I got laid-off recently but don't want to continue doing web work. I want to do what I should've when I was younger, which is really figure out what I like. But is it too late? I'm 34.
June 8, 2008 6:34 AM   Subscribe

I got laid-off recently but don't want to continue doing web work. I want to do what I should've when I was younger, which is really figure out what I like. But is it too late? I'm 34.

The problem is I have no clue what I want to do. I'm exactly in that stage that most 18-20 something's are, where they just kinda go to school, kinda breezin along.. with no clue.

Only problem is, I'm 34. I have enough funds to last me a good year at the most. But eventually the money will run out. I'll need a job.

So far, my last resort is go back to what I was doing. Great pay.. it was like html/css/javasript kinda stuff. But honestly, I kinda hate it. Well actually, I don't hate it, I just don't really like that lifestyle. I kinda don't mesh with that community. I'm more.. uhh.. I don't know, into something artsy or creative. But not too artsy. I don't have cool frame glasses and stuff. I'm not trendy or nuttin, but that computer/IT/tech/DEV world just isn't for me. I hate authority, can't stand project managers, can't stand fratty USC grads telling me what to do.

Even considered just taking some non-skilled job like cable installation. But I think that's a little bit of 'the grass is greener..' thinking.

Right now, I'm about 5% worried. Because in 34 years I haven't figured out what I want to do. All the things I like, it's more like a hobby. Not professional caliber. And beside, I kinda don't want to turn hobby into work.

How worried should I be? And what or where can I find something new that I haven't heard of yet?

I just want a job that is semi-technical, uses creativity, pays good (>70k ish) AND MOST IMPORTANT: Don't have to be around those BLEH kind of people. That's the most important thing.. the people. No collared shirts, no coffee mugs, I don't want Office Space. I need cool, diverse, multiethnic, down to earth, chill out people.

Any suggestions?
posted by 0217174 to Work & Money (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This is pretty ancient as far as the internet goes, but I just found it a few weeks ago and have decided to share it with pretty much everyone I know. A lot of it centers around his experience getting into drawing cartoons but you may find the underlying message applicable to your situation (I did, and I'm in a similar situation).

Forgive me if I'm misinterpreting you, but it sounds like you want a different work environment more than anything. Have you considered different types of companies? Different industries? I'm much happier in my current IT/dev related job than any one before and it's just because I'm at a much better company. Again I'm making assumptions but it sounds like you're used to working for mid-sized to large companies. Maybe try a cool, diverse, multiethnic, down to earth web startup? I know a few people who were suffocating in large corporations but really started kicking ass career-wise when they went to work for (or found) a startup.

It may help to give further advice if we knew your hobbies. I understand not wanting to turn that into a job, but it will shed some light on your interests.
posted by saraswati at 7:15 AM on June 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

You sound exactly like me. I mean, EXACTLY.

I'll be turning 35 in about two weeks and I'd love nothing more than to get out of IT and "find what I love". I consider myself a very creative "ideas" type of person.. but am in to much debt to invest any time or money in exploring other options. (seriously, at the moment, I can barely afford to eat) I especially identify with your last paragraph.

Your geographic location may determine a lot about what options are available to you.

Here is my plan:
1.) get out of debt. No matter what. If this means working 4 jobs up-to and including ANYTHING. (manual labor, mcdonalds, shoveling dead rats.. whatever). This step by itself is probably going to take me years. My goal is to pay off all my debt, and save up enough money so I can either take a few years off, or pay my way back through college.

2.) Start investing a certain amount of time and money each week into creative things, OR becoming involved in the local community with creative people. Volunteer at an art-house. Create some street art, or do something else constructive and artistic. (Eventually if you explore far enough, you'll start to meet the "cool/chill" type of people you are looking for.) The secret here is being persistent and not giving up. The times you start to feel stuck in a rut are the times you should try something crazy. Like dance lessons or how to build a flame-throwing robot.

