Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Let’s Talk Careers!

Last night, a reader started the thread, “Career Confession: I have no idea where I’m headed,” in the forums. She’s in her early 30s and has several advanced degrees in writing, but after graduating from a Master’s program in 2007 and “watching the bottom fall out of the economy” as well as moving out to a new state without a job, she took multiple customer service jobs just to pay the rent. As a result, her resume is littered with contract jobs, mostly call-center and phone work. Now she’s working at a company she really likes where she was promoted quickly to a managerial-type position. But she doesn’t know where she wants to go from there.

She wrote:

The main problem is that I’ve never in my life taken a business class and all I want to do is to be talking about literature or film or television or theater at a university all day long – and also be constantly reading and writing about it – but that, as I referenced above, won’t pay the bills. Also, I’ve discovered in my short career thus far that my communication skills are highly valuable and produce really great results in a corporate setting and I have a feeling, if I play my cards right, I can use them to my great advantage. I just don’t know how! Would I be good at managing a team of people just because I can speak and write well? I don’t know. And, of course, all of this is hypothetical. I have no idea if my manager would ever even promote me to such a role.

As if that weren’t enough, I also feel like, at 31, I am way behind on the curve and should’ve figured this stuff out years ago. My career has sort of “happened” to me…until now, that is. It’s a privileged person’s problem for sure, but at this age I know I need to begin setting myself up, and right now my whole plan consists of doing the best I can in the role I’m in and looking to move up within my current team. Beyond that, I got nothin’.

Can anyone else relate?

Yes! Yes! I think many of us can relate! My entire adult life has been a string of jobs that rarely have much to do with my degrees (a BS in electronic media and an MA in English). I’ve worked as a radio station copywriter, an after-school assistant at a private school, a floral designer, a publicist at a publishing company, a research assistant in grad school, a clothing store sales assistant, a writing teacher to ex-cons, a researcher for a company that analyzed educational methods and programs in public schools, an adjunct college instructor (English), a blogger, a barista, and a website marketer. And there are probably some other gigs in there that I’m forgetting. [Updated to add telemarketer, office temp, and time-share ticket salesperson to the list.]

My point is: I’m 38 years old and sometimes I still don’t know exactly what I want to do. Or, I guess more accurately, I know what I want to do (yay, I’m doing it!!) — I just don’t always feel confident I’m on the right path to continue doing it long-term. What happens when you “do what you love” but the money doesn’t necessarily come (or it doesn’t come quickly enough or there’s not quite enough of it)? That’s sort of where I am now and, although I still have a little time to figure it out/ make it happen (the privilege of being married to someone whose income can support us at least for the time being, though not with as much wiggle room as we might like), something will need to change eventually. And I have to think about where the skills I am sharpening here might take me if Plan A doesn’t work out.

Anyway, I don’t have answers to the questions posed above, but I thought these were issues many of us could relate to and it was worth opening a larger discussion about them here. Maybe we can share some of our career trajectories and talk about what has worked for us and what hasn’t. Is anyone doing something she (or he) really loves (and that effectively pays the bills)? If so, what was your path? Did you career “just happen” or did you map out a plan and stick to the course? Any words of wisdom from people further along in their career “journeys,” for lack of a better word, to those maybe just starting out or feeling stuck?

The best thing I can say about having had lots of different jobs, some soul-sucking and some pretty fun, is that I got something out of all of them. Each job, in addition to providing a paycheck — and some were definitely bigger than others — brought me a little closer to what I felt was “my calling,” I guess (sorry, I hate that phrase, too). Along the way, I learned not just about myself and what my skills and interests were in the work place and how and when and where I am most productive (alone, in the morning, somewhere quiet); I learned about other people — what makes us unique but also what binds us through our common humanity. Those experiences – and of course, there were just as many if not more in my personal life, away from work — provided a pretty big foundation for what I do now. (And specifically, as a writer, what has been immeasurable to me personally and professionally is that I have written nearly every single day, often thousands of words, for over ten years. If you want to write: write. If you need to get paid to do it, you don’t really want to write. Which is fine.).

Do you feel like the jobs you’ve had, even unrelated to your degrees or what you’re currently doing, were important on some level, either personally or professionally? What are some lessons you learned, especially from jobs you maybe didn’t love?

69 comments… add one
  • _s_ September 18, 2014, 12:22 pm

    Are you kidding? I was one of those kids who never had the slightest clue what they wanted to be when they grew up, and at age 36 I still have no idea. I did have a brief stint working jobs related to my major after grad school, but it was never going to really pay the bills, so my last 2 jobs have just been random and completely unrelated to my major/education. My previous job offered a decent salary when I was in an “I’ll take ANYTHING that pays more” phase. My current job was a better package when I was in an “I’m miserable and I’ll take ANYTHING that pays roughly the same” phase. The good news is I’m much happier in my current job, though it’s miles away from my education and certainly nothing I ever imagined doing. I have no career plan except to hopefully continue to get paid more as I get older and to not hate my job. That’s it. I still don’t even know what my dream career would be (well, I do, it’s called “not working,” but that is NEVER going to be a possibility, obviously). Anyway, point being, you’re certainly not alone. It sounds like you are actually way ahead of me in that you have a specific idea of something you might want to do!

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    • K September 18, 2014, 12:36 pm

      I totally understand, _S_. I’ve been at my current job for 7.5 years and I don’t get paid well at all. I did switch positions within the same company about 1.5 years ago – I used to work shifts and weekends and now I work 9-5, M-F. I’m totally bored by my job and am desperate to find something else. I’m almost in the “I’ll take ANYTHING that pays more” phase, but I did just have an interview and they wanted me to work on Sundays, which wouldn’t change for a year or two. I just couldn’t do it, after working 2 weekends a month for years. I still want to have my weekends. So I guess I’ll take anything that pays more as long as I can still have weekends free! My current job is related to my major but there are no other jobs in my area for my major, so I’m feeling stuck with where to go next. I don’t know which jobs my skills might be applicable to.

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    • MsMisery September 18, 2014, 1:07 pm

      This, as well.
      I have a BS I am not using, but still paying for (I tried for 4 years to get into the field with no success). The job I am in now is comfortable, but the pay is too low and the industry is too unstable to be considered a life-long career. I STILL don’t know what I want to do with my life. I have toyed with going back to school for some sort of trade, though the thought of more debt makes me ill, or getting a 2nd job part time just for money/to kill time.

