I keep breaking my own heart by turning down great job offers

A reader writes:

I’m 25 and work in a very high-pressure and competitive industry. I’m trying to leave my current job for something more challenging with a better culture. Due to the nature of the job, I’ve had to turn down several of the offers I’ve had (which all would have challenged me and had a way better culture and environment) for reasons of work-life balance and salary.

Most recently I had an offer for a job that would be my childhood dream, great salary, great benefits, and great location — everything I was looking for, except they asked for regular and relatively unplanned travel (I might have had to fly cross country on one or two days notice). I have an intense phobia of flying and a lot of anxiety surrounding traveling. I’m working on that with a therapist but I didn’t feel comfortable taking it, and I cried a little bit when I called to reject the offer. I laid out my case very clearly and suggested to the hiring manager that it was best for him to fill this role with someone who would be eager to travel, not constantly dreading it, and told him I was heartbroken to reject the offer and greatly appreciated him extending it to me.

I turned down two other offers due to a combination of work-life balance and salary issues. They were both local newspapers that would require me to either live in or commute to rural areas while making from $10k to $14k less than I do now, while working long hours and doing a lot off the clock.

I’ve worked very hard to get where I am right now and get the job offers I’ve received, and I’m shocked to find myself a blubbering, agonizing mess who rejects good jobs that college me would have jumped at just because of work-life balance, then cries on the phone to hiring managers. Am I going to be okay? Is this normal at 25? My friends seem to have no problem with moving cross country for jobs (I chose after college to return to the area my family is in) and would jump at the chance to be paid to travel. Am I shooting myself in the foot?

Quality of life and pay are both excellent reasons to turn down jobs.

You shouldn’t feel guilty for turning down jobs that would fill you with constant dread, have horrendous commutes, require you to work unreasonably long hours, or underpay you. It’s completely normal — and smart — to be clear on what you want from your job and your life and say no to jobs that aren’t in line with that.

The are two caveats here. One is that you’ve got to balance what you want against your financial situation. If you’re in dire financial need, you probably can’t be as selective; there comes a point where the financial math may dictate that you need to take what you can get, at least for the time being. But you’re currently working, so as long as your job is still bearable and not awful for your mental or physical health, you’re probably not at that point.

You also need to be brutally honest with yourself about what your options are — particularly in your field. If the norms in the field you want to work in are frequent travel, long hours, and/or low pay, you’ve got to decide if you’re willing to accept those things or if you should be targeting a different type of work. Sometimes those things are the reality of a field only at first — you have to put up with them for a few years when you’re getting started, but then you graduate out of them — and sometimes they’re the reality pretty much always.

But if those things aren’t inherent to jobs in your field, then you just got offered a few jobs that aren’t what you’re looking for and you turned them down. Which makes sense! That’s how it’s supposed to work.

You say that college-you would have jumped at these jobs. College-you didn’t have as nuanced a sense of what makes a job worth doing or what will impact current-you’s quality of life in significant ways. You’ve probably also turned down other things that college-you would have jumped at (romantic partners? crop tops?). That’s normal and fine! You’ve refined your sense of what you want.

Speaking of romantic partners, you know how people sometimes say things like “my partner is great except for his terrible temper” or “my partner is great except she’s poisoning my food”? And you’re thinking “your partner is not great”?

This is the same thing. These aren’t great jobs if they include things that are major dealbreakers for you.

As long as you’re being realistic about whether the things you want are out there (i.e., you’re not looking for a crisis communications job where you’ll never work after 5), deciding “nope, this job isn’t for me” is a normal and expected part of thoughtful job hunting. Don’t feel guilty for that — feel good about it.

{ 281 comments… read them below }

  1. Charlotte*

    Why are you applying for these jobs in the first place if the conditions are so unacceptable?

    Not wanting to compromise your quality of life is perfectly normal, but being so traumatised as to cry during a rejection is not.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      People apply for jobs all the time and then learn things during the interview process that they didn’t know earlier and which are prohibitive for them. Otherwise there would be no point in interviewing; you’d already have learned everything you needed up-front.

      Unless you think interviews are only for the employers’ benefit. But they are not. (It’s interesting, though, how people never ask companies why they’re interviewing candidates in the first place if they’re just going to end up rejecting some of them.)

      1. rayray*

        1 million thumbs up in agreement.

        Also, sometimes you accept a job and after a few weeks/months realize it isn’t a great fit. The probationary period is just as much for you as it is for the employer. No one should have to work at a job they don’t like, or that doesn’t allow the work/life balance they need if they can find it somewhere else.

        Also, employers can just fire someone and effective that moment, someone has their income and livelihood just taken away. Yet the employer would have the nerve to get upset when given a courtesy two-week notice when they’d usually just be inconvenienced, but not have to worry about paying the bills or providing for their selves or family.

      2. Charlotte*

        Maybe on finer details, but requirements like having to move or travel? Those are things people should definitely know before committing themselves to going through with the application process (right up to the point of offer no less).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Sometimes you’re open to those things if the rest of the job/salary is good enough — and then the other details turn out not to be persuasive enough.

          1. Beatrice*

            Or some kinds of travel are okay and others are not. There was a time in my life when I was only open to day trips during close to normal business hours – so I was completely fine with a 90 minute drive for a four hour meeting with a supplier that would put me on the road from 8 am to 4 pm, and I had a job with a lot of that. Nowadays, I am fine with domestic air travel for trips of a week or less, with at least a week’s notice. I would not be fine with a day or two of notice, and I don’t think most people would be.

            And some companies are really poor at signaling travel extremes early on in the process. I once had an interview end abruptly because”some travel” on the job posting meant “you’ll be spending so much time 1200 miles away for so long that we’re going to rent you an apartment there and lease you a car because it’ll be cheaper than hotels and day to day car rental”, and they were SHOCKED!! that I had wasted their time applying when that kind of travel wasn’t possible or appealing for me.

            1. Librarianne*

              A good friend of mine recently experienced a bait-and-switch like that… except he wishes his company would just pay for a short-term rental. Instead, they’ve made him travel back and forth between locations for 4 weeks straight to avoid paying for a hotel over the weekends. (I can’t imagine that a plane ticket is cheaper, but I’m not an accountant.)

              If you have hard boundaries around certain kinds of travel, ask/insist that it be written into your offer letter, job description, etc.!

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                Oh yeah, his company is nuts. It would be way cheaper to just put him up in a suite somewhere for however many weeks he needs to be at this location instead of having him fly back and forth. Investing in an apartment nearby is also more economical than the constant airfare, especially if they use that apartment for other employees who may need to travel to this location.

                I would quit that job if I were him.

              2. Western Rover*

                Is it possible that the business owner would, in the same situation, rather be home with their family on weekends, and can’t imagine that anybody else would have a different preference?

            2. Avasarala*

              I suspect that a place with only a few days notice of travel would give you equally little notice that that’s part of the job.

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          That’s not always true, though. I’ve applied to places that didn’t mention travel in their job ad at all, but then suddenly, it was A Thing during the interview. Or a company writes in their job ad that there’s only about 5% travel, but then you talk to them, and it turns out the job is really traveling two out of four weeks a month.

          1. Evan Th.*

            Or the job description says “0-25% travel” as standard boilerplate, and you apply hoping it’s closer to the 0% end.

          2. Sunflower*

            Yes- I work in events (which usually involves travel of some sorts) and I’m usually the first one to ask about travel. I’ve gotten such an array of responses from very minimal to 70% that it blows my mind that it’s not included in the job description.

          3. Myka Bering*

            This. I recently changed jobs. There was nothing about travel in the job description, so I asked about it in the interview. I was told maybe once a quarter. I’ve now been there 6 months and I’m actually taking multi-day trips around twice a month. The job is pretty good otherwise but I feel bitter about the travel and feel I was misled. If they’d been upfront during the interview, I probably would have opted out.

            Also of note is that I would have loved this kind of travel even just 5 years ago, but my priorities have changed as I’ve aged and I would rather be sleeping in my own bed every night.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Word to your last sentence. I don’t care how nice a hotel is – I cannot sleep comfortably in someone else’s bed. Period. It throws me off for weeks (and the adjustment period back home is hard as well).

              1. Athilida*

                All of you “I must sleep in my own bed every night” people need to realize that a lot of really good jobs, the kind that eventually get you to SVP or the c-suite, involve frequent travel, including international travel.

                Opt out of you want, but be clear on the tradeoffs involved.

                And OP1 needs to be clear that turning down a dream job due to a need to travel domestically on two days’ notice means that said dream job is probably not going to come again. (“When opportunity knocks” and all that.) IMO it was foolish to turn it down. Travel on short notice is common for jobs that are career boosters.

                1. Le Sigh*

                  It sounds like OP is working on their travel-related fears, so hopefully that will be easier down the road. But in the meantime, it was probably wise to turn this down.

                  Have you ever worked a job where you wake up physically sick from the constant stress? It sounds like OP was facing that with this job. It really erodes your quality of life and mental health, and it would be foolish not to consider that when deciding whether to take the offer.

                2. The Tin Man*

                  What a strange reaction.

                  OP turned down a job because she has an “intense phobia about flying” and general anxiety about travel that is so bad that they are seeing a therapist and you think it was “foolish” to turn it down? It sounds like OP made the no-brainer move.

                  I think I am reacting strongly to your post because some of your phrasing makes it sound like you think everyone wants those stepping-stone and executive-level jobs. To some people that sounds like a nightmare and they’d much rather make $60k sleeping in their own bed than $600k traveling half the year. I know it’s an extreme example but I don’t see how I would ever take a job that has me on the road a cumulative 3+ months per year. I guess maybe if it was a one-year appointment that paid 5-10X my current salary and I could go back to what I do now after the one year?

                3. Librarian1*

                  This is pretty industry-specific. I don’t think library directors are flying around the country all the time and regular librarians certainly aren’t.

                4. J.*

                  If travel on short notice is a dealbreaker for you and a job has that feature, then it’s not a dream job. I think OP is pretty clear about the tradeoffs here and is trying to deal with them.

                5. Myka Bering*

                  I have a really good job and make a very nice salary. I don’t want the stress and responsibility that comes with being in the C-suite/an SVP. I’m pretty happy with my career trajectory. Your career aspirations aren’t everyone’s.

          4. AnonPi*

            I had one I applied for that just mentioned working on their work site. They neglected to mention their work site was 4 hours away, and they expected you to stay there on site Mon-Fri in a trailer. Once I made it clear that was a no go they said they should have probably mentioned that in the ad since that had turned out to be a problem for most of their interviewees, but they were afraid no one would apply if they had included it.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              but they were afraid no one would apply if they had included it.

              And no one will accept the job once they find out the truth during the interview process, so they’re not doing themselves any favors by not disclosing this earlier. They just end up wasting everyone’s time.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              But…but if you include it, then the people who don’t mind are the ones who will applyyyyyyyyyy aarrggghhhhh *bangs head against wall*

            3. Trish*

              So, they were waiting to find someone desperate enough to take it in spite of the travel. Because that’s (not) a great idea.

            4. Clisby*

              Yeah, they should disclose and say this is why they’re paying $XXX as a salary supplement because they realize it’s not ideal. They very well might get some takers on those terms.

          5. MCL*

            100% yes. It’s very possible that OP is applying for jobs that do not have well-written ads. It’s very unfortunate that in my field and in many others, it’s about a 50/50 shot if salary range is posted at all even for more senior positions. It’s really frustrating because you can sometimes get pretty far along the process before it becomes clear what the salary offered might be, and it might not be an acceptable number. Same with travel. If they’re not very descriptive in the ad about the travel the role requires, then it’s not surprising that OP gets a shock when they tell her it’s a ton.

          6. Me*

            I interview recently for a job I would have loved, and it said zilch about travel. I was the one at the interview who brought it up because I’d seen photos and videos of my interviewer online doing trade shows in several cities. Why she didn’t mention travel in the ad I’ll never know. It’s just as well I didn’t get an offer.

          7. Annonnymooses*

            Mine isn’t quite that much, but no one ever mentioned offsite dinners or lunches at least once a month, an offsite meeting at least twice a year, the weeklong sales kickoff once a year, or various other travel things. I’m not a travel-y person, I’d rather not. I’m also an EA, which surprised me when I found out there were multiple times I’d need to stay in a hotel and/or take a flight somewhere.

        3. Yorick*

          But the “requires occasional travel” in the job ad might be fine, while “must fly across country with 1-2 days notice” would be a dealbreaker. Finding out those things is what interviews are for.

          1. CupcakeCounter*

            Exactly. I can do occasional travel but I need notice at least a couple of weeks to arrange childcare. My husband is on call 100% of the time and regularly gets called out in the middle of the night. Munchkin cannot stay home alone so we would need one of our mother’s to come and stay and that takes time to arrange.

          2. boo bot*

            Yeah, the 1-2 days notice is a huge deal – it’s not the same as just “requires a lot of travel.”

        4. Another name*

          Also unfortunately sometimes interviewers are still deciding what they want during the hiring process! I interviewed for a job that required “some travel”. On the phone the manager said that meant a day trip to a nearby city once every 1 or 2 weeks, which I was okay with. I got to the interview and a second manager said it was three different cities (in different directions) and I would need to travel to each at least twice a month. I said I’d have to think about it. In their next call they said travel was going to be a minimum two days a week, sometimes three, and if I was okay with that they would extend an offer. I said that I did not consider 50% to be “some travel” and declined.

        5. VeryAnon*

          I wasn’t told about the extent of the travel required in my job. I can tolerate it but if I’d known I don’t know if I would have taken the role. It certainly wasn’t in the advert.

        6. JSPA*

          If OP’s in therapy, they may have hoped or even expected that their resistance to flying would have dropped by the time of the interview (and instead, it’s taking a while, and they didn’t feel comfortable banking on “future OP” having the ability to fly).

          Or maybe they hoped there was enough advance notice to drive or take a train, or enough advance notice to have a session with the therapist, guaranteed, before any trip (i.e. two weeks’ notice would have worked, but not 2 days’).

