How do I turn my career around?
May 19, 2023 8:57 PM   Subscribe

I am 30 and just accepted a job paying 52k. I’ve been opening my eyes lately and I really realize how far behind I feel in my career, how disjointed my work history and education feels, how little money I’ve been making compared to my peers and those younger than me, and how I really would like to get on a good path before everyone passes me by, or maybe they already have.

I know I have so much more potential than what I’ve been bringing to the table work (and life) wise. I don’t know where to turn for advice and mentoring, which is what I feel I need.

I was always a great student and hard worker. I got straight As my last two years of high school. I then went to community college and got an AA in General Studies for free while I worked at a sandwich shop and then coffee shop. At 24 I got an office job as a customer service assistant. I did that for 3 years and then was promoted to representative (they said they should have done it at 2). I was well liked by the director and higher ups and they began grooming me for management. Everything was great I guess but I didn’t really want to be in customer service forever. I decided to finish my degree with a BA in Communications and graduated in March of 2020. The idea was to pursue being a marketing specialist, or marketing analyst, or maybe an editor. I wasn’t really clear. Looking back, I wish I would have gotten a Business degree, as that is more versatile. At the time I chose my degree, I thought Communications sounded more interesting, so I went with that.

I couldn’t find a job in 2020 in Communications. I was dealing with major depression and and eating disorder, I was almost underweight after losing 70 pounds. I got on depression meds and started working from home and ended up gaining 100 pounds FAST. My relationship with my boss deteriorated. I always thought she felt threatened by me. I began hating my job. I started clocking in late and after a couple times and only 2 instances of my boss telling me to not be late I suddenly was fired after almost 5 years.

I scrambled looking for a new job and less than two months later started as a Sales Support Specialist making 40k. It was somewhat in line with my degree. They hired 20 people for that role and only ended up needed 5 and offered me a supply chain support specialist role instead making 44k. So I took it, and that’s what I’ve done for 2 years.

I really need to make more money so I can pay off my 22k in student loans. I don’t really have any savings. I did stupidly take out of my 401k after my ex moved out in 2022 and I was suddenly living alone to make ends meet. But I have been scraping by, and I scrambled again looking for jobs, seeing who would reply to my applications. I applied to mostly supply chain roles since that’s what I’ve been doing, and so my resume and career history didn’t look so wacky, jumping around from one field to another. I wasn’t hearing back right away and ended up accepting an interview and subsequent rushed offer of a job at 52k in supply chain support. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted it and would go through with working for them, I didn’t even negotiate the salary they offered which was really dumb. This company said they want to hire someone interested in supply chain, they all said they really liked me and made me feel special, but I didn’t see what they saw in me, to me they seemed kind of desperate but I could definitely be wrong. I wonder if I saw red flags in the interview, like they won’t allow working from home, you have to dress very professionally, they’ve had multiple people in this role this year that haven’t worked out, they warned me it is a heavy workload, they don’t have as good reviews as other companies on Glassdoor, etc. It really feels like a lateral move, that is more general supply chain customer support, rather than my specific task I do now (order entry for distribution planners). They said this position allows you to learn the company and have contact with many different departments, and the manager said they would get me promoted into a new role within 6 months to a year.

I thought I was accepting a good paying position, but then I hear about people younger than me making much more, and I have a younger step sibling that has a job with much more responsibility (operations manager) that is probably making way more than me, maybe double. I just feel behind.

I also have dealt with significant trauma in my life and struggle with my mental and emotional health, also I am quite introverted, and don’t have the best political or people skills, so I feel like I am not a natural manager type.

I’m not even very proud of the last company I worked for nor the next one, a chemical manufacturer basically.

My strengths at work have always been that I am very detail oriented, accurate, and organized. I guess my weaknesses are that, well my previous director said I didn’t smile enough and make enough small talk in the break room, and also I need to work on my mindset, I feel I get complacent easily and never fully commit to a job, or have a mindset towards process improvements and becoming a manager.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t have any mentors. I just want to be proud of my career and work and make a good salary. I also picked up a part time job nights and weekends as a checker at a grocery store. I have a bachelors degree and should have made more of it. My career potential is passing me by.