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      • K September 18, 2014, 3:12 pm

        The thought of more debt makes me ill as well, since I’m still paying back college loans. Even the one year grad programs I was looking at are $30000. I also like having a life outside of work so a 2nd job doesn’t appeal to me – I’d rather put more effort into job searching so that I can have a better main job. I just need to actually start putting more effort in.

      • csp September 18, 2014, 4:04 pm

        Here is my 2 cents about grad school. I am a recruiter and see resumes all the time. If you are going to commit to grad school, you need to commit fully meaning non profit school with a good ranking. You also need to immediately get an internship in that field even if it is unpaid. I see so many people who paid big money for a for profit school and come out with no experience. Internships at large, big name companies really matter. I strongly recommend to people not to take on debt half way.

  • jlyfsh September 18, 2014, 12:40 pm

    My job is related to my degree but it is in no way what my experience and internships were in before I graduated from college. I found that the actual working in the field I thought I wanted to, was not what I actually wanted or where my strengths were after doing it for a few years. I guess my point being you can prepare and plan to do one thing as a career and then decide it’s not for you. I did find over the years that there were certain aspects of my jobs that I loved and thrived in. Organization, data management, qc and a few other things. Eventually it led to the job I have now which was a total unplanned thing. I saw a position opening and I was like huh I bet I could do that and I got the job and now I love it. I actually can see myself doing this for a long time. I wouldn’t mind retiring from this position. I do find myself at times dreaming about other things. Like owning a coffee shop or wine store. But, then I remember that the things I enjoy about those places would probably not hold true if I was working there! Basically I think many people just fall in to the jobs they end up with and it’s just life. I’m not really a live to work person though. I like my job and the people here and don’t wish time away, but I also love the fact that I leave work at work and have a lot of free time for everything else I care about in life.

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    • stickelet September 18, 2014, 1:59 pm

      What is your job now? I’m getting my PhD and I’m still unsure of what I want to do, but data management, organization, qc, etc sound like a job I would like! I don’t think I want to go into academia, and I’ve been thinking about public policy, but I’m unsure about everything.

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      • jlyfsh September 18, 2014, 2:03 pm

        Well my job is way below a PhD. But, I work in a field that has positions for PhDs. BUT, it’s in the biological sciences. If that’s at all what you do let me know and I can give you my email address. I can share some information for the organizations I work for!

      • othy September 18, 2014, 2:11 pm

        What field is your PhD in? (I’ve also found that most PhDs have to do the boring stuff like grant/IRB applications, and don’t get to do the fun stuff like the data management/QC.) This is right up my alley (my masters is in statistics).

      • stickelet September 18, 2014, 3:46 pm

        Jlyfsh, It’s in Sociology, so no biological science stuff for me, but thank you!. I like the data stuff, so IRB and analyzing data is fun to me, but the stuff like theory and grants isn’t as fun to me. I’ll probably go into public policy, but I really just don’t know what to do.

      • othy September 18, 2014, 3:51 pm

        My masters’ program was based out of the sociology department. Now I do public health research – lots of data analyzing, very little theory. Best of both worlds!

      • stickelet September 18, 2014, 4:11 pm

        My university’s Soc program focuses on health actually, so public health research is interesting to me. How did you get your job othy?

      • othy September 18, 2014, 5:22 pm

        Mine is with the University I went to, just a small department focused on population-based cancer research. They sent out a job posting while I was finishing my degree, through the list serve of the degree program I was in. The job was only part time (at the time), but I figured it would be better than my old, crappy job. It was like my dream job listing, minus the part time aspect. They hired me, and promoted me to full time within 3 months. I’ve been here almost 6 years, and I still love what I do.

      • stickelet September 19, 2014, 1:31 pm

        That kind of sounds like my dream job! I would love to be affiliated with a University, but in a professor role. Working for a research center on campus would be awesome for me. I love the campus setting and the school lifestyle (although I know working is different from being a student). I have until at least May when I graduate, so I have some time to explore different options.

      • stickelet September 19, 2014, 1:32 pm

        I mean *NOT* in a professor role

  • Addie Pray September 18, 2014, 12:52 pm

    I love this topic. I have always been envious of those people that have always known what they wanted to do and do it! I’m also envious of those people with passion for writing or art and who know they’d be REALLY HAPPY if they could just write or do art forever. I don’t have any overriding calling, if you will. I work to live, I guess. I also though don’t have a long resume – I pretty much just babysat all my life until law school. (Not really, I had a few “big girl” jobs but they were always temporary and I knew I’d be going to law school.) I regret, actually, not trying out a lot of stuff. What if I do have a calling I just never tried the job to know?! Shoot, I just did a 180 and now have regret!

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  • ThePeanutGallery September 18, 2014, 12:55 pm

    This is my second comment. I have to say: I was very lucky to be able to attend two schools with extraordinarily well-connected alumni networks (I have a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from the same university), so perhaps this advice won’t be as helpful to people who have been out of school for a while: Talk to other alums! I’ve found that alums from my undergraduate, business school, and, frankly, even high school have been excellent with taking 5 minutes to explain their jobs and answer my questions. I cold called tons of alums my senior year in college and landed a full-time, with-benefits job that started a month after graduation, in 2009. Even my peers I went to school with are extremely generous with their time, if I’m curious about their jobs and think I might want to potentially switch companies.

    I didn’t map out my career path (I’m still dealing with the “what should I do with my life!?” too!) but I’ve got a pretty good general idea of where I’d like to go, I’m working on acquiring the skills I need to move up and making a nice salary, working good hours, and feeling much more confident professionally than I did 5 years ago. I think it helps to view your job as something that supports the lifestyle you want to lead and challenges you intellectually but doesn’t have to be your greatest passion. In fact, some of the things I like to do for fun would actually be less fun if I depended on them for a paycheck. Coming to terms with that was really liberating, for me. (Of course, some people do monetize their biggest hobby for a living, and more power to them! I just realized that wasn’t a good strategy for me).