          Let’s say it’s mostly financial investigation and reporting; I’d guess that to be a lot of days in front of the computer, some pre-scheduled trips to speak to bankers or the federal reserve chair, not necessarily a lot of fast-breaking stories requiring in-person interaction.

          1. valentine*

            Or maybe they hoped there was enough advance notice to drive or take a train, or enough advance notice to have a session with the therapist
            These are things OP can negotiate, as well as looking into staying in destination 1 and traveling by land to 2 rather than flying home in between. OP gave up too easily. It’s like OP feels undeserving, hence the advice about hiring someone who’s “eager to travel.” The employer may have preferred OP, dread included, and been willing to tackle it together.

            1. JSPA*

              Some jobs legit require very short notice travel, with no slop for taking the long way. If this is (say) news or news-adjacent (based on OP’s other job possibilities, this seems more than possible), it’s probably truly non-negotiable. I see no signs that OP is not a reliable narrator, or that OP doesn’t negotiate, thus I’m following site policy and taking OP at their word.

        7. A*

          Sometimes things change on the employers end. I had travel added to the job description of my current position when I was at the tale end of the application process (after in person interview, before offer). It was because another member of the team, who had previously handled all the travel, left the company unexpectedly (severe car accident, out of everyone’s control or ability to predict). I hadn’t wanted a traveling position, and was clear I’d need more $$ if that was added in. Luckily my now-boss and I were able to work out a deal behind the scenes where all she assigns all necessary travel to anyone-but-me so I’ll only need to in an emergency situation if everyone else is unavailable (has yet to be an issue).

          You just never know!

        8. lemon*

          Sometimes the job posting doesn’t inform candidates that travel is involved. I’ve applied to positions that sounded great on paper until they called me up for a phone screen, and at the end of the call casually mentioned, “oh, btw, this role requires 100% travel.” I’ve also submitted an application for one location, and then been told in the phone screen that what they’re really looking for is to fill positions in another city.

        9. Beth*

          The details can make a difference here! A job that has two or three days of travel a year is very different than a job that has two or three days of travel a week, and both might list in the job posting that travel is required. That’s part of what the interview process is for. (And while ideally candidates would let an employer know if they realize it’s a poor fit during the interview process, well, in a world where companies often never bother to formally reject candidates and just never respond to applications/interviews, it would be pretty unfair to hold the same behavior against candidates.)

        10. fhqwhgads*

          I’ve applied for jobs before that both referenced the amount of travel using extremely similar language. One turned out to be three 3-day trips a year (which was close to what I expected based on their description). The other was one week away every six weeks. I couldn’t have known that before the interview.
          Employers should be more transparent about things they should know are likely dealbreakers for many candidates, but when they’re not, what ya gonna do?

      3. Jedi Squirrel*

        Also, some job descriptions are worded poorly or vaguely or incompletely, or the job description changes during the hiring process, or you apply for one job and then the company asks you to interview for a different job they think you are a better fit for.

        1. Antilles*

          Especially for stuff like “travel”. The position description might include a sentence in the application about required travel, but there’s often not enough detail to really judge until you’re in the interview and actually able to ask detailed questions.
          What does “position requires some travel” even mean? A couple days every other week? A two-week international trip once a quarter? Driving around the state but local enough that you can be home in your own bed almost every night? Just covering their bases in the unlikely event they win a one-off job out of state? The phrase could mean any of those scenarios (or dozens more), so it’s not really possible to tell whether it’s a requirement you can live with until you’re late enough in the process to be interviewing with someone and can get specifics.

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            Exactly. My job involves travel. Sometimes it’s across town, sometimes it’s across the state, and sometimes it’s across the street. Not sure how you could work that into a job ad.

          2. Gaia*

            Yep. My job’s description said “periodic travel required” which actually means “once a year, we have an all-team meeting at the HQ. You will be strongly encouraged to attend this.” My last job said “10% travel required” which actually meant “we’re going to have you go for a 1 week trip to another country, but you’re not actually going to go home for 8 months. And then you’ll be expected to travel again a week later.”

          3. The Tin Man*

            On top of that, 25% travel can mean 1 full week of travel every month or it could mean 1-2 days every week! For me that makes a huge difference.

            1. Antilles*

              Good point – even if they use numbers (and are honest about the numbers, unlike Gaia’s example), those numbers are meaningless without context.
              Interestingly, my thoughts on that travel have even changed over time. When I was younger, the one week a month probably would have been preferred since it makes it easier to visit that other city…but now that I have pets, 1 overnight trip a week lets me just leave out a couple extra food bowls whereas a weeklong trip would definitely require arranging a pet-sitter.

      4. CupcakeCounter*

        Exactly – I applied for a job that looked perfect on paper and travel was even discussed in the phone interview with the recruiter as once or twice a year for a 3-5 day trip. Well the hiring manager had a very different idea and that didn’t come out until towards the end of the interview (so well over an hour in). Their plan was for this person to visit all 4 sub-companies once a quarter for a total of 8 days of travel per quarter. That was a deal breaker for me so I stopped the interview right there and said that my understanding was that this was not a travel heavy position and showed them the email and my notes from the call. Hiring manager said that it was a new requirement they were implementing starting with the new hires. I told them that it didn’t make sense to continue talking at that point because I am unable to do that much travel for business. She looked PISSED that I had wasted her time (hello! I had to take the day off work) but honestly it was her fault. She approved the requisition with the requirements, including travel, then changed her mind and didn’t update the materials. My friend works there and says it took forever to hire people in to those roles and one of the new hires only lasted a few weeks.

    2. Witchy Human*

      Many jobs don’t reveal full details–particularly things like salary and hours–until quite late in the interview process. You can’t really decide if you’d be willing to move to a new town before you’ve visited it. It’s also sometimes just hard to know your dealbreakers until you’re facing them down.

      1. Sara without an H*

        True. I’ve turned down several things that looked good on paper, but turned out to be non-starters once I went to the interview.

        1. Witchy Human*

          I was once confident that I would be totally fine working at the same organization as a former workplace bully. Right up until I came in for the interview and saw his face again. And then–nope, not a chance.

          1. JM in England*

            I was once in a similar situation to you. However, I was lucky enough to find out BEFORE the interview that a former bully manager was in charge of the department with the vacancy. Was upfront about this with the recruiter, who was surprisingly understanding.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I’m so glad I know where my last two bullies are, so I won’t run into this. Of course, that won’t stop me from ending up at a new job in a new city with a new bully. :\

      2. The Original K.*

        Yeah. I have a friend who was interviewing for a job that would require relocation. She was fine with this until she started doing some research into the COL of the new location and realized it wasn’t as cheap as she thought – it was actually fairly comparable to NYC, where she lives. This meant that the salary they were offering, which she did not learn until the second round of interviews, wasn’t actually that competitive. (It was a bit more than she was making but not that much, and the role was a significant step up in terms of seniority and responsibilities. She had assumed the COL would make the salary go further since the new location was much smaller; it would not.)

      3. Alternative Person*

        Yeah, I attended an interview that went pretty well until we got to the contract particulars and the conditions were so onerous to me that I noped out of there as soon as I reasonably could, politely withdrew my application, then got a snotty rejection three days later.

      4. Librarianne*

        Absolutely. I’m at the point in my career where I’m more focused on what kind of lifestyle a new job would afford me. Working in higher ed, I’ve almost exclusively interviewed in places I never visited before. I always ask for a hotel room in the downtown area, rather than on campus, so I can gauge if it’s a place I’d actually enjoy spending time. If I hate the location, no job is worth it to me.

    3. 'Tis Me*

      I was assuming that it’s during the later interviewing stages/when they receive an email with an offer and review it that they discover e.g. the amount of travelling including with little warning/salary range on offer/expected hours and if it was *just* the location that wasn’t ideal but the job came with a relocation bonus, good salary and generous PTO (so e.g. they would regularly be able to take a half-day Friday and drive a few hours to see their family for the weekend), and otherwise the jobs ticked all of their boxes, they would have been able to work out how to make it work. (Or if not it was only at that sort of late stage that they established that remote working without relocating wasn’t an option.)

      If I understand the issue, the reason they are getting so upset is because (a) their current job situation isn’t great and they do really want to leave and (b) other than the specific things they are rejecting the job for, the jobs sound really interesting and the companies seem like they would be really good places to work.

      So they’re asking themselves (and Alison!) if they are being too picky and need to force themselves out of their comfort zones (e.g. with the travel/making a move at a salary reduction to an unfamiliar area and crossing their fingers they won’t spend the next 2 years + miserable and wanting to go back home, then struggling to get a salary comparable with what they are currently making), or if these are genuine reasons people are reasonably “allowed” to turn a job offer down for.

    4. Antilles*

      Two of the three rejected offers were due to “a combination of work-life balance and salary issues”. That’s stuff you don’t know until late in the process. For salary, the application might mention a vague range, but plenty of companies don’t even do that. Is it ridiculous that companies are willing to waste candidates’ time AND their own time by waiting until late in the process to even mention money? Sure, it’s insane. But it’s very common.
      Same thing for work-life balance – at most, you’re getting a short sentence in the Company Values about “we value our employees as humans and recognize the importance of work-life balance” which is generic and meaningless.

      1. Alternative Person*

        This has been my issue recently, the salary range isn’t mentioned, or they attach strings to the higher end of the range (those strings might be fair to an inexperienced person, but for someone experienced, no thanks)

      2. The Original K.*

        For salary, the application might mention a vague range, but plenty of companies don’t even do that. Is it ridiculous that companies are willing to waste candidates’ time AND their own time by waiting until late in the process to even mention money? Sure, it’s insane. But it’s very common.

        I’ve mentioned this here before, but I went through a hiring process that required me to select a salary band on the application. I did. I went through three rounds of interviews. The HR person called me the day after the last round and said, look, everyone loves you but this job pays $10K less than the bottom rung of the band you picked, is that cool? Well, no. No, it isn’t. I was so annoyed.

        1. Door Guy*

          I had an interview last year with a company that, while the commute was a bit longer than I wanted (only by about 10 minutes in good weather, but we are upper-midwest, we’re going to get snow and ice) seemed like it could be a good fit for my skills and where I wanted to go in my career. I’d heard good things about the company, and applied. Phone interview, they mention that they have 2 shifts and which one worked best for me. I said which one worked, it got noted, and the next day I got called into a series of (3) in person interviews with various departments (HR, Plant Manager, and actual managers I’d report to). Went through the first one with HR, then the one with the Plant Manager, and when the 2 managers for the actual department came in the first question they asked was to make sure I knew this was for OTHER shift. I said no, because every single step of the way I’d been very clear about what shift I could work (the other shift would have me starting work right as my wife got off of work, so we’d only see each other on weekends, same with my kids). They told me that they were ONLY hiring for that other shift right then, apologized for the wasted time, and walked me back to the entrance.

          The next week, I get a follow-up apology call from the HR person I’d had the phone interview with, who asked if I’d be interested in interviewing for any of the other positions available and just gave me a quick rundown of the postings. I agreed to one because it did sound like work I had done in the past. Got to the interview and it was painfully clear to both myself and the 2 gentleman interviewing me that this was a waste of all our times – they bypassed any skills, or knowledge, or experience qualifications to schedule that interview for me and it was NOT the job I had thought it was based on the short talk with HR. I had ZERO idea on how to do the job they needed, and while it wasn’t rocket science, I would be starting from literal square 1. We actually finished the interview because in all honesty it wasn’t outside the scope of something I could do with a bit of training, but I was not surprised in the least when I got the call telling me I didn’t get the job.

          (The job itself was quality control for cement trucks and garbage trucks coming off the factory line. I’d done quality control and quality audits at several of my past jobs, but had never worked on vehicles or hydraulic systems before. The HR lady on the phone made it sound like I would be part of a team and checking a dedicated section and then we go on to the next one, the actual job was basically crawling all over the entire thing and examining/checking/testing top to bottom by myself.)

        2. A*

          Ugh, that’s is so obnoxious. WHYYYYYY have the candidate select a range?! What a waste of everyones time. I always wonder in situations like what you described, are they hoping people will be so worn down and exhausted by the process at that point that they’ll just….settle??

          1. The Original K.*

            I think so – I think they might be hoping that the sunk cost fallacy will kick in. Like “I’ve already spent so much time interviewing for this, I guess I’ll just take it.” Or that the person will have been so charmed by the company that they’ll jump at the chance to work there, salary be damned.

            1. Kat in VA*

              It is precisely, exactly the sunk cost fallacy. I complained elsewhere on AAM about a grueling 7 week process where I was asked minimum, middle, and maximum (ha! there is no maximum!) ranges for me to work there. This salary question was asked and confirmed no less than three times throughout that seven weeks.

              After this ridiculously long process, they came in with “total compensation” at $10k below the minimum salary I said I’d accept – but noted that the yearly bonus they paid out would bring it right to the minimum. Bonuses aren’t guaranteed (“I’ve been here four years and have always gotten my bonus!” uh-huh), and since I’d have started in the middle of the year, I wouldn’t see that full (minimum salary) for nearly 2 years. I declined and they actually got angry with me because I was apparently being unreasonable.

              Had they come in my minimum salary + bonus, I would have seriously considered taking the job with an eye toward subsequent raises. I now realize I dodged a major bullet if they had to use deceptive and shifty practices to get people in the door.

              1. Door Guy*

                My promotion at my last job was like that. I took a massive pay cut (think over $20k) for the guaranteed money (techs were commission, supervisors were salary) and a much lightened physical requirement since I’d just come back from my 2nd back surgery. They touted how much the bonuses were and that with those I’d be right back where I was.

                Such a load of bull. There were so many factors in getting those bonuses that only perfection would pay out, which is all but impossible when not only my direct reports, but the sister office direct reports, the call center reps, and the customers themselves can all affect those numbers.

                Then, 4 months after the promotion, they adjusted all the goals (they were set by our client, a massive multinational corporation) and what used to be bonus was now the target, and what used to be big bonus was now the bonus level AND all the payouts were reduced (the all star office went from $13-15k payouts to $1-2k, most offices were getting $0). Then, the next year, it was changed again and 50% of the office bonus was off the old system, and 50% was based on the corporate level bonus where if you hit budget you get a % of a % of your salary (yes, percentage of a percentage), but it didn’t pay out until April of the following year.

