Placing myself under pressure to do an MSc - irrational or sensible?
February 11, 2017 2:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm contemplating doing an MSc in a vocational based subject this year, chiefly because i know it will help me forge a solid occupation/career which i know i will enjoy given time, but deep down it's not what i really want to do. It will be a case of eventually end up 'loving what i do', as opposed to 'doing what i love'. Am I right to make a career plan and pursue it because logically it's the sensible thing to do?

In a nutshell, I'm a jack of all trades and master of none. My job history is predominantly high level administration work, chiefly financial in capacity (nothing high-end, just procurement and accounts payable which i fell into). I worked in about 15 different companies between 16 and 21 when i was temping during a buoyant job market, then bagged a permanent job in a central government department where I stayed for 10 years. Sadly, I found it difficult to climb up the career ladder as my face didn't fit (had a tendency of not thinking before I spoke - challenging management on different issues). So for 10 years, I worked in 3 different departments but stayed the same grade (admin officer). Did different job roles from procurement, IT floorwalker (only a 6 week secondment) and IT trainer (training new staff on in the in-house system). After 8 years, I got itchy feet and decided i wanted to go to Uni. So i did an Access course was I was 29, and started my degree when i was 30 (BA Business Management). I stayed part-time at my job until the 2nd year of my degree then quit - i just got sick of the place.

University was the most exhilarating experience i've ever had. I thrived within my student role. I loved spending hours and hours reading and researching. Most of my essays and reports achieved first class marks and i won a Vice Chancellor Award for Outstanding Commitment and Contribution as a mature student in my faculty. In group-based projects, i lead and managed my teams to secure first class grades. Don't get me wrong, i performed very average and sometimes failed in exams - I wasn't very good in timed exam conditions UNLESS i was writing an essay about something i felt passionate about. Other than that, I felt incredibly proud of myself on graduation day at the age of 33. I chose Business Management because well, I enjoyed the subject at school and I believed my already gained work experience would highly benefit doing that course. I loved every minute of it. So you could say, I went with my heart in chosing that subject. Hindsight is a wonderful thing because I should have chosen a degree really which had the potential to be a stepping stone to some sort of career (basically, i should have chosen a vocational based degree).

So after graduating, I was unemployed for a few months trying to find work and ended up working for an estate agents (commercial real estate - so disposal and rental of offices, land, industrial units, retail etc). I loved the job and really got stuck into learning about leases, dilapidation, surveying etc etc. On the basis of that, I looked into doing an MSc in Building Surveying (i was really passionate about understanding the physicality of buildings - how they are built and aesthetics, especially grade listed buildings). I wasn't thinking about whether it was feasible (being a woman in her early 30's), I just wanted to do it. Then after 9 months of being in the job i got made redundant and it turned my world upside down (well, it felt like it). It was a real shock and out of the blue. From that moment, my plans to do Building Surveying went out of the window because i was really torn up about what happened. So, i began temping again and ended up doing administrative based jobs from; working in a trade union, recruitment agency (lasted 5 mins, as I didn't have that ruthless streak in me to do it), a beanbag manufacturing business and retail (when things got real bad finding work, I stacked supermarket shelves to get by).

About 5 weeks ago, I secured a permanent job working for a Property Development/Redevelopment firm. Small, but been going for 30 years and has a large portfolio of properties. I'm an office manager and PA/Secretary/Administrator/Cleaner/Tea Lady/Dog's Body. It's a good varied role, don't get me wrong, but i'm not using my brain like I used to (at Uni, for example). I feel wasted in my job because i know i'm worth much more than an Office Manager. I really do appreciate my job a lot, as I was unemployed for 3 months prior to getting it, so every day I count my blessings. I work with a Sales and Marketing Manager who is 29 and been in the job 2 months, and an Accounts Manager who is 30 and been in the job a month - they both earn £32k and £33k respectively. The Sales and Marketing girl had a pay rise after 2 months of £3k.
I earn £20k............................... I was earning £20k in 2008, 2014 and now 2017. I appreciate that the Accounts Manager girl is qualified, so she definitely warrants earning that much money. As for the Sales and Marketing Manager, i'm not so sure considering it involves lots of lunches with clients, attending networking events and placing advertisements in local magazines/newspapers. She's really good at talking the talk, and I like her alot, but you know when I'm sitting there earning my £20k, having done a Business degree a few years earlier, and worked in over 20 companies in 20 years, I feel like I haven't achieved much at all when I see 2 girls earning over £30k a year compared to my £20k. Does that make any sense? lol

