I get bored with all my jobs and don’t know what to do with myself

A reader writes:

I’m 22, out of school, and will not graduate. I didn’t even like what I was studying in school (art-related) and I’ve changed majors three times now. Besides, I’ve never been good at it, and university has gotten me depressed, which is why I dropped out. The sadder part of my dropping out is that I can no longer afford an education anyway. Right now I am working eight hours a week at the library, and although it isn’t a difficult job, I don’t enjoy it. I applied because I thought that maybe since I liked the library, working there (and eventually working my way up) would be what I could do for the rest of my life. But I’m one month in and dreading it like all my other jobs in the past. I get ridiculously bored. I am trying to complement this job with another part-time gig but as of yet, to no avail. This time around, I’m trying to apply to jobs I assume I might like, which are much more in line with my current qualifications (which, aside from the Adobe Creative Suite and writing experience, aren’t very advanced). Most of my experience is in retail and I’m trying to get away from that!

I’ve tried a few avenues, and I either don’t fit into the environment at work or I find out that the career I’m studying for is not what I want to do, and that finding a job in the field is very, very hard to do as well. What’s more are the articles I read about how employers post jobs that they have already filled, and the fact that they post openings for positions that they don’t intend to fill! The latter has happened to me twice: I called the employers to inquire about my application status and they told me that the person they were supposed to replace wasn’t leaving anymore (what the fudge, man?????).

My greatest dream is to be a novelist, but we all know how slim those chances are. Even for me to get a job in technical writing or as an editor/proofreader is hard because everybody wants you to have a degree with many years of experience. The years of experience makes me angry, because it means that even new grads are much less likely to get the job. I feel sad everyday. I don’t know what to look for in my job searches. If I go back to retail it’ll be a few months before I quit again. The library doesn’t pay me a lot; I’m living paycheque to paycheque, and on welfare. By the way, I read your article about the reader who hates working. I might end up like that but I don’t want to. I guess my question is… What would you do if you were in my shoes?

At 22 in your shoes? Probably exactly what you’re doing — quit a bunch of jobs and gotten really frustrated with the whole thing. So you’re pretty normal.

Here’s the thing, though: You’re probably going to have to work most of your life to bring in income. Sure, it’s ideal if the work you’re doing happens to be something that you like and find fulfilling long-term, but that’s a bonus. Lots and lots and lots of people work at jobs that are boring or unfulfilling, and see that as a perfectly okay means to an end (money).

In recent years, our culture has tried to sell us a line of crap about finding your passion and doing what you love and not settling for work that doesn’t deeply fulfill you — but it’s bullshit that ignores the fact that the majority of the world’s population works to get food and housing, not for emotional or spiritual fulfillment. (It’s also interesting to note that this particular bullshit has only been sold to certain socioeconomic demographics — whole swaths of the population are expected to be okay with working for a paycheck, while others are told not to accept anything less than their dreams.) When you’re in the group that’s been told that work should complete you, it causes a lot of angst and despair when you don’t in fact love your work.

It can be enough for work to pay your bills. For huge portions of the population, that’s what work is.

And right now, you’re not finding any obvious paths you could take to fulfilling work. So why not decide that that’s okay and that, for now at least, work is going to be what you do to bring in income and truly not see it as something that’s supposed to be more than that? That might short-circuit the cycle that it sounds like you’re currently in, where you get excited about a job, then bored and frustrated pretty quickly after you start it, and then start looking the next thing while quietly panicking about what it means for The Rest Of Your Life.

So for now, stop caring whether you’re bored at work. Focus right now on getting used to work as work rather than as fulfillment, and on building a stable work history.

Part of the reason for that is that you’re running out of time to jump around from job to job so much. At 22, it probably hasn’t done you that much harm, but pretty soon it’s going to mean you have a really checkered job history, and that will mean that the jobs you’re most interested in won’t want to hire you. So the litmus test right now shouldn’t be “is this fulfilling me?” or “can I happily do this for the rest of my life?” but rather “is this work that I could be reasonably good at for the next year or two?”

It’s also possible that over time you’ll discover that there is a career path that you love or at least like. Believe me, lots of us (maybe most of us?) didn’t figure out what would make us happy professionally until much later than 22. You don’t need to have it all figured out right now. All you really need to do right now is to build a stable job history of doing good work … because at some point if you do discover that there’s a career path you want to follow, your future self is going to be so grateful to your current self that you built up the kind of stable job history that will make it much, much easier for you to do that.

Speaking of things your future self will be grateful for: If you can find a way to afford it, go back to school and finish a degree. Simply having a degree will make your future job searches easier, no matter what the degree is in, so if you’re financially able to do that favor to your future self, you should.

Also — if you want to write? Write. Write a novel, write a blog, write whatever it is that you’re driven to write. Maybe it’ll go somewhere some day, or maybe it won’t. But if your greatest dream is to write, then you should be writing. You don’t need an employer to sanction that dream for you. The convenient thing about your dream being writing is that — unlike if your dream was to be, say, a bank manager or a teacher — you don’t need anyone to give you permission. You can just write, and you should. And the boring job you’re working during the day can be what funds your writing time.

But decide it’s okay to be bored for now. Decide it’s okay to not know at 22 what you want to be doing at 30, let alone at 40 or 50. Decide that your goal right now is steady income and work you can do competently, and maybe some time to write too. This is not failure. Funding your ability to live your life is the core of success. Let that be enough for now, and see how things unfold from there — but measure that unfolding time in years, not months.

P.S. As a total side note, and thus something I am putting down here in tiny print: It’s not that common for employers to post jobs they’ve already filled. Sure, it can happen, but it’s not the norm. And sometimes they post a job in good faith and then end up not needing to fill it after all. That’s nothing personal, and there are far more jobs that will actually be filled through a regular hiring process. If you let yourself get pissed off at that, you’re generating a bunch of negative energy that isn’t all that warranted and will make all this more frustrating than it has to be.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 467 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    LW, this is NOT meant to be a diagnosis, but if you have not already, get screened for things like depression, ADHD, and physical conditions lik thyroid that can affect your mood and ability to concentrate. You may just be a perfectly normal young person who hasn’t found a niche! But if you do have something else going on, better to tackle that now.

    And what AAM said about being a novelist. The way you become a novelist is by writing a novel. You don’t need to fill out a job application or get anyone’s permission to write a novel. Making a living at it? Who knows, but your chances of being a professional writer are about zero if all you do is dream about it.

    1. Jane*

      Came here to say this. OP you may be depressed. Please get screening because the disinterest you mention is highly common in people with depression.

    2. Manders*

      Seconded. OP, I know there are a lot of places in the world where having a low-paying job or no job can mess with your ability to get healthcare, but if you have any access to a doctor, talk to them about this. There are dozens of mental and physical health conditions that can mess with your ability to concentrate and enjoy life, and most of them are treatable but difficult to self-diagnose.

      Also, as one aspiring novelist to another: look up some interviews and life stories of writers you admire. Chances are good that most of them did not get published in their early 20s, never worked in publishing, and didn’t make a living wage from writing alone for years after first publication. Not having a book deal in your 20s is the norm, not a sign that you’ve failed.

      1. Mel*

        Why are you so quick to chalk it up to some medical issue. What the op is going through is super common. And given the trend of over-diagnosis it’s pretty likely that some doctor will find something to diagnose and recommend some unnecessary medication. And of course that risks the op having some sort of validation that its out of his control. Let’s save medical advice for when behaviors are out of the ordinary or nothing else works.

        1. Manders*

          Medical issues aren’t out of someone’s control, though. They can be controlled with the right treatment–maybe medication, maybe vitamins (several vitamin deficiencies can affect mood and concentration), maybe changes in diet and exercise routine, maybe regular visits to a therapist.

          If OP does have a medical condition that’s easy to treat, wouldn’t it be best to find that out now? And if they do see a doctor and they turn out to have a clean bill of health, what’s the harm?

          1. Mel*

            Maybe out of control was the wrong phrase, I was thinking more along the lines of the folks I know who take medications for everyday problems and then have sort of an out when they don’t take their meds. Sort of like the folks who take meds for not having energy, but don’t try to get enough sleep. Or the folks who take anxiety meds for normal levels of anxiety.

            1. addlady*

              It’s still useful. She’s bored and restless no matter what she does–I don’t think it’s gonna get worse at this stage. At any rate, it’s her call, not yours.

              1. addlady*

                That being said, looking at your first comment, it IS true that doctors may have an incentive for a false diagnosis. Getting a thorough test instead of one of those dumb 10-minute meetings is preferable. Also, research is great.

                1. Julia*

                  Some do. Some are more likely to tell a young, especially female person, that she just needs to get over herself. I have been told that for years and now it turns out I do have hormonal issues. Years of my life could have been improved if doctors had taken me seriously and done some proper Research.
                  That said, there is a rising tendency to blame everything on mental illness these days (I would guess doctors having delegated psychotherapy in their clinics plays a role, and antidepressants etc. being more expensive than e.g. thyroid meds), so OP may want to be wary, research their doctor well and maybe get a second opinion if things seem weird.

            2. neverjaunty*

              So if I’m understanding your comment, you are saying that you know people who poorly manage their health or misuse medication, and therefore, the LW shouldn’t look into whether there are any medical conditions affecting her mood?

            3. Koko*

              The thing about mental illness is that it’s socially constructed. There’s an incredibly diversity of ways people’s brains work. If your brain works in a way that seems to be pro-social and increase your chances of success as defined by society, you are considered mentally healthy. If your brain works in a way that seems to be anti-social or decrease your chances of success as defined by society, you are considered mentally ill. If your brain works very differently from the usual norm, you might be considered gifted in one culture and be seen as mentally ill in another.

              In terms of the things western culture cares about, anti-depressants and stimulants are performance-enhancing drugs. By the metric of “Will this increase your productivity?” and “Will this help you function more independently and stably in society?” there is hardly anyone who wouldn’t see improvement on those metrics if they took anti-depressants and stimulants.

              Does that mean everyone who would improve on those drugs *needs* those drugs? Are they broken without taking them? Are they better or worse for taking them?

              It’s all pretty subjective. I used to get seasonal depression in the winter; never had any issues the other 8-9 months of the year. But I now take anti-depressants year round because they smooth out my mood swings and give me increased energy on a daily basis. I look at it less like I have something wrong with me that needs to be fixed, and more like anti-depressants are a performance-enhancing drug that increases my odds of success in life.

              1. fposte*

                Though there are a lot of things where that’s not true–vitamins for deficiency, SSRIs, levothyroxine, etc.

                1. Koko*

                  Since you mention SSRIs, you would be surprised to know just how inadequate and patchy the science around them is. There has never been a single study that found that people who are depressed are serotonin deficient.

                  People think it’s a happy-hormone, but serotonin is actually the hormone associated with fight-or-flight response and impulse control. Dopamine is the reward/pleasure hormone, and when serotonin is high dopamine is low. Serotonin is the hormone that peaks when we’re in danger so that we stop seeking pleasure-rewards and do what we have to do to survive. The symptoms of high serotonin are stomach butterflies, sweaty palms, pounding heart, and dry mouth – all part of the parasympathetic panic response.

                  Serotonin rises and falls throughout the day in most people. In depressed and anxious people it repeatedly rises too high every day. They lose interest in pleasure-seeking because of reduced dopamine. They begin to either sleep all the time or not sleep at all because either one helps the brain deal with excess serotonin (sleeping by converting serotonin into melatonin, not sleeping by letting serotonin build so high that it provokes serotonin receptor resistance).

                  SSRIs treat depression by doing the same thing not sleeping does: doubling down on the high-serotonin problem and overloading your brain with so much serotonin that it provokes serotonin receptor resistance and eventually causes your brain to downregulate serotonin production and you finally come out of your sustained panic…that’s why SSRIs increase suicide ideation and why the first 2 weeks you’re on an SSRI is the time you’re most likely to kill yourself, because that’s the time period when your serotonin is higher than ever before and your brain hasn’t fully compensated for it yet.

                  This is also why bupropion has supplanted SSRIs as the gold standard for anti-depressants. It actually acts directly on dopamine, the pleasure hormone, and also provides a little norepenephrine boost that feels energizing.

                  Meanwhile, things like breathwork and cognitive-behavioral therapy are remarkably effective in regulating one’s own hormone production without medication. Medication just makes it a hell of a lot easier than powering through on sheer CBT willpower, so if you’re in a really bad way, why wouldn’t you take advantage of any tool you can?

                  Some interesting further discussion here:


                2. Coffee Ninja*

                  Responding to Koko’s post (it wouldn’t let me nest any more)

                  – SSRIs don’t, across the board, “increase suicide ideation.” There are a whole host of factors that contribute to suicidal ideation and no peer-reviewed research supports the theory that SSRIs do.

                  – Bupropion (Wellbutrin) is *far* from the “gold standard of antidepressants. Many pracitioners will only prescribe it as adjunctive therapy (i.e. in addition to another drug(s)).

                  /soapbox; it just burns my biscuits when I see misinformation (I work in mental health & some of our employees don’t even know this stuff!)

              2. ThatGirl*

                I mean, yes, there are social constructs involved, but when diagnosing a mental illness one of the key factors is whether it’s causing the person distress or preventing them from doing everyday sorts of things. It’s not just “I feel blue sometimes” but “I can’t get out of bed/I’m finding no joy in life/my relationships are struggling” — there actually is a bar to clear.

                1. Koko*

                  Sure – but that bar has been set arbitrarily on a spectrum of how hard we think life should be and how happy we think someone should expect to be. There is not a bright, clear line where on one side of it you’re depressed and on one side of it you’re not. We can all generally agree about people at the ends of the spectrum being one or the other, but there’s a big gray area in the middle and where exactly we draw the cut-off line is a subjective cultural decision. And there are also people who might fall on the “OK” side of the gray area and still benefit from medication.

                  People who live in high altitudes experience a temporary cardiovascular advantage when they come down to low elevations because they have adapted to the lower oxygen levels at high altitude, and their performance is then boosted by the oxygen-rich air at low elevation. Likewise the reverse – people from low elevations often get faint or get drunk too quickly at high elevations because their brain is missing the oxygen it’s used to. You can also go to those oxygen bars to get pure oxygen and it’ll give you a boost.

                  You could make a case that people at high altitudes are oxygen-deficient, and they need oxygen to treat their deficiency, and you would see them improve on many metrics by giving them oxygen. We don’t actually make the case, though (partly because bodies naturally adapt to altitude over a fairly short amount of time, several days to a few weeks). We say – hey, they do just fine with the level of oxygen they’re getting, so it’s not a problem. Doesn’t mean they wouldn’t still experience a performance-enhancing boost from breathing more oxygen-rich air.

                  In terms of mental health Person A whose brain chemistry is exactly identical to Person B might be just blue sometimes while Person B can’t get out of bed, because the context of their lives is different. Brain chemistry correlates with but doesn’t perfectly predict whether you feel happy or sad. Your environment and culture interact with your brain chemistry and produce cognitive patterns. One of the most broadly successful types of therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy, where you basically just teach yourself to stop thinking bad thoughts and start thinking good ones. Someone could have all the brain chemistry markers of depression but if they’ve been raised in an environment that never made them cognitively feel bad, they might be able to get out of bed just fine and not be depressed at all. Depression flows from cognition, not the other way around.

                1. Actual Person With Mental Illness*

                  As someone who actually has a diagnosed, chemically-induced mental disorder, this is so upsetting to me. For someone to tell another person not to seek help because “some people don’t need it, I have SAD and I’m fine” is so beyond not okay that I don’t even know how to put it into words.

            4. Jadelyn*

              How are you defining “normal” levels of anxiety, though? Are you in that person’s head? Do you have absolute knowledge that what they feel is “normal levels”? Trust and believe that many of us with mental health issues are VERY good at hiding what we’re really going through; what you see is not necessarily the whole story.

              There’s a whole lot of projecting and assuming you know what’s going on in other people’s heads here, and it’s really not okay.

              1. twig*

                To jump in with you — what is “normal?”

                “Normal” (ie common) anxiety levels for me cause me to be so overwhelmed with everyday life that I cannot deal — don’t know where to start, agonize about doing “it” (whatever it is) right rather than just doing it — I avoid human contact for fear of screwing it up or because I haven’t contacted that person in a while and how do I communicate. I overannalyze to the point of paralisys.

                That is “normal” levels of anxiety for me. I thought that I was broken because I couldn’t deal with “normal” levels of anxiety — afterall, I’m lucky, my life is fairly un-dramatic and steady.

                diagnosis, therapy, and some medication have helped lower my everyday anxiety levels and enabled me to enjoy life.

                And YES, when I miss my medication, for whatever reason, it affects me. it’s not an excuse, its a reason — why am I suddenly crying and upset about little things? because my brain chemistry is out of whack and I need to get back on the meds.

                I’m sure there are folks who think that I’m a whiny baby and that I just need to toughen up. I tried that for the first 35 years of my life — it didn’t work. balancing my brain chemistry — AND getting therapy helped.

            5. Lady H*

              You know, comments like this are one of the reasons why I didn’t get medication for my depression. There’s a stigma attached to mental health issues and a lot of talk about how doctors are over-prescribing medication, but in reality most people who are depressed think they can handle it without medication. I thought that my depression could be fixed if I just tried harder. But medication worked for me when therapy, meditation, exercise, getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet (to the point where I developed orthorexia and needed to see a dietician to untangle my overly restrictive diet) failed miserably.

              Unless you are that person’s doctor, you just don’t know if someone has a “normal” level of anxiety or if someone isn’t trying to get enough sleep. In addition, no one owes you their health, so judging other people for not doing the things that you consider healthy is problematic on that level as well.

              I do understand part of where you are coming from — we are internet strangers and cannot diagnosis the OP. However, many people think that their lack of interest and energy is normal and don’t realize that they don’t have to live this way. No one has urged the OP to get on medication, the suggestion was to consider an underlying health issue because many of us have been there.

        2. Rachel*

          I *wish* I’d gotten screened at 22 for hormonal imbalance issues leading to a lack of enthusiasm & energy, plus excess weight for my comfort on my frame.
          Instead I only learned about my endocrine problems at 30, with a year’s worth of food diary entries and Fitbit records that showed that if the “It’s simple math, calories in/calories out” crowd was right, I would have lost 100+ pounds instead of 2. Since that didn’t seem like the way things should be, it got me to the doctor, who got me into an endocrinologist’s office, who has helped me take both medical and lifestyle steps to feeling better, which means I feel better at 33 than I did throughout my 20’s.
          If the OP can swing it (insured in their own right or still on parents’ insurance), screening at a primary care doctor to confirm or disprove that there’s some biological cause of ennui is valuable information to have, whichever way the answer goes.

        3. Jadelyn*

          Nobody is “chalking anything up” to medical issues. People are suggesting, BASED ON OUR OWN EXPERIENCES WITH THESE DISORDERS, that what the OP describes may be connected to said disorders, and recommending that they get screened to rule that out. Some things no lifestyle change or attitude adjustment will fix, so what’s wrong with checking on those at the same time that you try said lifestyle or attitude changes, just to cover all the bases?

          Also, please be careful with the comments about over-diagnosis – that attitude contributes HEAVILY to stigma against mental illnesses and results in a lot of people who can benefit from medical support delaying or refusing to access that care. I’m trying to remain polite here, but to be honest that attitude right there cost me about 6 or 7 years of my life, because I kept trying to just cope on my own with major depression rather than be “over-diagnosed” and given “unnecessary medication”, so it’s something that I personally have experienced to be incredibly harmful.

          1. twig*

            Good for you, Jadelyn, getting help after those years. My husband and I both have mental health issues (anxiety for me, depression for him) that held us back for ManyMany years until we both found a good therapist and the right medication to balance our respective brain chemistries.

            I try to be open about my use and benefit from anti-anxiety medication and my husband’s anti-depressants. Both of us wish that we had found these treatments sooner (especially him he’s been depressed off and on since he was a teenager — and not “just” because he was young — because his brain chemistry is out of whack)

            1. Jadelyn*

              Thank you – and to you as well, you and your husband. It can be hard to make that leap when you’ve internalized the stigma against mental health treatment for a long time, and yet the difference for me has been drastic…before getting treatment, the longest job I’d ever held was about 6 months, just little retail and temp stuff because I couldn’t hold myself together long enough for more than that. Now? I’m going back to school, graduating in January (!), and have been at my job for almost 2.5 years because I can cope with that now, thanks to my meds.

              So, like you, I try to be very open about it. Maybe it can help someone else out there who’s putting off getting help, to see people talk about the good it’s done.

          2. SystemsLady*

            I wish I’d written to an advice column (albeit at 16 or 17) and saw comments that said “hey, I have ADHD, and that reminds me of…”!

            I can relate to part of OP’s letter because I had a major and two minors in college, all of them completely unrelated. I also had a big extracurricular, unrelated to the above three. I stressed my way through, shrugged off low grades in subjects I didn’t like/get (because studying didn’t work. at all.) and…wouldn’t recommend that. At all.

            I didn’t know “relax” meant anything other than “indulge your distracted brain until you get distracted by the need to work, or another distraction” until the first day I took medication.

            1. Hopple Popple*

              “I didn’t know “relax” meant anything other than “indulge your distracted brain until you get distracted by the need to work, or another distraction” until the first day I took medication.”

              Oh wow. I’m currently in the very early stages of getting my newly-diagnosed ADHD treated and I have never heard anyone describe what it’s like in my brain so accurately. Thank you for putting that into words.

        4. TootsNYC*

          I don’t think they’re saying that’s all it is. They’re just saying, “Don’t neglect this avenue, as you do all the other things. Just in case.”

    3. anonnymoose*

      Yes I was going to say exactly this regarding depression & ADHD. Chronic boredom (I know that sounds weird) is a symptom of a variety of mental disorders.

        1. Anon Moose*

          Yup, but what does OP lose by figuring out if everything is ok? There are different strategies to deal with lots of sides of the issue, and clinical depression is one possibility that’s not uncommon among young people either. No one is saying it accounts for all young people being bored/sad, but its harmful enough and common enough to rule it out, or at the very least learn strategies for self care that can get OP through a stressful time.

        2. fposte*

          Agreeing with Anon Moose. People who are late in getting treatment for something treatable really regret the lost years. It makes a ton of sense to go to the doctor and say “Hey, is this just an age thing or is it possible there’s a medical cause?”

          1. Pontoon Pirate*

            I set myself back by years by not paying attention to my sense of malaise and boredom with work, life, people, etc. in my early twenties. It caused me to make poor, desperate decisions, like going to grad school to the tune of thousands and thousands of dollars in students loans … and then I dropped out of grad school.

            There’s nothing wrong–and everything right–with tackling the “what ifs” early on, OP. You say university depressed you, so consider all of this your encouragment to face that now instead of regretting it later.

          2. Aurion*

            Serious question, because I’m curious: how seriously do GPs take mental health issues? It is true that sometimes mental health issues can be situational and sometimes more intrinsic (and sometimes bad situations compound with an already-present mental health issue, which makes it even more fun…).

            Mental health is harder to quantify than other illnesses. Do GPs actually take people seriously when they say “I feel bad for a long time?” I feel like people still use the “eat better, sleep better, get exercise, reduce stress, etc” line a lot. Which…sometimes helps and sometimes not since mental health symptoms are so nebulous…

            1. Aurion*

              I should add that I probably should’ve sought out some help for my mental health during a bad time in my life. Mine was situational, so it improved a lot once my situation changed–which was lucky for me, because I wouldn’t have the faintest clue of how to begin asking a doctor about this if it hadn’t been situational. I’m not sure I could ask a doctor about it now, never mind back then, hence my curiosity.

              1. Elle*

                We just went through some serious mental health issues with my 19 year old daughter, and I couldn’t be happier and more more grateful with how her GP handled it. He was fantastic. So they’re out there!

              2. Cactus*

                Mine listened to me when I explained my anxiety, asked me whether it flared up more during winter months, and some other helpful questions. It was an awkward conversation, but I think she handled things well. She prescribed an SSRI (Zoloft), with instructions about gradually increasing my dose over the next 3 weeks, and scheduling a follow up for the following month.

                That was about 2.5 years ago; things are…smoother…now.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Some GPs do. I think a good test is to see how your GP reacts if you express a concern that there may be something affecting your mood, or if you are concerned about a mental health issue. A GP who is willing to talk about screening and offer choices is probably taking you seriously (even if they say ‘it’s unlikely to be X’ but follow up to be sure); a GP who blows you off by saying oh, you’re just young or everybody feels that way sometimes, is not, and is also probably a crappy doctor.

              1. Aurion*

                Thanks, neverjaunty! I hope I never have to use this info in my toolbox, but I’m glad to know that some GPs will take this issue more seriously than I had imagined.

            3. Just Visiting*

              IMO, all a GP should be doing in terms of a person’s mental health is providing a referral to a psychiatrist or continuing a pre-existing treatment plan set up by a psychiatrist. Too many of them don’t know the first thing about how to deal with these medications and people wind up on the wrong shit or the wrong dose of the right shit. Psychiatrists aren’t always correct, either, but they have a MUCH lower chance of killing someone.

              1. Julia*

                This happened to me. None of the three or four GPs I saw referred me to anyone other than an OB/GYN when I would have needed a really good endocrinologist. Gods in White indeed…

            4. blushingflower*

              Depends on the GP. I just had an appointment where I brought up my anxiety and she did start by asking about lifestyle things (I exercise, I meditate, I journal, I get enough sleep) before moving to other options. Which is her job, to explore multiple possible avenues of treatment, starting with those that have the fewest risks.

            5. Anon for this*

              For what it’s worth, I’ve found my GP to be very helpful when it comes to mental illness. My primary care doctor wrote me a prescription for Prozac right away when I told her I was depressed, because as she said “when someone is drowning is not the time to teach them how to swim.” At the time I was so incredibly busy that the idea of finding and regularly seeing a therapist would have been too overwhelming that it wouldn’t have happened, so I was very grateful. I did start seeing a therapist regularly later, but once I had things under control, I decided to stay on Prozac and my GP still writes those Rxs for me.

        3. Jadelyn*

          What do you have against people getting checked for mental health issues? Serious question. You definitely seem to be anti-mental-health-care based on your comments here.

        4. Mustache Cat*

          Do you think that it might be a common symptom of being young at least in small part because many mental illnesses manifest in young adulthood and depression is incredibly common?

        5. Nyla*

          I was in a very similar situation to the OP and was constantly told that I was simply young and immature. So, instead of seeking help, I simply tried to “grow up.” I struggled for years until I was finally diagnosed as bipolar. It’s been night and day for me now that I’m on medication and have a new diet. Could they just be young? Of course. But I see no harm in encouraging them to explore every possible reason because if there is something else at play, ignoring it could be devastating to their life.

        6. Wendy Darling*

          It’s a lot faster to get screened for anxiety or depression than it is to wait until you’re not young anymore and see if it goes away on its own.

