Can it be that it was all so simple then?
October 18, 2007 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I am 28. I have a wife and an 11 year old daughter. I am going through a minor, yet stubborn crisis. Can you help?

I am going through a small crisis, and as far as I can tell, it has two interdependent sides. I’ll do my best to briefly explain them.

On the one side, I feel my life isn’t moving forward-that it’s over before it began. I managed to get an English degree with high honors from a respectable liberal arts college. While I was there, I got a job at a small internet company that paid well and allowed me to work from home. As you can imagine this was a great commodity for me, considering how hectic my life was. But, unfortunately, working from home, and for such a small company, has basically zeroed my professional contacts. On top of this, my job is chronically understaffed, so I am forced to do many different jobs, but in the time I have spent there (5-6 years), I haven’t mastered anything well enough to really sell myself to another job. For example, I am ok at web design, but not great. I am a good writer, but not great. I understand computer programming, but am unable to do it myself. So basically, I have been formed for this job, and can’t see a way to branch out. My daughter is now old enough and my life stable enough, combined with the fact that I don’t see this job going anywhere, I want to branch out, but I can’t see how. No contacts. No great accomplishments. No friends. I’ve applied to jobs, etc. But I just don’t know where to put my efforts. It doesn’t help that I get paid relatively well right now and nothing else seems to offer enough money.

This brings me to the other side of my crisis. Since I am not moving forward and have been spinning my wheels in place for two years, I am getting more and more nostalgic. Wanting to go back to a time when I felt that my life had prospects. The past is overrated, as we all know. But I find myself thinking regularly of people I haven’t spoken to in 10 years, wondering how they are doing. Listening to music I listened to when I was 16 or 17. I get sort of depressed because I remember how open my life felt. I even tried to contact someone from years ago on a pay phone one night, but the number I found was no longer in service.

I feel like I am caught between an undoable future and an unreachable past. I feel confident that if I can get my life going, the pathetic nostalgia will pass. I haven’t even made a new friend in like 4 years. And lost many of the friends I made from before that due to my life just being so drastically different than theirs or me being a dick, etc. I have trouble relating to people my age. And people with children as old as mine are all 40. I drop my daughter off at school and the parents all feel closer to my parents’ age than mine.

As for positives, I know my family is doing well. I have managed to get my daughter into a wonderful middle school. My wife is in college. I have stellar credit, and I feel pretty good about myself when I get out of bed. We are happy and safe. But I feel very stuck. I have a lot of interest and natural talent when it comes to identity and brand design, but I just don’t know how to leverage that into a job. Should I go back to school? I am scared that after years and years, I will have to get an entry level job which won’t even pay me enough to support my life.

I just feel real confused. What should I do? If for any reason you want to reach me directly, contact me at
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Join Facebook. I'm serious. Everyone I thought I'd never see again is on there.
posted by Reggie Digest at 10:06 AM on October 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

Have you thought about going back to school? It just sounds like you've tapped out the options at your job and you need a new skill set. Your daughter is old enough that you could attend school in the evening. Going back to school is also a great way to meet new people and forge new contacts and connections. If I were you, I'd figure out what I wanted to do and then I'd see if I could find a college or masters program in that area in the evening.
posted by bananafish at 10:11 AM on October 18, 2007

The facebook suggestion is good one. I'm 29 and not only have I been able to reconnect with the people I went to high school with, but with the people I went to elementary school with. The need for reunions seems to becoming obsolete, because it seems everybody already knows what everybody else is up to. Also, you can join communities based on your interests, location, etc.
posted by cgg at 10:14 AM on October 18, 2007

Is it just about you? You mentioned your daughter four times, your wife only twice. Your sneaking out to call someone from a phone booth sounds to me like your marriage might be in trouble. So does the nostalgia for adolescence. Perhaps some couples counseling might help.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:19 AM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

your generalist business activity over the last few years uniquely qualifies you to start your own business.
posted by bruce at 10:25 AM on October 18, 2007

Sorry to hear you are feeling stuck -- it's teh suck, and I know how difficult it can feel to get out of it.

In addition to the excellent Facebook suggestions above, I'd also suggest LinkedIn. I don't know where you're located, but here in Chicago it seems to be very popular as a professional networking tool. I've rediscovered many former colleagues (or been rediscovered by them) and received a number of calls from headhunters and companies looking for the type of work I do (internet).