                I worked in that position for over 2.5 years and got less than $2000 in bonuses total, and $1450 of that was the budget bonus that got paid out to me AFTER I’d already left the job for my current job.

            2. Gaia*

              Which is ridiculous on its face!

              Would the other side ever be true? “Oh well, we’ve spent so much time interviewing this candidate, we’ll just increase our salary offer beyond anything budgeted because of all the time spent!”

              There is a budgeted range for every position. Sure, for a unicorn you might find money outside this range, but there is still a limit in place. Name that range. Let candidates self-select out and avoid wasting everyone’s time.

      3. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

        I agree. I interviewed with a national company that I had heard a lot of people in my industry loved working for. I didn’t find out until the phone interview that I would have to purchase a larger vehicle, additional expensive equipment to keep at my house and run electricity to out of my pocket and would be on call every day I worked until 9 pm. Also I would either have to work a full day every weekend or every other full weekend depending on the schedule of the person already working in the area. Hard nos.
        I ended up finding a job at a local company doing the same work (in some ways a much more transparent system) with normal hours, half day Saturdays and no on call.

    5. Parenthetically*

      “being so traumatised as to cry during a rejection is not.”


      You know, some people cry even when they aren’t traumatized, and believe it or not, that’s actually OKAY.

      1. KimberlyR*

        Yeah, I cry for a lot of reasons-anxiety or nervousness sometimes, anger, sadness, happiness, etc. My tears are much closer to the surface than some people’s. I haven’t cried when rejecting a job but I could see how someone would. Its a skill to hold it together at work (or in front of people at work) when you can feel the tears gathering in your eyes despite your best efforts.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yep, same. Intense disappointment and frustration are going to make lots of people cry, and I know when I was 25 I wouldn’t have been able to be Ms. Super Composed either.

      2. KayDeeAye (formerly Kathleen_A)*

        I really don’t think it’s “OKAY” to cry – much less be a “blubbering, agonizing mess” – over turning down jobs. I don’t know – maybe one particular, special job one particular time, but often or routinely? No. I get that some people are just cryers and some are not, but the person offering a job should not be put in the very uncomfortable position of trying to comfort someone they’re offering a job to!

        1. Parenthetically*

          First of all, again, OP said she cried “a little” while turning down ONE job that she characterized as perfect except for her severe phobia of flying, not that she blubbered or agonized on the phone.

          Second of all, I’m glad you’ve never had a personal crisis over a frustrating, demoralizing job search that you see as being complicated by your anxieties/phobias, compounding an already difficult situation with guilt. Genuinely. But can we not leave space for people who are strongly invested in their career as a passion and calling, finding themselves questioning their motives and actions, without telling them their emotional experiences are not okay? It’s pretty clear to me that this is bigger than “turning down jobs” for OP, or she wouldn’t be writing in.

        2. A*

          OP cried ‘a little’ when turning down a job that – aside from the travel piece – they really, really wanted. Why is it ‘not okay’ or unusual for them to get upset when disappointed? At 25, they haven’t had that many years in the work force, I think it’s understandable that they’d have an emotional attachment to certain opportunities and react accordingly when disappointed.

          That being said, the ‘crying to hiring managers’ bit did throw me off. At first it seemed that OP was having the reactions privately, but that comment makes me think otherwise. If OP is actually expressing disappointment in that manner to hiring managers, that’s a slightly different ball game.

          1. Parenthetically*

            I read that as being a comment on her recent “crying a little” incident with Dream Job!

        3. Eukomos*

          I don’t think there’s anything out of the ordinary with agonizing over whether to accept jobs, especially jobs that you’d love aside from one big dealbreaker. And when she describes the actual exchange where she cried she puts the modifier “a little” on it. Sounds to me like she teared up briefly on the phone when explaining why she couldn’t accept her dream job, and is now being hard on herself for it. Sobbing over the phone every time you reject an offer is of course unprofessional, but the evidence doesn’t suggest that OP’s doing anything like that.

        4. KayDeeAye (a.k.a. Kathleen_A)*

          It doesn’t sound like she teared up a little one time to me. It sounds like she’s cried for real, and more than once, at least if you go by this quote: “I’ve worked very hard to get where I am right now and get the job offers I’ve received, and I’m shocked to find myself a blubbering, agonizing mess who rejects good jobs that college me would have jumped at just because of work-life balance, then cries on the phone to hiring managers.”

          A few tears now and then are probably fine. But it doesn’t sound like that’s what’s happening to me.

      3. Gaia*

        I cry for some seriously ridiculous reasons. When I’m sad. Happy. Stressed. Excited. Bored.

        Honestly, sometimes a cry just feels good. It is a natural stress release valve. There is nothing wrong or weird about it. We need to stop asking people to repress their normal reactions to stimulus.

    6. bluephone*

      Speaking from my own experience as a job searcher: job descriptions can be inaccurate. Job descriptions can be incomplete. They can be vague or flat-out wrong. They could be automatically generated by software, working off a random “copy editor” template. They could be written by an underpaid, overworked HR lackey who doesn’t know the nuances that a specific role needs. The hiring manager already has a candidate in mind (internal or external) but needs to place a want ad for formality’s sake (or for legal reasons).

      Salary and salary ranges are almost never mentioned in job descriptions* and salary is often the biggest “make or break” aspect of a job opening–but you’ll never find out the salary if you don’t first apply and then get picked for an interview (and a second and third interview)**.

      *In my experience, I’d wager that 99.99 percent of the job openings I’ve applied to in my field never include any sort of salary or salary range. For some fields (i.e. nursing), that is insane. For my field (based on my own experience), it’s apparently expected and you’re the weird one to question *why* it’s The Way Things Are.

      **Again, just going by my own experience: asking about salary before a second or third interview (or actual offer) is enough to get you kicked out of the running prematurely. So you have to go through a whole song and dance and hope that when you do finally get to the “what are you offering” stage, it won’t be an insult to your current take-home pay or student loan bills.

      1. Parenthetically*

        There have been plenty of letters and comments here about people being pre-emptively rejected for jobs — and chastised by potential employers! — because they asked about salary “too soon.”

  2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Repeating this paragraph from Allison’s answer:
    You also need to be brutally honest with yourself about what your options are — particularly in your field. If the norms in the field you want to work in are frequent travel, long hours, and/or low pay, you’ve got to decide if you’re willing to accept those things or if you’d rather do a different type of work. Sometimes those things are the reality of a field only at first — you have to put up with them for a few years when you’re getting started, but then you graduate out of them — and sometimes there’s the reality pretty much always.

    To amplify – did “college you” really know and understand what the norms for your field are? College you was probably comfortable with pulling all-nighters, etc. But that doesn’t mean that post-college-you has to be OK with that. Don’t kick yourself for what college you would have done — because college you isn’t you anymore.

    1. ThatGirl*

      yeah, college me was thrilled to find a newspaper job working second shift, holidays and weekends, for low pay. 38-year-old me is no longer interested. our needs change. it’s fine.

      1. bluephone*

        Same. Teenage and College Me was fine with working anywhere from 1 full-time job and 2 additional part-time jobs to 3-4 different part-time jobs (plus random babysitting gigs) on top of schoolwork. Mid-30s Me– although she’d very much like the extra money that comes from such candle-burning– just cannot keep up that pace anymore for mental and physical health reasons.
        Also, College Me put up with wage theft by the employer (working more hours than what was recorded by the timesheet, as ordered to by my manager) whereas Current Me would be on the phone to the state’s labor department SO darn fast. But that’s because Current Me is wiser about abusive employer practices*and* less likely to just go along to get along in general with nonsense like that.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        This. I’ve worked third shift in the past, but I wouldn’t ever do it again. It just doesn’t fit the way I like to live my life now, plus I have difficulties sleeping that weren’t an issue then.

    2. Augusta Has Gone East*

      My first post-college job was really well-paid but required international relocation within the EU, almost constant international travel, and all-nighters (due to company culture, not the industry). I had a lot of responsibilities and really enjoyed it. I progressed quickly into a managerial role at another company where I had to travel with a very short notice and worked very long hours. I didn’t do all-nighters because I physically couldn’t, a few years after college that just didn’t work for my body any more.
      Now, 5 years after college, I am very happy in a job that is mostly 9-5 and there’s only occasional travel. College-me would be shocked to see this but my priorities have changed. This is to say that yes, it’s okay, in fact, it’s more than that, it’s vital to revisit your expectations.
      Be honest with yourself about what is an absolute dealbreaker. For me, it’d be constant travel. Then, as Alison says, compare your list with opportunities in your field.
      Good luck in finding a good match!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Be honest with yourself about what is an absolute dealbreaker. For me, it’d be constant travel.

        Same. I’ve traveled one week out of every month for the last five months, and each time, it takes me longer than a week to fully recover, and I wasn’t even traveling far! My body is just not here for it anymore. College me would have loved this schedule, and quite possibly requested more travel to more exciting and far away locales, but college me also didn’t have a handful of chronic illnesses to deal with and, thus, had more energy for that.

        1. Where in the world*

          As a counterpoint, I love intense jobs, would not want to work 9-5, and enjoy business travel.

    3. MeganK*

      Yes, so much this! I heard often when I was considering my current career, and in grad school, that “no one gets into this field to get rich,” and I thought to myself, “that’s fine, if I wanted to get rich I would have tried to be an investment banker or something.”

      It turned out that, at least in this field “not going to get rich” actually means…you might not even be middle class, depending, because there just aren’t enough jobs and there realistically aren’t going to be. Especially for people who don’t want to move across the country to places where there are fewer grad programs (we have two in our state and the market is over-saturated here). I’m one of the lucky ones and I did manage to get a full-time job, but I just wanted to flag that there are definitely times when the rhetoric about a certain field is misleading. If you discover that’s the case, it can also factor into whether you decide to stay in a field or not.

      OP, if it turns out a field is not for you because getting work that makes sense for you in that field is less possible than you initially thought, that’s so so ok. That’s the point of experience!

      1. Quill*

        Woman in STEM. I was told it would come with actual job security and benefits. In reality, half the field is contractors even if you get a master’s degree.

      2. Oryx*

        I know this can probably be applied to multiple fields but my experience in grad school and after for librarianship was exactly the same. We were told over and over again that all of the older librarians would be retiring and there would be tons of openings and well that definitely didn’t happen and the field is remarkably oversaturated.

      3. A*

        THIS!!! I still to this day – ~7 years after switching career paths – get flack from certain individuals in my original professional network (non-profit work) for leaving to go work for ‘The Man’ [insert pearl clutching here]. Like, really? Maybe if during all of my informational interviews with those exact individuals, if they had been more transparent about the finances instead of saying things like ‘You won’t be living high on the hog” / “you won’t get rich”, I would have known better than to pursue it in the first place. I don’t care about the finer things in life – but for better or for worse, I graduated college a financial orphan. In the middle of the down economy, I had no parental home to move into rent free, and zero safety net.

        I lasted three years in the non-profit world before I had to move on, because in my mind homelessness is not a viable option. College-aged me did not understand the difference between you-won’t-get-rich, and the reality of you-can’t-afford-food. Didn’t help that no one in my life was transparent about their own struggles, until I myself was in the same situation.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I’m with you. Fortunately, with Glassdoor and Ask A Manager and many other ways to research salaries online, it’s easier to be clued in – but in my experience, nonprofits and people who work in them are not very forthcoming with how low the salaries can be. “You won’t get rich” is one thing; “you need an inheritance, wealthy parents, or a high-earning spouse or you might be visiting a food pantry” is another.

    4. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Yup. I had a service sector-type job I was eager to excel in, right out of college, living with a roommate. So I’d take weird shifts, come in at odd hours to handle emergencies, volunteer to do holidays to climb the ladder. And all I got was…more of the same.

      By the time I was in my early 30s, I was fed up with the disruption, and so was my husband, who was working a 60 hour a week job and dealing with the unpredictable nature of my always-on-fire work schedule as I took phone calls at 1 am and then got stuck at work until 10 that night and then got a phone call at 6 am that someone no-showed and had to go rushing out the door like a tornado.

      It just didn’t work for where I was in my life any more.

    5. Parenthetically*

      did “college you” really know and understand what the norms for your field are?

      Yes! And in some fields, the norms are rapidly changing, or vary regionally, or are unpredictable for other reasons. Gosh, pity people who went into teaching 30 years ago, even 15 years ago — talk about different expectations when they graduated vs. now!

    6. Mynona*

      I suspect OP is going through the painful process of realizing that her dream field isn’t compatible with her minimum lifestyle needs and hence the extreme emotional response. It is one thing to reject an offer and another to reject multiple. I am in a competitive, creative, underpaid field and see this play out a lot.

      1. Blueberry Girl*

        Yes, this. I think the hardest part (or a hard part) of adulthood is coming to terms with the sometimes staggering difference between what you thought you wanted and what you actually want. It’s so hard and sometimes deeply demoralizing. I’m still working through it and I’m well out of college.

      2. Eukomos*

        That’s a good insight, this happens a lot in my field and it’s way more emotionally painful than a normal tricky job search. There’s some major changes in identity and self-perception, and most people do that while they’re in the middle of a hellacious job search, working their butts off for next to no money.

    7. Beth*

      Yes, very much this. If one job offers bad work-life balance and low pay, absolutely decline it; it’s just one job and there are more fish in the sea. But if you’re encountering the same problems repeatedly in your industry, it might be more of a systemic problem. If that’s the case, you have to eventually decide if you want to keep hunting for the unicorn position that defies the industry norm, or if it’s worth sucking it up to stay in your field, or if you’ll need to switch tracks to have the kind of life you want.

    8. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      I’ve increasingly been of the opinion that we focus way to much on “what are you interested in, find a job doing that” and don’t give as much space to talk about the lifestyle you want and how it matches up with different jobs. (Except in shame-y ways when it comes to the arts).

  3. revueller*

    A side note to Alison’s otherwise perfect advice: Your friends probably have their own dealbreakers that they’d turn down a job that otherwise seems great.