        7. Misc*

          There is a huge difference between being frequently bored, or being unable to feel anything *but* bored, or being *intolerant to* boredom – lots of people can work through boring jobs, some people almost physically can’t. I am one of those people, and I lost so much of my life just assuming I needed to ‘try harder to do the thing’ while my brain screamed dramatically and defenestrated itself out both ears at once. I’ve spent hours trying to force myself to do something and gotten nowhere until I learnt what was going on (I still get nowhere, but now I know why and am less likely to set myself up for failure).

          As with many other mental health symptoms, boredom sounds like something ‘everyone’ has ‘some of the time’. But that’s just because it’s very, very difficult to casually directly compare a sliding scale of emotional and mental symptoms between different people who don’t even have the same baselines. If this was a pain thing, we could go from ‘mild’ to ‘agonising’, but it’s very hard to convey ‘agonising boredom’, and most people have no experience of it, so all they hear is ‘boredom’.

    4. sam*

      I was coming here to say the same thing. Obviously none of us are internet doctors, and we shouldn’t be diagnosing anything, but just the pattern of start/stopping, getting bored really quickly *could* be signs of something else that might be worth at least speaking to someone about.

      Or they could just be that, like Alison said, you haven’t found what’s right for you yet. I was one of those people who went right through and “knew exactly what I wanted to be when i grew up” because I always wanted to be a lawyer (even though I actually ended up changing my “second” major three times and ended up in corporate law instead of saving the world), but my brother was one of those folks who took a really long time to figure out what his “purpose” was, and he spent several years bouncing around from one cube-farm drone job to another before he really discovered what his purpose in life was (not to get into it too much here, but he actually is kinda trying to save the world).

      It’s OK to take time to figure things out and not fit your life into the arbitrary high school->college->job schedule that we all think we have to comply with, but just be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot in the process by bouncing around too much and thinking that *every* job requires passion.

      Also, sometimes a job is just a paycheck that allows you to follow your actual passions, and that’s OK – if you want to write, that can be entirely non-remunerative for a very long time. Think of your job as the means by which you don’t starve while you follow *that* passion for now.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        Also, sometimes a job is just a paycheck that allows you to follow your actual passions, and that’s OK – if you want to write, that can be entirely non-remunerative for a very long time. Think of your job as the means by which you don’t starve while you follow *that* passion for now.

        I say this every time this topic comes up. I write books for a living. I make money from said books, but it’s not enough to live off of right now so I have a day job. I like my day job a lot – I find my industry fascinating. The paycheck, though, is why I stay in it. That money allows me to do the writing I want to do when I want to do it without worrying about how I’m going to pay the rent for my ridiculously expensive apartment and my student loans.

        OP, find a job that doesn’t make you hate life and try new hobbies in your free time for self-fulfillment. If you do that, the time at the job you’re just meh about will go by so much quicker, I promise.

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          Speaking as another published author who doesn’t make enough on novels alone, I second a lot of this. I work as an editor for my “day job” now but took a very circuitous route to get here.

          I also second the encouragement to look into screening for mental or physical health issues just to be on the safe side. I didn’t until my 30s and paid a heavy price for not understanding things about my mental health earlier. You could just be bored and need to try some things till you find shay you really want to pursue, but researching your health and discussing with s reputable provider can only help even if it rules anything medical out.

        2. Business Cat*


          I also flip-flopped from different degree programs, dropped out of college after 21, and job-hopped until I decided to get an Associate’s degree in accounting just to have finished something. And I’m 27 and only kind of doing accounting (billing, A/P, A/R), but the degree helped me flex some brain muscles that have been useful to me in other ways. My current admin job made me hate life until I got involved with community theatre and developing my other passion projects on the side. Once I started casting a wider net, building a community for myself, and stopped trying to find fulfillment in my day job, I have been more satisfied. My job has become less of a drain, and more of a means to do the other things I love.

          Of course, I have also started therapy and medication for a previously undiagnosed anxiety disorder, so I’m grounded pretty firmly in the camp of getting checked out just in case.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          +1, Christopher Tracy.

          OP, I’m not published yet other than a couple of short stories, but I only know ONE writer who writes full-time and isn’t on the NYT bestseller list and doesn’t have a day job. There may be more, but the midlist is gone–the time of making a living from moderate book sales is over. This person doesn’t only write books; he also writes comics and short stories and does a myriad of things to support himself and a family. It’s not enough just to write novels if you want to do it full-time. We can’t all be J.K. Rowling. ;)

          That doesn’t mean you can’t achieve that dream someday–or that I can’t. It means, however, that we have to do it in our spare time. Nothing wrong with that. It might mean you have to go back to school and learn how to write other things, like white papers and grants and boring whatever. I would think long and hard about what you want to study, because college is very expensive and you don’t want to keep trying like I did and end up paying loans until you freaking die. I would argue the cost as a very good reason we should have a gap year between high school and college. Take this time to really think about it. A degree can help you get a better job; Alison is right about that.

          I have a day job. It’s not that interesting, nor have any of them been all that interesting, but I’ve chosen and am limited by circumstance to 1) working for a living, and 2) working jobs that pay hourly. I don’t have a rich husband or a trust fund. After many office jobs, I finally got to where I’m not on call, I don’t work shifts, and I don’t work weekend, so that time is mine. One particular freedom of an hourly, not-so-interesting job is that at the end of the day, I can leave it behind and focus on my writing. :)

          Regardless of what you want to do, you still have to eat, and it’s okay to just have a job in the meantime.

          1. Athena Grayson*

            The midlist went Indie. To the OP: if you really think you want to be a novelist, there are only three things you have to do:
            1. ) Write Novels. This one’s critical. You have to want to write novels, not just want to “have written” novels. They don’t write themselves.
            2.) Learn about the business of publishing. There is a literal epic crapton of free information out there about the business of writing from real fiction writers who make varying levels of decent money at it. Study the markets, learn the ins and outs of what you should be paying for and what should be paying you (Money Flows TO the Writer).
            3.) Write more novels. Write, publish, repeat, ad infinitum. Take a job that puts the roof over your head and food on the table, and write when you are not doing that job. Treat it like the craft it is and you will be spiritually nourished by the art that it can be. Provided that’s what you really want to do.

            But also–you’re 22. Take crappy jobs and move on to other, slightly-less-crappy jobs, and find things about those jobs that you like, or at least find tolerable. Listen to other people and learn from them–they have interesting stories and know things that you don’t (this will go far as fodder for your novels, too).

        4. Mary Lorenz*

          Since you’re working at a library currently, is it possible for you to start and coordinate a writing group that meets at the library? We have one at my library that meets twice a month. It could help make the job more interesting to you.

      1. Myrin*

        Of course not, but it could be a symptom. And if the OP has never thought of that before, she might look more deeply into it and figure out that hey, this actually sounds like something that could apply to her! Or she has thought about it before and come to the conclusion that it doesn’t apply to her, which, hey, she can just ignore that comment then!

    5. Michelenyc*

      I would also like to suggest having your B12 levels checked. Many people do not know that a deficiency in B12 can make depression worse or cause it altogether. It also causes shakiness and memory issues. This is particularly true if you are Veg/Vegan. I am dealing with that issue now.

      1. Manders*

        Sort of off topic, but wow, I wish someone had warned me earlier that if your diet is low in red meat you may be missing some very important vitamins that help regulate your mood and energy. I went through a very confusing period of feeling bored and listless in my teens until my doctor figured out that I needed iron supplements. B12 is another common deficiency. In my area, it’s also standard to test for D in the winter.

        1. Act*

          Wait… holy shit. I cut red meat out of diet because I have digestive problems, but it never occurred to me it could be fucking with my MDD and energy levels.

          1. Manders*

            It certainly can! Speaking from unfortunate experience, this is the kind of thing you want to talk to your doctor about rather than trying to self-treat, because iron and B compound supplements can also cause digestive problems if you’re not taking them right.

          2. JB (not in Houston)*

            It doesn’t have to red meat. Fish and other types of meat also have iron, so if you are eating those, you’re getting iron. A lot of plant-based food sources also have iron, but it’s non-heme iron, which means it’s not as easily absorbed. If your diet is plant-based, you should look into supplements or make sure you are eating foods with iron when you eat foods with vit C and *not* when you are eating foods high in calcium.

            Also, it could be that you make an antibody that interferes with your bodies ability to absorb nutrients (I have to take supplements for that reason), or if you are on a proton-pump inhibitor like Nexium, that could also be causing you to have problems absorbing nutrients from your food.

            Arsenic can also block the absorption of iron, but I’m assuming that is not the problem. :)

      2. Happy Lurker*

        Another pro B Vitamin Complex person here. I feel so much different and better when I keep my various B vitamins in stock and in my bloodstream. I do take more than one kind of B, as well as D. Especially in the winter.

        But another note is that I think it is terribly common after being told for years to “follow your dream” or “find something you love” to leave you at the verge of adulthood (finally with no homework and the joy of reading for pleasure!) and feeling unfulfilled. Follow Allison’s advice and surround yourself with people, hobbies, and experiences that will make you feel better. Unfortunately, it is work and 25 years later it is still boring…hence AAM to brighten up the day.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Am grinning, I remember the first time I took Vitamin B. Holy crap, I felt like an actual person instead of a cog in The Great Mechanism. Difference of day and night. More recently Vitamin D was super helpful in getting me to do life more the way I want to.

    6. blackcat*


      In the letter about the casing, a lot of people made the argument that it was unlikely to be a threat, but why not treat it as one and investigate since the consequences of not doing so could be high.

      I view this as the same thing. Odds are good that you’ve got some run of the mill boredom. BUT if you *do* have a medical issue going on, getting screened treated could make a HUGE difference. I could go on and on about why I should have gotten myself screened for vitamin D deficiency sooner than I did (short version: Severe vitamin D deficiency = depression + stress fractures).

      So, yeah, do what Alison says (because it may help either way), but also get checked by a doc. The consequences of not doing so can be bad.

      1. Bwmn*

        Exactly – if there is a medical issue floating around, finding out can be enormously helpful.

        It may also turn out there’s some kind of medical something that would benefit from support as well as learning what kind of benefits do or don’t make sense. Maybe it’s having great medical or mental health benefits. Maybe it’s a flex work schedule or more working from home. Maybe it’s a dog friendly workplace. Maybe it’s a job with a access/discounts for gym memberships.

        There are lots of benefits that may make a ho-hum job very desirable. I think many of us know people with strong outside hobbies – camping, playing in bands, dressing in drag, writing – all sorts of activities that require having a day job. Having a job that makes those things possible or helps us have the best quality of life due to what we want and value, that can be all it is.

    7. OP*


      Thanks for the advice. I do have to say that I write everyday, not just dream about it. :)

      1. LD*

        Good for you! You are following your dream. As others have said so very well, if the writing is your passion, then use the paycheck to support that passion and try not to be too disappointed that you don’t get that fulfillment from making the paycheck. Lots of writers don’t make a complete living from their writing and many who do took a long time to get there. Good luck.

      2. neverjaunty*

        That is excellent, OP! (Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day here or there.)

        Keep in mind that being a writer can change and doesn’t mean you have to write The Greatest of Novels write out of the gate. Some people find that they are better at short stories, or essays, or that their novel is something they pick away at in between other writing. There is a lot of great advice from other writers in this thread – I would concur that for a day job, what you really want is something that pays the bills, that you don’t hate, and that doesn’t destroy your urge to create. Most writers really do have day jobs (or spouses who have day jobs).

        Also, if you haven’t done NaNoWriMo before, you might want to consider it – not because it will lead you to the Greatest of Novels necessarily, but 1) it offers a great supportive community, year-round and not just during November, and 2) it’s a concrete demonstration that yes, if you put a few pages together every day, you WILL end up with a novel.

      3. Mustache Cat*

        Awesome for you, OP! I definitely second trying to find passion and fulfillment in other parts of your life separate from work. Maybe as neverjaunty said, finding an online community or local writer’s group?

        1. OP*

          Yeah, you know I think next year I will do NaNoWriMo. :) And finding an online community is a great idea, I’ll explore that too.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            NaNoWriMo is great because it gets you writing every day (which I see that you do). I cheat and use it to finish stuff, LOL. Look on its website–NaNo meetup groups exist in real life, where writers can get together and have writing sessions and network. :)

          2. sam*

            Oh – if you’re on twitter, follow Susan Orlean – she will post writing challenges and sprints and stuff all the time.

          3. neverjaunty*

            Also, check out Meetups for Shut Up And Write get-togethers, which are exactly what they sound like. I also recommend Chuck Wendig’s blog at Terribleminds, if you don’t mind profanity and goofy humor, because he’s very encouraging.

          4. Crystal Vu*

            You might check out Chuck Wendig’s blog (NSFW for language). I find him funny and inspiring. Also, Scribophile.com. I was active on Scribophile for a bit, then realized I needed to put more effort into cleaning up my novel before posting it for feedback, but depending on where you are, you may be ready to benefit from the feedback you can find there.

          5. Christopher Tracy*

            Remember – Camp NaNo is in 8 days if you’re so inclined to participate, OP!

          6. Donna*

            If you write fantasy, scifi, or horror, the Online Writing Workshop (OWW) is a good one.

            It’s not free, but it’s not too bad (around $50/year). I think you can get a free one month trial to try it out. I like it because many of the other writers are serious about getting published (and they do) and professional authors and editors pick a submission in each genre to critique once a month.

      4. john watson*

        Awesome! Keep writing – I stopped for a while because of work and it’s hard to get back on the horse, so you’re doing a great thing.

    8. SystemsLady*

      Agreed! I avoided seeing a psychologist for years about how I felt like a fraud because everybody thought I was so smart and I had all these big ideas, but I was always throwing together things last minute and all of my personal projects always fell apart. How I regret that now! That visit changed my life.

      Not to mention that you may learn a lot of useful information about yourself just getting screened for an hour, if you’re able to get into a psychologist in your situation.

    9. Lauren*

      I was thinking this myself. I’m 33, have ADHD, an have to forced myself to try new projects to maintain excitement about my job. Fortunately I work in a library and there are always problem to solve an new projects to start. I just see it as my own responsibility to keep myself excited about new work. Being aware of what you need in a job can help you MAKE THAT wherever you happen to be.

  2. Mike C.*

    This is an insanely good response to the type of honest question that would elsewhere be answered with disdain and a lazy, patronizing tone.

      1. WorkingMom*

        Yes!! It’s so awful to have society telling you “never settle!!!” and “do what you love!!” and all of that. At a certain point, you just have to pay the electricity bill. I will share that I did a few different jobs – for 1-2 years at a time and found portions of it I liked and didn’t like. I kept that in mind as I looked for my next move, and eventually sort-of-gracefully-stumbled into a career that is fulfilling enough that I don’t mind coming to work each day. I enjoy the challenges, sometimes I get bored, sometimes I get frustrated. But generally speaking, work satisfies the desire to accomplish something. And it also satisfies paying the mortgage, which is key. I use my time outside of work to pursue my passion as a hobby, and also volunteer locally. Those outside-of-work things are the things I truly LOVE. The things I do for free :) Good luck, OP. I hope that you eventually find something that is good enough for now, which eventually turns into something you enjoy doing. And then keep writing and doing other things that are your true passion too!

    1. Laura*

      Yes! I came here to comment on what an empathetic and thoughtful response it is. Great work as usual, Allison.

    2. Anon Moose*

      Yes, so many people would demonize the younger person. This kind of thing is one of the reasons I read AAM and recommend it to everyone I know (especially younger people starting careers).

    3. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Yup, definitely the kind of response to a letter that made me notice this site and kept me coming back.

    4. RVA Cat*

      This. I love that Alison took the time to empathize with a young person rather than condescending.

      OP, you are 22, and the main think I can tell you is you will NOT being doing one job, or even one career, for the Rest of Your (Working) Life. Think about how much things have changed since the Mad Men era, the next 50 years will bring even more change that we can’t even imagine right now.

      Also, note that the choice is not between Dream Career and Job You Hate. Like most everything else, there is a continuum and most of us will find ourselves somewhere in the middle in the Bearable range.

    5. Overeducated*

      Yes. And the original letter writer is not the only young person who’s going to come across it and be able to listen and take heart because it doesn’t just say “suck it up you entitled millennial.” Thanks for your compassion here, Alison.

    6. Aurion*

      Amen to this. I wish I read this site when I was 22. Lots of us have been in this position, and there will be many more who will be in this position.

      Thank you, Alison!

    7. Jadelyn*

      I so appreciate Alison both taking on the “follow your passion!” BS that is causing so many people to feel dissatisfied with perfectly okay careers (or feel like total failures for not having figured out what their passion is), and not turning this into a “you Millennials just need to learn how to work hard blah blah fart” screed.

    8. Not So NewReader*

      Yep, and this is why I read here, for Alison’s down to earth advice. No pie in the sky stuff going on here, OP. Her goal is to help people get employed and STAY employed. And she’s great at this stuff.

  3. Workfromhome*

    It might be hard to understand at 22 but for many MANY people simply finding a job that they can tolerate, don’t hate or that they don’t spend every Sunday dreading going to is actually a dream. Maybe after getting some more life experience you will discover a passion that you can turn into a job. But at 22 you haven’t even been on earth long enough to discover what that might be.

    There is a reason why its called work not happy playtime. it can be boring. But you simply going to need to appreciate being bored and being able to play rent is much better than not being able to pay rent or having a non boring but toxic job that sucks the life out of you.

    1. babblemouth*

      It also sounds like the jobs LW has just stop once she steps out of the building. That means that after work, you have total freedom to explore a lot of different passions – two days a week to write, people-watch, find inspiration etc. If the pay is enough that you don’t need to be concerned about making rent every month, the freedom you get in your own time is something to embrace.
      THAT’s what you’re working for.

  4. BRR*

    All great advice and here’s what I can add:
    -What you like in your personal life might not translate to a career. You liked the library so you thought you could work there (you also might not enjoy it because it’s not challenging but a lot of entry-level jobs aren’t the most challenging. I keep thinking of the person who likes to cook becoming a chef. Being a chef in a restaurant is very different than cooking at home.
    -I’m going to assume you have some college credits. See if you can finish there or explore transferring them to a university where you can finish.
    -My ADD coming through and focusing on a small detail while ignoring the big things, try to email to follow up on applications and not call. Really only follow up if you have to anyways.

    1. Bigglesworth*

      This. ^ I liked getting my bachelor’s degree (going to classes, discussion about topics that interested me, etc.), so I got a job at a university. Turns out that it’s very different than being a student.

      1. Koko*

        Good lord, I liked getting my bachelor’s degree so I went to grad school. Turned out even that was very different.

    2. AMG*

      This! I like reading, swimming, kids, art, and animals. But I don’t want to write for a living, am not athletic, am not patient, am terrible at art, and am grossed out by bodily functions. So am I stuck? Nope.

      I like things organized and I’m logical. I like ideas better than people and I like getting my hands dirty (figuratively, not literally). I am good at explaining things. = Project Manager. No swimming, kids, or animals, and it will test your patience daily but I do get to write.

      Think about what else you like. You don’t have to love it. I would rather win the lottery and be rich and not work, but this really isn’t bad at all. I hope you find your ‘not bad’ too.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        OP, I hope you are not spending a lot of time thinking about how you are not fantastic at a particular job. Many people are average workers… uh, that is why they are called average. You don’t have to be a superstar but you do have to be solid, reliable and consistent. Take pride in being that person who people rely on. I am sensing that you do not find much to be proud of in your jobs. Look around for ways to be proud of yourself.

        1. Regina 2*

          This is so great — thanks for sharing!

          I want the struggle of couch potato-dom…. :-)

  5. Cambridge Comma*

    If you are looking for a different field to get into, perhaps try to break down a little more what that job actually involves. For example, someone shouldn’t work in a library because they like reading, but because they like helping others to find books, and don’t mind putting books away.
    Don’t become an editor because you really want to be a writer. Become an editor if you like editing.
    (If you are good with InDesign etc., have you considered getting into e-book production? You could do that freelance alongside the library job. But again, only if you think you could like doing that, not because it’s writer-adjacent.)

    1. 42*

      >>Don’t become an editor because you really want to be a writer. Become an editor if you like editing.<<

      THANK YOU. I'm an editor, most definitely NOT a writer, and it makes us collectively clench when people think editing is a precursor to a writing career. Two entirely different animals, two entirely different thought processes.

      1. OP*


        I do realize there’s a difference between being a writer versus being an editor. Yes, I do like editing and have gotten small opportunities at editing in the past, for school or for a club. So, I’m aware of the differences.

        1. 42*

          Not directed at you OP!! Just a general ‘you’ for those who may not know. I come in peace! :)

    2. addlady*

      This was me for years, and I didn’t understand why. Turns out I just loved reading, and I felt like I wanted to “read” the stories in my head (e. g. get them down at the same speed as I could read already-written books). I always got frustrated, gave up, and then felt guilty, and then wouldn’t read, hoping that it would drive me to get those words down.

      Now, I’ve mostly given up that idea, and I read guilt-free. I even write guilt-free. Because I don’t simply want to build a career on it, I feel like there’s a *bigger* chance of actually doing so.

      1. Stella Maris*

        “I just loved reading, and I felt like I wanted to “read” the stories in my head (e. g. get them down at the same speed as I could read already-written books). I always got frustrated”

        I’m so glad you wrote this – helped me put into words what I found/find most frustrating about writing!

      2. Althea*

        Ooooh, this is me! I always loved making up stories, but I could only write like 1 page before giving up. It took me a decade or two to realize that I don’t like writing stories. I just like making them up. Turning it into language on a page, deciding which words to use… ugh. Takes way too long. Non-fiction, I can write just fine, but fiction is a no-go.

        Now I just make up the stories and enjoy them like I’m watching a movie made just for me.

  6. Fabulous*

    OP – I’m 31, still bored with my jobs, still working on finding my “niche”, living paycheck to paycheck, AND have a degree. Two degrees. Just because you have a degree doesn’t mean life will magically work out. AAM gives great feedback about how “doing what you love” is a line of crap only fed to certain socioeconomic demographics. It’s not something I really realized before, but it’s totally true. Hobbies are called hobbies for a reason :)

    1. CeeCee*

      I’m almost 28 and only in this last year resigned myself to the fact that my job is just a job. It pays my bills and, thankfully, allows me to get out of work early enough in the day to have a bit of time to spend on things on I actually enjoy doing. (Things I’m very passionate about, but know will never make me any money. … Unless there’s some secret group of super wealthy cross stitchers out there I can join.)

      I’m not a super career driven person (I’d rather be able to pursue my passions than work excessively) and so, for me, as long as I don’t hate my job — and it does have it’s days — to the point where I don’t want to go in the mornings and it pays my bills, it’s fine with me.

      I went to college and got a writing degree because I want to be a writer and while having a degree has served me well, I don’t work in my field. I write when my muses move me and spend other time on my other hobbies.

      In short, OP, you aren’t alone in the boat your in. I mostly focus on staying at a job for at least 2 years so that I can have better chances of moving on to something I hopefully enjoy more. Or one that at least gives me better hours or more vacation time for those hobbies of mine.

    2. thunderbird*

      Wait, are you me? 31, bored, living paycheck to paycheck, with 2 degrees and still have no clear picture of what I want to do. I try to find motivation between bouts of ennui. Slowly learning how to make the best of it and enjoy the moment.

      1. KMM*

        I’m so happy I could cry! There are others out there like me! I’m also 31, two degrees. And while I do have a good job with an amazing boss and decent benefits, at the end of the day, I’m not “living the dream.” I get bored, wishing life would speed up to where I could actually afford a house and a vacation and feel like I am making a difference in the world… but, I do have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, food in my tummy, health insurance (!!!!) and good friends and family. I know a good perspective shift always helps me–the majority of the world lives hand to mouth, and I know that I am privileged to have so much–even if it is not a lot compared to wealthier family members and acquaintances.

        1. Anxa*

          30, One degree, two certificates. Work part-time.

          I have wanted to do so many things, but I never could get a toe-hold. Did I lack perseverance? Or did I have to make a change after continually running up against a wall? Not sure.

    3. CanadianKat*

      “Doing what you love” has so many problems with it. A few reasons why this can’t be the standard to aim for:
      – It has to be something that you can get paid for (how many artists, actors, and novelists have “day jobs”?).
      – It has to be something that’s in sufficient demand (many math (and other) Ph.D’s had dreams of being a professor one day).
      – If it’s not in very high demand, you may have to be prepared to move anywhere in the world (that’s why I quit my math Ph.D. – at 22, incidentally)
      – You may have to get specialized education that is beyond your ability or financial means.
      – Often, the only way you can do something you love is by starting your own business. And running a business may involve very differnt type of work from what you actually love.
      – You would be excluding all the wonderful opportunities that you may actually love, but don’t even know about.

      Even when your job involves something you love, a large portion of it may be boring, routine, not challenging enough, dealing with other aspects of the work that you don’t love, stressful, or involves interacting with people you don’t enjoy working with or for.

      It’s not about doing what you love, it’s about liking sufficently what you do. And having some spare time and money do something that you love.

      1. Jady*

        I want to add onto this, doing something you love can really make you hate that thing. It’s arguably better to keep the thing you love separate from work. I believe doing anything 40 hours a day, 5 days as week will eventually be something you are sick of. (Unless you’re super wealthy that you can do it all on your own time and direction.)

        We do the things we love for reasons completely separate from generating money. Those elements start to evaporate when money becomes the focus.

        Think of playing a video game and becoming a video game tester. In all technicalities you’re doing the same thing – controlling virtual items on virtual screens around environments, exploring environments, using various controls, etc. But adding in that “tester” part can make the job a nightmare – replaying the same scenes over and over, trying to reproduce glitches, dealing with deadlines and crappy bosses and grumpy stressed out developers, dealing with unrealistic deadlines, running through the same aspects/functions a million times in an infinite combination of options….

        Every job you love can turn into that. Eventually you come home and stop playing games, because all the joy has been lost.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Yes – right now I’m lucky enough to be making just about enough money to live on, making media about my favourite sport type thing, and one of the things I need to do is have very, very regular check-ins with myself to make sure I still like it, and that working on it isn’t making things toxic. If I get close to it, I step back and temp for a while, because the worst thing would be to fall out of love with my sport and be stuck with having to work in the field.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          OMG. My boss and I had a huge conversation about this. His idea is DO NOT do what you love because you will learn to hate it. Familiarity breeds contempt.

          I lean towards do what you are naturally good at with an eye toward future growth and opportunities.
          Notice I don’t say “do what you are great at”. Usually no one is great at their work when they first start out. There is a learning curve to everything.

      2. Anxa*

        I think a big problem with encouraging passion-jobs is that it creates a lot of exploitation. This can be especially bad when the prestige economy collides with the passion economy.

        Fellowships and awards are nice, but they don’t pay your rent. But some of those opportunities are just too good to pass up, so you use loans or scrimp and maybe in the end the investment pays off. But at a certain point, people need to eat.

  7. publishing anon*

    My greatest dream is to be a novelist, but we all know how slim those chances are.

