Mid-career, dream job, now want to do something totally different. Wut?
September 14, 2017 2:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm a knowledge worker in a large organization. Last year, I took a major promotion into an upper management position. Here I am, 9 months later, getting the urge to chuck it all and start over in a fresh career path. Am I crazy? Has anybody else done this?

Tell me your experiences with radically shifting careers in your 40's. Did it end well? Do you regret it?
Data points:
I'm making good money, but have to live apart from my family during the week. We could survive on my spouse's income if I just up and quit, but it would be tight. I'd likely take a significant pay cut when I switch careers.

Our children are almost grown. We had originally planned to relocate to the city I'm working in, but that was delayed to allow our youngest to finish high school. She's got 6 months left, but we've decided we really aren't sure we want to move anymore. Family and love for our current city have swayed us.

I'm burned out doing management stuff and have an urge to work with my hands and body, possibly outdoors.

Is this all a pipe-dream? Am I just having a normal mid-life crisis? Wut do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is a pipe dream. You should take a long vacation and you should look for jobs that are in the city you want to live in. You should maybe think about moving down from your management role to whatever you did last. You might want to freelance or start contracting to give yourself more flexibility to spend time outside, with your family, etc. You should definitely not just quit.

I get it --- I really do --- but the solution is not to chuck it and start over. It's to take a break and make sensible changes that build on all of your hard work so far. You get a lot more flexibility and a lot more choice when you have plausible experience and demonstrated interest.

In your 40s, you don't want to be doing (unskilled?) work with your hands and body in the outdoors. You are too old for it and you don't want to spend your last 20-30 years with chronic pain and limited mobility if you can avoid it.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:40 PM on September 14, 2017 [34 favorites]

Sorry, but I basically agree with Rock 'em Sock 'em.

I did want to add that a couple of people I know in your position did Master Gardener programs. There is training required, but some areas have evening classes. They did not do this as a career transition, but rather as a hobby while working (and some did it more seriously when they retired).
posted by gudrun at 5:46 PM on September 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I just changed careers at 35, which was something I had idly wanted for 8 or so years but only finally did out of desperation when I could no longer deny that my body would eventually give up and I would run out of money. I was on my feet all day working with my hands making shitty money and now I work with my brain in an office and I'm paid well and although it seems to have worked out and been worth it, it was a grueling year that visibly aged me and I wouldn't wish that transitional period of acute instability and self doubt on anyone. To go through that in the other direction (towards less money and more physically demanding work) with 5 more years on me seems like madness.

Managing sucks ass though, I agree with you there.
posted by STFUDonnie at 6:05 PM on September 14, 2017

The first year of teaching is the worst. Does that also hold for managing? Have you spent the last nine months inventing all the wheels? If so, I would give it another year or two before changing course.
posted by yarntheory at 6:24 PM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hey, I feel you. I was one of those people who got promoted into senior management because I was good at the thing I did, and loved it - and then when you're a senior manager you don't get to do that thing anymore! And you have to do a lot of stuff that is frankly boring and uninspiring, like sitting in meetings and reading/writing memos and delegating and traffic copping.

I've dealt with this a few ways:

1. I identified a few things I really wanted to move forward in my department and have focused a lot of my energy on those. I also make sure I still get to work on some small projects that let me work as an individual contributor, doing the work I love. It can be really easy to let your day get consumed with the demands of other people, even as a senior manager, but you'll be happier and probably more effective if you're setting your own agenda as much as possible.

2. I do better when my hours outside work are pretty full and interesting, so I've picked up some interesting hobbies. If you are spending your weekdays in a different city, I wonder if that means you haven't really developed a life for yourself outside work in that city? That's a pretty common situation for people who do that kind of commute. Maybe you could take classes in your weekday city in something hands-on so you can have that to look forward to on long days.

3. I'm not up and quitting my job anytime soon, but I did talk to a career coach about my long-term career path. One kind of funny thing about having the job you've been working towards for years is that you can sort of look around and go "ok, what am I working towards now?" And that can make motivation really hard. So I talked with a career coach and she gave me a few areas to explore that she thought I might be interested in long-term. So I've spent a lot of time the last few months talking to people working in these areas, and I'm also about to start a certificate program in one. So again, maybe take a class in something hands-on you're interested in, or talk to a career coach about potential options.

