I need alternatives to working an office job (and still pay my bills)
March 10, 2015 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Can you offer suggestions for a (radical or not-so-radical) career shift from office-y type work to something...else? I am at the end of my rope, and so are my loved ones, who are out of suggestions for me.

I feel like I've hit a wall with my career and need some help seeing what alternatives exist.

I went to school for library science and information systems, with the intent of being a librarian with strong technical skills. Rather than working in a library, for the next twelve years I worked for a company that made citation databases. I didn't love the actual work I did (tech support, software training, and tech writing), but I was intrinsically interested in the company, and working with librarians and researchers was great. The various jobs I held there paid well too. I finally had to leave that company in 2012, as there was a big travel component to my last job and for a few reasons, I didn't want to do that anymore.

In looking for my next job, I initially turned to a search for library positions. I couldn't find anything (not surprising), so instead I focused on getting a job in technical writing, software training, or instructional design. I found a government job as a technical writer, but I actually do quite a bit of software training and instructional design work as well.

I hate it! The pace is way, way too slow and the office culture is, to me, toxic. (I returned to working in an office after working from home for six years...that adjustment has not gone well.) To cope, I've asked my boss for more work, have suggested new projects I could do (and carried them out), and otherwise have filled my day with online learning (focusing lately on HTML5 and CSS3) and random web surfing. The work, when there is some to do, is incredibly boring and I have to really psyche myself up to do it. Everything seems a chore. I've applied for and interviewed for a few other jobs, but in the end they seem like more of the same: a day of sitting in a cubicle in front of a glowing screen, maybe broken up with a dull meeting or two. My boss has suggested that I pursue programming or project management, but I can't envision myself on either of these paths. (Trust me, I have tried several times in my life to get excited about learning coding, but it just isn't for me.)

I used to give a damn about work and about my career. For example, I loved working in an academic library while in grad school. I loved working at a record label in my early 20s. I want that feeling of passion, that give-a-shit feeling, once again, regarding my work, rather than feeling like I'm just counting down the hours. The only things that get me fired up anymore, really, are my creative pursuits (like quilting and cooking), gardening, and spending time with my daughter. I love art and design too, but I live in a very artsy town (Portland) so I feel well out of my league to even be applying for any sort of creative job.

My question is: what career changes would you suggest for me? Or, perhaps you've been in the spot I'm in and found your way out: what advice can you give me, based on what you learned and experienced? I am open to all -- serious or silly -- suggestions. Anything to jump start some sort of thought shift! Oh yeah, my job is pretty low-paying and I have a toddler, so I definitely don't have the funds or time to be going back to school full time, but am open to taking a course or getting a certification of some sort, over time.

Thank you!
posted by medeine to Work & Money (11 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Mr Money Moustache's list of "50 Jobs over $50,000 – Without a Degree" (and also Part 2) might give you some inspiration. Although it sounds like you DO have a degree - you asked for some radical suggestions - and the sweet spot of jobs that you enjoy doing and which also efficiently your bills - might be most rapidly discovered by removing the "Jobs I can do with Library Science" filter.
posted by rongorongo at 9:25 AM on March 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

You don't have to be a programmer to be a project manager or program manager. You need to know something about the project subject area, but there are project managers all over the place -- in consulting, instructional design, and even in graphic design firms.

And while you may be in a cubicle, it's generally not dull. You'd be the one organizing and tracking the project, managing the staff members' time, and communicating with the client (internal or external).

The downside is that most project management jobs don't fit into a 9-5 workday, and there are frequent fire drills. But it sounds like those would actually be a better fit for you?
posted by pie ninja at 9:34 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am right there with you. I was passionate about research and data analysis and teaching when I was in grad school, got duped into a "catch all" data crunching office job disguised as a program evaluation gig, taught for 5 years, and burned out hard and fast. I have a new supervisor who is trying REALLY HARD to get me to be passionate about academia again, is encouraging me, is throwing money at me for professional development, but I am having trouble resurfacing from my "checked out" status. My original goal was to pursue a PhD but given the job market (and given that I don't REALLY like teaching despite the positive evaluations I received from my students) I don't think that is wise anymore without some sort of backup plan. Letting go of that dream was difficult and I have had problems really digging my heels into anything with commitment. I also hate the office environment.

I also love art and design, so I am currently attempting to do graphic design/illustration on the side for local musicians while learning more about data science/visualization because, honestly, I doubt I am going to make it big as a designer and data is a booming industry right now. It's been a slow transition (particularly letting go of the PhD dream and the academic mentality) but I feel as though I am building toward something that suits me. Given your technical background and your love of design you might find that interesting and a lot of these positions, at least in higher ed, hire people who can work remotely.