    The chances of getting published are better than you think, but I’d say 95% of published authors don’t make much money. Most of the authors I work with have full-time jobs in addition to writing. Their writing is their passion and their dream – and some of these are authors you may have heard of or whose books you may have seen in the bookstore. You have to write a mega hit or be a well-known author – think JK Rowling or The Hunger Games or Stephen King – to make a decent profit you can live off. That or they have someone funding them while they write – either their partner makes enough, their parents have money, or they don’t need to worry about money. Large advances of $10K or $15K are rare, and even a $5K advance come with the caveat that if you don’t sell a certain number of books or your book doesn’t make enough money, you have to pay that money back.

    Authors generally have to sell about 10,000 copies to make back what was spent publishing and marketing the book. They’ll maybe see $100 of royalties from that if they’re lucky. Most published books don’t even sell 10,000 copies. You’d be extremely lucky if you sell 1,000. I’ve seen a couple authors who quit their jobs once they get a book deal, only to have to go back and find a new job when they realize they’re not going to make millions off their books.

    I’m saying this because I think a lot of people misunderstand what it means to be a novelist. It’s hard work for often very little reward. The joy of seeing your book in print is great if that’s what you want, but if you’re looking for a career that keeps you stable, keep in mind that you’ll probably need a job while you write.

    If it truly is your dream, go for it and shop your manuscript around since no one can stop you from writing. Best of luck!

      1. publishing anon*

        I remember the uproar that happened when that was published, but I’m glad someone said it because I don’t think many people realize that a lot of people (but not all) who can pursue full-time careers in the arts are privileged enough to have someone supporting them financially or have big connections in the industry.

        1. Anna*

          There was also a person recently who wanted to do a Kickstarter to raise money so she could write for a year without having to work and I thought…That’s really entitled and obnoxious. I couldn’t really put my finger on why, but it just felt so privileged.

          1. publishing anon*

            Ick. That’s super entitled and privileged, but sadly, I’ve seen it more times than I can count.

            When I had to read through the slush pile in my editorial assistant days, there were so many people who thought their MFA degree meant they deserved to get published and should be considered over people without creative writing degrees. My EA now tells me a lot of query letters still contain those sentiments.

            Which ignores the fact that a lot of creative writing degrees aren’t that helpful or that a lot of published authors never even studied creative writing! A degree in writing does not always mean someone can write.

          2. HeyNonnyNonny*

            My favorite example of how crowdfunding artists can work was a webcomic artist told his fans that he can either publish a new strip every day or publish something like one strip a week– his fans gladly donated his “annual salary” to get more content from him. But I’ve never seen an author try anything like that.

            1. Debbie Downer*

              This is what Patron is for. I know it’s used more by artists, but I don’t really see why it couldn’t be used for writers as well, except that the model would require that you write a whole bunch of stuff to keep your fans interested. The book “Write.Publish.Repeat.” was really helpful for me in understanding how indy authors make money, and basically, you have to write a ton, because your books are their own marketing tools.

            2. Aurion*

              Something that never made sense to me is how artists seem to get more leeway on the crowdfunding side than writers. I’m thinking of fandom in particular. You see people paying artists to draw fanart of X and Y characters to spec. But I’ve never seen people paying writers to write fanfiction. It baffles me.

              That probably doesn’t apply to your example because I’m assuming your webcomic artists was creating original art for his webcomics. But in general, I think artists have more success with crowdfunding.

              1. Christopher Tracy*

                But I’ve never seen people paying writers to write fanfiction.

                So I take it you’re not familiar with Kindle Worlds. Writers write fanfic that’s published directly to Kindle and get a percentage of the proceeds, as does the original author/creator.

                Kindle Worlds

                1. Aurion*

                  Nope! Something to browse at home tonight, I think. :) Thanks!

                  I was thinking of stuff on LJ, Tumblr, Patreon, etc. I’ve seen paid fanart on all of those sites many times, but this is the first I’ve heard of paid fanfic. It’s just not as prevalent, I think? Don’t know why though.

              2. Sorin*

                I can think of four people off the top of my head that take writing commissions or run patreons for primarily fanfic. I find it more distasteful than paid fanart for sure, though I don’t have a particularly good reason for that.

              3. fandom*

                People have been run out of fandom for as long as I can remember for asking people to pay them for fanfic.

                It’s started to become more common on tumblr in the past few years, though ngl I find paying someone for fanfic OR fanart to be distasteful and I think it’s unfortunate that getting commission for fanart isn’t considered a faux pas the way commissions for fanfic are. You’re still making money off someone’s published – and most likely copyrighted – work. The whole point of fandom is supposed to be for fun, not profit.

                1. Christopher Tracy*

                  The whole point of fandom is supposed to be for fun, not profit.

                  The point of fandom is whatever you want it to be. Considering there are only about seven original tropes in literature, all fiction is fanfiction. Shakespeare was the king of fanfic – should he have never earned a cent on his work either?

                  I long for the day when my books become so popular that people decide to write, and yes maybe even profit from, fanfic of my work. That’s when I’ll know I really made an impact on people.

                2. Anna*

                  @Christopher Tracy Not everyone feels that way, though. It’s one thing to write fanfic for fun; it’s another to profit off someone else’s work. There is a gray (so gray) area and I know a lot of artists who carefully walk that line. I say go for it as long as the originator doesn’t mind, but if you get slapped with a Cease and Desist, you can’t cry foul.

                3. fandom*

                  @Christopher Tracy: Except, profiting off someone’s work can end in awful legal consequences that ruin fandom for everyone else, so no, it’s not whatever you want it to be. That kind of thinking is what’s led certain types of fandom into dark, ugly places.

                4. an anon*

                  There are many small creators (esp. in the comic and game space) who expressly allow artists to create and sell fanart and prints, actually. Not every content creator is against monetized fan work.

            1. Anna*

              She did, but there were a LOT of people who totally understood and what’s the difference and blah, blah, blah.

              I think…If you were responding to me. :)

      2. Donna*

        I love this article.

        I remember reading an article by a YA author on how she managed to write while being a stay-at-home mom with two toddlers. (Having been there myself, I wondered this too.) It turns out that she’d occasionally check herself into a hotel room while her husband watched the kids. While that’s certainly not extravagant, it’s out of reach for many aspiring writers–both in having extra money for a hotel room and a supportive spouse.

        1. VintageLydia*

          I just went to Panera or Starbucks once or twice a week. I CANNOT write at home when I have the dual distractions of kids and housework and frankly I don’t write well in public, either, but some writing was better than no writing. But now with a newborn I’m too sleep deprived to think straight, let alone write so I’m putting a pin in the whole writing thing for a while. Checking into a hotel to do work a few times a month sounds really nice, but right now I’d probably just take the opportunity to sleep for longer than 3 hours in a stretch ;)

          1. Donna*

            Congratulations on your newborn!

            Yes, I can’t write at home either, at least not in the afternoons or evenings. Lately I’ve had some success waking up at 4 a.m. to write for a couple of hours. Not only is everyone else in the house asleep, but my internal critic is asleep too and I can actually get some work done!

      3. an anon*

        This is an incredibly good point. My partner is a full-time comic artist without a day job. This is ONLY possible because I support both of us with my own day job. My partner works incredibly hard but I do not know anyone in the comics/freelance art space who doesn’t have 1) the support of a spouse, 2) the support of parents, or 3) multiple smaller income streams built from many many long hours of hard work at different jobs.

    1. Robin B*

      I’m a novelist who definitely has to stay with the day job. Go ahead and make writing your “side job,” and never pay anyone to get published. I agree with publishing anon, it’s hard work and VERY little reward. I hope you find something to interest you soon :)

      1. publishing anon*

        Definitely. To be honest, the authors I work with who write because they love it and not necessarily to become famous are my favorite. But they also tend to be way more level-headed and less crazy than some of the people in it for the money.

      2. starsaphire*

        Me too. Published author with a day job. I’m lucky if I get a couple hundred dollars when the quarterly royalties check from my publishing house arrives.

        I’m very grateful for the day job. :) It’s boring as but it pays the bills, buys the groceries, and affords me the odd quiet weekend day where I can sit down and write.

        1. Debbie Downer*

          I think this hints at what I’ve found is the catch-22 for most would-be writers: a boring day jobs makes you feel like you aren’t a real writer but a stimulating day job leaves you too drained mentally to actually write.

    2. The IT Manager*

      I suspect a lot of people want to be a famous, wealthy novelist like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. I think the LW should examine if she really wants to write or she just likes to read and admires authors. If she truly wants to write then she’s lucky because that’s an easy, inexpensive hobby. If she doesn’t have that muse driving her to write for no one but herself, she’s unlikely to have the drive needed to even make a reasonable attempt at it. I think she needs to really think about what she’d really wouldn’t mind doing for a paycheck.

      ** Now-a-days some kids want to be famous when they grow up. I think that’s just sad. It’s not that they want to entertain through music or acting but they want the adulation of being famous. And I think that has led to the willingness of people to debase themselves in reality TV. They get 15 minutes of fame even if it’s people laughing at them and their poor choices. Sad.

      1. publishing anon*

        Definitely. Writing is really hard work. It takes a lot of work to finish a novel or even a poem or short story, and I give a lot of credit to people who put in that effort. But there’s a big difference between the romanticized view of being a famous novelist and actually putting in the effort to write. I’ve come across a lot of people who love reading and the idea of writing a book, but don’t love the time and work it takes to actually write the book. Having a great idea is one thing, but actually putting that down on paper is something else entirely.

        Not to mention, I think people forget that a lot of famous novelists never made much money on their works while they were alive. It also really depends what type of novelist someone wants to be because different genres have different rules and different paychecks.

      2. Not a writer*

        Stephen King has a very readable memoir called “On Writing” where his advice about writing…was to write. All the time, like a job, whether or not you feel inspired.

      3. Kate M*

        Yeah. Growing up I always thought it would be cool to be a writer. I mean, I loved reading, so loving literature meant that I would love writing literature, right? The problem is, I’d start a story, and then get bored a couple of pages in and never pick it back up. I also didn’t have a plan when writing – I thought that a story would just pour out in the general order that it needed to, and it would just have to be slightly edited a couple of times. I didn’t know anything about planning a novel or using the Snowflake method or anything like that.

        If you want to be a writer, you need to write. That’s it. Get things on paper, you can always edit later. But don’t think that it’s going to necessarily be fun all the time – most writers have to write when they don’t feel like it. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes you work on a story for a few weeks and realize it’s just not going to work, so you have to start over. If you just love writing and want to write for the sake of it, that’s great, do that. If you want to be published, you have to be disciplined and work hard.

    3. Spooky*

      So much this. People misunderstand what it means to be a writer at any level – copywriter, editor, any of it. You have to be incredibly self-motivated and driven, particularly when you consider how many writing jobs have become freelance in recent years. You have to stick with it and finish what you start.

      And yes, you have to have qualifications, just like any other job. As a professional writer, there is nothing more insulting than someone with no training, skills, or experience telling me they just KNOW they can do my job perfectly. It’s possible that they genuinely don’t realize that writing (or copy editing, etc.) is a skill that requires both study and practice, but many of them come off as rude, lazy…well, you get the idea. Be careful that you don’t fall into this category – if your cover letter makes it sound like you think you can do a job without any of the qualifications, you’re very likely to end up insulting the hiring manager.

      I feel your pain – breaking into writing was incredibly hard for me, even with experience and degrees. I can tell you that not having a degree will be very, very difficult to overcome, especially in a market with so many editorial positions disappearing. It can be done, but you’re going to have to have a lot of publishing credits to your name to tip the scale.

      My best advice to you would be to look for some internships with magazines, publishing companies, literary agencies, newspapers, etc. Interns are the lifeblood of all of those industries, and you may have the chance to get some pieces published. A byline is (almost) worth as much as a paycheck when you’re trying to build your career.

      At the same time, I’d also suggest registering for a copywriting/editing certification – it will be shorter than a degree program, and it will allow you to start taking freelance editing jobs. Freelance might just be perfect for you—you’d get to change jobs frequently and work in a field you like. Once you get some training or published articles under your belt, I’d suggest talking to a rep from a creative staffing agency that specializes in freelance, like Creative Circle (you’ll have to have a portfolio of work to show them).

      1. shep*

        All of this!

        A caveat to those coveted internships: Many are unpaid, and located in NYC. I had to turn down an internship with a large imprint I was SO excited to work with because I simply couldn’t afford to live in New York unpaid.

        OR paid, for that matter.

        But there are remote internship options out there, especially with literary agents. I was lucky enough to snag one of these as well and it was a great learning experience.

    4. An Editor*

      This is largely very true, even for writers getting advances in the hundreds of thousands–$100,000 may sound like a lot (and is, if you’re talking about a debut novel), but once you take into account that book may take multiple years to write (and that your agent gets 15%, and that your tax burden will be higher than someone making a similar amount of money at a traditional job…) it can barely be enough to live on.

      But I’m in book publishing and have never heard of a house that demands an author pay back an advance for a book that was published and simply didn’t sell enough copies. From a publisher’s perspective, an advance is a bet that a book will make back that amount of money. Most of those bets don’t end up working out, but the ones that do (your Harry Potters and Hunger Games) end up funding the rest. Please, authors, do not sign a contract that has such a requirement! It’s a huge red flag.

      1. publishing anon*

        Yeah. I totally get why some people see a $100K advance and think they’ll have it made, without realizing you may need that $100K to hold you over for a few years.

        None of the houses I’ve worked at have had that demand, but some of the smaller ones friends have worked at have had those clauses in their contracts. It’s a pretty awful thing to put in a contract, which is why even though I don’t write the contracts for my authors, I tell them to flag anything they might have a problem with before signing. Too many people sign out of eagerness to have a book deal and end up getting screwed over (for instance, my house does have a clause saying the author can be consulted on the cover deisng, but the house has final say, and wow has that caused some drama).

        1. An Editor*

          Totally. It occurs to me that it’s a lot like Alison’s advice about interviews–if you let your burning desire to leave your current job/get a book deal convince you to overlook all kinds of red flags, you will almost always wind up regretting it later.

          (And oh god, covers. Don’t even get me started…)

          1. publishing anon*


            Covers are my nightmare. Some authors want some crazy cover designs. When I was an editorial assistant, I once had a cover mock-up where the design team had put the title in navy blue and the author was furious it was blue because it “compromised the artistic integrity of the novel”. The color he wanted instead? Lime green.

        2. Lore*

          The other thing is that even a $100K advance does *not* mean you get a check for $100K, or even $100K minus an agent’s cut, and then you figure out how to live on that until you sign your next contract. It means you get a series of smaller checks at intervals over the process–something when you sign the deal, yes, but another payment when you deliver a first draft or a final manuscript, and another when the book is published, and the last payment might come as late as when the paperback edition or second format of the book is published.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, that stuck out to me too. The only time I’ve ever heard of that might be for a non-fiction book sold on proposal and then the author didn’t deliver.

        Thanks for the warning, though. I’ll keep an eye out for that if (WHEN!) I ever get a contract.

    5. the gold digger*

      Most of the authors I work with have full-time jobs in addition to writing.

      It took years for my friend Jeff Abbott to be able to quit his day job and write full time. His first several books were written in the morning before work and then after work.

      My friend Ray Daniel has published three books in the past three years. He still has a full-time job as an engineer.

      We are all in our 50s. Apparently, it does not happen overnight. :)

      1. Anon for this Response*

        It took a friend of mine making a LOT of money off being one the Google people in the way-back to be able to not have to work and dedicate his time to writing full time. :)

        He just published his first novel.

    6. LQ*

      I’m also going to say that there are some people who make writing into a job (like a regular not rockstar level job) it is work. For some people that is putting out a lot a lot a lot of content self published and knowing and moving with the market or niche that works for them. But this requires work. And some people become what I think of as middle class authors, not a JK Rowling super star, but a more middle of the road income. And it is a lot of work. Read their blogs. Find those authors who are at that level for what you want to write. At least in my reading of the ones I’ve come across they all treat it like a job. You don’t get to be inspired sometimes and not others. You just have to keep doing it. Aim for your deadlines. Do the work.

      The first step to becoming a novelist is to write a novel.

      1. OpheliaInWaders*

        Yep. And recognize that not all writing is necessarily creative/fiction writing. I work as a writer–my job has regular hours and lots of deadlines (I write proposals for how to implement development projects overseas), but it is, at heart, writing. Being able to sit down and crank out 30 pages in a couple of weeks that respond to a donor’s requirements is a very different thing than developing a novel, but it’s a good job, and it pays well. I’d love to someday write something more creative, or even consider short stories or novels, but right now, writing is work. What this job does do is give me a lot of practice, an appreciation for deadline-driven discipline, and a better understanding of what goes into writing a page of something readable.

    7. Turtle Candle*

      Yep. I write fiction, I love writing fiction, I even am able to sell some of my fiction… but I support myself on technical writing, because honestly, it is hard to pay the bills with fiction writing. Were I ever to switch to fiction full time, it would be contingent on my partner being able to do the lion’s share of supporting us both. So my advice to people who want to be creative or fiction writers is that it’s still useful to find steady work to cover your expenses–if you do get lucky and turn into the next Stephen King, well, you can quit the day job then.

      (And while they’re both “writing,” I’d also like to note that technical writing and fiction writing are vastly, vastly different–plenty of fiction writers don’t have the skills to be technical writers, and vice versa. Not to mention that technical writing is a very, well, joblike job: I write not what inspires me or what scratches my creative itch but what I’m told to write, I’m proud of my software manuals but they aren’t exactly thrilling [except to people who really need to find the answer to a question, of course!], and while creativity plays a part, clarity and accuracy are far, far more prioritized. I’m just fortunate in that I can do both.)

      1. publishing anon*

        Even then, Stephen King still taught while he was writing (and fun story: one of my old managers used to say that she and her colleagues used to draw straws about who had to go to his office because they were all creeped out by it).

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Yes, this. I edit technical reports and it is very very far away from doing any kind of creative work. Not that I don’t enjoy it–I actually do like the process of honing a document into a lovely report, but it’s nothing like writing books or stories.

    8. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is different than fiction-writing, but I’ve written professionally for years and what I’ve found is that for the most part I don’t write for fun anymore. I used to get huge enjoyment out of just thinking up a piece and writing it (and then finding somewhere to sell it after the fact), and I felt really driven to write about whatever was going on in my life at the time. It was one of the most fulfilling activities in my life.

      It’s been years since I felt that way. I have to write constantly as a job now and I love that I’m making a living from it, but I realized the other day that it’s been nearly 10 years since I felt that old urge to just sit down and write a piece that just materialized in my brain and that wasn’t connected to a particular money-making endeavor.

      (I actually realized it because I felt one percolating in my head for the first time in ages and was surprised by the feeling — I’d forgotten how inspiring it feels.)

      1. publishing anon*

        This is actually how I feel about reading. I’ve worked in publishing for years now and I can’t read fiction for fun anymore. I love that I can work with authors and books, but I’m so exhausted by dealing with it that I rarely get the urge to sit down and read a new book. Mostly because I’ll be looking at it through the lens of work. I know friends who work in TV have the same feeling about watching TV after years of working in the industry.

          1. jenm*

            Urban planner here. I can’t go anywhere without dissecting the whole place. It drives hubs crazy.

            1. Lady H*

              Graphic designer here. Absolutely feel the same way, before I started working full time as a designer I found a lot of joy in designing for fun. Now, it’s incredibly rare that I work on personal projects. Though sometimes it feels sad that I only do it if I’m getting paid, I think that’s an unrealistic expectation that I have for myself and I’m just grateful to be fulfilled and to love what I do at work!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Mel Gibson, after he began directing, supposedly said, “I can’t watch movies anymore. I can see the strings.”

          It does affect the way you see things. I can’t read now without editing in my head as I go (headiting, LOL). It’s a horrid habit!

          1. publishing anon*

            That’s why I’m never surprised when artists say they don’t watch/listen/read stuff their contemporaries produce. They want a work/life balance, too! I

        2. Rob Lowe can't read*

          I’m a reading teacher, and I feel the same way. All I do all day is read books and teach about books, and the last thing I want to when I go home is pick up another book!

      2. Act*

        This is really important. “Do you want to make your hobby your job?” is a question not enough people ask themselves. Writing professionally burns you out mentally. You don’t go to a technical writing job, churn out thousands of words, then come home and write more thousands for fun. It’s a kind of energy that’s a finite resource, and you should ask yourself if doing it to get paid *instead of* doing it for fun is a tradeoff you want to make, because there’s a very real chance of that happening.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          This isn’t unilaterally true (I am a technical writer by day and a fiction writer by night, because for me, they draw out of two separate wells, so to speak), but it’s true for enough people that it’s worth seriously considering. I definitely made that same decision regarding another hobby–my other passion is food and cooking, and whenever someone asks whether I ever considered working with food professionally, my response was “oh god no.” Because I knew, instinctively, that doing it as a job would absolutely wreck my ability to delight in it as a hobby, and I didn’t want to give that delight up.

      3. AnonAcademic*

        I do brain research, and the first time I analyzed data from a study I designed 100% by myself was like opening presents on Christmas. Now post-PhD, I have more data than I literally know what to do with, and more often than not I feel overwhelmed rather than excited. The excitement only comes after working through long periods of being overwhelmed, getting started, getting frustrated, fixing the sources of frustration (repeat the latter two steps a few dozen times) and then maybe, MAYBE all that work earns you a result worth publishing. But it’s a very long delayed gratification process and a lot of it feels like a slog. I am still amused when people think my job is “exciting” because it’s “cutting edge.” Cutting edge very often means we don’t know what the hell we’re doing yet :). I still try to take as much joy in the process as possible but being honest, there is a lot more frustration and technical minutia than anything else.

    9. Biff*

      I was coming here to say this. I’m a ‘successful’ author by many measures. It doesn’t come close to paying bills. It pays for a few good nights out each year. That’s kinda it. Most people who do art are doing it in the off hours.

  8. Anna No Mouse*

    One of the greatest lessons I learned from my father was the expectation that when you’re new to the working world, you will pay your dues, so to speak. Sure, some people find jobs and even careers they love in their early 20s and are completely fulfilled, but most don’t. Most people that age just work for the money in their pocket.

    When I first graduated college with a degree in English and no idea how to put that to use, I worked as a hostess at a restaurant. Sure it was boring a lot of the time, and frustrating dealing with rude customers, but that’s what I did for about a year until I was able to find a job as a reporter.

    By the way, I loved being a reporter. I found the job very fulfilling, in all ways except monetarily. I couldn’t afford to move out of my parents’ house even after working there for more than 3 years. Eventually, I learned that compromise was the thing. Now I have a job I like well enough, but don’t love. I get plenty bored here too (and so spend some time on AAM) but I also make enough that my husband and I are looking to buy a really nice new house for us to raise our son in.

    Life goes on.

  9. Monday*

    A recent book on this topic, which is great, is “Do What You Love, And Other Terrible Advice on Success and Happiness.” The title sounds like a rant, but it’s actually a systematic analysis of the line AAM is talking about here. Highly recommended, as sociology or even self-help.

  10. GingerHR*

    To pursue your writing dreams, it might worth looking at some of the freelance proofing gigs advertised online. To build up experience in a professional and reference-providing way, think about the things you really love or are interested in (cats, architecture, sport, whatever it may be). Find a related charity / association or some other organisation and see if they could do with some volunteer proofing, blog or article writing: these are areas that are incredibly important yet not mission critical, and don’t always have the funding required. If it’s something you can do on and off for some time, it will also help build up that stable history.

    1. anonnymoose*

      This is also good practice (because writers are rarely naturally good)! You can also self-publish on lots of places, like Smashwords and Amazon.

    2. irritable vowel*

      You might take a look at sites like Elance.com, where people can post editing/proofreading jobs of a variety of sizes, and freelancers can advertise their services. That way you can try out some small jobs and build up a portfolio if you find it’s work you’re good at. (A caveat: I strongly advise you not to take on jobs where you are writing someone’s class paper for them – these types of jobs do get advertised but it’s unethical, and you will not be able to use them as examples of your work.)

      From there you could apply for positions working as either an in-house editorial assistant (EA) at a publishing company, or a freelance content writer/editor for a third-party vendor (many educational publishers outsource this work to these types of companies these days). Making a living as a freelancer can be challenging but it’s a very connected industry and the more you work, the more you’ll get approached for other projects.

    1. MsNarwhal*

      Agreed. I feel like every high schooler/college student/recent grad/everyone should read it and commit it to memory.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I complain above about how I don’t write for fun anymore, but I think it’s made up for by the fact that I get to get immediate feedback like this on the stuff that I do write! Thank you :)

  11. MAB*

    LW Alison has hit the nail on the head. At 22 I had an idea of what I wanted and had almost finished a college degree that pushed me in that directions. My first job out of school was great and I enjoyed the challenge of it. The job itself was interesting but not particularly fulfilling. I found my life fulfillment outside of work and picked up fun hobbies along the way. I am still young (under 30) but in my second job post grad I have come to realize that this part of the industry just isn’t for me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy my work or that it is all wrong and I hate it. I have found that this job, at this company isn’t what I want anymore. So I am looking into how to shift my job to something that is more appealing.

    There is a saying I work to eat, not eat to work. I think that is one of the most healthy outlooks at work. Work is work. Work means you can do what you want in your off times.

    1. Chinook*

      ” I found my life fulfillment outside of work and picked up fun hobbies along the way.”

      Growing up I learned that most people get a job to pay for their hobbies. As life went on and my chosen career fell through, I learned to value working for good employers over doing something interesting because job prospects can improve but rarely employers. I also learned to “follow my nose” when it came to my career and not to think of any job as too good for me. I have been a Timmy’s girl (coffee house server), a substitute teacher, a receptionist, an office manager, assistant production editor and a cashier. For me, any enjoyment I got out of those jobs was usually based on the effort I put in and what I learned while there. A good work ethic took me a long way in some places and opened doors I could never have dreamed about.

      Basically, if you had talked to my 22 year-old self, she had planned on teaching in a small northern community until retirement and being happy to do so. Marriage and government cutbacks changed those goals and a willingness to work has helped me to try all sorts of interesting and boring things. And I don’t think I could go back to those 22-year-old’s dreams if I had the option (though it would be awfully tempting).

  12. Lily Rowan*

    YES! Thank you! “Do what you love” is such a load of crap. I mean, sure, there are people who love their jobs, but if you asked me how I’d most like to be spending my time, it is not this. (Actually, it is exactly this, but “blog commenter” pays for shit.)

    I was never that great at entry-level work, but because I had a college degree, bosses saw me as someone who would be moving up, and encouraged that. But also, my first jobs had other things going for them — being a receptionist would be a terrible job for a lot of people, but I am super-nosy, so I always loved knowing everything that was going on in the office because I had to answer the phones and open the mail. (Back in olden times when most things came through the paper mail.)

    1. B*

      This is why I enjoy being an EA – I’m super nosy and can get my fix by being in the know while still maintaining confidentiality.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        If I were better at keeping track of a million moving parts, I think I would have loved being an EA.