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  • Callifax September 18, 2014, 1:09 pm

    I always knew I wanted to be a biologist, but as a kid, I always imagined myself as the kind of biologist who wandered through the forest studying the mating habits of whatever or trawled the ocean floor looking for new species of marine life. While finishing my Master’s in Biology, I started working a contract job for a biotech company doing bench type biology – the kind with pipets and test tubes and chemicals. And to my absolute surprise, I LOVED it. I was lucky to be able to get a full-time position after my contract ended and I wrapped up my degree. I may not be a biologist in a jungle or on a boat in the Pacific, but I’m just as a happy – maybe happier, for many reasons – being the kind of biologist who mixes reagents and tests compounds.

    My point is, even if you have a plan, it may not actually be the right or only path for you. In fact, you might find yourself happy doing something you never expected.

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    • jlyfsh September 18, 2014, 1:15 pm

      Your plan is almost exactly what I thought I would do! But, I ended up staring at excel all day. Which I love, haha.

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  • Sunshine Brite September 18, 2014, 1:12 pm

    I’m doing pretty good I think. I fell into social work because I needed to get towards a career asap. I always thought I’d be a librarian or a lawyer but all I heard once I got ready to choose careers was how ridiculously hard it would be to find career success in those areas. MN has waaaaay too many lawyers. They finally cut down admissions at the U of MN law school when I was in grad school, cut it by like 60%.

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  • JNicole September 18, 2014, 1:18 pm

    Great discussion! I work as a GM for a healthy food manufacturer. I never intended to get into the food industry, but it was the first place I found a job out of college (8 years ago). Eventually you develop industry specific skills and contacts, and then mostly stick to that industry because it’s easier to move in those pre-developed channels. At the time, it was find the first entry-level job, with no real thought that that would be setting up a career trajectory. I think that’s sometimes just what happens for better or for worse. Unfortunately when you spend a lot of time in one industry it does somewhat limit your exposure to other possible paths. Who really knows whether I’d be happier doing something else.. Most days I enjoy my job, but some days the stress and imaginary high stakes cause me to fantasize about what a great job working as a cashier or a sales associate somewhere would be. I know I don’t *really* feel that way, but it’s nice to fantasize about low-stress jobs sometimes. Grass is always greener, right?

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  • gigi September 18, 2014, 1:26 pm

    I thought I would go to law school…. a bad decision (marriage) changed that. The career I am in now is one that just happened, I got desperate enough to make money, (any money!) just to escape the bad marriage. And I am still here. It would not be what I would have chosen for myself, but I am good at it & it pays the bills & allows me to take care of my kids without relying too much on an unreliable ex. And thinking back on the missed law school opportunity, I am not sure now that would have been a good fit for me after all. I know myself a little better now than I did in college. If I get the chance someday when the kids are independent, I would love to maybe go back to school & do something in the medical/health care field, so that I could actually help people, instead of helping rich people get richer.

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  • Elisse September 18, 2014, 1:27 pm

    WENDY!! Thank you so much for bringing this discussion into the limelight! I was the one who started that thread. It’s been so encouraging to read others’ experiences and know I’m not the only one flailing around in a sea of uncertainty. I can’t wait to read more later – when I’m done with work, of course. 🙂

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  • Miss Lady September 18, 2014, 1:29 pm

    In school as a kid, I feel like adults did us a real disservice by blowing smoke up our butts about finding careers that are fulfilling and “if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life!” A lot of us enter the workforce with unrealistic expectations of how our careers are supposed to bring us so much satisfaction. Some people will end up with careers that make their hearts sing, but most of us won’t. Once I finally realized this, I started to appreciate my job more. I don’t love what I do, but I don’t hate it. I know enough people who do hate their jobs, who dread getting up in the morning, to know that not hating a job is a real blessing. My job pays me enough so that I can live a lifestyle I enjoy and leaves me enough free time to explore other hobbies and interests. This is the most important thing to me.

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    • Tmd260 September 18, 2014, 1:54 pm

      I really like this. It’s a good way of looking at it & I too hate that quote.
      I’ve been realizing that while your job can be a part of your life- it’s not your whole life & it doesn’t necessarily have to define who you are.
      Currently I hate my job due to some major corruption & lack of office ethics from my supervisors & also, it doesn’t pay the bills but Im doing something to change that.
      There are many other aspects of life that can bring you much fulfillment, including friends, love life, travel, etc… So you make a really good point. Gotta remind myself of that too…

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    • coconot September 18, 2014, 2:36 pm

      Yes! that quote reminds me of this cartoon/article: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/09/why-generation-y-yuppies-are-unhappy.html

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    • coconot September 18, 2014, 2:39 pm

      Yes! that stupid quote reminds me of this cartoon/article: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/09/why-generation-y-yuppies-are-unhappy.html

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    • Addie Pray September 18, 2014, 2:42 pm

      Well said! I definitely agree.

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    • _s_ September 18, 2014, 3:22 pm

      Amen to this, Miss Lady. I too have learned how much of a difference having a job you don’t hate makes! I was so miserable in my old job, and I was sure it was MY problem – I would tell myself I should be grateful to have a job in the recession, and if I could just change my own attitude, I wouldn’t be so unhappy. The world tells you it’s your fault – like just changing jobs (or whatever) won’t make you happier because you’ll still be you, and you need to do the work on yourself to be happier regardless of your life circumstances, blah blah. Well, EFF THAT NOISE. I am million times happier now, and the only damn thing about me or my life that changed was my job. Sometimes, it’s NOT you, it IS your circumstances!!

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    • Lianne September 18, 2014, 3:30 pm

      Completely agree with you. I “fell” into my job. I had no interest in the industry I am in (retirement plans), nor the position I am in (communications management), but I love the people I work with and for the most part, the company I work for. Like you, I don’t LOVE it, but I don’t hate it, and I know I have so much opportunity here and it pays me well. And leaves time for a solid work/life balance.

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    • pinkaffinity September 18, 2014, 5:53 pm

      And besides the whole “you gotta love what you do” mantra that has been forced on everyone, I think there is also a big push to the “your career is the rest of your life” idea. Having to choose a major that should go with the career you want, because that’s what you’re committing to for life kind of deal. I don’t think it’s very fair that our society does that, or punishes people by switching careers (with pay cuts, etc.).