As for my personal interests, I love psychology (I thought about becoming a counselor, but I don’t want more student loans), interior design, music, cooking, and nature.

Honestly my dream life is really just to love a quiet and peaceful life in the countryside and raise a family. I never really cared to make that much money, I kind of really appreciate a simple and quiet life. I’m trying to work towards that, but I currently live alone with my cats in a city apartment.

I feel so unfocused and scared that I’m making a mistake by taking this new job. It’s too late, I start Monday.

Does anyone have any advice? I’m foundering. I got on the wrong path years ago, I feel.
posted by anon1129 to Work & Money (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds to me like you have some big questions ahead of you to answer about how you want to plan out a future career path, BUT, more immediately, you already have a new job just ahead of you, and it sounds to me like you might have some entirely understandable new job jitters/buyer's remorse mixed in with that as well? (I personally have felt absolutely wretched about every job I've ever taken, including ones that turned out to be fantastic once I actually started and gotten in the swing of things.)

I think right at this moment it might help to cut yourself a break on the major life decisions for a couple of months and focus on going into your new role with as much energy and as many positive assumptions as you can manage, and then take stock in a few months. If the job ends up being something you like and you're on a path to promotion, then great. If it doesn't, or if it's ok but you want something different, that's a time when you can start turning your time and energy into figuring out what your best next step is. Good luck!
posted by eponym at 9:32 PM on May 19 [5 favorites]

FWIW, this Internet stranger thinks you have a lot to be proud of.
posted by carmicha at 11:43 PM on May 19 [16 favorites]

Friend, you are doing just fine! Just wanted to say that you don't have to be a manager, ever. I am an introvert, and when I was around 30 I found myself with an opportunity to step into a managerial role at my workplace. Honestly, it was the worst experience of my life - I stink as a manager, I wasn't interested in becoming a better manager and I will never do it again. After that I realised that I have lots of skills - similar to yours in fact - and I just want to use those skills to do a job. I collaborate, work on teams, and love all that, but I never want to be the person steering the ship.

Play to your strengths - accuracy and attention to detail and organization are amazing and important skills, every company or organisation needs them, and you have them. Find jobs that allow you to use them!
posted by lulu68 at 11:56 PM on May 19 [7 favorites]

I think you're doing fine. Start your new job, commit to doing it well, give it at least 6 months, and then maybe evaluate how you want to develop next. If it's a terrible job, then get another one. If it's not exactly what you want, see where in the company or elsewhere you can move to.

It's really hard when you start seeing yourself as 'behind' your peers. I am on my 2nd career, and in my last job I had two colleagues who were both within 6 months of my exact age. I felt like I was almost exactly one job behind them, and it was difficult because I felt like I should have gotten myself to the same level. But I have experiences that they don't have which mean that my career trajectory is different.

30 is young. Plenty of people spend their 20s bouncing between different jobs, getting their degrees and generally not settling. You're not at all unusual. Give yourself a break.
posted by plonkee at 1:03 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]

you don't have to be a manager, ever.

Nor do you have to pursue a career that doesn't suit you for no better reason than that other people get paid more than you.

The last job I had before retiring paid less than any I'd ever had before. Less than a McDonalds trainee manager makes, in fact. I kept it for fourteen years because I liked it.

As long as your income is greater than your outgoings, and you can realistically arrange for it stay that way until you die, you're fine.
posted by flabdablet at 1:10 AM on May 20 [16 favorites]

I think it might help you to focus on yourself and your needs and goals, rather than comparing yourself to your peers. You want to make more money without taking on more educational debt -- ok, how to do that? Would a credential or certificate in something help? Would finding a mentor at your new workplace be possible?

