Attach of the quarter life crisis
March 24, 2016 11:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm 28 and feel completely lost. I have a bachelor's and postgraduate degree in Information Technology and work in the IT sector. I feel out of place at my job and on the path towards mediocrity. How do I break out of this and find a path towards success?

After my bachelor's degree I went traveling for a year and wasn't planning on even working in IT. I didn't have clear plans at that point, but didn't see my future in it. However, one thing led to another and I ended up back in university and did a postgraduate degree in Information Science getting myself even further into a field I don't like. My husband was still in medical school when I graduated and we desperately needed money so I took a job in IT and I'm currently working on a software development team as as a test analyst. Though I can't say I hate it, I never really had any desire to go into testing, but I went for it as I thought it would be less technical and I got offered a job in right out of university.

Most of the testing I do is automated and my work is decently technical at this point. There's a senior test analyst on the team who has really been "the brains" behind most of our testing and I just sort of follow what he tells me. I can keep up with the work but I find the technical side of it quite dull and don't really do much in terms of innovation. I'm up for a promotion soon and have gotten good feedback but I just feel pessimistic about my future if I stay in this type of role. I know that in order to progress I need to be pushing myself to develop more technical skills but I don't enjoy it and it makes me somewhat miserable to even think about.

If I stay where I am I can see myself as a 45 year-old mediocre employee that gets laid off in favor of the young 22 year-old graduate who has energy and a passion to learn. I know I need to make a change but I don't want to just end up where I'm at 5 years from now - unhappy and feeling lost. I'm not afraid of hard work; I just want a path that will be in line with my interests and strengths which is where I'm getting lost.

I have thought about two options for myself. The first, is to stay in IT but try to get into something like project management or train to become a business analyst. Those are less technical areas that also pay well.

My second option is to go back to university and get a MSW. I have already been in contact with the university I am interested in and since I have already done postgraduate work, I only need to take a few social science undergrad classes. I am currently taking a human development course online from the university and starting to save up money for the tuition. I would look to start this option in 2018 around the time I am 30 and finish around 32.

My main dream has always been to have my own business or to work for myself. This is why the MSW appeals to me. It seems that with that getting the LCSW license I can start my own practice. I am not looking at this degree because I want to be a social worker; the goal has always been to start my own practice. On the flip side however, IT can pay quite well and if I am smart and invest my money I could see myself slowly gaining more assets outside of my job and becoming financially independent. Though it's not really owning your own business, I could see myself owning multiple properties in the years to come and in the much nearer future starting to do contract work once I get a few more years experience. I am fine with "just having a job" and working on building my dreams outside the office with the money I earn if I have a clear path forward.

The main problem with the IT route is that my heart is really not in it; at least not when it comes to the technical aspects. I have looked at some of the roles such as being an "agile coach"and could possibly see a better fit there. The MSW also looks attractive as I'm passionate about people and it also gives me a way to start my own business in the future. In all honesty though,I would have no problems staying in IT if I saw a path forward to having a business or working for myself without having to be in a technical role.

I am trying to stay positive but I often break down in tears. The stress is also having a negative impact on my marriage and my husband is starting to resent me. At the moment I am trying to keep my options open and save money as the MSW won't start until 2018, but I do at times feel desperate. I feel as if I'm getting to the age where I can't keep making changes and I want a path forward that I can feel good about and in which I can play to my strengths.

Any ideas for a good path forward? Has anybody been in a similar situation? Any advice at all would be appreciated!
posted by deeba to Work & Money (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry I meant attack in my question. Shouldn't rely on auto correct!
posted by deeba at 11:19 PM on March 24, 2016

Maybe this isn't as direct and practical an approach as you'd like, but have you considered engaging a therapist for a while? You seem to be eager to invest a lot of time and resources in making a change, but with only the vaguest sense of why you would choose any particular path. You've faced or are worried about money shortages, the effects of aging on your career, lack of professional passion, and marital stress. You want to a path you can stick with, because you 'can't keep making changes,' but allowing anxieties to shape your choices is a recipe for long-term cyclical dissatisfaction. I'm suggesting therapy because I think anxiety might be preventing you from being conscious of what you actually like and value.
posted by jon1270 at 4:35 AM on March 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

I feel as if I'm getting to the age where I can't keep making changes

I was on the straight & narrow for academia when I was your age. Then when I was in my mid-30s, I changed career paths. My new career incorporates things from my academic years, but is very different. Not only do people genuinely do stuff that that, but they do so increasingly. Nowadays it's very rare to stay in one place with one career path.