As well, seems to be very active right now in terms of recruiters looking for new talent. The web space is hoppin' right now (again) and either one or both of these places may help get you into a new position. Now is a great time to be making a change.

As far as marketing yourself to these new prospective employers, work with your strengths -- you sound like a pretty capable generalist who could wear a number of hats at a web design agency, corporate client or something of that nature. And generalists who can do a little bit of everything and do it well -- not excellent, but good and able to get better -- are valuable. Don't sell your skills or your excellent work record short.

When it comes to that vague but itchy nostalgia you mention, I think you're right that it could be a symptom of the stuckness you're currently feeling, and that as soon as your present-day life starts to open up and feel more exciting you'll find yourself pining for the good ole days less and looking forward to a brighter tomorrow more.

Good luck -- you sound like you've got a good head on your shoulders and a pretty accurate view of where you are. In other words, you're not catastrophizing or feeling like life is meaningless and you're the world's giant loser. With a bit of work and branching out into some new territories, I think you'll find doors opening up.
posted by Work to Live at 10:26 AM on October 18, 2007

You know, I wouldn't write off the possibility of using your experience as a stepping stone towards another job. I work in an Internet company, and have been involved in interviewing potential candidates. Because what we do is so specific, almost no one has ALL of the skills that their job requires. So we look for people who have shown that they can learn new things and have a good general understanding of how things work.

I mean, if you have some basic web design experience and are a decent writer and are computer literate, there is absolutely no way you couldn't find a decent job if you looked hard enough (though this may depend on your location & willingness to move, I guess).

It sounds like you really need out of the house. Start applying for jobs. Revise your resume so it focuses on all the skills you have and how you have applied them to projects. Look at the skills that you have that have helped you adapt. Are you a quick learner? That's always a huge plus.

Even if you took a job slightly less than what you think you should have, it would provide you with more contacts and business experience, which would in turn be a stepping stone for a NEW and BETTER job. I would also definitely focus on applying to companies that offer additional training programs and that like to hire from within.

If you can't do this right away, you still need to get out of the house and meet some people. Volunteer somewhere, like the library or whatever. It sounds like you're stuck wishing you were a teenager again instead of doing something NOW and living your life.
posted by tastybrains at 10:28 AM on October 18, 2007

You're 28, you have all the time in the world to do whatever you want to do. What do you want to do?
posted by OmieWise at 10:29 AM on October 18, 2007

The best advice anyone ever gave me was "don't live life by default." It sounds like you need something new in your life. Heck, yeah, go back to school. Sign up for a class in something you're interested in and see what happens. At the very least, you'll get to know other people and have some interesting conversations. If it's not something you want to continue pursuing, all you're out the tuition money for one course. Are there conferences you can go to and network in your field? I suspect that some other company would be interest in a consistent worker with broad experience but willingness to learn to specialize. It may just be a matter of connecting to someone who can put in a good word for you.

On the social side, it may not be such a bad thing to build relationships with people older than you. Having a kid the same age as theirs does give you a natural connection. Most of my good friends are either 10 years older or 10 years younger than I am, and I haven't been bothered by that. There's not much about my life that's so unique to my age that someone else can't relate.

I'm curious about how your wife feels about things. Would she like a change of pace, too? Is there some new thing you can pursue together? Maybe not, but worth thinking about.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:30 AM on October 18, 2007

I think you need a creative project. A fun website to support a secret passion of yours, give you a place to write and try out new coding tricks. Or take a drawing class. You're in a really prime position - you make enough money, so your creative project doesn't have to pay your bills. And you're looking for both social stimulus and improved professional prospects - a creative project is a great way to meet people who share your interests and hone your professional talents. Once you've gotten rolling on it, it can become an integral part of your portfolio - and believe me, when you're in an interview and someone asks you about the FUN thing you're working on, your face will light up and your enthusiasm will sell your abilities like nothing else will.

Working from home can be terribly isolating, and I have "coworkers" across the globe who I share my daily joys and frustrations with. But I didn't have them when I started out and it was a rocky couple of years while I tried to find balance.

And the reason I'm preaching a creative project to you is because the stuff I was doing then to give myself a break and something fun to work on is now my greatest source of professional satisfaction, and has given me a new social outlet that I really needed.

