how do I transition from a corporate job to non-office work?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers.” This week we’ve got two questions on similar themes.

Letter 1

I am a young woman in my mid-20’s who by most accounts has followed the path to success. I graduated with a dual degree in less than four years, I got a steady job in my intended industry (although as an admin, not doing the meat of the work). After a year in that role, I was offered a promotion to a position in HR and worked in that job for two years. While I didn’t love being an admin, I really didn’t like working in HR. About four months ago I started a program management job in the same industry, but doing very different work. The work is steady, I get paid decently, the people are friendly, the company is thoughtful. I have always been good at my job and well-liked both personally and professionally. Well. I am four months in and I do not like it. I thought the work would be different enough, the company would be better (which they are), and that would be enough, but it isn’t.

I have always considered, in the back of my mind, non-office jobs. I have even applied to some, like a national park job. Now that I have tried another new job and still don’t like it I am reconsidering my career path even more closely—I really don’t want to be miserable until I retire! I have thought about being a dental hygienist, a plumber, and a sewing machine repair person, among other things. Of course all of these things are a major jump from my background (although I am decently handy), and would require schooling, or a certification, or something.

So I guess my question is, how do people make major career changes? Not just from one corporate industry to another, but from a corporate job to something practical or outdoorsy? How do people test out what they might like without investing a ton of time and money while they figure it out? While I am unhappy, I also have a lot to lose (namely a steady and comfortable paycheck), which is making it more difficult for me to decide anything definitive. This might be a good ask the reader question, I am open to advice, stories, just hearing what interesting non-office jobs people have. If it makes any difference, I am in the D.C. metro area.

Letter 2

I have been in 3 similar jobs in the past 8-ish years. All as a cog in a large governmental-type organization. All good bosses, great benefits, and I am hugely lucky to have been hired for each of them.

I am single/no kids, so I do have a degree of flexibility.

Do you ever hear from people in my type of circumstances that just quit the rat race and find satisfaction in less lucrative (but less pressure) jobs? If I quit earning my excellent salary and went to work at a coffee shop or plant nursery, would I feel any different? I know every job has its headaches, and now is NOT the time to throw away my current position … but I feel like my soul dies a little with every un-necessary Skype meeting and performance-chart update.

I guess the bottom line is that I find my work stressful and unfulfilling, and I’m wondering if this is just a universal truth to be borne until I’m 65, or if I should be brave and just follow my (naive, but loud) heart. I feel like if I were 21 and feeling like this, I would ignore it; I am now 15 years past 21 and I don’t know if these feelings will ever go away.

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 519 comments… read them below }

    1. Nea*

      I loved that book for putting it in stark terms – is the money you get for x worth the y life you spent to earn it? – but was also constantly irritated by the author’s insistence that my life goal was OF COURSE to retire early and live off grid because that’s what EVERYONE ought to do.

      Nope. Got my own life goal, thanks, don’t need one issued to me.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      When I was thinking about a major career change (well, “change” from working jobs I didn’t care much about and that weren’t building to anything to having a clear career path) I found the exercises in the book The Pathfinder to be very helpful in thinking through all the different aspects of different jobs and careers. I don’t remember them exactly, but they get you thinking about lots of attributes of your work that aren’t just “office job” versus “non-office-job”. Do you want to work inside or outside? On a computer some or a lot or basically never? Do you want to deal with the public? In person or by phone? Do you care about the subject matter of your work – if you worked retail, would you care what products the store sold? How tangible or abstract do you want your work to be? How mission-driven? Do you want predictable hours and schedules? Clear parameters or lots of flexibility? Etc.

      If you can identify even a few things that are important to have in your work, or that you want to avoid, it can really help give shape to what career paths might be good fits. Once you have those, it can help to go to other kinds of research like informational interviews, job shadowing, etc.

      At a certain point in the process I realized I needed to go back to grad school, which turned out to be a great move for me. I’ve been in my post-grad-school job for 5 years now and the career I chose is a great fit.

    3. Bibliovore*

      I read this book, and composing a life, and did the What Color is your Parachute workbook. Quit my corporate job, went back to school to be a children’s librarian. Times may be different now . I did discover where ever you go there you are. No less stress.

        1. cubone*

          See, I loved this book, even for all its quirks. It’s so strangely neutral in tone, like it has no passion or character in the writing at all and is pretty dry. But the exercises (particularly the ranking bits) were useful to me, especially the way it encourages you to think about where you want to live, who you want to work with etc. The very pragmatic way it was just like “what do you know how to do?” And not “what sets your soul on fire” worked well for me, and I’ve had like a dozen people borrow it and say the same.

