Quarter-life crisis - Who am I?
December 31, 2017 4:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm at this stage in my life where I'm questioning everything. Help me figure it out.

I'm 26, cis female, a freelance writer and content manager, in a serious LDR. Lately, I've been having questions about my career, my relationship, and primarily - who I am.

Sometimes I think I want to be a lawyer (never been interested in law before, but the career growth and monetary prospects are very appealing to me right now), while other times I'd like to do a PhD in linguistics or creative writing (my top interests). Other times I feel like I should just keep my head down and continue doing my freelancing thing until I buy a house and a car and retire at 50 (hopefully).

How do I go about making a decision? I mean, there’s still time to go to law school, if I wanted to (couple of years doing a GDL or LLC, and then I’ll be training as a junior by the time I’m 30). Or perhaps I should go for something that’s more in line with my passion, even if the career prospects are more limited and the pay package might be less than what I earn now (I’m no saint; I like my dime for my work). The longer I put off this decision, though, the more I’m just making the default choice - continuing with whatever I’m doing now - and I’d really prefer not to make choices by default.

I'm also concerned about where my LDR is going. We've been together 20 months (though we met years back), and there's a 13-year gap between us - which is important only because it seems pretty clear that he doesn't want children, while I'm not sure what I want. At the moment, I couldn't care less for children, and all my life I've never been able to imagine myself with children, but I would prefer knowing that - should I change my mind some day - this wouldn't be a deal-breaker for the relationship. Should I bring this up with the bf now? Or should I just leave it if/when I change my mind?

We also haven't talked about marriage or living together (we live in different countries), and sometimes I'm ok with this (since I might change careers/move countries/etc.), and sometimes I'm not (I don't like the thought of another 5 years on the phone! even with once-a-year visits). I should probably bring this up with him, but I don’t know how. I don’t even know which country we should live in (his or mine? We’re 25 hours apart by flight, and we both have strong family ties in our respective places).

I feel like if I were happy in myself, maybe none of this would be a problem - so perhaps this is a psychological framework/spiritual satisfaction issue. As in, it wouldn't matter that I didn't know what I wanted; I just had to be, and focus on my spiritual growth (I'm quite a spiritually oriented person, so I do believe this). But I’m struggling lately, so if anyone has any words of wisdom, I'd love to hear it.

If it's relevant, I've been off antidepressants since August.
posted by Spiderwoman to Human Relations (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I can't address everything, but here's a couple thoughts:

Sometimes I think I want to be a lawyer (never been interested in law before, but the career growth and monetary prospects are very appealing to me right now)

In my experience, you shouldn't take a career route just for the money if you aren't interested in it. And, law is a weird game. In many places, there are many underemployed lawyers so it's not necessarily the path to riches like you seem to be thinking.

How do I go about making a decision?

For big decisions, I find making a pro/con list can help if I really don't know what I want, and then you add weight to each of your options on both sides, and count it up. Be realistic in what you add to the pro/con columns.

Regarding your LDR - we all have very different feelings about LDRs, and your age gap. For instance, I haaaatte LDRs with a fiery passion and will never do it again (life is too short to be a 25 hour flight away from someone you care about is how I feel); however, I will tell you, I have a friend with a military husband and their marriage only seems to work BECAUSE he's away so much. So, everyone is different here. I also firmly fall on the side of hating huge age gaps, but again, that's from personal experience and getting burned pretty badly more than once from older men. You'll need to decide if he's worth it or not to stay with, we can't really help you there. Good luck!
posted by FireFountain at 4:57 PM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Don't become a lawyer just for the money. By your reference to the GDL, I assume you're in the UK; while I know that market less well, it's still fair to say it's contracting. Even if you are successful...it involves a lot of drudgery for someone who doesn't take a compensating pleasure in other parts of practice.

What strikes me about your post is that you don't give the impression of having thought through any of your career options in detail (I mean, you don't even say whether you want to be a solicitor or a barrister, even though those involve different training paths and skills!). You're not going to get anywhere in decision-making while floating in a vague sea of wishes and half-information. Get some solid information on the pros and cons, financial and otherwise, of each of your career options. Once you have an actual grasp on, e.g., how rough the academic market is, you will probably be well on your way to forming an opinion about whether a Ph.D. would be worth it for you.
posted by praemunire at 5:10 PM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if I misread parts of your question, but it seems like you're in a LDR with a guy 13 years older than you whom you see once a year, and with whom you have no plans on cohabiting in the foreseeable future?