    2. BRR*

      I’m encountering a “Do what you love” issue with my husband. He just graduated with a PhD in humanities. He’s realistic in that he might not get a tenure-track position but the other jobs he is interested in are working in an archive (no archive experience), doing research at a think tank (no experience doing research for someone else), or doing historical preservation (which his experience was an internship from 2003-2005).

      Thankfully he has a full-time position doing something else but it’s as a temp so he’s looking for a job with benefits and stability. He’s being cautious on what he’s applying to because “he wants a job he’ll love.” There’s nothing wrong with that in principle but he’s ignoring what he’s qualified for.

      1. LC*

        FWIW, I think he’s being fairly reasonable about his job prospects as a humanities PhD. All of those are fairly common tracks for those with advanced degrees in history, and much more attainable than finding a good tenure-track position or doing something in a whole other field.

  13. Honks*

    This is a great, great answer. The bit about the “line of crap about finding your passion” is so true, and yet you’re going to hear the passion wank in every conversation you have about careers. You just have to know that it’s crap, and work on your own non-crap strategy. I also wanted to add: If you feel like no jobs are right, you might spend some time learning about jobs you know nothing about – you might learn that you have misconceptions and you might find something interesting. Good luck!

  14. Kiki*

    Many people find their passion outside of work! It sounds like that passion might be writing…so set a time goal for writing each day and stick to it. My passion happens to be powerlifting…I can’t make a living at that. But I daydream during work breaks about hitting that 350 lb deadlift…! In between daydreams, I code web applications.

  15. Lauren*

    OP, I am much older than you and it was decades before I learned the lessons Alison is handing you (on a golden platter) today. Take them to heart. Realize that working a job you find boring is actually surprisingly conducive to writing since it doesn’t demand your life. Do a good job, yes, but take all the energy you have left over (unlike management who never leave their jobs at work) and pour that into your writing. Recognize that the paycheck you get funds your passion. Make a point of finding work that provides a steady paycheck and good benefits and use that to live the life you want, pursuing your passion without having to worry about living expenses.

    I have been in higher education for quite some time. My college is highly dysfunctional, full of jerks (and some great people) but it also funds my life without worry so I can focus on my passions. It’s a trade off. I do a good job but I don’t care about it. And that doesn’t bother me any more because I have long since come to recognize that by being what it is it offers me the secure foundation I need to live my real life and pursue my real passions. Some people might term that settling for less than I deserve or even selling out, but with time and wisdom I have come to see it as the best route to my choices and my passions.

    Good luck. It may take you years or even decades to feel as I do–if you even want to–but there are benefits to asking yourself is the most important thing for yourself.

    1. Not Karen*

      Realize that working a job you find boring is actually surprisingly conducive to writing since it doesn’t demand your life.

      Personally, I find being forced to do boring work extremely exhausting.

      1. shep*

        I’m in the same camp as Lauren, but I understand both sides. I like my boring job precisely because it’s boring. (I also have some nice employee benefits, which helps a lot too.) I do my job well, and when work is over, it’s over, and I can focus on things I’m really passionate about.

        But if you’re energized by work that keeps you engaged and makes you really think, then that’s great too.

      2. Ashley*

        I definitely feel this way too, except it depends on what’s going on in my personal life.

        When I needed a boring job so that I could focus on grad school in my personal time, it was perfect. I didn’t need/want to use my brain at work, so boring work was perfect. I could save my energy for school.

        Now that I’ve graduated and am waiting to start my new degree-related-job, I find the boringness at work completely and utterly depressing. I’m exhausted by the boredom. As I’ve come to realize, I need something going on, either at work or at home, that lets my brain be active. I can’t be bored (or stressed) in both places at once!

      3. esra*

        As someone who designs for a living, it can be hard to be creative all day at work, and then have enough creative energy at home for my own projects. I like having breaks where I’m just working on say, updating the company website, or laying out a big manual, because it frees me up to put more enthusiasm into my own works.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t mind so much–if it’s super boring rote work, I can daydream a little while I do it. I keep a file handy so if I get an idea or think of (or overhear, heh heh) an interesting turn of phrase, I can go jot it down for later use. My colleagues at Exjob were particularly valuable for hilariously weird non-sequiturs and one of them actually made it into Rose’s Hostage. :)

        Also, I wrote much of that book on my lunch hour!

  16. B*

    Oh how I could write this today and I am much older than 22 but don’t find my job fulfilling. I wish I had realized way back when that the idea of being an office person is great but the reality is I am not an office person. What I should have done, and my advice to you, is look at your other jobs and see what aspects of them you did like and that kept you going. Add those up and see where it leads, it might not be the most fulfilling thing but it may help you gain a bit of insight into various aspects of a job you would enjoy.

    As well, I love to do certain things as a hobby, but if they were a profession I would no longer enjoy them. So I work for the income and housing and I do the hobbies to make me personally satisfied. It’s sort of a split existence but I have also grown my circle of friends by doing that. You can absolutely write – volunteer to write a newsletter for an organization you care about, write a blog about things that interest you because even if no one is reading it you are still writing.

  17. Tax Accountant*

    Also, you may surprised yourself by what you find enjoyable. I don’t really enjoy working and didn’t expect to find a job that I would really like. I was a history major in college, because I liked it, and had zero plans for what I was going to do with that. I would have never imagined that I was going to grow up to be a tax accountant, and it took several (5-6?) years of flailing, underemployment, and finally going back to school while working in my early to mid 20s to get on that path. I went with accounting because I thought it would be a solid career where I knew I could find a job pretty much anywhere and make enough money to support myself without being constantly paranoid about every dollar. It turns out that I like it. Which is just the cherry on the cake. I mean, I’m not obsessed with it or anything. I do my job and go home to enjoy myself with my family and hobbies. I was just surprised by how something that sounds really boring to most people ended up being pretty interesting to me.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      That’s how it was with me and insurance. Who knew commercial claims would be so varied and interesting?! I sure as hell didn’t.

  18. GigglyPuff*

    I would also suggest looking into a temp agency. I’ve never done it, but after reading about it here, that might help. At least for now, it should get you a paycheck and maybe even help you find something more long term.

    1. AliceW*

      Yes, definitely try temping. My sister did it for a year and got to do all kinds of different work. She was eventually hired full time at one of her temp jobs and 20 years later, she’s the global head of a department with employees all over the world. She and I did screenwriting as a hobby. Still do. I took a year off to write and made some money at it but not enough to permanently quit my day job. I never thought I had to do a job I was passionate about. A job’s a job. As long as you don’t hate it, don’t sweat it. Spend time outside work doing things you DO love.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      +1, I am a fan of temping because it can mean you can move from post to post and get a great insight into different kinds of jobs and work cultures, and work out what you want. For sure, you’ll be bored of the actual *tasks*, but there is so much to learn about what’s going on around you, and you get to go to all kinds of places you might never visit.

      And although the first job/s might be pretty tedious/low paid, as you get a reputation with the agency, they’ll pass you more interesting/better paid roles – and if you decide “hang on, I LIKE this”, then you’ve got a foot in the door already.

      It’s harder to pick up part time temp jobs of course, but I’ve always managed it, so this could be great to supplement your library work.

  19. Momiitz*

    You might check out the offering at your local community college. When I graduated high school I did not want to do 4 more years. I went to work in food service. It did not pay well at all.

    I was given the advice to check out community college. I ended up with a one year degree making about $38,000 a year. I work 3 twelve hour shifts a week. I work as a surgical technologist. Even if the medical field doesn’t interest you, something else there might. It’s worth a look.

    1. Manders*

      Community colleges are an AWESOME option for people who aren’t quite sure what they want to do yet. They’re an excellent choice for people who aren’t happy with traditional 4 year colleges (and there are many, many reasons why a traditional college environment might not be a good fit for someone, and that doesn’t mean said person has failed at school forever).

      1. starsaphire*

        Oh, yes, absolutely! Community colleges usually offer several different certification programs that can get you into a particular job field without needing a four-year degree. And you get the time to decide whether you want to continue schooling after getting an AA or certificate.

    2. Tax Accountant*

      +1,000,000 to community colleges. At least where I live the classes are very inexpensive too, so it’s not like you’re wracking up six figures of debt to get a degree either. Anecdata, but my husband got a “useless” 4 year degree from a fancy liberal arts college and was making about 30k a year. He went back to community college, got a 2 year degree in electrical engineering technology, and within 3 years was making six figures. His job is not his true burning passion, but it’s decent enough and the pay is fantastic.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This, and you can often get the prerequisite general ed courses like bonehead English comp and math, etc. out of the way for much less money, and then transfer into a university program. I would check this at the university you want to attend first, though, to make sure they accept credits from the CC.

      2. GlorifiedPlumber*

        Yup, wanted to give +1 for 2 year CC/Tech school Electrical/Instrumentation technology degrees.

        Father “retired” from his operator job (80 and out, woo hoo) at 52, and had spent age 50-52 doing the 2 year degree program (he worked graveyard, so he would do school in the AM), got a job as a instrumentation designer IMMEDIATELY after graduating first in his class (because, you almost ALWAYS want it more when you go back), and after 8 years clears c. 120k to 130k depending on how much OT he works. 100k if he did not work OT.

        The 2 year technology degrees (electrical and instrumentation) are GREAT (stay away from process technology though, they sell you on working the refineries, when in reality there will be 3,000 people applying for 5 open positions).

        If you’re a go getter, you can translate them to FANTASTIC jobs.

    3. Trillian*

      Seconded. Think about getting maximum return for your investment of working time and effort, not minimum investment. To me the ideal work for a writer is in demand, has high hourly wage, but is without the requirement to service a career — ie., long time and heavy investment in training, low-paid internship, need for unpaid extra professional activity. I admit I did pretty much the opposite and went into research science, but that was because I loved science as well as writing and wasn’t getting any breadth of advice. (Much of the advice I received was aimed to getting me to want less, so I was notlisteningnotlistening in the way only a 17 year old could.)

  20. OriginalYup*

    I’ve been working full time for over 20 years. I like the job I have now a lot, but it’s not like I spring out of bed every day and rush to the office filled with energy to send emails, you know? Looking back, it wasn’t that I choose a specific career and one day found a job that’s super interesting. I didn’t even know that the job I have now was a thing. I held a series of jobs over time that got progressively more interesting as I (a) got more experience and therefore more choice in what kind of work I was getting paid to do, and (b) tried different types of work and figured out what I liked and was good at.

    In my earliest jobs, the balance was mostly = 10% interesting + 20% meh + 20% I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m terrified + 50% boring/awful/soul-killing/drudgery. Now, I’m more at = 50% interesting & rewarding + 25% meh but it’s fine + 15% I hate this one thing so very very much + 10% I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m terrified.

    So my advice is to stop looking at work as a monolithic thing that you have to crack the code on, and instead try to go one step at a time towards. Maybe keep the library job to pay the bills, and challenge yourself to find ways to to make the days there less awful. Look for other part-time or gig work to supplement — not necessarily for a career, but for income and experience. Keep applying for jobs that seem pretty good and are at least a 50% match to your qualifications. Practice writing, even if you’re not getting paid for it, just because it’s what you like and want to do. Good luck to you, and hang in there. :)

  21. just laura*

    Also, keep in mind that even a fulfilling job has its crappy parts. You may love to teach but not like the administrative component. Or you love to program but hate supporting users.

    1. Grace*

      This is a great point. I work in physical therapy and wiping butts is not in my job description. But if an elderly person has to go to the bathroom while you’re working with them and they need assistance, you have to do it.

      1. Blue Anne*

        I feel like this is a huge life insight.

        Wiping butts is not in my job description. But sometimes you’ve gotta wipe the butt.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      Amen. Even if you like or even love what you do, work is still work. There is a reason they call it “work” and not “party.” There will still be things about it that aren’t your super favorite, and that is normal. Rare is the person who loves filling out time sheets or organizing their files or whatever annoying administrative crap we all have to do…but rare is the job where you get to avoid all of it. Put your head down, get through it as fast as you can, and then get back to the good stuff.

  22. rozin*

    Speaking as someone who has written a book and researched a lot about writing, there are more people now than ever who are making a living from their writing. The secret is most of them are self-publishing. That way you can write without having to get past the gatekeepers/publishers in order to get your work out there (plus you get to keep more of the money). Though if you go that route, you have to be more than a novelist. You’ll also be responsible for the business side (promoting, marketing, design, layout) as well. Even writers who get publishers have to do more business-side nowadays. The age of the pure, cabin-writing in the woods novelist has been over for a long time. So I’d say keep writing and strongly consider self-publishing, you may be surprised.

    1. Catalin*

      Preach! I have three books on the market under a pen name, have been writing novels for consumption for years but there’s no way I could have done it as a stand-alone career. I never plan to do it as a stand-alone career. It’s just not that sustainable.

      Fact is, adults need to adult. LW needs to be screened for depression but it also sounds like they need a reality check. LW works 8 hours a WEEK? What else are they doing with their time? No wonder they can’t get anything done! (Busy people are more productive than bored people). They don’t want to work retail, so they don’t. They don’t want to deal with school, so they don’t. Somehow they missed the message that the world doesn’t owe them a delight-ridden uber-fulfilling dream career that is just so easy to slip into and pursue and succeed at! Almost no one gets their dream career and very few people have careers that perfectly match their degrees.

      Boredom is stagnation for the mind, LW. Get busy. Do tasks you hate, work that you may think is beneath you, and things that bore you. If you want success, it has to be chased. Maybe that means working three part-time jobs, or going back to school to finish ANY kind of degree so that all your work and tuition didn’t get wasted.

      End of rant note: I got the best advice senior year of college from a professor. She said, “No job is above you and no job is beneath you”. She described her time as a janitor, which surprised us because she is now a prestigious and respected political science professor with multiple doctorates. She told us the good parts of that job and we already knew the bad parts. A year later when I was crawling under tables working for an IT help desk, answering phones, fixing pagers with ‘mysterious water damage’ (i.e. they fell in a toilet), and scraping the toner off of stone rollers in a high-capacity scanner, I remembered her words. I never meant to work in IT, but it paid the bills and my tuition for my Masters. We do what we have to do because we are adults.

      This concludes my codgey old ‘kids these days…whippersnappers!” rant.

      1. OP*

        I have to defend myself and tell you that I picked up the library job right after leaving university where I was working more hours on campus AND working in retail. I applied for the library job because I thought I’d keep going to school in the summer, so it would be a perfect summer job while I attended classes. Summer school did not end up happening. I’ve been looking for a second or full-time job for a few months now, and I had to quit school because–as I mentioned in the letter–of my clinical depression and the fact that I could no longer afford it. But that information clearly flew past your head. So, no, I don’t believe the world owes me anything. I get bored at my JOB, not every minute of the day. I never mentioned once that I can never get anything done (??). And while I’m looking for something that I will not totally hate, I definitely do not think any job is beneath me. It’s people like you whose opinions are really not helpful because, quite frankly, your ego gets in the way.

        1. NoFightLeft*

          Hi OP, I’m you 8 years down the road. You’re probably feeling a bit kicked by the comment above so I wanted to reach out to you.

          I have clinical depression, and anxiety, and have hopped from job to job, continuously bored with my work, miserable, underwhelmed, dreaming, like you, of being a writer. Meanwhile, I watched the smartest person I’ve ever met–my best friend, incidentally–get what for many people is a “passion job”, a full professorship with a prestigious college, and I will tell you right now that I have experienced plenty of moments of jealousy and woe-is-me, she’s-a-privileged-genius-so-she-has-an-advantage over that, from my receptionist’s desk. Let’s break the two of us down:
          1. It wasn’t HER “passion job”, which was to be a cartoon storyboarder: she found instead that she was excellent at teaching in a field distantly related to storyboarding where there was a big, unfilled niche in a growing industry. She’s faced more barriers than I have to even get into the workplace in the first place, never mind succeed. She worked like a maniac to become a storyboarder, aced her classes, worked until her hands bled and broke a couple of fingers, and had a couple of nervous breakdowns…and while she’s learned to regulate now that she’s older, she got where she is by finding work she can do well and that satisfies her, but also by pushing herself OUT of her comfort zone. She networks (introvert), she deals with entitled or deeply troubled or very sad students, she does SO much paperwork and meeting stuff and administrivia, volunteers for the most boring committees, jumps through all kinds of professional hoops, and goes to big conferences to put forward her work and her college in public speaking (she is super introverted and has several alphabet soups that means loud, crowded rooms full of people and unexpected sounds and noises make her very unhappy).
          2. Me? I never went outside my comfort zone, because I was taught it wasn’t safe. I did what was expected of me, got a degree in a field that was supposed to be a safe bet in my town (a new political party rolled into power and…let’s just say it wasn’t), worked some random jobs I didn’t much like, and then went to work for prestigious institutions that did things I didn’t understand, where my degree wasn’t valued, in low-level jobs with no opportunity of advancement, and just kind of hated it.

          So…you’re probably wondering why the f*** you should listen to me. From my receptionist’s desk, right now, I’ll tell you: I got a diagnosis (alphabet soup required here), medication AND therapy, and started taking a good hard look at the stuff I hated about my jobs, and liked about the few that I did get at least a little passionate about but couldn’t stay with because they were short-term. Eventually I found patterns. I spent a good long time thinking about the type of work I did enjoy, and what fields I might be able to apply it to, and what kind of extra work and off-the-clock learning I’d have to do to get the skills I’d need to break into doing something I can at least wake up feeling like I want to do, not overjoyed but not waiting for my soul to die inside my body the second my butt hits the chair.

          Here’s the thing: I’m gonna fail. A lot. I will probably eat out of cans for some time and might just have to take that job sweeping floors (many people refer you to Stephen King and J.K Rowling for a reason, FYI my girl J.K got fired one time for writing books on the job…as a typist, I am pretty sure) to make sure food stays on the table.

          Mainly what I get from your letter is, like me, the outside of your comfort zone feels a very, VERY scary, uncomfortable place where bad things happen. This doesn’t make you a baby or a sad failure, but it is something many people don’t learn to try and fight past that until they’re older (in some cases, MUCH older), or even at all. And sometimes in your comfort zone is exactly where a lot of people would LOVE to be, but you’re dissatisfied there and I understand that. Good news: you are very young and your next few steps forward can be learning experiences. Get a job, hate the job? Why do you hate it? What parts don’t you hate? What kind of colleague makes you want to run screaming and what kind makes you want to bend over backwards for them? Even retail has this kind of valuable experience. Keep this lens when you’re starting a job you don’t love; eventually you will build up a repository of stuff you DO love and will have a better idea of what you could go after that would at least get you up in the morning. Incidentally, the jobs I’m pursuing aren’t my “passion” jobs either, they just happen to be incidental ones in a creative industry that has a lot of room for someone who is really ferocious about tech and code and also good at organizing logistics, something I was NEVER encouraged in and never identified as something I could do before I got older and sick of that “girls can’t do computer stuff” garbage.

          Also like everyone says, ‘novelist’ should be your side hustle, and writing should be something you do out of love even when you hate it, etc. etc. I found this discouraging when I was your age because I so badly wanted to…well, be more popular than Stephanie Meyer actually…but when I was your age I couldn’t plot for beans and had the same novel started fifteen times with three pages in and me giving up. You’re probably better than that, but outlines are your best friend, and so is that godawful first draft where you just get the garbage onto the page which literally every writer EVER has to do before it starts to turn into the book you want it to be. You’re afraid you’ll screw up, but failing and falling down is the only way you learn, not by treading the gossamer BS tightrope of perfection.

      2. Anna*

        I don’t think the OP is at all saying that she’s above any jobs and I think your post is really unfair to the OP.

  23. Grace*

    I didn’t know what I wanted to do at 22, either. (I’m 29 now.) I thought I wanted to be a museum archivist, got an internship in it my last semester of college and hated it (would have quit if it were a job, but it was a short internship.) I floundered for a bit, working as an assistant baker and then a nanny for several years. A CNA friend suggested I get a degree in healthcare. So I went to the local community college website and picked a degree where I wouldn’t have to deal with blood or bodily fluids (or so I thought). Spent several years completing the pre-reqs, a year and a half in the program, and now I have a career. Is it something I dreamed of doing? No. I’m passionate about helping my patients, but if I had the choice to not work, I wouldn’t.
    I did 100 hours of observation before I ever got into the program so I knew a bit about what it was like, although I didn’t know the nitty gritty details that cause a lot of pressure in the job. My advice is to find a career you can tolerate. Shadow someone in the job before you commit. My job in physical therapy has a ton of autonomy and allows for creativity, which you may like. There’s always more to learn about and new studies being done every day. You can never really get bored because every day and every patient is so different.
    But like Alison said, what you’re feeling is totally normal. Most 22 year olds don’t know what they want to spend the rest of their life doing.

    1. Kiki*

      I wanted to be a reporter…I thought. I landed a job as a copy boy at a major newspaper. I found I hated the city editor (pretty much a hard drinking chain smoking misogynist) and most of the reporters were younger versions of him. I decided on a the hard sciences instead. lol

  24. CrazyCatLady*

    All of the above is excellent advice. I’d just like to add that few jobs will be “enjoyable” from the very start. You said you’ve been working at the library for a month, but since you mention it’s part-time, it’s only one full week of work.

    It takes a while to learn the ropes and while you’re doing that, things are new and stressful. I felt like crawling under my desk for my first week at my current job, but I look forward to going to work in the morning. I’d stick it out for a while, at least until you don’t have anything more interesting lined up. Apart from that, try to figure what would be a better fit for you – but as Alison points out, don’t expect to love your job (it’s great if it happens, but it’s not likely). Don’t be too hard on yourself, many young people feel this way.

  25. Leatherwings*

    I got a job right out of school that I hated. Like you, I dreaded going to work each day which was topped off with panic attacks a couple of times a week too. My job search a year in panicked me because it felt like another job I had to do when I got home from the one I hated and I didn’t really know what I wanted. This is so so common.

    I landed somewhere I can totally live with. It’s not my passion, but I get out of bed in the morning without crying and that’s a huge huge step up. Alison’s advice that you should find something hat you can reasonably live with is excellent, practical advice. I wish you luck OP!

  26. themmases*

    I hope this OP will look into finding treatment for their depression. It doesn’t seem like school is the only thing that had them down. When you’re in that place it can seem like all your problems are interconnected, you have to solve one to solve the others, and there is no right place to start. Oh, and they all say something bad about you and where your life is going. It may take a while to see it, but nothing could be further from the truth.

    If the OP is very low income and still living near their school, they are in a good position to get low-cost therapy. Many of these clinics serve members of the public too, not just enrolled students, but if not they will be used to redirecting requests to somewhere that can help. It’s OK to call a professional, describe the problem, and let *them* suggest what you should do next. The school may have other services or at least lists of resources for non-enrolled students who are taking a break.

    It’s also summer in the northern hemisphere right now, so this is a great time to get outside and have free or cheap fun that could help the OP start seeing things a little differently. Take a book to the park, go for a walk, see what museums are having extra free days for summer. Find some free exercise classes on Meetup. Walk around a farmer’s market even if you don’t buy anything. Do something creative even if you don’t want to share it yet. I promise it makes a difference. It puts a whole different face on a boring job when you have something to look forward to at the end of the day.

    Finally there are lots of things you can do at the job itself to start enjoying it more. Even small accomplishments can really change how you feel about it. Figure out your favorite person at that job and try to impress them. Optimize your work day– try to figure out the most efficient way to do everything you own. Look around for something you think could be better and ask to work on it. You will figure out what you’re good at a lot faster this way, and it might be something that would never have occurred to you.

    1. Voluptiousfire*

      Also get a check up if you can and get a blood panel done. You may find certain vitamin levels are off, which can affect your mental health, namely the B vitamins.

  27. Artemesia*

    The thing that jumped out to me as I read was that old saw ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ It has certainly been a truth in my life that boredom and ennui are about me and not the work. Working on yourself and your expectations and perhaps even considering therapy might not be a bad way to think about changing how you deal with the world.

    The second thing was advice once given about writing. A person who says ‘I love to write’ will write. Some of the great novels were written by people with bog standard accounting jobs, or clerk jobs or whatever. A person who says ‘I want to be a writer’ is making a difference kind of statement. That is more about status and how others see you than a drive to actually create. You need to reflect on which you are. People who want to write, write. If you are not filling notebooks every week, then maybe you really don’t want to write but just want to ‘be a writer.’

    Most people don’t know what they want out of life at 22; and flailing about a bit is fairly common. But throwing yourself into what you choose to do, doing the hard work to finish the degree, commit to the job you have etc will help you move towards figuring it out. There are lots of programs that help people with partial degrees finish their bachelors; many of those are designed for working people. A first step would be to see what is available in your area to use your credits and put them towards finishing a degree.

    Life is not easy and the expectation that it will entertain you may be getting in your way. By committing to finishing your education, doing a great job at your job and perhaps finding a leisure activity you can commit to you may build your self confidence and skills in ways that will help move you in a positive direction professionally. Things worth doing tend to be hard, especially in the beginning. They are not instantly ‘interesting’ or entertaining.

    1. Catalin*

      Artemisia, very nicely stated explanation of “loving to write” and “wanting to be a writer”. It really captured the distinction!

    2. Christopher Tracy*

      If you are not filling notebooks every week, then maybe you really don’t want to write but just want to ‘be a writer.’

      Eh. I have six books out now, and I don’t fill notebooks every week. I probably did when I was a kid (I knew I was going to be a writer from the time I was about six or seven), but not as an adult. The writing process is different for everyone, and I wouldn’t ever assume that someone wasn’t serious about their craft if they weren’t scribbling down ideas every second of the day. I agree with the rest of your comment though.

      1. Fact & Fiction*

        +a billion

        We all have different processes as writers. Whatever leads to you finishing projects (in whatever medium you prefer), in whatever timeframe works for you, is A OK. Also writing as a hobby rather than for a living is also perfectly valid. A caveat: if you ARE a pro with deadlines, obviously you have to gind the best method for yourself that allows you to meet them. But I don’t write fiction everyday or even every week. Sometimes months pass, just depending.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Yeah, I haven’t published anything in two years (yikes!), but I’m still very serious about what I do when I do it. I’m taking a week off work in a few weeks in fact to begin book seven. This is the only time I write every day (when I have days off), otherwise, I fit it in when I fit it in.

          1. Fact & Fiction*

            Ugh…it’s been 4 for me and I hate that. My lovely agent hasn’t fired me yet (hee!) and I’m working on more proposals while also self-pubbing a few things. It can be rough, but I love it.

            1. Christopher Tracy*

              It can be rough, but I love it.

              Me too – even on days when I want to bash my head into the wall, which is often when I write, lol.

      2. Act*

        Yeah, that was a really weird rubric of True Writertude. I’ve never “filled notebooks” and I’ve been a professional writer for a decade.

