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 Post subject: Career changing as part of a couple
PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 5:51 am 

Joined: Sat Feb 07, 2009 4:32 pm
Posts: 20
Location: Berlin
I'm contemplating a career change because I'm feeling really drained in my current career. My job is competitive, it takes up a lot of my energy, the long-term prospects in my home country are virtually nil for someone like myself (i.e., not wondrously talented) and I'm currently living on a different continent from my boyfriend and my family in order to pursue it.

What I really want is to just go home, get a job I think I would be fairly competent at that wouldn't require too much from me, and spend my spare time painting and studying art. I think I'm a bit burnt out, and I've always enjoyed painting.

I'm home for Christmas, and I told my boyfriend that I'd been looking up rates of pay for various jobs and it didn't seem so bad. When I was doing my bachelors degree I worked as an admin assistant and I found it the most pleasant of my part-time jobs. I mentioned how I might just do that for a while when I get back home and am exploring my options.

His response to this was shockingly bad.
:cry:
He said 'you can't work as an admin assistant - you've got a PhD!' and threatened to dump me (but he took that back when I got upset), and then when I tried to defend my decision by saying how trapped I'm feeling and I don't care about status, and I don't need a lot of money - I just want to feel like I've got options again - he told me I'm being crazy and he won't talk to me about it and is not really talking to me right now. He doesn't want me working at a job that has low-status or doesn't pay well.

I'm hoping he'll come round. I hadn't really expected that he would mind that much, but I guess my decision will affect him, so he deserves a say. But then having to balance what I want with what he wants about how I spend my working life puts a bit of pressure on me. It'll be a several months before I even come home so right now I'm really just considering my options.

So I'd be curious to hear how other couples deal with career decisions. Are you supportive of the occasional crazy career move? Or once you're half of two, is it necessary to be a bit more responsible? Also, maybe he's right and I am being crazy... so I'd be interested to know if other people think that.

PS: Since this is a finance forum, I guess I should mention I have no debt and about two months' expenses saved that I'm adding to as quickly as I can with the hope of having about five months worth when I come home.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 9:33 am 

Joined: Sat Oct 17, 2009 3:41 am
Posts: 28
Wow!

I *think* you already know what you should do. CHANGE CAREERS!

My wife and I worked jobs that demanded 60+ hours of our week and now work 40 hrs and 10 hrs respectively. Our income was cut by 40% and you know what? Nothing happened...

Our family didn't disown us, our friends didn't stop talking to us, and while we changed what we did for entertainment, our eating habits, etc. we've been happier.

Since you aren't married, so not necessarily making all decisions together, I would make the change, hope that he wants you to be happy, and stays with you.

My wife, particularly, chose a less prestigious career path than what she was on previously and our marriage has improved. A happy wife makes for a happy marriage! A stressed and unfulfilled wife, not so much...


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 9:42 am 

Joined: Sat Oct 17, 2009 3:41 am
Posts: 28
This is a terribly interesting topic...

Something else to consider is to broaden your horizons even further...

Perhaps since you are likely making a tidy sum of money with a doctorate and are mobile, bank most of your paycheck for a couple of year, move to a country with a low cost of living, and paint to your heart's content.

You didn't mention your field, but can you think of something creative that you could do that would be more fulfilling with the skills that you do have? This may mean more work but it would be meaningful work. Is there a market for, or could there be one, for incorporating art into what you do?

Finally, there is always teaching. With a doctorate you are qualified to teach anything from elementary school to at a university. Teaching offers a stable schedule and a decent amount of leave time.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 10:37 am 

Joined: Thu Nov 19, 2009 11:52 am
Posts: 114
Since we got married, DH and I are more responsible with our careers. Meaning, no matter how bad the job is, we don't just "up and quit" without some kind of game plan. To drastically cut our income in half just because of a bad day or "I can't take it anymore" isn't cool in our house.