You have a lot to be proud of, you've made a head start that people twenty years older than you might envy. And I think it is really natural to be in the headspace of looking back a bit - you're at the age of the Ten Year Reunion, and not yet thirty (I'm the same age) and so it's really natural that your thoughts might fall back to a so-called simpler time.

Only, you know it wasn't really simpler. What it seems you are craving is momentum. Something new. And when you're sixteen, with all those adult "firsts" ahead of you, EVERYTHING is new, and that is so exciting! Well, the world is still full of "firsts" for you. Try something you've never tried before.
posted by annathea at 10:31 AM on October 18, 2007

Will your wife finish college any time soon? Might things be better for you when she's able to contribute more? That could be something to look forward to; even if you did have to take a pay cut, maybe she could help.

If you aren't communicating with her about this, then yes, counseling with her could be a good idea.
posted by amtho at 10:36 AM on October 18, 2007

More than anything, you sound like you're tired, and in a rut. This is a superficial suggestion, but... you sound like someone in need of a vacation!

Maybe a solo vacation, maybe one with the wife. But get away from the home, get away from your old established patterns. Experience life. See somethings you've never seen before, do some things you've never done before.

Recharge your batteries, then embark on the job hunt with a fresh perspective.
posted by browse at 10:38 AM on October 18, 2007

i second the notion that you probably aren't as stuck as you think. put your writing and design work into a portfolio and see what happens. you might get a bite.

alternatively, maybe you could benefit from an evening web design or programming class. if there are networking events in the field you'd like to get into, then go to those. and don't be afraid to call someone at a place you'd like to work and ask for an informational interview. find out what you need to work on to get going in the direction you want.

finally, look into the taproot foundation. you will volunteer your skills for a local nonprofit that, say, needs a website or some brochures designed. it would be a great way to polish some skills -and- make professional contacts.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:43 AM on October 18, 2007

I second Bruce -- I have realized that my generalist tendencies limit my options in any organization but my own.
posted by crickets at 10:44 AM on October 18, 2007

Was it all that simple then? Of COURSE it was. Things weren't different in some obscure way when you were 16. You didn't lose track of those friends 10 years ago by some inscrutable and random fluke. You got hit by pretty much the ultimate complicating factor. At the age when most of us were contemplating life as limitless possibilities (and about to stumble mindlessly into a variety of questionable tracks as a result) you learned the hard way that responsibility and necessity are dominating realities of human existence. And though it's by the way, I will just go ahead and say congratulations, and you deserve to feel very proud for having negotiated the hand life dealt you so well.

One piece of perspective: it's totally possible to have cruised through the relevant period (16-28) and come out feeling basically confused and stuck. At your age I was single (though in a relationship that led to marriage) and childless. 8 years letter I'm in a place very similar to yours, with a marriage and a three year old and responsibilities and I worry a lot about how I'll make the next transition. And I get nostalgic about college, when it was all possibilities and no responsibilities.

I think the nostalgia is a direct consequence of needing a plan for the future. You are feeling like you can't find believable possibility in the present, you need that feeling of believing in possibility, so you cast your mind back to a time that feels full of possibilities, before reality slapped some heavy responsibilities and attendant restrictions on you.

It might be worthwhile to make a conscious effort to hit back at some of that nostalgia. Get a subscription to a music service or something and find some new favorite bands. It might be worthwhile to force some of that nostalgia into a realistic context, i.e. look up some of those old friends if you can. Every time I've looked up someone from my past who maintained a place in my consciousness it's been worthwhile.

But mostly I think you need to tackle that age old question of what a more ideal work might look like for you. Should you go back to school? Maybe. But at your age and level in life school is a place to go to because you've figured out you need to in order to reach a goal, not to figure out what the goal is (although one-off classes, seminars etc. with low time and money commitments can be a great place to seek inspiration). Have you done any formal work, i.e. going through exercises in a book like "what color is your parachute" or similar? While they can be gimmicky they can also inspire and direct thinking. Financially and time-wise your direct options might be limited right now, but presumably when your wife completes college there will be changes in both these factors and now is the perfect time to explore what personally excites and interests you, as well as self-researchable pragmatic aspects of potential change, like distance learning and learning programs for working adults (both exploding industries with ever-increasing and more-desirable options), running your own business (a place where being a talented generalist with a natural talent for identity and brand design is a pretty super thing to be), self-directed learning, or a career change without additional learning (my experience is people tend to underestimate the portability of their experience and the potential benefits of career transitions. And the earlier they got the job and the longer they've been at it the more they underestimate - Parachute is a book particularly suited to investigating whether you might have more immediate career options than you believe).