    Also, as a fellow frequent crier when I’m feeling stressed or ashamed, pushing my tongue against the roof of my mouth is a great way to stop tearing up quickly. I only mean this as a short-term solution when you face these types of offers in the future.

    Best of luck, OP.

      1. AnonyLawyer*

        I did that once while two partners were tag-team criticizing me and then one of them accused me of rolling my eyes at them.

      2. Avasarala*

        I try to think of a random word and repeat it in my mind to distract myself. Something unrelated to the situation, like “olfactory” or “tempura” or “long johns”.

    1. The Dig*

      Thanks for the tip, I’ll try the tongue thing as well!

      Person who also cries when refusing job offers.

    2. Budgie Buddy*

      This is good advice . I was also concerned that frequent crying over the phone might damage OP’s professionalism. If I were the company I would be more concerned about the emotional reaction than the fact someone turned down a job.

      1. Parenthetically*

        She said she cried “a little bit,” not that she was sobbing incoherently down the telephone.

        1. i forget the name I usually use*

          A little bit of crying on the phone could be fine, if it’s truly not something the other person would detect, or a little bit of crying could be very noticeable! If the hiring manager on the other end can tell you’re crying, that seems like too much, even if you’re still coherent. Definitely something to keep an eye on.

          1. Eukomos*

            I don’t think it’s terrible if the person can hear that you’re choking up a little. Even as professionals we do have emotions, that’s reality. And when you’re giving someone else bad news signs that you are also unhappy about this aren’t going to offend them.

        2. Admin Formerly Known as Actor*

          +1. I’m biased as I’m a frequent cryer too, and I understand that professional standards dictate one doesn’t become a blubbering mess at the drop of a hat, but it’s really unfortunate that we’ve reached the point where being heard tearing up while in a work situation could negatively affect your career. I think it will ultimately depend on the particular company, the culture, the field itself, etc.

          I once cried a bit in an all-team meeting because we were discussing what weaknesses in our work we wanted to improve on, and I was the only person to share a specific, personal concern (rather than not feeling confident on a software or similar). After the meeting, at least half of my coworkers stopped me and told me how much they appreciated my honesty and willingness to be vulnerable, because all of them had fibbed about what they wanted to work on rather than actually address a problem and risk a similar openness. So sure, don’t completely lose your composure, but don’t beat yourself up if you happen to tear up/let a few fall once in a while. (Exceptions made for certain fields, I’m sure, but then decide if that’s part of the field you can live with, and anyone who doesn’t want to see an occasional tear can go into those fields.)

    3. J.B.*

      Because the OP mentioned anxiety, I just want to add that if she takes a step back and feels like her stress levels are insanely high when processing jobs and that anxiety is pushing it up there…that would be a great thing to work through with the therapist.

  4. Christine*

    This is such a hard thing about growing up – I’m still struggling with it at 33. I have this idea of what my dream career looks like, and I find jobs that look like it, and I’m qualified, and my dream is within my grasp. But then I remember my husband and my kids, my friends, books I want to read, the sleep I want to get, etc. and I have to walk away and it is so, so hard. I feel like I let down my college self every day.

    I think if you want to value work-life balance that is a very good, valid, even great reason to turn down jobs. Something that helps me though is to make sure I really am investing in the “life” side of the work life equation. It sucks to turn down a great career opportunity and then sit at home binge watching Netflix for 4 hours every night. Use your extra time and balance to invest in your friendships, to pick up a hobby, to exercise, to travel… make the “life” part so enormous and fun and rewarding that the less-than-ideal “work” part doesn’t matter as much anymore.

    You’re gonna be ok, this is normal, but it’s hard and it sucks.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think too, though, that some people are happy prioritizing binge-watching Netflix for several hours every night. What they want is leisure time, and that’s okay. (Also, I feel like if you switched this to “watching live theater all the time,” suddenly it sounds more defensible. We’re so weird about things on screens.)

      1. Thursday Next*

        Watching a play live is typically a purposeful activity requiring planning, whereas binge-watching or other screen activities *can* be more aimless. And that’s okay! (I’m a compulsive binge-watcher—rewatcher, even.) But I think the purposeful/aimless distinction might underpin some of the judgement around screen use.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          What’s always interesting to me though is that stuff like Netflix is judged as more … lowbrow somehow than going to the theater. And I don’t see why!

          1. Thursday Next*

            Oh, I agree! A Netflix series like Leila (which I highly recommend) is a far richer and more complex artistic production than The Play That Goes Wrong. And I’m guessing cost figures into things as well.

          2. Goldfinch*

            Same. Do I really earn more cred for watching the local podunk production of Christmas Carol, versus staying on my couch to see the brilliant version with Alastair Sim?

              1. Liz T*

                Can confirm.

                My sister and I have a bit of a running joke now because of a time we saw a live Christmas Carol the day after rewatching A Muppet Christmas Carol. Now when a play is fine but leaves us dissatisfied we say to each other, “Where’s Michael Caine?”

          3. VeryAnon*

            I sometimes think it’s purely due to cost per performance plus nostalgia. There’s a scene in Jane Eyre where Jane decries people turning to novels rather than poetry. The idea is that novels are mass market consumerist fodder, whereas poetry is ‘real art’. Also theatre is outside the house and this is still an extrovert’s world.

            1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

              Also theatre is outside the house…
              And therefore necessitates being dressed. There is an… association with Netflix that parallels the working from home myth. If it can be done in pyjamas, it’s somehow not valid or grown-up

          4. Elizabeth West*

            I have to laugh at this because just keeping up with the twisty timeline in Dark took every ounce of my attention, plus it wasn’t even in English.

            “I go to the theatah.”
            “Oh yeah? Well I watched an entire sci-fi series–IN GERMAN!”

            1. Deb Morgan*

              My mom and I had to rewatch season 1 of Dark before we started on season 2 because we were so confused and really needed to focus on what was happening and who was related to who. That show is a trip!
              But also, yeah, sometimes I want to turn off my brain and watch some Law & Order reruns while I play on my phone. Both options are legitimate for me.

      2. Just Elle*

        This, thanks so much.

        I’ve found that the more demanding my work time is, the more I absolutely *need* veg-out-in-front-of-TV time. Its honestly not like I *want* to spend my evening binge watching (although it would be ok if I did), but its a necessary part of being rested and ready to take on a stressful work day tomorrow. Resenting that fact doesn’t make that any less of a fact.

        I used to beat myself up for not using that time to read business-y books or develop myself in some other way, cooking or exercising or taking up a hobby or night classes or whatever. Heck, even just put in longer hours in the office. Just generally, *investing in my future* instead of doing ‘meaningless’ things.
        And then I realized, there are some people who can work 20 hours a day, go right into 4 hours of sleep, and then get up and do it again. They are the people who become President or CEO one day. Its a brain-wiring thing, and I am not one of them. And I need to be ok with that. Yeah, that was a rough realization.

        But once I came to terms with it, I’ve actually become much more productive and capable of managing a high stress career. Just, high stress for no more than 10 hours a day. Thats where my personal capabilities run out.

        1. thatoneoverthere*

          Absolutely! I have 3 small kids and work full time with an hour commute each ways. At 9pm my butt is on the couch. I don’t clean or read up on business type stuff, I don’t do anything other than eat some ice cream and watch Netflix for an hour. I need that every day.

        2. MasterOfBears*

          I *could not* shake the guilt of veg out time that I desperately need, so my therapist taught me to crochet. (Seriously. In her office during our session, it was fantastic.) So now I have a giant bedspread I’m working on – it takes no braincells once you get it down, and it tricks that anxious guilty part of my brain into feeling like I’m being productive. Plus I get a big blanket out of it.

          Of course letting go of that guilt entirely is the end goal, but while I’m working on that there are ways to pull an end run around the part of my brain that can’t let it go yet.

          1. VeryAnon*

            I think there is an issue that because Western culture prizes productivity, that we think our downtime has to be productive too. I think we need to remember that even the strictest religions and philosophies mandate downtime, and that Buddhism – often seen as the key to peace – demands it!

          2. Marissa*

            I’m like this with cross stitch! I feel so much less like a depressed swamp thing after a TV binge when I’ve got something to show for it, and having something to do with my hands keeps me from just dicking around on my phone and not paying attention to the thing I’m watching.

            1. Just Elle*

              Ugh yes, attempting to scroll through insta and also watch an in depth show at the same time has me horrified of ever texting and driving. We are not the multitaskers we wish we were.

        3. Goldfinch*

          There is a really great Inc article up right now, called “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship” that I think you and others would find useful. It talks about how top-level execs, start-up gurus, and small business owners are often NOT mentally and physically healthy, and how they have to hide their struggles. Those “always on” folks are actually NOT happy, not well, and not fulfilled. Really excellent read.

          1. Just Elle*

            Thanks, that was a great read!
            My ah-ha moment was reading the HBR article on insecure overachievers. Somehow realizing that being a crazy person always striving for perfection will not actually bring me joy, helped me let go over the pursuit. Or at least, reduce the number of hours a day I was willing to spend on it.
            That, combined with a bunch of “If I accomplish __, THEN I will be happy” not actually bringing me happiness. Sometimes, you have to learn the hard way.

        4. FoxyDog*

          I have a very brain intensive job (software developer) and a couple of chronic illnesses, including migraines. I also struggle with the guilt of being ‘unproductive’ while vegging in front of the TV for hours after work (also would-be-frugal me has guilt about the fact that I’m watching cable).

          But, yeah, sometimes (ok, a lot of times) that’s legitimately all my brain and body are capable of after an 8 hour workday. Since I need to be able to keep working, I’ve made peace with it.

          1. VeryAnon*

            Yeah. I used to volunteer, run a side hustle and take dance classes after a 7-8 job. I genuinely thought there was something wrong with me for not being able to handle that.

        5. Marissa*

          > I’ve found that the more demanding my work time is, the more I absolutely *need* veg-out-in-front-of-TV time.

          THIS. I love my job–it’s engaging and I get to work on interesting problems all day and learn new things all the time–but when I spend all day thinking hard and stuffing my brain with new things, it kind of kills my appetite for thinking hard and stuffing my brain with new things when I get home. So I cross stitch and watch TV.

          It’s a problem I’m grateful to have, and I prefer it to a job that’s boring and/or doesn’t push me to learn and get smarter, but it’s still a tradeoff I’ve got to negotiate.

        6. Eukomos*

          In the last few weeks of work on my dissertation I couldn’t even watch lighthearted comedies anymore, I was down to youtube videos. And it was important, I needed that decompressing time, just going to bed an extra hour earlier wouldn’t have had the same benefit, same way going for a run was a different kind of decompressing.

      3. Jedi Squirrel*

        I have a stay-at-home vacation next week, and I have one day scheduled for nothing but binging Netflix and eating pizza. Not gonna feel guilty one bit.

        1. Just Elle*

          I’m literally so jealous.
          I might have to reschedule my vacation (which was previously scheduled for Thanksgiving week which means family assumes that I took the time off specifically to entertain them for an even longer period of time and not to maximize my chances at sanity for the holiday proper). “Sorry MIL, I had to reschedule to work around a very important activity that’s just come up…. pizza and Netflix day.”

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I plan a staycation every year, and it usually includes some light home improvement projects and an extra-long Netflix marathon. It’s kind of like a brain reboot, and then I can go back to work ready to focus.

      4. Kiwiii*

        Yes!! Thank you for saying this. I just had a Sunday where I did very very little besides watch a season or so of Project Runways and play my current favorite phone game and it was enjoyable but also Much Needed.

    2. ThatGirl*

      There’s nothing wrong with introverting at home, if that’s how you roll. I definitely want downtime to watch TV and just *be* almost every night – maybe not 4 hours, but as Alison points out, we seem to be very judgy of things on screens.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      If the dream job would leave you no time for your family or friends or even to sleep, then it’s not a dream job for now-you, whatever never-needs-to-sleep idealistic 22-year-old you might have thought. In which case it doesn’t make sense to be researching job opportunities in that field. If starting the dream career would just require more hours than whatever you do now–that’s a choice a lot of people make, after discussing feasibility with their spouse.

  5. Summertime*

    There’s quite a bit of peer pressure when it comes to jobs. If my friends are all moving around, working non-stop, prioritizing work over life, etc then I’d feel I’m somehow missing out on all the excitement, opportunities, and career growth. The reality is that everyone takes their own path. You shouldn’t feel ashamed for making choices based on your happiness. You have your own set of priorities and it sounds like you really know yourself well which is an accomplishment in itself! Don’t compromise on what you feel is important.

    1. Chili*

      I think an important thing to remember with peer pressure and jobs is that there are downsides to every single job. Also that everything you think is a benefit is probably seen by someone else as a downside (and vice versa). Sometimes I’m jealous of my friend’s frequent work travel, but then she’s also jealous that I can work fully remote and not deal with any sort of commute.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Sometimes I’m jealous of my friend’s frequent work travel, but then she’s also jealous that I can work fully remote and not deal with any sort of commute.

        And then when you get both in one package the way I did, people really start to envy you – only, they don’t see that because I work from home, some people in my company think I can be available to them 24/7, which is not going to happen. I literally had to brutally shut down a guy at my company who waited until the last minute to write a proposal for a service he’s trying to pitch to a client, and now he’s up my ass asking me to please review it ASAP because they’re on a bit of a time crunch. I told him, he’ll get it back when I have time to get to it since he didn’t raise the proper protocol or ask me through the appropriate channels, and I’m working on something more pressing that was submitted to me correctly.

        None of the people currently envious of me would be envious of that, lol.

  6. Dispatch from a cubicle*

    OP, for what it’s worth, I took what would be considered by many in my field as a “dream job” almost right out of grad school. I was nervous about my ability to deal with some of the expectations but felt like I should want it and if I was being offered it I was obligated to take it.

    I was miserable, my mental health suffered, and my sense of self-confidence as a professional suffered. After barely three years I took what would be considered, at best, a lateral move to a different position with different and less strenuous expectations and I am immeasurably happier for it!

