Please Tell Me Your Encouraging Career Change Story!
August 20, 2021 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Have you gone from career misery to career euphoria? Or at least non-career despair? I am burnt out and need your story! Snowflakes within, of course.

I am burnt out at my job. Completely burnt out, like asking questions here instead of doing my work burnt out. I'd like to say that I'm burnt out because of mental health issues (the job exacerbates them, but I've been badly depressed before and right now I'm relatively happy and functional when I'm not working), or the pandemic (working from home really doesn't help but I didn't like the job when I was in the office, either), or a toxic office (have worked in them, this is not it), or the nature of late-stage capitalism.

The problem is that I just really don't like the job itself. I'm in a career field that's incredibly detail-oriented, text-heavy, slow, and light on feedback. I like immediate response to what I'm doing and am good at working on short, visual-heavy projects. I can find the three main ideas of your article pretty easily... what I can't do is ensure that every single comma in your product is correct. Especially if that product is 300 pages long. Unfortunately, that is my job description. (There are people who do the former in my company. None of them are leaving anytime soon.)

Unsurprisingly, I am not getting promoted, and that leads to more negative feelings, and less desire to do my work. It also leads to a lot of negative self-talk--"you're too stupid to know when you should be grateful," "you're too stupid/lazy/old/ugly/smelly/purple to get a better job anyway," "if you managed to get a new job, you'd hate that one too because you're just a bad person," "you're going to be fired and end up on the street," etc. It's a vicious cycle.

I feel anxious, unhappy, and inherently stupid every time I sit down to work. It's affecting the people around me and it's affecting me--I eat too much, drink too much, and am visibly frustrated and tired all the time. Basically, every time I sit down, I feel like I'm 15 years old and back in algebra class with the teacher and all the other students knowing how stupid I am. Only it's 8 hours a day instead of 1 and I can't ever graduate.

I know what I have to do--apply for new jobs, network, practice my other skills, etc. What I want are stories from people who have successfully transferred from a job that they hate to a job that doesn't make them feel ragingly frustrated every day. Most of my friends are in jobs that are relatively good fits and don't understand, but perhaps somebody here has made a change and can provide an encouraging word to combat the negativity? I need to believe it can happen for me, too!
posted by kingdead to Work & Money (8 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I went from repairing commercial dishwashers (and occasionally selling things to my customers) to technology sales, a segment it turns out I am great at, and have progressed rapidly within. It probably saved my life, if not at least my marriage. I had been deeply miserable. I literally drove around in a van full of parts, in a shirt with my name stitched onto it, declogging dishwashers at diners and hooking up mop chemicals at assisted living centers.

This wasn't my first attempt to change careers, though. It took me a few tries. What I learned to do, essentially, was to work hard at describing every single aspect of my old job that was relevant to the new one, such that a person would assume that these things were the core of my responsibilities and then omitting everything that was irrelevant. I didn't lie. But after a few attempts at interviewing for career changes, I got very very crafty at framing things just so.

A few caveats: I went into sales. Sales likes hustlers. If they had any doubts about me, they could at least see I was hustling. And, more importantly, I went from a job that was at least peripherally sales into straight sales. My situation was different than yours, but if there is something universal I can pass on it is this: it's much easier to pull off a career change if you can move into something adjacent to what you have already been doing.

As for my actual new field: sales can be stressful, and it's not for everybody. But if you'd like a job full of immediate feedback, that rewards people who quickly grasp and can reliably explain the point of things, sales can do that. Perhaps best of all for people changing careers, sales organizations semi-regularly hire people with expertise/experience within a field to begin selling within that field, if they can show the requisite hunger/drive. The key, I guess (other than would you even want that) is what kind of field you've been in so far and if there is a professional sales gig related to that.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:16 PM on August 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

I changed careers from being a mental health clinician to becoming a sign language interpreter. A hard pivot from one field to a completely unrelated one, somewhat opposite DirtyOldTown's approach (also a good one though).

My basic progression was a slow realization of how wrong the field I was in was for me, then some serious soul searching about what I wanted/didn't want in any future career, then researching other career interests and eventually going back to school and working in the old field while training for the new one. It sounds like you've done the same first couple steps, so that's great!

It was not easy, I will say that. But it WAS possible, and it took a lot of outside cheerleading and support from friends and family to get me to see that and start (and then keep going when it felt hard, which was often). What helped was having an end goal that made it all feel worth it, a rough date for achieving that end goal (as in, "in four years I'll be free") and laser focus/visualization on that goal.