Look at it this way: looking at my life, having left a not very satisfying career path to be a stay at home dad with a stable but not very inspiring part-time work at home job, I figure, I could, if this is the direction I choose, go back to school, spend several years after ironing out the exact career path I wanted to pursue after that, and still have a good 20-30 year career in a new field, depending on how long I decided to work (projecting 70 as a standard retirement age when you and I get there is hardly a stretch). And you won't be my age for another 8 years, when your daughter is in college! You've got plenty of life to live.
posted by nanojath at 10:58 AM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

1. You say you haven't made a friend in four years. Make some. You say that occasionally you drove people away because you were a dick. Don't be a dick.

2. You are probably much more qualified to compete for a job than you are giving yourself credit for.

3. Cut unnecessary cruft out of your life, so you can live more easily on less and do what your passion is, even if it pays less.

4. The strength of your family is an asset. Use it. Remember that "for better or worse stuff." You made those promises for a reason.

5. I feel confident that if I can get my life going, the pathetic nostalgia will pass. Perhaps. It may also pass when you completely lose hope in a better future, so don't do that.

6. You are only 28. You have a lifetime ahead of you, and 28 is NOT old.

7. You seem like a wise 28 year old, which is another asset.

8. It sounds like you fell bass-ackwards into a good job, and in doing so, deferred all of the strain, self-examination, and effort required to compete for a career, or at least, deferred it until now, and you sound like all this negative self-talk is something you are doing to rationalize the possibility of not getting out there, pounding the pavement, and telling employers how great you are. Cut this out. Get someone who can help you take the stuff you are telling us and make it sound great and then hit the sidewalk.

You honestly sound pretty darn employable to me. I wish I had something to hire you for.
posted by 4ster at 11:00 AM on October 18, 2007

Is there an active Refresh/Barcamp/other tech group in your area? Go to those. Look on and to find good networking/learning opportunities. One of your problems may be that you don't know how much you actually know.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:05 AM on October 18, 2007

I have no advice on your personal situation, but I have hired over a 100 employees in my career and I would hire you based on what you wrote. You sound like a go getter and a very responsible person.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:07 AM on October 18, 2007

Start going to professional association meetings, both in your field (writing, web design, marketing) and outside your field (general business, entrepreneurship, etc). Get on Facebook and LinkedIn. Start emailing old contacts, just to say hi. Get some business cards and see if you can drum up some freelance work. Over time, you can use the freelance work to highlight new skills or to gain experience in new industries. This will help you build some contacts and perhaps even some confidence. You might also want to start applying for jobs, just to see what is out there. If you don't have the right skills, such an experience might help you figure out what skills/experience you do need. I wouldn't go back to school without a clear picture of what you need to succeed. In fact, it sounds like you have a lot of experience and skills and that you just need some contacts to help you make a career change.
posted by acoutu at 11:12 AM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

You're 28. The parents at school are are 40? Not a huge difference. It's okay to be friends with people who are in their forties. I'm 35 and have friends that are in their sixties.

If you want to go back to school, do it.

Get out of the house more often. You and your wife. Go out and play trivia at the bar. Attend some events in your community. Does your wife have college friends? Go out with them. Put yourself out there. Mingle.
posted by LoriFLA at 11:20 AM on October 18, 2007

If I'm summarizing you correctly, your problems are that you have no professional contacts, underdeveloped job skills, and the need for more fun social relationships (which is most likely feeding the nostalgia spell).

It sounds to me like your first order of business is to decide what field you would like to work in (you mention both computers and brand design), and then begin to create professional contacts. How do you create professional contacts from nothing? Look for local-area meetups of that particular trade, i.e., if you live in Bumblehoop, look for the West Bumblehoop Brand Designers Trade Association or the United East Bumblehoop Computer Programmers. Verify the meetings are open to the public and investigate.

