Purpose driven vs everything else
September 7, 2017 4:04 PM   Subscribe

I have a great job with benefits, room for growth, free food, and the option to work from home occasionally. My salary is nothing to complain about and there is potential to make a lot more if I get some certifications. The problem is I’m miserable.

I'm not doing great and not meeting my objectives. This has been an issue at every job I’ve had. I was never very career minded and just went to work to get a check so that I can pay my bills. I used to beat myself up about it and figured I was stupid and lazy or blame it on my add and depression. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. The more I think about it the more it seems like I’m just not doing the right kind of work. I want to be of service in some way yet all of my jobs have been at law firms, banks etc and it is impossible for me to be engaged in the overall mission of these places.

Now especially I feel an intense sense of urgency to do work that serves my community or women in some way. I am in a constant state of rage and have not figured out how to direct that energy. Knowing that everyday I go to work is benefitting racists makes it worse. I have to chit chat with 45 supporters and other clueless white people while my insides are churning. More and more I am realizing that I do not want to spend the next 30 plus years in these kinds of environments.

I’ve considered some options:

1 - Stay at current job, get salesforce admin cert, then look for jobs at non-profits. The problem with this is that I’m really struggling right now.

2 - Consider going back to school. I have a 2 yr degree and a bunch of other credits but it has been very difficult transferring them making them count. My records and gpa are pretty bad. Plus I’m still paying loans.

3 - Find another job, any job that has anything to do with what I care about and just start over. I expect a pay cut but at minimum I would need health benefits since my current job provides them for me and my husband. He works but as a consultant.

Has anyone made this kind of 180 career change? How is it really working in any social justice capacity? I didn’t finish school but I do have 20 (!) years of work experience on my resume. What kind of options does that leave me with? In some ways I feel like I know what I should be doing but I have no idea how to get there.
posted by mokeydraws to Work & Money (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The world needs people like you who will love working to make it better. Rather than social justice work, which pays terribly (I've done it), have you considered becoming a provider of direct help, like a first responder? You won't need another degree and you would definitely be making a difference. You could also consider volunteering on a suicide hotline or with battered women during hours in which you're not working, and keep your present job until your loans are paid off.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 4:09 PM on September 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do you want to feel like you are improving the world or actually improve the world?

It is highly likely there are a number of people that'd work to do the sort of things you want to do for a very small amount of money. Most activist organizations are highly effective at converting a (relatively) small amount of money into a (relatively) large amount of social change due to the usual lack of profit motive of the sort of people running the organization.

If you want to be maximally efficient, take all the money you make that you can afford and give it to activist organizations to do the sort of things you want. It is likely that you can buy more change than you can effectuate as a single person.
posted by saeculorum at 4:35 PM on September 7, 2017 [8 favorites]

As a long-time volunteer, working at non-profits is not all that it is cracked up to be. There are often a lot of politics, they pay isn't great, and it can be difficult to advance your career.

Can you find a credit union or law office that does the kind of work you value? Or, if you're working for a large firm, go to work for their diversity or community services programs? Volunteer to coordinate the annual charity event?

The other thing you can do, if this speaks to you, is become a mentor and role model for younger folks. This might involve working with an outside organization, like Boys and Girls Clubs, or you might be able to do it through work, by getting the certifications, working to get promoted, and being seen as a leader and a top-notch performer in your level. I know when I was starting out my career, I seized on older women with similar values like a stray duckling. That might seem like investing too much time at a workplace you don't like, though.
posted by dancing_angel at 5:17 PM on September 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

It can be really uncomfortable when what you do for work/money isn't consistent with your values, even when you're able to contribute to, or volunteer for, causes that are really important to you. Your #3 option appears to be what you're trending towards, and will likely make you ever so much happier than you are now. Don't discount the importance of feeling that you're doing well at your job, whether you're doing *good* with it or not.

Think carefully about your constraints in making the shift. For example, even if an attractive job doesn't provide health benefits, perhaps an Obamacare policy would do the trick, especially if either your pay were high enough to swing the premiums or the subsidies would make the premiums very affordable. It may be necessary for you and your spouse to do some creative thinking about what would, or could, work for your family in order to accommodate a career redirection.
posted by DrGail at 5:52 PM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I work at a non profit, one that has its political and non political arms that is a the news near everyday and that they are trying to "defund". I can't wait to leave.

The biggest thing is pay and career growth. I'm passionate about my work, but I can't live or plan a future on this. The side effect is that I don't want to put any of my volunteer or unpaid time into this because it just feels like unpaid work. There's a lot to be said for other jobs that pay well enough that you can put you volunteer hours into something that feels meaningful.
posted by raccoon409 at 6:10 PM on September 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you're struggling and not meeting performance metrics, I think it would be to your benefit to find a new job (even a new job in the same field you're currently in) so that you would at least have a clean slate to energize you and think about your long-term strategy. Don't wait until you get fired and have a black mark on your job history to overcome.
posted by Autumnheart at 7:57 PM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should have mentioned that I do currently volunteer and donate to certain organizations each month. My main issue is that so far I have always felt not just unfulfilled but incapable of doing what the job requires of me. Not because I can't learn but because I'm not able to apply myself in some fundamental way. I'm wondering if changing who I work for would make a difference.
posted by mokeydraws at 8:35 PM on September 7, 2017

Thanks for the clarification. Do your managers or mentors see the same sense of "not being able to apply yourself?" If so, what do they suggest to address it?