    4. Indigo a la mode*

      Designing Your Life is also an excellent book + workbook. It has you look at your life more in terms of a “dashboard” of balance, as opposed to common metrics of success.

      1. TM*

        I came here to recommend the Designing Your Life book, and there is a newer one just focused on your work life.

        1. Damn it, Hardison!*

          I went to Amazon to look foe book focused on work, and to my surprise apparently I purchased it in March! Now I will have to find it……

  1. DeweyDecibal*

    In answer to Letter 2, coffee shops are surprisingly stressful. Customers are extremely angsty about coffee.

      1. TechWorker*

        It’s definitely a different kind of stress though isn’t it? I have worked stressful – ish customer service roles (admittedly not for years and years, perhaps it wears you over time) and I did not ever feel the sort of crushing keeps-me-up-at-night stress I’ve felt when I felt responsible for big projects going wrong. I’m sure working in something where your mistakes directly affect people’s lives is a whole ‘nother type of stress again.

        1. Coenobita*

          Yeah, also, I think “coffee shop” is often used as shorthand for “non-office job.” OP says they’ve considered being a dental hygienist, a plumber, and a sewing machine repairperson, which I’m sure are all miles away (in type/degree of stress and perhaps also in compensation) from working in an actual literal coffee shop.

          1. Coenobita*

            Whoops, I forgot about OP2. But I think my point stands, that there are LOTS of options out there besides corporate office worker and frontline retail/foodservice worker.

          2. Frenchie Too*

            I used to work in a dental office. Super stressful. Not sure if being a hygienist is low stress. Maybe it depends on the dental practice itself. I hated the stress. Dentists (maybe not hygienists) have very high divorce and suicide rates.

            1. banoffee pie*

              Agree. Most customers/patients at the dentist are pretty stressed or even scared, so it isn’t exactly a stress-free environment

              1. Tara*

                I think it’s more the idea of not having to take the stress of your job home with you, i.e. having stress in the workday but checking out and not being expected to even consider it outside of working hours. I know that’s unlikely to be the case (say, if you get screamed at by a customer I’d imagine I’d be upset when I’m at home), but I do somewhat idealise that in a world where I did something different.

        2. Anononon*

          I think it’s going to be extremely person-dependent. I’m sure there are going to be a bunch of comments on here about how customer service/customer facing jobs are the absolute most stressful, and “white collar” corporate jobs aren’t as bad, and comments to the opposite. There just won’t be a consensus.

          1. alienor*

            I guess it depends on what people consider to be stressful as well. I get stressed by having a lot of work to do, but it’s a different kind of stress than having someone yelling at me and calling me names. I can think of maybe two occasions in my 20+ years of corporate jobs where the latter happened, but when I worked retail in college, it was a weekly, sometimes daily occurrence.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah. That said, I worked in retail in high school and college, and nobody ever yelled at me, certainly never a member of staff. Some customers got nasty when I refused to sell alcohol to them (drinking age 18 here), either because they claimed they’d left their ID/driver’s license at home when I carded them, or because they were visibly intoxicated. I never took that personally, and honestly the creeps who tried to hit on me were worse.

              Maybe things are worse in that regard in the US, and being yelled at by your manager is par for the course if you work in retail…

          2. Raida*

            Yes, plus the stress levels from business to business – and day to day! – can change dramatically.
            In the coffee shop I worked in, rarely stressful.
            In the fast food, rarely stressful.
            Both because if there’s an issue you deal with it then and there and (with our decent managers) you know you’ve got the authority to do so.

            Having too-few staff in either an office team or a cafe can be brutal, as can having weak managers, silly policies, last-minute tasks, confusing instructions, lazy co-workers, sh*tty customers.

            Some days in my office job I’d like to go work at KFC again because there’s great satisfaction in looking around and seeing everything is stocked, cleaned, customers are served quickly, we aren’t running low on anything and I’m valued in the team for getting sh*t done and dealing with customers who’re starting to whinge. The *pay* would suck mightily and that’d be stressful as hell to do full-time, and I certainly don’t miss greasy boots, clothes and smelling like chicken!

            1. 1idea*

              I feel this way about my Whataburger job! I found it very satisfying. I think I would consider going back to it if fast food wasn’t so unhealthy, and if I could get decent pay and hours.