    If you can release yourself from what you think you should want or do and figure out what’s really best for you in your life as it has actually become, you will be happier and healthier. I speak from experience. Good luck!

  7. ThatGirl*

    It’s totally OK to have dealbreakers in life. Obviously, as Alison notes, finances can dictate we sometimes take less than ideal jobs to get by, but as long as you’re being realistic about the kinds of jobs you’re qualified for and would be good at, those are great reasons to turn them down–even if they sound great otherwise. They can be great for someone else.

    There have been plenty of jobs that sound great on paper that I’ve decided not to even apply to because my work-life balance is very important to me; I don’t want to spend two hours or more commuting a day, I don’t want to regularly have to work late, and I deserve to be paid well.

    1. Quickbeam*

      I was the first of my profession hired at a new arm of an established company. They wanted to hire more of my profession (which was very very different than their norm) . I told them my peers would be fine with most of their work parameters but that “on call” would be a deadly line in the sand for those in my profession. They ignored me and got no takers for 2 years. Once they took it out, they got deluged with excellent candidates.

    2. i forget the name I usually use*

      I feel like this is a hard thing to get used to out of college — contrary to the “the world is your oyster you can do anything!” messaging, you actually DO have to make choices, and choosing one way means you can’t also have the other way. Your options to become limited, but not in a bad way… they start limiting along the path you have chosen and your priorities. Leaving yourself wide open to accept ANY possibility kind of robs you of digging in deep on what you actually want.

      I have a younger sibling in their early 30s who still struggles with this, and their inability to decide often means they just default to a path of least resistance. (ie Should I move or stay here? Well, I’ve wasted so much time thinking about it now I kind of have to stay here, and now have I trapped myself? rinse and repeat.) They’re still doing well, but I think the fact that they didn’t really actively CHOOSE and OWN their decisions makes the “what-ifs” of paths not taken hang over them, and they still second-guess things from years ago. They’ve also changed careers several times, and don’t really know what they want… an OK lifestyle if that’s what you like, but I feel like it’s a lot more stressful and less stable, and if you don’t enjoy it, at a certain point you need to limit yourself, mourn for what might have been a little, and then dig in a enjoy the life you’ve chosen and built for yourself.

  8. Washi*

    You might enjoy Cheryl Strayed’s “the ghost ships that didn’t carry us.” It’s about a very different topic, but I’ve found myself returning to it when making tough decisions where there’s really no right answer. I’m sensing from your letter that you fear making the wrong choice and having regrets later, and I like the ghost ship framing that there will be regrets and might-have-beens either way, you just have to choose what you value most, and go forward doing your best to find that.

    1. Cascadia*

      The best ever! I read it every time I am faced with a life decision. It has helped me so much! Also, you can read it in just about 10 minutes or so.

    2. Long-time AMA Lurker*

      Holy guacamole, this piece is so beautiful and I really needed to read it right now. Thank you!

      “You say that you and your partner don’t want to make the choice to become parents simply because you’re afraid you “will regret not having one later,” but I encourage you to reexamine that. Thinking deeply about your choices and actions from the stance of your future self can serve as both a motivational and a corrective force. It can help you stay true to who you really are as well as inspire you to leverage your desires against your fears.

      Not regretting it later is the reason I’ve done at least three quarters of the best things in my life.”

    3. Third or Nothing!*

      That was beautiful and so timely considering that we are trying to decide whether to start trying for Baby #2 at the end of this year.

  9. Sara without an H*

    OP, try to ease up on yourself. You evidently have a clear sense of what you want from a job, and you are turning down jobs that don’t meet your requirements. That’s smart! Keep it up — if you’re currently employed and not financially desperate, you have the luxury of holding out for the kind of job you really want.

    You say you’re in therapy for your flying anxiety. You may want to talk with the therapist about your reaction to turning down this most recent job. Do you routinely second-guess yourself like this? Sometimes one kind of anxiety can be tied to a bunch of other issues.

    Good luck, and Jedi hugs!

  10. WellRed*

    OP, why are you applying for so many jobs that you get offered and turn down? Are you in the wrong field? Are your expectations out of whack? For example, of course a small newspaper needs you to live local and isn’t going to pay much. That’s pretty much a given. Why did you apply? I can’t tell if anxiety is the bigger problem or the desire for work life balance. Any form of journalism/pr ( assuming here) at this stage of your career will not offer balance. It will require deadlines and little notice to jump on it. Fast! Or someone else will.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      I get the impression she wants to leave her current situation, so she’s applying for basically anything vaguely in her field she’s qualified to do – but only realizing deeper into the process she doesn’t really want those jobs. But she does want to leave, thus the anxiety and conflict. The answer for OP is to be honest with herself about what she needs out of a job, and not apply if she sees something upfront that won’t work for her (far-flung location, low salary, etc). But she needs to believe she’s “allowed” to do that, and not feel like she’s being precious or choosy.

      1. WellRed*

        I definitely think she’s allowed to be choosy. I just hope she’s looking in the right directions.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Hey, been there, done that. There were times when I went out and interviewed for positions – because I was dissatisfied with my situation – only to learn that , uh, yeah, I wasn’t so badly off after all.

        I sought to do better but realized, hey, things can be worse, and in a lot of places, they were.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      A lot of places are very vague about what they actually do if you’re just browsing through some Indeed ads. You don’t know much until you reach out. Salary is very often a secret in many areas.

      At 25, a lot of people don’t know that small town newspapers are going to pay you minimum wage. They seem glitzy and glamorous because you want to be on the beat. We didn’t know how awful and soul sucking it was until it nearly drove my partner to a breaking point. You can’t expect people who aren’t that far into their careers to know that much about that kind of detail.

      1. Admin Formerly Known as Actor*

        +1 on all points. I only know how ragged small town newspapers can run you because my dad worked IT for one for 33 years. And for that matter, if OP or any other searcher “should” have known that about newspapers, does that mean they “should” know it for any other potential workplace in their field in any other potential market doing work that may or may not be similar to what they’re doing now, given the vagueness of many job postings? They might have an idea of trends based on their field, but they can’t know the details until they apply. The more you work, the more you can hone that sense even before applying, but I have to agree that expecting someone early in their career to just “know” these things is unrealistic.

    3. Marketing Automation Guru*

      Another point – we all seem to internalize the ‘never go down in salary’ thing. But if you’re moving from somewhere with a higher cost of living to somewhere with a much lower cost of living rhen blindly following this advice does not serve you well.

      It’s entirely possible that the ‘lower’ salary they are offering you is reasonable for that position in that rural market.

      Make sure you’re not dismissing it simply because it’s lower.

      Make sure you’re dismissing it because it’s unrealistic.

      Example: I’m in Austin, which has a relatively high cost of living in Texas. I was offered a position in South Carolina, which would be much lower cost of living. The salary they offered was pretty darn good for their market – but not exciting by Austin standards.

      I ultimately turned it down for others reasons, but the salary was on par with the position/seniority/market rate in that market.

  11. Zip Silver*

    As far as the nervous flier thing goes, I’ve definitely improved the whole fear of death thing by learning more about aviation. There’s a YouTuber called Mentour who’s a commercial pilot and has tons of videos explaining things that you see or feel and how the nuts and bolts of it works. Very reassuring, definitely helped me.

    Sitting in front of the wing helps out quite a bit too, you feel less motion towards the front.

    1. blackcatlady*

      Yes I think your fear of flying is going to hold you back from bigger/better journalist jobs. Think about it while you watch news on TV. Reporters have to be ready to jump on a plane to who-knows-where to cover the latest disaster, breaking event etc. Print reporters also have to travel to get the first hand experience. Keep working with the therapist! But if you really can’t travel then you need to ask up front before you get too far into the interview process and pull out of the job application.

      1. Tamz*

        Those sorts of jobs are honestly so rare in journalism, and travel isn’t neccessary for ‘big’ jobs. For example, some of the most well-known, well-respected journalists in the UK and Australia are the anchors of prime-time radio programmes, and they honestly rarely leave the studio!

      2. Valenonymous*

        There are many great journalism jobs that don’t require much or any air travel. It’s a very small fraction of reporters who are flying to disaster areas and war zones, and that may not even be the kind of journalism OP wants to do.

    2. starzzy*

      I know this seems counter-intuitive, but I’ve felt so much safer flying after watching a few seasons of the Smithsonian Channel’s “Air Disasters.” Yes, it details what can go wrong, but it always ends with the ways in which the air industry has worked to overcome those issues of both pilot error and machine malfunction.

      Obviously, this might not work best for people who have full phobias of flying, but as a fellow nervous flier, this show is actually very comforting to me.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        I second this. National Geographic had “Seconds Until Disaster” and it was amazing that it was never just one thing that caused a disaster, but an unbelievably complex string of completely unrelated events that caused a disaster. Why do planes not fall out of the sky every day? Because they’re designed not to (very well-designed) and it takes a lot of different things all at once to cause a crash.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            There’s a really good article out there dissecting the 737 Max issues, and yeah, it was a string of things, including design decisions, poor maintenance and parts replacement and undertrained pilots that actually caused the crashes.

      2. Goldfinch*

        I know it’s fiction, but Michael Crichton’s Airframe taught me a lot about this concept as well. He was an immaculate researcher. Event cascades as a concept make you realize how many problems need to feed off each other for all the available back-ups to fail, and the book also does a good job of showing how layman media misconstrues what goes on in technical industries.

        1. SarahKay*

          Agreed about Airframe. Per my comment below, my company repairs aircraft and I’d been working there a couple of years when someone lent me a copy. Not only was it spot on in what it described, it even clarified some things that I hadn’t really understood about repairs.
          In case you’re now worrying, I don’t do repairs! At that time I was doing admin, booking in repairs, and then shipping and invoicing the repaired units.

    3. SarahKay*

      I work for a company that repairs aircraft, and my site specialises in repairing the cockpit instruments. It’s been fascinating seeing exactly how cautious airlines are; if there’s a fault they’ll often pull not just the presumed faulty instrument, but any others linked to it, just to be sure. Any flights going to or from the US or Europe are subject to incredibly stringent safety and quality requirements; it really is incredibly safe.
      Now with phobias I absolutely understand that logic is besides the point – I’m phobic about daddy-long-legs, which are utterly unable to harm anyone – but a less full-on fear might well be helped by understanding more about the industry.
      Good luck in your job search!

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        +1 My husband is a welder for an aircraft repair facility, and the requirements to pass inspection are ridiculous (in a good way). Those parts get sent through an x-ray and everything! FAA don’t play.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      Major flying-phobe here (as in I did not fly for 12 years straight because of it) and I totally second Mentour.

    5. Considered Secularist*

      I spent years unable to fly due to paralyzing fear. Three sessions of hypnosis later I was “cured”. A couple of years after that, I took a job that caused me to fly weekly, often three flights a week (two-city trips) — no problem. I have no idea how to find a hypno-therapist (I stumbled across one by pure chance) but I do highly recommend the treatment.

  12. Falling Diphthong*

    My one caveat: When are you finding out this information? If the travel requirements or rural location only become evident at offer stage, then it makes sense to decide to turn the jobs down at that point. But if you’re applying thinking “This is new, different, outside my comfort zone” and then when it seems to be working your brain starts to think “Oh, but I want old, familiar, inside my comfort zone” then some unpacking would help.

    That is, I can’t tell if this is “These are nice people and I hate to disappoint them when it turns out we’re on different pages re what I’m looking for” or “Whenever change looks possible, my brainweasels construct insoluble problems that definitely cannot be solved and so I have to not change.”

    1. Blueberry Girl*

      Yes, I have done this before, so I agree that you have to find the balance between- I don’t want this because of X and the possibility that change is scary and hard.

  13. Czhorat*

    For years I insisted on the ability to work from home or to at least have flexible work hours as a criterion for taking a new position – I have young children, my spouse also works, and I want to see the family. IT worked for a while, but certainly held me back career-wise. I finally reached a point at which to get what I most want professionally I had to compromise on what I’d most desire personally, as the kind of positions ironically require in-office presence.

    It’s not an easy choice to make either way, and a ton goes into it. Being able to do work you enjoy. A resume that shows upward motion and gets you ready for the next step. Time with your family.

    I ultimately decided to accept the 90+ minute commute, find time for myself when I can (gym and/or ukulele practice in the early, early AM before everyone awakes) and make the most of weekends and what’s left of evenigns with the family. Is it perfect? No. But it is the compromise that works now.

    Those years of working sub-optimal jobs but having more time at home? That was also a tradeoff, though a different kind. It’s not easy, and there’s no “right” answer. Do what works now, and perhaps be open to change in the future.

  14. Pink Glitter*

    You also need to be brutally honest with yourself about what your options are — particularly in your field. If the norms in the field you want to work in are frequent travel, long hours, and/or low pay, you’ve got to decide if you’re willing to accept those things or if you should be targeting a different type of work. Sometimes those things are the reality of a field only at first — you have to put up with them for a few years when you’re getting started, but then you graduate out of them — and sometimes there’s the reality pretty much always.

    I graduated from college in 1999 with a degree in communication. My dream job was to produce historical documentaries for the Smithsonian, but I knew if I was going to start locally, my only option in my city was TV news/journalism. A month before I graduated, Columbine happened and I watched the news coverage along with the rest of the country with a sinking feeling of dread, knowing that I did not have the emotional fortitude to do that sort of thing. I also realized pretty quickly that I wanted a ‘normal’ 9-5, Monday through Friday type of job, not something where I’d potentially have to work crazy long hours including nights and weekends and holidays.

    I’m sharing this to let you know that it’s totally okay if you decide to pursue a different path now that you’re ‘out in the real world’ so to speak. Don’t get so entrenched in your plans that you hold yourself back.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I have a Journalism degree and 3 months into my first broadcast job I realized… I don’t actually like this, and if I succeed, I’ll be working “prime time” hours and rarely seeing family. One thing that stuck with me was the near-retirement anchor I worked with saying “my kids had everything growing up, except my time.”

      On the off-chance you’re in a similar degree area for Journalism, Communication, etc, OP…. I highly recommend checking out Comm. specific job-boards for ideas! I personally love Big Shoes Network (which is region-specific but can still give you a good snapshot of the variety of options out there).

