How do I figure out what I want in life?
April 24, 2007 10:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm unhappy with my job, it's affect on my life, and where it's taking me. How do I find out what it is I really want in life and start doing it?

I'm 23 and working as a PA in animation-- I hate it. I hate making copies, being a mucky-muck, being entry level, working seven days a week on a cartoon movie I don't give a hoot about. Worse, I have no aspiration to climb the ladder and become one of those fabulous producers who are stressed beyond belief and are dominated by a need for money and position. It's just not me.

I studied fine art in college (loved it), I would love to do something where I can get my "hands dirty" and not be in a cubicle all day- maybe interact with others. My interests are somewhat diffuse so it's been hard to decide where to go next. I don't just want to try some random job to find another job I don't like- I want to find out what I like and start pursuing it. Has anyone else ever felt like this? I am ready to quite my job but I don't know where I'd go at the moment- I don't want to go work at starbucks either, and I don't want to retreat to school for a masters.

posted by Waffle_King to Work & Money (21 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Has anyone else ever felt like this?

No. You're the first 23-year-old in history who has ever felt this way. Sorry, just kidding.

If you're not willing to go back to grad school (and switch up your discipline) then you're reasonably limited to your fine art training and the work experience you've built so far.

It's possible to stumble your way into another field, but it's risky to do so without some study and self-introspection. Spend sometime looking over your previous experiences, figure out what you like, and maybe explore your options in some different direction. Education, non-profit work, peace corps, community work, etc, can all be wonderful areas to branch into.

Sadly, no matter where you go you're going to be "entry level" in some capacity at this stage in your life, but that doesn't mean you'll be unhappy.

My ONLY word of caution: No matter what, start adjusting your lifestyle today so that when you decide to jump ship you won't be shocked and depressed by a possible reduction in your buying power. Start putting aside as much as you can for an emergency out-of-work fund. Don't leave your current job until you've got enough saved up to float you for a few months in the event your new gig doesn't work out.
posted by wfrgms at 11:13 PM on April 24, 2007

I'm 24 and have been in the same boat for...ever. Since I'm not much older than you, I can't tell you how the story ends, but I can tell you that in my experience it's all about trying random things you don't like. You can narrow it down based on your interests, but beyond that it's kind of trial and error. And the entry-level part? That's just how it goes.

You didn't list your interests, but think about what you like and do your homework. If you don't want to float around, don't jump ship until you're reasonably sure. Don't limit your scope, either. I've done everything from counseling to cleaning toilets in Wyoming in the course of my search.

Also, I strongly agree with the above warning about your lifestyle. Start living below your means.
posted by Roman Graves at 11:59 PM on April 24, 2007

What's wrong with working at Starbucks?

You've graduated from college, and you're not sure what you want to do next. You know, from experience, what you *don't* want to do.

The worst thing you can do is take a job in your field that sucks so much that you start to hate the very thing you wanted to do when you grew up.

Wash dishes, wait tables or chop vegetables or whatever, and intern or apprentice or freelance with folks you respect.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 12:17 AM on April 25, 2007

You mentioned that you have other interests but they're rather diffuse. Why not save some small amount of capital as suggested above, quit your job, and work abroad for a while? My sister worked on an organic farm in New Zealand, crewed aboard a schooner (and, incidentally, learned navigation with a sextant), amongst other occupations as she was deciding where she wanted to head with her life. Needless to say, she doesn't want to be either a farmer or a sailor, but it does provide you plenty of time to think- and explore other options.

For me (at 26) there's always been some fabulous, insane idea I wanted to pursue above anything else. You know, just like the guidance counselor always said in high school:

What would you do if you had a million dollars? Well, that's what you should do!

I think a hard thing about being our age is the implication that we have to make (and should have made) a forever decision about What To Do With Our Life. Why not start with what you'd like to do with the next four weeks?

And Starbucks does provide quite excellent benefits.
posted by arnicae at 1:26 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Save some money and travel.
posted by nitsuj at 2:17 AM on April 25, 2007

Talk it out.

Find people working in fields that interest you, e-mail or call them, and ask if you can buy them a cup of coffee to talk about how they got where they are, what they like and dislike about their jobs, and what advice they might have for a 23-year-old who might want to enter their field. Make it crystal clear that you're not interested in a job with their company.

People love to talk about themselves. Take advantage of that.