For what it's worth, I have what most people would probably see as a wonderful career, one that I'm usually proud of. I have an advanced degree and make a very good salary. I'm in my 50s, so I have a longer work history than you. I have peers -- three people I can think of who are my same age and have my same education level -- who are brilliant leaders in fields similar to mine. They are nationally recognized leaders, and I'm not. I feel shame about that. If only I had applied myself more or worked a bit harder or focused more, I could have been like them. My point is that comparing ourselves to others is a risk and a trap no matter how accomplished we become. I have to work hard to not compare myself to these three people, and to focus on what I want and need.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:06 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]

I’m 42 and had a similar experience with work and my dream was similar…. So I focused on finding a situation where my partner earned enough that I could be a stay at home mom… this was NOT a good idea (I mean the theory was sound)… but I wasn’t even aware of my trauma at the time and my kids ended up being high need and WOW is it harder than I expected and if you want to get divorced you have to start working again quite fast. SO if I had this all to do again, I would try and find some type of side hustle that I could turn into a real source of income that I enjoyed doing… and I will be reading these comments with interest.
posted by pairofshades at 6:08 AM on May 20

Not to a use the edit window: I mean I would try to find a side hustle that was flexible and that I could do even with kids. Or a job where I really enjoyed my co workers or the benefits.
posted by pairofshades at 6:10 AM on May 20

First, I agree with those saying you're being too hard on yourself - most of my friends (in mid to late 30s) are in a similar spot. My partner has a Ph.D., is fluent in three languages, and is working in a grocery store because so far that's been his only job offer. It's hard out there! And 2020 was a particularly horrible time to have to try to find a job.

Since it sounds like you have a lot of admin/operations experience, assuming you're in the US (given the mention of loans) check out and - there are a number of office jobs of various sorts, some that pay quite well. Also, I've heard that once you're in the government system, it is much easier to get another government job, so even if you don't like the job you initially land you can usually move into a position you like more after a year or two. USAJobs also has a helpful subreddit where people give tips/advice - there is a bit of a learning curve figuring out how to get past the algorithm that is often the first cut.
posted by coffeecat at 8:04 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]

Be kind to yourself and stop comparing yourself to people who've been on straight and narrow life tracks.

Personally, I never had a "real" job (i.e., even tangentially in my field) until I was 35, and even that was part time and had "intern" or "trainee" or something in the job title. My first job with a salary and benefits was a year later, and it was very low paid.

At the time, comparing myself to people who'd instead gone on a the direct track of school to career felt weird and bad. Now, well over a decade later, I can't see any consequence for my having started professionally so late. I'm now ahead of some people who started right out of undergrad, and behind others; the other thing I see now are much younger people who are on a fast track and sooner or later I'm going to be reporting to someone who is half my age. It'll feel a bit weird at first, then it will seem normal.

The point here is that there are multiple life tracks that can work out great, but so often it gets presented like anything other than the most straightforward track makes you a failure. It's the opposite -- by taking a less straightforward path, you end up learning a lot more and being way more adaptable, and that pays off later.

To the comment above about looking at federal jobs: if this interests you, I'd suggest also looking at state and local government jobs. They typically have a much faster/easier hiring process than the feds do, and provide much the same quality of life balance and stability.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:37 AM on May 20

I'm 44, I have a master's degree, and I have NEVER made 52k a year. You are doing fine, and your former supervisor telling you to smile more and make more small talk in the break room is a whole lot of unconscious bias coming into play and an example of a workplace not being inclusive or equitable for everyone. Managers are often really terrible, and please don't discount your value as a detail-oriented, organized, capable introvert. If this new job isn't a fit for your goals and doesn't work out, you are totally capable of finding a new job. You are 14 years younger than I am and I wish I could help you feel how young 30 really is!
posted by lizard music at 9:28 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]

Your instincts are all wrong. Stop listening to them. Find someone in your life who is successful and little bit ruthless about it to give you some advice.

