Keep building life in new town vs take a very career-centric risk
September 28, 2018 10:00 AM   Subscribe

When is it a good idea to commit to gradually improving your current life/career/community situation vs taking on a risky, but high-reward new position in a new industry? Snowflakes within.

I have consulted versions of this question over the past month or so, but found none of them quite hits the balance I'm talking about here. So, snowflakes!

I moved to Small City/Big Town (SCBT) in May. The first half of 2018 was rough for me for lots of converging life reasons. I liked my new town on first impression, but I also felt like I chose the wrong profession or focus area in my profession (see here). Long story short, I decided I would need to find more of a professional data science role, and started applying to such jobs in The Big City in most of my non-work time.

Flash forward to September 2018. I'm starting to interview with various positions, all in TBC. I'm learning more about the types of positions I'd like to rule out. It seems very possible, though not guaranteed, that I'd have some kind of job offer and route to live in TBC, pursuing this type of work at a significant increase in income (like, doubling income) by January 2019 if not sooner.

I also really really want to stay in SCBT. I've visited TBC more frequently over the past few months, and started to move from "visiting friends" mindset to "scoping out what life might actually be like" mindset. I've lived in 7 cities in the past nine years, ranging from populations of 30,000 (SCBT) to 700,000 (Seattle), generally moving for work or school, but also this kind of internal sense of finding it hard to make community and jumping into start-over mode.

(FWIW, on the practical city side, I've finally learned what I want in a city is: walkability/accessible transit, beautiful nearby nature, a friendly/low-key pace of living, homey bookstores/cafes/diners in which to be a regular, diverse communities, and that elusive sense that "my people" are here or could be here (most intangible, but super important).)

When it came time to prepare for the most recent interview, I suddenly realized that I had 1) made a couple of genuine friends here that I care about (I usually make like, one real friend a year or so, so this is a really encouraging and good sign), 2) am part of a growing little community of queer folks, librarians, and artists, which is something I've only found once before and is again really encouraging and happy, 3) just started going on dates with someone really exciting from this community (it's way way way too early to know how things will go with this particular person, but it's more the fact that it's happening that is encouraging. Plus, she's super great.), 4) my walk home from work is one of the prettiest hikes/natural formations I've ever been around. I feel a lot of affection and grounding in this little natural space, and 5) now that I'm feeling happier, it's easier to focus on the not-bad parts of my current job, such as the coworkers and flexibility and opportunities for public service. If I could just find my way to more salary and more technical work, I think I could be totally okay-to-satisfied with this path.

When I list it out like this, it's easier to see that I'm really happy here and I'd like to keep building and cultivating a life here. I want to commit. But I'm also nervous about the possible lack of wisdom in such a decision - there's not an obvious way to pivot my career here. I could slowly look for and find more data science-y positions in my organization, but it would likely be another 9 months-1 year before I could reasonably start that process. I'm afraid that it will be harder to be competitive the longer I wait to make such a jump, and that I could, say, work really hard to build up those skills over the next few years, and find my way back here. I also do have a lot of debt that I've been managing, and while I'm able to make slow process on it in my current position, it's going to be much more drawn out if I don't somehow increase my income in the next year or so (it will take 4-6 years in my current income level to pay off, and 1-2 years at this potential new level, although Cost of Living is potentially a complicating factor).

I think another way to phrase this is that: I've been operating in a put-work-first frame of mind lately, and all of a sudden I want to prioritize people/community/happiness, but I'm scared that in doing so, I'm being imprudent/impractical/not taking an opportunity in front of me. Have you faced a similar decision point? What guided you through it? What did you learn?

Many many thanks for any thoughts and guidance you have. :)
posted by Sock Meets Body to Work & Money (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think your question as posed is a false dichotomy. You only moved to SCBT in May. You haven't really put down roots here. And yes, you've found a couple of good friends and that's an encouraging sign. However you also talk in your earlier question about financial goals you might not be able to fulfill on the path you're on. Honestly, it sounds like you're going down a bit of a dead end, career goals wise, and if you have a chance to pivot now, you should take it! And then once you move to TBC, really commit to putting down roots / finding great friends / trying lots of new activities. If you still find that you're unable to enjoy life there as you did in SCBT (give it a good three years) - your new job with the doubled salary is likely to have opened many more doors and opportunities, including opportunities in towns more similar to SCBT if that's what you really want. I can tell you that as you get older, having a degree of financial stability and growth becomes really important for life goals in general.
posted by peacheater at 10:32 AM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

About nine years ago I was at a similar point - wanting to make a career shift into something with data and unsure whether to set up camp in a big city or return to the comfy college town I’d gone to school in. I decided to try in the college town for a year and see what happened. It took me about three months to get a bite from a university research group that needed a statistician. I would say it has worked out well; I left for a bit to further my education and then got recruited back. My salary is probably a lot less than it would be if I’d gone the data science route, but my mortgage on a house in a cute, walkable neighborhood is manageable.

Other friends in a similar position made different choices. One went for data science gigs and her salary has skyrocketed (she probably makes twice what I do), but property values where she landed are insane and cute/walkable neighborhoods are out of reach for her family. Another went over to consulting and she also makes more than I do, plus she bought in the recession so she has this enormous urban mansion somehow? But I think we’re all happy with where we landed, and so ultimately I don’t think any of the three of us have made bad choices.

tl;dr I think you’re going to be okay either way!
posted by eirias at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

Like eirias, I think either path is reasonable; what I would be cautious of if I were doing it would be never being content because I was always comparing the best of what I didn't have to the worst of what I did have, and not the reverse. So, if you move, you should write down first what you did to find good people where you are, and how long it took; and what your current budget income/outgo/equity/debt is. Then you will know whether you're doing better or worse in the new place. You might be moving to the Big City just to get a skills bump that lets you move back to Charming Small at a workable salary. Though IME Charming Small will either have boomed or collapsed while you were gone, changing all your plans and also the vibe of the people. Can't step twice in the same river.
posted by clew at 12:40 PM on September 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

How do you feel about The Big City as you visit it?

Also, if I understand the timeline, you've been in SCBT for less than six months. It's a bit of a honeymoon period. Do you feel you would seriously impair your chances of ultimately getting a job in TBC if you wait a year or so more to see how your feelings about SCBT mature? Because if you'd been in SCBT for two years now, I'd say try to figure out how to stay unless it's a total financial dead-end or you aren't satisfied with your job. But six months in, the full reality of your life and work probably hasn't sunk in yet. Can you postpone this decision?
posted by praemunire at 1:56 PM on September 28, 2018

You don’t say what age you are but I would say that if you’re toward the the younger side you should definitely go follow your dreams in TBC. There is always time for the SCBT later and now that you know that you can enjoy one (it seems unlikely that you fell into the only SCBT you’ll ever fit into on the first try) you have a good fallback position for when you’re done.

There’s nothing wrong with being career centered for while and the best time to do it is when you’re young. When you get older you’ll have enough sense to stay home and read a book instead. :-)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:36 PM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

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