What should I do with my life? (the middle-aged version)
July 23, 2008 1:11 PM   Subscribe

My career has hit a dead end. I need to find a new direction. AskMe, please point the way!

Once, I had a promising, upwardly-mobile career. I loved my work, the money was good, and recruiters were calling me regularly. Fast-forward seven years: I've been laid off four times, taken time off to have kids, and now live in a city where good opportunities in my field are few and far between.

What should I do next? My criteria:

1) It needs to pay well, upwards of $50K; $100K is better still, for reasons of marital equality.

2) I prefer that the challenges be primarily intellectual ones (how do I solve this problem?) rather than interpersonal (how do I get this person to do what I want?). I have pretty good people skills, but am not especially adept at office politics or sales.

3) I'd consider going back to school for a masters, but I don't want to wait a full year before getting started. (I have a 15-year-old BA in the humanities with no practical application whatsoever.) A continuing education/certificate-type program would be ideal, as long as it's not regarded as worthless by employers.

4) Working conditions should be generally friendly to someone with family obligations. Long hours (corporate law and finance), heavy travel (consulting), or odd or erratic schedules are probably out. I would prefer *not* to work at home as it's lonely and I tend to procrastinate.

5) Job opportunities should be widely available, not just in a few restricted geographic areas. Fields that are experiencing growth and are likely to be in continued demand over the next few decades are much preferred.

I don't want to say too much about my experience and interests, as that would likely close down the responses. Just assume I'm a quick learner, with widely varied interests and a strong ethical compass who wants to accomplish something valuable and worthwhile, not just kill time and bring home a paycheck. Tell me about all the possible vocations I'm not thinking of.
posted by libraryhead to Work & Money (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What are you willing to do or to put up with that other people wouldn't?
posted by amtho at 1:25 PM on July 23, 2008

Where are you?
posted by sondrialiac at 1:40 PM on July 23, 2008

couple of ideas here possibly from someone in a similar situation
posted by doorsfan at 1:41 PM on July 23, 2008

I'm in the Boston area. I'm willing to put up with ambiguity, stress, deadlines.
posted by libraryhead at 1:44 PM on July 23, 2008

Nursing? It canbe very intellectually demanding, depending on the kind of nursing. Most nurses in the Boston area make $80-100k/year. I'm sure you know about the widespread, severe nursing shortage.

Of course, you would have to get a degree, and you don't say how you are with sciences.
posted by lunasol at 1:53 PM on July 23, 2008

Virtually every field has a technology component, or if it doesn't, could benefit from technology. And technology pays well, is about problem solving, and lets you work independently. Then you also have to look at tech positions at companies that respect quality of life issues, which you'll find are abundant if you start demanding that your search requires that.

I also recommend reading What Color Is Your Parachute? and The Pathfinder. The way to get the most out of those books is to read both of them and see what they have in common. I've extracted maybe 3-4 principles from them that have helped me enormously with career choices.
posted by philosophistry at 1:55 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Speech Language Pathology would cover 1), 4) and 5) and maybe 2 depending how you look at it.
posted by drezdn at 2:07 PM on July 23, 2008

There's always the option of becoming a lawyer. You're in school for two years and then make bank. Many competitive law firms today are very family friendly - they're way ahead of other businesses in terms of offering free day care, for instance.

What did you do before? Maybe your past experiences can be spun as experience in a different field? Also, maybe your resume can be updated to explain gaps? I wouldn't hold it against someone for taking a couple years off to raise their kids... Might just be me though. I was laid off during the .com bomb, and found employers actually liking that I took some time off and travelled. In fact, it was a great conversation piece during my interviews.
posted by xammerboy at 3:14 PM on July 23, 2008

I was in trade book publishing. I specialized into a niche that's hard to find around here and seem to be overqualified or wrongly qualified for most of the jobs available. And of course the pay mostly stinks.

I like the idea of going out and getting a specific degree or qualification that makes me slam-dunk, unquestionably qualified for a high-paying, in-demand job. The nursing idea is intriguing. I had no idea it was that well paid. More ideas like that, please!
posted by libraryhead at 4:04 PM on July 23, 2008

Remove condition number one and you will find that you can easily fulfill the other conditions. If you really are as good as you tell us, then you will have no problem building your salary back up over a year or two.
posted by Elmore at 4:05 PM on July 23, 2008

Uhh...law school's three years and the "making bank" guarantee is just not there. Ask my friends at the state attorney's office who just clipped $55K this year. And I'd be really interested in these firms that offer daycare???

