a great answer.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:18 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

As others have stated, you clearly want to live near your family. That's one positive place where you totally know yourself and your desires. So take a look at what it takes to do that. How long do you have left on your lease? What networking can you do with family and friends in your hometown area to get a job? Will someone let you crash with them for a few weeks while you look for a new home there?

The other positives you focus on are what your cousin is doing. What about her situation seems most awesome to you? Is it the work? Then talk to her about working at her organization - what does she think it would take for you to do something similar? Does she know of jobs in the area that would put you on that track?

If you can swing it, therapy might be helpful for you. I went to therapy while stuck, and having a professional help me tease apart what I wanted and help me figure out that I could get out of my own way and have those things played a huge role in my being unstuck and so much happier now.

Lastly, while I think askme tends to tell people to break up with their SOs too readily, I'll note that you don't seem to much like your partner, your relationship with him (codependent), his family, their values (shared values are important glue in a long-term relationship), or their geographic area. It seems pretty clear to me that building a happy life with him is going to really difficult. Keep that in mind as you figure out how you want to get to where you want to be, and whether you want to do it with him.
posted by ldthomps at 11:31 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would look at what your cousin has done as something you can aspire to do by the age of 32, but not beat yourself up over if you haven't achieved it at 25 (more inspiration, less envy and being down on yourself).

It sounds like you want to move back to your home town and change your career. Is there any temp work in your home town that you could do?

Changing careers via education is really tempting, but I wouldn't recommend it unless the study is absolutely imperitive.

The only "course" there is is the one where you choose what you want to do (e.g., move to your home town) and then make everything work in around that.
posted by heyjude at 1:03 PM on February 26, 2015

26 is so young still. My parents and most of my adult family members at 26 weren't doing anything related to what they're doing now. You have plenty of time to make a big change and reboot totally.

It's great that you know what you want in a lot of ways. You seem to know your relationship isn't working out for you. You seem to know you want to be near home. You see a role model in your cousin--instead of envy, ask her for advice in terms of careers and see her as inspiration, like someone above said. She can probably help get you started on a career related to that interest you share, or at least give you some tips. Living at home will help you save and then you can go from there. Therapy can help you get behind the issue of your codependency so you won't repeat that pattern in your relationships.

It sucks when things don't work out but hey. Your debt is paid off, you have a degree and references from a top school. You took a risk instead of playing it safe and staying near home and even if it doesn't feel like it now, I think it will over time.

So it seems like step one of rebooting is heading home. Break it off with your bf. Take any job, doesn't have to be a super career job right now but maybe something with broadly applicable skills if possible. Use your off-time to establish a healthy lifestyle if you haven't been, see a therapist, and take some courses and pursue your interests. I would highly recommend taking some CS/programming courses and maybe talking to some English profs to get ideas about those. As a woman who was wary of CS after some bad experiences in high school, and is naturally much more ~right brained~ I finally took a few CS electives in college, enjoyed them and they were some of my best grades.
posted by hejrat at 1:14 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just as one anecdata point, since you asked: To reboot myself when I was miserable in my mid-20s, I did indeed move back home, to where my family and my roots are. I became happier and still am happier for doing so. I am soon moving again, but instead of moving far away I'm moving to a nearby local town, similar to my hometown and well within driving distance from my family and friends, to pursue a career that I found after moved home (it was easier once I was home and comfortable and had the breathing room to figure out what was good for me; YMMV of course). Once there I hope to own a home someday, like your cousin. I didn't used to think I wanted that life, but now I do.

I live someplace that a lot of people consider desperately unhip. I am what some people have considered a biggish fish, in what some people would consider a very small pond. But it feels plenty comfortable to me, because I'm happy swimming with the people I love and the values I hold.
posted by honey wheat at 2:45 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm only 27 and my life has changed a ton in the last couple of years. You have time to figure this out, change can happen pretty rapidly. Don't beat your self up over not being where your cousin is! She has had twice the time in adulthood to build that life.

The other thing, and I know this sounds dumb, but if you live in a northern latitude maybe think twice before making any rash decisions. It's been a brutal winter and I know that I'm kind of at that BURN IT ALL TO THE GROUND AND START OVER point myself but it's just seasonal depression and snow anger talking and I know in a month and a half I'll be happy and grateful for where I'm at in life.
posted by geegollygosh at 4:04 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know it doesn't feel like it, but 25 is still SO YOUNG. You know where I was when I was 25? Living with my parents (still -- I had never moved out by then, even living at home during college), working some crappy data entry job, commuting 2-3 hours a day, and making about $25k a year. I had just started grad school part-time, and I was not very excited about that, either, but I needed to mix it up a bit. Life sucked. I was miserable. I'd just been dumped by my semi-long-distance boyfriend who I only got to see 1-2x a month. I had no idea what to do with myself.

You know what I did? I moved. I moved 1000 miles away to be roommates with an acquaintance from high school. I got a job temping, and then I got a permanent part-time job in my field, and I kept going to grad school and graduated after a couple more years, and eventually I got a real job that used my degree and paid pretty well. Since I was totally on my own now, I had to hustle to meet people and make friends, and I did it. I dated A LOT, I got dumped A LOT, I cried A LOT. After about a year in my new city I met an awesome guy and we've been together ever since. I learned to cook for the first time in my life, and I ruined my pans because I turned the heat up too high, and I spent a lot of money making cheesecakes that turned out terrible.

Since that initial move, I've moved a few more times, I've made friends, I've lost friends, I've had a butt-ton of jobs, I've saved a ton of money and gotten really into investing, I've helped a friend launch a business. And I'm only 34 now! So here's my advice to you: MIX IT UP, GIRL. Dump the boyfriend, move back home, go back to school, get a temp job, just do something. It'll all work out!
posted by jabes at 11:40 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

I got really excited reading your question. I feel like you're on the brink of making the changes you know you need to make and thus getting started with a challenging and new chapter of your life. Hit the reset button.

I'm only 29 but the 23-27 were very dark years of my life. I constantly felt restless, unhappy, envious of others and angry with myself. Circumstance forced my hand into a complete life change, and though I was terrified at the start, the last couple of years have been hard but wonderful. I asked this question and the replies there were really inspiring. Good luck. It's been my experience that this pre-decision, restless, anxious period is the hardest part of all.
posted by Katine at 7:06 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

« Older The Scarlet Letter   |   Should I tell someone that her boyfriend cheated... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.