There are plenty of people who start off as admins and work their way up. It's all in your work ethic. And, at least in the States, some exec admins make six figures (although, they have really demanding jobs and probably work as much, if not more, than the execs they support).

Do you have any friends whose jobs you like? You can ask them "I'd like to switch career paths, and I'd like a job like yours. What kind of qualifications do you and your coworkers have?" At my place of work, my colleagues' backgrounds might surprise you. We're a financial firm, but I have/had coworkers whose highest degree was a master's in history, architecture, art, etc. So, maybe you wrote your thesis on feminism in Jane Austen novels....but you might fit in in an agricultural equipment firm.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 11:01 am 

Joined: Tue Mar 11, 2008 12:19 pm
Posts: 1717
Location: Ottawa, Canada
I have mixed emotions regarding this situation.

On the one hand, it's your life, you should do what you want, and if your boyfriend won't be supportive of that, then you should find another boyfriend.

On the other hand, I can kind of understand your boyfriend's reaction. He likely (rightfully) fears that you're going to dial back your life to a nice, casual pace, earning a pittance of an income, and just piggyback on his paychecks for the rest of your life, until you eventually get pregnant, leave the workforce for good, and spend your days hanging out with other soccer moms while he slaves away at a job he's no longer passionate about, but is unable to quit due to being the sole breadwinner in your family.

I might be looking a little too far down the road, and my crystal ball is pretty foggy, but it sounds like that might be a valid fear of his.

I guess it depends on you. Are you thinking about leaving this job because you don't feel like you're contributing to your full potential, or because you've been out of school for a few years and are just now realizing that real life is hard? Nobody loves their jobs all the time. Lots of people suck it up and tough it out, especially those with families to support. It's part of being an adult.

If you're looking for an outlet for your efforts and creative energies, then make the leap. But if you're just looking for an excuse to coast through life, putting in 20 hours a week at a low-paying, low-stress job, and letting your boyfriend/husband slave away at the office in order to pick up the slack and pay your bills, then I can understand his apprehension, and I think you might need to do some personal reflecting.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 12:59 pm 

Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2007 3:05 pm
Posts: 1328
I've changed careers a few times, in most cases taking a 60-70% paycut in the process. In each case it was the right thing to do at the time, and I was much happier afterward. As for the reaction of the person you're with, it really depends on that person's mentality and openness to change. I switched careers once when I was married, and my wife took it very badly; she craved stability and hated change of any kind. We split up a few years afterward.

My feeling is that if my current partner wanted to change careers I would support her decision 100%, but money's not really an issue in my case because I make a lot more than she does and we could both easily survive on my salary even if I took a 50% paycut at some point in the future. So it's easy for me to say. I had friends who had three young kids, the guy was working a high-paying job he didn't like very much and his wife decided to go back to graduate school and get a PhD. That was harder and things were rocky for a while, but eventually she got her PhD and is now a tenured professor; I think he's still doing the kind of work he didn't really enjoy but they stuck it out and have been married for about 25 years now.

Based on your description I'd say your boyfriend is being selfish and not very understanding; you need to talk it out and explain why you want to do this so he understands, and he needs to tell you why he's so upset about it. If he's not talking to you, that's bad because you're in the dark...without information on why your move bothers him there's nothing you can do to work with him to come to an understanding (or agree to disagree).


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 3:33 pm 

Joined: Sat Dec 29, 2007 9:30 am
Posts: 577
i'm a fellow PhD in the medical sciences.

my perspective is this: if you've made it through the PhD itself, you've demonstrated that you have a particular talent and knowledge. whatever field you are in, presumably this can be used to improve the lives of others, which at least in my mind carries a certain obligation to use said talent and knowledge. the PhD is difficult in order to weed out the people who can't cut it. i hope your mentors were realistic with you in telling you it only gets harder after the defense.

and i'm there with ya, this is not an easy path to walk. my work is a significant part of my life, and while i sometimes long for the 8-hour day, i know i would be bored with anything else. i have made compromises to balance my personal happiness with my acceptable level of career success. i'll never be a rockstar Nobel laureate, and i'm ok with that.

becoming an administrative assistant may seem like a welcome relief, but be sure you're not caught up in that burnout and ready to give up for the wrong reasons. everyone gets burned out a little when their career is this demanding, and work-life balance is so crucial and so hard to achieve. i'd be willing to bet you have plenty of options to consider before just turning and running the other way.

just some food for thought. good luck!