In the end, my career change was one of the best decisions I've made for myself as an adult, well worth the hard work, additional student loans that I'll never pay off, and various other sacrifices. I'm SO much happier now in my current career, and it's not even a perfect career - it has its downsides, too, but it's just a better fit for me and therefore my quality of life has improved. It also made me feel like if this ever stops being such a good fit, maybe I can change careers again, who knows?

It's been awhile since I read them, but some books that I remember helping me get started were "Jump Ship" by Josh Shipp, "So Good They Can't Ignore You" by Cal Newport, and "What Color Is Your Parachute?" - maybe check those out and see if any of them resonate. Other things I would recommend for you specifically is journaling - write out your thoughts on your current career, how it makes you feel, what you hate about it, etc. Write about what you want in a new career, how it would make you feel, how much better your day to day life would be in a better job, etc. Journaling can help with some of the self motivating and challenging the negative self talk.

I hope this is all helpful for you, and please feel free to memail me if you want to chat more about things! You can absolutely change careers and find one that's a better fit, and it can be a hugely life changing thing!
posted by carlypennylane at 3:51 PM on August 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

I’ve had a few of transitions, waitress to bike sales was actually pretty easy because I understood customer service, and if you’re good (I was) waiting table *is* sales.
Then I became a bike rep for a big national brand. That didn’t last because of skeevy management, so I went back to retail sales (bear with me). Then I got promoted to assistant buyer. I was okay at it, and really good at some unusual aspects, but gradually, the job got away from me and I became truly miserable. I finally got laid off, and made a huge pivot - I went back to school, got an Assoc. degree, and became a technical writer. I was good, and enjoyed it for a few years, but it was a dead-end, so I had an opportunity to pivot again, and became a Project Manager. I was very lucky, as my job paid for training and the PMP exam. As it turned out, this was something I was really good at, and was quite lucrative for me. I ended my career as a Sr Technical Project/Program Manager. Sometimes I still miss it.
Grab every single opportunity to do something different, something that stretches you - be alert for opportunity, and if it’s something that interests you, go for it.
Without going back to school, learning about technology (pre-2000), I might not have found my niche.
posted by dbmcd at 4:59 PM on August 20, 2021

I don't think I would call my current situation "career euphoria" but I went from being a health sciences librarian to being a software developer. I liked librarianship, and I was pretty good at it, but I never felt like I had the support from higher-ups I needed to do the things I wanted to do, and my chances of finding a library job that paid more than a minimal living wage, in a non-cripplingly-dysfunctional workplace, in a part of the world where I wanted to live felt very low. As it turns out I'm pretty good at software development, I get paid a lot more, and I have actual choices as to what company I work for, which I like a lot (even though in actual fact I've worked for the same company for ~8 years).

Honestly I made my career change in kind of a seat-of-the-pants fashion, where I identified software as an industry with 1) a lot of jobs in the region where I wanted to live and 2) no credential/degree requirements (after getting my library science masters and working in higher ed for ~10 years, I knew too much about how the professional graduate degree sausage was made and I did not want to pursue another degree). I did some simple software development in my spare time/when it could potentially be useful to my job to see how I felt about it but honestly the stuff I did before I switched careers has very little resemblance to my job now. I took a few months off to take a short software development bootcamp, which gave me access to a lot of employers who probably wouldn't have paid attention to me as a librarian who'd done a couple Coursera CS classes.

I didn't read this book before my career change, but I picked it up recently after it was recommended here on AskMeFi, I believe, and it seems like it would be really useful for you: Designing Your Life. I was looking for something less career-focused so I kind of tapped out for the second half of the book where it got very into job-searching/career development stuff, but for you that might be just what you're looking for!
posted by mskyle at 5:09 PM on August 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Seconding What Color Is Your Parachute, which helped me think through what it was I wanted to do when I realized I couldn't stand being a well-paid legal secretary in a multinational law firm any more. The job only took a fraction of my brain power and was predictable, so I could get all kinds of other things done, but I did not feel respected and if my husband was going to be a consultant and I had to provide the health insurance, I had to like my work. And I cannot stand being bored.

I took a cut in pay to take a job in the expensive university I wanted to attend because one of the benefits was a free course per semester. I actually ended up going to grad school full time to get a master's and become a classroom teacher. My first teaching job was horrible and I was seriously afraid I had done the wrong thing. My second teaching job was a part-time, temporary position that turned into a 25 year career, and I loved it. I was never bored. In the same school, I taught every grade from Pre-K through 8th at different times, and I taught (also at different times) math, science, reading, computer, and English, I coached fencing, and I was highly respected and constantly challenged. As second careers go, it was great.