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  • Moneypenny September 18, 2014, 1:30 pm

    I feel like I’ve been going back and forth with liking my career and wanting out. I’ve been working at the same company for 7 years, since I graduated from college in a somewhat specialized field. I always thought early on that I would go down the “traditional” career path for awhile, gain some experience, and decide if I wanted to veer off and do something related but slightly different, or whatever. Well, I’m still here. And for a long time, wondered if my dissatisfaction was because I was in the wrong job, or in the wrong career altogether. I have finally realized that I DO like my career/industry, but I just get REALLY bored, and when I get bored, I get antsy and grumpy and hate what I’m doing. So. New goal- keep myself occupied and challenged, to stave off that boredom. It’s hard! If I could do anything, I’d open an antique store/custom furniture and design store. A friend of mine, in the same boat as me, dreams of opening an ice cream store. Maybe, one day, we can go into business together!

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  • Ika September 18, 2014, 1:37 pm

    I´m an Occuational Therapist. When I was growingup I always wanted to be a doctor (psychiatrist), then when I was about to enrol in med school my HS took us to an informational talk by the uni I ended up going to, an I fell in love with the concept of OT.
    During uni I always wanted to go into psych, but once I graduated it was next to impossible finding any kind of job the year I graduated there was a huge crisis here). I ended up finding a job as an assistant at a special ed school. Then a few months later I got a call from a rehab center, one of my professors workedthere andwaned me to go work there too. It was all physic rehab,which Iwasnt interested in, but I needed the job. I ended up workig there 5 years, during which time I started with home health care patients too.
    Once I had my first kid I just went back to home halthcare. It works much better for me since I can change days or times if need be. There was a lot more work for geriatric patients (which I never wanted), but now Im starting to ge kid patients as well, so I´m enjoying the work more. I´ve always found working with kids more rewarding, especially since a lot of the time my older adult patients are basically hospice care.
    I guess I enjoy my work, some patients more than others ( find cognitive stimulation interesting, and I have a few patients I implement that with), even though its not exactly what I thought I would end up doing. Plus? I met my husband at that rehab center (he´s a PT), and we probably would never have met if I adnt ended up working there. 🙂

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    • kriskros September 18, 2014, 2:04 pm

      I’m in a similar boat to you. I went to school for psychology and always thought I’d go to med school, but never ended up going for it! I worked in social work for a few years and in schools doing behavioral intervention, that’s where I came across speech therapy. I went back to school for a masters in it thinking that I would like to work on the medical side with adults, but here I am now, in a school! I’m actually loving it much more than I thought I would! The kids are great, and they really love coming to work with me, but it’s nice to have them for short 30 minute sessions then move on to the next group. I really wanted a career that would pay decently and afford me more free time, I think I’ve found that where I am right now! I may go back into a rehab or hospital at some point, but it’s nice to know that I have options if I get bored and that my field is in demand pretty much everywhere in the US. I’m also really just starting in this new field, so we’ll see how I feel in a few years!
      When I felt unhappy in social work a few years ago, I really did a lot of research about what kind of fields were out there and what would fit my personality. I think really taking some time to be introspective about that led me to a career that fits me well. I also really considered where the jobs are, what salaries they tended to produce and what type of free time they would allow. I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of person that is just thrilled to go to work, but this new career has me feeling content and like I’m doing something important, while still meeting my desires for decent pay and time off.

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      • Ika September 18, 2014, 2:22 pm

        Oh I loved speech therapy! But where I live its lumped together with other parts I didnt like as much. At one point I was thinking about going for a degree in it as well, but then I decided just to stick with OT.
        And yeah, I think this type of career is very rewardng, but finitely not for everyone. Sometimes I´ll tell a friend something funny from work, and they´ll be on the verge of vomiting or crying. But I mean how can you not appreciate the glory that is a mucous plug expelled from a trach?

  • TMD260 September 18, 2014, 1:41 pm

    Wow! I’m so glad this has come up because now I know I’m not the only one going through this. I am absolutely in the same boat as we speak. I live in a very expensive city & jobs are hard to come by… I’ve struggled with ADD & Anxiety disorder most of my life, add having to work while going to school & it took me longer to finish my BA than most of my friends. Granted, I did take a semester off once to go to Europe (which I do not regret) & once bc I was transitioning schools & going through a horrible relationship that left me little to no energy to deal with anything else (Not to mention my now ex insulted me for wanting to leave he school I was at)…
    Right now, I have a degree in Audio Engineering & I love sound design- but it’s not a field that is a) easy to get into & b) pays the bills… Unless you are a famous sound designer & work for a major studio…my resume is all office related work, from admin assistant, customer service, to sales. My bf & I have just moved in together & while (thankfully) he is paying most of the bills, I still have to contribute a small amount to rent, but as far as my paychecks go- it’s big for me. I’ve recently interviewed with a company & am waiting to hear back but the HR lady told me she was considering me for 2 positions that have potential corporate growth… It’s not what I want to do, but the benefits (insurance wise) are excellent & the pay would be great (oh yeah, I also have impending student loan bills)…
    So I know exactly what you are going through. I also feel that, at 26, I’m behind & falling short in “life” compared to all my friends who seemed to have figured themselves out. While I try to remind myself evey day that quote “Comparison is the thief of joy”, it’s hard when you have $6 & you can’t go out to dinners with your friends or go on the vacations they go on. (BUT they all still live at home despite having really good jobs that pay well).
    And like you, I want to be either in a studio- making sound effects for films or in a classroom talking about film music, etc… But I’m at the same crossroad where I need to pay my bills & this looks promising… This has been a source or stress for me & I’m working through it in therapy but I’m happy to know I’m not alone!