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 6:39 pm 

Joined: Sat Feb 07, 2009 4:32 pm
Posts: 20
Location: Berlin
Thanks for all your replies. They're all so different! but it gives me a lot to consider. My boyfriend's talking to me again, but I think I'll let him digest what I said for a while before I bring up the topic again. I just wanted to say thanks for your opinions now.

To be honest I'm not entirely sure why I want to make a career change - there are so many reasons. I don't think I want to be a soccer mum.

My area's mathematics. My job is completely free - I'm just given an office and pay and left to my own devices. This should be lovely, but since I started my postdoc I've been feeling really isolated. I feel like I don't love my discipline as much as I should, that I don't fit in very well, and that I'm just not smart or talented enough. I've had a patchy year in my research, but I've probably done just enough to get me another job. I dread asking for references and writing my research statements - I know I can probably write it up to sound okay, but I don't believe in myself anymore and I'll feel like I'm lying when I call my results important. I feel like even if I keep succeeding at getting jobs, it might just be because I'm a woman and I'd be embarrassingly incompetent.

I'd like to have a job where I could produce something of value to others and get feedback so I'd know when I'd done my job well enough that I could go home and not feel guilty doing other things. Also, I'd like to believe that I'm adequate as a human being, and spending so much time in a situation where I don't feel adequate professionally is making me start to doubt that. So I want to try some new things in an attempt to prove to myself that I can do stuff and I'll be okay. (That probably sounds a bit crazy.) Also, as I said, I want more spare time to paint and be creative without too much pressure.

Unfortunately I have very few friends who aren't also mathematicians or physicists, so it's possible I'm working with a limited view of what's possible for me, or perhaps relying on my imagination is making me unrealistically optimistic.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 7:06 pm 

Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2007 3:05 pm
Posts: 1328
Based on your post just now:

1. It sounds like you want something tangible to show for your work, which in part explains the urge to create art, but also the need to "produce something of value to others."

2. It also sounds like you'd be happier working in a structured organization rather than the largely unstructured and solitary work environment you're in now.

3. You're clearly smart, articulate, and honest with yourself, at least that's how you come across in writing.

Based on these qualities, I agree with galactic that you'd probably be bored as an administrative assistant; it's not that you're "too good" for that, but I doubt it would engage you for long and you'd probably be left with that same feeling of not having accomplished anything useful or tangible. I think you're looking at those kinds of options because you're exhausted with your current struggle and you just want something unchallenging. It's normal to feel that way, but I do bet you'd get bored pretty quickly. Remember that most of us spend most of our lives working; it's worth devoting that time to something that is meaningful to you rather than just a means to enjoy the other 20% or whatever of your time.

To me, it seems like there are lots of potential opportunities to combine your intelligence and creativity into some kind of work for an organization that does something you believe in. I don't think that's something you can just jump into; it deserves thought and research...you're basically trying to figure out your next mission in life. You probably have a lot of transferrable skills that could be useful in another career; you're probably just not aware of what those skills are yet.

One option that has worked for me in the past is to look at the help-wanted adverts every day, not so much to find a new job, but to see what kinds of jobs you're attracted to, and then try to figure out why they seem appealing.

I've gone through this process a few times myself: my first career was in environmental education; it's what I wanted to do since I was 8 years old, but when I finally started working in the field I discovered that it really wasn't what I expected, I wasn't all that good at it, and my heart wasn't in it. At that point I went through a period of flailing around, bascially the same process that all my high school friends had gone through in their late teens while I was smugly secure in my knowledge of what my future career would be. Suddenly I had no idea what I wanted to do, I only had some ideas about what I didn't want to do. So I checked the classifieds and started paying attention to what sounded interesting to me. One of those ads turned into an opportunity that ended up being the best job of my life, with an incredible community of colleagues with whom I could be myself without feeling like a freak or an idiot.

