ISO life
April 9, 2015 5:27 PM   Subscribe

A professional setback from several years ago is affecting my ability to move forward. I’ve been floundering around and drifting for years. I want to get my shit together, but I don’t know how to proceed. How do I figure out wtf I should do with my life now? [long]

The tl;dr version is above. For more info, read on. I don’t know how to contextualize my current situation without a lot of background info. I really need help, so thank you in advance for sitting through it :(

Six years ago, I moved to a new state for what was initially an amazing, cool, glamorous job in Field A that unfortunately didn’t work out rather dramatically (I was only there ~6 months; prior to that I had my own consulting business, which actually was going really well). I can get more into the circumstances of this if needed, but I think the most important thing to know is that I found the whole experience extremely traumatizing and upsetting. I haven’t had a job since then.

In the intervening years, I moved away from the state where the job was and picked up a master’s degree in Field B (basically unrelated to Field A), but the whole graduate school experience was pretty much something I just did to pass the time while trying to heal from the trauma I had experienced. I did actually get offered a job during those years, but the process of trying to decide whether or not to take that job resulted in panic attacks and intense anxiety/freakouts (obviously, I didn’t take that job).

Now my husband and I have moved long distance again and like/want to stay in our new city. So there’s a little stability in that sense. However, I remain completely confused and unsure what I’d like to do professionally. I am not interested in returning to Field A or pursuing Field B (Field B isn’t something I’ve ever been interested in doing as such, and the program I took wasn’t really adequate job training anyway).

Most career-changing advice I find seems to be directed at people who have an existing job and know what new field they want to pursue. I don’t feel deeply moved to do any particular thing, and so I just have done nothing for years. I really want to find something that’s at least tolerable or even (dare I hope?) satisfying to do with my life.

I’m a 35-year-old woman with a rather unusual background and a work history with some weird gaps and things that are hard to explain. I’ve been applying for the few random jobs I happen on that seem like they could be ok, but this doesn’t seem like a great strategy for finding what I hope will be a long-term career. (And I haven’t had any responses to my applications anyway.) I loved running my own business, but I have no idea what kind of new business I might like to start now, and even if I did have an idea, I have no startup capital or really any money, which is part of what makes this whole situation so stressful.

I’m good at a lot of things, though I’m not sure my history reflects/proves that. Whenever I’ve had a job in the past, I’ve given a lot of myself to it. I want to find something that I feel deserves the level of attention and dedication I will give it, if that makes sense. But how??

A couple of additional notes:
If you’re becoming concerned about my mental health, you’re right to be. I do have a history of depression and other problems that stretches back to childhood. There have surely been some very dark moments during these past 6 difficult years. That said, I feel fairly under control as far as that goes at the moment, which is lucky, because (for various reasons that I can explain if needed) I don’t currently have a good option for professional therapy.

Also, I have done Johnson O’Connor aptitude testing (around 13 years ago) and it was interesting, but I had high scores in almost every category. They basically told me I would never be satisfied in any job because I have too many aptitudes. So it was not particularly helpful in terms of actually helping me narrow down to a goal or even an industry. I haven’t done any other formal career counseling/aptitude testing, but I guess I would be willing to try that again if you guys strongly recommend something specific.

Finally, my first instinct was to ask this question anonymously due to my weird shameful feelings about this whole situation. Instead, I started a new sock puppet account here just for asking my most painful and personal questions! Hooray. So I welcome and will answer questions, private messages, etc. I’ve written and re-written this question about 12 times over the past many weeks, and finally I just decided I needed to post something and see what the hive mind has to say. THANK YOU for reading this ridiculously long story.
posted by atruesock to Work & Money (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What was the consulting business that you had before the bad job? Is that something you could return to? I think that it could be good to start filling in the gap of time on your resume...(and maybe you could stretch the dates slightly on future applications, since you'd be working for yourself...).
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:37 PM on April 9, 2015

Do you have a need for income, or are you just looking for some focus and purpose for your life?

Many people derive their identity, meaning, purpose, etc from their occupation (in some cases, more than is healthy).