3.) Find or create your dream job. It may be that you have to be stubborn and keep looking long enough to find a employer who matches your requirements. It may mean you should give employers the finger and become self-employed. Start reading a lot of freelance and entrepreneurial journals/blogs to put yourself in the right mindset.
posted by jmnugent at 7:42 AM on June 8, 2008

"It's never too late to be who you might have been." - George Eliot

List some of you favorite hobbies - you don't have to do the exact hobby for work - many get by happily doing a job within the industry of a favorite hobby.
posted by any major dude at 7:43 AM on June 8, 2008

Hey thanks for that link. I like his sex and cash bit.

You're sorta right. Different environment might work. I was at a big company, but I applied at similar companies, even ones I thought would be cool to work at.. MTV, edmunds, even myspace. But there's still a certain something similar to all of them. That 'cleanliness' of the offices, the people who just seem a little too perfectly perfect for me, the gym memberships, etc etc.

And the startups, they seem like they WANT to be that. I just don't. It has no appeal to me at all.

Well my hobbies are painting, photography, skating, drinking (if that's considered a hobby), snowboarding, etc.

I thought about working for a skate mag, but like I was saying my skills aren't up to that level. Like I can make some cool photoshop that a friend will say cool, you should do that. But in interviews I come across as kinda amateur.

I just want a job that's one of those rare catches. Underwater welder.. there u go!! But seriously, I know it's hard, I'm one in a million.. but my last job I thought was awesome, I was those guys at the airport loadin bags and pushing back planes and stuff. But the $8/hr salary, compared to 80k a year.. yeah.
posted by 0217174 at 7:53 AM on June 8, 2008

Hey JM that's cool yeah I'm taking some art classes, just trying to network meet some people. It's just so demoralizing seeing them all in the prime of their lives.

Sorry to hear about your situtaion, hope you get them funds and everything works out!!
posted by 0217174 at 7:58 AM on June 8, 2008

Well - I can certainly empathize with your situation. I'm 32 and currently working in a similar technical world as yours and dislike it for much of the same reasons. While I'm still working in the field, I'm actively looking at going back to school in an effort to make a complete career switch.

I made this decision because up until now I'd done technical work in a variety of different environments and discovered I'd had little inspiration for it regardless of where I was working (small international school, large clunky corporation, medium sized company with all college aged employees.) So, while in your case a change in environment might do you some good if you like the actual work, it didn't in my case. Wherever I went, there I was, and I was bringing the same dislike of technical work to all my new jobs - just took me awhile to figure that out.

I think you're doing yourself a disservice by saying that it's too late to figure out what you want to do. In fact, I'd argue it's essential. I went through a similar mindset (thinking I should have figured it out by now and in any case I'm stuck, etc... At 32 it's time to start worrying about more "adult" things like buying a house, saving more money, blah blah blah...) but a friend of mine gave me some very simple, clear-headed advice that made a lot of sense. Namely, that it's important to love what you do, given that we spend the vast majority of our lives working. To find out what it is you love, figure out what motivates you. Not so much what you love to physically do (I love playing video games and watching movies, but I'd be hard pressed to make a living doing either) but rather, what are the underlying facets of your personality that, when engaged, REALLY make you feel good and purposeful and make you want more of the same. In my case, I discovered (quite by accident) that I really like helping people - specifically helping those who feel bad feel better. So, I decided to pursue nursing school.

It took me a while to get to this point. I'd looked into other careers in the technical field, thought about going back into radio (my first "what I want to be when I grow up" field), and, hell, I even posted an AskMe question about becoming an electrician. In any case, it was a matter of throwing things against the wall and seeing what stuck. Nursing came to me on a whim and seemed absurd at first, but I did TONS of research. I took friends of mine in the field out for coffee and picked their brains. I have been asking local schools all about their programs. I've spoken with relatives who are both doctors and nurses and found out what I should expect. All of this has given me the confidence to go ahead and do this. I'm not without doubts, either. There's the issues of debt and age that weigh heavily. But, nurses make good money and there are loans, grants and scholarships to (hopefully) be had. As for age, the same friend I mentioned earlier gave me more sage advice. When I growled, "You know how old I'll be by the time I finish school?" she responded with "Exactly the same age you'd be if you didn't go." In otherwords, positive investment in yourself is not wasteful, whereas cruising along convincing yourself you can be happy in a situation where you're currently not probably is.

