Career building job or comfortable job
April 30, 2019 8:35 PM   Subscribe

I am at a crossroads in my career, and I can't figure out which path to take. Please give me your wisdom!

Job A. Existing job -- I've been here (large academic) just over a year.

The good: I have an awesome commute (~10 minutes), friendly colleagues, a cordial and peaceful work environment, a reasonable workload, a huge amount of vacation time, and relatively meaningful work. I'm taking graduate classes (largely paid for by my employer) in a technical field that I'm interested in, and I'm able to apply some of these technical skills towards some of my projects (which is great!). I have flexibility to work from home on occasion, and I generally have good work life balance.

The bad: There is NO potential for growth. I could move to an equivalent job in industry right now and easily make $20K+ more and probably have a more readily defined career path. Also, I have over a decade of progressive experience, and I'm frequently given tasks that are more appropriate for an entry-level position (data entry, scheduling meetings), because of a pervasive "all hands on deck" mentality and the fact we (intentionally) haven't hired replacements for the people who left last year due to budget issues. Sometimes its very frustrating to know my skills are so underutilized. I don't think my boss needs (and therefore cannot compensate for) the depth of experience and skills I bring to this position. * The pay isn't great, and I won't be able to buy a house on this salary any time soon, which has been my dream for a while.

Job B. An offer to join a very small, extremely fast-paced non-profit for ~20K more than I make now.

The good: The mission of this organization is incredibly appealing to me. It integrates several of my biggest interests. The work would be extremely meaningful. The benefits are good, maybe even on par with Job A, but different. (E.g. paid parental leave, but less vacation time. Equivalent retirement and healthcare benefits. There's no tuition support, but the higher salary would likely make up for this.) The commute will be longer ~40 min, but I live in an apartment and would be willing to move closer. I will be in a highly visible, highly challenging role with a lot more opportunities for leadership. I'm not sure about growth opportunities specifically within this organization because it is so lean, but I could potentially leverage it (+ the contacts I meet through it) to jump to higher level positions at other orgs in the future.

The bad: I get the impression there will be a LOT more pressure, and some significant issues with work life balance. I've got a few years left before I finish my part-time masters program, and I'm scared that this job will eat up all my free time and sap me of any remaining energy, and that I will end up wanting to drop the program due to burn-out. I'm extremely worried I won't be able to handle this job, and that I might be setting myself up to fail spectacularly*. Also, this job might not use all the technical skills I've been working so hard to learn in school. It's more strategic and high-level; I will miss getting to use these skills at work. Finally, I'm feeling a lot of dread/sadness about potentially leaving Job A --maybe because it is so safe and cozy and accomodating and Job B feels scary and intense and high risk.

*I've got lofty ambitions and I'm impatient for growth. My career stagnated more than it should have in my 20s after a devastating personal crisis and subsequent hit to my mental health, and now that I'm in my 30s, it feels like I'm trying to make up for lost time. I'm also worried that my commitment to work will lesson when I have a family, and so I feel like I don't have a lot of time left to make an impact with my career.

**I recently started SSRIs for depression, along with therapy. My ambitions FAR outpace my energy levels and drive (and have since puberty),which is extremely frustrating and leads to a lot of disappointment. But, it's a real challenge most days to figure out how to even feed myself properly and get out of bed and get to work on time, nevermind also meeting the basic expectations of my job and my classes.

Do I stay the course with Job A, finishing my grad program and keeping my depression in check, or do I risk upheaval to launch myself into the challenges and growth opportunities of Job B?
posted by Anonymouse1618 to Work & Money (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A. That's all. Well, not quite.
B sounds miserable. You can always look for a similar opportunity after you finish your graduate program.
posted by kate4914 at 9:42 PM on April 30, 2019 [13 favorites]

I'd really really check out those grad school prices prior to moving, that really could be a 20k a year difference. especially with associated enrollment fees over the course of the program. Remeber to add in your commute from work to school into your schedule.

I'm assuming that your grad school completion will open you to different job oppertunities, this new job would really only be until the end of your schooling career most likely.

Work life balance is incredibly important too especially with school.

For me the social transistion of a new workplace is really really hard. Start ups are exciting places, but they are also unstable places, and there is a risk, a real risk, everything just folds, and there will be very real pressure to put in as many hours as possible so that doesn't happen.

I don't know that I'd do this.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:45 PM on April 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

I suggest staying at your current job. Sounds like a good place to work while you study for your masters degree. A less taxing job gives you more mental energy to study. The short commute, tuition reimbursement, better environment for your mental health are other positives. I agree with the above. Think about changing positions after you graduate.
posted by mundo at 9:54 PM on April 30, 2019 [21 favorites]

Start ups are inherently unstable. Nonprofits that just started, doubly so. Both are notorious for toxic work environments and overburdened employees.