If you truly can't face your current situation, even after the presumed holiday break, then it might be worth quitting and taking a mini-sabbatical to get your thoughts in order and figure out where you want to go next. But if you can hang onto the job while you make those decisions it would certainly be better financially, and it sounds like your boyfriend would feel better about it too.

Balancing life and art is hard...I'm a pretty serious musician and used to be very serious about painting and photography as well. If you want to badly enough, you'll find a way to fit art into your life even if your day job keeps you busy. I've been working 90-hour weeks since October, and yet still make time for 15-20 minutes of music every day or two. It's not much, but it helps, and it helps knowing that when work slows down I can make more time for music.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 7:41 pm 

Joined: Sat Dec 29, 2007 9:30 am
Posts: 577
it sounds like you are dealing with some serious imposter syndrome. you're definitely not alone in this regard, i actually went to a seminar on imposter syndrome as a grad student and found the auditorium almost entirely full! it sounds like you need a mentor- someone to help you find direction.

academia is tough, because it is so open-ended. if you find yourself a mentor (or possibly another/better one than you may have now) they might be able to help you to identify goals for yourself and strategies to achieve them. or alternative careers that you might find more fulfilling. if anything, just to identify with and validate your feelings- because they're a lot more common than you might think. it sounds like you need a network and your workplace is not providing this for you. support is crucial during a postdoc, even if you have to seek it out yourself. i would be lost without my network.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 23, 2009 2:31 am 

Joined: Mon Aug 31, 2009 4:24 am
Posts: 51
Location: Petaluma, CA
Quote:
So I'd be curious to hear how other couples deal with career decisions. Are you supportive of the occasional crazy career move? Or once you're half of two, is it necessary to be a bit more responsible? Also, maybe he's right and I am being crazy... so I'd be interested to know if other people think that.


It depends what you mean by "responsible". Ultimately, what you want is being happy rather than miserable. Any money we might be saving is only to make sure we won't be miserable later... but if it's only to be miserable now, there is really no point.

How much would your change of career afect him? Is the pay difference really huge? I can understand his concern if he's afraid you'll have to live on his paycheque rather than yours, especially if he also dislikes his career and feels like you'll end up doing something you like, but he'll have to keep doing something he doesn't like so you can make ends meet.

Ultimately, there is a money issue, if you both went into something that doesn't bring an income, you'd be screwed.

If the pay difference isn't big enough, if it's only about status, then that's different.
It's your life. A lot of people have these concepts about how you're better than others if you have a high diploma, and you have to do grand things. Screw them. Do something you like. If they weren't able to have a diploma and you were, too bad for them. You're not going to do something just because they can't. You don't have to, certainly not. And whatever you do, it's not like you're losing your diploma anyways, you still have it.

If your boyfriend is worried that your status won't be acceptable to him, I'd worry about changing boyfriends more than changing careers. I mean, he should be caring about your happiness, not about what other people might say about him because he's with you.
You're not asking to be completely dependent on him (which I am on my husband right now, so I can tell you, it's not the same thing at all). You want to be allowed to decide what to do for a living.

It's your life, it's your choice. I don't even understand why you'd need his opinion.

Now, the only thing is to be sure about your decision. It's possible that you'd end up equally as unhappy somewhere else. You need to be really sure that the career change would make you happy, and not just change every time you dislike a job. It's normal to dislike what you do to some extent, I mean, that's why they call it work, not fun. But you should feel that you're going somewhere. That you're accomplishing something. If you don't, then what's the point in living to begin with?