When I didn't love it any more because my boss wanted me to stay in one grade too long and I was bored, I left and became a university instructor for five years.

My jobs all started out as temporary, basically doing a favor for someone who needed someone in a hurry. That's my advice. Don't look for security. Look for someone who needs you for what you can do, and quit if they are jerks. People hire people they already know, and there's no better way to be already known than to be in there doing the job really well.
posted by Peach at 6:02 PM on August 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

You've asked for encouraging stories, so here's one about a white collar career. Some years ago I was burnt out. I read a lot of books like What Colour is Your Parachute. I don't remember finding them very helpful, but maybe they were. Eventually I decided I didn't have to figure out my forever job, I just had to get away from the job that was making me miserable. The decision to leave was the important thing -- that, and the commitment to get my butt to the library evenings and Saturdays to write applications. For a month or two I wrote applications like it was my part-time second job.

Eventually I was offered a role doing the same work but for a much larger organisation in a different city. It wasn't an organisation that suited me and it was an industry I wanted to get out of, but the city appealed to me. So it was mostly a step 'away from' rather than 'towards' something, but I think when you're burnt out, it's the step itself that's the important thing. And even though I didn't enjoy the work, a new workplace and a different city helped me recover.

When I left that role, I decided to finally get out of the industry I disliked. Like mskyle, I knew I didn't want to do further study, and like DOT, I decided to focus instead on selling my transferable skills. Based on those two decisions, I chose a particular industry and set about the same approach as before: sit down and grind out applications. This time I was better at writing them. Plus, I had the cachet and experience of the much larger organisation's name in my cover letter. I read even more books about writing job applications. I read a lot of AskMetaFilter questions about interviewing. I did practice interviews with friends. At one point I paid for a session with a resume coach a friend recommended. I was unsuccessful in a few interviews before finally someone took a chance on me.

I'm much happier in my new industry and there are a lot of directions I can go. I no longer feel burnt out about work. Possibly related: the amount of time I'm prepared to stick around in jobs/workplaces I don't like and are unlikely to change has shortened from years to months, to maybe even... weeks.

There were a lot more self-doubts and lucky breaks during this period than can be concisely explained here. The whole process took about three years. They were ALL better years than I would have had staying where I was.
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 11:31 PM on August 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

Internet friend, I was you. I used to be miserable and super burnt out in my job and now I'm in a job that not only doesn't make me miserable, there are days I genuinely feel happy and satisfied during and after a full day's work. I'm also in the late stages of accepting a position for a role I expect I'll enjoy even more!

I felt worthless and undesirable at that last job, as if no one would want to hire me again. It wasn't me, though; it was that the job was just a terrible fit. Turns out, I'm actually competent and people appreciate me and my ability to contribute when I'm actually set up to do what I'm good at in a place that values my skills! That part is so important to internalize: it's not that you're objectively terrible, it's that your current job is objectively terrible for you. Like finding the right clothes: you're body is not wrong or bad, it's that the clothes you're trying on are a poor fit for your body. Light bulb moment. You are capable and employable, it just needs to be somewhere else than where you're currently at. So go somewhere else and find your better fit! It's out there, you just haven't been hired for it yet.

It's incredible how different I feel these days interviewing for a company that actually wants what I have to offer. It's like night and day and yet I didn't change at all (I mean, I did a little, but not fundamentally so). Even the job functions are similar and the industry is the same, and yet my day-to-day will be worlds apart from that previous job that I almost can't believe it. In my case, despite all the similarities, it's because the companies themselves and the philosophy of the management are so different.

It sounds like you already know what is and isn't a good fit for you. Take it one day at a time and put yourself out there to find that right fit for you!
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 4:49 PM on August 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

I went from digital marketing consulting to financial analysis. I was getting really tired of dealing with constantly changing algorithms and ad styles. My friend mentioned he had a financial data management issue at his company and I offered to help out part time to get it sorted. I had no real in-depth accounting skills, but I'm a quick learner, and assumed I could probably figure it out as I went along. Well, its 3 years later, I'm a full time salaried employee making $20k more than at my marketing gig. I love the company I work for, and I actually enjoy my job. It has challenging aspects, enough to be interesting, but not so much that I get stressed out. Theres lots of room for advancement in the field, and interesting areas to specialize or expand into. If you told me 10 years ago that i would be working for a CFO and enjoying it, i would never have believed you.

So stay open to things, even if they seem boring or too hard, or whatever. You never know when you'll discover a previously unknown interest or aptitude.
posted by ananci at 10:44 PM on August 21, 2021

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