If an income isn't your primary goal, try volunteering with various groups in your local region. Near me, there are volunteer fire/rescue squads which have always been intriguing, or you could help out at a school (hook up with the science/art docents?) or animal shelter, or the more traditional forms of volunteering. Many people derive meaning/purpose from helping others, and volunteering can scratch that itch and expose you to a number of new environments and possibilities at low risk and low commitment.

If you're aiming for income, then go the time-honored route of day job plus hobbies that scratch your itch for meaning. The day job should be something you're reasonably competent at, even if it doesn't interest you much, that pays adequately so that you can spend time/money on your hobbies. Hobbies can rotate based on what interests you at the moment, which is a great way to take advantage of the 'many aptitudes' approach without constantly job hopping.

If you can't return to the consulting business, you could parlay your qualifications into a day job in a related (even tenuously) field, or go through temp agencies. In your post, it sounds like you don't consider your qualifications or experience very worthwhile, which is probably untrue. It can be hard to look for a job while you feel worthless or like you're faking it, but perhaps someone can help you write up your resume compellingly.

It's hard given the lack of specific details in the post to give concrete recommendations, but I applaud you for making the first steps towards figuring out your future!
posted by bookdragoness at 6:42 PM on April 9, 2015

If you have many talents, and respond to incentives, you will probably find whatever's placed in front of you interesting. I think a good strategy would be to choose a field that involves a specialized skill or service that you think you could get into, and has room for some kind of growth or development, in a sector that would leave you less vulnerable to ageism (maybe health or IT?), while pursuing meaningful projects on your own time and dime.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:43 PM on April 9, 2015

Response by poster: Regarding returning back to the consulting work, I have considered that, but I don't think that's possible. It was in Field A (same as the bad job) and my business was all 6-10 years ago in a completely different geographic region. Rebooting that from scratch would be really hard and not lucrative and I'm just not interested in working in that field anymore. I guess it's not so much impossible as it's not desirable to me. The situation at the bad job was extremely confidence shaking, to say the least, and I was VERY passionate about Field A and was sure it was my life's work, so that whole scenario made me re-evaluate everything and now that I'm on the other side of that, I just really want to find something else to think about and do. Field A, I just don't love you anymore!

I guess maybe to clarify or update my question, I need some concrete advice on how to figure out what new job/field would be a good fit. I tend to agree that whatever's placed in front of me would probably prove to be reasonably interesting, but I'm paralyzed by choice right now. I feel like I need some kind of "in" -- something, anything, that gets me remotely interested in some aspect of the company or type of work or industry or..?? But I don't know how to figure that out.

Also, I do need income. My husband is also unemployed. (He at least knows what he wants to do, and if he found an amazing job making enough money to support both of us, maybe I could be more flexible, but so far that hasn't happened.) I get that income and meaning/purpose may not come from the same source, but it would be nice if they could. Or if at least I didn't hate and resent the income-generating activity. How do I find something I won't hate and resent??
posted by atruesock at 7:45 PM on April 9, 2015

Are you able to say what fields A and B are, and what your once-glamorous job and consulting practice covered?

They're probably the most significant things an employer would be looking at (in terms of how they qualify you for the post).

Could any of your consulting work be resurrected remotely, with your old client base?
posted by dvrmmr at 12:40 AM on April 10, 2015

May I recommend a great, free workbook that I recommend to my life coaching clients?

Hans Glint has written an amazing workbook that takes you through the basic questions, makes zero assumptions and really helps you through the emotional and rational process of figuring this shit out.

Here is a direct link to the PDF.

Take it easy on yourself, but also print this sucker out and really do the work.
You will come up with an answer.
And that will dictate how you go forward.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 4:34 AM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

What about temp jobs? Aside from paying you some money, you can gain new skills and experience and hopefully also gain some insight into what you would like and not like in a job, without locking you into any sort of long-term commitment.
posted by wondermouse at 11:43 AM on April 10, 2015

I had a career crisis much like yours (or at least it sounds like a similar struggle, don't want to assume due to lack of details). I had no obvious passion, and was just totally lost. I'll describe a few things that helped me and hope perhaps you can find something that may work for you:

1) I sat myself down and really analyzed what I wanted out of life, and more specifically, a career. I got honest with myself about my personality and ways of interacting with the world. It actually narrows down a lot of choices once you realize you're not a people person and would rather work behind the scenes or independently (for example). Maybe you're willing to sacrifice 9-5 M-F schedule for more travel opportunities, or whatever. Find out your dealbreakers and your must-haves, and the negotiable things in the middle. These became the things I measured every possible career against to see if it would fit with what I wanted.