Finally, it seems like there are a few things here making you unhappy - not just your job, but being away from your family, and spending your weekdays in a place that's not home. That's a powerful recipe for discontent, and could easily cloud your judgment and make tossing it all away seem really appealing (ask me about the time I had a job I hated in a city I hated and almost threw my career away!). Could you make the first step trying to get a comparable job closer to home? Now that you have this job, it would probably be easier to get a similar-level job in your home city. Or can you work out a part-time remote work situation with your current employer? Or could you go out on your own as a consultant? Again, when you're feeling frustrated and trapped, it's easy to feel like you have no options but to bolt, but you are in a good position and I think you have options.
posted by lunasol at 6:47 PM on September 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

Google is your friend here. Try "late life career change" and "late bloomers." Unless your goal is something like being principal ballerina at the New York City Ballet, you can change careers in your 40s. It won't be easy, and I'd figure things out slowly rather than just quitting tomorrow. But it's doable. Whether you can physically manage outdoor work depends on where you are physically and what you're willing to do. The world is full of people doing physical labor their whole lives. Google "blue zones" for centenarians who keep working. I just read Diana Nyad's autobiography. She finally achieved her lifetime dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida at 64. She says she doesn't have aches and pains. You probably aren't Diana Nyad, but my point is that internet strangers can't tell from your post whether you can handle the outdoor work.

I knew someone who went to law school in his 50s. He died before he graduated, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't have done it. You might have 50 years left. You might have ten. But however much time you have, don't waste it being miserable.
posted by FencingGal at 7:19 PM on September 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am not yet really a manager nor in my 40s but I did quit a summer internship the summer between years of grad school that had been shaping up to be kind of interesting. It was my stand in for quitting grad school, which I was considering doing out of various feelings of indecision about my future and a great deal of stress. Quitting the internship on day 2 did fulfill some need to do something rebellious and irresponsible that I was feeling. Instead of the internship I went off and traveled a bit, to find myself or whatever. I honestly wasn't super happy that summer and in the end I didn't really feel like I got that much out of not doing the internship except maybe some time off and stress relief. I finished my grad school program and am glad I did. I still have some of the doubts about my field that I did at that point, but I figure if I do want to eventually transition into something else, I will do it gradually and plan the transition. Main lesson for me from that summer was stress can make your interpretation of a situation kind of wonky, and you get more in the long run out of finishing things and making rational decisions about changes in the course of things.

Anecdotally, I do have an acquaintance who quit their job mid-30s to take time off and maybe change careers. A few years later they don't really seem to have found the right new thing. YMMV - but maybe not.
posted by knownfossils at 7:53 PM on September 14, 2017

I think you're running into the problem that management sucks, and being management sucks. The idea that one should "climb the ladder" and that it is good / responsible / morally sound to elevate yourself above the rank and file is unfortunately normalized in our culture; what you're experiencing is the pain of realizing that that narrative is a lie.

Don't switch careers; stay within your field, but find a position that's not management. You'll be happier, and — if you get involved with your union — you'll be on the morally correct side of the bargaining tables. This will in turn bring you satisfaction that being management won't.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:55 PM on September 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

Seconding yarntheory – if it's only been a year, you're still learning!

Have you sat and thought about everything you enjoy/love about your current position? I'm honestly not getting a vibe that you genuinely dislike it from your question – it sounds more like you're tired and lonely, which do come with the territory. It takes a while to build self-awareness in a role like this, as well as new relationships/networks. (I prefer the word relationship since I take the people side of things seriously.)

There are indeed people for whom management sucks, and that's okay too! It's why I think taking a good look at what you love about your job could help clarify things. Give yourself time to do that before making a decision.

FWIW I love management in large part because it gives me a chance to work on the system from the inside. My main enjoyment is the people, really. Even though I too have reached upper management, I've been delighted to see that working with teams takes on even more importance, and that relationship management is a huge factor for success (my definition of "success" includes people being paid well, working normal hours, and finding whatever it is they need from their job, at their job – in other words not just profit).

Also FWIW, about twenty years ago I was one of those people who thought management were the scourge of the earth and immoral ;-) turns out we're all human. I'm grateful to the directors I've had who have shown what good management is.
posted by fraula at 4:57 AM on September 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Management is kind of miserable for a year or two as you adjust to doing a very different job, then it gets better. I'd give it at least six more months before making a drastic change.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:58 AM on September 15, 2017

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