I'm wondering if this is a recent phenomenon, or if you noticed it some time ago. I also am wondering if your role changed over time, and you picked up tasks that didn't suit you, or if you're able to do that kind of work if you're interested in the mission of your organization, but have a harder time when you're not emotionally invested.

Also, there is a possibility that you may simply be burned out and tired of the work you're doing. Twenty years is a long time.

It might be worth it to take a vocational aptitude test - there are any number of free ones online - or something like The Strong Interest Inventory, to help you figure out if there's a type of work that would be a better fit.

Another thing I would consider if I were you is outlining your "dream job," and then actually mapping out how you would spend your day. Include things like the causes you would support and so on. Think about how you spend your time, what really makes you happy, and doesn't feel like work. Do you love teaching? Organizing? Strategic planning? If you can figure out when you're the most plugged in and happy, that might well lead you to your next career.
posted by dancing_angel at 9:35 PM on September 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Possible Option 4
I work at jobs I'm not passionate about all the time to support me while I don work that matters on the side in my off hours.

When I feel unappreciated at work and my steady job needs tending, I focus on work for a year or too, then once I achieve some work success, I shift more focus and passion again back to off hours activities.

It's worked well so far for me to balance the two lives. The things I love most don't pay well enough. That's my reality.

It's not ideal, but it can work to lead two lives.
posted by rw at 11:21 PM on September 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not doing great and not meeting my objectives. This has been an issue at every job I’ve had. [...] I used to beat myself up about it and figured I was stupid and lazy or blame it on my add and depression.
If you were diagnosed with ADHD and/or depression, that might in fact be a contributing factor -- untreated, my ADHD tended to manifest as a complete inability to work on things I wasn't passionate about plus irrational rage at being forced to do them anyway, to the point of wanting to up and quit and roll the dice on finding another job.
posted by Xany at 11:33 PM on September 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

The solar industry is hot right now and looks to stay hot for a while. I love that my work helps make our civilization more sustainable. We need people in all sorts of capacities: engineers, salespeople, accountants, roofers, managers, you name it. Solar's reputation as a green, futuristic energy source championed by progressives means that you would likely be working with people who are more ideologically compatible with you. But it's a business like any other, and needs the kinds of professionals that all businesses need. I've been happy with my pay and benefits package.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:52 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't think you need to go back to school and I generally think it's a terrible idea to go back to school and incur more debt without a very, very specific reason and plan. Instead, if I were you, I'd start networking heavily and see if you know anyone who is in the non-profit world who can help you. The meetings can just be "informational" ones where you ask about how they broke into whatever they are doing and what advice they can give, but you should also express that you are really eager to make this job so if they do hear of anything, you'd love if they can pass it along. Especially if you are aiming to pivot into something new, having someone who can refer you is a big positive. They don't have to know you super well either, usually I've been referred my acquaintances yet, still, every job I've ever gotten has been via people I only kind of knew.

I've worked both at non-profits and on political campaigns, which wasn't related to my career to that point, but I had skills that could transfer -- I started in politics and then did non-profit work. Someone I was very close to worked in politics and recommended me to someone who did not hire me, but liked me enough that he recommended me to someone else as a person who could do the job with proper training. The thing is, before the initial recommendation and conversation with my friend about the political job, I didn't even know political campaigns did or needed the work that I ended up doing. My friend, who knew I was unhappy in my then-current career, identified that the work I did could translate to this other role on political campaign. But it started me on a new career path where after some time in liberal politics, I worked at non-profits. So also that's part of why I think networking could be crucial -- if you don't know the advocacy world super well, someone might be able to let you know where you can be helpful.

If I were you, I think any sort of non-profit and advocacy work would be fulfilling. Although I'd say working to get liberals elected is great, the hours are quite rough (there is no such thing as work-life balance because you have a limited window to get your person elected) and there's a reason it's mostly young people who do it. I think you have the right idea of looking at non-profits. Although networking is key, I'd also check out idealist.org for their job listings -- maybe you can identify some areas where your skills will translate. Like you, I'm not someone who enjoys work and would be happy to fill time to get a paycheck and go home, but I did always want to do a good job when I worked in politics and advocacy because I knew what I was doing mattered. It was also nice working with people who I knew weren't racist, homophobic, sexist, etc.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:06 AM on September 8, 2017

Ok, imagine that you're in an office with a bunch of people that you really like. You feel like you are working towards a goal that satisfies you.

Do you like the job now? Or are you still unhappy?

If so, you may just be in the wrong job. If you're not interested in the tasks you're doing, you're never going to be satisfied at work. Maybe you need to work more with people, or less with people, or less with words, or sales, or whatever. Are there parts of your volunteer jobs that you particularly enjoy? That will give you clues to a potential new job.

Anyway, I feel ya--I had good benefits and salary but "doing wrong" will grind you down in the end and I was happy to leave those jobs. Good luck!
posted by kingdead at 11:39 AM on September 8, 2017

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