Depressed about career choices
November 10, 2006 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Depressed about career choices.

I don't want to post this under my real name. Basically, I am worried that I am making a huge mistake with my life.

I'm pursuing work I hope I'll love in the field of mental health. But I am someone who also strongly feels the need to make a good living. I don't need to be rich, but I feel that with the salary I expect to make I'll feel poor.

It's not that I only care about money, but money represents certain things for me, like being respected and having power and choices. It really hurts my feelings when I see how other people my age have so much more than me, more choices, more freedom to do things that I can't afford. I feel like a "failure." It will help if I like my job, but I don't know if that's enough for me to accept making so little money. I'm tired of always having to count my pennies and be "cheap" in order to live within my means.

Thing is that if I didn't do this I don't know what I'd do. I think I'm smart--I did great in school--but somehow I don't seem to have the personality and skills that pay off in corporate settings. Consequently, I've never really done that well professionally.

I guess I'm not really sure what I'm asking but I could use a boost/vote of confidence/helpful advice because I'm in grad school and it's really tough to feel that maybe it's all a huge mistake. Do you think a grad degree can open other doors for me even if I don't pursue work in the field I'm studying? There are people I know who didn't even finish college who are incredibly successful in their careers. This makes me feel bad because I've just never been able to find where I belong. I am worried that working in this profession I'll feel like I'm "settling" because it doesn't meet what I feel is a minimum salary requirement for me to be happy.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
somehow I don't seem to have the personality and skills that pay off in corporate settings

I happen to think that's a virtue.

I'll offer this: Happiness is about a lot more than money, and no matter how much money most people have, it never seems to be enough.

I used to work for a large corporation, and I made a lot more money than I'll ever probably make again. I went back to school and changed careers at age 30, and now I have a job I really like, and I've gotten accustomed to the amount of money I make, enough that I don't have to pinch pennies anymore. Go with what you want to do, not with what you think will make lots of cash.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:47 AM on November 10, 2006

I can't offer much advice because when I read this I thought that maybe I had posted it myself!
I know how you feel about money being a "milemarker" and I definitely hear you on not wanting to count pennies and having to figure out your budget anytime you need to get new contact lenses.
All I can say is, what I've learned in the short time I've been out of college and in the semi-corporate world, is that you should never let your dreams die out. What if you took a full-time job doing something corporate and then pursued your passion, mental health, in the evenings or something, working at a help line or a grief center?
I think you should definitely stick with grad school because even if you don't end up in the field you're studying, which is what happens to I'd say 80% of people with degrees, you're highly marketable and will make the money to keep you afloat and out of rolling change to make ends meet.
posted by slyboots421 at 7:47 AM on November 10, 2006

Nobody can answer this question for you, but I have one piece of advice: you're going to get commenters saying "Don't think about the money, do what's right" and talking about the importance of mental-health work. It is absolutely your right to insist on a certain level of comfort and security, and if you can't get that in the line of work you're heading for, those altruistic commenters aren't going to make up the difference for you. I would guess that there are jobs in your field that pay enough to give you that level of comfort, and I hope others with more knowledge will point you in good directions, but I wanted to head the guilt-tripping off at the pass.
posted by languagehat at 7:47 AM on November 10, 2006

Oh, and what slyboots421 said about sticking with grad school. It will make you more marketable.
posted by languagehat at 7:49 AM on November 10, 2006

It's not. This is just the dark time that everybody in grad or professional school goes through as their goofy friends splurge with their new incomes.

The question is, so you love the subject you are studying now, or do you think you'll love the work later. Work is work. Eventaully everything is a grind. But if you love the subject, then it's easy to overcome the annoyances of day to day work.

More education is better than less, but don't confuse more education with more money. Money is about selling something people want to buy. Fortunately for you, there is always a demand for expertise and that's where education comes in. If what you are studying is what you love, then embrace it, learn everything about it. If it's a broad subject, pick a niche and master it. Volunteer for all kinds of unpaid crap now to get wide experience.

You can always get a job speaking about the thing you studied, or consulting about it, rather than actually doing it. Don't feel comfortable in corporate settings? So don't work there. Work in a hospital or school system. Mental health is very popular - people are interested in it, it's got some mystique, and in the future more people will be comfortable seeking counselling or assistance than they are now. Finish the degree, and make yourself the expert. Hell, just set up a blog now and declare yourself an expert. Call around as see if churches, companies whatever will pay you a couple hundred to talk about "mental health in the ____". Think about a book you could write, or start a blog about it in your spare time.

The health industry is growing, and mental health is a big part of that.

And don't confuse flash with wealth. If you can see your friends' money on them, in their clothes, cars, fancy apartments etc. it does not mean they have money. It means they do NOT have money, becasue they are spending it. Wealth is money in the bank, investments, not money handed to a BMW dealership. You want to make a fortune? Open up a mental health clinic.

