How Do I Get Over This Psychological Job Search Hurdle?
January 31, 2016 5:17 AM   Subscribe

I used to have a reasonably good job - now I don't. So I put everything in storage, took some time out, and now I'm back sitting in temp accommodation, looking for a new job, finding this and that... but I'm not applying for any of these jobs, because I'm convinced that what a new job really means is returning to my former lifestyle of essentially working, looking forward to not working (i.e. eves/ weekends), and then not actually doing anything outside of work because I'm a massive introvert. And I'm 40, and I now realize that I'm not going to live forever, and if I conscientiously choose to return to my former lifestyle for the 2nd half of my career, then more fool me if I reach retirement and look back with great regret at poor choices I made when I knew I should've known better. And so I spend all day looking at jobs - which feel like invitations back into my old life - and then not applying for them. I need help moving on from this. Former lifestyle details inside.

My job was pretty good: it wasn't too stressful and I liked what I did, although it wasn't particularly rewarding. And I had a pretty nice, simple lifestyle: I drove to and from work in my nice car, hung out in my nice apt in the evenings, and at the weekend went shopping to make me feel a little bit good, and spent the rest of the time hanging out in my nice apt because I prefer being on my own (I mean, I'm fine meeting up with people for coffee, but really I can give a max of 2-3hrs/ weekend to social events. I've dated quite a few folks, but have never managed to adapt to spending significant amounts of time with someone. I'm somewhat accepting of this, I guess in the same way I'm accepting that I'll never be a pilot because I don't have good enough eyesight - them's the breaks).

I guess the other reason I feel stuck is that I had become convinced that when I returned from taking time out I would move to another beautiful state (Utah, Colorado?), thereby ensuring some geographic diversity at least, but having conducted extensive job availability research online, almost all suitable jobs are either on the East coast (I'm not particularly excited about moving that far east), or here in California. Furthermore, I know that with the way house prices are in CA, if I return to my former lifestyle, I'll almost certainly be working to pay rent for the rest of my life.

Don't get me wrong: my former/ potentially to be re-realized life wasn't bad - I'm not complaining about having had nice things, or having had the opportunity to have nice things, or potentially having the opportunity to have nice things again. And I completely understand that a different job or different location or both will pretty much have little to no impact on my strong tendency toward introversion - I guess I just feel that being an introvert in a different place seems like some sort of nod toward change/ growth? Like in a weird way, choosing a job that gives me the sense that I'll be going back to where I came from makes me feel like an alcoholic considering going back to the pub - he's not quite sure where else he should be going, he's just pretty sure it's not the pub.... I don't know: I'm clutching at straws here - if I had the answers I wouldn't be asking. Oh, and I'm really not looking for diagnoses here, thanks: just any advice that could maybe help me see this problem from outside my own - potentially massively distorted - perspective.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I've lived in a few different cities because of work, and have noticed how surprisingly similar my lifestyle stayed. It's like you just naturally go back to whatever you're comfortable with. If you like to stay at home, that's even more true. I think the biggest change you could easily give yourself is experimenting with different activities- even if you don't want to spend time with people, you could, for example, try going for a hike one weekend, or to a museum, etc, instead of shopping. At night, you could go to a movie or to a class to learn a new language or yoga. You can do all of this where you are now; you can even start before you get a job, so you feel more confident that you have control over your life and more comfortable really going after a job. Assuming you need to work to pay the bills.
posted by three_red_balloons at 5:36 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

All I hear is a lot of "I want to change my life, but changing my life is going to be hard." You also seem to be trying to talk yourself into believing that you had a great life before, when in fact you were not happy at all.
Don't get me wrong: my former/ potentially to be re-realized life wasn't bad - I'm not complaining about having had nice things, or having had the opportunity to have nice things
Notice the argumentative language you're using here. That "don't get me wrong" is a parry to a rhetorical attack that might sound something like "You're an entitled little shit, don't you understand that you had it so good?!" I wonder if you somehow believe you do not deserve to be content with your life. Like, the best you can really hope for is a decent job and a nice apartment because you lack [mysterious quality] that you would have if only you weren't so introverted. You just sound like you're apologizing to someone for not appreciating your material comforts when everything you have written is screaming "I want something more."