      3. Anna*

        I’m with you. I feel like telling someone how they “should” be doing something (If you’re not spending 10 hours a day every day doing X, then you don’t really want to do X) is BS. Everyone has a different process. When I was in my grad program one of our required books for the thesis writing prep class was a very proscriptive process to writing a thesis. I cracked it open once or twice, but it didn’t match my process at all and it was one of the first books I sold back at the end of the term. Tell me the pitfalls I might run into; don’t tell me how many notecards I should have for each part of my literature review

    3. OP*


      Thanks for the advice. I love writing as I do it everyday and have been doing so since childhood, which is what prompted me to thinking I want to be a writer. Wanting to make a living from my writing is an idea I’ve had since the year began, and I think many people (perhaps many young writers such as myself) dream of being a writer professionally, because writing is their burning passion. So, I’d say there isn’t a difference between both thoughts. But I agree with everything else you have to say.

  28. anonnymoose*

    I’m 28 and realized this year what makes work fulfilling to me: helping people. Doing user-facing tech support gets me feeling good about the impact I’m having on people’s lives. I’m doing back-end IT work now and it’s soul sucking. I have learned that I *cannot* work optimally if my heart isn’t in it. Blame it on depression or ADHD. I’m looking for a new job now that I’ve realized this.

    It’s also important for me to have hobbies, but unfulfilling work for too long leaves me thinking about the hobby all day. That doesn’t help productivity at all. For me, treating my job as a way to get by for now only works for so long and I think I’m well past that expiry date.

    So maybe instead of thinking about particular industries, think about what would keep you excited about your work. Think about the kind of environment you’d like to work in (big, small, what kind of teams or solo work, what’s the company culture like, office or home office etc.). The site A Practical Wedding has an article about this.

    1. A Non*

      I’m the opposite of you – I’m so much happier doing back-end IT work than user-facing! I don’t understand people like you, but I’m very happy you exist. :-)

  29. Mental Health Day*

    OP, I am you when I was 22. I think many people are. It does get better.
    As others have suggested, maybe see if an anti-depressant/anxiety medication might be in order? I don’t mean to offend you, either. This, too, is a very common issue, especially at your stage in life.
    Finish that degree. Really. Do whatever it takes to do so.
    And, just keep in mind, they call it work for a reason. I think very few people truly find the kind of fulfillment from their work alone that is often portrayed in business/tech news media. Silicon Valley is not a microcosm of the world at large. Just because there’s an article on the Fast Company website describing how someone else quit their job and started their own company to develop an app, doesn’t mean that’s a practical, or even desirable, course for anyone else. The Zuck and Sandberg really aren’t in touch with how the vast majority of the proletariat lives and works.
    I now work for an insurance company. My 22 year old self would be laughing at my 40 year old self right now. What a sell out I am. But, you know what? My work supports a very full and active life. And that is what is more important to me. Best of luck to you. Hang in there, but keep moving forward.

    1. OpheliaInWaders*

      Yes. If that means working 20 hours per week and taking classes part time at a community college to keep costs down, just having a degree will open up a lot of doors that are firmly shut without one.

  30. The Other Dawn*

    I’m so glad to read this today. For many years I thought I needed to “find my passion,” something that didn’t feel like a job. For a long time I thought there was something wrong with me because I just couldn’t figure it out. And then it finally dawned on me: I’m not someone who lives to work. I work to live. I don’t hate my job, or the company, or the people, or my salary; I like and enjoy all these things. I hate having to get up at a certain time everyday and be a specific place at a designated time for a fixed length of time. I’ve finally realized I’m someone who just doesn’t enjoy the act of working in general. Now that I’ve figured that out, life is a whole lot easier.

    Maybe this is you, OP. And that’s perfectly fine.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      hate having to get up at a certain time everyday and be a specific place at a designated time for a fixed length of time. I’ve finally realized I’m someone who just doesn’t enjoy the act of working in general. Now that I’ve figured that out, life is a whole lot easier.

      Are you me?

    1. Anon Moose*

      That’s not in the letter, an uncalled for assumption/stereotype and unhelpful to the OP.

    2. themmases*

      Wow, this is mean and unnecessary. The OP is confused and depressed, so you insult them? Your mom must be so proud.

    3. neverjaunty*

      This is an extremely helpful comment to show the LW exactly what kind of advice she should NOT pay attention to.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s incredibly unkind. I see that you are new to commenting here, but I’m going to put you on “all your comments must be moderated from now on” status because this is really out of sync with how we talk to each other here. Please read the commenting rules.

      I’ll ask everyone else to move on from this and back to being helpful to the letter-writer! Thank you.

  31. BananaPants*

    Reality is that most people in the workforce aren’t blissfully happy with what they do all day, every day. Most of us aren’t terribly passionate about what we do. We go to work, we get a paycheck that funds the rest of daily life, and if we’re lucky we mostly enjoy the job. Even people with a lot of education, in high-earning professional roles – doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors – have aspects of their jobs that they will admit aren’t always exciting or enjoyable. Alison is completely right about “finding your passion” being a line of BS.

    I suggest finding a full time job to pay the bills and gain some financial stability and longer-term work experience, then look into going back to school. If you want to be a writer, write – but most writers have to start off with a different job to pay the bills while they hone their skills. You may not ever be able to earn a full time living as a writer and I think it’s appropriate to prepare for that possibility. At your age it’s not uncommon to have a history of short term jobs in different fields but if this continues for another decade it will be a major impediment to long term career success.

    I would also recommend a visit to your physician and possibly some therapy/counseling; job hopping and changing majors/dropping out of school like this can be a sign of mental health issues or ADHD and similar conditions. If that is indeed the case, getting treatment may help change your mindset and motivation.

  32. NGL*

    In my early 20s, I worked incredibly boring, unfulfilling entry level jobs. I also had TONS of time to write (and squandered most of it, because I was stupid).

    Now in my early 30s, I actually was lucky enough to find a job that I’m passionate about. And guess what I have to struggle to find time for? My writing! I get up at the crack of dawn once a week to spend a few hours at Starbucks typing away.

    Please, write your novel! Start several and discard half of them. Rip them apart in editing, or quietly tuck them away in a drawer to be satisfied just with the accomplishment of finishing something. Self-publish on Amazon or find an agent. Allison is SO RIGHT that novelist is a career you don’t have to wait for someone to give you permission to do. Writing is a verb, so go do it. It will give you something to look forward to while you’re at your pays-the-bills day job.

    1. Fact & Fiction*

      So true about some of us tending to waste the time we have earlier before getting serious about writing! I wrote the book that got agent/publisher offers in my 30s while working full time and going to grad school full time, while pregnant. If not for my husband and trips to Panera to write when I could make the time..

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Me too. I wrote my first short story at age ten, but I didn’t get super serious about it until around 2007. In fact, I hadn’t written anything except school papers in forever, and then I sat down and wrote a huge fanfiction that ended up turning into my bank robber book.

  33. Anon Moose*

    The reality is that you will be bored and frustrated sometimes even in a job you love/ are passionate about. Every job will have some downsides- whether its bosses, coworkers, job responsibilities… As my mom always said “that’s why they have to pay you to do it.” If you loved it, you might volunteer to do it.

    Incidentally, it might be good to look into “passion” stuff to volunteer your time in- it can help boost your morale and outlook even if your day job sucks. Or maybe instead of volunteering, find worthy side ventures, like a peer writing group or a workshop? Jobs that pay the bills are common especially for those in creative professions. Some artists I know even look for boring jobs so they can expend all of their creative energies in their off hours on their passion projects or creative side gigs.

    Overall, I feel for you OP. I bounced around quite a bit in my early 20s even with a degree. Keep chugging along and doing good work even though you might be bored. Find ways to mitigate the boredom- I used to listen to audiobooks while filing/ updating databases for example. Keep trying new things, both workplaces/jobs and outside of work.

    As far as applying for jobs, it can be soul crushing and super frustrating because there’s no feedback and sometimes you run into employers not respecting your time. Push through it- the process is not really “fair” or consistent, but you will never find new things if you don’t go through the process. Keep sending out lots of applications and keep at it while also doing things you love on the side to keep yourself from sliding into despair. Keep reading Ask a Manager. There’s lots of moral support and actual, helpful feedback here.

  34. A nony cat*

    I’ll be the first to admit that the idea that my work should be meaningful and lead to self-fulfillment and make the world a better place, blah blah blah, has been so deeply internalized in me that I will ever be able to rid myself of it (I work in the NGO sector, so believing in what you do is generally expected by employers.) But I do remember a point, back in high school and early college, back when my jobs were primarily (a) ways to get spending money and (b) help me get my first real internship, I actually got a surprising amount of personal fulfillment from just showing up and doing my work (waitress-ing or cashier-ing). Just the general feeling that I was useful to society (people wanted food, so I brought them food) and standing on my own two feet was, at that age, quite empowering.

    Although I’m often satisfied with my work, there are also many times that I really wish I could get that feeling back …

    1. Quiet*

      This is so true. I’m in my mid-30s and doing a job that I could’ve only dreamed about in my late teens/early ’20s. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, but the truth is, I sort of miss the simplicity of some of my earliest jobs. (And one of those jobs involved trudging through corn fields every summer — hot, dirty, hard manual labor, in other words.) I was busy, I was productive, and it was very straightforward.

      I’ve worked very hard to get rid of the idea that I must have all-consuming passion for my day job. I need to enjoy it and find it fulfilling on some level, but I no longer expect a job to fill me up emotionally.

  35. eplawyer*

    Been there done that. I quit every job after a max of 2 years. I moved towns. I tried different educational avenues. I even joined theNavy. The less said about trying married life the better. Bounced around a lot. Finally, realized what I enjoyed doing — mostly by doing different things work wise and volunteer wise (hint, good way to find what you do like without losing a paycheck if you don’t like it). Finally broke down to law school at age 38. Being a lawyer was what I really wanted to do. Graduated right when the Great Recession hit. So, didn’t do what I wanted to in law, hung out my own shingle. Fell into being a family law attorney. Found out I LOVED it. I love having my own practice, I love family law. Been at it 7 years June 1 and have no plans to stop.

    Stick with it. Think about what you do like. Learn to live with what you don’t like because that’s every job. And wait to grow up.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Oh, I like the advice of volunteering. It might help OP find something they’re interested in OR it might just be something to make them feel a bit better outside of working hours. At worst, they’ll hate it and figure out that they can cross that type of work or industry off their list.

      I volunteer tutoring kids. I would never ever ever want to be a teacher or work directly with kids for my job, but I enjoy doing it once a week. Even when I’m on my way and realize I would rather go home and watch netflix, pushing through and doing something good is valuable to me.

      Definitely depends on OPs area, but there may be opportunities to support a non-profit by writing newsletters or something of the sort. Maybe assisting a creative writing class?

    2. Data*

      Yes, volunteering is a good way to go. I volunteered at a film festival a couple years back and have been doing it since then. Met a lot of interesting people and now I am considering acting! HAHA. but mostly for fun of course. You never know though.

    3. One of the Sarahs*

      Volunteering is perfect! If OP is only working 8 hours a week, she definitely has the time, and it could really help her. I +1ed temping upthread, but this is great too. Or how about both? 8 hours of library work, 2 days a week of temping plus volunteering would at least give OP a life that’s less boring!

  36. Amber Rose*

    Find exciting things to do with your income, maybe. It’s a coping strategy that works for me at least.

  37. Edith*

    LW, I dropped out of college at 22 due to health problems and burnout caused by major clinical depression. I moved back in with my parents and got a dinky little part time job. And I do mean dinky– my peers were high school-aged children of staff members doing it as a summer job. But I was good at it and was given more and more duties on an ever higher and more complex level until the company actually created a full time position specifically for me. After several years I started taking classes part time at a local university and finished my bachelor’s in a subject area I love but will never work in because this is my vocation. I’m six months away from earning my master’s. It was just a stupid little part time job, but now it’s my career. Be open to the possibilities and you never know what you might stumble upon.

    1. OP*

      Wow, thanks. Your story is great and will keep me going. I think you’ve understood my situation the most, just because you mentioned your reasons for dropping out (the exact same as mine), and given advice without mentioning that I may be depressed, lol. Because I already mentioned it. :)

      1. Jules the First*

        And can I just say that when I was 22, I didn’t know that what I do now was a career. I mean that it never even occurred to me that people wrote bids for a living, but I’m so glad I got coaxed into this role, because it’s pretty much the perfect job: I spend my days learning new things and crafting perfect narratives, and because no two bids are ever the same, I’m rarely bored (and I get bored really, really easily).

  38. Brett*

    You are almost exactly where I was at 22.
    After years of working fast food and temp work and several years of clinical treatment and counseling for depression, I saved up some money and went back to school at 30.
    I rocked my first year back, earned enough scholarships to fund my next year and finish. Went on to grad school where I won a fellowship and headed out from there with my first career path job at 35.

    You can recover.

  39. AndersonDarling*

    OP, you need to remember that the passion you are looking for is not likely in a job title. Most people enjoy their work because of the people they are working with, or because the are a piece of something great. A receptionist at a hospital can enjoy their work knowing that they are helping people get well. A sanitation worker finds passion in their work because their crew is awesome.
    Also, you only know about 10% of all the jobs that are out there, so it is hard to figure out what you want to do. At 22, I thought there were accountants, firefighters, store managers…but there are so many jobs you don’t even know exist. One of those may be where you end up and find success.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Oh, and when I was 22, I was depressed because my friends were talking about their great, perfect jobs. It was all talk. After they were at their jobs for a year, they all wanted to leave. So don’t let those stories get you down. It’s not perfect for anyone.

      1. Leatherwings*

        Everyone always bragged about elite jobs/education/internships on social media, but when I talked to those people in real life they weren’t nearly as happy as they seemed in Facebook posts.

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        I honestly was shocked to learn that there are folks who believe that everyone else’s life is exactly how they portray themselves on social media. No. People edit their lives and mostly show the good stuff. When they do show the stuff that’s not that great, they often spin it to make it funny. When it’s really bad, AND when it’s just boring and nothing special, they don’t publicize it. Everyone else has ups and downs just like you do.

  40. Cube Ninja*

    One of my old bosses, while kind of an ass in some ways, was absolutely great in others. One of the things he was great at was inspiring people to do better, while maintaining work/life balance. He had a very simple mantra for this:

    Work to live, don’t live to work.

    While a fortunate few are able to do work that they truly love every day and make a good living at it, the reality, as Alison points out, is that most of us will end up in jobs that while not terribly satisfying on a personal level, are a necessary thing if we want to get “stuff”. If you want basic stuff, you can have a basic job that isn’t too demanding. If you want nicer stuff, you’ll have to put some effort in. If you want *really* nice stuff, well that’s a combination of things, but mostly still putting in effort with a side of right-place-right-time.

    Another way I can think of to frame this is to consider professional goals – not “where will I be in X years” necessarily, but more in the moment. If you currently work as a teapot producer, is there a way to make that more efficient? Are you putting in the correct amount of effort to ensure your teapots are just as good, if not better, than your coworkers? Finding motivation is a very personal thing, but an important one. Regardless of what your current role is, if you aren’t invested in your company’s success, you should at least be invested in YOUR OWN success. Sometimes that’s going to mean biting a bullet and doing something you hate, but doing it better than everyone else.

    As Alison and others have pointed out though? You’re 22 – don’t get hung up on what “everyone” tells you to think or do right now. You’re still very early in your career path and while you definitely want to establish a strong track record, you have a lot more freedom to explore different paths for that than someone who’s been in the workforce for 10 or 20 years.

    1. Windchime*

      I’m a lot older than the OP, and I still need a reminder of this. Work to live, not live to work. I’ve been having a tough time at work and I need to constantly remind myself, “this is NOT my life. This is my job.”

  41. Clarissa*

    Hang in there OP! I always had dreams of being a writer, but it wasn’t until I reached my thirties that I found a job as a writer/editor. The writing I do isn’t always exciting, but I love it nonetheless.
    Have you thought about doing some editing courses to get certification? It is a good way to get some freelance work on the side of whatever you are doing. Or maybe start doing some writing for local small newspapers to get some experience. I have some writer friends who cut their teeth on small blogs or writing music and theatre reviews for local community papers. At your age, I was also in unfulfilling jobs that I was easily bored in. It can seem like it will never end, but Allison’s advice is solid! Think about jobs as a way to pay the bills and find ways to fill the creative void on the side.

  42. I'm Not Phyllis*

    Alison, you’re my favourite today. This was such good, compassionate advice and even though I have been working for the past 20 years, I needed to read it! Lately one of my friends has been posting stuff all about how glad she is that she can make her own schedule now that she works for herself and how she can’t believe she spent so long in a soul-sucking corporate job, etc. Welp, that’s all well and good for you but kind of insulting to the rest of us!

    Tangent aside, this is really, really good advice, LW!

  43. boop*

    I could probably have written a letter like this! Society is frustrating when you’re near the bottom rung. I have friends who have jumped from job to job, just trying things out until something sticks. I don’t know how they do it, what with entry level jobs requiring so much experience/education.

    My dream is also to live off of my craft (fine arts), and the “find your passion” could possibly have helped me when I was younger. The message was still that hobbies were hobbies and nothing good can come from them. If I’d ignored it, and started making content for the internet a decade ago, I would likely be doing well enough on my own now.

    But anyway.

    Pursuing your creative dream, even if you know that it will likely amount to nothing financially, can really make these bum jobs less… personal. Start writing, start posting thoughtful stuff online and create that creative life in your spare time. If you’re busy and meeting people and getting rejection letters (or fan mail???), you’ll love that library job that doesn’t demand much of your time but gives you a source of income.

    I just dropped the day job that probably wasn’t terrible work-wise, but filled me with daily angst for other reasons. Plus, it was just taking up so many of my days, that my creative side-life was starting to suffer. My goal is to make my after-work-life bigger and more beautiful so that it just completely silences that chunk of me that has to suffer for the money. It’s easy to get depressed and self-hating when that job you dislike is all that you do.

    Mind you, I would take this comment with a grain of salt, because you probably wouldn’t want to be me. If I was 22 again, I would probably finish that degree (if I didn’t have to go into huge debt for it). But don’t think that having a “real” job means you can’t have the fantasy either. You can do both, especially when you’re 22.

  44. Anon Moose*

    Back to say that I find a lot of 18-25ish year olds (including myself at the time) in a mindset that their job now will affect the rest of their life path/ close doors or open them. It makes sense because that’s often how choosing a college is seen, and also you’re getting advice from people about your “career” as if you’ll stay at the same company/ in the same industry for the next 50 years. Odds are you will not do that- you’ll change jobs, companies and even industries at least a few times. Focus on finding jobs, not a career (there are some exceptions like medicine or law or seminary but they don’t apply to most). What you do now at 22 is important, but not all-encompassing, determining the rest of your life important. Take some of the pressure off too. Think about the next 1-2 years, as Alison said. If you make a mistake you can come back from it. If you hate a job you can pivot to something else. Cut yourself some slack and find a way to be happy outside of work too.

    1. Anon Moose*

      This applies to choice of major as well- its not the career you’re studying for, its a degree. Your degree- having a piece of paper- is more important in the long run than what you majored in. Try to finish up your remaining credits when you’re ready, but realize that the difference between an Art History major and an Art Major and a social science major… its not huge (a little different for science/ business, but not too much).

    2. Aubergine Dreams*

      This is so, so true. I thought the job I started when I was 22 would be the place I retired from. I was so wrong! I can’t imagine staying at the same place for my entire career.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      “a mindset that their job now will affect the rest of their life path/ close doors or open them.”

      This was me. If I could go back and talk to younger me, I would say, “It’s just not that big a deal.” It’s more about how we view life. Do we look for opportunities each day or do we mourn what is lacking in our lives? We have a choice, but usually we only do one at a time. It’s more advantageous to decide each day, “I will check out what opportunities I can find as I go about my normal day.”
      And this is tough-tough stuff. We get up and do the same stupid routine every morning. Go to the same mind-dulling job, then come home and collapse in a chair because of exhaustion from pretending we are not on a hamster wheel.
      What to do about this.
      Goal setting might be part of your answer, OP. Like you I floundered with my jobs for quite a while, sick parents, I got married, and so on, I had a bunch of life things going on and my work progression suffered. I questioned myself, what the heck am I doing? I had no positive goals, therefore I had no motivation to stay on track. Not having positive goals stands alone as being depressing.* By sheer stubbornness I landed a job that paid okay. Not great, but okay. I decided that I wanted a house, a new-to-me car and I wanted to finish my degree. I also had a couple smaller goals. Something kicked in and I started knocking off each one of the goals. I’d finish goal A and move to goal B and so on. It took a while to do this because LIFE. But it made a huge difference in how I viewed my job and how I was able to cope with the hard parts of the job.

      *There are goals. And then there are positive goals. A goal of spoon feeding Parent each night at the nursing home is NOT a positive goal. This is an activity that can pull a person right down and drain them completely. Going one step further, doing a good job on this goal is not rewarding either.
      Additionally, depression is not “cured” by having goals. So please don’t misunderstand and think I am minimizing concerns. noooo. I am just pointing out that setting goals can be very powerful when used in conjunction with other proactive activities. And I had never realized how much goals can help.
      So when thinking about goals, first consider what types of activities would build you up. Keep it simple so that you actually do it. Some people might chose exercise or mediation, etc. It can be anything but think in terms of stuff that will be valuable to you for years to come.
      Next consider different time frames. Right now, it might be good to just consider short term goals. What can you do right now that would put you in a better place in a short while? As you go along,you can start to think about medium term goals and then in a bit consider longer term goals.

      FWIW, I thought my twenties were a real struggle for me. I did not really feel the rhythm of life until I was about 35-40. It’s funny/odd, because a friend just made a similar comment to me. He said that life was just starting to fall together in some type of sense. He is in his late 30s. Again, this is not an attempt to minimize but rather, a “hell, yeah, this is hard!” It helped me to think of life as a collection of experiences and what new experience could I add to my collection today/this week/ this month?

  45. Colorado*

    I love this post and Alison’s great advice. It’s very Ask Polly-esque with a kind, personal and humbling response. You’re going to be okay OP. Self-awareness is an important life skill. Best of luck to you with the job search.

  46. super anon*

    When I was 20 and trying to decide if I wanted to go to university after I spent tens of thousands of dollars on a technical degree program that it turned out I hated, I asked my grandfather how he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. He laughed and he told me “I’m 75 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!”. It turned out that he never really found that elusive life/work passion that I feel people in our generation have been told we need to find or else risk being unhappy until the end of time – but he didn’t consider that to be a failure or a bad thing, it was just life. He had fallen into jobs that he wasn’t totally crazy about, but he was good at what he did and the jobs paid the bills, so he kept working them. He used the money and time that the jobs afford him to focus on things that he did enjoy and that brought fulfillment to his life.

    Hearing this from my grandfather, a man I really admired and who seemed to have it so together really made me rethink a lot of what I had been taught by society, by school and teachers, and even by my own mother. It’s 7 years later and I now work in a job and field that I never saw myself in and isn’t even close to what I went to university for. What I do isn’t my life’s passion by a long shot, but I’m really good at my job and my salary lets me do the things I am passionate about, which is good enough for me.

    I really believe that our generation has been done a bit of a disservice with the “do what you’re passionate about!” rhetoric. That, combined with the “you need to know what you want to do for the rest of your life!” message we get in high school it can be incredibly anxiety inducing to think about working, and careers, and where you’ll be when you’re 40. Honestly – you never know where you’re going to end up or how you’re going to get there. I much prefer my grandfather’s method of rolling with the punches and seeing what happens, because you truly never know where you’ll end up.

  47. addlady*

    What do you like to do on a day-to-day basis? Not in a generic “passion” sense, but in a more specific. I like tiny, tiny detail, but I didn’t follow my passion into classics. Instead, I do programming. Someone who likes talking and charming and moving incredibly quickly might go into sales. It can be really generic. It doesn’t have to be a specific subject (which is inevitably shaped by what (limited) experiences we have in our lives anyway). Instead, you can generalize from what sorts of activities you have been able to do for a reasonable duration of time every day.

    1. Anon Moose*

      There’s also stuff like StrengthsFinder or other work-focused personality/skills assessments (yeah, a little fluffy but it actually did help me). I like ones that don’t direct you to a specific career but that help you discern what skills you might bring to any job/ what kind of aspects of jobs to look for.

  48. Not Karen*

    Why are we assuming everyone can be personally satisfied with a job they aren’t passionate about? Just because you’d be okay finding your passion outside of work doesn’t mean everyone will or should be.

      1. Not Karen*

        You can think whatever you want, but you cannot tell me which is more important to me.

        1. LBK*

          So having a fulfilling job is more important to you than paying your bills? I mean, that’s certainly your prerogative, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case for the majority of people, and advising someone to think that way is probably going to be damaging to them in the long run.

        2. addlady*

          You said “why are we assuming everyone can be personally satisfied.” But we aren’t. We’re assuming that it’s possible to keep a job that you aren’t personally satisfied at, in order to make a living.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, exactly. The majority of people in the world don’t have the privilege of holding out for work that brings personal satisfaction. It’s actually a very recent — and privileged — viewpoint to think that satisfaction and fulfillment is something people should prioritize in their work, and we still don’t apply that to the majority of the population, only certain pieces of it.

            1. CanadianKat*

              Another viewpoint is to try to find satisfaction and enjoyment in the job that you have, whatever it might be. That is a valuable skill, as the tasks themselves may not always be inherently enjoyable (even if it’s overall a decent job).

              If you’re a garbage collector, you can take pride in leaving the street clean and free of litter. If you’re a telemarketer, you can get satisfaction from succeeding in not feeling rattled when people are rude to you.

              Like what you do, not “do what you like.”

              1. Not So NewReader*

                This, this. Some times I have had to dig a little deeper in order to find something satisfying about a job. And other times I had to really dig deep.

        3. Pontoon Pirate*

          Nobody is telling you that. We’re saying work is a necessary part of life and offering our perspective on how OP can deal with that reality while setting her/himself up for future success. But it’s all opinions. You do you.

        4. Ultraviolet*

          Today’s advice isn’t, “Income is more important to you than loving your work!” Today’s advice is, “There’s a myth that you can’t possibly be happy with your life if you don’t love your work. Are you sure that’s true of you? Lots of people eventually find that the myth does not correctly predict their happiness.”

          Moreover, actually being willing and able to prioritize loving your job over having an income (as opposed to prioritizing a baseline income but being unhappy about it) is a very uncommon position that most advice columns aren’t going to be aimed at.

    1. Anon Moose*

      That’s not what we’re assuming. Most people were sharing their personal experiences/ pearls of wisdom, which go against the common idea that passion= necessary for everyone to be happy at their job. Just as that extreme isn’t true, neither is the opposite and reading that in these comments to the OP feels a bit disingenuous.
      If you’re different/ have a different experience, maybe share yours as a counterpoint?

    2. LBK*

      I think the point is that setting a goal of finding a job that you’re passionate about and never applying for or sticking with any job that doesn’t meeting that criterion wildly unrealistic, especially for someone young who doesn’t have a degree. It’s setting yourself up for failure, frustration and disappointment. There is some level of just sucking it up you have to do in order to be able to pay the bills. The idea is to separate what makes you happy from what pays the bills so that you can still proceed with your life if those two things aren’t the same. If you (reasonably) assume you can’t get your dream job when you’re 22, what is your other option? Be miserable and broke, or be miserable but at least have a paycheck?

