One-third life crisis: assistance plz
December 25, 2017 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Hello, Metafilter. I have a history of making Big Decisions over Christmas. This year, help me decide if I should move careers, cities, or even countries.

The tl;dr version:
- I dislike my current job and have been overpromoted and underpaid for it, but I don't know what else I can (or want to) do.
- My current city is increasingly unaffordable and my ties to it looser by the day, but I don't know where else to go.
- My country is imploding, but I don't speak any other European languages and have no specialised skills, so I don't know if I can realistically emigrate.

So. Job first: I've been in local government my entire working life, and in my current job ([policy / business support] [officer / manager]) for three years now, getting gently promoted every year or so. The last 'promotion' technically made me management, but so far hasn't come with any additional pay to match the increased workload. I spent a fortnight earlier this month working til 7 almost every night, and am sick of both that and confronting the same challenges over and over (savings demands, impenetrable governance requirements, and a recent merger that looked fine after we'd put in days of preparatory work...only to have it all ignored and the new financial system to turn out to be a pile of steaming horse manure).

My 'industry' (local government) is dying on its feet thanks to central government cuts, and even if I weren't sick of endlessly managing decline, it's a good one to get out of at the moment.

Here's the problem: while my role includes several useful aspects (I'm basically a glamourised office manager - financial management, performance management, governance, recruitment, some policy advising), and I'm good at my job, especially the numerical analysis and drafting copy (reports, press releases, performance comments, etc.), I do not have formal qualifications in any of these things. Other than a bog-standard bachelor's from a decent university I am SOL.

I've also never known what I want to do for a living, or what I could do with the experience I have. I fell into this industry by accident and have no experience outside it. I've been told I'd make a good lawyer (and I partly agree - I'm good at analysing legislation and arguing points of order) but I don't think I could stand the hours. Just a fortnight of working til seven nearly did me in - I just can't cope with work/cook/sleep/work/cook/sleep/etc. If anything I'd love to have *more* time to myself.

So, Metafilter: what else can I do?

Then there's the city. I live in London, which is increasingly unafforable, and almost all of my friends have moved away over the past year. I moved back here four years ago after five years living in small southern towns, because this is where everyone and everything was. Now it isn't, and I'm paying over half my income in rent and bills to live in the cruddy southern end of town and cough up for an increasingly dysfunctional transport system. I could live with being somewhere smaller and cheaper - though I don't drive, so public transport is essential. I've looked at Bristol (pricey), York (no jobs), Edinburgh (dark and only seems to want accountants and software engineers) I missing something?

And then there's the country. My country is currently self-immolating for reasons passing understanding. I've managed to save (and, tbf, partly inherit) a not-inconsiderable amount, enough for a property deposit - but I don't dare buy with the uncertainty of Brexit hanging over the economy. I have no dependents, nor any intention of acquiring any. My parents are in their 60s but well provided for. My friendship groups have been gently winding down as people move away, get married, have children, etc. I don't have much to keep me here (besides tea and mustn't-grumbling), and I've always thought I'd like to live abroad at some point in my life. The past few years I've been European-travelling when I can, and Amsterdam, Stockholm and Lisbon are all places I could imagine myself living. However, I speak no languages beyond English and have no special skills to speak of, and I've only been to those places a week each at a time, which isn't a great basis to build a life on. Am I just dreaming in the clouds / grass-is-always-greenering here?

There's also one overarching thing: I've been brought up with a terror of unemployment. My father in particular has always told me that leaving a job without another one to go to immediately is tantamount to economic and professional suicide. Metafilter: is he right? I've got enough saved up to live on for a while at least - but do I risk becoming tarnished goods at 32? Or can I afford to take some time away from work, maybe get some new qualifications, and then come back around?

Help me, Metafilter. I'm lost, and I don't know where to go from here.
posted by aihal to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
First, I'd look into a screening for depression and anxiety. Your frustrations and other feelings here are natural but having some professional support as you make these changes can help. The fact that your dad's words are still ringing in your head at age 32 and causing you to feel stuck tells me that there's more there. (I completely understand this firsthand so absolutely no judgement.)

Second, I'd make an appointment with a career coach who can help you update your resume and consider other jobs you'd be qualified for. People change careers all the time in the US and surely in the UK, too. Perhaps your former university can help?

Third, I'd do the following: Start applying for jobs in the UK cities you're interested in. You never know! I'd look into exchange programs for civil servants between European countries. I know this is complicated because of the Brexit but there may be a way for you to spend a bit more time abroad. You can say you enjoyed your work in the government and would like to now apply that knowledge to explore a career in the private sector, etc. (Or however you'd phrase that in the UK!)

You could look into a English-language Master's program in Holland or Germany, for example. German university is free but you'd need to play for food and housing. It sounds like you could though. That would open doors for work abroad but I'd make sure you study something you want to actually do later and are in a place you'd like to live.