So being in this boat creates an almost existential crisis lol. I can't go on doing admin based jobs, envying other people (be that what they earn or what profession they have developed/achieved). The director who i work to now is a Chartered Surveyor (General Practice) who is RICS certified. I didn't chose to work for this sort of company, the opportunity presented itself to me via a recruitment agency. Went for the interview and got it. I have fell into working within a built environment type job again strangely (the central government job was within the 'Estates Facilities Team', then I worked in Real Estate after i finished Uni......). So it's like there's some sort of pattern going on. It then made me think - should I pursue that Surveying career after all? I could do it, part-time over 2 years. Forge a proper career of some sort and get out of this admin vacuum. I'd prefer to do Building Surveying, but I know it would be more difficult to forge a job/career at my age and gender (36), whereas Quantity Surveying, well, that's definitely feasible considering there's a demand for them in the UK. I know I can't become a QS over night, but it's a profession I could develop and become highly proficient in (especially the software BIM - as i'm quite tech savvy having done networking, web design and basic graphic design in the past - as a hobby). I loved the idea of specializing in a skill, especially if it's IT oriented.

What's my passion? Design + IT. I'm not exactly Steve Jobs, but i've always enjoyed learning about Networking, Web Design (very basic level may i add) and love getting to grips with a software and being approached for advice how to use it. I've created training manuals in the past, which I loved. I'm a pretty good artist (did really well at school), and love dabbling in design (typography, branding, etc). Occasionally I'll paint and draw too. I set up my ex partners website when he started a business as I had/have a really good creative eye (i didn't code it from scratch, but I produced the content and designed the page layouts etc). Anyway....

My logical side is saying 'pursue the surveying career to get out of the admin vacuum you're in - specialize in a skill that you can develop over the next 30 years of your career, in a profession where there is a shortage'. My emotional side is saying, 'dont spend 2 years studying in a subject you're not passionate about, refocus that time and effort into doing something you have always been good at, and specialize in that'. I really miss Uni too you know? I love that idea of returning to uni to do a masters, just because i miss academia and that feeling of having a goal and completing it. Did I tell you i was accepted onto an MBA? I applied and got accepted to do an MBA to start September 2016 at the same uni I did my business degree. I had to defer it (didn't reallllyyyy want to drop out of it), because it was coming to the end of my temp contract (18 months) and didn't have another job lined up which would fit around my studies. Luckily, the university have kept my place, so technically, im already enrolled to do the MBA Sept 2017. The postgraduate loan from Student Finance will be covering the fees by the way, it's not coming out of my own pocket.

I genuinely love the idea of going back to my old uni (where i did my Access AND my degree) and completing my Masters there, in a subject i genuinely loved learning about. But....... an MBA won't help me professionally at all. That's the reality of the matter. Hence why I was thinking about doing the MSc in Quantity Surveying? As it will lead to a profession with a view to becoming chartered? In most of the jobs I have done, i've mastered them and really enjoyed them given time. So i know with Surveying, once I study it, practice it and specialize in an area, I will eventually love what I do. Can't remember what that guys name is, but he said people should love what they do and not do what they love (it's a misconception to pursue a career in something you love, i.e. music, painting, designing, photography whatever - because it's a burden of pressure that is much harder to pursue and secure. It's better to become the best at what you do, and find some way to love it - as in - become a guru at it. I see his point because i've been in that boat many a times in jobs, where I wouldn't normally think about it as a long-term job, but after time and exposure to it, i've grown to really like it.

I'm putting myself under a lot of pressure to make a plan, pursue a path and achieve a profession. You're looking at about 4-5 years before I could become a chartered surveyor, THAT'S if I find an employer who will take me on board after graduating and supervise me for 2 years to do my APC.
So i will be 41 by then.....

Or, do the MBA because I know i'd enjoy it more (most likely) and as a side stint, really push myself to focus on what I enjoy and love the most - design. Get stuck into Illustrator and InDesign to the point i become really good at it, and see what happens. As in, make something of it where i can earn money. I don't want to earn a lot of money. Heck, i'd be happy earning £25/30k for many years as long as I was doing something i felt passionate about and became really skilled at.

Any advice would be really appreciated, whether you're a surveyor, an administrator, a life-coach or a designer.

I'm sorry this was such a long post. I just wanted to make sure I covered everything so you had an idea as to whom I was, whom I am and well, where I want to be hopefully...