Ask someone you respect in the field out for an informational interview; you're not trying to get a job from them, the idea is you are paying for their time (via a nice lunch) to answer questions you have about how to break into the field and how you take your skills and boost them to a necessary level.

If you determine higher education is necessary, then investigate it. Is there a college in the area which can give you a good degree in the topic? Can distance learning or online courses get you the degree you need? Do local computer stores have certification classes? Are there self-tutelage books in your local bookseller or on Amazon? Talk to your wife. If she is finishing her education in x years, perhaps you can agree that in x+1 years, you can begin work on your own degree. If that's too long a wait, see if financial aid or scholarships are available -- not all scholarships are for teenagers.

Social relationships may spring from that action, but if they don't, there's (which seems to serve to get people together on nearly any topic), there's Mefi meetups, there's Craigslist if you live in one of their cities, and there's many others.

Also, both topics -- career change advice and social relationship reboots -- are frequently asked about on Ask Metafilter. Plum the archives for others' advice; what I recommend above is merely what I remember from those threads, and the original advice in various threads is more varied and more thorough. (One book I see recommended a lot is _The Pathfinder_.)

Also, when you are looking at your life, please, please, PLEASE do not slight or disregard the immense credit you deserve for being a good husband and father. Many wives do not have good husbands; many children do not have good fathers. You are being a supportive partner to your wife as she betters herself and you are making sure your daughter knows she is loved and is well-cared for. Neither of those are by any means small potatoes.
posted by WCityMike at 11:31 AM on October 18, 2007

First of all, it is entirely normal to look back fondly on a time when your needs were mostly taken care of by other people, your day was filled with a variety of activities/subjects, and you didn't yet feel like you had permanently closed doors to possible futures.

There is nothing wrong with reaching out to old friends. I do it a lot. It's fun. It doesn't always result in an active friendship in the present, but it is nice to keep in touch. Keep doing it, but don't expect everything to be the same. Is there a super-connector in your old circle? Someone who knows a lot of the people and keeps in touch with a lot of them? They are always a good place to start.

You need a social circle. It would revolve around work or kids' school for most people, but you don't have either of those options. It sounds lonely. Taking a class would help, maybe. You could also join an official or unofficial club. My social circle in a new city was built mostly through finding people who liked the same TV show I did. I think you need to re-learn how to make friends as an adult. But I could be wrong.

You sound pretty darn employable to me. And it is certainly time to leave your company if there is no place to grow into and nothing that you want to do there. I know all about working at a small company. I think it's time to get a job at a bigger organization where they'd have a career path for you and you could have a start of a social life, but YMMV. Apply for stuff and start interviewing. Can you go to a job fair? Can you interview for one of those jobs that doesn't pay well just so you can get some interview experience? Can you maybe take a pay cut? Your job search doesn't sound like it has much momentum.

I know that doors seem closed forever. And you think "Hey, I was sort of interested in what's behind that door! I never agreed to close that door. I didn't mean to close it." The doors are closed, but they aren't really locked, they aren't sealed in with bricks and concrete and rebar. It would take some effort to open the door, maybe some sacrifice, or a little time. You can't just walk through it whenever you want, like you thought you could when you were younger. But you could still walk through it. You can do whatever you want. You do have to figure out what that is, and what you are willing to give up to get it. And those questions aren't easy for any of us, you aren't alone.
posted by Mozzie at 11:35 AM on October 18, 2007

You're on top, now you realize that, don't you? It doesn't get too much better than this: a stable family working on bettering themselves, a good job with a stable living situation.

Based on what you describe, you've done a lot, and made a lot of good things happen in the world. It's easy to look around and feel dissatisfied with who you are and what you've done, but I'd advise that you shouldn't fall into that trap. Like the others in this thread, I think you've caught a pretty serious pop fly the world batted at you - having a kid at 17 - and fielded it admirably. It couldn't have been a picnic to get to where you are.

One of the things you mention is that you're employed, work from home, and over 5-6 years have made yourself pretty indispensible to your employer. You've been paid well for this, but from an employer's perspective, money just can't buy someone who gets everything done the way it sounds like you have. Your employer probably feels significantly indebted to you.

So I wonder whether or not you could bring this up with your employer. A way to pitch it is that you're currently putting in 40, or 60, or 80 hours working on your company's projects, but you feel that for your own career advancement you need to really brush up on (web design/writing/computer programming) and so you want to take some time away from your work responsibilities to pursue extra vocational training in those areas.