Good luck!
posted by shallowcenter at 3:25 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Try this and let us know what you come up with:
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 4:25 AM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Why are you working 7 days a week? Do your 8-5 5 days a week and get out and have a life. The job might not seem so bad then...
posted by DarkForest at 4:35 AM on April 25, 2007

Everyone has some jobs like that right out of school. They're so important because they really help you identify what you don't like. I was miserable interning in a large animation department.

They key is to do your own stuff too, even if you're working a job that you aren't thrilled with. What other interests to do you have?
posted by MattS at 5:05 AM on April 25, 2007

what about teaching art? you might have to go back and get some kind of educational certification, but you would have a lot of variety and a set schedule. you'll never get rich, but i bet it would be a lot of fun.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:45 AM on April 25, 2007

Welcome to life after graduation. I went through a similar period. Graduated from college with a BS in biochemistry & molecular biology, but I knew doing lab research long-term wasn't for me. I avoided getting a job in the field I knew would drag me down, so I worked as a Starbucks/Target lackey for a year until I got a job I now enjoy. I have a ton of friends who have gone through similar experiences of graduating and needing to find their way. It happens.
What's most important is to figure out what you want to do. You know you don't want to move up in the chain. Good- I didn't want to move up in the Target world of management, so I declined invitations to do so because I knew it'd make me miserable.
Guess I tend to think of situations like this from the negative- figure out what you don't want to do at all and choose your career path accordingly.
posted by jmd82 at 5:58 AM on April 25, 2007

What about working at an art museum? Or a gallery? Or teaching? Or some sort of art outreach for children? You'll still be at "entry-level," but maybe in an enviroment that you enjoy. There are a lot more options than Starbucks out there.

Good luck!
posted by emd3737 at 6:41 AM on April 25, 2007

I was in a similar position to yours, although my jobs were generally comfortable and pleasant, from the time I finished undergrad until the time I was 29.

Then I had an epiphany about what I wanted to do with my life (nursing, which I'd had ZERO experience in) and realized that I needed to go back to school, which I'm doing right now. You are right-on that you shouldn't go back to school unless you have some clear goal for it.

Upon reflection, I saw that, without really planning it, I had followed a somewhat logical path through the years with my jobs and volunteer experiences. Basically, at each decision-making point, I had some sort of inner leaning that suggested to me the direction in which to take the next step. I know that's vague-sounding, but it was a vague feeling. It sounds like you have similar vague feelings... something that is not in a cubicle, that allows for human interaction, isn't indentured servitude, etc. The great thing about vague job urges is that there are many positions/roles in which to satisfy them. And, if the job itself doesn't satisfy them, there are always volunteer opportunities that will complement or round out your experiences.

What's funny is that what I thought I was most interested in/ wanted to "do with my life" when starting out -- writing -- didn't turn out to be the activity that I ultimately am choosing to spend my productive daily hours doing. I still enjoy writing, of course, but I was distracted by this enjoyment into thinking that it needed to be linked with my career. So that's another thing to keep in mind. It's easy to be fooled into thinking that your a priori "passion" is what you need to with your life, which might cause you to miss out on discovering other passions (nursing definitely is a passion; but like I said, I had never remotely contemplated until a couple of years ago).

In a way, it's a bummer that it took me so long to realize what I want to do -- hopefully it won't take you that long! But I can't say that I regret any of the choices I made or the fact that it's taken me until now to find nursing. So don't despair! Some people are blessed with the knowledge, seemingly from birth, about what they want to do; some need to put a little more thought into it. But everything that I've done and experienced has contributed to who I am, and I will bring all of that into my chosen profession, so it's all good.

Best of luck! Above all, realize that life is an adventure and no matter what you're doing, you can learn from it and build from it. /corny
posted by tentacle at 7:27 AM on April 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

Wong Fei-hung writes:
Try this <link> and let us know what you come up with.

The guy who runs that blog came up with:
Here was my final answer: to live consciously and courageously, to resonate with love and compassion, to awaken the great spirits within others, and to leave this world in peace.
Well, more power to him, but frankly, I don't think it's gonna pay the rent anywhere you can afford to live.

For a more practical answer, I'd heard about (and asked my very first MeFi question about) the Johnson-O'Connor Aptitude Test. I never ended up taking it, but perhaps some of the answers in that thread will help you.
posted by spacewrench at 7:29 AM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Consider going back to school and becoming an educator and fine artist. You are NOT too old.
posted by xammerboy at 7:32 AM on April 25, 2007

Response by poster: Hey guys, thanks for the answers so far. Let me just address some things.

why am I working 7 days a week? Because the major motion picture I'm working on has to be in theatres by July 27th and it's nowhere near being done.