      1. Notalotofsympathy*

        This so much. When I was 22 I had to work because I had to eat, pay rent, car payments, ect. Living at home wasn’t an option, nor was “waiting until I found my passion”. My opinion may be harsh, but the OP needs to grow up and quit feeling sorry for herself. I guarantee if she would have to fend for herself, she’d find the motivation to get a full time job.

        1. Notalotofsympathy*

          Maybe someone in her life needs to give her a kick in the pants instead of coddling her. Like I said, I know it’s harsh, but she’s an adult and needs to start acting like one.

          1. fposte*

            And probably she will, because most people do. But being supported isn’t automatically the same thing as being enabled. Judging by the comments, I’m not the only one here who had similar struggles and turned out fine, so I think you’re being a bit of a doomsayer about somebody in a fairly common situation.

            1. Notalotofsympathy*

              The OP said she is on Welfare. There is no reason she can’t work, she just doesn’t want to. This is beyond unacceptable. That is not what the system is for and she is taking advantage of it. That part alone makes it extremely difficult to be sympathetic.

              1. LBK*

                Uh…if you think welfare is a free ride to a great life, you’re wildly mistaken. Plus, the OP does want to work – where are you getting the impression that she doesn’t? If she didn’t want to work, why would she have applied for/worked and quit so many jobs?

                I think you are projecting your cultural perspective/political position onto a conversation where it’s not relevant (and, FWIW, I think it’s an inaccurate cultural perspective, but that’s a separate discussion).

                1. fposte*

                  And judging by “paycheque,” it’s not the US government, so I suspect we’re talking a very different cultural approach to that kind of support anyway.

              2. OP*


                Many, if not most, people who are on welfare aren’t on it just to get some sort of free ride and take advantage of the system. I’ve worked multiple jobs before, and I am a few months out of an education I could barely afford and cannot anymore. I left my retail jobs because I always dealt with management who favored the employees who would join them in talking bad about other employees behind their backs, who would talk about the stupidest things with them. Management would gang up on an employee and if you said anything to defend yourself, they hold a grudge against you. I am just not that kind of person and it really hurts to be treated this way. As a result I did not get many hours at work. When I did, I did not enjoy the environment and I’m really scared that my next retail job is going to be like this again.

                Anyway, I need help financially, and I am still looking for a second job. I had absolutely nothing in my bank account since having left school, and I come from a low-income family. I am not ashamed to have applied for welfare, and you probably think that everyone who is on welfare is “taking advantage of the system”. Seriously, this is a system that is there to help those who need it, so as long as I need it I’ll be using it, and that is perfectly acceptable.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  I so get this about retail. I totally agree. Do not take another retail job. I broke away from retail because of friends who knew of part time work doing Very Different Thing. I made the jump and I will never go back. Don’t make yourself go back, retail begets more retail. If a person does not want to do retail, it becomes a rut.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                You’re injecting a political viewpoint into a discussion where that’s inappropriate. I think you’re a new commenter, so I’m going to ask you to read the commenting rules and ensure that future comments come from a place that’s helpful and kind to the letter-writer. Thank you.

                1. Notalotofsympathy*

                  Actually, no I’m not “one of those”. I grew up in the foster system. At 18 you’re told to hit the road, good luck in life. I worked 2-3 jobs in order to eat, and to not live in a cardboard box. The OP isn’t even trying. She is working 8 hrs a week. She says, I could go back to retail, but in 2 months I’d just quit again. That attitude is what is holding her back, and will continue holding her back. There comes a point where someone needs to tell you to quit feeling sorry for yourself and get your sh#t together. Maybe I am projecting my cultural perspective. I can’t wrap my mind around someone who is unwilling to do anything to help themselves. If she was so willing to work she would apply to anything and everything and not just jobs “that she thinks she will like”. With that being said, I’m out.

                2. fposte*

                  Would you have liked to have had more support? I would have liked you to have had more, because that sounds pretty rough.

                3. LBK*

                  It’s always interesting to me when people who’ve dealt with a lot of hardships in life end up with “everyone should have to go through what I did” as their perspective instead of “no one should have to go through what I did.”

                4. Myrin*

                  LBK, I was just about to say this. It reminds me of older women who had to go through a lot of shit to get where they are now career-wise refusing to help young women facing gender-related battles as well – why oh why would you do that instead of shielding them from as much of that crap as possible? Surely it’s enough that you had to go through this so that others don’t have to suffer as well?

                5. fposte*

                  @LBK–there’s also something seductive about considering people to be cosseted. Every now and then I’ll catch myself thinking that somebody has it easy with the support they’re getting and I remember *I* had that support too. Oh, right.

          2. Kittens*

            This right here explains exactly why young people trying to figure it out are scared to talk about it. I don’t think “get over yourself” is even remotely helpful, which is why it wasn’t Allison’s advice. And it’s a pretty far stretch to assume she’s being coddled…? Anyway, don’t need to fight about it or anything, but OP if you’re reading this, clearly take it as an indicator some people won’t get it or sympathize.

          3. OriginalYup*

            I’m 40 and I still work because I have to eat, pay rent, car payments, etc. Doesn’t mean I need to be all Hardass McGee about it to someone who’s just starting out.

            Your comment about your own experiences alludes to you having better advice to offer than “find someone to berate you”. Why not offer it up? How did you make it all work at 22? It might really helpful for the OP and other readers.

        2. LBK*

          This is basically what everyone else is saying, just in harsher terms. The advice throughout the comments and in Alison’s letters is pretty much unanimously that the OP shouldn’t focus on finding a job she’s passionate about and should just get one that can pay the bills, and that “waiting to find your passion” is a false ideal. Where are you seeing sentiments to the contrary?

    3. fposte*

      We’re not. But most people can find life okay even without loving their job, so it’s reasonable to suggest to the OP that she consider looking at it that way rather than restricting herself to the “passion” approach.

      There’s never a guarantee that anybody will be happy.

    4. Aurion*

      I have friends who really do need passion to be satisfied in a job. That’s fine and that’s what works for them. But that experience is not universal, and it’s useful to present the “work to live, not live to work” perspective when the opposite is the one being touted most loudly.

      1. BRR*

        I feel weird saying it but since joining the work force four years ago I’ve come to the conclusion money is nice. I also do have a job that I have passion but it’s not a job where passion would drive me beyond everything else. I like having extra money to enjoy things I’m passionate about (traveling, eating out, going to shows) and being able to save. I’m not screwing over others to make a dollar but I’m placing money much higher on my priority list than as a student. People don’t really say that although most people would like more money.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yes. When I graduated from college ten years ago, I actually had a professor tell me that I shouldn’t consider money when planning a career at all. Like, not even that it shouldn’t be my first priority–that it shouldn’t even be on the table. This was a surprisingly common attitude: you must find your passion and somehow magically everything else will follow, and if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with you.

        I felt like a disappointment for years after getting my job as a technical writer (despite finding the work pleasant and really appreciating not having to fret all the time about money) because, well, because I felt like I was somehow letting down the team by working at a job that I was fine with but didn’t feel ~deep passion~ about, and I also felt like I must be shallow and materialistic for liking the paycheck. It took me years to get over that feeling of vague shame. So the recent pushback against the idea that we all must be passionate about our jobs has really resonated with me.

    5. BRR*

      People aren’t swinging in the complete opposite direction of “do what you love” and I don’t think people are saying everybody can be ok with only passion for things outside of work. They’re just suggesting some pragmatic approaches. My personal thought is that the positions that people are truly passionate about are more rare. Plus people have different strengths and different financial obligations. It seems like the LW is lost at the moment and people are merely presenting some options for the LW to think about.

    6. Ultraviolet*

      The point is that thanks to a pervasive cultural myth many people falsely believe they can’t be okay finding their passion outside work and tolerating their actual job, which can result in a lot of unhappiness. So “we” are urging everyone to question that myth and see if they can build a happy life in a way that myth claims isn’t possible. We are giving the advice, “There’s a myth that X is true of all people, but X is not true of all people, and maybe not most people, so consider that it might not be true of you!” The advice doesn’t actually assume that X is true of no one, which sounds like your concern here.

    7. Kate M*

      Not everyone can be, sure, but some people have to be. If you’re able to work in a field that matches your passion, you’re very lucky. But the world needs sanitation workers, janitors, childcare workers, food service employees, etc. Maybe a small percentage of people who work in those fields are passionate about it, but I doubt most people who end up in these jobs would have listed them as a passion. There just aren’t enough “cool” jobs to go around that everyone can be passionate about.

      Plus, it has a lot to do with access – if you have college paid for, no loans, internship experience, and a family to support you, it can be easier to take a lower paying job at first to gain experience in a field you love (plus get the opportunity in the first place). Not everyone has the same options.

  49. FCJ*

    LW, one thing that occurred to me while I was reading Alison’s response is that you might be expecting a lot from entry-level positions. Maybe you really would love a career in libraries (or whatever), but the gruntwork of being a circulation desk assistant (which is my job title currently, so I know what kind of gruntwork that can be) isn’t the part you would love about it. Maybe you’d be really great at cataloging or handling digital collections. My point is, entry-level jobs are often more similar to other entry-level jobs in different fields than they are to the advanced work of their fields. So if you find a field you think you’re interested in, don’t judge your continuing interest by how well you can put up with the first no-experience-needed position you get.

    1. Kittens*


      So so true. Outside of a very narrow spectrum of STEM jobs, there isn’t too much entry level work out there that isn’t a little dull. My super cool publishing internship that all my friends were jealous of? I filed papers, put together UPS orders, etc. Maybe once a week I did a “cool” thing, so 2 out of my 40 hours there was exciting. Unless you decide to switch to petroleum engineering, grunt work is the norm.

    2. just a thought*

      I gotta say, I’m higher level (librarian manager) in the library world and sometimes I miss the grunt work of circulation. There were processes for everything spelled out and I had the ability to wipe fines, etc. without asking permission. Now the problems I have are much more complex and there isn’t always a right procedure and it’s certainly not documented.

  50. HDB*

    I’ve never commented before, but I just want to thank the OP, Alison and (most of) the commenters on this post! I’m in my mid-20s and am also stuck in that mindset of “work should fulfill me” which has lead to being bored and disappointed with all of my jobs since college. Everyone’s advice and Alison’s awesome response has been really encouraging and refreshing, and I’m definitely taking them to heart! Thanks y’all.

    1. OP*

      No worries, I got you. ;) After today, I certainly no longer believe in that load of crapola either. This notion that society has embedded into our minds has played a huge role in the way I think about work. Although, many of my jobs have been in places where the management was just not nice, and disrespect from management is definitely not something I want to trade off anymore; it affects my psyche so bad. It makes me doubt my skills and potential so much, I start believing that I really do suck. So, tolerable is my new goal.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I hope I am following your comments closely enough to have a correct understanding. I think I am seeing a multi-faceted quandary here. Or maybe I am just looking at you with my own glasses, that is possible.

        In addition to many of the great ideas here, you may like to consider a couple sub-topics:

        How to screen for idiot bosses during an interview. This never occurred to me for many years but there are questions you can ask to get the idea of what the management style of a new boss would be like.

        How to handle inappropriate remarks from bosses and coworkers.

        And going back to your letter, how to handle boredom on the job.

        Collecting up tools for coping is probably a life long exercise, or for at least until we retire. You sound like you have some burnout from idiot bosses, too. So maybe that would be a good sub-topic for you to read up on. Knowledge is power. Sometimes just knowing other people are seeing similar things can be load-lifting. Other times you may find practical steps you can take to improve your setting.

        I think you are a very strong person, just with what I see of you here. The more tools you gather, the more types of support you find, you will quickly see yourself doing better and better. As you seem to be doing now, go slowly and pick your informal and formal mentors/advisers carefully.

      2. myswtghst*

        I’m so late to this comment thread, but I did want to reply to you here, OP, because you’ve identified something really important – different parts of work can be important (or easier to ignore) for different people.

        I’ve found I’m a lot like you’ve described yourself here – I have very little patience for bad management, especially the ineffective and petty kind. While I also tend to get bored easily, I’ve found it’s much easier to deal with when I have good management who I can work with to figure out how to mix up my tasks so I don’t get bored as often. And I’d much rather put in some headphones and deal with tedious work assigned to me by a good boss, than deal with a poisonous culture in the workplace.

        So I’d second Not So NewReader and say this is something you should focus on when looking for / interviewing for jobs. If you combine Alison’s advice in this post (about looking for something you could do well for 1-2 years) with her advice in the rest of this blog about job-searching and interviewing, you have a good foundation for an effective job search. Good luck!

  51. LBK*

    I think people have the core of the letter covered, so I just want to comment on the side note and reinforce what Alison said about jobs getting filled not being personal. We just went through this on my team: we had an excellent candidate who we weren’t sure would accept the offer and who needed some time to figure it out. In the meantime, we kept interviewing people so we wouldn’t have to start from square one if she declined and we ended up finding another excellent candidate. Ultimately, candidate #1 did accept so we had to reject candidate #2, but it was nothing against her or her skills. We absolutely would’ve hired her if candidate #1 hadn’t accepted, she just happened to get there too late when we’d already found someone.

  52. Episkey*

    I found this blog several years ago and I when I first read Alison’s feeling on this subject (you should be doing what you LOVE, work should fulfill you, yadda yadda yadda), it was like a weight had been lifted from me. I constantly felt like a huge failure for not loving my work and feeling “unfulfilled” by my job. This was the first place I had ever found from someone that said, “You know what? That’s BS. It’t totally OK to not LOVE your job and you are not a sell-out or a failure for feeling like your job is….a job. Something to pay bills and that’s it.”

  53. Jenna P.*

    I had no idea what I wanted to do in my 20s either. I went to university for computer science because I thought computers were interesting and like the programming class I took in high school. I finished the degree, but realised that I did not want to be a programmer. So I took a year break to go on an exchange program and work a temp job, and looked through job ads in the tech field to figure out what I wanted to do next. I ran across some technical writing ads and became extremely interested in them, but also knew that I had to go back to school first. I went for a post-grad certificate in tech writing at a community college, then landed my first job after that. I found that it suits me perfectly. My first job wasn’t the greatest and I was happy to leave it after 2 years, but it gave me the experience I needed to get into better jobs. I am definitely not passionate about it, but I like it enough that I can see myself doing it for quite a while.

  54. Overeducated*

    This almost sounds like a letter my sibling could have written at age 22 (minus the library detail, specifically).

    Sibling graduated college around age 24 or so, after starting at a 4 year college, withdrawing and moving back home, starting treatment for depression (also diagnosed with ADHD but could manage it when the depression was under control), alternating between working and enrolling at the local community college when work by itself got too painfully boring, and then finally finishing at a state college where the CC credits would transfer. It was fortunate that our parents were willing and able to provide housing and help pay tuition, which is a privilege not everyone has, but getting through school was a long slog and a huge accomplishment nevertheless. I don’t think I’ve ever seen sibling so proud as on the day of college graduation, and the family was super proud as well. I’m sharing this anecdote to say that you may not finish school immediately or where you started it, but if you WANT to go back, you can find a way. There isn’t an age limit.

    After graduation, sibling moved back home and spent a couple years in the space where you are: looking for jobs, being bored by food service, not working much, wanting to write, but being incredibly pessimistic and self-defeating. For example, not even starting any writing projects because you know how hard it is to get published, and being so afraid of failure that you can’t even start or won’t even try something if you aren’t sure you’ll be the best at it – that’s totally self-defeating. Eventually they found a “pay the bills,” crappy seasonal job – and found out they were amazingly good at sales (not retail-type, but actually walking up to someone and getting them to give you money). That’s where that skill with words came in handy. Being good at something is almost as good as being excited about it because it feels so good to be successful. The seasonal job led to a year-round job and sibling is still on that career path. So I think this is a story with a happy resolution, it just took a few years to get there.

    On the other hand, I do have multiple friends who write, and they’ve approached it different ways. One spent his 20s and early 30s bartending while writing on the side, and just very slowly increased the proportion of his income that came from writing over the years until it was around 2/3. He did a lot of copy writing for wesites in this period. Then he got a full-time, great job doing technical writing for a software company and quit the bar. He is probably the only person I know who’s employed full time doing nothing but writing, but his tradeoff is that he doesn’t make money on creative stuff, he’s made it a trade instead.

    My other friend, who’s around 32 now, only writes about her passions, and has embraced “work to pay the bills,” supporting herself with a graduate stipend and now multiple part time jobs while she works on her books and book proposals. She avoids pessimism and self-defeat by learning a lot about the publishing world and breaking her goals down into single, realistic steps much smaller than publishing a book, like drafting a proposal, querying agents, etc.

    I hope all these anecdotes are not annoying. It’s just that your story sounds so familiar, and like many other commenters, I want to let you know that there are multiple ways through the directionless woods of your early 20s, even with creative goals.

    1. Overeducated*

      P.S. On the other hand, you can be like me and single mindedly pursue a dream career throughout your 20s…and then wind up needing to make a change anyway as your life and priorities change. The career I trained for and envisioned wasn’t compatible with the home life I wanted after I got married and started a family, so I’ve been slowly trying to transition to a new sector. My previously struggling sibling was trying to give me career advice and suggestions this time last year . The people who look like they have it all together may not, or may only for a short time, because life is long and unpredictable and we make decisions at age 21 or 22 with such incomplete information.

  55. Swistle*

    I have never liked a job for longer than a year. Now that I’ve been through a number of them, I sort them from “boring” on the good end, to “intolerable/agonizing/life-ruining” on the other. My former library job was very, very boring, but I was working in a temperature-controlled building and no one was yelling at me: good end of the spectrum. My former bakery job was very, very boring, and too hot, and I hate having flour on my hands, and the shift started at 3:00 a.m., and half of my co-workers were spreading rumors about me, but the other half of my co-workers were nice and they were the ones I was mostly working with, and we could listen to the radio, and we made pizza in the bakery ovens at 9:00 a.m. when we were ready for lunch, and it was satisfying to churn out hundreds of tidy packages of baked goods: medium-to-medium-bad end of the spectrum. My current caregiver job can be hugely fulfilling, but is always too hot or too cold, and involves a surprising amount of adult diarrhea and an unsurprising amount of illness/death, and also the only good interactions I have with my contemptuous, manipulative supervisor is when I am temporarily off her radar, and the pay is low and there are no benefits: middle-to-bad end of the spectrum.

    What all these jobs are teaching me is what I value in my Jobs I Don’t Really Like, and getting me closer to a boring job I can do longer-term. For example, now I know I really, really hate working in hot temperatures, and I don’t want to be called many times a week to fill other people’s shifts, and I need a supervisor who isn’t contemptuous and manipulative. Progress!

    I have also learned to make The Thing I Really Want to Do into my fulfilling hobby, which earns me a small hobby-like income. Progress!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Very very good point. To pull out the work/dating analogy, you learn from each person you date what you will and will not put up with in a relationship.

  56. animaniactoo*

    I am fortunate enough to be in a job that I find interesting. But I fell into this job – it was never my planned career path. I fell into it by having been lucky enough to essentially apprentice my way up into it through taking a job path that was always about being able to pay the bills.

    Towards that end, I was raised with a mindset that I find useful and have tried to work with my kids on (not quite as successfully as I might have hoped, but they’re also still young – in your age range). That mindset is about finding something that you do well, and taking satisfaction in doing it well. Everything after that is gravy. It’s a bonus. But for day to day? Just being able to do something well and be paid for doing it well is a pretty damn good thing to accomplish. If your job is pretty boring, you find ways to make it more entertaining – at least tolerably so – for you. Whether that’s establishing relationships with your co-workers, taking on or creating initiatives that seem worthwhile/interesting, or keeping track (for your own amusement only) of how many people spend more than a minute in the bathroom if they bring their cell phone in with them. Or how many people can walk past a gum wrapper without picking it up. Silly stuff, but it helps you get through the day sometimes.

  57. Young'n*

    I feel you op!

    I majored in biology. I worked hard and earned high grades. A prof talked me into majoring in math too. I did well in both majors. I graduated and made choice – make money and sit in a cube all day or barely scrape by and save the world. I chose to save the world of course.

    It was 2010 and the us economy collapsed. No one wanted to hire biologists. The few jobs I could get were awful. I hated working as a scientist!

    I “sold out” and started to use my math major instead. This was when I was 25. I did not like the job much but some parts were ok and I made enough to live but not the gobs of money I was promised. I stayed a couple of years and switched industries. I like this industry but still don’t think it will be my career. I am happy though because I create projects I enjoy and I focus on my family.

    I hope you find your happy place!

  58. Aunt Helen*

    I had a million crappy jobs in my early 20’s while trying to make my artistic dream happen at night and on weekends. Now I work in a creative industry I love – but it took until I was 34 to break in. Speaking from this side of the fence, what worked best for me then was getting a boring job (data entry) that allowed my mind to wander all day. I took notes on my ideas and brought them home to work on. Having a job that had NOTHING to do with what I loved allowed me to save up all my creative energy for my personal projects after hours. By the time I got home I was DYING to write!

    Just as a caveat: if you seek out a job that involves writing, and it’s boring/challenging/not ideal, you might not have enough creative “juice” left over for yourself at the end of the day. So a better bet might be a field totally unrelated – something involving physical labor, or undemanding repetitive tasks, or animal care, etc – so you are charged up and not drained when it’s time to come home and write. Good luck OP!

    1. Mockingjay*

      If you seek out a job that involves writing, and it’s boring/challenging/not ideal, you might not have enough creative “juice” left over for yourself at the end of the day.

      This. I’ve often toyed with writing a novel (who hasn’t), but as a technical writer, the last thing I want to do when I get home is write some more. My semi-great American novel will never be written. But I get great satisfaction out of producing clear, precise engineering documents. In that regard, I am a prolific author!

        1. Revolver Rani*

          This is interesting and also somewhat true for me. I am also a technical writer, and my hobby is writing – I write all the time, movie criticism, essays, and lately fiction. But even though I do write a lot, I am often too tired after work to spend much thought on it in the evening. My weekends are golden for this – I get most of my writing done on weekends.

    2. Tau*

      Just as a caveat: if you seek out a job that involves writing, and it’s boring/challenging/not ideal, you might not have enough creative “juice” left over for yourself at the end of the day.

      I was totally going to bring this up but couldn’t figure out how to word it. I’ve found that I have a limited “pool” for writing, and if it’s drawn on for my job I’ll have less for my free time. If I want to do a lot of writing in my free time, a writing-heavy job is the worst thing I can look for.

      My job is pretty interesting, thankfully, but uses completely different modes of thinking from writing. (Programmer.) So I’ll put in my eight hours, then rush off to a coffee shop and write until it closes after work. No way I could do that if I were a technical writer or the like.

  59. wannabefreelancer*

    I LOVE this answer. I’m bookmarking it. Allison, you could have gone the total other way and been like, “blah blah millennials blah blah,” but you gave SUCH a great answer.

    LW, ignore all that Elite Daily and Thought Catalog crap. This is normal, it took me a few different jobs to find something I really like doing (and even then, there are days where I’m bored and meh about it), and I’m not much older than you.

  60. Recent Reader*

    Check out Mr. Money Mustache’s blog for ideas about how to work for a while, save as much as possible, and then “retire” to do what you really want to do (even if that includes continuing to work, just at something you enjoy that may not pay very much). I find his philosophy very freeing.

    1. fposte*

      I’ve also noticed when reading Bogleheads how many people making really good money are doing it for the really good money, not for any particular passion.

    2. Pontoon Pirate*

      Personal finance blogs like MMM are a big part of why I’m interviewing at a global company and looking to leave my large-ish nonprofit job (before I get the “yes, but NFP’s can pay competitively … I believe they can. Elsewhere. Just not where I live. Especially in contract-driven nonprofits). It pays 60 percent more than what I make now. It’s not as varied and I definitely won’t have as much flexibility to take on the projects I want, but I’ll grow in a specialization and I’m looking forward to that. And! I will be able to save or invest almost every extra dollar I make. I’ll get to have a real retirement! I can help my parents out. And I’ll work the same amount of hours to do it.

      OP, I was almost just like you, except I stuck it out and then made an even bigger mistake by going to an expensive grad school. You were smart to ask for advice and I hope things get better for you.

  61. Former Retail Manager*

    Hands down…..BEST ADVICE EVER! Spot on. Every young person, from teenager on, should read this. I’ll be passing this on to my 16 year old daughter today.

  62. Liana*

    LW, I was definitely in your shoes when I was 22 – I had a college degree, but no idea what I wanted to do and I didn’t find anything interesting. It can be really demoralizing when everyone around you is saying “Follow your dream!” or “Do what you love!” when you don’t even know what your dream is. Once I ended up in a job with a steady paycheck, I found that a lot (not all, but a lot) of those anxieties eased because even though I wasn’t in love with what I was doing, the money was enough to me to fund the things I did love to do, which for the first couple years was mainly travel and drink hipster craft beer (I’m a simple person at heart). Dedicate some time each week, or even each day, to writing, so you have something to look forward to, and think of work as mostly a means to fund your lifestyle.

    Also! Don’t worry if you haven’t found a job you’re passionate about yet – my dad didn’t find his dream career (teaching) until he was in his mid-40s. There’s no age limit on that.

  63. Editrix*

    I totally feel your frustration, LW. I dropped out of college and worked a series jobs–temp admin. assistant, server, salon stylist–and I felt completely lost, depressed, and confused about who I was and what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Work always stunk. I eventually did graduate, but I felt like a failure for a long time.

    And guess what? Work still stinks sometimes, even though I have a degree and I’m doing something I like.

    Alison’s advice is spot-on: most jobs aren’t going to fulfill you. But on the flip side, I wonder if both your disenchantment with what you’re doing and desire for meaningful work stem from your personality. I’m an INFP on the Myers-Briggs test. Only about 6% of the population is. Along with a penchant for the arts, one major facet of that personality is the need to do work that aligns with your personal values, and not doing so can feel severely crippling–this was my experience.

    Though it’s not perfect science and it’s only a starting point, I highly suggest you take an Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment. It’ll give you some insight into your strengths, weaknesses, and needs. It helped me realize that I wasn’t crazy or lazy. I was just different, and I had to find ways to fulfill my inner longings while keeping food in my mouth.

  64. TheLazyB*

    I’m currently reading the book grit by Angela duckworth. You might find it helpful. Good luck xx

  65. De Minimis*

    I still feel like that, and I’m literally almost twice the LW’s age….

    I finished my undergrad, but it was years before it really worked for me in a significant way. But I still wouldn’t be where I am now without having finished that degree. You should try to think about finishing school somewhere down the road.

  66. INFJ*

    “In recent years, our culture has tried to sell us a line of crap about finding your passion and doing what you love and not settling for work that doesn’t deeply fulfill you”

    I would love to read a well researched and insightful article/book about this because I find these kinds of trends interesting. In Studs Terkel’s “Working”, which was published in the 1970s when factory work was common, I read plenty of personal profiles in which the people interviewed reported having zero fulfillment out of their jobs beyond a paycheck. I can see how the shift from factory/manual work to service and information industries may have contributed to this phenomenon that Alison is referring to. I think college also probably contributes to this; because more youngsters go to college (but not necessarily finish it), they feel the pressure to “do something” with it, and get discouraged when they don’t “find their calling.”

