My career anxiety is (probably) holding me back, can I get rid of it?
July 8, 2016 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Ever since graduating from university 6 years ago, I've been stuck in a rut about what to "do" with my life. How can I, finally, get out of this rut and get on a career path I truly feel comfortable with? I didn't miss the boat for career "success," did I? More details inside.

I guess I've never really had a true sense of where I wanted to go career-wise. In high school, aside from very, very vague fantasies about becoming a lawyer, I have to admit that I didn't think about my future career very much. Then when I went to university, I still wasn't thinking about my future career very much. I know, this was soooo dumb of me. I ended up getting a history degree. I chose something I liked, but I didn't think of the outcome. After I graduated in 2010, I spent 2 years doing what felt like nothing. I volunteered, worked retail, and eventually ended up going back to school for a library & information technology diploma. I enjoyed going back to school, I ended up getting pretty good student library jobs. After I graduated in 2014, it took me about 6 months to get a job as a school library technician. First part-time, now it's full time. I sort of enjoy the job, but it honestly doesn't feel "right" for me in the long run.

I've been feeling so anxious about my future, lately. I think I've always had a lot of low-self-esteem about my abilities, which lowered my ambitions to nothing. As a result, I find it hard to even imagine making a career change. Like, something about *me* making a career change feels unrealistic. I tend to doubt that it's even possible. It's so hard for me to imagine myself being capable of *doing* anything. Everything feels out of reach, which I know logically is wrong.

I've started seeing a therapist with the goal of working out a different career path, but I'm just so worried that I might've shot myself in the foot by ending up in the wrong field. I'm worried that if I dare to apply to another industry, they'd laugh at my resume! It's almost like I don't feel "good enough" to change careers, or find a career I'd actually enjoy (or one that would at least give me a decent income - which my current job does not). All of these anxieties makes it impossible for me to look at other career paths as realistic options, or even research the steps I would need to take to make a change.

I know seeing my therapist will definitely help, but what else can I do to feel confident enough to change careers? I can still realistically change careers, right?
posted by modesty.blaise to Work & Money (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There is no career boat. Doesn't exist.

I started my career running a theater company. Then I worked for Ernst & Young. Then I went back for a MFA and afterwards taught film history. Then I drifted into consulting and an accidental IT career, moving to Europe in the process. Now I work for a large Scandinavian company doing business development. I still get people who sniff at my cv, for sure, but I'm good at what I do and there is a strong case to be made that my diverse background has made me a much stronger coworker. And my last career change (in terms of content) was 3 years ago at north of 40. It is *never* too late to change careers.

Rather than try to plan a perfect career, I would focus on what you like best and what you do best about your current job and think if there are related-but-different-jobs which can hit those high notes.
posted by frumiousb at 8:26 PM on July 8, 2016 [14 favorites]

Even if there were a perfect way to plan for your career (which there isn't), there wouldn't be any guarantee that that career will still be in demand 20+ years from now, or that you'll like it and be able to do it.

You could have gone into college 100% sure of what you wanted to be, and found out somewhere along the way that that career wasn't for you, for some reason. That's what happened to me.

Or you could have gone to law school, and only found out that being a lawyer wasn't for you after amassing five or six figures worth of student loan debt. Going to law school isn't a guarantee of a successful career. If it ever was, it isn't now.

Even if there were some career boat that you did miss, what could you do about that now? You can't change the past. It's not useful to think about how you messed up in the past, unless you think you're likely to make the same mistake again. If you do have some way of changing the past, make a career doing that. I think you'd make rather a lot of money...
posted by Anne Neville at 8:47 PM on July 8, 2016

There's no career advancement that doesn't come with some kind of risk. Comfort is overrated, learn to assess risk well and not be afraid of a little anxiety.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:00 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

What do you enjoying doing? Not what sounds like a good career decision, but what do you like to do? I would start there and ask yourself "how can this interest of mine translate into something I can do professionally?".

