Rocks and hard places
April 25, 2008 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Passed on a challenging job offer for the sake of an easy life, how do I stop kicking myself? Lengthy explanation follows...

I've recently been involved in a mad couple of months trying to line up a new job for when my current contract ends in June and was finally faced with a choice between Job A and Job B, both working on digital/web projects:

Job A is permanent and well within my skill-set, on an interesting project at a venerable but progressive organisation with lovely, knowledgeable people who work well as a team, great location within a 20 minute commute and fantastic pay/benefits. Within the remit of the post I'll have a lot of freedom and be able to contribute straight away. The downside is the context - policy and law based stuff, largely text, which makes my heart sink a little. But it will give me more time and headspace for outside interests (including resuming a non-related study course) along with the opportunity to build up a big chunk of savings very quickly.

Job B is a 12 month contract (taking over from someone else's maternity leave), very big responsibility, above my level of experience and slightly outside my skillset, managing people and workflows rather than my own work, and with an hour's commute. BUT! The content is amazing, lots of mixed media, on a big public project for a respected national institute. Basically, lots of 'Wow' and 'doing good in the world' factor. But it will take-up a lot of energy and personal resource and is offering £11k less than Job A with fewer benefits (no pension etc).

So! Had this been a year ago I would have jumped at job B. In fact that's exactly what I did a year ago, moving from the country to the city for a similar gig at a similar organisation. And I've spent the last year struggling to get my head round the job/organisation, hating the commute and worrying about finances. Also, despite the amazing content, the job itself turned out to be a bit of a nightmare due to a deeply political, non-progressive culture within the organisation and it's been a constant struggle to get much of anything done. I have had almost NO life outside work during this time, but I have gained a lot of experience very quickly and it looks great on my CV.

So, getting both new offers on the same day, I accepted Job A on the basis that I don't want to be in the position I'm in now in 12 months time - little savings, and the added pressure of needing to find another job just as the one I'm in hits the period of greatest intensity. I also think oversold myself in the interview for job B - I'm not actually sure that i am the person they need and I'd have to spend a lot of time getting up to speed. This last point has been the same for almost every job I've had so far and although I've done good work, learnt and grown loads as a result, I know I'm a bit burnt out (I'm 32, single, no dependents, with about 8 jobs in 10 years behind me).

But now I feel terrible for passing up on job B, like I sold out totally for an easy life, that I missed the chance of another potentially amazing gig just because of a bad experience in my current job, and that I've chickened out of being stretched and challenged and am now a boring person with a dull job and no integrity. I'm also slightly spooked by the 'permanence' of job A, after being used to contracts.

How do i get past this feeling? Can anyone lend any perspective? Tell me what made you get off the job-hopping wheel? What made it worth the compromise?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Instead of looking at your choice as "OMG I sold out and now I'm a mindless corporate drone" why don't you look at it as a choice to experience something new. You had the experience of a B-type job (no permanence, no benefits, high stress, cooler projects) now it's time to experience what an A-type job might be like.

It might open other areas in life outside of work. It might lead you down a new path. And if it turns out in 12-18 months that you don't like the more laid-back environment you can move on. Just because the job is permanent full-time doesn't mean you are stuck there for the next twenty years.

Breathe, relax... try something different. The B-type jobs will still be there if you want to go back to them.
posted by pixlboi at 10:44 AM on April 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Choosing your quality of life over a stressful job is not a bad thing.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:49 AM on April 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

From your description, it sounds like you made a perfectly reasonable decision. Job A offered you:

- more money
- a commute 1/3rd of the other job
- benefits
- the opportunity to save money
- the time and ability to take courses and work on side projects

You said yourself that you took Job A because you thought it would offer you the opportunity to be able to choose your destiny the next time you went job-hunting. Furthermore, you already know that you would have at the very least hated the commute, struggling with money, and perhaps felt in over your head at Job B.

It doesn't sound to me like you sold out, or chickened out. If all you say is true, in 12 months time, you will have the savings and personal resources you need to find a job which fits you better without pressure, and you'll still have the previous job looking good on your CV.