In the meantime, I'd also work on making your here and now more bearable or even a bit better. I'd try meetups and other activities that can introduce you to potential new friends. I'd start learning another language -- maybe your job would even pay for it or at least give you some time off.

I'm sure European MeFites can give you more specific advice but that's a start. You are still young and have so many options: it's just figuring where to start. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 3:40 PM on December 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is all excellent advice.

As a general point that I‘ve made elsewhere on this site, I want to add that emigrating for negative reasons (‚I don‘t like it here‘) is bound to be harder than emigrating because another specific country feels positively attractive to you for *reasons*. Believe me, every place in the world has plenty of stuff to hate, and if you leave because your life sucks, well, you might end up in a worse spot where you don‘t even have the privilege of being local, a citizen, and speaking the language. ‘Wherever you go, there you are‘ - emigrating as such rarely solves problems, and always adds layers of difficulty to your life.

Source: I emigrated from my European country of birth 7 years ago because the US, specifically the SF Bay Area, seemed like an attractive place. I still like it here (political disasters notwithstanding). I have witnessed several emigration stories, some happy, some not so much. One thing that keeps coming up is the emigré who just ‘ended up’ around here and got stuck for job and/or family reasons and is constantly unhappy. So, being in a different country doesn’t magically make those midlife problems disappear.

Were I in your shoes, I‘d look for a different spot to migrate to within the UK first. And keep your eyes open for specific non-UK places (and corresponding careers) that might appeal to you down the road. Which you’re already doing by asking this question, I guess; I just wanted to add my immigrant perspective.
posted by The Toad at 4:01 PM on December 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Emigrate to New Zealand. The economy is good, decent work life balance, culture is similar to home, and your experience in the public sector is a bit of a golden ticket with Brits being favoured in the public service (dunno why this is, but it is so).
posted by dydecker at 4:14 PM on December 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

Emigrate to New Zealand. Or Canada. Same reasons. Probably easiest to start on either coast-- interior is more conservative and entirely different culture. If it were me, I would be looking at Vancouver, Victoria, or anywhere else in British Columbia.
posted by seasparrow at 7:59 PM on December 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thanks, all. NZ and Canada are probably a bit out of my comfort zone, plus I'm a terrible flier, but I'll bump them up my holiday destinations list just in case! Otherwise, going to book in for career advice in the new year and see where that leads me. I've been applying for jobs here and there but definitely need to know how I can widen my net.

Cheers all for taking the time :)
posted by aihal at 4:18 PM on December 26, 2017

I don't speak any other European languages and have no specialised skills, so I don't know if I can realistically emigrate.

Don't let that hold you back. Plenty of English-language employers are outside of anglophone locations, and some locations are particularly friendly to anglophones. I live in The Hague, and here and Amsterdam in particular are both trivially easy to thrive in without Dutch, although you will run into things like landlords taking advantage of expats who don't know local law and can't read their contracts (I learned Dutch, but you hear stories about this stuff literally all the time, so it helps to find the local expat network when you land). I got my job here because I saw a job opening here at a American company and thought, "what the hell, I'll give it a shot." There are places like The British School or The American School that need support staff even if you aren't qualified as a teacher (and since I have been doing my annual workplace first-aid training in English with a bunch of British School staff, they are getting along fine without Dutch there). Lots of energy sector stuff here like Shell if you are interested. Here's a list of international companies here (a friend of mine has been at Nike in Hilversum for 15 years and loves it -- from your qualifications it sounds to me like you'd make a good legal operations specialist!). Basically, if you want to do it, just apply for things and let the employers disqualify you if your language skills aren't what they need, don't disqualify yourself ahead of time.

(I will say, AMS isn't a rent bargain either, and expats in particular are being blamed for it. Rotterdam and The Hague both are cheaper, and far less chockablock with tourists, if you don't mind commuting. Our rail service is actually outstanding, despite all the moans and groans every time the sign says +2 or 5. Feel free to memail me if you want to talk about the experience as an expat here.)
posted by sldownard at 1:46 AM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

What about working in a central government agency outside of London? has all the jobs. You'd probably prefer not to work for a ministerial department but there are plenty of other jobs. Alternatively, working in the charity/third sector, or in the higher education sector, or a legal services firm might be good fits for your skills.

If you'd be interested in staying in the UK, then Cardiff, Birmingham, or Nottingham might work. Not too cold or far north, regional hub cities so more going on than you might expect and fairly good public transport. Cardiff has the added bonus of being in a different country with a different language, but is otherwise fairly similar. Other similar not too expensive places are Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Southampton, Sheffield, maybe Liverpool (jobs are harder to find). Lots of people love Norwich but it's quite a long way from everywhere. In all of those places I think you can find a decent house/flat to buy in a nice commutable area for less than £200k.

If you want to move abroad, then you can get English language jobs in Dublin, Amsterdam, Zurich and Copenhagen for a start. But they are all very expensive cities to move to (similar in cost to London without the global city status).
posted by plonkee at 2:26 AM on December 29, 2017

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