You aren't seeing their credit card bills or their car payments. But I assure you those things are there.

And the responsible person will always count pennies. Bill Gates was still flying coach as a billionaire. Warren Buffett, another multibillionaire, lived most of his life in a non-descript house in nebraska. The power and choices you are talking about require money in the bank. Not a big income. These are good habits to develop because the leave more money where it's most useful, in the bank. Choosing what color ipod to buy with a week's pay is not really a choice. Saving the money and choosing which private school to send your kids is a very real choice with huge consequences. Focus on the big picture and the future.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:54 AM on November 10, 2006 [6 favorites]

I disagree mostly with M.C. Lo-Carb, as I know a few people for whom having lots of money does make them very happy.

What makes up an individual person's happiness isn't a universal constant, only you can answer what makes you happy.

But it sounds like you are not happy now, so yes, you need a change.

A Graduate degree will certainly open you up to more choices, and if you're close to finishing, then go for it.

However, I'm guessing you're in your middle/low 20's. In which case you don't really know what you want yet. If seeing people with more money/things/freedom/whatever "hurts for feelings" you need to grow up and get a thicker skin. No mater how much of anything you get, there's always someone with more ready to rub your face in it.

And, since you're young you may not know this, but... you can't screw up your life with a career choice at this point. (Mostly. Unless you pick something illegal/fatal) With two exceptions, everyone that I know who has been out of college for more than 10 years has a different career than they studied for. That included people with (multiple) masters degrees and PhD's.

If you want to try it, try it. If you don't like it, change.
posted by Ookseer at 8:01 AM on November 10, 2006 [2 favorites]

somehow I don't seem to have the personality and skills that pay off in corporate settings

I happen to think that's a virtue.

Be wary of generalizations like that because they put a limit on your possibilities before you've even started looking. There are plenty of great jobs in the corporate world!

There are two choices when it comes to this discomfort about one's level of material wealth. One is to chase after a more lucrative career. The other is to change your own attitudes towards wealth.

From personal experience, making more money does lead to a certain level of satisfaction. But there's a caveat. That satisfaction wears off quickly. You get used to being better off. So now what? Do you keep looking for the next most lucrative job? At some point you do need to let go because the money thing has no end.

Looking for a more lucrative job is fine in itself but you will still need to resolve the deeper issue about life-work vs money.

To make sure that you don't make a big mistake in choosing the next step, it is important to keep your loves and interests in the center. Check out Barbara Sher's books" It's only too late if you don't start now and Live the Life you Love for some great advice on getting the balance right.
posted by storybored at 8:18 AM on November 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

+1 for languagehat. I left my "dream job" for financial reasons a few months ago. It was a hard decision (probably the hardest I've ever had to make), and my circumstances were probably different than yours, but I learned an important and relevant life lesson:

Your job -- good, bad, or ugly -- does not define you.

If you choose the money over the "dream," that doesn't make you a sellout or a bore or a drone. In fact, turning my back on my "dream" has provided me with the resources (both time and money) to pursue other dreams of mine -- dreams that never would have come to fruition if I had stayed in my previous job.

People with boring jobs can lead fulfilling lives. People with fulfilling jobs can lead boring or otherwise empty lives. Long story short, it's all about finding the right balance.
posted by somanyamys at 8:37 AM on November 10, 2006 [2 favorites]

People with boring jobs can lead fulfilling lives.

I think i agree with this. What you want to avoid though is taking a job that you hate.
posted by storybored at 8:41 AM on November 10, 2006

somanyamys writes
"People with boring jobs can lead fulfilling lives. People with fulfilling jobs can lead boring or otherwise empty lives. Long story short, it's all about finding the right balance."

This is a really good point, and one rarely made.
posted by jayder at 8:50 AM on November 10, 2006

My advice is that you stick with it and get the degree, but then look for the highest-paying job you can bear. That way, you can try out making lots of money and not loving your lob, and you can see how it sits with you. You can always get back into your field if it doesn't work out.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 8:55 AM on November 10, 2006

I guess I don't know enough about mental health and counseling to know what you consider "not enough money," but it seems like there should be careers out there that will use your skills that might pay better.

Would you ever consider human resources? People like to make fun of HR folks, but the department at my job is awesome. There are four people in it, and they put on a lot of training and run lots of programs that make our office more enjoyable. It's a very people-oriented job, and can be very satisfying if you find the right environment.

Would you consider working in administration for a university? I know a couple of folks who did that, and they started with salaries in the $40k range. They're not rich, certainly, but neither are they pinching pennies.

Would you ever consider moving? There are huge shortages of mental health professionals in some regions of the US, and it seems like the pay would be better if you're more in demand.