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I realized halfway though my journalism degree that I did not want to do that for a living – I wanted to write books. So I bounced around in different fields, wrote and published books and short stories in my free time, and now I’m in a proposal development role (which is basically marketing communications) – I love it! Basically, I agree with your point that it’s okay to not end up exactly where you initially planned to go in college. Sometimes you’ll end up on a path that’s much better for you.

    3. bluephone*

      Hard same. I was a Communications major in college (closest it had to journalism) and worked for a local paper (the kind that that’s 90 percent “town hall meetings” and “upcoming car shows” and 10 percent “hard news”) shortly after graduating. I enjoyed it but the pay was below food stamp levels, my manager ordered us to lie on timesheets, etc. And then a drug-related double homicide happened in my coverage area, complete with many disturbing details (children were involved). I burst into tears as soon as I left the press conference and it was then that I realized I was not cut out for this field. I left that job a month later without anything else lined up.

  15. The Original K.*

    I think we should always be taking stock of what we want out of life and work, because it ebbs and flows – my friends who have young children talk a lot about what that has meant for their working life, for example. And we should know what our deal-breakers are. (Where I live matters a lot to me, for example – I would not live in a rural area and I won’t commute more than 45 minutes – having had long commutes before, I know the negative impact on my quality of life is too great.) I don’t think there’s anything unreasonable about saying “I won’t live there” or “I won’t take a pay cut” as long as you’re working within the parameters of your industry.

    I cannot agree more with Alison’s analogy about romantic partners. I have a very dear friend who spent years in a relationship, and it was a very rocky relationship because they were fundamentally incompatible and there was no way to fix it. They are good people who cared a lot about each other but they could not be, and were not, good for each other. Good things and good things for you are not necessarily the same thing, and that’s fine!

  16. Person from the Resume*

    My only concern (not addressed by Alison) is that you seem to have cried while turning down jobs. That’s not professional and could possibly hinder you for future jobs at the company.

    You don’t have to justify why you’re turning down the job. You certainly did not have to explain that it’s best for the company that they hire someone enthusiastic about. It sounds like you tried to convince yourself as well as them that your decision was for the best. You don’t have to do that. You could have completely limited yourself to “that amount of unexpected travel is not right for me at this time.”

    Side note: I’m fine with flying but I still rarely want to travel. It’s exhausting and I don’t sleep well in hotel beds. You don’t have to apologize for it even if it’s something a lot of people talk about loving.

    1. LadyTesla*

      I know you have good intentions, but I had a strong reaction to your comment about crying being unprofessional.

      While of course it’s not an everyday thing, we don’t as humans have the ability to turn off emotions at the office door. Emotions are professional to a degree. People get angry in meetings, and people will get offended if someone is rude at work or at home. So to me, this is just another emotion. Job offers and typically done privately, so we don’t know if LW is in their office or at home. But to think a person won’t cry at work I think is unrealistic and unreasonable. We can’t say “it’s unprofessional” when they can’t control their eyes. I can’t control my sneezing, so would it be unprofessional to sneeze?

      As a manager myself, if someone starts getting teary eyes, I see that as a indication that I need to step in. Maybe someone is acting wrong, or I haven’t managed their work load well, or personal life is coming into the workforce and I need to take stuff of their plate so they can have personal time.

      I know you didn’t mean to have your one sentence turn into a large response, however I did feel the need to share that I think crying at work isn’t something we can control enough to say it’s professional or not.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Yeah, I think crying is one of those things that everyone thinks they have a great handle on… until they don’t. People cry, for lots of reasons and in lots of situations. I don’t think that a couple of tears in the face of a major disappointment is inherently bad.

      2. VeryAnon*

        I’m surprised to hear you say that – I’ve always managed to control tears long enough to get somewhere private. People are so different!

        1. sweet potato*

          i’m the opposite, anything emotional from disappointment, sense of failure, sad news, sad movie scenes can make me cry. and once i think about something that makes me cry, i cant stop. there are people who cry when they get frustrated and angry and im one of them. now i dont cry like every day but once a while i’ll watch a video or listen to an old song that makes me remember something then i cry a bit on the bus or in the car. it makes me feel better in away. but yes people can be vastly different when it comes to tears so i usually dont hold it against others. it’s better to let it out than hold it in. ofc in a company then yeah i ll get away asap cause no one needs to see it

          1. VeryAnon*

            As I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that. When I was younger and far, far more foolish I genuinely thought people who cried in front of others were doing it deliberately. “Not everyone is like you,” is such a valuable life lesson.

      3. CM*

        I agree, and at the same time I also think crying while turning down a job shows a level of emotional investment that a job searcher is not expected to have.

        I’d encourage the OP to practice expressing their needs, while breathing. “I would love to take this job but unplanned or frequent travel doesn’t work for me. Is there any way to do the job without as much travel, or more advance notice? If not, I really regret that I have to turn down the job and I hope you’ll consider me again in the future.”

        It sounds like OP “laid out their case” for why they SHOULDN’T get the job — it’s not clear to me whether they first asked if there was a possibility for change.

      4. Admin Formerly Known as Actor*

        +100. My take on this is unusual, in that I went to school for acting and thought I was going to pursue that until recently, but even in my regular office jobs someone getting emotional occasionally is just a thing that happens to humans. Acknowledging it (or not, depending on the person!) and giving them some space to gather themselves seem like such simple things, it’s making me very sad to see multiple comments expressing concern that this could hurt OP’s career. I’m glad you wrote this answer, it was much more concise (and probably more polite!) than I could have done.

        And you sound like a great manager, to boot. :)

    2. TootsNYC*

      Putting down the guilt might help with the emotionality. You don’t OWE them to take the job. You don’t owe YOURSELF to take the job.

      Not taking the job is NOT a referendum on your worthiness or professionalism or value. It’s just that it’s not a good fit right now.

      But also–don’t share so much. You don’t have to justify to them why you have decided not to take the position over all.

      You are still managing your reputation with them, and it’s even MORE important because they liked your skills enough to offer you a job. So keep it really short and unemotional, and NON-personal.

      Don’t tell them “you should offer it to someone who will enjoy it more and not dread it.”
      Say “I’ve decided, on reflection, that the sudden travel is not going to work for me. But if ever something comes up that doesn’t have quite so much travel, I’d love to hear about the opening.”

      Keep it short, and then you won’t be as tempted to get emotional and cry.

      1. VeryAnon*

        Yes! I might not call it unprofessional but it does seem disproportionate. Especially since OP is rejecting *them*.

        Crying while rejecting the offer is putting them in a position of having to manage your emotions. Maybe email could be more appropriate?

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yeah, if OP gets emotional when turning down jobs, it may be better to just send the hiring manager a thanks-but-no-thanks email.

      2. Parenthetically*

        Thank you! This is actually helpful feedback for OP!

        “You don’t have to justify to them why you have decided not to take the position over all.”

        Absolutely. I don’t blame OP for crying at all. But for the future, should a situation like this arise again, focusing on the facts is going to go a long way towards helping OP manage her reactions.

      1. bluephone*

        Hi are you me?? I cry when I’m angry alll the time, it’s embarrassing. But people who punch walls when angry or yell slurs are somehow more “in control” of their emotional responses? LOL sure Jan.

        1. Jenny*

          I don’t know anyone who favors punching the walls or yelling slurs over crying. In my work that kind of aggression would get you fired.

    3. Jenny*

      I don’t know if I would nix someone for crying (in cases where someone cried during an interview it was usually accompanied by another dealbreaker), but I do find it really stressful when someone cries during the interview process. I find that sometimes offering tissues or being reassuring makes someone cry worse or it totally derails the whole process. This is a rejection call so it’s a bit different, but it is really hard to deal with, because it’s just not the right role to be reassuring.

      1. Jenny*

        To clarify I mean it forces me, the interviewer, to either take on a role that is contradictory to my goals (I do gently try to redirect when someone is nervous but full on reassurance doesn’t allow me to ask my questions) or I have to be cold and just ignore it, which isn’t what I want to do either. I generally try to be kind but I need to get an idea of the person. Crying just derails it. I know people have their stuff and maybe can’t control it, but there are genuine reasons interviewers find it so hard to deal with. I also have to ask myself if this person is going to cry when I have to correct their work or redirect then early on. Crying can be similarly derailing if I need to help someone correct errors they have been making.

    4. Anon for this one*

      I’ve turned down jobs at companies and consider it a bridge burned, whether or not I cried (or any other reaction) while turning down the job! I’ve pretty much assumed I don’t have a future at that company if another job were to come up.. so in that sense it doesn’t really matter. Probably not very professional though.

    5. GreyjoyGardens*

      Crying when turning down jobs may not be ideal, but jeez louise, it’s hardly a bridge-burner. Sometimes people can’t help but cry in the moment. It’s not like OP kicked over her interviewer’s desk or defecated in a potted plant on the way out.

  17. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    Hey LW, I totally understand what you’re going through, with the dear of travelling. I have very high phone anxiety, and it’s made it hard to switch careers (It’s making phone calls mostly. And other health issues and stressers are leading my need to change employers)

  18. Alternative Person*

    I hear your frustration. There’s a lot of jobs floating around in my field, local and not, and very little that I would want to apply to due to a combination of pay/location/working conditions/benefits. And the ones I have applied to, there have been more than a few where I’ve done the interview and I withdrew/turned them down for the full gamut of reasons. It’s fine, normal even, there’s no point in going somewhere where you’re going to be unhappy out of the gate. Working out what I want has been an important step in working out what directions I want to go in, and its possible you need to think about where you want to go (in money/housing/etc. as well as work) and decide how you can get there.

    You have a therapist, so it sounds like you’re working on taking care of yourself. Keep it up. What Alison mentions about thinking about your field and what you can expect is important. For me, this has been getting a diploma, and now its looking like turning that diploma into an MA. For money, it has meant prioritizing saving (both long term and for education) and staying in the same postage stamp sized place for the foreseeable future. This is what works for me, for you you need to figure out what you want and maybe work from there.

  19. Midwest writer*

    As someone who has moved across the country a few times chasing newspaper jobs, can I talk about that a little? There is a lot about doing so that is unpleasant — finding housing on a less-than-awesome salary, making new friends and then saying goodbye again in two years, which was sort of an average tenure at small papers. But if you are interested in journalism and find a small newspaper in a market close to where you’d enjoy living, don’t rule it out! My last newspaper job and this one have offered a pretty decent work-life balance. I get to work from home two days a week and I’m allowed to keep my kids there when I do. Yes, I go to a lot of meetings at night, but I’m not working eight full hours five days a week plus those night hours. At a weekly, and as the only reporter here, I basically pick whatever I want to write about. It’s a lot of fun. Now, to balance that, I moved to this area with small children and a husband, so making friends was a bit easier than when I was single, only because I met people at story times and school that I wouldn’t have run into or had something automatically in common with.
    Not all small newspapers will offer this balance, but I’ve found a surprising number of them here in the rural Midwest that will. Of course, it helps that I had a pretty strong track record at dailies (and bigger papers — up to about 70,000 circulation), so publishers were more comfortable hiring me at the top end of their salary ranges and giving me a lot of autonomy.

  20. SM*

    I just want to say that Alison’s response is some of the most compassionate, reasonable, and practical advice that I have seen (of course, I expect no less).

  21. So long and thanks for all the fish*

    The only thing I can add to the wonderful advice from the other comments and Allison is that if you were to move to a rural area, it’s possible that your cost of living would go down such that a $10-$14K pay decrease would actually feel like a raise, depending on where you’re moving from/to. Many people wouldn’t be interested in living in a rural area regardless, which is fine if that’s you too, but cost of living is something to take into account when comparing offers.

    I was really worried when leaving graduate school that I wouldn’t be able to afford a postdoc (which pay basically the same everywhere), but managed to get one in a rural area, and I feel like I make decent money. What would be poverty wages in a city is solidly middle class here.

    1. Anon for this one*

      The problem with moving to a rural area, even if the salary is in line with cost of living in that area, is that if you (generic you) were to be laid off — or have to leave for some other reason — you then have a lot fewer local options in terms of large employers in the area and so on. At which point you would probably have to move again.

  22. Alex*

    I recently turned down a job because I didn’t have a good feeling about it. It was in my field, and exactly what I’d been looking for “on paper.” But when I interviewed, I found myself feeling this gut feeling of dread and sense of doom. I didn’t like the manager. The team seemed glum. The office was sad. The benefits weren’t as good as I thought they’d be. I didn’t feel like there was much room for career growth.

    My best friend, to whose city this would have been a move, was SO MAD at me for rejecting it. She thought I was being high maintenance, like I had been handed the job of my dreams and turned up my nose at it because I had a bad feeling about it, and like I thought I deserved perfection. We had a big fight about it, where she reminded me so many people in the world would kill for this kind of opportunity. From my perspective, that was fine–someone else could have it!

    I have no regrets. Only I can know if a job feels right for me. I think you should trust your gut and not make a move that doesn’t feel right to you. There’s nothing wrong with doing that.

    1. TootsNYC*

      We had a big fight about it, where she reminded me so many people in the world would kill for this kind of opportunity. From my perspective, that was fine–someone else could have it!

      As my mother always said, when we were disdainful about spinach: “More for me.” She considered it rude if we took spinach we didn’t want to actually eat and wouldn’t enjoy, when she would love to eat it.

      So you don’t want that job? That means someone else can have it. More for them. And meanwhile, you aren’t choking down a food you can’t stand.

    2. Midwest writer*

      Oh man, that’s a rough reaction from your friend, but totally understandable on your part that you needed to turn it down. I’ve turned out jobs that look amazing from the outside but during interviewing that just felt wrong.

    3. Dan*

      I actually had a similar experience. I have a niche background and was looking for very specific jobs that aren’t all that easy to find. Right out of grad school, I came across an ad for “dream job.” I mean, it was *perfect*. They could have made the job ad by copy and pasting things out of my resume, it was so perfect.

