I’m a job hopper... but is that really so bad (for me specifically)?
January 18, 2018 11:59 AM   Subscribe

I’m having a bit of a job / life crisis and would love some outside insight beyond just ranting to my husband. I am not good at office jobs and feel like I am broken. I have had two “real” office jobs, and invariably they have ended the same way: about a year in, I get frustrated, wildly bored, and start making moves to leave. Advice from any other creative types who’ve struggled with this same issue would be particularly useful!!

Looking at my post history, you can tell I’ve been a career wanderer (except for the actual post about quitting, which I posted for a friend!). But I’ve finally figured out a Thing about myself.

I’m a creative person and a bit entrepreneurial. My dream is to work as a photographer/writer. I have a successful freelance business that has, at several points, been my primary income. Those have been the times I’ve been happiest - when I can set my own schedule, work on projects that I like, ditch disagreeable clients, and have PLENTY of time to work on my creative pursuits (Yay!). I don’t LOVE all my freelancing work, but it gives me time to do what I do love and it’s way more agreeable than working as part of a corporation.

However, I am also susceptible to freelance panic. Last year, I hit a rough patch with clients and had a health scare and wanted better insurance (thanks, America). I applied for a few FT positions. In a whirlwind, a company interviewed me and offered me a job. I was super hesitant about the position - it is in a different industry with different job duties - but I’m bad at saying no under stress. (Something I’m working on!)

Surprise, surprise, I’m a year in and I HATE it. The company isn’t bad, but the position is not for me and has no relevance to my future goals. I feel like every second sitting at this desk is wasted time. I can’t force myself to care about anything I’m doing, and my work is suffering. Plus it’s wildly stressful and leaves me with no time for my creative pursuits. I could list a dozen reasons it’s not ideal, but I feel like most would be manageable for a “normal” person who can handle a day to day job without panicking and feeling like their dreams are being flushed down the toilet.

Since day one of this job I’ve regretted stopping freelancing to work here. I’ve started rebuilding my client base so I can jump back to full time freelancing by mid year. And I got married, so I can get on my husbands insurance! However, I know this makes me a job hopper. Essentially, my resume looks like:

Job A, 2 years straight out of college
Job B (contract while freelancing), 1.5 years
Job C, 9 months (ok, to be fair, I had to quit because we moved cross country but also I would have been looking for other work soon probably?)
Job D (current position), 1.5 years
Freelance writing, 4 years across or in between all this

On one hand, I don’t ever want to go back to an office job! They are not for me! So maybe my resume doesn’t matter. My goal is to sustain myself with freelance and contract work until I can shoot/write full time and/or have some sort of entrepreneurial enterprise.

But also I know leaving yet another job so early will put a red mark on my resume if I DO ever need another office job. I am miserable here, to the point of crying in my car and having breakdowns on Sundays. Yet I keep thinking: the job is not objectively awful (an accurate statement) and I should be able to suck it up for at least another year or two. I feel like I’m being bratty and spoiled. But the thought of waiting another two years to get any real time to work on my passions - and spending another two years resentful in an office working long stressful days - makes me so miserable, especially when I have a client base that pays enough to live.

So many people hate their office jobs and continue to go to them and perform well for decades. Why can’t I be one of them? Is it a basic flaw in my self that I struggle with doing this?

(By the way, my dad is a serial entrepreneur and my mom teaches entrepreneurship so I’ve never had a good example of “goes to work for ~the man~ without complaining”!)
posted by good day merlock to Work & Money (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You are very critical of yourself here and it's not warranted. Holding a certain type of job doesn't make you a better person. Being able to tolerate certain types of work does not make you a better person. Working for "the man" without complaining is not the mark of a good person.

Consider managing this guilt by committing to a volunteer position that helps you feel responsible and fulfilled. Photography can be applied in a lot of prosocial ways.

TL;dr: you can "contribute" to society without adding to the value of some random person's stock portfolio
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 12:05 PM on January 18 [11 favorites]

Is there somewhere else in your current company you could apply the skills you enjoy using? Just a thought. I gutted it out in customer service until I could get in my company's communications area, as writing is really my thing.