        3. Jurassic Park Employee*

          Yes definitely! I’ve spent equal time doing both and the stress of a customer service job is a stress you can walk away from and decompress after your shift. You might feel “ugh” about going in or sometimes dwell on negative exchanges with customers or roll your eyes when your boss calls to try and get you to pick up a shift, but that exhale after your shift is done is a relief like no other.

          1. Lunch Ghost*

            And a lot of the stressful interactions with customers are ones where they were CLEARLY wrong/entitled (the customer who was upset the store carried bootcut jeans because she didn’t like them, the customer who was upset the store had sold out of an item before she came back to buy it, the customer who was upset she needed a membership to shop at a store where you need a membership to shop…). I could see how it’s easier to walk away from that kind of stress than stress that leaves you wondering if the person was right and whether you did enough.

            1. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

              This precise dynamic coupled with the low pay drove me out of veterinary medicine after almost 15 years. For me it’s much harder to shrug off stressful interactions where the customer is clearly in the wrong. I find deserved (or potentially deserved) criticism easier to swallow in my current job.

              I LOVED my work, but being yelled at all day by people who didn’t plan ahead or assumed that their pet’s care should be free or close to it (because, y’know, if we REALLY LOVED ANIMALS it would be) or couldn’t deal with their pet not being first in line for surgery or whatever just got to be too much in the end…and by all accounts from my friends still in the trenches, it’s so much worse now.

              That was really my dream job, but the stress of clients and crap pay just didn’t make it worth it anymore. I guess everyone has to find their own balance.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            The only real aspect I miss about retail-type jobs that I don’t have at my office job, is that the retail-type work would get done by others in my absence, and my current work is just there waiting for me all the time. If I take a vacation, I have to prepare in advance and then work to catch up. In retail, I just took off and didn’t worry about it.

          3. BluntBunny*

            In customer service roles you a guaranteed to have screaming customers no matter what you do and the managers don’t care about you. Where as my “office job” the work can be demanding but the people aren’t demanding and because the work is important it bothers me less than someone kicking off over a coffee.

          4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            The thing I loved about retail was having practically no authority. Sorry, that is not a problem I have the ability to solve for you, so either you can deal, or I can pass you off to someone else, and I don’t care which because either way you’re gone in five minutes and I never have to think about you again. Heh.

          5. Sleeping Late Every Day*

            My job was a hybrid of office and customer service, and the stress could be overwhelming at times. I dealt with client types more than customers, which entailed projects that frequently had tight deadlines . But the work I did outside of the tight time constraints was fascinating and not traditional office-type work, so it made the stress part worthwhile. I’m wondering if both LWs have a case of “grass is greener” syndrome.

        4. JB*

          When I worked in a coffee shop I would wake up from panicked nightmares about work almost every night. I still have nightmares once or twice a year about being back in a coffee shop, and I’ve been in a professional office job for a decade now.

          I’ve been stressed at jobs since then, but for me, nothing else has had nearly the negative impact of that job. And I worked at several locations of that chain, and was considered a good worker.

          1. it's just the frame of mind*

            This is giving me flashbacks to when I was a bank teller. I had terrible nightmares about counting and recounting money for a customer and I keep messing it up and then I realize that whatever I’m counting isn’t even money.

            1. allathian*

              For as long as I worked retail, I’d dream I was a female Scrooge McDuck where I just kept counting money forever. Sometimes I’d wake up in a cold sweat, as if I’d had a really scary nightmare. I don’t remember dreaming that I’d mess up counting the money, though.

          2. Sciencer*

            This was my experience with working concessions in high school! I’d have lucid dreams about it where I knew I was home in bed but the customers were there with me and I couldn’t get them out. Horrible. I sometimes have anxiety dreams about my current job too (teaching professor), but nothing as intense or frequent as those were. But my current job is not something I can leave at work – I’m frequently grading, lesson planning, emailing, etc at odd hours and over the weekend whether I want to or not.

        5. Becca*

          It is. Personally I dealt with office type stress a lot better. Food service tended to amplify my mental health issues, and customers weren’t the biggest part of that. Staffing just enough people to get by was the biggest stressor. One in particular where expectations were completely unreasonable did seem to be the catalyst that made me unable to bear it at all though; before that it was stressful but I did okay. But I was never very good at leaving work at work in that kind of environment; it was like my adrenaline was spiked so it was hard to come down and stop thinking about every detail of the day that went wrong. And there’s quite a difference between, say, cashiering and cooking and a coffee shop which mixes the two, even before you get plumbing or whatever.
          On the other hand I had a coworker at a more office type job move to a waitressing job because she needed to busy and moving. So I definitely think it’s very person specific. (This was a couple of months before pandemic shutdowns so I hope she’s okay…)

        6. another Hero*

          working in pastry I carried way more stress home with me than I do now as a librarian. obviously I’m not speaking for anyone else but I can’t agree with your blanket statement either.