      And then…

      Salary: The job was in a lower cost of living area, but they only wanted to pay $45k for someone with a Masters degree in a technical field, which was ridiculously low.. In comparison, the job I took paid $70k. Granted, the job I took was in a higher cost of living area, but you get the idea.

      Interview: This was my “dream job” and I was actually excited to be there. The people interviewing me? Queue up your first paragraph.

      This was 2008 and in the thick of the recession, so I didn’t want to turn down the job outright. But… I never expected that i would be so damn happy to be rejected by my dream job.

    4. Diahann Carroll*

      I’ve turned down many jobs where my gut instinct was telling me to not proceed. This finely honed sense of dysfunction came from years of not listening to that voice, or having to accept jobs I was nervous about because I needed the money to survive, and ending up in horrible work environments.

      When you’re in the right place for you, you’ll know it. When I interviewed for my insurance job nearly five years ago, I had no doubts about it. I had some bumpy interactions there and eventually suffered burnout, but the overall experience was actually not bad – I even sometimes miss the place. My current job? There was no hesitation on my part when they offered me the job – I knew I was accepting it even if they wouldn’t budge on salary (they did) and PTO (ditto). Five months in, and I’m still loving it.

      You’ll find what you’re looking for eventually, and you’ll be grateful you turned down these other opportunities because doing so allowed you to be available for the one that’s meant for you.

    5. CM*

      Your friend is being pretty judgmental… it’s your job search, and your decision! You don’t have to justify it to her. But anyway.

      It’s hard turning down an opportunity! Sometimes I wish I never knew about the opportunity in the first place so I wouldn’t have to face the decision not to take it. But in my experience, if you’re in a position to hold out for what you really want, it’s worth it to turn down other opportunities even if it feels like a crisis in the moment.

  23. DCer*

    With the opening that I don’t think you should do something that would risk your mental health, I want to tell you that I took a job that required near daily flying despite having a fear of flying. (I work in journalism, which I’m guessing you’re either in or close to given the newspaper reference.) I overcame my fear – took a little work. And there were some flights that I was clutching the arm rest – for sure. But I want you to know it’s doable. I did it. So don’t rule yourself out for a job like that. It can be done.

    (I took up knitting and would knit through take off and landing and found is soothing and it was key to helping me overcome my fear.)

  24. Linzava*

    Hi OP,
    As a fellow flying-phobic, you made the right call. Traveling for work is miserable for some people who don’t mind flying. If you add the misery, plus the anxiety of flying, plus the anticipation of maybe having to fly at any moment, you could have been heading for an emotional breakdown. You’re more important than your job.

  25. Jaybeetee*

    Put it this way, LW. When I was in my 20s I took a couple jobs I regretted, for a few different reasons – one of which was, “Other people would jump at this offer!” Other people would. There is literally no job out there (including the crummiest, low-wage job you can think of) that doesn’t have someone potentially excited to take it. That doesn’t mean you have to want it. And looking deeper into it, taking a job you don’t really want could potentially mean “taking” that spot from someone who really would be excited to be there.

    It’s okay to decide what you, personally, need in a job, even if it’s different from your friends. Like you, I had friends in my 20s who would have thought nothing of moving cross-country for a job – but for me, my entire family, extended family, and social circle are where I am now. Frankly, I never wanted to drop my life and move for a job. You do need to be realistic about your prospects – but it’s okay!

    Finally, be wary of the trap where you jump out of a frying pan and land in a fire. So many people get desperate to get our of a bad job, jump at the first opportunity, only to end up in another toxic environment. There was a letter here awhile back from a woman who had changed jobs repeatedly in recent years, because every job she got was legitimately awful. But because she’d changed so many times, she didn’t look great to more legit employers, and couldn’t break out of the cycle. You don’t sound like you’re at that point, but be aware not to get so focused on getting “out” that you don’t pay enough attention to where you’re headed. Standards – and honesty- are good things.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Just want to second the final paragraph! My first job was a bad fit, I left within 6 months for the first gig that hired me. The second job ended up being horribly toxic and FAR worse than a bad fit. About a year in, I suddenly realized I was practically tears almost every morning about the fact that I had to go to work… and that’s not normal?

      I hindsight, I know I wasn’t sold on ToxicJob in the first place, and I shouldn’t have taken the job. But I was so worried I wouldn’t get anymore offers or that it would be “dumb” to pass on the offer…. so I took it anyways and learned a lesson the (extremely) hard way!

    2. VeryAnon*

      Also there’s that thing about having your standards for ‘normal’ recalibrated so while another person might spot red flags, you see them as just how things are.

  26. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    We are all different and desire different things to that make us happy in a career! Some people love the adventure of moving and random travels. That’s great if that’s your thing! But there is nothing at all wrong with you for not wanting any part of it.

    At 25 I wouldn’t have moved across the country. But at 30+ I’ll move anywhere the wind blows me. For me it was that I was scared to be away from my parents, it’s not an issue.

    I love traveling but I’ve seen enough meltdowns at the airport by anxious travelers that there are millions of people who stress out by it!

    Also newspapers pay you peanuts and you’re usually always in jeopardy of being part of their next layoffs, don’t take a pay cut to work for one, ever. Especially those rural ones and the unpaid off the clock hours are so real. If you’re even slightly prone to anxiety or depression, it can actually be dangerous mentally to go into an impoverished situation unless it’s something that your passion for the business outweighs the struggle of actually doing the job itself.

    Don’t compare yourself to others, don’t let them bully you into thinking you’re “wrong” or “weird” for turning down jobs that aren’t right for you! Your desires, your needs, your happiness is yours and they can get over themselves if they want to judge you for following your bliss, not theirs.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      and on the other side of the coin, I would have (and did!) move across the country multiple times before I was 30 (well, 31 technically), but now in my 30s, when I have a house and a husband and two large dogs, moving anywhere would require a loooooot of incentive, even though my job is fully remote and minimally restrictive about where I can work from. Becky’s entire last paragraph is spot-on perfect.

  27. Ellen Ripley*

    It sounds like you’ve got a lot of dealbreakers: no travel, stay in your current area near your family, you need a certain level of salary, and not a lot of work out of ‘normal’ hours. There’s nothing wrong with that list, but it will mean that you can’t always get a job that is perfect in all other ways as well. In my experience, the two tradeoffs I see most often are that personally compelling work often pays less and/or requires unreasonable hours, and really well paying work means a less than ideal location, a fair bit of travel, a lot of hours, or a combination of all three. Jobs that allow good work-life balance and don’t have travel often have mean you’re making tradeoffs like working on something you find a bit boring, or dealing with excessive bureaucracy, or getting paid a little less.

    It sounds like you’re in journalism, or want to be – it’s a contracting, rapidly changing field, and it may not be the best bet for you at this stage of your life or with your restrictions. I feel your pain – I gave up on academia after realizing how dysfunctional the entire ecosystem is, and to a certain extent have done the same with writing for a living. It sucks but pretending that market forces don’t exist is foolish, and it makes you feel worse in the long run because it makes it seem like it’s your fault for not finding that unicorn job, when the truth is that the unicorn job just doesn’t exist (or is so rare it’s pointless to orient your life around trying to get it).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d actually say that for most fields, “a job in my area that pays market rate and has mostly regular work hours” is a pretty reasonable thing to expect — not an especially high level of choosiness! That’s what most people look for. But I agree that if the field is journalism, the OP is more likely to need to make some trade-offs.

      1. Dan*

        “Market rate” is somewhat fluid. A job like OP describes that would require last minute cross-country travel would by definition need to pay more than a job that required no travel and essentially be 9-5. And as the OP is finding out, “market rate” is lower in smaller towns than bigger cities.

        The problem with contracting industries is that market rate for the job will typically decrease as the number of jobs becomes fewer. “Market rate” isn’t slang for “pays lots of money” or “pays me enough to be happy”, it means, “pays enough such that turnover is manageable for the company.”

    2. RC Rascal*

      Sage comment, Ellen. Sometimes we have to pick our chosen professional field or pick what makes us happy, and accept the trade offs. Failure to plan for an accept the trade off is what gets us in trouble.

    3. CM*

      Yeah. I was going to say something similar: maybe other people have had luckier career paths, but, in my experience, it’s basically never possible to find a new job that has all of the advantages of my current job along with even more advantages. I’m always trading down on one thing in order to trade up on something else.

  28. HannahS*

    I think Alison’s point about you not being college-you anymore is spot on. It’s a challenge I’m facing too–seeing myself change throughout my 20s can feel weird. A lot of “hard lines” that I drew at 20 (or 15, or 22) have softened. It’s sometimes uncomfortable to think of past-me and wonder if I was wrong then, or wrong now, especially because I remember what my arguments were and how strong my convictions were on certain things. And I remember how I felt about the people who hold some of the opinions that I hold now, and it feels weird to realize that past-me might not have respected parts of current-me. So I totally hear you on the discomfort. I think this is a normal part of growing older, and I expect it’ll continue for the rest of our lives.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      They “soften” – translation = “you have to compromise on things.”

      An acquaintance of mine (socially) couldn’t make it to a major social event. You see, the muffler fell off of his car – an OLD rustbucket – and he wouldn’t have the money to replace it for another month. “No credit card?” “Maxed out.”

      And then he asks = “Why do you spend so much time working?” I replied that, yes, I sometimes have to miss a recreational event due to work. And yes, I sometimes have to spend a weekend writing a professional technical paper, and have to do a conference call with someone in Australia at 11 pm my time, or South Africa at 6 am my time. Some Sunday nights or Monday mornings I have to get on an airplane. I have to deal with customers that I might not want to. BUT —

      1) My car is late model and has four good tires, good brakes and a solid exhaust system
      2) I have no problem with bill collectors
      3) my kitchen cupboards are full
      4) my health is paid up … and

      5) Twenty six times a year, something nice arrives in my mailbox.

      1. VeryAnon*

        To be fair, you shouldn’t have to go above and beyond to have full cupboards and paid bills. But I hear you. I worked like a dog when I was younger. Acquaintances found it baffling, but then most of them had wealthy parents to fall back on.

    2. Quill*

      I’ve gotten better at some things throughout my 20’s (having less impostor syndrome, for one) and worse at others. College me wanted to be in the lab and hated data entry. Now I really, really don’t want to go back to the lab, because I’ve learned a lot more about how my mental and physical health works.

  29. thatoneoverthere*

    I think its important to remember that college painted post college work life as somewhat adventurous and exciting. Building your career… yay! Traveling…yay! Working a ton, but exceling and making a ton of money…yay!

    What it didn’t tell you that it can be draining… to commute, sit at a desk for 40 hours (or more a week), and all the fun or not fun things an office environment brings. Working in college was looked at with Rose colored glasses (esp for me) for a lot of people. Its hard to work every single day, 5 days a week. Its draining. Its totally ok to put up boundaries so you don’t over extend yourself and wind up miserable.

    1. MeganK*

      Yeeeeees absolutely. I would also add that college trains you to do sprints of very intense work with some long breaks (or at least, stretches of different types of work) in between. The schedule and pace in no way prepare you for the long-term marathon of office and/or career jobs.

      It was really hard for me to transition to getting waaaay fewer breaks. Even though I was mostly working 9-5ish jobs in my early career, I was working at a pace/intensity that was more sustainable for college. I am now in my early 30s and continuing to work on pacing so that I don’t burn myself out.

      1. VeryAnon*

        Yes! I burned out early in my career because I worked like that. And then I couldn’t have leave because of the workload so it was basically sprinting for 18 months until I tapped out.

      2. Uxmal*

        “I would also add that college trains you to do sprints of very intense work with some long breaks (or at least, stretches of different types of work) in between. The schedule and pace in no way prepare you for the long-term marathon of office and/or career jobs.”

        So find a field that operates this way (political campaigns, investment banking, advertising, etc.)

  30. AmbientToast*

    This is such compassionate, thoughtful advice (as always, of course, but this one really struck me as a college student who can envision facing a dilemma like this in the future)! Thank you, Alison :)

  31. VARecruits*

    25 year old me would have loved this advice. Heck, older me appreciates it.

    I think so often we live in a world where comparing ourselves to others in so many avenues of life is detrimental. What LW says about their college friends’ jobs/offers rings so true to how I felt out of college, and still sometimes feel. But the reality is, constant travel or moving across the country isn’t right for everyone.

    Good luck LW! You’ll find something that is a great fit for you!

  32. hbc*

    I think Alison’s partner analogy is spot on. It’s like you’re seeing the carefully crafted bio and curated photos and deciding up front that you’re about to have a date with the love of your life. Then when they turn out to have some quirks that make them a bad fit, you’re agonizing over the loss of your soul mate.

    I think you’ll feel less devastated if you don’t treat any of these jobs as The One until you know more. As much as you can, hold back from starting them at a 10 and letting them disappoint you. Start them at a 2, and see if you’re pleasantly surprised.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      As much as you can, hold back from starting them at a 10 and letting them disappoint you. Start them at a 2, and see if you’re pleasantly surprised.

      Yes! My current company started off low on my list of new places to work, but after doing more research, interviewing with them, and also interviewing with a handful of other companies that I originally ranked much higher than them, current company came out on top by the third interview. I did not see that coming at all.

  33. Monty & Millie's Mom*

    yes to the last part of Alison’s reply! (well, yes to all of it of course!) If the job is great BUT there’s a huge part of if that’s NOT great, it’s not a great job. As someone who is not going to make it out of her 1-year probationary period because of a big “BUT”, trust me – I know these things!

  34. agnes*

    Be kind to yourself and cut yourself a break. As we grow professionally, we get clearer about what we want and don’t want. You are at a different stage of life right now and you’re learning more about your priorities.

    I would suggest that you go back now and evaluate your current job in the context of what you have learned is important to you. You might find that you feel better about your job now than you did before you started this process. It might help you with a new perspective. Maybe being challenged isn’t as important as you thought. Maybe you would rather deal with the current work culture than change and have to give up a good salary or predictable hours. We all make choices and it sounds like you are learning more about what choices you want to make. Rare is the job that has it all. We all have to give and take. Good luck to you.