If such an opportunity happened to exist, you could create and get insurance!
posted by DrAstroZoom at 12:13 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]

Freelance panic is real. The only cure is to work your ass off and charge appropriately. Office jobs are not for everyone and there is no guilt in that. I know plenty of people who will not bow to working in an office.

I manage sales for a company and am in the office most days and I also run a small business which is mostly freelance self employment. I charge the earth for my services because it makes the client committed, ready to work with me, and means I can focus on them without worrying about where my next meal is going to come from. It also lets me be selective with my time and relax without worrying I am not reaching enough people.

That said, you may be the progeny of entrepreneurs but that does not mean you have what it takes to be your own manager. If you are not able to develop enough work to sustain yourself, you are probably not doing the right jobs at the business you are trying to create. Microbusinesses only grow through merger and partnerships. If you can find someone who can develop more than enough work for you but you had to pay them 30%, would that be meaningful to you?
posted by parmanparman at 12:13 PM on January 18

You only get one life and you're right that every day you spend it being miserable is a waste of a precious resource. Most people who have 9-5s do so because they don't like freelancing or it's not possible for them. If you like it and it works for your situation (you have healthcare covered), why not go for it? Maybe just instead of wanting to smooth over the rough patches with full time jobs find a different type of supplement that will work with your business, like driving for Lyft or DoorDash or doing odd jobs on Task Rabbit.
posted by bleep at 12:14 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]

Hi! This is so helpful! A few quick clarifications and then I’ll stop thread sitting - I don’t really have *any* interest in any sort of office job (plus, I’m in the most creative part of my company already, it’s just not a very creative company). Second, while I did have a slow period, for the most part I was pulling in ~55-65k freelancing. It would take a bit of time to get back to that level but I do believe I can subsist myself. Thanks!!
posted by good day merlock at 12:17 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]

So many people hate their office jobs and continue to go to them and perform well for decades. Why can’t I be one of them? Is it a basic flaw in my self that I struggle with doing this?

I think you know you're being kind of hyperbolic here, right? Most of us work because we need money, and for a lot of us freelancing/entrepreneurship sounds about a million times worse than working a steady job with a steady paycheck. Some people do work they hate for financial reasons, or societal expectations, or whatever. People don't do jobs they hate because they're good people, they do jobs they hate because they consider those jobs to be their best options.

And lots of us do jobs that we don't particularly love or feel passionate about, we just do them because we have to do *something*.

Next time you feel like you need a day job, BE PICKIER FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE. I know plenty of creatives with pleasant relationships to their 9-5s. You need a low-stress environment (maybe even with downtime!). Learn to say no. Build up enough of an emergency fund that you can AFFORD to say no (aka a "fuck-you fund").
posted by mskyle at 12:17 PM on January 18 [12 favorites]

Given the age I'd guess you to be with that timetable, I don't think this looks even mildly weird. I'm 36 and I've never had a job last longer than about two years, and I wouldn't even call myself entrepreneurial or unhappy about the idea of staying somewhere long-term, I just have never had a job that was a good fit for that long. Most of the people I know who've been in the same job for a decade who're about my age are also people who have better-than-average circumstances at that job. The actual average might be more like 5 years per job, but it's definitely not, for someone my age, anywhere close to 15. I think you're overestimating the expectations people have about this kind of thing for someone who is younger. Leaving a bunch of jobs after six months is bad. Leaving several jobs after 1.5-2 years is not exactly average but it isn't weird and you aren't going to be rendered unemployable that way.
posted by Sequence at 12:26 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]

Your job record isn't really that spotty, so don't worry about that. If you are now on your husband's insurance and you can afford to quit your job, freelance, and build up a client base again, it seems like that's the obvious thing you should do now. It doesn't seem like you have ever freelanced as your sole source of income for any long period of time, now is as good a time as any to see if you can make it a more long-term, permanent way to earn a living.