The nursing suggestion sounds right up your alley. You can work as little or as much as you want. One of my law school classmates was an ER nurse and made $90K before law school and was a single mom to boot.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 4:28 PM on July 23, 2008

My wife is currently in a two-year nursing program at a community college to get her R.N. I can't speak of other schools, but during the school year she spends a huge amount of time studying and writing papers (almost every night and weekend). If it's been 15 years since your BA, you'll have a number of prerequisites you'll need to take (biology, physiology, anatomy, etc.) . It's also very competitive to get into nursing programs. My wife had to have straight-A's in her prerequisites to be accepted to her program. But when she does graduate, there are a number of options. I know of nurses who work three 12 hour shifts a week, and then have the rest of the week off.
posted by ShooBoo at 5:04 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Are your criteria ranked, 1 through 5, or is that just the way that you happened to write them out? I think that ranking them might help, and also recognizing that you might not be able to satisfy all of them.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:53 PM on July 23, 2008

That's just the way I happened to write them out. I'd say the only essentials are 1 and 5 (1 with the caveat that I understand I might not make $50K right away, but should be able to get there within a couple years). 2 and 4 are nice-to-haves and 3 is not really a criterion.
posted by libraryhead at 6:04 PM on July 23, 2008

Nursing can easily fail condition 4 depending on where you end up (odd schedules and long hours), but definitely meets condition 5. In a number of places there's a shortage - and while that can yield great bonuses, it can also mean there aren't enough nurse to go around. Hence fail 4.

I'm glad you've abandoned 3 - in lieu of your salary requirements, it seems like a reach. I can however think of one career that you could get entry with a certificate program - technical or medical writing.
posted by canine epigram at 8:33 PM on July 23, 2008

Most nurses do not make anywhere near 80-100K per year - according to the BLS, median earnings in 2006 were $57,280, with middle 50 percent earning between $47,710 and $69,850. Also, be aware that nursing is a very demanding career, and it takes a certain personality type to do well. Having said that, there will always be high demand for nurses and it can be very rewarding. In addition, there are a number of subfields withing nursing that you can pursue as you discover new interests - you can become a psychiatric nurse, surgical nurse, etc. With additional training, you can become a nurse practitioner, who performs essentially the same duties as an MD, and NPs are well-compensated. Or, even better, you can become a nurse anesthetist. They make more money than many MDs, and the work is certainly exciting.

2 more suggestions:

-Physician's assistant. Training is a bit more than 2 years, and they basically perform the same duties of an MD. Pay is better than nursing, and jobs can be had with stable, 40-hour work weeks (the PAs I know work longer hours, but only because they are paid more).This is a great field if you are interested in medicine.

-Accounting? This meets all your criteria except maybe number 4. I'd guess that there are accounting jobs with regular work weeks. The guys I know who went into accounting work very hard for 2-3 months around tax time and then are pretty relaxed the rest of the year, but I imagine that there are corporate gigs that are more stable.
posted by btkuhn at 10:43 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you think nursing is interesting, but maybe are less interested in the hands-on physicality of it, perhaps public health?

What is public health?

It's intellectually challenging, very interesting and diverse field, family friendly, pretty good job market (depending on the subsection), pay is okay--you would probably not hit $100 grand but definitely somewhere between there and $50. I have to run but can post more about it later if you want!
posted by min at 4:14 AM on July 24, 2008

I'd look into accounting. There are a huge variety of jobs within the umbrella of "accounting" with more or less training, and more or less income. The lower level jobs tend to be boring as hell.

You could always get your masters and teach, and perhaps take a second job (i.e. tutoring) during the summer to boost your income. It's not easy, though, and your licensing won't necessarily transfer easily from state to state.

I would avoid law school. There are too many lawyers and you won't make bank unless you go to certain schools and get certain grades.

You might have to suck it up and take one job that isn't your favorite while training for another, better-paying job at night.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:13 AM on July 24, 2008

Consider engineering. You can get jobs with consulting firms, and with city or county government (Department of Public Works and others).

Would this still be true of you? --
I prefer that the challenges be primarily intellectual ones (how do I solve this problem -- using math?)
posted by slidell at 10:22 PM on July 24, 2008

I'll offer another recommendation to consider accounting, especially given that you mentioned the appeal of getting a credential that qualifies you for a high-paying, in-demand professional career.

My motivations and background are quite similar to yours, right down to the wide-ranging interests, humanities degree, and the strong preference for intellectual challenge in my work. At the age of 40, I enrolled in a full-time certificate program in accounting at a local university. The coursework provides the necessary background to sit for the CPA exam (although I haven't yet decided if I will go the CPA route when I graduate next year; right now it's not looking too likely). I'm enjoying the challenge of my accounting studies a great deal - far more than I expected I would, in fact.

The certificate seems to be well-known and respected among local employers (I'm in Portland, OR), and some of the national accounting firms recruit students directly from the certificate program as well. More often than not, the students in my program have jobs waiting for them at graduation. I'd wager you could find a similar program in Boston.

When I was researching this career choice, I concluded that the future growth outlook for the accounting field as a whole is encouraging, especially if you specialize in a "hot" area like derivatives, IFRS conversion or forensic accounting.

If long hours and travel don't appeal to you, I'd consider staying away from public/tax accounting and the Big Four, and focusing instead on something like managerial/cost accounting for a regional or local business.

You probably won't make $50K in accounting right off the bat, but as I understand it, that's not out of reach with a few years' experience under your belt. (Keep in mind, though, that I'm still a student and don't yet have any paid work experience in the field, so I can't draw any firm conclusions yet).

Good luck!
posted by velvet winter at 3:58 PM on July 25, 2008

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