Thanks :) (Emma)
posted by emma33UK to Work & Money (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't really understand why you're ruling out Building Surveying in favor of Quantity Surveying. It sounds like you're genuinely interested in the former, but worried about being a woman in the field? Have you talked to women already in building surveying about what their experience has been?

Similarly, why do you know the MBA will not be professionally useful? Have you looked up recent graduates from the program? What are they doing now?
posted by yarntheory at 5:12 PM on February 11, 2017

Sadly, I found it difficult to climb up the career ladder as my face didn't fit (had a tendency of not thinking before I spoke - challenging management on different issues). So for 10 years, I worked in 3 different departments but stayed the same grade (admin officer).

It is going to be very important to you to learn people skills in order to advance a career and secure your financial future. Now, soft skills are not taught formally. Many degree programs try to instill it through group work and mentorship, but often it's more of a sink or swim situation.

The great lie of higher education is that of meritocracy - the idea that a degree or certification is enough to launch a career. Outside of schools, grades don't matter. People are human - and they want to be around people they like.

I think we've all worked with someone who had the same professional skills as anyone else, but somehow *everybody* loves them and wants to be around them. They tend to be positive, forgiving, generous, optimistic, and happy-go-lucky. Find someone like this and observe them.

If you have a strong independent streak, and balk at having to massage people's egos, then it might be better to choose a program in a field where a professional certification creates a high barrier to entry, and where technical skills are valued over people skills.

If this is the case, the Surveying would be a better fit. There are so many MBAs and programmers out there that you really need to master self-promotion and diplomacy to succeed.

The other great lie is "follow your passion" - this works out great for some people but can lead to disappointment for others. Get settled in a stable, nice-paying job, and enjoy your hobbies in your free time.

Best wishes to you - I hope you find your niche and flourish.
posted by metaseeker at 12:21 AM on February 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Hi Yarntheory -many thanks for your response, much appreciated. I ruled out Building Surveying because of 2 reasons. One, they are not as in demand as QS's, and two, i think i'd find it much harder to find a job as a BS - aged 38 - and a woman. Honestly, it's a competitive job market out there and i believe the QS profession is less biased than the BS profession. Plus, my work experience would count for more doing QS, having done mostly finance based work. I suppose im just being logical and realistic about what job is more within reach and attainable. As for the MBA, i wouldn't be applying for grad schemes and wouldn't want to. Undoubtedly if I were in my young 20's and looking to work for a large MNC then yes, it has some economic value, but at 38 - no. Anyway, i want to develop a technical skill, whereas an MBA is chiefly more additional theory work - just an extension of my degree. Id enjoy it alot, but not worth much economically compared to a QS masters.

Hi Metaseeker! Thanks for your response also. I just want to clear this up very quickly, lol. In terms of people skills, I have them lol. I'm highly sympathetic, gregarious, very considerate and highly empathetic - sometimes too much. I had issues with authority between when i was 21 and 27, but i grew out of it. I found it hard at the time, when i was younger, to conform to tough management rules and bureaucracy in a central government department. I'm 36 now so that was a long time i ago i had issues with authority.

One thing I will say though is you're right about having a strong independent streak - I have that. I don't balk as such having to massage other people's ego's, i suppose i'm just a little fed up of still feeling like the minion in the workplace. I have respect, but because of the pay level and grade i am, and always have been, I don't have that sort of respect that comes with being highly skilled in something. It's my own doing i suppose, I should have tried harder to perhaps chose a career many years ago, but i was less concerned about a profession/career in my 20's, as i just wanted to go on holidays and enjoy life as it were. That's why when i got closer to 30, i wanted to do something significant. I was misguided as to how much a Business degree wouldn't really help me career wise. All the jobs I got after graduating were owing to my work experience...

The high barrier to entry/tech skills over people skills comment really stood out for me. As an administrator in a saturated job market, it's not so much the experience nowadays which employers are concerned about - jeez, you could have 3 degrees and it wouldn't matter, because as an administrator, it's whether they like you personally. Your people skills as you said. I suppose getting to that point where my tech skills are far more valuable than my people skills, as I know most people can be great in interviews these days - ive had enough of them to know i got whittled down to the final 2 candidates only not to get the job. So i want to have that 'edge', and that edge is the tech skill-set.

Yep the 'follow your passion' myth, well, for most people that is - there are a lucky minority who do succeed at this. I think i miss that boat a long time ago when i was at school. None of the teachers or advisors highlighted or encouraged me to consider a career in graphic design, the only option i was aware of was an art teacher at the time.....

Thank you for your last comment, much appreciated.
posted by emma33UK at 1:03 AM on February 12, 2017

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