You seem to have a very rigid, black and white view that working a full time desk job = being a slave to the man, a cog in the wheel, insert cliche here. If you quit your job and try the thing you've always wanted to do, you'll either find that it's hard but very rewarding and successful, or it will give you some perspective about desk jobs. It doesn't sound like you have anything to lose in trying.
posted by cakelite at 12:29 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]

(1) There's no moral or ethical reason for you to have a day job. You hardly need to hold one to contribute to society. So there's no reason to worry about that. That said...

(2) I'm not sure investing so much in your mental image of yourself as a wild and free creature who just can't bear the strictures of a 9-5 is doing you any favors. You're aware, right, that pretty much all of us with creative passions would prefer a job that left us lots of time and energy for them? The problem is that such jobs which also pay well enough to live on decently are hard to find. (And not only in the U.S., though our system poses extra challenges in doing so.) If you can make it work freelancing, awesome! Go do it! Forget the resume! But it sounds like you're having or have had some difficulty in doing so. If that's the case, or turns out to be the case in the future, you're going to have to do what you have to do to support yourself, because that's what grownups do, and therefore what many many writers, photographers, etc. end up doing. I would recommend prioritizing your image of yourself as someone who takes care of herself and meets her responsibilities over the image of yourself as someone who's just too creative to stand a desk job.

(I do agree with those above who say you can be a little more selective in looking for a day job, and emphasize routine, well-defined, non-pressured work over other possibilities.)
posted by praemunire at 12:31 PM on January 18 [17 favorites]

So many people hate their office jobs and continue to go to them and perform well for decades.

Is that really something to aspire to? Of course not. But maybe they don't actually hate their jobs. Maybe they like them and get inspired by them and do great work and are well-liked and fund outside lives that are fulfilling. But it's fine that you're not one of them. Honestly, who cares if you are a job hopper? I ain't judging. I don't see what's so bad about it. It's not like you're changing jobs every 6 months for no reason. A lot of jobs these days are short term contracts, so if you have to white lie about the reasons you've left, you have my permission. Plus, you have a husband. Does he support your dream of being a freelancer? If he does, then go for it! If your parents are entrepreneurs, I'm sure you already know that following your passion doesn't equal having a splendid day of rainbows and deep fulfillment every day of your life, because there's a lot of paperwork and negotiation and phone calls and emails and customers and etc etc. But in theory, what makes it all worth it is being your own boss and owning your own business and having full administrative power and doing it ~My Way~. And I think for a lot of people, it's worth it.

Let if be known that I, for one, see your ability to cope with change as a strength rather than a character flaw.
posted by winterportage at 12:45 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]

I know leaving yet another job so early will put a red mark on my resume if I DO ever need another office job

No, it won't. What prospective employers primarily care about are your skill sets and experience with what the job entails. If they don't, it's probably not a good fit for you anyway. In the current job market, staying somewhere for more than 3 years can actually look like stagnation instead of loyalty. Just sayin.

But that said, if you hate working a 9-5 and are willing and able to freelance, DO IT. Life is too short to do a job you hate if you've got alternatives.

As a data point: my resume is spotty too (waaay more than yours), and I'm 18 years into my career. My current employer did not bat an eye when I told them I'd been freelancing on and off for 12 years. They wanted to know if I could do the job, and that was good enough for them.
posted by ananci at 1:22 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]

So many people hate their office jobs and continue to go to them and perform well for decades. Why can’t I be one of them? Is it a basic flaw in my self that I struggle with doing this?

I don't think they actually do. So many people complain about their office jobs and continue to go to them and perform well for many years, but that's not the same thing.

If you do need an office job in the future, be pickier about it for sure. Take something with a company or organisation that you believe in. Take something that will help develop your freelancing or other business. Take something that you think you could actively tolerate even if you will never love it.

In the meantime, focus on building up your client base and go for it.
posted by plonkee at 1:42 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]

Is there any possibility of a compromise, like reducing to 3-4 days/week or condensing your schedule to having a day off each week (four 10-hour days) or every other week (80 hours in 2 weeks by working about 9 hours/day)? That has helped me maintain some time for creative pursuits while keeping my day job and its benefits.
posted by pril at 6:20 PM on January 18

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