  35. Dan*


    I haven’t seen other people say this (yet) so I’ll jump in on the “move for a salary cut” aspect of things.

    I live in a HCOL metro area. All else being equal (it never is, hah) I’d move to a low(er) cost of a living area for a $10k salary cut without thinking too hard about it. Heck, the last time I was in that position, I concluded that a $10k pay cut would be a net “increase” in my standard of living despite making less money on paper.

    First, by definition, lower cost of living areas are cheaper to live in. For the sake of conversation, I had a one bedroom apartment in grad school that cost me $600/mo. When I moved to my current place, my rent was $1000/mo.

    Second is the tax implications. The $10k “cut” is on paper, but what you’re going to “feel” is the impact on your bank account, which is post tax. At your income, that likely translates to a $7k reduction in post tax earnings, which is $583/mo. Using my (real) rent numbers as an example, I’m only out $183/mo.

    I get you’ve got a lot of things to balance, paycuts to move to lower cost of living areas deserve a second look (if you’re willing to move.)

    1. Parenthetically*

      Yup. This is definitely true for us as well. Husband moved from a high COL area when we got married and our dollar definitely goes a lot further in our current city.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is a good comment as well. Since a lot of folks don’t really think of COL when taking into consideration a relocation.

      I went from Low, to High, to lower, to high AF. So I’ve seen it bounce all around.

      I also took a paycut originally to leave a job because their benefits were better than the other place, so I did the actual number work on having dental, vision and a lower deductible/no premium contribution health plan.

      I also live in a lower cost of living area and commute because I have a commuter vehicle. So I’m still saving money by not paying the ransom of living within the city and being closer. So instead of 1500 for an apartment, it’s 1200. And it’s less than 300 in gas and maintenance. This is why many people choose to bus themselves in from the outlying communities, you can save hundreds of dollars if you are okay with a commute.

      But some people can’t do with a commute, so that’s not negotiable. I do my best thinking driving to and from work.

  36. Ada*

    Reminds me of my first job. I lasted one day, then called in to quit over the phone. I felt so guilty, and like such a failure for not making it work. I was choking back tears during the call, cried afterwards, and felt so humiliated I almost didn’t go in to get my paycheck for the day I did work. But looking back, there was no WAY I could have made it work. That place was practically constructed out of red flags (but I didn’t know enough at the time to know that yet). First, they hired me without ever speaking to me. Literally – no interview, and when they called my house to hire me, I wasn’t home, so they just told one of my parents I had the job. They neglected to mention that they’d hired me for a different position than what I’d applied for (a job I had no interest in and had been deliberately avoiding applying to) until partway through training after I’d filled out all the starting paperwork. And the biggest deal-breaker: despite making my hours of availability clear in the job application, and confirming them both over the phone and in person on the first day, apparently they had NO shifts during the hours I could actually work. OP, take it from me – sometimes it’s not you, it’s them. And when that’s the case, you have nothing to feel guilty about.

  37. Gaia*

    Oh, OP…

    College versions of ourselves are notoriously bad at making decisions that make older versions happy.

    College-me was literally ecstatic to work as crew on a cruise ship. You literally couldn’t pay mid-30s-me enough to do that job now. College-me wanted to manage people. Mid-30s-me wants to manage processes. College-me valued fun environment and cool factor over health and financial benefits. Mid-30s-me turned down a job at a super cool organization with great name recognition because they didn’t offer enough of a 401k match.

    As long as you’re not desperately in need of accepting whatever you can get, it is a sign of maturity and self respect to turn down roles that don’t meet your financial or work/life balance goals.

  38. pamplemousse*

    Oh wow, this question tees up the speech I’ve always wanted to give at my journalism school, if they ever ask me. Journalism has not just a prestige hierarchy of where to work but a lot of moral self-righteousness about what kind of work is the most worth doing and what kind of things you should sacrifice in order to do it, and if you don’t, there can be an implication that you don’t deserve success or don’t want to be in the profession, and if you go into anything other than journalism, you’re a sellout.

    I was a true believer in all of this when I was 21, and now it makes me livid. And I suspect a lot of the reason you’re having so much angst about this is that the way we talk about journalism to aspiring journalists set you up to feel this way. So here’s my rant.

    There is NOTHING WRONG with wanting to make money. There is NOTHING WRONG with wanting to do work you enjoy, even if it’s not the most prestigious thing in the field. There is nothing wrong with wanting to prioritize where you live or the most important people in your life. Journalism can be a wonderful profession and a public service. It’s also a job, and a job in an industry where a lot of people will be out to get as much as they can from you and give you as little as possible in return other than the satisfaction of working in the industry at all.

    There are plenty of ways to contribute to the world as a strong researcher, thinker, and communicator; choosing to do one of them instead is not selling out and is not failing. There are things you can do with a journalism degree other than going straight into PR. I wish, given the realities of the job market, journalism schools spent any time at all telling people about them.

    OK, here’s also the reality: a job in a good culture with low pressure and good work-life balance is going to be hard to find, at least the way that normal people define a lot of those terms. (The trade press is probably your best bet.) I’m a journalist (still, despite my rant above); most of my friends and my partner are journalists; I wouldn’t say any of us perfectly check all three of those boxes, but we’ve figured out what tradeoffs we’re OK with. (I love the culture of my office, and so occasionally working through a weekend or canceling plans with friends to handle breaking news feels like an acceptable tradeoff; another friend works somewhere where editors don’t breathe down your neck to file, but the newsroom is struggling and depressing; etc.)

    It’s really hard to say for sure what you should do without knowing where you live and what you do now. I’m going to email Allison and say she can put me in touch with you, if you’re interested, to talk more.

    1. pamplemousse*

      Oh, one more specific piece of advice, depending on where you are: look into trade publications, which often have a better work-life balance and often equal or higher pay than newspapers or general interest news sites.

    2. Blueberry Girl*

      Yes, all of this. I am not a journalist, but I am in another field that tends to have a lot of ‘but we put up with this insanity, because we are X’ and you know what? It’s really damaging to put that on young people and really harmful to the field as a whole.

  39. Jennifer*

    I wish I’d turned down jobs more when I was in my early twenties. I was always in a situation where I didn’t have a lot of options because I needed the money coming in. If you aren’t in that position, you are doing the right thing by holding out until you find the best situation for you, as long as you’re being realistic. The “dream job” doesn’t really exist and there are going to be pros and cons to every situation.

  40. Third or Nothing!*

    OP, it is perfectly normal for your needs and wants to change as you get older. 21-year-old me got a job as a marketer right out of college. Then a few years later, my company was acquired and the marketing portion of my job phased out for various reasons.

    I tried looking for other marketing jobs, but none of them had good work/life balance. So here I stay in my account manager role. And that’s OK! Now that I’m 30 and have a husband and daughter, I care much more about being home every evening for family time, getting flex time to take care of appointments, and actually being able to use my 4 weeks (heck yeah!) of PTO.

    Priorities change. It’s normal. You’re not failing life just because you’ve figured out your boundaries and enforce them.

  41. Rich*

    Framing and timing are important. I think you’re considering the right things for your own well-being, but there’s another aspect that might help.

    Some jobs that come with unpleasant conditions (travel, location, pay, hours … whatever is unpleasant for you), only have those conditions at a problematic level for a while — not forever. Dream jobs are often really dream career-paths. Step 1 might have some really unpleasant downsides, for a year or two. Step 2 gets better for 3-5 years, and Step 3 is really awesome. Understanding the short-term vs. long-term tradeoffs may help you embrace an opportunity, or it may clarify that you really want something different.

    And with those tradeoffs are choices. Not work/life balance — Choices. “I’m going to be really uncomfortable for the next 2 years so I can X or Y or Z” is different than “That sounds really unpleasant”, with no sense of boundary, duration, or benefit at the other end. It may be that your concerns about air travel are enough that the right choice is a “no”. But framing around choices (which are often time bound and can come with competing benefits) rather than balance (which feels more permanent and immutable) can help. It may stretch your comfort-zone, it may help you endure temporary unpleasantness for a long-term goal.

    1. MayLou*

      It’s important to be realistic though, even if that means giving up. I wanted to be a health visitor, which in the UK meant three years of a nursing or midwifery degree, a year or two of newly-qualified rotations and then a couple of years of training before finally getting the community job. In my second year of my midwifery degree I looked at the prospect of five more years of hospital shifts and ward work (which I was terrible at) and quit. Now I work for a charity supporting women, in a 9-5 desk job that I love. I didn’t give up on my dreams, I just redirected them.

  42. Minocho*

    I think that having the self knowledge and self confidence to know when a position doesn’t meet your needs and turn it down is a sign that you’re likely doing things right. It’s always worthwhile to stop and reevaluate your priorities if you’re worried they’re not correct for some reason, but in general i would consider this a positive sign of maturity and intelligence in managing career trajectory.

    So feel free to stop and check if you’re making the right decisions for the right reasons, but I didn’t have the self confidence to turn down an unsatisfactory offer until I was about 30.

    1. JM in England*

      Like yourself, it has only been fairly recently that I have got the guts to turn down unsatisfactory offers. However, roughly half of my career has been in temporary & short term roles. Thus, all but two of my job offers were accepted because I had the choice between being in work or unemployed…

  43. ZK*

    You might want to factor cost of living in. Is the rural area cheaper to live in than your current city? My husband’s boss was offered a promotion but it was a pay cut. However, it would move him back to Texas, which is where they want to be. And the cost of living in Texas is a lot less than CO. So on paper it’s a pay cut, but in reality? Not really. And his new wife would certainly be happier in TX.

  44. Working on a Nickname*

    OP, I feel for you so, so hard. Last year I turned down an interview for an internal promotion because I was in a really bad place emotionally and didn’t feel ready to be a manager. I was crying in the bathroom for several days in the process of making this decision. It’s really hard to give up on something and feel like a “quitter” or that you’re “not trying hard enough”. American culture teaches us that we should sacrifice everything for a good job.

    But Alison is right — it’s okay for us to prioritize work-life balance rather than “the perfect job” (which probably doesn’t exist). As she said in her response: “These aren’t great jobs if they include things that are major dealbreakers for you.” No matter how great the salary, benefits, the type of work, etc — if it also includes something that would make you miserable, then it’s not the “perfect job” for you.

    Also, I say this with much compassion and others are probably saying it too — you are most likely stressed and burned out and could benefit from therapy. I have been going to therapy for a year and a half, and probably will keep going for a while. It’s hard to face your demons and admit the things that you feel are “weak” or “bad” about yourself. But I highly recommend that you get on a path to taking care of your mental/emotional needs.

    If therapy isn’t doable at the moment for whatever reason, I also recommend “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown. It’s a 6-episode lecture that you can get for free if you sign up for a trial version of Audible. I just started listening to it last week and it’s really hitting home in a lot of ways for me. I hope you can get help and find the right job for your needs. Internet hugs❤

  45. Fiona the Baby Hippo*

    This reminds me of what my friends and I have been talking about a lot recently… we are older than the LW (mostly just turned 30) and are having some real moments of taking account of what we want. A friend in academia has realized that for her to even get her “dream” job in her area (tenure-track position) she would have to be willing to move somewhere remote, accept a relatively low salary with little room for growth, and it’s just not something she wants. I work in media and used to dream of making a full-time job as a writer, which, as it turns out, is not so glamorous or interesting even if it pays well. My academic friend told me that part of her is very sad to give up her “dream job” but she keeps telling herself its “time to put away childish things.” There are jobs in both of our fields that look like the way we pictured it in college, but to get those jobs, the odds are close to winning the lottery. It’s hard to feel like I’m not giving up on some grand dream of becoming a writer as I pictured it when, in actuality, that is such a tiny sliver of people working full-time in my field.

    Which is a very long, meandering way of me saying I’d like to echo what Alison and others have said that you’re not giving up on your dreams if you choose to walk away.

    1. VeryAnon*

      To be fair, everyone from Kafka to Toni Morrison to Roxane Gay had / have day jobs as well as being writers. It’s near *impossible* to support yourself full time as a writer.

  46. MissDisplaced*

    OP, I am a bit baffled why you’re applying for things that you seem to have already decided aren’t a great fit based on salary or location? It’s almost as though you have a constant restlessness (what I call the grass is greener syndrome). I sympathize because I get that way too, but I know my limits when I apply and restrain from applying randomly to every marketing job I see. Keep targeted.

    With your current job, is there any way to make it work? Can you reduce your hours or offload some duties to make it less stressful?

    Flying: A lot of professional jobs that aren’t specifically “travel” jobs still might involve air travel once or twice a year. I mean, I don’t know what you consider normal, but it may be hard to avoid all travel.

  47. Frankie*

    LW, I’ve been pretty surprised in my own career journey as I find out what work I like, dislike, can tolerate, hate, dread…etc. etc. It really does not align with my college understanding of what my “dream jobs” were. Some of that is less about the actual content of the work, but the lived reality of what that work looks like today in our specific social & economic context.

    Why is it that we feel guilty or wrong for prioritizing work/life balance, lower stress, decent pay? There’s definitely a class thing going on here, but I don’t think it’s just that. I’ll never fully feel resolved about it. But I do know that when I was doing my “dream work” for several years for little pay and long hours, I was miserable–I had to take anti-anxiety meds, I gained a bunch of weight, all kinds of really negative stuff.

    A really good mentor once told me “go to the place that pays you more.” College me totally scoffed at this material concern (I’d lived on almost no money in college after all!)…but I have come to see the truth of it over time. All other things being equal, the place that pays you more, values you more. There’s important caveats there, but in my experience the places that paid less also treated employees more poorly.

    There’s this other thing, too–all jobs tend to have some amount of drama, unpleasantness, and negativity, whatever you’re paid. The pay/benefits/work-life stuff can make all of that more tolerable.

    I’ve also found that a lot of my “passion” work is better off as a side thing, fwiw. There’s things about doing what I love that are really hard to do, and I generally can’t sustain doing it full time even for free. So that was something I figured out in my late 20s and have come to be mostly okay with.

    Anyway, what you write sounds totally normal, and reminds me of where I was in my mid-late 20’s as well.

Comments are closed.