Don't know if that's much perspective, but from here, it doesn't seem to be a terrible situation.
posted by rhys at 10:50 AM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

As someone who used to work with what could probably be called more fun content and now works with what many would see as very dry policy and procedure, I say you may learn to love it. I have great coworkers, a fab commute, and better pay and I really like the work I do. So while I'm sometimes wistful at being "the librarian sellout who works for The Man", I really enjoy my work environment and the rest of my life, too.

If you want more details, feel free to memail me.
Good luck - it sounds like you made a great choice!
posted by pointystick at 11:07 AM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Selling out, really? Do you live in a rap album? You might want to think twice about why when you haven't yet started the job that you think of yourself as "now a boring person with a dull job and no integrity." It sounds to me like you use your job to define you to yourself, which is unhealthy. Get over it.
posted by rhizome at 11:12 AM on April 25, 2008 [5 favorites]

This is how life goes. You learn more about what you want to be and do by your experiences. Take this experience and use it to decide what you're going to do (differently?) in the future. (And that experience will teach you what you want to do differently the next time, etc., etc., etc.)
posted by winston at 11:15 AM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like you made the right choice given everything you've outlined. There's always going to be a little "what could have been" about Job B, or any unexplored option but you really have no idea if job B would have been any good or interesting or fun. Those are all speculations on your part.

I took a boring job about 2 years ago, after about 7 years of stressful, highly demanding work and though I do miss some of the "sizzle" of my old work, I really really really really love that my work doesn't consume me anymore. It's so nice to leave it all behind me when I walk out the door, and I've almost always been able to leave on time and have almost no history of overtime. This has meant so much to my personal life and has given me a chance to do so many other things that I would never have had the time or energy for before. It's a trade-off, but it's way worth it.

Someday, I may re-evaluate and try something else out but for now, this is fine.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:27 AM on April 25, 2008

You work so you can have a life, not the other way around. Seven years ago I made a deliberate choice to get me a good "gubment" job after a long career in lots of fun, interesting industries that took me all over the country, challenged me intellectually and made me work my butt off. I ended up with stress, little savings and not much of a life outside work to show for it. So I got off the merry-go-round and have settle into a somewhat boring, not particularly challenging job that pays really well, has excellent benefits--including a pension--and is very much 8-5, 5 days a week.

The challenge has been building up my life outside of work--having time, money and energy all at the same time was a novelty. But I now have a life I mostly really enjoy. Friends, family, time for hobbies and interests, enough money and vacation time to travel where I want, when I want.

So, this is a great opportunity to work on the areas of life that are most important to you. Congratulations! You are very fortunate.
posted by agatha_magatha at 11:28 AM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think you're just reacting to changing your personal working paradigm and selling your anxiety to yourself with all sorts of value-judgment thinking.

It seems like you have the pros and cons of your decision pretty well worked out but you're just ignoring the pros now. Study and savings, for example, will impact your opportunities for the future. You're not old, certainly not to the point that you need to be hyperventilating over the prospect of staying in one place for 3 or 5 years, and not taking one year-long contract is not going to fundamentally skew the course of the world or your life. You're experimenting with a change and that's a good thing. Relax and try to appreciate the positive aspects that led the decision in the first place.
posted by nanojath at 11:31 AM on April 25, 2008

You said Job A has "lovely, knowledgeable people who work well as a team, great location within a 20 minute commute and fantastic pay/benefits." These are not things to be taken lightly, especially the good coworkers who work well together part of it. A job where you enjoy working with the people is a rare gem, and you'll probably have the opportunity to grow and take on more responsibilities in your time there. If you don't, you can always make a decision in a year or two to look for something else. But for right now, why don't you look on this as a fantastic opportunity: a job that pays you well, leaves your life with much less stress, and hence leaves you with more energy to change the world in exciting ways in your outside-of-work life? To me, it doesn't get much better than that.
posted by MsMolly at 11:38 AM on April 25, 2008

I recently took a 9-5 job that's somewhat boring after being in a very self-directed, hard-working, and intellectually challenging job for years. It was an adjustment but I've found that the extra free time has enabled me to pursue some very satisfying art projects outside of work. Initially I felt like I had to apologize for taking a boring 9-5 job; now I see it as a huge perk that's allowed me to do fascinating things outside of work I would never have had time for otherwise.