  67. Allison*

    I totally bought into the idea that I could turn my passion into a rewarding and fulfilling career, but when I had a hard time getting jobs that appealed to my passion, I ended up in a line of work I liked. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t totally hate it either, I liked it enough to stick with it. Then I realized I can use some of that money from my paychecks to fund a hobby I was really into, and in that way I do feel fulfilled. It also helped to find a job with a lot of flexibility to allow me to pursue that hobby. You could also find a job you just like, that pays well and has flexible hours, and use your free time to write.

    That said, once you’ve been at a job for a year or so, if you’re feeling bored or restless all the time you could talk to your boss about taking on new projects or responsibilities, maybe get cross-trained doing something else. And when interviewing for new jobs, always ask the hiring manager how they see the role growing and evolving over time.

  68. De Minimis*

    My best case scenario these days is for a job to not have negative impact/bleed-over into my life outside of work.
    I know some people get more out of work than that, but it doesn’t seem to be the case for me.

  69. dear liza dear liza*

    Not aimed at the LW but to others who might think libraries are good places to ‘work your way up’: please know that while you might be able to go from part time to full time, or rise up in the staff ranks, you can’t work your way up to being a librarian. To be a librarian, you need not just a BA but a Masters degree.

    Libraries can’t run without our amazing staff, and if you are thinking about going for your MLS, getting a staff position can be a good way to explore librarianship before paying for graduate school. But it’s virtually impossible to be promoted through the ranks from staff to librarian without the terminal degree. (People often express surprise that an advanced degree is required, so this is just a PSA.)

    1. Mrs. T. Potts*

      Yes indeed. Here is what I found frustrating: I took a job as a library tech to find out if I wanted to go further for the MLS. But the kind of work I do here has *nothing* to do with the kind of work a librarian does. I’ve tried to volunteer for other tasks, but my boss, who is the King of Slackers, stonewalls me. There are a lot of people sitting around here doing bloody FA and they like to keep it that way. So I kind of figured maybe library work isn’t for me…

    2. Not So NewReader*

      It depends on how the library is classified in my state. In my area a director only needs two years of college, not even a 2 year degree. HOWEVER. Competition is stiff. It’s safe to assume people with their masters will be apply for this position that only requires two years of schooling.

  70. burnout*

    “In recent years, our culture has tried to sell us a line of crap about finding your passion and doing what you love and not settling for work that doesn’t deeply fulfill you — but it’s bullshit that ignores the fact that the majority of the world’s population works to get food and housing, not for emotional or spiritual fulfillment.”


    If you want to eat and have a place to live, you’ve got to work. Or, you can live off welfare – many do! – but only if you are okay with the standard of living that allows. If you want more and/or better, you have to work. For the most part, work sucks. But sometimes you can find a place you really like, or people you enjoy being around at least. Keep trying, something will stick.

  71. Josh S*

    For what it’s worth, it took me 4+ years of jobs post-college to figure out what I “enjoyed” doing for work (not even what’s fulfilling–just what is bearable and fits my skills/inclinations), and another 5+ years of slogging through rough times to make it to an employer who made it possible for me to actually do that kind of work.

    My quasi-resume:
    For 2 years after college, I gritted my teeth at a call center where we administered benefits for a Fortune 50 client. Reciting the same scripts about Health Insurance and 401k’s 40-50 times per day for years on end was…numbing.

    I quit that job without anything else lined up because I was so dead tired, bored, and frustrated by it. Spent 6 months living off savings and barely squeaked by before I stumbled into another job that I *thought* I was really going to love in the Leadership Training world.

    A great company, with the promise of doing “consulting” with big clients on their leadership and management structure. But really, it ended up a bait-and-switch. I was doing inside sales (400+ phone dials a day, getting hung up on countless times, trying to drum up sales) for soft-skills training. It’s a great company with a great product, but cold-call sales for a $2000+ per-person price tag is … not realistic. And sales was nothing but discouraging to me.

    Again, I quit with nothing lined up. Because I needed to be done. I gave my 2 weeks notice on my 1 year anniversary, and they showed me the door that day.

    I worked at Borders as a part-time bookseller for several months, just so I had enough money to pay rent and put food on the table. That was actually kind of fun–a break from white collar work!–but so obviously to me not in line with any kind of a career that I wanted, and barely left me able to scrape by. And the oddball hours were killer for my young marriage.

    I stumbled into some “temp” work at the time doing some “market research” for a company with a headquarters in my city. A lot of profiling of companies, desk research (Google Fu for the win!) to uncover tidbits about inner workings and financial results of organizations, writing up trend reports for someone else to sell about consumer packaged goods.

    …and I found I kind of liked it. I was good at understanding trends. I was good at seeing connections between markets and categories that others didn’t. I was good at spot checking things to ensure they made sense when examined from different perspectives.

    …and I realized I had been doing this kind of stuff all along. At my call-center job, I had done a bunch of number crunching in an Excel Spreadsheet to ensure that we had the right # of people trained to cover each “category” of call — Health Benefits vs 401k benefits. And used the data to tell the story to management so we could get more people cross-trained. At the inside sales job, I started looking at our marketing efforts to see what lead-generation efforts actually resulted in sales. And it let me (and others) focus our calling efforts on people who would be more likely to buy stuff instead of just cold calling down a list of phone numbers.

    And then the temp job turned into me being a “contract worker” at that company. And I added an additional client who was a friend-of-a-friend who needed some help with a similar set of “market research” projects. And then I added some “market research consulting” for local businesses in the area. All of a sudden, I wasn’t just a Temp Worker, but I was “self-employed” as a “market research freelancer.”

    I did that for over 5 years, learning how to deal with the feast-or-famine nature of freelance project work. (Ever gone 3 months without a paycheck, followed by a $10k payday? How do you make sure you’ve got enough in the bank to pay the rent til the next Invoice gets paid? How do you make sure your client base is broad enough that you can survive if your main client hires another person and gives all “your” work to the new employee? Don’t forget to pay quarterly taxes!!!)

    And finally…I realized that I wasn’t just some kid flailing around from job to job. I was a “market researcher”. And after 5 years of freelancing, I started looking for jobs in that industry.

    I applied for may positions. But with ^^^^ job history? Not many takers. Finally, I got a bite with a leading company in my industry. I interviewed for a position. And got denied after going through the final interview round. “Someone with more experience in ________.” But, they said, I’m going to refer you to this other internal recruiter, because you are a really strong candidate, and definitely think you’d be good at our company. Second set of interviews. Got a job offer. Took it, for ~80% more than I had been making as a freelancer.

    In this job, I’ve simply thrived. It’s far from “fulfilling” in terms of what I’m doing: helping my manufacturer client sell more Products in the CPG industry. But it’s certainly fulfilling in that it uses my skills, I’ve got opportunities to grow, I enjoy the people I work with. It’s a job–something I do for money to pay the bills–but it’s not anything I would ever quit because it just works.

    But I never would have gotten to this point in my career without struggling for years to figure out what was “doable” for me, and year of struggling to “do the best I can at this job right here so I have footing to say ‘I was decent at that, even though it sucked'” before moving to the next thing.

    It can be a hard slog. But don’t get discouraged. Work is work. But you’ll figure out something that is better fit for you, or figure out how to make yourself a better fit for what you’re doing (ie coping).

    Good luck.

  72. Kittens*

    OP is me at 22, down to the details. I’ve worked every terrible job there is. Now I’m 27 and fiiiiiiiinally getting close to the right career, but it took a LOT of failure and trying things out and disappointment and embarrassment to get there and I’m still at least 3 years away from being “there.” Two things I think are super important:

    (1) There’s a saving grace of many a mediocre job: CO-WORKERS. You may never love the job you do, but there are so many jobs I had to get through to survive that were absolutely made worth it by the amazing community of people I worked with. You may never find work that’s in itself fulfilling, but a good team with a decent commute and a paycheck that keeps you going can be more than enough.

    (2) Allison is right that having the piece of paper that is a degree can be really helpful, regardless of the subject. But! I also wasted a lot of money on certificates, continuing ed, etc. that didn’t lead to a degree and I’ll be paying off until I’m 40. If you do decide to get a degree, get it from a community college (not a for-profit) or something similar and do it CHEAP. It will only get harder if you throw student loans into the mix.

  73. Ad Astra*

    I really like my job. I enjoy the work, the people are great, and it has some really great perks. I’m very happy here, but this is not passion.

    My passions are watching sports, drinking beer, exploring really good food, spending time with my friends, and petting dogs. These are the things I absolutely love to do, and not one of them is a viable career path. Working is sports typically means it’s hard to get off work to enjoy game days as a fan. I don’t have the expertise to work in beer or food — and again, the schedule in those industries is not what I want. My friends like me but won’t pay me to hang out with them. I prefer to pet dogs at home.

    So, I turn my attention to finding a job that pays the bills, and something I’m good at and enjoy. And that’s enough to make me happy. I honestly would not be happier if I were working in a field I’m passionate about. And that’s ok.

    1. West Coast Reader*

      Haha I would love to be a Professional Dog Petter, or maybe a dog masseuse! They need massages too, right?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Walking dogs or being a pet sitter is an actual job! And my pet sitter does playtime with his clients, though he doesn’t get to do that with Psycho Kitty, LOL.

      2. Chaordic One*

        I have a friend, a former co-worker with years of experience in the insurance industry, who was unable to find another job after being laid-off when she was in her late 50s. She loves dogs (and cats) and she ended up starting a “Doggy Daycare Center” in her home. Surprisingly, to me anyway, it has been successful and she manages to make a living doing it. She’s been doing it for over 15 years and she’s now in her mid-70s.

        She can’t just take off and she has to be at her house everyday, or else she has to find a substitute to run it when she’s gone. I guess it is pretty much like running any other small business.

  74. lowercase holly*

    i’m 35 and worked in jobs i did not really like until i was 28. part of my working time after college was spent trying to get into grad school for something i thought i’d really like, but not succeeding. then i found another something and went back to school for it, and from age 28 through now, i’ve had jobs that i like… but i still get bored sometimes. this job still has boring parts. but it also has really fun and cool parts.

  75. Clever Name*

    OP, if you take to heart only one sentence from Alison’s response, let it be this one:

    In recent years, our culture has tried to sell us a line of crap about finding your passion and doing what you love and not settling for work that doesn’t deeply fulfill you — but it’s bullshit that ignores the fact that the majority of the world’s population works to get food and housing, not for emotional or spiritual fulfillment.

    I know so many young people who are struggling in this exact way. You are far from alone. I remember my mom telling me when I was entering the working world, “There’s a reason why it’s called work and that you get paid to do it. If it were fun and you’d do it for free, it would be called a hobby.”

  76. Mrs. T. Potts*

    Thanks, LW and Alison, for this post.
    I resonated with a lot of it. I’m always, always bored by jobs. I’m 52 and I’ve pretty much given up hope on finding That Wonderful Job. And yes, we have been sold a crock o’ crap about spiritual and emotional fulfillment, and I’m one of those people that that crap is aimed at (white, middle class, etc.) I too took a job in a library, thought I wanted to be a librarian, and working here has made me realize I do not. The job pays the bills and then some. My coworkers are nice and not vicious. I work in a temperature controlled, safe environment. I’m surrounded by books and digital media. But this job is incredibly boring. No two ways about it.

    I have a degree (English) and I like to write, too. I have hobbies I enjoy. BTW, I used to be a reporter, but saw many of my friends lose their jobs over the year as the whole field of how we get our news has changed.

    So I’m wondering what Alison would say to somebody who is not 22 years old, and who still has a few years before she can retire. I still hope there is something out there that will be more interesting than this. I wonder…and then I wonder if I should just be grateful for what I have and stop worrying about it.

  77. HRChick*

    I just want to add here – no one “owes” you a chance at a higher level position and you are not entitled to be given a chance if there is someone who has “paid their dues” and worked hard to get the experience/education they need to get into a position like that. How mad would anyone here be if they applied for a job they had worked hard towards and it was given to someone completely unqualified for that type of position – especially someone who doesn’t even really know if it’s something he/she wants to do!

    At 22, I was working in a mailroom. It was boring and unfulfilling and I had no idea what I wanted to do. So, what I did was work really hard at being a mailroom assistant and volunteer to help with programs/projects outside the scope of my position. Pretty soon, I was out of the mailroom. I got to be an admin for a lot of different departments. And, even if I found that work boring and unfulfilling, I worked really hard at that too. So hard, that it took me a while to get out of “admin pool” because they had to negotiate who got me. I had input – and decided human resources.

    And I worked really hard at that.

    Is my work always thrilling? No. Of course not. Is it sometimes brain-deadeningly boring? Yes. But find aspects of your job that you DO like – it will help you define what works and what does not. Develop those skills and volunteer to use those skills even if you’re not getting anything “extra” out of it.

    But, work hard at it.

    Someone has to buy my yarn, after all!

  78. West Coast Reader*

    My first office job was a marketing assistant at a software company. Before that, I thought adults spent all their time doing big picture strategizing and problem solving. Nope. Most of the work is routine and not glamorous at all.

    As the co-op student, I didn’t mind taking on the mundane tasks because I knew that it freed up time for the full-time employees to add more value for the company. Yes, it’s boring, but it’s gotta be done, if not by you, then someone else.

  79. Katie the Fed*

    Alison, you should really being giving graduation speeches with this:

    “In recent years, our culture has tried to sell us a line of crap about finding your passion and doing what you love and not settling for work that doesn’t deeply fulfill you — but it’s bullshit that ignores the fact that the majority of the world’s population works to get food and housing, not for emotional or spiritual fulfillment. (It’s also interesting to note that this particular bullshit has only been sold to certain socioeconomic demographics — whole swaths of the population are expected to be okay with working for a paycheck, while others are told not to accept anything less than their dreams.) When you’re in the group that’s been told that work should complete you, it causes a lot of angst and despair when you don’t in fact love your work.”

    I’m serious. I’ve noticed a lot of younger employees recently tend to approach work as something that should exist to fulfill them. No, you’re here to work for us, not the other way around. Ideally you’ll find it fulfilling, but sometimes it’s going to be really frustrating. Temper your expectations.

    Also, thanks for the reminder about writing if you want to. I need to get back to it.

  80. OP*

    Hi everyone,

    I am very happy and overwhelmed by the amount of replies. Thanks everyone for clarifying things for me, especially having a day job while writing. I’m already beginning to look at my job as being more tolerable, and I’ll continue seeking another job or full time position. Also, I’ve learned things I never knew about being a writer (the stuff no one really talks about), which I am especially grateful for! :)

    1. Knitchic*

      OP you are so me at that age. I feel for you. I’m glad you’re getting all the great advice that I didn’t get and had to figure out on my own. You have so much time to find that right job for you just remember Alison’s advice and commit to at least a couple of years to avoid looking like a job hopper. And remember that the world needs all the hats out there so if you end up in a job that seems not so interesting it still is a roll that makes the wheels turn. Sometimes remembering that can help you get through the day.
      You’ll get there, I know because you’re already looking for advice from the right place. :)

    2. Lauren*

      I envy you, OP, because I was you but I didn’t have an Alison to ask (and even if I had I would likely not have listened). You sound like you have a solid head and a good attitude. With that, Alison’s advice, and the experiences of everyone here, I think you will go far. I wish you the best on your life journey.

    3. Pam Adams*

      I’m a science fiction reader. There is a fan-based award in the field for Best New Writer. (The John C. Campbell Award). Most of these ‘new’ writers are in their late twenties or thirties, as you need to write a lot of words to get to where you can be publishable. Start now- you’ve got about a million words to go, and good luck!

    4. OhBehave*

      I’m coming in late to this thread, but OP how SMART of you to consult AAM! I am a new reader and so far I am quite impressed by the advice given as well as the supportive comments provided. I know too many people who graduated with a degree and are not using it! What a waste of money.
      Most colleges have an aptitude test. This may help you identify your talents. This in turn will give you an idea of a career path. Often times things you think are not related, actually point to a multitude of professions. My daughter has said since she was 10 that she wanted to be an FBI agent or a teacher. You wouldn’t think those careers had anything to do with each other! The ‘career’ test she took told her that these were among the several careers that she was suited to. She is now on the education path to becoming a teacher.
      I would suggest that you build upon your strengths. Being a writer, you would be surprised to find that there are ton of writing options out there. Anywhere from writing descriptions for on-line resources to writing short stories. Start a blog. Many people I know started writing blogs and are now quite successful and making money doing what they love.
      Please just know that you are not alone. You are not a failure and that many 22 year-olds are in the same boat, you are just wise enough to not follow a useless college path.

  81. SA*

    Just wanted to add something about writing as a fulfilling thing — I just write for fun, not for a job, but I found that once I started posting my writing online on forums where people could comment on what I wrote, I got a lot more inspiration/desire/excitement about writing (and it really made me excited when I had free time to use to write!). I think a lot of people want to be “a published author” as much for the feedback and interest of readers as for the money. So, if you want to be a writer AND feel some success, try posting some of your stuff online. It simultaneously takes the pressure off (“I MUST write this story well enough to get it published!”) and you still get the reinforcement that you want (“Wow, 1000 people read what I WROTE and some of them even told me what they liked about it!”).

    Also, in my experience, what I wrote a couple years ago was nowhere near as good as what I am writing now, and even then I still think I am several years of practice away from “published author” abilities. If you want to be a published author some day, whether that pays the bills or not, practice and practice and get a lot of people to give you feedback.

    Good luck with both your job and passion search!

    1. Aurion*

      Haha, I do this too. I write as a hobby and I don’t think I ever want to be published, because the pressure will kill all the joy for me.

      The flip side is that many people on the internet are far harsher/ruder/vicious than they ever would be in real life, so look out for that. (I don’t mean criticisms on the work, which could be valid, but I find commenters on the internet are far more likely to attack you as a person for perceived wrongs.)

      1. Tau*

        I’m very clear on that – I don’t want to be published. I’ll use my day job to make actual money and my writing to bask in the praise of adoring fans instead, thanks. :P

  82. NurseB*

    There has been some AWESOME advice on this thread. And really, I am such a great example of a LOT of it.

    As a teenager I did well at school but have always struggled with boredom when not challenged, have always “multi-tasked”, and seem to have difficulty focusing on one thing for long periods of time if it’s not something I find particularly interesting. As an adult I thought I knew what I wanted to do with life, got part of a degree, and then had to quit due to family issues outside of my control. I lasted about 2-3 years in any job but many times found myself playing on the internet or reading books or doing anything but the job due to boredom or disinterest.

    Finally, when I was in my mid-20’s I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, went back to school and now have a career that I find both stimulating and interesting on a regular basis. Also, I had a very frank discussion with my doctor about being mentally EXHAUSTED after work, even when working well and concentrating throughout the day, as well as having much more difficulty at home completing projects, along with a million other little things I won’t get in to here. Long story short, I was diagnosed with ADHD (having probably been undiagnosed all my life) and started on a medication. My concentration was better, my ability to complete long term tasks was better, and my level of mental exhaustion was GREATLY reduced. Obviously I have no idea if any of that would apply to you but I know it made so much sense to figure these things out when I did.

    And finally, what people have said about not finding fulfillment and all your hopes and dreams is SO true. Unfortunately this is a myth that has been perpetrated on unsuspecting people, which leads to issues like this. There is nothing wrong with having a job to eat, not to fulfill everything in life that makes you happy. Finding joy outside of work is so much more satisfying and will help you find work more bearable, to know the enjoyable part comes at the end of the day. Good luck!

  83. Argh!*

    I’m working at a job that I love, but there are times when I’m bored, times when I have to do things I hate, times when I sit in meetings watching the clock. No job is perfect. Few jobs are truly horrible either.

    Someone who wants to be a writer who works in a library can at least see the newest books come in or use the library to read great literature. Someone who works in a grocery store can find joy in greeting friends & coworkers. I once met a city bus driver in a medium-sized city who was a very very happy person. He drove the same route every day, basically a big circle, sometimes with only a few passengers, but he was happy because his passion was philosophy and he would read a few pages between routes and then spend the route thinking about what he’d read.

    One way to find joy in a boring job is to have spent time working a truly terrible horrible job. Work in a warehouse that isn’t air conditioned, lifting boxes for 8 hours a day. Work at an animal shelter cleaning up poop all day. Take a 3rd shift job as a motel desk clerk.

    Then go back to the library and see how you feel about it. It’s a matter of perspective.

    1. phedre*

      YES! I said below in another comment, I had a great job at 22 that paid well. But it was boring and I didn’t like it (I had bought that “find your passion” crap hook, line and sinker). I quit, went to grad school, accumulated lots of debt, and then worked 2 jobs for nearly 5 years to barely make it. The stress, the exhaustion, the sheer panic about money made me appreciate that boring job so much! I only starting making more money than I did at that “boring” job 2 years – well into my 30s!

  84. Tommy*

    You are 22. Work, even at jobs you don’t like, but go back to school soonish. Just don’t do anything stupid (like getting buried in debt for a job that will never allow you to get out of that debt).

    Here’s my story. It’s long, but I really hope you can learn something from it, especially that life will take hard work that you shouldn’t sell yourself short quite yet :-).

    When I was 22, I went to school even though I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The thing is, I did it differently than apparently a lot of people do. I went to community college and planned on transferring to a school I could afford. And I worked at the same time, at first outside of school and then at school (a work study job). I had worked full time at a job I didn’t like very much so I was (a) motivated to do well in school to make a better life for myself, and (b) considered being in class a break from working and not as some huge burden. Also, (c) I treated school like a job: unless somehow I finished everything I needed to do for school, I devoted at least 8 hours a day to it.

    But then there was that little thing about having no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Boy, did I stew over that one for a while. But eventually I realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere just thinking about my future, so I decided to take classes in as many subjects that interested me as possible. I thought, how do I know whether I want to be an accountant if I don’t take an accounting class?

    At that point, I was staying busy, working, and living within my means. Luckily, it wasn’t that difficult, since I had spent a few years in a third-world country and didn’t see things like driving a crappy car as beneath me (and no car, until I absolutely needed one to keep working).

    Eventually, I figured out what I wanted to do (it was none of the things I had considered :-)) and started doing the best I could in it at school. As I got closer to transferring out of community college, I considered schools that I could afford that were still good. Soon, my plans changed a bit relationship-wise and I decided to stay in the area when I transferred. That restricted my choice of schools to transfer to, but I asked my professors where they would recommend I apply in my area. I got a few places and applied to all of them. Because I had worked very hard in school, I suppose, I got accepted into all of them.

    The strange thing was affording it. I had applied to a local public university that was reasonably priced, and a couple of private universities that were WAY out of my financial league. Turns out the public university wanted me to pay sticker price (about $15K), and the private schools, both about $50K/year, gave me better offers: one for $12K/year and the other for $4K/year. I started attending the cheaper one, and eventually I got another scholarship there that brought the cost down to about $0. Mind you, these aren’t places where they advertise that you will get to go free if your income is low enough, so don’t think you have to restrict yourself to places like that.

    So I started going to that private university and again worked hard (working a job on campus at the same time, which I fully endorse). Turns out I ended up deciding on a different field than I had decided on before, when I realized that it would be really difficult to raise a family on the one I had decided. And you know what? It wasn’t really THAT different from the one I had decided on. In fact, my interests in my first choice have really served me well in my second choice.

    Fast forward to graduation. I graduated and applied to jobs in my field. Got an offer for $60K (after a lot of heartache worrying about the job market and all that, like you), and started working. Turns out the job was OK, about a hundred times better than any job I had had before, but still I felt I was losing my passion for a few reasons. So I perfected my LinkedIn profile and my resume in my spare time, kept applying to other places in the same field, and eventually was contacted by someone at a great company that people in my field dream about working for. I got an interview, which I flunked miserably. I got a few more interviews, at least prestigious places, which I also flunked miserably. But I just kept pushing forward and trying to shore up my weaknesses so I could do better. Then I was contacted by another “dream employer” (probably second only to the first one), and studied very hard to do well on their interview. The day I was to fly out to interview, the weather where I lived got treacherous and I considered trying to reschedule, but for some reason I slowly drove to the airport anyway (slipping on the snow on the way, running into a curb). Eventually, I got to my destination and had my interview (the next morning), and I just did my best. I did pretty good on a few of the interviews, not well on one. I came home, feeling lucky that I at least got the interview, secretly hoping I would get the job, but assuming I wouldn’t (which honestly was a safe assumption).

    But, a couple weeks later, I got a call from my (internal) recruiter and got the job: $130,000! I was flabbergasted, as you might imagine, especially since I had only a year of experience, didn’t go to a well-known college, and had failed so many times before.

    Now, I work here, and it is hard but wonderful. The people are really friendly and even though I worry that sometimes I’m not gonna cut it, I have plenty of support.

    I am so glad I didn’t get stuck in the jobs I had before college. I guess if I was 45 or something, and going to college was going to be some huge burden, or I was WAY in debt or something, I would be a bit wary (but would still strongly consider it then), but you are 22. You are very young. Don’t.

  85. Turtle Candle*

    Since you spoke about looking at technical writing jobs, I wanted to address that specifically, because if you are interested in that field, it’s one I know a fair bit about–I’ve been one for eleven years now. (In software engineering; if you’re looking at, say, medical technical writing, some of this may not apply.) And if you are interested in breaking into the field, I have some specific suggestions for you.

    The interesting thing about technical writing is that in my experience it very much requires a certain set of aptitudes (plus basic writing ability), and if someone has those aptitudes, I can teach them the skills necessary very quickly–but if they don’t, it’s never going to work out. Those are:

    – The ability to write relatively error-free prose fairly quickly. (Obviously we edit, and some errors are fine, but often the turnaround time is necessarily fast, so there isn’t the luxury of lengthy editing.)
    – The ability to pick up technical concepts, often complex ones, fairly quickly and ideally primarily through self-study (given resources, obviously). People who get overwhelmed by picking up jargon and technical information and whatnot easily have a lot of trouble.
    – The willingness to put your ego aside. (One of the best pieces of advice my first boss gave me was, “Obviously, the ideal is that our manuals are clear, accurate, and beautiful. But if you have to compromise one of those, the first to go has to be beautiful.”–and she was right, and the people who have had the hardest time adapting to tech writing were the ones who were so attached to the idea of beautiful writing that they couldn’t set it aside for clarity as necessary.)
    – The willingness to do the ‘boring’ work as well as the interesting. (Someone who is an expert at writing API references but who will chip in in a pinch to update screenshots so we can make a release deadline is pure gold; someone who considers the chipping-in beneath him is a problem.)
    – The ability to work with a team, and to adapt to changing requirements, and to communicate effectively with a variety of different roles–because you’ll be working with the PMs for release scheduling, with the developers and QA for technical information, with other writers to make sure things are consistent across the materials, and possibly also with e.g. marketing to ensure that messaging and terminology is consistent between marketing and technical materials, or with support to update troubleshooting information to take some of the load off them, or etc. etc. etc. Basically, while the writing is solitary, the work is very collaborative.