Rather than going back to school to get an all-areas bachelor's degree, you would identify a particular short vocational course designed to equip you with a specific skillset - Ruby on Rails? Marketing and advertising writing? An M.B.A.? Whatever you think you might enjoy and do well. Given your seniority and years of work, this kind of request is not uncommon - it is a normal part of a career - and I suspect the reason that you don't realize it is just because of the somewhat isolated situation you're in.

A good employer will recognize that this benefits them as well as you; they will understand that in order to have a good employee, they must respect that employee's natural wish for self-improvement. A great employer will do the above and also help you pay for it. A bad employer will think to themselves, "This guy's getting ready to cut himself loose from us. Better hire a replacement, and if we find one soon enough we'll just fire this guy." So you have to have some idea for whom you're working before you propose this.

Someone else to talk to is your wife. She's in college now, but that won't be forever. Presumably you're supporting her. When she gets out of college, will she go to work to help support your freedom to improve yourself? I bet she would. And as for the things that you mention in your fourth paragraph, those are the things you have to discuss with your wife. What is a life partner for if not to support you with these types of difficulties?

I have a few years on you, but like you at the age of 17 I devoted my life to something all-consuming - in my case, it was preparing for my career. This focus has not been room for children and there has been a trail of painfully wrecked relationships. My reward is that, in middle age, I can look forward to starting a well-paying, stressful, all-consuming career; a late start on family life; and probably less time than I'd like to enjoy being with that family and the other fruits of what I've worked so hard for. The point of this is not to compare our life courses, or suggest that one way is better than another. The point is that everyone who has to work for a living goes through these balancing acts and makes these trade-offs and they are always hard. Your situation is not so unusual, or if it is, it is because of the grace with which you've handled it.

I, too, often feel waves of nostalgia for the days when I was 17 - when I had vastly less responsibility and a lot of free time to spend as I wished, without too many cares. I have grown much since then but not always in directions and ways that I would have chosen and I sometimes miss that feeling of freedom, independence and unfettered possibility too. I try to keep in touch with that - through music, through remembering - because I believe that we carry our potential with us through life and because we need to remember that view of ourselves as unlimited beings who can still achieve our dreams.

Finally, I would say, trust yourself to bring the same grace to the next few years of your life that you have brought to it so far, and I bet you'll still be on top when you're 35.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:00 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's easy to say, but try to look at this time as an opportunity to change. Focus on what you want. This summer I sat down and wrote down everything that I wanted work/personal/whatever- it was empowering. Also, remember that everyone has certain strengths/ talents - figure yours out, build on them. I also took Gallup's "StrengthsFinder" test (you have to buy the book to take it) and it helped set my mind/ esteem right.
posted by mrmarley at 12:34 PM on October 18, 2007

If you want to continue working in the tech sector, head out to any "meet-ups" that might be taking place where you live. I was just at the Toronto Rails Pubnite this week, and people were falling over themselves trying to find people to work for them. Beyond that, it's a great place to meet new people and what not.

Also, if you join Facebook you'll probably be able to get back in touch with everyone you've ever known in your entire life. If you do want to reconnect with old friends etc Facebook is ideal for this. (Aside: Facebooks sucks)
posted by chunking express at 1:26 PM on October 18, 2007

Also, it sounds like you've accomplished quite a lot for a 28 year old.
posted by chunking express at 1:33 PM on October 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'd suggest volunteering in an area completely unrelated to your career. Habitat for Humanity or something similar is cooperative and involves some light exercise, which will make you feel better. It'll give you some perspective and hopefully you'll make a few friends.

You might be relying too much on your career as a source of your happinesses, friendships, and personal fulfillment, in the same way one might rely too much on a romantic partner. Take some time and make some real effort to reconnect with your community and work on the social aspect of your life, separate from your career. Your career might look different when it's carrying a lighter burden.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:54 PM on October 18, 2007

You sound lonely. It's hard to work at home even in the best circumstances, and it's easy to see why you look back at your college and high school days (of seeing more people!) with fondness. You need a few friends, outside of your family.