If I'm right, I would disagree that this is a problem with you being sufficiently happy in yourself -- as the relationship you have with that guy right now is very non-traditional. I'd urge you to question whether you might be happier pursuing a more traditional relationship with someone closer to home. I was in a LDR for 4 years that worked only because there was a definite end-date in sight and we were both on the same page from the beginning about what we ultimately wanted.

Re: job questions, I was a career changer in my mid-twenties and it was totally doable, but I did a lot of research before jumping in. Is there any way you can start networking and doing informational interviews with people who have jobs that you might like to have one day?
posted by loquacious crouton at 5:44 PM on December 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would prefer knowing that - should I change my mind some day - this wouldn't be a deal-breaker for the relationship. Should I bring this up with the bf now? Or should I just leave it if/when I change my mind?

if you've never asked him if he wants kids, you definitely should. but if the answer is a definite no, do you really want him to be the kind of guy for whom that isn't a deal-breaker? there are men who would change that easily -- men who genuinely don't care if they have kids or not and will happily do whatever their younger girlfriends seem to want -- but they are terrible fathers.

and then, what if he woke up tomorrow morning and said, shit, I just realized I'm almost forty! I have to have kids this year or next year at the latest, because just because my girlfriend is still young enough to wait ten years doesn't mean I am! -- would you really turn on a dime and change all your feelings about having a kid right now just because he did? it isn't wise to expect him to, someday, if you wouldn't right now. and you shouldn't.

what would be great is a guy who is at the same stage you are, who doesn't want kids now but is open to it sometime in the unknowable future, which he has plenty of ahead of him because he is in his mid-twenties.

It is ok to decline to agonize about any of this, because this relationship is a fling even if it goes on for another year or two and the incompatibilities don't matter because it wasn't built to last. that's what it sounds like it might be.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:54 PM on December 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm going to recommend that you get to know yourself as well as you possibly can before making any decisions about anything. I mean, you can make a list of pros and cons about any of the choices before you, but until you know what your personal priorities and deal-breakers are, such lists won't be helpful (although they are a very good second step).

So, the books that might be useful to you (they were for me) are What Colour Is Your Parachute (which addresses primarily career concerns) and The Three Boxes Of Life. The latter may not have been updated as often as the former, but they are both helpful.

One thing to keep in mind: be brutally honest with yourself when getting to know yourself. With your career, for example, what will give you most satisfaction? Earning a lot of money, being admired by your peers, doing good in the world, having a stable job and a regular pay, being free to change where you live every 2 years, being surrounded by beauty, etc. Some people seem to thing it's wrong to want to be admired or to want to earn money, but none of these is a wrong answer--there's only what suits you as opposed to what doesn't suit you.

Learn everything you can about yourself, no matter how small you think it is. Figure out your favourite foods, your favourite colours, what you like for furniture and decorations, what your values are, your spirituality, and so forth. For example, if you think you would like to go overseas to work serving African orphans but physical comfort is very high on your list of priorities, there could be some conflicts there that would work against that as a successful career.

After that, work to figure out where your skills are. Check to see what skills the professions you're thinking about require, and then ask yourself if you have them and love using them. Job shadow if you can.

Finally, I'd recommend only trying to sort out one part of your life at once. These are big decisions.

Good luck!
posted by purplesludge at 7:07 PM on December 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, I strongly recommend grumblebee's advice on differentiating between a passion and a workable job.

I see too that I answered a similar question last year, so here's that answer.

I have found the following to be useful:

1. For each action or thing you say, ask yourself, "What are my motivations for doing or saying X?"

2. Make lists of things you know you like and dislike (knowing what you dislike is sometimes as instructive as knowing what you like).

Make those lists in all the areas you can think of: food, music, TV/movies if you watch them, books, hobbies, pop culture interests, sports (participating and watching), politics, spirituality, colours, how you like to decorate your house, etc.

Note: Be really honest about what you like and don't like; it's easy to just write down what you think you like, because it's what everyone else likes or because you grew up with it and never questioned it.