This post is getting waaayyy too self-centered, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to come up with specific job titles for you (I can't think of any that meet your requirements and that won't involve a) training in a different area and b) an entry level position that would pay significantly less than $70k a year - although you may get there eventually with lots of hard work and even more luck.) But, since you're currently out of work and have the time to actually do so, it might be worthwhile to really do some soul searching and figure out where your passions lie. There's nothing wrong with not knowing what you want to do at age 34. I'd argue it would be wrong to realize that and then not explore further. Good Luck!
posted by Rewind at 8:33 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm in the same boat, except without the finances to last a year. Same issue though, I'm tired of corporate life, but would like to retain the same sort of pay level, or at least enough to pay the bills that are based on my current pay level.

As I'm sure you know, it takes time in a career to go up from the bottom of the ladder. Even going back to school, you start back at the bottom. And I don't know of any legitimate careers where the bottom salary starts at 70K. If somebody does, please let us know.

I've seen too many lay-offs at the companies I've worked for, and seen too many high-tech companies go under. The best I've been able to come up with is don't put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify, take two or three of your interests, and try to turn them into part-time work.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:53 AM on June 8, 2008

I'm 40 and have spent years struggling with the same basic issue, which is not figuring out what I want to do. A big problem with me is that everything sounds interesting, and I want to try it all. I was into programming and loved it until I spent time around programmers (I mean, I like it and all, but I don't want it to consume me). I've been working as a medical transcriptionist for many years, making way more money doing it part time than should be allowed by law, and using my spare time to chase career obsessions. Not having a degree, I started taking classes just to follow my interests, not in a specific curriculum, and I enjoyed that. Then I learned I have ADHD and started taking medications for it, and with the new ability to concentrate, I started feeling an imperative to live up to some kind of standard, to get a degree, to become something. But I just got more obsessive about trying to pick the right thing, worrying about what skills would sustain me in the coming apocalypse/depression, worrying about getting a degree and then not liking the field, worrying that I'm not grown up because I don't feel the calling to do something in particular. Basically, it got to the point where I realized I was putting off enjoying my life until I could reach something, as if it were necessary for me to suffer in limbo until I got to some point of achievement where I could relax and everything would fall into place.

My take on it at this point is that those years of obsessing over it would have been better spent just not thinking about it at all and continuing to just to do/study/try things as my interests were aroused. But also, I stopped putting pressure on career to define me and started putting my focus on other aspects of my life--in particular, time spent with friends, and music. I have friends who live on very little, who do tough and often boring jobs, but they seem to be happier and to be the best, most genuine people I know because they grasp and prioritize those aspects of life unrelated to wage-earning work (and that's not saying at all that they are lazy; they put a lot of effort into what they love). Some are lucky enough that they can make a living off the conglomeration of seemingly disparate interests and hobbies they have tackled over the years.

I don't know, I guess I've over-Rorschached the question into being about my particular situation, but my advice generally is (1) to try to avoid the path of feeling in a hurry to figure out what you want and let it happen to you by following your genuine interests and letting them lead you; (2) don't necessarily think that career choice/success is what it is all about; and (3) feel the full power of being adult in that you can decide for yourself what your life should or should not be, that no external standard applies that you do not willingly adopt.