I would take advantage of the 'easy life' Job A provides you to focus on things outside of work that you like. You don't need to be defined by your job.
posted by pombe at 11:40 AM on April 25, 2008

Job A is only soulless if you don't take advantage of those shorter hours/commute and financial security. So start up those things right away: sign up for a course, join an after-work sports league, arrange to meet friends, book a weekend vacation, calculate your new debt payoff/savings balances, start an integrity-rich side-project. In short, begin living the best version of the life that Job A offers you. If both of those things (the job and what you do when you're not at the job) are part of your identity from the very beginning, you won't be that boring person you're worried about becoming.
posted by xo at 11:41 AM on April 25, 2008

I'm in a job where, for the most part, the work is interesting, sometimes pressured and very technical, but is well within my capabilities. I've worked there for 8 years, the longest I've ever held a job.

I can wear jeans to work, fix my own hours (I work 7.15am to 3.45pm, other people work 10.30pm to 6.30pm, most people work 8.30am to 4.30pm, we can fix the hours that suit our lives). I get six weeks paid vacation, private health and dental insurance (which in the UK is becoming more and more important with the decline of the NHS in London), subsidised cafeteria, great working conditions and - this is the kicker - I work from home two days a week, Wednesdays and Fridays. For me, Thursday is the new Friday.

Although I bitch and moan about work sometimes, I remember my days as a lawyer in private practice working 14-hour days five days a week, going into the office at least one day every weekend, and being constantly stressed about work. I would go to bed with my head racing about work, work, work. I'd wake up thinking about work. It was horrible.

I could probably double my salary if I went into some big law firm or bank in the City, but I'd have no life. I couldn't bear having to get suited up every day, playing the bullshit corporate game. It's always nice to earn more money, but I'm not willing to trade off the freedom and lack of stress I have now just for money.

This would not suit everyone. My car is eleven years old, my TV even older. I don't give a shit about things like that. I can afford my holidays (which I have time to actually take), and to pay my bills. Being able to sit at my computer as I've done today and watch the birds in my garden is priceless.
posted by essexjan at 11:51 AM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing "it sounds as if you made the right decision." In particular, great coworkers and a short commute go a long way towards making a good workplace and a happy you. "Glamor" jobs are usually not all they are cracked up to be; been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Career coach Marty Nemko once noted that pleasant coworkers, a short commute, good pay and benefits, and bosses who treat you well make up the vast majority of what makes a job satisfying - and I'm inclined to agree.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:59 AM on April 25, 2008

The grass is always greener on the other side. Chances are, had you taken Job B, 12 months from now you'd be even more burnt out, out of work, and have no savings. And with that hanging over your head, you'd begin to even resent the 'amazing content', because of what you had given up for it.

I think you made the right choice.
posted by cgg at 12:16 PM on April 25, 2008

The shorter commute and better pay will make all the difference in the world. A long commute, and shitty wages will wear you down, no matter how great the position is.

You'll also appreciate a slower pace, for now. Take this time as an opportunity to get your ducks in a row and get the job you really want (there will be more opportunities) on your own terms.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:25 PM on April 25, 2008

If the new job will take less time, and you really really want to spend more time at it for some reason, there's nothing keeping you from coming up with all sorts of new projects that will improve things for the company you work for and dedicating your time to those. In fact that often leads to promotions.
posted by kindall at 12:29 PM on April 25, 2008

It's OK to work for money, and it's OK to choose stability. I left my fulfilling, low-paying "dream job" for financial reasons. It one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make, but it taught me a Big Life Lesson. You are not your job.