Something you can do this week is to get out of the house (with or without daughter and wife) and go do some activity where there are other people. Community theater or chorus, exercise class, local softball or bowling league or beginner runner's club, church group, book club, art class, board-game night at the local game store, etc. Even a PTA meeting at school to plan the fall fair or something. Go. Do you have a hobby or something that you've thought maybe could become a hobby? Now's the time to start looking into it. There's a reason for all these slightly corny-feeling activities: people need to meet friends, as adults, because otherwise they get really lonely, and forget what it's like to meet new people and have them laugh at your jokes etc. People need to actively cultivate interests outside of work and raising kids, so that their minds don't just dry up and blow away.

You absolutely can do this; you're an interesting responsible young guy. You've done harder things. You just have to make some time to devote to actively making new social connections - one night a week? Every other week? Part of the day on the weekend?
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:38 PM on October 18, 2007

Go to conferences in your field or your field of interest, and do your damnedest to meet people there. These might make new professional contacts, new friends, or just raise your interest in new areas.
posted by Riverine at 4:39 PM on October 18, 2007

It might be risky to state, but I feel you could still try for job you feel you might not be "perfect" or "prepared" for too. You seem smart so you'll get the hang of it.
If you want something fulfilling, try going to school and enabling yourself to teach -- seemingly high school. I could see a guy like you taking an advanced placement class through The Great Gatsby just perfectly. :)
posted by skepticallypleased at 8:55 PM on October 18, 2007

Lets see, generalist skills, jack of all trades, good at all, expert in none? Yup, you sound like an ideal candidate for business school. I would look at local programs and possibly distance one - columbia/wharton has a great 3 year program that you can do in the evenings and part-time and your working from home would be extremely helpful. Business school will give a big boost to your career, and any decent one will have an excellent career office - and the better ones will essentially get you the interviews.

You also mentioned brand identity and design. Why not go to design school? Before applying I would contact design firms, ask them about your existing resume - find out what they would like to see, what impresses them, and where they see gaps. Then devote the next 2 years to filling them. Be sure to ask which design schools they hire from - specifically ask: how many graduates from each program. That way, if you go to design school, you won't waste your time getting a degree from a school they never hire from. If you are into product design, be sure to look at Frogdesign and Ideo. They do amazing things.

Another alternative is express interest in going to conferences - and be sure to offer to speak (to the conference organizers). Speaking at a conference is a fantastic way to raise your personal brand, garner attention in your field, and meet new people. But even if you just go, you will meet interesting people, develop industry relationships and build your rolodex. (By the way, a good way to get invited to speak is to work on a project for your company that will give you specific topical experience in your field, see below in my post for suggestions to get more out of your current job).

Frankly it sounds like you spend too much time alone, away from your company and isolated from peers in your industry. Industry events are great to change that, just going into your office a day or two a week will help. Alternatively, if there is no local office in your city, offer to fly to the main office and spend one week a month there. Visibility will do wonders to enhance your profile and you will feel less isolated. Once there, volunteer to take on additional job responsbilities that will give you the experience you need to get your next job - offer to write the product specification for the new software product and then manage the software development process (product management is another great, transferable skill), or do a marketing plan for a new market entry. Then run it! Voila, you now can say you've done new products/opened new businesses and markets for the company.

I don't have much advice on nostalgia, as I try not to, in general. Facebook might be a good way to connect with old friends. Alumni associations are also good ways to meet people with shared interests - for example I started a clean technology interest group in one of mine and now i have a ton of people to invite to my christmas parties. Going to college reunions is another good way to see old friends and reconnect as well as meet new interesting people.

I think you are actually very lucky - you are so young. So many people your age are going to business school, grad school of various kinds, and making big career switches: say, banking to consulting, software to management, programming to medicine, that you have tons of time to make these kinds of changes in your life and in your career. Most of all, have fun! The world is your oyster.

Hey ikkyu2, you are not that much older!!!
posted by zia at 12:18 AM on October 19, 2007

There was one thing that escaped me on first reading -

I even tried to contact someone from years ago on a pay phone one night

Why a payphone? If you're thinking about looking up old flames, or if there's some other rational reason you would want to conceal looking up people from your past (i.e. unsavory/drug connections or whatever) there is maybe another pretty much non-addressed issue going on here. Even if it is just a desire to hide what you're going through mentally from your wife, you should closely examine your motives in this secretiveness.
posted by nanojath at 12:40 PM on October 19, 2007

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