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  • ktfran September 18, 2014, 1:59 pm

    My job just happened to me. And I’ve stuck with it for, god, 11 years now. I’m good at it. I’m valued. I’m happy, most of the time.
    Growing up, I wanted to own a dress shop. Seriously. Playing Barbies, I would always use the ones I wasn’t actually playing with as mannequins at my dress shop. I LOVE fashion and clothes. Then, when reality set in and I had to think about college, I decided I wanted to be a math teacher. I’m good at math and I like kids. But…. after the first semester of college, I realized I suck at explaining things. How was I going to deal with teaching? So, on to accounting. Nope. Not for me. I settled on marketing. But I really had no idea what to do with marketing after school. So, my last semester at college, my Grandma passed away. At her funeral, I sort of jokingly asked my successful uncle, the president/CEO of a small company, if they had any positions available. He said he was expanding his marketing department and to send him my resume. I did. I got the job. I still don’t know if they really wanted to expand, or he just really wanted to help me. It doesn’t matter, because I worked hard and proved myself. He’s long since retired, but people fight to keep me. So, I guess I’ve done something right.
    Do I love it? Not really. But it’s a job and like I said, I’m pretty damn good at it. If I had to do it all over again, I would maybe look in to design/graphics. I’m super good at page layout, so working for a publication would be a dream job. And I have the editing skills to not just design, but work on editorial content. BUT… I like my lifestyle and don’t want to take a step down or massive pay cut.
    Before my “real world job,” I babysat, worked at a car dealership, worked the cash register, housewares and jewelry counter at a store, spent my time at college working as an assistant to someone in the education department, spent a summer cleaning rooms in Yellowstone, spent a summer working as a special events coordinator at a zoo, where I worked the corporate picnics, gave zoo tours, worked a wedding, and did a bazillion other little things.

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  • mylaray September 18, 2014, 2:39 pm

    I’m not the best to answer because I love my job and am admittedly a (happy) workaholic. I’m a graphic designer and art director and it’s what I’ve always wanted, more than having a family. I love the people I work with. And while the job can be monotonous or stressful like any job, I love the environment I’m in and that everyone is able to let loose and have fun every once in awhile. I didn’t always know there was a name for what I wanted to do. I’m very lucky that my college was fairly skills-based so I know I’ve had an easier time with that. I do often feel like I’m not sure where to go next. There are so many different ways I could go. But I don’t want to pigeon hole myself. I didn’t have the most natural path (high school dropout, a bunch of odd jobs to pay the bills). It took a few years of dicking around before I was ready to focus and work on what I wanted.
    And I know there are many other jobs I could be happy in and I still long for those opportunities, though it will likely never happen, like med school. I have too many passions! I have dreams of opening a bakery, restaurant, or vintage clothing shop. I would love if I could do both at the same time. But who knows. And then I feel guilty I don’t help others enough. I think everyone relates to not really knowing or feeling confident in their choice.

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  • csp September 18, 2014, 3:07 pm

    I was a history major in college and am now an IT recruiter. I started renting cars at Enterprise right out of school then got promoted to HR then moved to a start up job board that was acquired by a staffing firm. I am now what they call a headhunter. When I was growing up, I wanted a glamorous job. Then I wanted something that I was good at. As a recruiter, I get the “win” for my commission which is motivating but I get to help people find jobs which is rewarding. I am a strong believer that your career should fund your life. Chris Hardwick, “The Nerdest”, wrote a motivational book about following your dreams while living in the real world. So he said that you work your 9-5 then go home and commit to writing 5 pages of your novel or screen play a day. Then you have a book in a matter of months. Following your passion is really avoiding the draining things on your off time. Stay away from the TV or Pinterest or Facebook. If you have 6 hours every day that you are awake and not working, use those in a way that really feeds you mind body and soul.

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    • Portia September 18, 2014, 3:14 pm

      I really like Chris Hardwick! Thanks csp, I’m gonna look into that book.

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  • Portia September 18, 2014, 3:10 pm

    As I’m finishing my doctorate, I feel like I took my passion as far as is reasonable to take it. Perhaps a little further because someone was paying me to get a degree and that seemed like a pretty good deal at a time when people were going straight from graduating college into the heart of the recession. Many of my peers at the time were being paid only slightly more than I was, but they’ve been building their careers by doing so. For a few years I was kicking myself for not getting experience and it was painful making the decisions I did because I didn’t know what I was doing and I wasn’t very confident in what my plan was. I’m still not confident that I’m making the right choice, but I think it’s going to work out because I’ve spent the last 3 or 4 years preparing for my exit from academia and found ways to get experience and try a couple things out. So, now I’ve got another great hobby (linguistics) with the credentials to back it up and who knows, one day it may come in handy again. Probably not. But I’ve decided that getting a job that I like and can do pretty well, even if it’s not in the field I’d ideally want, is my new goal.
    And you never know if you’ll have an opportunity to get a job closer to the subject matter you love. I have a friend who was in government for something like 5 years in environment, and I assumed he wanted to work in environment, then got laid off for a few months and very recently got hired in another field. Turns out he had gotten his degree in something totally different and had gotten sidetracked, but had been building up experience. Now the blogs and news he used to read because he had a personal interest is something he gets to do for his job and he absolutely loves it. I mean, he had to spend 5 years doing something else and many months unemployed, but he got there.

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    • csp September 18, 2014, 3:58 pm

      The story about your friend made me think of this. I heard a motivational speaker say that if you get fired you should say “Thank you” because it meant that you weren’t a fit for the role and this gives you the kick in the pants to find something better.

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      • Portia September 18, 2014, 5:34 pm

        Haha, I don’t know if I’d want to say thank you to the person who fired me, but I get the sentiment. Well, as long as you can in fact find something better…

  • mandalee September 18, 2014, 3:22 pm

    I was a Communication Arts & Sciences major in college, which meant I took a lot of fluff classes (some super interesting) and graduated in 2008, aka the worse year to graduate. I had no clue what I wanted to do, I worked in marketing for a few years, almost went to grad school for it, so glad I didn’t, because I hated it. I guess I felt like more schooling= I’ll like marketing more, I don’t know. I nannied for a few years while figuring out my life, which consisted of 2 semesters of going to school part-time to open up my own preschool, since I worked with kids for years before marketing. Then, once I saw what the loan process and all the regulations ($$) that running a preschool would cost in my state, I started back at square one. I shadowed a bunch of professionals in “helping” fields since I knew corporate life wasn’t for me, and I fell in love with the role of a family nurse practitioner, and am now in grad school for it. Since I promised myself this is my last go around with school, I’m hoping this career sticks to retirement.

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  • coconot September 18, 2014, 3:24 pm

    This is really timely for me, because I am close to finishing my PhD and I have no idea what I want to do, or if I even like my field that much. Since I have to pick a starting career soon (I’ve been in school for 20 years and never had a ‘real’ job), I keep trying to ask professors and people I meet during internships, and just generally people I know, how they picked their job. It sounds like most people didn’t really pick, they just kind of happened upon their job for various reasons. I feel like I don’t want to start in the wrong career, because it might (negatively) impact the rest of my life’s work, but I don’t have really any good way to pick! When I’ve interned I always like bits and pieces of my jobs, but am annoyed/bored/dislike at least 70% of the work. Sometimes I wonder if I’d dislike the same amount in any job (it is work after all) or if there is some magic career where I’d ‘love my job’. I wonder if people who love their jobs are just generally more positive thinkers, and people who dislike their jobs are more negative. Like, those people who said they’ve found their calling could actually say that about many different jobs, because they are passionate, positive people?