Or in short, don't worry about it; the worry only feeds more worry, and down the line you'll find that it wasn't necessary or worth the portion of this short life you have given to it.
posted by troybob at 10:10 AM on June 8, 2008

Read "What Should I Do With My Life?" by Po Bronson. It's all about people just like you-- and how they figured out how to get out what they thought they had to do, and started doing what they wanted to do. And it's not always IT to herding yaks in Utah. The people, the choices, and the results are all surprising. And it's not self-help, at least in the ordinary way, either. It's much more like having a conversation with a bunch of people who figured out how, in Shakespseare's words, to thine own self be true.

Good luck!
posted by raconteur at 10:11 AM on June 8, 2008

As a side note, I think that many of us are stuck in a mode of career thinking that is outdated but is very strong. There was a time it was possible (or at least seemed so) to define your career and work your way up, and then get set up in a particular place where you work out your days until retirement. I think many of us like how secure that sounds and so we hope it is still possible. These days it's more like we have to realize that ten years from now we could be doing something completely different from what we are doing now. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing; much of life is negotiating the trade-off between security and adventure.
posted by troybob at 10:22 AM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Thanks, some good insights here!! I'd mark all answers as best but all good advice.

So what I'm getting at is I should just let it flowww.. Yeah I agree. That was the mindset I had before I started working. And that's when I was happy!! Working killed me, stole my personality. 70-80 grand a year is great, but what's the point when I became a person I hate.

I was just worried that I'd get too lazy. It's been 3 weeks since the lay-off, and I am LOVING this. But my sleeping pattern has already switched right back to my natural state.. sleep at 6am wake up 2pm.

That's another thing. My body can't maintain regular working hours. I kind of want to, though, because in a way I want to be somewhat normal. so I'd like something where I can choose.. work nights, and mix it up.

I'd like to run my own business.. but I'd only do that if I was passionate about the product, which I have none. I like doing something that makes others happy somehow, bettering their lives.. I'm brainstorming to see what I've done in the past--but can't think of anything. Little things, sure. Man that's what's so hard. It could be the silliest thing.. Fixing something, creating something.. I don't know. I'm diggin!

But this helps. you guys giving me hope.. as least I don't feel so worried now. Thanks!
posted by 0217174 at 10:46 AM on June 8, 2008

I think you want to have your cake and eat it too. I understand, who doesn't? Ultimately, could you could do the same sort of work you're doing now on a freelance/contract basis? Although you would have to talk to corporate-types you could work from home and not surround yourself with the lifestyle. That's the easiest way I see for you to sustain the income level you want and not be dragged down in a corporate atmosphere.

It sounds a little bit like you'd like graphic design but there are so many designers out there who have specifically studied design, typography etc. and still don't have what you want. What you need to understand about creative industries is that a lot of the cool stuff you see (band posters, skater logos) are done for free, for the opportunity to do cool stuff.

Because so many people (people with experience and talent) want to do that kind of work they can pay very little or nothing for it. If you started your own business that made cool stuff you could make money but then you're an owner and dealing with the corporate side of things anyway. Most graphic designers who are making a lot of money (relative to the cost of living in their location) are owners of businesses or working on their own or higher up on the food chain (art directors etc.). To get to that level you'll need a degree of some kind +5-10 years of experience or a heck of a lot of experience and natural talent. The really good design agencies can afford to pay less (and not offer any benefits) than someone working in-house graphic design because more people want to do that. Supply and demand.

Oh, and by the time you're making over 50K you will probably be in a position where more than 60% of your time is dealing with clients, not doing "creative stuff" which puts you right back at dealing with those "BLEH" people you're trying to get away from. Those BLEH people are the ones with the money. I just wanted to clear up the illusion of graphic design being a golden ticket.

Good luck with your journey. I just wanted to make sure you don't go down a path on false assumptions.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:17 AM on June 8, 2008

I think it's some sort of cultural trap that you have to know what you want to do with your life by the time your 20s come to a close.

Look around you. How many people do you know out there who are doing something they love, who figured it when they were in their mid-20s? Chances are the majority of the people you know fell into their job, not really by choice, but because they needed a job to pay the bills and this one was "good enough."