Examples of what you have wrong —

Student loans are a superpower if you use them intelligently. With no collateral and often no creditworthiness you can get unlimited funds to drive up your income. $150k for a public school part time MBA that will add $50,000 a year to your income is paid off in a few years.

Your new job wanting you to dress well and be in the office are not “red flags,” they are bright green flags. Valuable people are need in the office. Valuable people are expected to look the part.

Smiling and chatting in the breakroom are part of the job for anyone who wants to advance. Embrace it.
posted by MattD at 1:32 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]

You don't have to stay in a career that you don't enjoy just so your CV doesn't look "wacky". And you don't have to advance. You never have to be a manager.

"Supply chain" doesn't need to be the headline when you look for jobs - the kinds of tasks you complete make you suitable for a whole range of admin-type work, especially government. I bet you would really like project support.

It's okay to not have a career, and instead have a job where you are busy and useful and needed.

It's okay to have a cosy life.
posted by Adifferentbear at 3:28 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]

Not sure if you have Federal or private loans, but there are different repayment plans for Federal loans.

The amount of money someone is paid is how much capitalism is able to pay and does not in any way reflect your value as a human being.

Your university may offer career services to alums.

You might also want to read up on budgeting / saving for retirement.

You are not your sibling. You are not everybody else. You are awesome in your own way.

Your new salary is more than you’ve earned before. Use the job as a steppingstone to something bigger and better. Take advantage of any new job benefits.
posted by oceano at 4:53 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]

What I'm picking up from this post is a lot of anxiety, fear, and feelings of inadequacy, and not a lot of actual goals. I don't agree with every detail MattD said, but his point about being a little bit ruthless, or finding someone to advise you who is? That's right on. You've got a lot of feelings here about self-worth and being "good enough" and "doing things right" here, and those are - I'm sorry - not going to help you even a little, if you want to, say, make more money. Or if you want to understand other job options that might be open to someone with your skill set. Or if you want to understand what your skills really are, how to market yourself better, how to focus your job performance on what your management actually values.

Those are all approachable problems that you can start tackling; but you have to be willing to do the research, listen and scrutinize yourself closely, admit the answers might not be comfortable (and sometimes will conflict, either with each other or with your own values). And you have to know it's not just one step you take that puts you on the right or wrong road - I would advise against any steps "backward" like a new degree because I think a reset is mostly just comforting, saying that your mistakes are so far in the past you can't possibly fix them except by getting a redo. If you find something specific that you want to do and it requires a new certificate, great, but lots of supply chain managers make more than $50k, and lots of folks with a Communication degree do too. Do you have a specialization, an area you can be more effective than anyone else? A great relationship with a particular supplier or familiarity with a field so that you could move in to sales, and maybe back in to supply chain later?

... Or, does even thinking about these questions and trying to be systematic and strategic make you want to crawl into a hole and/or claw your own face off? Because you may need to cut yourself a little slack and work on getting your own day to day under control, ideally therapy, definitely keeping the wheels on at one job for a year, before you really have the grounding to think about these questions.
posted by Lady Li at 12:21 PM on May 22

And I want to add / say explicitly, if you don't have the distance and stability and energy right now to rip apart your own experience and aim for something else, that's fine. You don't have to be doing everything all the time! But if and when you really do want to change something, taking the time to understand your situation and trajectory and making a plan will be essential for it not to just be another role of the dice.
posted by Lady Li at 12:24 PM on May 22

Response by poster: I can tell by the vibes she was emitting and I know my sister and know it’s not in my head. She told me explicitly before that she would not work for the company I previously worked for because she doesn’t believe in their product. And yesterday, I can tell by how she was speaking and her nonverbals her attitude on the subject. She said, like she couldn’t wait to get her disapproval out, “Yeah don’t tell them who your sister is! She protests stuff like that!!” And then said, “it’s horrible!!” with much emphasis and exasperation. And for her birthday last month she brought farmers market cupcakes that were dye free which was when I told her I had a dye company interview.
posted by anon1129 at 10:25 AM on May 26

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