I would stay at your current job for now, which though stagnant careerwise, sounds pretty awesome. I'd wait until you find a better situation than that nonprofit.
posted by ananci at 10:39 PM on April 30, 2019 [13 favorites]

If you are struggling to manage feeding yourself, going to school and getting to work on time, jumping into a highly stressful new environment does not sound like good self care. Respect who you are and the reality that you live in. Your energy is not going to magically expand just because you wish it. Use your time in grad school to get your mental health solid and then leverage your new degree to jump to the next level.
posted by metahawk at 11:41 PM on April 30, 2019 [19 favorites]

I don't think you can do your new job and continue studying. Not and have enough energy to make sure you have clean underwear. So, how important is the masters? If you want to continue with your studies, I don't think you can take this job.
posted by kjs4 at 12:09 AM on May 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

It doesn’t sound like you could work at the startup and finish your grad program, plus the stress may be problematic for your mental health and well-being. I would question whether $20k more would be worth it, especially with the lack of work/life balance and longer commute. You can’t buy more time. Or health.

From your description, it sounds to me like the best move is to stay with your current role until you finish your grad program. You can look for ambitious roles then, when you have less on your plate.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:58 AM on May 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

Some things to consider:

-- is there a service payback time for the tuition credits? My former employer required you work there at least 1 year for each semester of class credit; my current employer shrugs (I think; have not used the credit yet).

-- is there a neighborhood near Job B with a similar commute and similar amenities? Commute time can sometimes be hacked with podcasts and audiobooks, but that's still time you don't get back.

-- are the benefits of job B (e.g. paid parental leave) things you'd use right now or within the next couple years? Startups are volatile and if becoming a parent is in your 5-year-plan rather than your 2-year-plan, the job and its benefit might not exist when you need them

-- in a similar vein, is the health insurance and disability benefits (if any) similar?

-- are you 100% vested in any employer contributions to your retirement plan?

-- is there a job C that would be a lateral move within your current university, with similar benefits/commute but more opportunity for job growth?
posted by basalganglia at 3:56 AM on May 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

A sounds like the right choice to me as well, but it does depends on a couple things.

What are your top priorities? Your masters, career growth, or your mental health? Pick two :)

If you can’t even pick two, and career growth is the leading priority for you by a large margin, then maybe B is the right choice. But given what you’ve said here, all other permutations lead to job A. Burnout is a real and devastating thing and it will jeopardize all of these priorities.

Job A sounds amazing but given your ambitions, it’s a job — not career. But that’s fine!! Because right now your masters is also driving your career in a big way. The masters and job B are going to be splitting your career growth goals instead of focusing them, and when they’re split your achieve neither.

Figure out what means the most to you right now, accept that you can’t do it all simultaneously, and focus your attention on specific goals. Good luck!
posted by cgg at 3:59 AM on May 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

I was all set to suggest job B until I got to the end of your question.

Given that your ambitions outpace your energy, I don't think you are likely to finish your masters and do well at job B. The size and newness of the organisation means that it is likely to demand a lot of you, particularly if you also need to operate at a more strategic level. You want to take a job like this when you are looking for a fresh challenge to throw yourself in to, not when you already have a big challenge on your plate.

I do think that you need to leave job A (but not necessarily organisation A) at some point reasonably soon, and that some of the sadness of doing so is just inevitable. I would be on the lookout for jobs that are more like B, but in organisations that are more stable and/or are known for having a supportive workplace. If you really want to use the technical skills you are learning then pursue options that involve that. If you want to progress in your career more than do specific things, and it would merely make you sad not to have used those skills, then maybe consider more senior and strategic roles as well.
posted by plonkee at 4:18 AM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Okay, I'm speaking as someone who has learned in the past five years or so that my energy (I think of it as my capacity) does not match my desires, ambitions, or even abilities. I have lived a life of anxiety, panic, and burnout till I started accepting this and built a life that works around my capacities, and I am a much happier person.

I would also say not to take job B; I've worked at a startup and there is a level of pressure that is inescapable. It's REALLY hard to have another big commitment when you're working at a startup.

But if you want more than your current job offers, you should by all means start looking. There are other places to work where you can use the skills you want to use. DO follow everyone's advice here, though, and thoroughly investigate the issues around paying for your classes, paying them back if you leave, how much they'd cost if you left the job, etc.

Another thing to really think about, though, is whether you feel like you *should* be more "accomplished" in your career, or whether you actually *want* to. If you do want to make that kind of move--be an influencer, a manager, do big and exciting stuff, that's wonderful. But if you just feel like you *should* want that, really dig into that. Your path if you want to make enough money to buy a house might be different from your path if you want to use certain skills or make an impact with your career.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:53 AM on May 1, 2019 [10 favorites]

If grad school is largely paid for by your employer, stay there until you complete it, and beyond if you're required to stay for X length of time afterward to avoid having to pay it back. It's a significant benefit that's hard to come by in a lot of companies, and you seem to have a comfortable (if low-paying) situation right now, so I'd say take advantage of it until you've earned your degree.