Think about all the people you've worked with in IT. All those dozens, or hundreds of faceless people you've met over the years. Do you think all of them figured it out, that one morning they woke up and said, "I want to be a team leader in product dev!" No. That's not how it works.

Most people see work as a means to an end. They want a house, they want kids. Realizing that those things don't pay for themselves they get a job, any job really that meets their basic desires, and they stick with it. Maybe they get promoted, maybe they get raises, maybe the get fired or fed-up and leave. But their primary motivation is not, "this is my dream." It's "this will pay the bills."

I worked in IT. When I was in my early 20s I really thought that was what I wanted. I loved computers and technology. Then I realized that it wasn't for me. I didn't like the scope of the work.

I've never seen work as just a means to an end. I'm more process oriented and it sounds like you are too. Because of this we're an ill-fit for any sector that requires people to come in, 9 to 5, and put their time in and then go home. I don't want to be alienated from my work. I don't want to be two different people. I want to be me, doing what I like.

Every cool person I know, everyone who can genuinely say that they have accomplished something works in a field where there isn't this type of alienation between work life and home life. Most of these people are self-employed or work within a very loose organization. Many of them work in non-profits.

I think you're on your way, but you've got some soul-searching to do.

I just want a job that is semi-technical, uses creativity, pays good (>70k ish) AND MOST IMPORTANT: Don't have to be around those BLEH kind of people. That's the most important thing.. the people. No collared shirts, no coffee mugs, I don't want Office Space. I need cool, diverse, multiethnic, down to earth, chill out people.

So in other words, you want to make MORE than $70,000 a year while working around multiethnic, down to earth, chill out people.

Well, I suppose you could sell pot.

Otherwise you're going to have a really hard time finding that. You've already painted yourself into a corner with your salary requirements. More than $70,000? Really?

I think you need to take a long hard look at your life. Maybe examine all the things that you own. Ask yourself why exactly is it that you think you need more than $70,000 a year to be happy. I'm not saying you could do with less, maybe you really do need that much money, but you need to be able to enumerate why.

I know lots of people who make more than six-figure incomes. And they are miserable year-round. They hate their jobs (they all work in sales) but are convinced, absolutely convinced, that they need to make $120,000 or $173,000 or else they are doing it wrong.

Don't let your own lifestyle put you in golden handcuffs.
posted by wfrgms at 11:20 AM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Thanks Bungle, yup I know all about starving graphic designers. I was going to school for it for a while but decided I wasn't that dedicated.

I think I can do making less money. It'd be nice to make same as my last job, but I know beggers can't be choosers.

I'm looking into some volunteering opportunities right now, just to see how good I am with people. I'm not too confident with my people skills so.. that's something I gotta work on too.
posted by 0217174 at 11:33 AM on June 8, 2008

I'm brainstorming to see what I've done in the past--but can't think of anything. Little things, sure. Man that's what's so hard. It could be the silliest thing.. Fixing something, creating something.. I don't know. I'm diggin!

Well, here's the problem. You're an adult now, which means you have bills to pay. Remember Maslow: what are your priorities, in order of importance? First, roof over your head, lights, heat, food... etc. Whatever you end up doing, those needs have to be satisfied for your continued existence here on planet earth.

Some people get paid to do what they love. You can't be one of those people yet, because you don't know what you love to do. Until you find that out, do whatever keeps you fed.

While you're doing whatever it is that pays the bills, fill your free time with whatever tickles your fancy. How about kite photography? Learn to play an instrument. This guy took his passion for case-modding and made a career out of it. That's probably a pretty cool life.

Whatever you do on your own time, pour yourself into it. If you find that you're actually good enough that someone might want to pay you to do it, you're all set. If, on the other hand, you never end up "making it big" with whatever it was that tickled your free-time-fancy... well, at least you had a roof over your head and food in your stomach.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:51 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

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