OR you can do like I have been for the past year or so and just TRY all sorts of things and see what sticks. Take online courses for free at Coursera just to get a taste for something new (the quality of these courses differ so I wouldn't rely on them alone to develop qualifications). If something interests you, you can take it further later on.

I also recommend a career counselor who can assess your interests, your personality, and skills and point you in the right direction. These can be costly, but I have been seriously considering one.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:38 AM on March 10, 2015

Not something I know a lot about, but I wonder if, with your background, user interface design might be within reach with a bit of work (I'm hoping someone in that area will comment on how feasible that might be or the state of the market for that kind of work). A friend of mine does this, for an advertising agency. She likes the fast pace of the project-based work, and loves working with other creative people. (In general, I think the private sector has more to offer who like working at a faster tempo than do government or education.) I think she makes good money, too. She does have occasional late nights and weekend work, though.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:53 AM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like part of the issue is that you're working in government rather than private industry. Government work is (generally!) much more slow-paced than private industry, for a variety of reasons (many of these reasons are valid).

If you're good at what you do, and fairly flexible, perhaps you can leverage your government experience into a gig in a private firm that government agencies contract with. You would then get a variety of projects with different types of work and different deadlines. Your teams of coworkers would likely change up periodically (depending on the size of the company and whether you team up with other firms). Private firms are also more willing to allow flexible work schedules, work from home, standing desks, etc etc. The stress level is higher, but that's a function of how consulting works. But it sounds like you'd be okay with a faster pace, anyway.

To be fair, most well-paying jobs I know of generally involve being in front of a computer, but they can also be exciting and interesting. (My sister spends relatively little time in front of a computer because she's in meetings constantly. This would make me crazy.)
posted by suelac at 10:27 AM on March 10, 2015

Culinary school, goal f/t chef?
posted by scratch at 11:19 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not all office jobs, and not all government jobs - I've had exactly what you describe, and the opposite. In my current job I have open plan workspaces next to a huge window, I'm busy, good boss etc. and I quite like my job. It makes all the difference.

Conversely, I've had awesome-on-paper non-office jobs that were awful - screaming boss, family businesses w/crazy family that can't be fired, weird work ethic/pace, etc. All of it. (I've also had awesome non-office jobs.)

Seriously - it's all about vetting the job during the interview process and luck. There are crazy, lazy, weird people in EVERY field.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:26 PM on March 10, 2015

When I was in my mid-20s, I found myself in a similar spot. I didn't like my job and didn't like the lifestyle of being so oriented towards screen work. I asked metafilter for advice for more meaningful work, and they directed me towards idealist.org.
It worked, and I got a job at a non-profit I really believed in. But I ended up disliking the job. I realized after a long time that it's not the work you do, it's who you do it with and for that matters, at least for me.
I've spent years ping ponging between product management, production, and project management. The skills are largely interchangeable, and have a lot in common with librarians. It's allowed me to change jobs when the situation is not ideal and move to a place with people that suit me better.
In essence, I'd advise to try the project management route, see if it fits, and find a place that suits you. Nice thing about most software companies I've worked at is that if you're good, you can define your own job responsibilities to a very real extent. And if you're around good people, you can make the work what you need it to be.
posted by Pacrand at 3:36 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by bq at 7:59 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Project manager is a really wide-open job title. I agree with the above that it might be a good way to go, but as a project manager who's currently trapped in a terrible job, I just wanted to warn you about what I've seen.

Basically, it's one thing to be a project manager who manages actual projects, with plans and teams and schedules. It's another thing when some company or department is floundering and they decide to hire a "project manager" to "fix" things. Be wary of these latter positions. My current job has nothing to do with project management and everything to do with essentially being a highly paid admin assistant who keeps track of meeting agendas and everyone's day to day tasks.

Now, that might appeal to you. But just be aware that project manager is a really squishy title, especially when you go outside of IT, and make sure you know what a prospective employer would expect from you.

AKA, don't do what I did, and get a job where they think it's throwing you a bone to have you "project manage" the preparation of a powerpoint presentation.
posted by cabingirl at 8:45 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for your input. This is definitely giving me some food for thought. And as Pacrand mentioned above, some of my unhappiness has to do with the people with whom I work. Who are perfectly fine people (for the most part), just not "my" people. I've had miserable jobs that were bearable because my coworkers were awesome.
posted by medeine at 12:58 PM on March 11, 2015

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