Lastly: I suggest you go to your university's career advising office. They won't beat you up for having these questions. They should be able to help you identify career opportunities that match with your education, interests and desired salary.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:55 AM on November 10, 2006

I hate being this materialistic but one thing I noticed in america is that private sector companies always value based on how much you make. it's not your experience, brilliance, education, it's what you make that defines your title and role. that alone makes desiring to do well acceptable to me.

it's not so much the grad degree, though it will help, than who you are that will get you into other jobs. you need contacts, experiences, friends. talk to your professors.
posted by krautland at 10:00 AM on November 10, 2006

One thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn't equate the visible signs of wealth with actual wealth. People you know may be going greatly in debt to finance whatever fancy lifestyle they have, which creates the illusion of success. I know even among people in my own field, there are great differences in our spending behaviors. For example, while I bought a 6 year old car, many of them are financing brand new Acuras or Infinitis. Sometimes I even get upset and cast a jealous eye towards their behavior, but it's simple enough to remind myself that I don't envy the debt or being so completely dependent on sustaining that level of income for mere survival.

Our culture has a heavy emphasis on spending and consuming, with little regard for the effects on your wallet. Many of the people you see conspicuously consuming may not actually be more wealthy than you. They may be up to their necks in debt, and barely keeping up with the payments, even in a high paying job. It's not a fun position to be in, despite the shiny appearances to an outsider.
posted by knave at 10:46 AM on November 10, 2006

There are areas within mental health that are lucrative: Industrial/organizational, psychological assessment are two high paying areas. Do some research on it. You need a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to make money though.
posted by forensicphd at 1:50 PM on November 10, 2006

Grad school is never a mistake, because it can lead to good things career-wise, things you may not even be aware of now.

Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap that many fall into, thinking that having nice things equals success, status, and happiness. I make a really comfortable living doing something I reasonably enjoy, and I don't even own a car. For me (and it sounds like you're the same way) the fact that I can bank money, and the fact that the money I bank frees me to make choices as I want, not as I need, is as much reward as anything I could buy.

Many of the people you see conspicuously consuming may not actually be more wealthy than you. They may be up to their necks in debt

posted by pdb at 2:38 PM on November 10, 2006

Money is important to you. I would try to be in the mental health field AND make money. Have a dream. Work for yourself. If you charge an hourly rate of 25 or so dollars an hour (very little for a health professional) you'll be making a lot of money.
posted by xammerboy at 3:44 PM on November 10, 2006

I quit a job ( career ) I hated to try going into business (retail) for myself. Now instead of money I have no money. No income, savings depleted. I am not miserable the way I was doing the job I hated, I am just miserably worried constantly. I'd do it again though.
But, thing is I have learned in this that I (gasp!) like money and the security it brings. I don't like not having it. So somewhere there must be a balance between having a job you dislike and having a job you enjoy and the money needed to throw the decision one way or the other. Regretfully, as I stand at the cusp of jumping back into the job market into a new career at 35, I simply have no idea what I will do EXCEPT to find a job I won't hate and will pay *just * enough to make me feel secure. What that job is and how far I am willing to compromise myself, well, we shall see.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 3:53 PM on November 10, 2006

All I want to say is - stay with the grad degree it will open doors for you. I am changing fields now (again), and seriously, I have been and am eligible for jobs that I do not have the background for, but the employeer believes the graduate degree will compensate.

I also found that outside academia (for my field at least) - salaries are far higher than I would have had if I stayed as a faculty member at a university.

If money is a large component of your hapiness there is nothing wrong with that - I would do the research now, however, as to what you can do with your graduate degree and other fields. I found a book for my field (alternative careers in science) - I am sure there is a book similar to that in your field. If you find a lucrative field, try to talk to people in the field, get experience (some people even to internships in grad school) - get the experience now and as soon as you finish you can start your dream job - with money and the same topic.

Also, if you can truly make a lot of money, you will not be abandoning the mental health field - you would be able to donate to causes you believe in. I have also known a few wealthy individuals who made a lot of money early in their career and are now retired in their 40s - these people volunteer A LOT during there spare time. So I think you could live both worlds.

Also, it is not unusual to change careers many times in your life - so - all of these options will still be there for you.

Cheer up
posted by Wolfster at 5:04 PM on November 10, 2006

I think the thread might be dead already. But this seemed important to say, namely:
You have some big professional decisions ahead of you. Make sure that what may be problems best approached via psychology (feelings of inadequacy or inferiority, and, from what you say, some signs of mild depression) don't get in the way of making decisions that will make you happy or happier. You might want to talk to a therapist about the feelings as well as the options as one part of sorting all of this out.
Good luck. These things take time. But they come. At least so I tell myself.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:15 PM on November 10, 2006

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