2) writing down lists of EVERY single thing I could possibly think of that I was good at and/or enjoyed - even if it was like "pinteresting" and "taking baths." Then I went down the list and crossed off the ones that I obviously couldn't make money from (for instance, "pinteresting" and "taking baths"), and with the things that were left, brainstormed ANY possible even-tangentially-related careers. I researched each as much as possible, wrote pro's and con's of that career, interviewed people working in that field (what they love, what they hate about their job), the steps needed to enter the field, etc... and this process eventually helped me narrow it down to a few realistic ideas.

3) Once I had a manageable list, I tested things out - this could look like hobbies, part-time jobs, volunteering, whatever. For example, if you're interesting in graphic design, go take a photoshop class at a Community Center. If you're interested in animals, volunteer at a vet's office. Get a feel for what it's really like, not what you imagine it might be. See if it sparks anything (positive or negative).

4) one book that really helped was So Good They Can't Ignore You. The book's argument is that skill, competence, and expertise are better contributors to happiness/job satisfaction than passion. It really helped take the pressure off that I think is so prevalent today with everyone always pushing people to "do what you love, love what you do." This may be relevant to you, as someone who pours a lot of effort into their job and could achieve mastery of many different things. I also read Jump Shipp, which was helpful, but may be better once you have some ideas in mind.

5) Since you mentioned you need income, you may feel pressure to figure this out yesterday - I know I did. Like others have suggested above, I did all this while working a job in my current field, which is not the one I want to stay in. I sacrificed certain job perks/preferences to find a job that let me open up my schedule so I could have time to do my soul-searching. Yes, I needed income, but 'finding myself' became my main priority.

6) My friend, at the beginning of my crisis, made an offhand comment that really helped me whenever I was getting discouraged - "well... you're exactly where you're supposed to be." I was relatively early in my career development, and that comment made me realize that I'm not supposed to have it all figured out the second I start working. In fact, I realized I know so many people that had weird, winding journeys in their career and could never have predicted where they'd end up. If I had it all together at 25, where's the fantastic character-building struggle for the next few decades?

7) I did this early on in my career crisis (and again and again throughout), but wanted to write it last here - I really analyzed what led me to choose the career I ended up hating - what mistakes did I make, and how can I avoid making them again? What external circumstances influenced the decision, and how could I be aware of how circumstances might affect the next phase of my journey? In other words, BE CHECKING IN WITH YOURSELF throughout the process - be honest about how you're feeling about each step, each thing you try. The time to bail out is earlier, rather than later, if something really doesn't feel right.

Soooo, sorry for the wall of text, but I hope that there is something that you (or others) can find helpful. If nothing here works for you, feel free to leave it and move on. I responded because I have a few friends who are unhappy or directionless, but never actually do anything about it, and while I understand, it makes me sad to see now that I'm coming out on the other side of this really tough time. Make a plan, be deliberate and analytical, take some sort of action, and revise as needed. Don't let yourself get comfortable being miserable - life is about figuring yourself out, and all we can do is try to do that and enjoy the process along the way. Good luck to you!
posted by carlypennylane at 4:07 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

Please keep us updated on how you're progressing - I am interested in your solution, as I will see if I can take what you've learned and apply it to my situation, as well. Best of luck to you!
posted by singmespanishtechno at 1:34 PM on April 15, 2015

Response by poster: Everyone, thank you SO much for your help. I just wanted to update you guys, as requested, and let you know that I randomly fell ass-backwards into a job offer this week. I don't know if anyone can learn from my experience because it was kind of a nepotism/inside connection situation that got me in the door. Anyway I'm very nervous about it, but if it doesn't work out, I'm sure I'll be back asking a very similar question next time I'm in a transition. Thanks again to all.
posted by atruesock at 1:52 PM on May 2, 2015

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