Introverts are not incapable of forming and managing relationships. It just means you may have to allocate your time differently compared to someone who never gets socially exhausted. You can't use introversion as an excuse for laziness. If you have lots of free time and you spend it watching Netflix instead of doing something more personally rewarding, you really only have yourself to blame.

Also, yes, work is a big part of your life, but people have a tendency to blame work for personal choices. What is it about your form of employment that you feel would force you into a certain lifestyle? Take a good hard look at what you are saying and see if this is really, honestly true. It most likely is not true. Lots of people work standard white collar jobs and moonlight as a painter or a powerlifter or a glass blower or an author. It takes work to balance an active life, but if it that's what it takes to make you happy, what are you waiting for?

I wonder if that is why the impulse to completely torch everything in your life and move across the country is so strong. You've convinced yourself that your personal choices (not going out and meeting new people, not participating in hobbies, not learning how to cook/weld/sew/whatever it is you're interested in) are a result of factors that are completely out of your control – it's because of your job, or because you are introverted, or because you're 40 years old. You want to change but you're unsure where to target your changes.

Step one is going to be accepting that you have way more personal choice in your life than are letting on here. Unless you have some serious disability that you have not disclosed, there is nothing stopping you from making changes, even radical changes, if you want.

You're in a rut. It happens. Your first task is not to get out of the rut, but just to recognize that you dug it yourself.
posted by deathpanels at 6:30 AM on January 31, 2016 [7 favorites]

Your post really resonates with me. I wonder how many other people feel similarly. Sometimes, I look back at my youthful idealism about work, and kind of blame that for why I feel this vague existential dissatisfaction with professional life. While I was a kid, schools used to do all of this 'When I grow up" garbage, where kids write speeches and dream about their futures. Kids really don't know what professional life in any field is like though, so these kind of projections are just naval gazing, and in my case ended up really distorting my views on working life.

I'm of course just looking for a scapegoat. As a fellow introvert who fantasizes about relocating, especially abroad, I think life in a new city can be invigorating. Specifically, while it may not make a person magically more social, or more active, I think some elements of a city can be conducive to spontaneity, which can in turn enable more social and active experiences. For example, exceptional public transportation such as a good subway system, can be a huge motivator to get out of one's comfort zone and explore, especially if a city is very walkable in general. Conversely, some people hate driving, so if they end up in the suburbs they just want to plop down in their apartment and wile away life. I've noticed a similar phenomenon with weather. Cold wintery cities can be an excuse to stay indoors and hibernate 4-6 months a year. Warmer climates may mean spending more time outdoors having adventures.

Anyway, those are just some of my own observations about how moving can change things, of course moving will only change things if you decide you really want to change, but in my life I've found some places make change easier than others.

Regarding the work piece, its been a huge project of mine to transform how I view work over the last couple of years. I shook off the youthful idealism mentioned above, and I started kind of approaching work from first principles. Work enables me to live the life I want to live, and allows me to make a contribution to society in a structured way. Too much structure can be a hindrance to happiness, but the right amount can be a support.

Part of me believes we as human beings have a biological need to contribute to our society. This drive to 'pull weight' is surpisingly powerful. However, we also have a need to lead lives we feel are meaningful. I've noticed I am the happiest when I derive meaning from my work. The crazy thing is this is all about perspective. If a person wants to, than they can find meaning in almost any profession.

So, lately I've been slowly transforming myself from a person who needed things to be his way, who viewed things as black or white, to a person who is gratitude oriented and willing to accept gray. I still have goals, don't get me wrong. I'd like to save up enough money to retire early, and along the way I'd like to find somethings in life which I can be really passionate about. But, I think 'make your passion your profession' can be a harmful message to fixate on. Do something you find meaningful, let it enable you to lead a meaningful life, breathe and be grateful.