It's also a great time to start seeing what your career will look like post-degree. You have the advantage of a gig while doing your coursework and job-hunting, so I'd keep with that.

Also, don't discount the idea that you could carve out a career path in the place you're in. It's sometimes surprising how money will happen in businesses/institutions when you've shown how valuable you can be.
posted by xingcat at 5:21 AM on May 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm with the majority - good culture, short commute, good benefits, grad tuition - stay till at least you've finished your degree. New paths may open up and/or you can make some while not being frazzled in a high-pressure environment...
posted by sedimentary_deer at 5:24 AM on May 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

To me it seems obvious: stick with Job A. Job B sounds like a step *down* from what you’ve got now.

As others have suggested, if you really feel the need for change - just keep looking.

Regarding energy, your career, etc: I, too, had a personal crisis and energy issues - a divorce - in my late 20’s, and it was definitely a setback. But it wasn’t a permanent derail. My energy and motivation and general happiness skyrocketed when I found a new job that truly motivated me. I offer this as proof that your energy and enthusiasm are not gone forever.

Re SSRI’s: I’m not a fan, and they sound like the *last* thing a person needs if they’re having energy level issues. I’m not an MD but I have experience with SSRI’s and I have experience with Bupropion / Wellbutrin - and the Bupropion is vastly better.
posted by doctor tough love at 7:01 AM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

A. While B has a higher salary you say "There's no tuition support, but the higher salary would likely make up for this." So the salary is actually a wash.

Respectfully, I think that your general feeling of there being no potential for growth does not sound quite right to me. The fact that you have so much support for your technical skill development speaks to clear opportunities for growth in your technical skills, your education, and your personal coping mechanisms. You will, after laying a great foundation, have opportunities outside of this organization within a few years, with more technical certifications under your belt.

Making the move when you have your MA and you're feeling confident that the new job is better is the way to go here.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:46 AM on May 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

Also as someone who has made similar decisions---having a big personal crisis can sometimes make it feel uncomfortable or unproductive to have slower-paced, healthy periods of time. But there is a lot of growth and self-improvement that "feels" slow, boring, like you're doing nothing when you compare it to being in crisis. My suggestion would be to give yourself six months in which you just do the things you are doing now, without looking to change anything up or generally increase the adrenaline in your life. Accepting your current reality for six months will, in my experience, let you figure all kinds of everyday-life things out and really get to a place where you can lay a good foundation for making big, stressful leaps.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:51 AM on May 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

Chiming in to agree with the majority and recommend sticking with Job A, at least until you finish your master's, but looking to enrich your experience there a bit. Have you had a frank talk with your manager about better using your skills and capacities? I've been the boss in situations where we haven't been able to offer much in terms of formal advancement but I've always been able to find some way of working with the person to address some of the challenge/growth issues.

Also, there is a lot of ground between staying in your current job after you've exhausted all the opportunities (which you might not have done yet) and taking a high-stress position in an uncertain environment with the disadvantages you outline above. The fact that you got a good offer from outfit B shows that your skills are in demand and if you do decide to move on from where you are now, you will be able to find better options. In the meantime, doing some professional networking would be worthwhile.
posted by rpfields at 8:32 AM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

I agree with everyone saying to stay at Job A, even before this:

The commute will be longer ~40 min, but I live in an apartment and would be willing to move closer. I will be in a highly visible, highly challenging role with a lot more opportunities for leadership.

A longer commute is a huge quality-of-life factor. Moving, even under ideal circumstances, is incredibly stressful and demanding (and over a long-ish period of time--the couple months you'll need to pack and unpack and get addresses changed and utilities hooked up, etc. etc.), and your academic work will probably take a hit.

Also, I just want to suggest that the language you use to describe Job B sounds a lot like it was taken from the actual job description--and with a lot of startups, there's big talk about "leadership" with very little infrastructure or support for the actual work.
posted by witchen at 9:00 AM on May 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

B sounds like a nightmare. You don't have just two choices, you know. There are probably jobs C, D, and E out there that would pay more and be a better fit further down the road. In your position, for now while I was in grad school, I would stay put.
posted by clone boulevard at 1:15 PM on May 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure if MeFites like follow-ups, but I listened to the collective wisdom and turned down job B. I felt a flood of relief and a big increase in gratitude for job A. No regrets!
posted by Anonymouse1618 at 12:11 PM on May 29, 2019 [8 favorites]

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