Taking the next step at work while anxious
November 26, 2021 7:27 PM   Subscribe

I have just passed the first interview for a job I'm not sure I want. What now?

I love almost everything about where I live and what I do except for two things: I make a pretty small salary and don't have a path to more without completely leaving my career, and I live far away from family that now includes two new niblings that I would like to see more often. I threw my hat into the ring for a job back on the East Coast and was shocked that they asked me to move forward as a finalist for the job. It's a step up in responsibility for me, and would involve a much busier work life that would involve a lot more organization and plugging away at work that's not as interesting but necessary when you are the sole person in a department. I've never had to make a departmental budget, or be the person driving projects for the future; instead I've been the good second-in-command who helps but does not initiate, and is mostly a cog in a small department who is ready to help with anything but doesn't have to drive the bus.

I'm a really anxious person and had a bit of a breakdown at work last year when a very critical coworker had me spinning so badly that I was constantly making small and large mistakes and frustrating my usually patient boss. I'm legitimately unsure about whether I can handle this sort of bigger step up in work, even after 20 years in my career. I don't know how to assess my fears and sort them into what's realistic and what is my anxiety talking.

There are other concerns, like whether I want to move from my slow paced life in the Midwest back to the stressful grind of the East Coast. I have a house and a five minute commute, neither of which would be possible even on the bigger salary I would get in the area. But I also wonder if I need to leap at this for the bigger salary, because I'm not getting any younger and I don't quite make 40K a year currently, and that's ridiculous.

The other option is probably leaving my career field, which is specialized. Think archivist or librarian and you'll be close enough.

How do I decide I'm ready for this big step, sink or swim? The thought of moving back, taking the job, and failing immediately is terrifying. The thought of staying here and muddling through on my tiny salary is frustrating. How can I tell if I'm ready to take the next logical step upwards into responsibility when I don't know if I have the brainpower and organizational skill to do it?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you can afford a house on your current salary but wouldn't be able to in the new location, is it really a financial improvement? Have you looked at a cost of living calculator that tells you how much you'd need to make in the new city to be comparable to or better than your current salary? When you run the numbers, would your other idea of switching careers be better?

It sounds like the challenges you had at your current job came from anxiety, not a lack of ability. If you can find a way to manage your stress and anxiety, it doesn't seem like there's a reason that you couldn't do something different at the new job you're considering. If you haven't tried it before, isn't there also a chance that you might have an affinity for it and find it less stressful than what you're doing now?
posted by pinochiette at 8:17 PM on November 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

I would say one thing to consider that has been really hard for me to wrap my head around: you don’t have to have a career that consists of more responsibility at every turn. It’a okay to, for example, love more frontline work and not want to manage people. Or to want to manage possible but only a few. As a former “gifted kid” (inserted the most dramatic eye roll here), it was super hard for me to come to grips with the fact that capitalism was defining what I thought of as success - it wasn’t pride or that I valued hard work. Instead I had a clear idea of what a career looked like, and it was very linked to titles/prestige.

So, definitely definitely continue to grow and learn, but getting caught on moving up the ladder because it’s what we “should” be doing may lead to a busy life that’s missing a certain something.
posted by itsamermaid at 10:02 PM on November 26, 2021 [8 favorites]

As pinochiette says, check whether the increase in salary would actually be an increase in disposable income or not. If not, that’s one of the “pros” out the window already.

As someone who enjoyed being a good second in command, but never had much desire to be in command, I’d think about what support you could have if you were in that position. It might be someone in the company, or it might be someone doing (or has done) a similar role elsewhere, or it might be a mentor with more general experience of leading. It would, I expect, reduce the stress a bit if you knew you could ask someone for advice, rather than being alone. It wouldn’t hurt to bring this up at the next interview - no harm in being up front, in a “I would like to do this, but it is a step into a new role for me, and I would need advice to do my best in it,” kind of way.

But, yes, check whether there are actual upsides, and you’re not doing this purely because you feel you’re “supposed to”.
posted by fabius at 5:31 AM on November 27, 2021

How close would you be to the fam and niblets? What would you save in travel costs and time every year? Taking the job out of the equation for the moment and just thinking about your life, which one (possible life or current life) fills you with more joy when you think about it?

Can you start looking at other jobs that are not a step up in responsibility but would get you closer to your family?

Can you recreate your chill midwest life on the east coast, maybe in a walkable neighborhood or by living out in a more rural area that's going to involve more commute but be quieter when you're home?

Also, go through the interview process. You don't have to take the job if it's offered to you, but going through it might tell you a lot about whether you want the job.

(I am also a very good cog and at the point in my career where I will need to decide if I want to be a bus driver, and I'm also not sold on my ability to drive the bus despite a lot of people telling me I'm going to be great at it - I love my pretty chill job and the life freedom it gives me - so I just wanted to say that you are not alone.)
posted by joycehealy at 7:04 AM on November 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have some tendencies like yours and just want to validate what I feel like you're saying -- that being the helper in a way that keeps you from having to carry the stress of something is really valuable. I vacillate between thinking "I'll stress out about every position so I might as well earn as much as I can in exchange for this time I'm giving up" and "no amount of money is worth the stress I'm feeling right now." This isn't an answer exactly, just agreement that it's really worth weighing the kind of stress that a job will create. Is it possible to find a job out east that doesn't have any more stress than your current job does?
posted by slidell at 5:53 PM on November 27, 2021

“The thought of moving back, taking the job, and failing immediately is terrifying. The thought of staying here and muddling through on my tiny salary is frustrating.”

It is really difficult to make a confident decision about anything when the cons and failure scenarios are at the forefront of your mind. When we do this, we end up comparing the worst case scenarios and imagining which would be the least painful outcomes to live with. This leaves no room for what's actually possible, delightful, rewarding, etc.

You want to make decisions — especially important decisions — from the best frame of mind you can muster. I'm a coach and I advocate for using what I call a Best of Both Worlds List. This involves setting aside time to write out a list describing the best possible outcomes you can imagine for each option you're considering (eg., moving or staying where you are). Then review the two lists, and decide from a place of greater emotional clarity which you like better, and which feels better to you, more natural, or whatever emotional criteria matters to you most.

As you make your two lists, here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • What would my life look like if I chose this option and everything went exceedingly well?
  • What sort of possibilities could this open up for me? (Financial, emotional, professional, etc.)
  • What could this lead to? And what next?
  • How would it feel to choose this option?
And here are some questions to ask yourself as you review your lists:
  • How does each list make me feel?
  • Which of these feelings do I like the best?
  • Which option would get me closer to who I want to be?
  • What do I know now that I didn’t before?
I recommend that you do this exercise when you have adequate time and you can do some self-care activities beforehand. This will help you generate a sense of calm and clarity, so that you are better equipped to manage any anxieties that arise. And to be able to focus on thinking of desirable outcomes, which may feel unnatural or uncomfortable at first.

Working through these questions and challenging yourself to surface the answers will give you valuable insight about your 'readiness' to take this step or not. And you'll likely surprise yourself with some unexpected thoughts and feelings too, such as perhaps excitement, curiosity, or hope.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:29 PM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

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