        7. Anenemous*

          I agree with this. I think the LW needs to think about what kind of things are stressful for them and what things aren’t. Being a bank teller was the least stressful job I’ve ever had, as far as the work, but I like numbers and math. I also didn’t have deadlines or people to manage, I just had to balance my drawer at the end of the day. I was able to sit or stand as I wanted and the atmosphere was usually polite and not too loud. However, I never got full time hours and there were no benefits. I also liked being a teachers aide because I got to work with the kids, but I never had to lesson plan or anything and I could show up and leave exactly when my shift started and ended. But it had the same downsides. When I worked fast food, I hated it. The managers were way meaner, I had to work late hours, the pay was abysmal, and I came home smelling of oil with hands raw from the dish soap. So it just depends on the particular type of work and what the LW enjoys and doesn’t enjoy. You can’t romanticize all lower paying work by thinking it has less responsibility and therefore must be easier, but there definitely might be a job out there that does fit that description.

          1. Good Vibes Steve*

            That’s exactly right. What stresses the crap out of some people is someone else’s definition of thriving. Learning what makes you feel good and what is bad for you takes time, and it must be done deliberately. Keeping a diary has helped me sort this out for myself, but also having a manager who was a good sounding board.

        8. Ace in the Hole*

          Agreed. It’s a very different type of stress.

          The type of stress in most physical/hands-on/outdoorsy jobs is (for me) much more pleasant. It’s a more tangible, physical stress located in a specific place and time. When I’m dealing with angry customers, a massive influx of materials that need to be moved, and a chemical spill all at the same time it’s an adrenaline rush that is actually enjoyable. Then at the end of the day you walk away and you’re done – the stress doesn’t follow me home because it’s completely attached to a physical location. The physical activity is a stress reliever for me and aids focus. There is much less of a mental burden from the work (not that there is no mental effort – just a very different kind that works better for my brain). Plus, for many people it is much more fulfilling and satisfying to have actual physical results of your work.

          In contrast, office-job stress tends to be more related to relationships with coworkers or long-term clients, or with various tensions that are not connected to a physical location. If the stressors are intangible things it’s much easier for it to follow you home after work. Some of us get very bored or restless sitting in an office all day – which is stressful in itself. And the type of work creates more stress around time management and prioritization since it lacks built-in physical cues for what is piling up.

      2. Ally McBeal*

        YEP. I waited tables and worked in a theatre box office to pay the bills in college, and while I’m currently considering escaping from corporate life, I don’t think I could do a customer-facing service job again. There are other kinds of jobs, of course – I’m currently daydreaming about the brief couple of months I spent doing mostly inventory and floor set-up at a clothing store. (I was supposed to be doing more selling/upselling, but my manager was happy that the store was organized, so I got away with it for a while.)

        1. smalltownerKS*

          There is a career where the whole point is to figure out store layouts and product placements. Its a psychology field and I can’t remember what it is.

          1. Mannequin*

            When I was management at a certain mall based, music inspired, trendy tween/teen lifestyle chain, part of our training covered aspects of this, so we could more effectively arrange our displays once they’d sold down enough to disrupt the current planogram. It was one of the reasons I loved working there so much.

          2. Ally McBeal*

            True! But I’m not even talking about the figuring-out part of the job – I just enjoyed the execution, the mindlessness and the nitpickery. (I’m not clinically OCD but sometimes I hyperfixate on cleaning/organizing.) Although I wish I’d known about that career path when I was in college, or I would’ve actually gotten a minor/major in Psych instead of just dabbling in all the cool courses.

      3. Gothic Bee*

        For me, I currently work a low-stress office job, but I actually do still miss customer service because the parts I enjoyed outweighed having to deal with occasional bad customers. Plus, I feel like I was pretty good at handling bad customers at the time. I do agree that there’s stress, but the type of stress and what people can handle is really what determines whether the job actually feels more stressful.