    Everything else can be taught on the job.

    The easiest way for us to determine if someone has those abilities is if they have experience already. (And writing samples, and exercises, although that is less useful for addressing the ‘picks things up quickly’ or ‘works well with the team’ aspects–for those, being able to talk to a supervisor is helpful.)

    BUT, and here’s where I hope to be helpful (assuming that I haven’t put you off the idea already!), there are ways to get that experience that aren’t working in the field. The most impressive thing I’ve seen from people trying to break into the field is if they have done volunteer work for one of the many open-source software projects out there. A number of those projects are actively looking for technical writers (many of them have all their documentation written by developers, who generally would rather be coding!), you can probably find one that you find suits your personal interests, and you don’t have to spend years and years doing it–even a small project, a few help files or explanatory pages, that demonstrate your ability to write technical materials clearly and well and work with a development team, is HUGELY impressive.

    It’s a case where you actually can get a pretty good approximation of real-world experience, with an actually visible ‘deliverable’ that you can actually show to prospective employers. And if you choose your project right, it’s not even necessarily all that onerous (one person was excited about sound editing and so did some volunteer docs for the Audacity app, for instance, and another for a nonprofit site that hosts amateur fiction). It’s not as good as professional experience, but I’d rather hire someone with solid examples from open source volunteer work than someone with a degree but not actual experience or examples of technical writing.

    And as an added bonus, if you put a few hours into working on documentation for the open source project and haaaaaaaaate it, you know before taking a job!

    …sorry, I wrote a whole book here. But it’s something I always want to recommend to people, because it’s a relatively straightforward and low-pressure way to get some applicable experience, it gives you something concrete to show to prove that you can do the work even without professional experience, and I love to see it when I’m talking to a prospective team member.

    1. Rachel*

      Thank you for writing this – it was really interesting to read, and has given me (a frustrated former copywriter currently in a de facto admin role) some really valuable food for thought!

  86. Taryn*

    LW, if you want to write a novel, start writing. Sure, there are lots of novels that don’t get bought and published, but starting to train yourself into how to actually do it — whether that means deciding to write a certain amount of words a day or a week or something like that — is a huge first step. This is why NaNoWriMo exists: to help force people to actually just write. (Hey, maybe participate in NaNoWriMo this year!) Writing takes mental muscle, and a lot of people have to train it. I think it was Neil Gaiman who said that there’s no first draft worse than a blank page. You don’t have to be an editor or a technical writer to write a novel. Start writing. Let yourself have something you can be excited about that’s not work. If this is something you’re passionate about, don’t put conditions on when you can start.

    Allison is so right — SO RIGHT — that there’s such a cultural pressure in America to FIND A JOB YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT. It’s not actually some sort of big failure to not have a dream job. It’s the norm. And it’s not a depressing thing, either. I’m in a job that I like reasonably well, but my bigger passions lie outside work in my hobbies, and that’s the norm for a lot more people. I think the better thing to try to find is something that won’t make you actively miserable that you can buckle down with for a year or two, like Allison says. Bored is okay, and sometimes you can find a job where you can help alleviate your own boredom by seeing if there are tasks or projects you can volunteer for that might be more challenging. (Sometimes this isn’t the case, but it generally doesn’t hurt to ask if there’s anything additional you could help with.) I honestly think the whole DREAM JOB thing is so destructive in a way: at 29, it’s definitely the party line I grew up with, and it required a big adjustment on my part to start thinking of my career in different terms.

    Best of luck!

  87. Elizabeth*

    LW, just asking the question is a step forward for you.

    I’ve been at my job for 21 years as of last October; my husband has had his job for a similar length of time. At the big 20th anniversary ceremony at the small university where he works, there was someone last year who had been working there 40 years. He started in the facilities department about a week after he graduated from high school, and he’s still in the facilities department. He paints walls. For 40 years, he’s painted walls. As he said, there’s very little emotionally satisfying about painting walls. He gets a lot of professional satisfaction from doing his job well, but in the end, he’s painted a wall.

    His passion is mentoring. He is a Boy Scout leader, he is a Big Brother and he’s the go-to mentor for student employees in the facilities department. He believes that he has something to offer almost any young person who crosses his path in one of those capacities. He teaches professional behavior and how to eat with your mouth closed. He teaches how to get to school & work on time and how to communicate with someone who doesn’t natively speak the same language as you. All of his emotional satisfaction is from seeing the kids he mentors through various avenues attain their Eagle Scout, graduate from high school & college (usually with honors) and get good paying jobs.

    Is there a market for what he’s passionate about? Not a paying market. But, he has his paying job. His real payoff comes from watching his kids achieve. (He used to say “his boys” but he recently got a group of female student employees who he calls the best workers he’s ever had)

  88. Reilly*

    Longtime lurker coming out of the woodwork to echo what so many others have said. This response could not have been more spot-on, and I immediately shared the post with my gaggle of girlfriends (we’re all in our mid-20s and grappling with similar issues). Following your dreams is a nice idea, but often it’s only a possibility for a tiny portion of the population, and often only espoused by those who have had the most exposure to options and resources. The privileged idea of living your best life… I could go on, but I’ll leave the words to the professionals. Thanks, Alison, for your consistently nail-on-the-head writing.

  89. TootsNYC*

    Re: getting your degree.

    Pick a state college near you. Go there with a copy of your transcript in hand.
    Ask them to help you figure out the fastest way to a degree–at the moment, you don’t really care about whether it’s in something you care about or will use. You just want it done.
    Also ask whether any of the credits you might need could be earned from a community college or through an online branch–the goal is “least expensive” and “fastest” and “most logistically easy.”

  90. TootsNYC*

    Also: create some rewards in your life.

    Every day that you finish a workday having been diligent and reliable, give yourself a treat. Bonus points if it involves activity or fun, and not food.

    also–get more physical activity. I don’t know if you work out now, but if you don’t–start.
    And if you do, is it somewhat social? If you’re running on your own, find a partner; or switch to a dance class. The idea is just to make the physical activity also provide you enrichment in a low-pressure social way.

  91. sam*

    I wanted to add one other thing on having a job that is your “passion”. I’ve talked about this before on the boards, but I’ll mention it again.

    I had a job that I was completely devoted to – loved. Would have stayed there forever. Sacrificed years of my life to – including moving overseas for months/years because the firm needed me to pitch in and take care of some stuff that was going on elsewhere (and obviously putting my actual life on hold here in NY).

    And at the end of the day, what did all of that passion and dedication get me? Sure, it got me some nice bonuses, but ultimately, when the firm started to implode and they needed to cut costs (us very expensive senior associates being seen as “costs” to the budget people), the only consideration I got for all of my years of dedication was a few extra months of severance when I got laid off right into the financial crisis – I was unemployed for almost two years, and then temped for two more.

    So now? Now I like my job. I like it a lot. And for all intents and purposes I’d probably still be considered a super-dedicated workaholic. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the biggest lesson I took from that whole experience was to have a little more…emotional distance…from my work. At the end of the day, my job and my life are not the same thing – the job is the means by which I get to live all the other parts of my life.

    (my very exciting, spinster cat-lady life, but nonetheless…)

  92. Jill*

    I agree with others who have suggested to see about ruling out a health related cause.

    But I can’t help but think that maybe the cause is the OP expecting a job to be a source of fun and entertainment? Not every job comes with wearing stylish outfits, fancy business lunches, exciting projects, socializing with coworkers after hours, and company cars. Most jobs ARE all about doing routine things and dealing with the same old people.

  93. dayjob*

    I agree that OP sounds depressed. When I am depressed, I can’t really trust my perceptions of the world and my predictions of the future. It makes it very hard to make good decisions. Please consider talking to a therapist and medical doctor.

    I also wanted to say, do not confuse undemanding jobs with rewarding jobs. I personally have a tendency to avoid challenging myself, but I am actually much happier when my job is challenging. So you may find you actually enjoy a difficult job more than one that is not demanding. I think this is particularly tricky to navigate for an artist or writer or anyone who has a “day job” but is also trying to do something else on the side. You don’t want your day job to consume all your energy, but if it requires nothing of you mentally, it is soul-crushing. In my experience, err on the side of finding a more demanding, intellectually-stimulating day job, as in the long run, you are more likely to spend most of your time on the day job, and you may find, as I have, that it grows into a rewarding career.

    FWIW, I am a visual artist but a decent writer, and I fell into grant writing and nonprofit fundraising. It allows me to work for arts organizations that are doing work I feel good about supporting, and still make a living wage. Nonprofits always need fundraisers, so maybe a career path to consider. Good luck!

    1. dayjob*

      One more thing – a lot of what makes a job worthwhile for me is relationships with coworkers. These take time to develop.

      1. BRR*

        This is a such a good point (I’m not sure if it was brought up already). So much of what makes a job great is beyond the actual duties of the job. That’s just difficult to look for when hunting for a job.

  94. Mazzy*

    Opportunities to write come up naturally in my high level job – be it writing an SOP, writing a manual, writing part of a regulatory filing, writing comments to proceedings or procedural changes, writing an RFP or an RFP response. No one ever gave me a job saying “here write something!” But writing sure has come up alot!

    Also, industries that sound mundane can be exciting once you become an expert in what you do. Once you become an expert in anything – from laying out electrical systems to processing grant applications – anything is fun when people go to you for help because you know so much, or you get to lead meetings, or talk customers through their version of what you do, or get tons of emails asking for feedback on various topics – because you have solid experience from doing a few years at the bottom. Honestly, I could work in a few different industries, but stick to the one because the feel-good aspect of being a go-to person after the first few years is a very good feeling, and makes you feel like you belong.

  95. phedre*

    I agree with what everyone has said above – you don’t need to find fulfillment in your job. When I was 22 I had a job at an insurance company that I hated so I quit and went to grad school. In hindsight that was a great job that paid very well, was flexible, filled with nice people, and had great benefits. There are far worse things than a job that pays the bills and allows you to do the things you want to do in your spare time!

    Before I got where I am now, I worked two jobs averaging 60+ hours/week (one I loved – my current career – and a waitressing job to actually make money) and barely made it. I will never forget the stress from those years, the sleepless nights, the panic at an unexpected expense, taking cash advances to pay rent, the exhaustion, getting collection calls. Never underestimate how awesome a secure, well-paying job is, even if it is boring and unfulfilling. During those stressful years, I wished I had never quit that boring insurance job.

    I also want to add – you’ll never find a job you love 100% of the time. I love my job (though it took me YEARS to work my way up and get the skill set I needed to get this job), but even now there are plenty of mind-numbing projects, admin stuff that has to be done, database management, and other crap I hate hate hate. I’d love to spend 100% of my time on the fun stuff, but the boring stuff is what makes me be able to do the fun stuff. Pretty much every job has parts that are mundane and boring. So if you’re looking for a job that is fulfilling 100% of the time, you’ll never find it.

  96. Faith2014*

    It took me until about 28 to find my way so don’t beat yourself up. What really helped was figuring out what I’d like to do ‘for the next 5 years’ since ‘for the rest of my life’ was paralyzing me.

    Well, and a trip to a career counselor too – I saw one written up in an article in the Chicago Tribune a few decades ago.

  97. LD*

    I love the stories commenters tell about their work experiences, both the inspirational ones where people share about themselves or people they know who persevered through tough or boring or unfulfilling jobs to find something they enjoy and are good at, as well as the ones where people are still trying to figure it out even after many years. It gives a great perspective on the old quote (John Watson?) “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This is the best blog ever.

  98. Althea*

    I want to contribute how I found a good career for myself. I work in a specialty finance niche in international development.

    – I don’t want to talk to strangers every day; instead I want to work with the same familiar coworkers. Discovered this during a job when I needed to cold-call people to get them to sign up for a donation program.
    – I am motivated when I feel like I am helping other people. Realized this when working for non-profits, but even more so, discovered that I will bust my butt to meet deadlines when a coworker is counting on me to do it. I will procrastinate the hell out of a deadline that is only about me (i.e. school).
    – I love budgets and finance. Discovered this from how much I enjoy home budgeting and my own expense monitoring.
    – I like to feel smart, and something that makes me feel smart is to help people understand something complicated. I didn’t have to discover this, I’ve been this way so long! But I found that a lot of people don’t understand complicated numbers and figures. It’s soooo satisfying for me to take those and boil them down so people “get it” and can do something as a result.

    I wanted to share with you, OP, because it takes a lot of different experiences to figure out what elements of work might bring you some satisfaction. I dreaded my cold-calling job because I hated calling strangers. I dreaded my job working with teenagers because I didn’t know how to handle them and it made me feel stupid. And it was that creeping dread, that feels paralyzing to the extent it’s hard to get up in the morning. Try to figure out the EXACT part of the job that causes that feeling, and it will help you steer away from lots of jobs with that same element. And keep looking for the elements you might enjoy or at least not dread.

  99. Anna*

    You might also be surprised by the kind of full time work you have versus student jobs! I thought I was doomed to hate my life 40+ hours a week because I hated the jobs I had in high school and college, where I was more closely managed and had almost no control over the kind of projects I worked on.

    When I finished college, I did two years of Americorps working as a volunteer coordinator at a nonprofit where I had an enormous amount of autonomy, wore a lot of different hats, started an internship program, worked with kids, worked with adults, gave presentations, walked in peace marches….it was amazing, and it led to the job I’m in now that I love. A lot of Americorps jobs don’t require university degrees, give you a lot of hands-on experience, and get you doing higher level projects than you might normally get in an entry level jobs. It’s hard work and low pay, don’t get me wrong, but I was rarely bored!

  100. Donna*

    OP, I feel you–I was completely bored with all my job possibilities at 22. And at 27. And at 32. I’ll talk more about this in a moment, but first I want to tell you how I was able to get in as an entry level technical writer/editor.

    I graduated with an English degree and got zero interviews for technical writing and editing positions. So I went to the community college and learned web and graphic design, did some free websites for non-profits, and then applied for web designer jobs–which I got because of my English degree. (Apparently many businesses want their public documents to be grammatically correct.) My first web design job title was actually “technical writer”, and I eventually received more entry-level writing and editing projects that the senior writers and editors were too busy to take on. I discovered it wasn’t for me, but many other people are happy in this field, it can pay well, and it’s a good thing to have on your resume.

    Back to boring jobs. It’s different for everybody, but what finally made work more interesting for me was having the freedom to set my own goals and define how I do my job. I found this out through trial and error.

    You mentioned wanting to stay out of retail, but have you ever thought about working for an independent bookstore? They can be dysfunctional, but sometimes they have great opportunities for people who are willing to work hard. If you help coordinate and market author events, then you can gain experience in writing press releases, conducting social media campaigns, and event planning. Also, you get to meet a lot of different authors and readers and find out what sells.

  101. sjw*

    LW, Allison’s advice is spot on. Please take it to heart.

    I am now 57, and I remember feeling soooo much like everything you said here, 35 years ago when I was 22. Only difference is, I had a liberal arts degree and no one would hire me. I worked my share of brain-numbing minimum wage jobs, and slowly, slowly, things fell into place, and by about 30, I had built myself what amounted to a career path.

    You don’t have to “love” your work. There’s a reason you get money for doing it …. because, if it was all for fun, no one would have to pay you! It’s enough to have work that you’re good at, that you don’t HATE, with people who don’t suck, with a paycheck that lets you enjoy the rest of your life a little bit.

  102. Torrance*

    This makes me sad. :( Mainly because I wish I had written it at the OP’s age– the advice is incredibly useful but now I feel like I’m too old for it. I’ve screwed my life up way too much to be recoverable.

    OP: take Alison’s words as gospel. You have your entire future ahead of you, you’re young enough to identify where you’re going wrong and take the steps to fix the issues, & this kind of identity crisis is perfectly normal at your age. And you haven’t given up your dream– that’s really, really good.

    (If you’re stuck working crap jobs for a bit, you could always reframe how you think of them: use them as inspiration for some writing. So many books & successful blogs have been written on the premise of how horrible certain job environments & dealing with people in a customer service capacity can be.)

    1. Grace*

      Don’t say you’re too old! I know a woman in her 40s who has a liberal arts degree and had worked as a part-time art teacher for years. In her mid-40s she got a full-time position in customer service for an airline. She realized she hated it, stuck it out for a few years and now, at 49, just got hired as a Postal Worker (with great benefits)!

  103. Dangerously Cheezy*

    I feel in a very similar mindset.

    I am 23 and constantly doubting my career in accounting. I already did 3 years in college and worked for 2 years and it just isn’t doing it for me. I tried to ‘spice it up’ by getting a job with a public accountant and taking university business classes but it isn’t sparking anything. I can barely get by at work and the pay is nothing to stick around for.

    I had given up on my dream of being a surgeon because it seemed too hard and now I feel that it the biggest mistake of my life. I could be working as a nurse right now and preparing myself to apply for medical school!!

    I keep on thinking of the advice like Alison gave and I remind myself that I don’t necessarily need to love what I do, I just have to make money to pay the bills. But then I question what is the point of it all if I don’t even enjoy what I’m doing with the majority of my days.

    It really makes me wonder if I picked the wrong path or if it is just a normal part of life… I’d know that there are people that would be ecstatic about working where I am and doing what I do, yet I am not.

  104. stevenz*

    Alison’s response is so good and appropriate that it belongs in the Alison Green Advise Hall of Fame. If you can really take those lessons to heart, and it may take some effort, you will be fine.

    One comment about the “living the dream” thing, or knowing what you want to do for the rest of your life when you’re 22. There is a lot of social pressure to make that kind of decision early in life, like before you go to university, based no almost no information. In college you will increase your knowledge of the world by two or three or four times. Not only do I think that it’s unrealistic to make such a momentous decision that young, I think it’s a bad idea. I speak from experience. When I flunked algebra in 8th grade I knew I would never be the astronomer that was my true dream so I decided that I would have to go to law school. (You see some perhaps invalid assumptions going on there?) So that’s what I aimed for and I HATED law school. I lasted a year. Wasted is more like it. The main lesson I learned? That there are *s0 many* things to do out there that you can’t even know about them all when you’re 22, 32, or 42, much less 14! Take Alison’s advice and be patient with yourself. Write, and write about everything, and try different styles, and read read read. The world will open itself up to you. Pay attention along the way and see what happens. It may be “just a job” but it may also be something you never dreamed of. And *don’t* worry about making a lot of money. Another lesson I have learned.

  105. Laura*

    This is interesting, but frustrating for me because while I don’t have a lot of aspirations for finding my passion in my job, I don’t really find that I have time or energy outside my job to look for passion, or socialize, or do anything. So what I’ve got is my boring job. And um, that’s all. It feels a bit like living in a hall of mirrors but with boring job in all directions. I try hard not to feel bitter about it. I don’t know if that is helpful for the op, but I guess be aware it’s a possibility.

      1. Laura*

        I work maybe 50 hours a week, and when I’m not at work I do housework/take care of my kids. I might be depressed a bit. Also I can’t drive so I’m a bit physically isolated. Still…

  106. NicoleK*

    I’m not sure I’ve ever “loved” any of my jobs. I’ve mostly liked my jobs, some more than others. When I start hating something about my job (coworker, boss, tasks, culture…) then it’s time to move on.

  107. Liza*

    I agree that you should see a mental health professional if you haven’t yet. It’s often difficult to know if you have a mental illness or disability until after you’ve talked to someone about it, and even just knowing what’s wrong can be immensely helpful.

    Als0, I was an art major for a couple of years and found it pretty boring and empty — that’s not just you, although most people expect studying art to be fulfilling. I spent two years getting terrible grades, messed around with my major a few times, took a screenwriting course and didn’t care about it, switched to neuroscience, and had a much better time from there on out. There are so many things you haven’t tried yet, and unfortunately once the people around you have pegged you as an artsy type, they won’t suggest things like computer science or accounting or biology. You could even try some free online courses on various subjects to see if there’s anything that sticks out to you (Khan Academy and Codecademy have been pretty good in my experience, but there are definitely others too, and Youtube is your friend).

  108. newlyhr*

    OP, it’s pretty normal at your age to have these feelings. Heck those of us with years in the workforce struggle with feelings like this sometimes. I would not necessarily be worried that your “feelings” are wrong. Feelings are just feelings.

    What you can do is to recognize that your feelings don’t have to drive your behavior or even consume your thoughts. It is possible to be bored and unmotivated, and still manage to do a reasonably decent job And doing a good job makes you feel good, which sets up a more positive feedback loop.

    Sometimes it is as simple as reframing your thinking about your job. Instead of “I shelve books at the library” it can be “I make sure people can easily find what they want and I am supporting reading in my community.”

    Managing your own expectations is important. It is possible to be reasonably content even in the most boring of jobs–almost every job has something good to focus on. Focus on that. Use your free time to do things that make you feel good. A lot of us find our passion and meaning in the volunteer or recreational activities we do on our own time.
    Learning how to be patient and ride the ebbs and flows of life is a very important life skill. Do some reading on the power of positive thinking and reframing your thoughts. It might be helpful. Good luck.

  109. Samantha*

    I needed to hear this. Thank you, AAM.

    I have a Communications degree (PR) from a well-respected college and had a few internships, which I loved. (I feel like Comm majors are the biggest “Do what you love!” types, because we’re all so damned idealistic and creative.) I graduated, ready to work for a nonprofit or a PR agency, and couldn’t find anything in my city. Instead, in the past few years I’ve been a retail salesperson, booksller, PR assistant at a startup, and restaurant hostess.

    I temped at a university and earned a full-time position with my own office, regular hours, and benefits, but I hate the job. Reading this reminded me that I’m not a failure just because I’m not doing what I expected yet. People who shame millennials should keep in mind that many of us are painfully discovering that, despite the high expectations that family/high school/Career Services/social media has built up for us about being able to follow our passion “as long as we worked hard,” many of us will need be lukewarm about our work for a while first. I’m working toward a better fit, but in the meantime I can’t afford to beat myself up every day over being an “office drone.”

    FYI, OP, I’m also fighting depression/anxiety/ADD, and have been putting off getting help, but I believe it will be worth it, and I hope you are able to as well (if you want to). I also struggle to make time for my own writing, so kudos to you for that!

  110. Fox*

    Hi, OP! I am so sorry for what you are going through now. I agree with some of the previous suggestions, and here’s my experience (just disregard if it doesn’t fit you or you’ve already experimented with that route):

    1. Volunteering is awesome – I’ve had boring jobs while doing amazing volunteer work that kept me happy. I know depending how you are feeling it might be hard to have the energy to give to others, but if it’s the right project hopefully it would recharge you. Both that and internships can boost your skills/resume as well as your network of people to reach out to about possible jobs. Plus, you never know what might happen – my friend volunteered at a literacy council, and ended up with them paying for her training and getting a job with them. (And, that is connected to writing :-)) Also, if there is company you liked, but they don’t have a job or not even an internship, perhaps asking if there is somebody who would be open to mentoring you. I also recall some website matching mentors and mentees.

    2. I think it’s amazing you are a writer, and I know lots of people need your help (haha, I know some people feel about writing the same way I feel about math). So, perhaps offering your services as writer (write-for-you, teaching writing for overseas folks over the internet, will proofread your dissertation for college people, looking for a writer – and I feel like is definitely a great demand for people who can handle social media writing and website writing)

    3. I had jobs that were well paid but so boring that I had hard time staying. I found that I do much better with busy jobs. And, I agree that the right team makes all the difference. When I work with nice people, I am happy to do a job that would drive me crazy otherwise. Sort of like starting to like a subject in school because the teacher is a good one. One specific suggestion for a busy job that I am sure would give you some good stories for your writing :-) would be working in hotel management. I know quite a few people that have started there and get paid good money, so may be worth checking out if you have a conference-type hotel nearby.

    4. I also agree with previous post about not getting to do fun stuff right of the bet – we get new staff all the time who want to special projects, but they don’t get basic things done right yet. (Not saying that’s your case, just making the point that job might shift into something cooler down the road). Same line of thought, you are probably already doing it: It can be good to have other people read your cover letter & resume to fit the job postings and show your passion for the job and why you are a good match. And, are there project in the library that involve writing that you could get involved with in addition to or instead of your current duties? (Tutoring, starting a writer’s club, organizing author events with local writers?) Also, you probably already looked into this, but would substitute teacher or work for a tutoring company be an option? Hopefully for teaching English and helping others to write? Or working with temp agency?

    5. If you are able to work with a coach, they might be able to help you look at what type of jobs might best fit your temperament (introvert/extrovert and all that type of stuff). And they might help you identify what blocks/barriers there are. The coach might be willing to barter for some writing or you can work with a student coach who has to do practice hours. Interestingly, I have found that there is stuff I hate to do in my personal life, but I actually enjoy it at work. For example, making decisions and having to talk to people and arrange stuff… If I am to decide if to go get Indian or Chinese for dinner, it’s pain (which I feel bad saying since I know lots of people are not fortunate to get to eat tonight, but here it is). But if I am to decide if ceramic or iron teapots should be used, I get it done. Perhaps something about owning what I do, and knowing I need to get results.

    6. I have always found it helpful to have a side job and/or volunteering, so different parts of my personality would get nourished. One job would be for money, and one for fun. I always felt that it’s also nice to have a back up profession, so I have a degree in International Relations, but also I am trained as a massage therapist to have a way to make money if needed. And guess what, my current job is not related to either, I learned it on the job, starting at as an assistant and now working in a senior managerial position.

    Sending good vibes your way to find a job, if not The Job…

  111. Iknowitall*

    I’ll tell you the real reason why all the “smart jobs” are taken. Because they’re taken by stupid people.

  112. Anonymou-s*

    Thank you for this great post – I typed into Google ‘ bored of jobs quickly’ and this was EXACTLY what I needed to read. I am identical to the post-ee: English literature and art-related courses, too, three jobs in total, however I have never been happy (at least, for very long) and have my heart set on visual merchandising management now.

    I needed to read this – thank you so much!

  113. Linds*

    So I have been where you are, felt what you’re feeling. People telling you it gets better only makes it more frustrating bc life doesn’t just “work itself out”. I switched majors twice, graduated late, did my Masters degree and then worked selling shoes for a year. I’m 26. A year before getting into a career path is super lucky, even though several years in jobs i hated felt like a decade. Honest advice I’ve learned from my situation, is that a university education, even a graduate degree, isn’t necessarily going to get you where you want to be. Broaden your horizons a bit and think outside the box. University kids often don’t even consider college diplomas, trades etc. even though they’re shorter and usually have internships. If university isn’t for you, that’s ok- even if modern society disagrees. Do some independent research, read books on lots of different topics, and see if something sticks. What I do now is totally random to what i thought i would be doing, and occurred due to a happy accident.
    Sorry this turned into a massivve letter, but just know that a ton of university students and recent grads feel the same way. It’s not because you’re a bad student or don’t have your shit together, but society expects us to know what they want to do/be by university and that’s not realistic.

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