I'd second getting some help (just someone to talk to who isn't your husband), but I'd also recommend that you accept the promotion and see where that takes you. Once you have climbed a few rungs, new paths open up and you will start to see what really interests you.

Best wishes.
posted by kariebookish at 4:42 AM on March 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

IMHO, if you are getting a second degree, it should be because you know this new gig is your passion in life!!!! Or because you can't make a living with your first degree in art history (although I know folks who do well with their art history degree) and now you're getting a degree in engineering/computer science. But I agree you should do job shadow/research to make sure a new gig is something you can't live without. Otherwise I'd stick with what you got and look for something that is similar but more interesting to you. You may come across your OMG passion!!!! Later in life. Most people work for money. There's nothing wrong with not being in a job that you feel Meh about.
posted by Kalmya at 5:03 AM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I definitely nth talking to a therapist about this. I don't think this is just a career issue, and I think it would be good to explore why your career issues are causing you so much panic and distress.

I'm not hearing a compelling argument for becoming a social worker. You're not interested in being a social worker. You're interested in owning a business. Why not take the money that you would spend on social work school and instead invest it in starting a business that uses the skills you already have? (I mean that generally, not necessarily the precise skills you use in your current job, but I think you may be underestimating how broad your skill set is.)

I know that you feel like your time to make changes is running out, but it's really not. My mom has a childhood friend who has a super-successful no-longer-small business that she started from scratch when she was in her 40s. You have plenty of time to reinvent your career more than once.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:10 AM on March 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

It sounds like much of what you dislike about your job is particular to your current position. You don't hate your work, but there's a senior guy who makes all the decision and you just kind of go along with it.

I also find this to be a contradiction:
I find the technical side of it quite dull and don't really do much in terms of innovation
But then later...
I know that in order to progress I need to be pushing myself to develop more technical skills but I don't enjoy it and it makes me somewhat miserable to even think about.
So which is it? Are you bored because your job is insufficiently technical or are you miserable in your field because it's too technical?
posted by deathpanels at 5:30 AM on March 25, 2016

Are you bored because your job is insufficiently technical or are you miserable in your field because it's too technical?

As someone who sees a lot of why goes on in IT, I can tell you these definitely can both be true. There's a lot of tedious unintellectual work combined with a pressure to constantly get yourself up to speed with the next generation of uninteresting proprietary tools.
posted by deanc at 6:37 AM on March 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would nth seeing a therapist about this. I would also strongly encourage you to change roles. There are definitely more forward-facing, people oriented roles in IT, some of which you named: Business Analyst, Project Manager, UX design, Desktop Support (though that may beneath your skill level). If you stay in IT, focus on helping people solve problems. In my experience, people are very appreciative when you solve their problems. Good IT organizations recognize and support their people-facing side. Helping people solve problems might get you at least a few of the rewards you'd get outside the field, without making a drastic change.

You might even consider looking for IT work in the non-profit field. You'd take a DRASTIC pay cut and the work would be difficult, because you WILL be understaffed and have no money, but you'd be much closer to actually helping people than you are now. You might also consider teaching, where you're directly helping people learn.

Doing work with a social good is absolutely wonderful, and I have an incredible amount of respect for the people who do it. However, in the United States, there's a harsh reality of doing socially good work. You will make far, far less money than you would in IT. You'll likely work nights and weekends. Your livelihood will be at the whims of the government funding that ultimately pays you, and in lean times, that funding is the first to go. You'll find that when times improve, lost funding is often never fully recovered. None of those are reasons not to do the work. The people who do socially good work are incredible, and I certainly wish that collectively, we would better support their efforts and our fellow human beings. If your passion is helping people, that's wonderful, and you deserve all the credit in the world for it. But please talk to people in the industry and understand the tradeoffs before you make that decision.
posted by cnc at 10:19 AM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

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