Once you've made the lists, you might find an interesting pattern in your likes/dislikes. Or you might not. But at least you'll have articulated your likes and dislikes.

3. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Knowing the answer to that can really change how you live your life.

4. The exercises in The Artist's Way are very helpful. This book outlines a 12 week course and should be of great use to you if you do the exercises (written and others) that she recommends.

5. Also, I strongly recommend a book called Callings: Finding And Following An Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy. That really helped me.

6. Meditating (mindfulness meditation) will be helpful for this over the medium to long-term and has many other benefits as well.
posted by purplesludge at 7:19 PM on December 31, 2017 [8 favorites]

I echo what others are saying about ways to articulate your likes/dislikes, and would also like to point out that it's incredibly difficult to make any life decisions when you're also dealing with untreated depression. If antidepressants weren't a good option for you (and there are many different ones; just because one didn't work doesn't mean others won't), you might consider talk therapy. Something as simple as a vitamin D supplement can make a world of difference, especially in winter.
posted by basalganglia at 5:48 AM on January 1, 2018

Unless you are passionate about a particular aspect of the law, and willing to do hours-at-a-sitting, much-of-it-on-a-computer, tedious (to my mind) and vast amounts of reading, analysis, and legal writing, forget becoming a lawyer. There are way too many sub-par lawyers out there who get into the law, and imho shouldn't be there, because it seemed like an acceptable default in cases of not-knowing-what-career-they-want. Maybe you'd be an excellent lawyer, but the way you describe it, you see it more as a kind of default option. Also, a lot of lawyers I've talked too admit they really don't like being in their aspect of the law, but by the time they knew enough to know what kind of law they'd really enjoy practicing, they had already become specialized elsewhere. So my advice on that front is, talk to lawyers, read books on what it's like to practice, and ask yourself if you would be happy or at least content doing detailed and exacting work, for which you will receive little praise if done correctly but much censure if you do not. The law is not a profession where people are especially friendly or supportive; having a thick skin is essential.
posted by Crystal Fox at 10:01 AM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a freelance writer, I'm really surprised/impressed you're going to be able to buy a house, car, and retire by age 50 on a freelance salary. If that's the case I think you should stay on that path. If you can reach financial freedom by the time you're 50 you can use the rest of the time to do whatever you want. Or you could even delay retirement by a few years and enjoy life a little more now and study a bit of linguistics/creating writing on the side. Don't go into debt when you feel wishywashy about law and give up what sounds like a really lucrative freelance career.
posted by bluelight at 5:37 PM on January 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd like to do a PhD in linguistics or creative writing (my top interests).

I understand passion, and if you never tried for it you might always feel regret/remorse. My suggestion is to find out more about that path from people who've traveled it.

Find some PhD in linguistics and ask to talk to them about the paths they've traveled. The easiest way is to cold email professors of linguistics who are studying specific things that you're interested in possibly pursuing.

Then ask them if they'd be willing to put you in touch with some of the people they went to school with who didn't end up tenure track.

I have a PhD in biosciences, and it's not super rosey. I have a cousin who did a PhD in Linguistics at UBC. She was never even able to get a sessional/adjunct position and she's been surviving on the generosity of her parents for years.

By all means pursue a PhD if that's your passion and think that it will bring meaningful personal growth and satisfaction. It sure did for me.

But don't go in expecting to leverage a PhD into a living wage job. Getting that PhD is also a sunk opportunity cost; at best your current career is stalled, at worse, the hiatus will set you back to an entry level position or even bar re-entry into the field.
posted by porpoise at 7:16 PM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

On the career path side of things, I want to echo porpoise's advice regarding digging in and researching your potential alternative career paths. Any degree is going to involve a significant commitment of time and money, and some significant opportunity costs. In my mind, it's crazy to do something like that without being very confident you'll be happy with the result (the degree) and the career path it will likely put you on. I'm an attorney, and I'm in a position where I interact with lots of other attorneys. The unhappiest attorneys are usually those who got into the profession by default -- i.e. it was a field that seemed to guarantee a good paycheck (spoiler alert: it doesn't) and it was a grad school that accepted all types of undergraduate majors (as opposed to, say, medicine). I'm happy as an attorney, but I also spent time working in law firms and talking to other attorneys to figure out if the profession would be a good fit for me.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:36 AM on January 2, 2018

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