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    • Miel September 18, 2014, 4:41 pm

      Maybe there are people that would be passionate about many different jobs. Personally, the thought of not having a job sounds like the most boring thing on earth. I don’t gamble, but in the hypothetical situation where I would win 50 millions from the lottery, I’m pretty sure I would keep working. Life would probably be simpler because I wouldn’t have to worry about money, but I would still be working in an actual job. I just can’t stand myself when I have too much free time, or if I try to be “my own boss”.

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      • othy September 18, 2014, 5:28 pm

        I feel the exact same way. I’d probably keep working the same job I’m doing now. I’d just cut back on my hours (maybe a 25-30 hour week, instead of a 40 hour week?). I even hated long summer breaks as a kid.

  • Wendy (not Wendy) September 18, 2014, 3:48 pm

    I’m a nurse, and find that nursing is about evenly divided between people who felt a real calling to it and people who chose it logically because it’s a fairly well-paid job with good stability and flexible hours. Both approaches are fine with me as long as you do the job. I have met TONS of nurses who used to do something else and were unhappy and thought nursing would solve all their problems, but some of them haven’t liked it and everyone is disappointed to find out that it’s often very difficult to find a job after graduating these days. I definitely planned this out logically (because of a “calling”), but the blip I’ve had is that I’ve ended up in a branch of nursing that I like but don’t love, and it can be harder to switch branches than people expect. But I do go to work every day and feel great about what I do; every day brings surprises; and I get to meet lots and lots of interesting people. The only alternate career I ever feel wistful about is (as a couple of other posters have mentioned) wildlife biology out in the jungle. And forest ranger. But I think both of those are more “fantasy” occupations in the way I imagine them, and wouldn’t be quite as wonderful as I think they would be.

    As for “do what you love” advice–yes, I do do what I love and it makes it a lot easier to get up and go to work. But I also made a conscious decision NOT to find careers in other things that I love to do, because I never wanted those things to become “work”. No one likes going to work ALL the time and I never wanted to feel that way about, say, an art museum.

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    • Miel September 18, 2014, 4:46 pm

      Your last paragraph is so true. One of my best friend was studying in opera singing and eventually she dropped it and just got a regular management job. She said she loves singing, but being a professional singer means you gotta sing even when you have a bad day, even when you hate the music, even when you hate the person singing with you, even when you have period cramps, even when you have a headache… And then maybe you don’t think singing is fun anymore, and you’ve just lost one of your favorite activity to do.

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      • TheLadyE September 18, 2014, 8:52 pm

        Yep, this is so true. Even the head of my Master’s program in screenwriting would say “don’t write to eat”. That’s (one of the reasons) why I never pursued screenwriting as my full-time career…I love writing, and I never want to resent having to do it.

  • SasLinna September 18, 2014, 3:53 pm

    This is timely for me. I’m trying to figure out whether to stay in academia after having finished my PhD. I recently complained in the forums about all the problems associated with the academic lifestyle. However, this week I interviewed both for a non-academic job and a postdoc grant. It’s crazy how different the experience was. Talking about my research proposal I just felt like myself again after not really feeling at ease in the other interview. I really nailed the grant proposal interview. Also, compared to anything else I’ve ever done, the reactions to my work in academia have been extremely positive and I’ve always felt competent in my field. So I feel like in a sense this IS my calling – there’s probably nothing I’m better at and that I love doing more – but I still don’t know if I want to pursue it because of the lifestyle choices it implies. The other alternatives I’m considering are working in a public institution or NGO that deals with some of the same questions I’ve focused on in my research, or a job that demands writing skills, or (craziest version) writing books for a broader audience.
    When I was a child, I always wrote my own “newspapers” and distributed them to the adults in the family. I even started writing a science fiction book (wrote about 30 pages by hand for that one). So writing has definitely been something that I’ve always liked. I’ve also always liked to write for an audience and to present ideas. All of that does fit the career path I’ve been on so far. It’s just that I don’t know how to create a work-life-balance. So I think my problem isn’t that I don’t know what I would like to do career-wise, just that I don’t know how to balance it with other things.

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    • coconot September 18, 2014, 4:25 pm

      Haha did you see my post like 2 entries up? We start off the exact same way 🙂

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    • Portia September 18, 2014, 5:19 pm

      That’s really interesting and as another almost PhD it really does sound like pursuing academia could be the right path for you.
      My experience has been slightly different and had made me think I’m more cut out for non-academic jobs. When I start talking about my research, it’s somewhat interesting, but when I get talking about more general linguistics, I can talk all day. I think I just never really found my research topic and pursuing my own research always feels like grunt work to me. But teaching is so fun! I could talk linguistics all day. But I don’t want to string together a bunch of adjunct positions and that’s where academic teaching is going, especially if I don’t want to do research.

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      • SasLinna September 19, 2014, 3:48 am

        Thanks for replying, that’s really helpful. I think sometimes it’s hard to see the obvious – like the fact that I love doing my own research, so I don’t even consider the possibility that other PhDs do not enjoy it as much. But the interview experience was really striking because I could immediately tell how much better I was performing when I was talking about my subject. Linguistics sounds very interesting! Is there maybe a way to teach it outside the academic context?

      • Portia September 19, 2014, 9:03 am

        Unfortunately, probably not. It’s not taught in high schools and the only teaching experience my friends are getting outside of academia are English as a foreign language, which I’m not interested in. Or writing, or foreign languages, basically all applied linguistics. I did intern for a place in the federal government and when one of my coworkers was trying to convince me to get a full job there, he mentioned how some people taught a night course or two at a local place. So, I feel like that’s going to be my other option, adjuncting a single course on the side for fun. But making a living off of that is nearly impossible. Plus, whenever I tell people I do linguistics, I get to do a mini-lesson and they love it (like Miss Addie Pray, who indulges my linguistics explanations on occasion around here).