One last point, I've often fixated on changing jobs or locations as a way to avoid dealing with issues in the present moment. Fantasizing feels productive, but its obviously not. However, I think its really important to come up with some long and short term goals, these can help a person make good decisions. Without goals, there is no way for a person to orient themselves. Where would you like to be in 5-10 years? What choices can you make today which will help you move a bit closer?
posted by getting_back_on_track at 6:38 AM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oddly, I just had the same experience when my car got rear-ended and I had to buy a new one. I can afford any car I want, so I started noticing all the sporty, fancy luxurious cars that I see on the road and I tried to figure out how to narrow down and choose one. I ended up researching the features on cars: comfort, reliability, sex appeal, visibility, each little gadget on the dashboard, etc. I was able to narrow down what I really like to experience as I drive vs what I didn't like or didn't care about. I ended up with a minivan, which many people consider boring, but it has exactly what I want in a car. And I still look wistfully at some of the sexy cars on the road, but now I know that I researched their other points and I know that car would not have worked FOR ME.

So, you could do a bunch of those quizzes that help you figure out what kind of work you like and what kind of place you like to live. Do you like Indoor or outdoor work? Fixed duties vs always changing? Work by yourself or collaborate with others? Creativity or Logic? Responsible for others or just yourself? Suburb or City? Driving or Public Transit? Those kind of quizzes. Or google some questions like What is it really like to be a for a living?

You might find out that the job you had really is the one that works best for you. At that point, you would know that you need to work on your out-of-work time to enrich your life further.

posted by CathyG at 9:43 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

This question resonates with me, too, and in many ways I could have posted a similar question. I've been thinking about these issues and topics for the last couple years, as has a friend, so I'm just going to throw some questions that I've considered, my friend has considered, and/or things that might relate to your particular circumstance:
  • Have you moved to a new geographic location as adult? If you haven't, provided that you pick a place you want to move to, find lists of things that you want to try at the location, etc., it can absolutely help you explore and do new things, even if you are in the extreme introvert bucket IME.
  • If the introversion sucks you dry from energy, have you considered finding job situation that allow you to have that built into your day? Because then you will have energy to (explore, meet up with more people) during your off hours. Some possible ideas include, provided that these are viable in your industry or a related industry: Self-employment; telecommuting; night shift work; or working with other extreme introverts. If you are looking for a job, you can pick that variable and at least it will be a better fit.
  • How much do you need to live and can you cut back financially and try other jobs and/or geographic locations? When you describe the car, apartment, shopping, it almost sounds like ennui with life. If you can make a list as to what you need/want, even for the upcoming next few years, it might give you more options if you can afford to earn 20 K less, or whatever number you come up with. I do agree that it becomes easy to get paid X, mindlessly spend $ to buy things, and 5 years later you decide you now need $X/year, even if unhappy, so that you can continue to get those other words, those mindless purchases can become shackles. Another option if you can figure out how much $ you need and are not invested in anything else that you need/want as a monetary goal, could you work toward an early retirement? Then in your 50s you can move to and explore Utah and Colorado, etc.
  • Is there anything that you really want (ie, hobby, goal(s), etc.)? I don't see that in your question, and you might have left it out intentionally. But if there are things that you want to go after and it sounds like you are not economically pressed to go back to work right now, why not take a mini 6- month to year-long sabbatical? It is done in other careers. If you do this, you could pick specific goals or things to try and do in that time, and put the location in a place you at least want to see or least you could get a taste for those things you desire, and then reassess.
  • Please understand that this next suggestion is not prescriptive, but suggesting it because it has sometimes helped me refocus: Do you ever volunteer? Because sometimes, just for a second, moment, week, it helps you get out of your head and focus on something else.

If you think it might help to bounce ideas around with someone stuck in the same point in life, feel free to memail. Answering this question/or bouncing ideas around with other people helps me clarify and answer my own questions, and determine what/where I will go next.

posted by Wolfster at 9:47 AM on January 31, 2016

When I was in that place, i realized that was a sign that I was seriously burned out in my work Just because other people would love to have your life, doesn't make it right for you. (And if I hadn't already done it for ten years, I might have been able to get excited about doing the same work if it had been new-to-me. Instead, i was just so tired for the familiar problems that I had no enthusiasm for doing it some more). So, don't listen to people (or your own brain) that tell you that you should do something just because others think you are lucky to have the option.

It is easier to know what you don't want than what you do want. I took me a full year to get the idea for what I really wanted to do next and another 9 month to research it and be ready to fully commit. So my advice is to focus on creating support for being in this in-between place for a while. There are two big questions : what do you want to do with your time while you are figuring out your long term plan and how can you afford to take the time you need?