If you choose to make money instead of pursuing a "dream job," that doesn't make you a sellout or a bore or a drone. In fact, it can provide you with the resources (both time and money) to pursue other dreams and interests. That's what makes the difference in a whether you're leading a fulfilling life or not, not your job.

(This is contrary to the messages we often receive from society, stating that ambition and Meaningful Careers are Of The Good, but honestly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with living a well-rounded life in which your job is not your top priority. Really. It's OK.)
posted by somanyamys at 12:45 PM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

You don't know what the future holds. If Company A takes on a new client or starts up a new project, Job A may suddenly morph into something more resembling Job B, but with all the good things about Job A. You just never know, so why fret?

Also, you could save some of that salary as a backup plan, knowing that should Job A become insufferably horrible, you can quit any time and still eat.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:49 PM on April 25, 2008

follow-up from OP
Thanks all for your responses, it's been really good to get feedback about this. I think my anxiety stems from the fact that I'd made a decision a while ago to only do work that felt meaningful to me, working in an environment which was about being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. But with these jobs I panicked over the looming potential of unemployment and stress and took job A to alleviate that worry - it was a knee jerk reaction in some ways, when job B rang to offer me the post I'd already accepted post A and was in too much of a dither to ask for time to consider both. Unfortunately, on reflection, I realised that job B is much more in line with my personal values and passions but job A, whilst still being non-commercial, is not.

This is why I feel like I've sold out. I know that Job A is better for me on the practical level, but it doesn't make me feel like I'm helping - which is really important to my sense of self in this mad world. But some responses have make me think hard about why this is and maybe Rhizome had it, I am defining myself by my job. That's not good, but then people are always saying you should follow your passions...I dunno.

Maybe I'll just have to chalk this one up to (yet more!) experience, and take MsMolley's advice to start looking at ways to change the world outside of what I do for the 9-5 for a couple of years. Thanks again all for answering anyhow, you people rock.
posted by jessamyn at 1:15 PM on April 25, 2008

The thing is, you just have an idea about what Job B is. You did it once, and it wasn't what you thought. Maybe this is the same. Maybe you wouldn't be helping. And (having watched people in the nonprofit world for years), if you try to help the world in a way that isn't sustainable for yourself, you'll have to leave at some point (taking all your experience, etc, with you, often at great cost to that organization).

The way I see it, you chose yourself. To give yourself stability, free time, permanence, good co-workers, and mental space to pursue your own projects. To me, that is exactly the foundation you'll need to figure out how you can help the world in an ongoing way.
posted by salvia at 1:22 PM on April 25, 2008

I'd also like to add that you have done your career a favour by taking the job with more money. Future salary offers will often be based on "can we offer her more than she makes now?" and so it's nice to have a salary history of pretty little hikes.

You done good. It's going to be OK, one way or another.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:53 PM on April 25, 2008

i think you made the right choice.

repeat this mantra: "i'd rather work to live than live to work."
posted by ncc1701d at 9:30 PM on April 25, 2008

there's a natural human tendency to believe the grass is greener no matter what choice you made. i currently have job B and i'm pulling my hair out, living to work, no outside life and craving job A. i would gladly take less money at this point for a better, balanced life. in either case there are the pros and cons, just have to decide what is most important to you. from everything you have said it sounds like you have made the best choice.
posted by 5bux at 1:22 AM on April 26, 2008

Job A pays more, has better work colleagues and gives you more free time. To me, job A is the clear winner.

You want to stretch yourself? Take on a world-changing project in your spare time, skill up that way and make a difference without sacrificing your own health and mental well-being in the process. As ncc1701d says, work to live is a lot better way to approach the world.

You ask me, Job B is looking for someone idealistic and young to take advantage of, pay less to, then kick out when the contract is up. From personal experience, big public projects for national institutions suffer from the worst internal politics, and it's a nightmare to get anything done - as you've discovered.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:26 AM on April 26, 2008

Nothing is more important than your everyday enjoyment of life. Lots of people have "exciting" jobs and are totally miserable. So you can count yourself among the lucky few who get to make good money doing something they enjoy.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:59 AM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

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