  • Not a Princess September 18, 2014, 3:56 pm

    Hey, OP, if your passion is literature, find a way to do it as an extracurricular. Want to read? Find out if there’s a blog/magazine/paper/website that will let you do book reviews for them.
    Do you like to write? Write! It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible to become a published author AND have a day job. I’m a full-time consultant, but I’m also a novelist with my third book coming out early next year (Victoria Helen Rose, everything’s on Amazon if you’re interested). What I’m saying is that you can do what you WANT to do AND make a living, you may just need to separate them.
    Best of luck!

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    • TheLadyE September 18, 2014, 8:54 pm

      That’s AWESOME! (I’m the OP btw.) Now that I am finally at a point of stability in my corporate career, I’m really wanting to not just blog with a free site but get my own real website and blog/write regularly. That’s the next step! I’m just not sure what to do in the actual corporate world…heh.

      And congrats on being a published author! I’d love to ask a few questions sometime about getting a publisher, because I definitely have a few books in me, as they say. 🙂

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      • Not a Princess September 19, 2014, 3:03 pm

        Check out CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing; its an easy and respectable way to publish paper or e-books. My best advice is to write the book first, then worry about formatting, grammar, editing, (More formatting, nit-picking…honestly, I should write an article about becoming published.)
        Whatever you want to do, go do it. Don’t let anyone hold you back because this life is all you get and at the end, you really only have to answer to yourself.

  • jottino September 18, 2014, 5:29 pm

    What timing! I’m hoping to finish my life sciences MS in a few months. I’m TERRIFIED to start job searching again. The reason I went back to school was because the pharma world collapsed a few years ago. I had a string of contract jobs & felt like I was getting nowhere. Now I’m ready to rejoin industry … and it hasn’t really improved.

    I taught while in grad school, & found out I loved that too. So that’s always an option … but maybe one that I’m not comfortable pursuing yet (read: I need money). At least not with a wedding coming up lol. Besides, I grew up picturing myself in a lab, not an office. I wanted a lab coat when I grew up. Not ready to let that dream go 🙂

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  • TeacherNerd September 18, 2014, 6:12 pm

    This is so funny – not in the mocking, ha ha kind of way, but I could have related about 10-15 years ago. I attended and graduated from a community college right after high school; I was burned out on school, didn’t know what kind of career I wanted, and had no sense of self or what I was interested in or good at, so I worked for several years in various positions: nurse’s aide, temp work, at a temp office itself, as an analyst for Bed, Bath and Beyond, and briefly as a camp writer. Most of these jobs sucked many bad things, and I was 27 when I finally went back to college to get my undergraduate degree in English, and went through my university’s teacher education program. Like the LW, I graduated in 2007, right when the economy went belly up, and there were NO English teacher jobs to be had. (Note: I was living in Long Island at the time, and the NYC Dept. of Ed. – the largest school district IN THE COUNTRY – wasn’t hiring. So…no luck.)

    I did some time in grad school but didn’t finish the degree, but I knew I wanted to be an English teacher. Oddly (or perhaps not), having gone to college later meant I missed a lot of the existential “what do I want to DO with my life” issues that seem to hit folks at 22 when they graduate from college – or those who go right from high school to college to grad school without interruption. I’ve had a lot of horrible jobs that pay horribly, was used to being paid [expletive], and knew exactly what I could survive on – and in Long Island, which, if you don’t know, is kinda an expensive place to live in. But I knew I could live essentially at poverty level and still make things work. (I’ll note that at the time I was unmarried and had no kids – although I still am happily, gloriously childless – so I wasn’t responsible for anyone else financially.) The point is, though, that having done college “wrong” meant that I had a clearer idea of what I wanted and what I was willing to do to get it. I broke up with my boyfriend of 9 years, moved to another state, got a job at a daycare, did that for a few months, and within 3 months got a job adjuncting – without a graduate degree, which I’m told is apparently essential to having this type of job. But I knew that I was willing to be “underpaid” and do a job I live, and was NOT willing to take an office job that paid much more, regardless of how much it paid.

    I’ve since moved across the country, gotten more teaching jobs (sans graduate degree), gotten married, am nearing completion of my Master’s degree (in Rhetoric and the Teaching of Writing), and teaching at two different schools, effectively cobbling together a good income from two sources. I don’t do soul sucking anymore. Period.

    Teaching apparently pays terribly, but “terrible” is relative: The husband and I live simply because that’s how we want to do it; we take regular, multi-week vacations (hello Europe!); our house is paid off (we don’t rent; we own our own house outright); we own our two cars outright; we have no student loans. Yes, we’re in our late 30s, so I’d damn well expect all these things to be paid off anyway by this point, but I know many folks aren’t as lucky. But once you find your groove, it’s found, even if it takes you a long time to get there. Who cares how long it takes you to find it?

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  • Lyra September 18, 2014, 8:12 pm

    I think I’ve always known I wanted to be a teacher, but the question was WHAT I wanted to teach. I went between English and music for the LONGEST time. But in the end I chose music, which unfortunately isn’t an in-demand job. I do really love my current job. My kids are great and most LOVE their lessons, which makes it easy and fun to teach. The pay is very meh, but it’s worth it to me. My life is very fulfilling because of my career. On the other hand, my first teaching job sucked and the kids didn’t care. At all. That was the longest year of my life. It makes a huge difference when a job is a good fit.

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  • rocketgirl September 18, 2014, 9:50 pm

    A key thing is not to think a career is permanent. Life changes, you change. My undergrad is in aerospace engineering and I worked in various capacities as an engineer for over 25 years. Then I got laid after I had been contemplating “what I wanted to be when I grew up”. So I went back to school and got a master in counseling. Since I was, let’s just say not good with money, not working was never an option. I graduated almost 2 years ago and love what I do. I work in community mental health with very ill people. Get paid for shit but I have learned(finally!) how to manage money better. If you work for a non-profit for 10 years and pay your student loans on time, you can get your loans forgiven. Sometimes you have to see where life leads you and what can fill you at the point you are at in your life.

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    • Addie Pray September 18, 2014, 11:06 pm

      Very wise!

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  • thewriteway September 19, 2014, 12:19 am

    Crawling out of lurkerdom because I knew I had to weigh in on this when I saw it on Facebook.

