Friday, November 17, 2017

Update: Work and Life Epiphanies



Recently, I've written extensively about work anxiety, insomnia, and the sustainability (or... non-sustainability?) of my people-oriented, customer-facing job. I've talked about how my doctor recommended that I actually quit my current gig, even if I don't have something else lined up with which to replace it. I've seriously considered the possibility of going it alone, taking on contract work, turning to the marketplace for my health insurance, and crossing my fingers that it will all work out.

If I sounded like I was agonizing over what to do, I was. I am. Trying to analyze difficult circumstances and make big life decisions is an uphill battle, especially when you're depressed, sleep-deprived, and not thinking all that rationally.

This past week has been better. Work has slowed down. My sleep has improved (it's still not great, but at least I'm not staying up for multiple nights in a row). PLUS, I've had not one but TWO epiphanies that helped me view my job conundrum in a whole new light:

Epiphany #1: Maybe the issue is not so much the requirements of my current job as the fact that I'm still grieving the loss of my previous career. I won't go into the whole story here, but I used to be a college professor at a small, idyllic liberal arts school. After my first year of instructing a handful of introductory science courses, I started to suspect that teaching wasn't my calling. I was decent at it - my evaluations were good, and I connected with my students - but I hated the grading, I hated the bureaucracy, I HATED faculty meetings, and I hated the whole tenure process. I stuck it out for two more terms just to make sure it wasn't simply first year doldrums. I resigned after the second year feeling 100 percent certain that I was making the right decision. Fast forward a few months: I applied for my current job on a whim and landed it primarily because I had some solid transferable skills (including the ability to pass as a people person).

While I don't miss teaching (like, at all), I do miss science and the science community. Being a professor was my entry card into that world. I miss it the way you might miss an old flame whom you loved deeply, but who just wasn't right for you. Do I regret the breakup? No, but that doesn't make the grief any easier.

I've been in this current job for almost 10 months, and over that time, I've scoured the job ads almost every day, searching for a science gig in my town for which I'm qualified. Nothing's panned out, but I keep hunting. And hunting. And hunting.

The problem with this never-ending job search is that I always feel like I have one foot out the door at my current place of employment. This week, I realized that a sizable chunk of my stress comes from being in that position - in, but not all in; always searching for something different instead of investing in what I already have; constantly pining for the past. Busy times are always stressful, but I'm pretty sure they're even more stressful if your mind isn't totally in the game.

So I've made a decision: I'm going to apply for one more job that popped up in my search last week, and then that's it. For the next few months, I'm just going to focus on my current work. I'm going to invest myself in this job. That doesn't mean I'll do this forever, but I desperately need a break from the what-ifs. If other opportunities present themselves in the meantime, I'll consider them... but I'm taking a break from actively seeking them out.

Epiphany #2: My primary goal right now isn't to find my dream job. It's to get out of debt. Clearly the two aren't mutually exclusive; I may eventually land said dream job AND get out of debt. But if we're just talking goals and which one I want to focus on right now, it's doing what I can to help my family establish a stronger financial foundation so that we have more freedom in the future (and you know what? That is a perfectly legitimate, laudable goal.)


So no, I will not be quitting my current job, which offers excellent benefits, requires very little thought outside of the nine to five, allows me to work with people I genuinely adore, and generally provides exactly the kind of stability we need in order to reach our zero debt goals. Instead, I'll be making more of an effort to give what I can to the job and seeking out in-house opportunities to utilize my strengths and experience.

That said, I will be actively working to reduce my work stress, especially during this current slow period. I'll be finding a good therapist between now and January. That way, when things pick up again, I'll have better coping skills and someone I can turn to when I just need to vent. 


I've made my decision, and just by doing that, I feel so much better.


Onward!

10 comments:

  1. You sound relieved and like a huge weight has been lifted, good for you! I tend to stress, lose sleep and stress over housing. Currently I’ve been thinking we should downsize to a townhome in the same neighborhood but I would lose the yard and possibly have noisy neighbors for 200.00 less per month and lower utilities. I gave myself 1 more week of research and I will look at the townhomes but that’s it, make the decision by next Monday or sign a new lease.

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    1. Best of luck with your decision. Let me know what you decide! That sounds like a difficult choice to make. Personally, I'd probably stick with the house (mostly because I currently live in an apartment and my noisy neighbors drive me nuts).

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    2. You are correct on the noise factor. We were very lucky to have a much older couple (80's) living above us in our one and only apartment (before we moved here) and I highly doubt we would get that lucky again. I do love not having to walk the pups 4-5 times a day and they will get used to being in the yard and realize that we are not leaving them when we don't stay out there with them. So, I signed a 15 mo lease with a 108.00/month increase.

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    3. Patti, that sounds like a great decision! Happy for you!

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  2. There's nothing worse than indecision, right? Making a decision--any decision--always feels better than fretting over choices. Good for you, sounds like you've got a good plan in place.

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    1. Thank you! Once the job slowed down a bit, I was able to identify the things I like about it: my coworkers, the health benefits, and the paid time off, mostly. And I think I can work on growing my strengths/skills so that I spend more time doing stuff I enjoy at work and less time doing the stuff I don't enjoy as much.

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  3. Once you take away the ability to complain, the upsides seem to appear. While I don't love my job, I am using this time to gain lots of skills and figure out what I do want to be when I grow up - again.

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    1. Well, I won't promise not to complain ;-), but it is nice to be able to identify the upsides. It also helps that we've entered a slow phase. In my line of work, things are either utterly insane/exhausting or boring as hell (not that I'm whining about the boring parts at present!) In that respect, I've never had a job quite like this one before. Thanks for the reply!

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  4. Hey :) I'm C, I'm just getting back into the PF blogosphere after a long lull and followed a link to you. Just wanted to say hi. I'm also about to get out of the college professor game, though for somewhat different reasons -- after five years of reasonably well-paid, full time, but contingent work, I don't have it in me any more to keep looking for TT jobs. (My humanities subfield has totally collapsed, long story.) I have mixed feelings about it. I don't really mind the academic bureaucracy, and I've done enough already to earn tenure at most places (a book and several articles). And there are things I'll miss about teaching. But there are things I REALLY WON'T MISS ABOUT TEACHING, and I am certainly looking forward to getting some kind of job that is a little less emotionally demanding. We'll see, I suppose. Anyway, it's helpful to me to read people's reflections on switching from professoring to other kinds of jobs, so thanks for writing this.

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    1. Thanks, C! I so appreciate your comment. Transitioning away from professoring has been SUCH an emotional rollercoaster. On one hand, I don't miss the teaching (though I do miss the great students I met along the way). It's just not my calling. On the other hand, I DO miss the relative autonomy I had as a professor. My current job offers little autonomy, and I feel like a tiny cog in the giant education complex wheel. I don't think it's the right fit for me, but it IS a job with benefits, and given the current state of things, it'll have to do for now. I'd love to chat more about alt-ac with you and toss around ideas!

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