Travel? I did a little bit of that- and I would love to do more. I hope to see Asia via backpacking soon.

My interests? The usual, I suppose- I love art, writing, music-- the creative side of things.

Maybe I'll jus try to produce more art- that tends to help me clear my mind... maybe I could be a fine-artist / teacher? sounds nice to me- it's just the pressure of rent money and trying to survive weighs on me pretty hard. I suppose I could always move back home with the folks, worse come to worse, eh?
posted by Waffle_King at 7:59 AM on April 25, 2007

I'm in a similar situation right now - 25, working at a job that I'm not passionate about, but not sure what I want to do instead. For a while I absolutely hated my job, because I felt so stuck once I realized that this isn't what I want to do with my life. Yes, I'm exploring other options through introspection and volunteer work, etc., but it was driving me crazy to go to this job every morning that I didn't like. I felt trapped.

And then one morning, I had an epiphany. I CHOOSE to work at this job. Every day that I go in, it's because I've made the rational decision that a steady paycheck will allow me to explore my other options outside of work time, without having to jump blindly into something new in order to pay rent. I am not trapped, I am making progress on my own terms.

That attitude shift has helped more than I can describe. I'm still exploring other career avenues, but I actually enjoy my work now because I feel like I'm in control of my life again. No change in circumstances, just a big change in my mindset. Maybe something similar will help you hang in there while you figure out what you want to do.
posted by vytae at 9:03 AM on April 25, 2007 [6 favorites]

I have been in a very similar job for 3 years now - entry-level job in the entertainment industry. The major difference, of course, is that I love being here and it's been my dream since I was very small. There are a lot of people in my shoes, for whom long hours and weekends and a death of social life is an acceptable price to pay.

If you're not in it for love, then get out ASAP. You are being exploited for no good reason, as is everyone in this industry who has no irrational love for what they do. Count the days until your movie delivers (don't burn bridges by leaving before that) and give your 2 weeks. Save every penny between now and then, so you can afford to not work for a bit.

I have no useful advice beyond that point, but others in this thread surely do. Feel free to email me if you'd like more details. Good luck!
posted by milinar at 11:15 AM on April 25, 2007

why am I working 7 days a week? Because the major motion picture I'm working on has to be in theatres by July 27th and it's nowhere near being done.

Well, that's why they want you to work 7 days a week anyway.

working seven days a week on a cartoon movie I don't give a hoot about

So, would they/could they fire you if you didn't keep up an insane pace?
posted by DarkForest at 2:43 PM on April 25, 2007

vytae: "I CHOOSE to work at this job. Every day that I go in, it's because I've made the rational decision that a steady paycheck will allow me to explore my other options outside of work time, without having to jump blindly into something new in order to pay rent. I am not trapped, I am making progress on my own terms."

On the flip side, what I have realised is that yes, I CHOOSE to work at my soul-sucking job. And by doing so I am contributing to my unhappiness. What keeps me going to work every day is my fear of the unknown, fear that I won't be able to manage without the security of a full-time job. Since I know it is not my ultimate career -- writing -- I am going to have to do a very difficult thing when I am ready to make my real career happen. I'm not ready yet, but I have a timeline in mind -- September -- and in the meantime my focus is on doing things that will prepare me to transition to a less predictable lifestyle.

The preparations -- setting myself up professionally, making connections, building my portfolio further -- are a pleasant diversion from my day-to-day mundanity. Something to look forward to is keeping me going and keeping me excited about the possibilities.

I know what it's like to be in your shoes, believe me. Working 9-5 in a job that doesn't stimulate me intellectually or creatively has the effect of draining my creative energy for the hours I do have to myself. It's easy enough for people to say you should just work 9-5 and use your off hours to do the things that really mean something to you, but I don't think everyone is wired that way. I know I'm not.

For what it's worth, I'm 32 and I've really only put it together that I want to freelance-write full-time in the last couple of years. Nothing is written in stone, and everything you do along the way will benefit you in ways you may not understand at the time. Good luck!
posted by loiseau at 4:47 PM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

How about an art therapy master's degree?
posted by onepapertiger at 5:02 PM on April 25, 2007

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