    I’m going to be 30 next year and didn’t settle into a job in my field until 2010, so two years after graduation. Before that I did odd jobs in retail, food service and a call center. I’ve now been at my current company for four years and am ready to do something new. I have a communications degree with a concentration in journalism, and the market is really tight, so getting interviews even when you think you are qualified is no easy task. I took on a second, part-time job in social media with a startup (not great pay, but great experience) in an attempt to be more marketable, and that’s just not paying off yet. I also applied for a new position within my company and did not get it, and was then told by my boss that there might not be room for me to move up anymore. Depressing! I’ve been searching on and off ever since he broke that news to me, but sometimes I don’t really see any opportunities that appeal to me.

    I too feel I should have everything figured out by now. Instead, I’m wishing I would’ve gone into something “in demand” in the first place and am now contemplating a career switch if some of these opportunities I really want don’t come through. (The startup mentioned that even if I go full-time, the money won’t be great, as even my supervisor doesn’t make a lot.) I wish I had gone into college undeclared or at least had better sense not to major in communications/journalism. You live and you learn!

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  • Lovelygirl September 19, 2014, 10:11 am

    I’ve stumbled into a large company when I just graduated college 9 years ago. I didn’t know what type of job I even got hired for. It wasn’t a great fit but they gave me 4 years of training out of my first 5 years with the company. After a whole year being fully qualified, I interviewed and took a different job internally. That was an amazing job for 2 whole years and then the company has restructured, deleting my last position. Now I’m doing my old job and a new job and I’m hating life. I haven’t been happy for the past 3 months since the restructure. Not sure what to do now so I guess I’m in the same boat as everyone else…32 and no clue as to what I want to do next. It’s good to know I’m not the only one lost in the grownup world!

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  • va-in-ny September 19, 2014, 11:11 am

    So, is it bad that I’m starting to feel like the only thing I might be good at is being a mom?

    This might get long, so I will pre-apologize for the novel.

    Getting into the job market in 2008 wasn’t easy – and I was bright-eyed and excited to be in the real, grown-up world of advertising. I did get into advertising, in a massive, well-known agency. I went in as a temp, with the promise to become full-time after a few months and a deep desire to just “make it” in advertising.

    What I found is that large advertising agencies are extremely difficult to move around in, and the day-in and day-out filling and paper-pushing wore me down. I ended up leaving (still working as a temp) after 11 months of being absolutely miserable.

    After deciding to leave, I was offered a job at a company doing ad sales. Turns out, that company was a big ‘ol Ponzi Scheme and I ended up leaving after a few months.

    I bounced around doing temp work to be able to keep my apartment and still eat, and ended up temping for a electronics manufacturing company before getting hired 3 months in. I stayed with them for 4 years. Like the poster above, I realized, about 2 years in, that I had maximized my opportunity for growth. I wouldn’t gain more responsibilities, I wouldn’t improve my skills, and I wouldn’t pull in any additional money. It took over two years of searching for me to find a new job that paid enough and offered some room for growth.

    So, now I’m here. I’m at a company that has unlimited opportunities to grow. I can essentially do whatever I want to do! Except, I have to put in my time in my current position first. And, I’m bored out of my mind. The day-to-day boredom is really starting to wear me down and I just don’t know if I can see myself staying in the workforce for much longer. (I’ve only been here for 3 months!) I don’t have anything close to what one would call a “career” – because nothing I’ve done over my time in the workforce is concrete enough to define as one.

    I’m at that point in my life where I’m close to getting married and starting a family, and if I had a baby tomorrow, I honestly don’t think I would come back. But, I do feel like that would negate all the time, effort, and money(!) that I put in to get an education.

    Could it be that I just haven’t had a great experience working in the corporate world? Possibly. But, I feel like I lack… purpose, maybe?? I don’t know. I have a hard time trying to explain what I’m feeling, probably because I don’t really know what I’m feeling.

    I guess my life is… buffering, you could say.

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    • SasLinna September 19, 2014, 12:03 pm

      I think it’s totally understandable that you feel this way, given that your work bores you & motherhood can seem like an “out” of sorts. However, I also believe that it’s important to remember that – assuming you’re 30 or so – you still have a lot of time ahead. Motherhood isn’t going to be a full time job forever & you could earn a shit ton of money and be fulfilled in your career between 45 and 65 or you could be massively bored then. I’d try to think about long term possibilities – is there any way you could develop in your career that would bring a real improvement? How much time would you have to put in? I like the quote “don’t leave before you leave”, i.e. make sure to not disengage from work life before you even get pregnant.

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      • Portia September 19, 2014, 12:29 pm

        I wholeheartedly agree. A lot of (successful, educated, etc) women in my family (and in my suburb I grew up in) basically did that and, well, getting back into a career that they were happy with overwhelmingly didn’t work out. Especially for the ones that got divorced. The closest was my aunt, who was a lobbyist/lawyer before kids and had an immensely hard time getting a job afterward. She’s ended up doing something totally different and it seems like she’s happy now (I can never really tell), but I remember her loving her old job. She loved what she did (even though it wasn’t her ideal) but there was no way back in. The rest pretty much never worked again or did work that they didn’t really like that was far below their paygrade because they were so bored not working. Sometimes it works out, but in my experience that is far outweighed by the times it doesn’t.

  • marynn September 19, 2014, 12:59 pm

    I feel like the best way to find out what you want to do in life is to look at how you spend your free time. I went into college for Industrial Design (??) thinking that it would go well with my personality, mixing creative and more down to earth stuff. I hated hated hated it for the whole two years I managed to stay there. I was miserable. I didn’t suck so much as I hated it. So I dropped out and got a data entry job. It was lame but I kinda liked the people I worked with so it was ok. I started paying more attention to myself, and really working in figuring out what I wanted, instead of what I *should* do.

    I have always loved the English language (Spanish is my mother tongue, I live in Argentina), so I took a small course in translation and I LOVED it. The following year I enrolled for a Translation Degree in college while taking an interpreting course and I even landed a job as a phone interpreter. I have never been happier, because I find working in something you love and are good at deeply fullfilling. I just got a very low paying job translating for an agency and I just love love love it. I can’t even reconcile how miserable I was with how happy I am now.

    Of course, I’m not happy every day, I’m still in school studying like a motherfucker and working, but it’s a lot easier when you are really feeling it.

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