So, is there a way you can make money without having to make a long-term commitment? Especially a way that is consistent with having time and energy to think about big life/job questions. Part-time work? Short term contracts? Jobs that you can leave behind at 5:00?
Lowering your expenses is another way to buy time and create options - seconding Wolster's comments about that.

This in-between time is also a good chance to add back more things that you want in your life, outside of work. Try out hobbies, increase your social network, get active, volunteer. Experiment and find out what else you want from life.

and for the actually what now question, I suggest Barbara Sher's book, "I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What it Was". That title was a perfect summary of where I was then. Reading the book didn't actually give my answer but it gave me some structure for thinking about it and there are several lessons in there that I still think about.
posted by metahawk at 1:47 PM on January 31, 2016

It sounds as if you are just seeing two choices here. Go away, or go back. I'm wondering if a middle ground might be good? You haven't clearly stated what you want in life, so what if you went back to work with the agenda that it just pays your bills as you take steps to figuring out what you really want in that time? You can even set a time limit on it, so you won't feel so stuck.
posted by Vaike at 4:41 PM on January 31, 2016

You have to create the lifestyle you want. You can't expect for it to just happen. Think of it as something that you work at to achieve. You have a blueprint and know the kind of lifestyle you want to have. So work backwards or from the bottom up, top down, whichever perspective you need to build the life you want to live. Find a job that is conducive to the day to day life you envision. Because lifestyle isn't a nebulous concept, it is simply how you choose to live your life one day at a time. You know what you want it to look like, so what do you have to do to get there?

Example: I know walking 2 miles and a 1/2 hour of aerobic exercise a day, 5 days a week is part of what keeps me happy. I like being outside. I also enjoy practicing yoga and playing music. I love dancing. So I make these activities a part of my lifestyle. When I wasn't working or going to school full-time, it was much easier to make the time for these things that I do that are important to me. Now, I rearrange these parts of my life around my work schedule in a way that I can still enjoy the things that make me happy. It's not as seamless as I would like it to be, but it's getting there. It's different pieces of the puzzle that is my life.

How big of a piece is your work? How does it fit into your puzzle? As someone mentioned upthread, find out how much income you need to fund your lifestyle. Do you need a part-time retail gig that is nights only so you can spend all day surfing at the beach? You mention relocating, no matter where you go, there you are. Moving for the sake of making your income stretch is a good idea. Renting indefinitely because housing prices are high where you are currently at is something you do not want. Where do you want to live that has a better standard of living? You've ruled out the East Coast even though the job market is good for the employment you are seeking. You have a lot of factors, which is good. You know what you are looking for. Make a list. Start with one thing. Job, Locale, Lifestyle. It'll come to you, keep researching and narrowing down choices. You'll get there.
posted by lunastellasol at 7:49 PM on February 5, 2016

I guess I just feel that being an introvert in a different place seems like some sort of nod toward change/ growth?

Saying that you don't like doing anything outside of work because of the job you had and being a massive introvert seems like a thought process that is not helpful to you at this time. It sounds like you are unhappy and are almost blaming work and introversion for your feelings. I feel like this sometimes and there are a few threads that mention introversion and social activities. It's better to be selective in the energy you are expending in regards to that.

For me, I get lonely a lot and even though I enjoy being alone, (prefer it actually because of my introversion) I still remind myself that some form of human contact is vital at times. Maybe the frustration you're feeling is because of that lack of connection in a while. Moving may seem energizing at first, but if you don't know anyone where you are moving to, it's even lonelier. Unless, you are proactive in going to meetups and making new friends. It may be different for you, but I struggled after my move to make friends. I was not proactive. I didn't have a job for most of it and I sat at home locked in my room watching too many episodes of Friends and Game of Thrones.

But I want to do it again. I want to give myself a second chance now that I know what to expect. I learned so much going through that experience, for better or worse. I think you should go for it. Make a plan and follow through. Give yourself a goal and a timeline. You won't know until you try and there is no time like the present. You can do this.
posted by lunastellasol at 8:03 PM on February 5, 2016

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