That's what I did. I was very much the late bloomer education- and career-wise and didn't know what to "do with my life". For me, I knew I had to get some education in order to advance in the working world, but I didn't know what to choose.

I thought about a lot of options and one day it occurred to me that I really like plants. I like to look at them; I like to grow them; I like to get dirty with them. ;) So I started taking classes about plants. The more I learned, the more interested I was. Eventually, I began to think of how I could try to make a living working with plants. I thought at the time I wanted to become a horticulturist. But two degrees later, I am a botanist and love what I do.

I think I've always had a lot of low-self-esteem about my abilities

I did too. So much so that I stayed in shitty low-paying customer service jobs until I was 33 years old. Until one day I was complaining to my mother about my horrible job, and she said, "You'll never have a better job until you go to college." I was terrified at her suggestion, but even more scared to face the idea I had in my head that I wouldn't succeed in school. I decided to give a college education my best effort in spite of the doubts, and learned that all the shit I thought about being unable to perform well was just a LIE. And when you have the thoughts about your inabilities, that's your mind lying to you. Don't listen to it. That's the anxiety talking. You deserve to have a great career just like anyone else. Discover what excites you and go for it!
posted by strelitzia at 8:16 AM on July 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

Sounds like you need a mentor. I successfully transitioned from one career to another but it would have been impossible without a mentor.

I was fortunate enough to work at a big company with a structured program. However, there are networking organizations in the community that can give you the opportunity to meet mentors in a formal or informal fashion. A career coach can also help you.

Please do not confuse a therapist for a mentor or career coach. The therapist can help you stop the persistent soundtrack that you are not good enough or overcome the catastrophic thinking that says you'll never be able to change. The mentor/career coach can suggest ways to find the new career, such as job shadowing, volunteering, informational interviewing, etc and help you make connections.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:58 AM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

You know that part of your mind that likes to tell you what a screw-up you are? One of its favorite things to do (or at least it is for that part of my mind) is to tell you how you screwed up in the past, how you should have done X instead of Y, and how your life will never be as good as it had been if you'd done X. Well, it doesn't know that.

A personal story: I went to grad school in astronomy, and found I wasn't working well with my advisor. There wasn't anyone else in the department at my school that did what I wanted to do. That left me with the options of transferring to another school or cutting my losses and leaving with a master's degree. I chose to leave with a master's degree, in 2001, and that part of my mind used my lack of a PhD in astronomy to beat me up a lot over the next fourteen years. Until last year. You see, if I had transferred, I probably would have transferred to UC Berkeley and worked with Geoff Marcy. Last year, there was a HUGE scandal in astronomy, and Geoff Marcy ended up resigning his faculty position because he had been sexually harassing women in the UC Berkeley astronomy department. My handle here isn't my real name, but I am female. Somehow, it doesn't really seem like I would have been so much better off transferring any more... The point of all this is, you really don't know what your life would have been like if you had made some career decision differently.
posted by Anne Neville at 8:48 PM on July 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can totally switch careers. I think deciding to go to school is a big decision given the debt, but before you make that decision it's a good idea to talk to a lot of people about their jobs or people in the jobs you want. Or ask someone if you can shadow them/their company for a day or two.

I have this anxiety a lot but as I work with different types of people I find it's increasingly true that people find success and fulfillment at different stages and times in life. It's rare for anyone to know exactly what they want to do and it can take a lot of searching. I meet people who jumped around a lot and then found something they really loved in their thirties and forties and fifties.

One thing that helps is hanging out with people of many different ages. I don't know if you do this already but in my job I meet a lot of people of different ages and it's very helpful to just listen and see how people navigated their own trajectories. People bring different things to the table and someone with diverse job experience can be versatile in a way. Sometimes you have to work harder than people who are following a pre-made track, but that's just how life is.

I don't think that means you should wander around aimlessly and just pick up low wage jobs until you go back to school, but I think it's safe to say you have plenty of time and a lot of people have been in your place.
posted by mmmleaf at 12:08 AM on July 10, 2016

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