I think it's a personal decision you have to make for yourself. It shouldn't affect him, unless you start needing to borrow money from him constantly or something.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 31, 2009 1:11 pm 

Joined: Sun Feb 24, 2008 3:32 pm
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bendonahower wrote:
I *think* you already know what you should do. CHANGE CAREERS!

I would also think about changing boyfriends. You're not married yet, don't get trapped into a relationship where HE has to feel good about what you do.

Having said that, isn't there a way, instead of becoming an admin, to use your mathematical abilities in a more fulfilling way? I also have a graduate degree in math, but I would (I think) also be bored with "free" research reigns. I do computer work and programming, and it gives me the same type of feeling as solving math problems somewhat. Then, I dabble in numbers and finance on the side.

You seem to have a low self-opinion for someone who has a PhD in math! When I first read your post, I was imagining you being in something completely different. I guess being surrounded by too many geniuses takes its toll after awhile. But, you have to realize what a gift you have!

I do understand about taking a break from the pressure, and maybe you need to do that for awhile, but think about giving your gift to the world in a way that makes you fulfilled and challenged.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 31, 2009 3:48 pm 

Joined: Thu Dec 31, 2009 1:49 pm
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Location: Orange County, Ca
From a man's point of view (mine) I can appreciate your boyfriend's concern about your desire to be an AA. He might lack sensitivity and tact, but he has a very good point. I personally would be floored too, if my PhD'd GF wanted to be a lowly AA. I suspect your BF loves you and wants a future with you, and if this is the case, then he has solid grounds for feeling the way he does. This is not to say I excuse his rudeness and immature reactions, but he does have a very good reason to feel some alarm. Like women want successful and smart guys, many quality men want the same thing from a woman, and when a woman settles for crumbs (especially a Ph.D'd woman) this can alarm her significant other.

If you do change BF's, do it because he's a jerk, but not because he is very concerned about your seemingly abrupt change in career.

A couple where both kick butt financially can be a very, very good thing ;-)

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 31, 2009 5:01 pm 

Joined: Sat Feb 07, 2009 4:32 pm
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Location: Berlin
Happy New Year! I thought I should provide an update.

My boyfriend's really rather nice, even though he seems overly bossy sometimes. His whole family's a bit like this, so I think it's just their way of communicating.

Anyway, he did come around eventually. Partly he was upset because he was afraid that I was giving up on my career so I could live in the same country as him again and he didn't want me to give up my dreams. So I had to convince him that they're not my dreams anymore.

Now it's my turn to be unsure of his intentions, because he's saying he doesn't want to do a postdoc either when he finishes his PhD (also in math). After looking at job opportunities for him, it seems like we might end up moving to my hometown, where I might be able to get lecturing work instead of admin work while I make a career change because I know people. It's really hard to tell how things will work out, since it won't be time for me to come home for several months. I do have a new career dream, but it might take some time before I can make money from it and maybe I never will, so I'll need to find a job for the meantime.

To galactic, you're right that a mentor would help. I think it's perhaps too late for me now, but it would have been good a year ago. I've found that's the main difference between doing a postdoc and doing a PhD. Everyone around me is someone I don't want to embarrass myself in front of, and it's hard to find someone to ask if they think my research plans have obvious flaws.

On the other hand, I think perhaps the postdoc is intended as a test of your ability to work independently, and this just means I've failed at that. I thought that was one of my strengths but I was taking my PhD supervisor's guidance for granted.

Also thanks again to everyone for your advice. I really appreciate it, and some of the comments were really complimentary. I'm really not good at math and you can get a PhD with plain persistence and curiosity, but you probably won't believe me.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 31, 2009 5:35 pm 

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Blaubaer wrote:
I'm really not good at math and you can get a PhD with plain persistence and curiosity, but you probably won't believe me.

No, I believe you, but being good at math has "levels" as to what is meant by being "good". The PhD in maths that I know play it down too, just saying you need a good adviser, etc., but compare that to someone with high school or even undergraduate in math and you're talking about a different playing field you're trying to compete in.

Good luck to you and your boyfriend.

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