      4. LPUK*

        Yup – when I was in senior corporate role it was stressful in many ways – often my own expectations within a highly autonomous role where I put pressure on myself to work long hours, but I was paid a lot. My Mum kept trying to convince me I should get a less well-paid job which would be less stressful and I had to keep reminding her that those two are not linked. And stepping down the ladder would bring the negative type of stress of not being able to control my environment and priorities and having to work for poor LMs and do things that I didn’t agree were the right things to do.

      5. Not So NewReader*

        I tend to think that problems with bad bosses tend to be rampant in the service industry. Choose very carefully, OP.
        The pay sucks, you will need to work 1.5 or 2 full time jobs.
        Insurance, what’s that?
        Full time, er- what does that mean?
        All you need is to have one angry customer or to wear the wrong color socks and you’re out a job. Or if there is a change in boss (happens often because people are disposable), you may not have a job. Or if business is slow your hours will get cut.
        If you work hard, you will get scorned, If you are lazy/laid back you will get scorned. Thick skin is required.

        Your best bet is to think about jobs that are a blend of desk work and moving around- or on your feet type of work.

      6. The OTHER other*

        I was going to say this. I wonder if the LW has ever worked a customer service job, or just assumes they are easy and stress-free because SHE never has any stress when she visits the coffee shop or nursery.

        If you feel as though a little bit of your soul dies at every Skype meeting, just wait until you have to remake a tall half-soy latte for not having the right ratios of nutmeg and almond extract.

        Also, you need to seriously consider if you will be happy at a lower income. Will you be able to afford to live on the dramatically lower pay offered by these other jobs? What will you cut out? A wise person I knew once told me “It’s true that money can’t buy happiness. On the other hand, poverty can’t buy anything”.

        1. Wanna Be Stay at Home Cat Mom*

          It’s true. A few months ago I quit my job as a librarian because of the politics in the community, my commute, out of creative ideas, and feeling stuck. I don’t currently feel like doing that again. I am currently working at an organic food coop with less pay. Customer service can be stressful. I like the mission of the coop, but in the long-term, the pay will not be sustainable. I’m working on applying for jobs where I can utilize my skills as a librarian.

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      As a 3-year veteran of coffee shops…holy Lord. Working a Starbucks morning rush was more stressful than 95% of my military training. That is not a joke. The people who came there to have a “low-stress job” washed out because I had coffee thrown at me, thrown at the drive-thru window, deliberately spilled all over the floor, had customers scream at me, threw customers out for inappropriate conduct, you name it. They’re not all like that, but I would never recommend customer-facing food retail as a low-stress job for anyone.

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        Someone I know worked at a Starbucks and he had an angry customer unzip his trousers and pee all over the lobby area of the store. Definitely not low stress!

        1. Domino*

          Unpopular opinion: Starbucks isn’t a coffee shop, it’s a fast food restaurant. The vibe at an independent hipster coffee shop would be very different.

          1. Valancy Snaith*

            Sure, it would be different, but just because it’s an independent fancy hipster place doesn’t mean there’s no stress. Independent places will often come with their own inherent weirdness (all the issues of working for a small, family-owned place combined with all the issues of retail can be a crazy mix) and just because it’s a chill vibe for the visitors doesn’t mean it is so for the employees.

            1. MAGC*

              My spouse worked for Starbucks (corporate, but so long ago it wasn’t called corporate but “the roasting plant”). Even back then, the people doing the financial planning work thought of it as gourmet coffee on one side of the counter and fast food on the other.

            2. Ace in the Hole*

              I’ve worked customer service at several small, independently owned businesses including two sandwich shops. It…. really just wasn’t that bad at all? Even at the large chains it was nothing like what you’re describing, and the small businesses were better.

              I’ve never had anyone throw something at me, pee/poop inappropriately (except for the occasional kid having an accident”, deliberately dump their food or drinks on the floor, call me slurs, or even scream at me. Angry customers are usually (in my experience), people who are upset and a bit rude, who have unreasonable expectations/demands, or who want to badmouth employees to the boss.

              As long as you have reasonable management and a reasonably thick skin, it’s not inherently stressful. One of the sandwich shops I worked at was a very chill and friendly vibe for the employees, as was the auto parts store. Other places have been very busy and could be described as “stressful,” but it’s the productive/healthy type of stress that keeps you alert and engaged, not the unhealthy draining kind of stress that eats at you for the rest of the day.

        2. lex talionis*

          Just read an article about a customer in a Dairy Queen in Vancouver Canada who urinated on the floor after being told he needed a mask. So I would imagine the stress level is way up for many of those jobs.

          1. Jean (just Jean)*

            Torn between horror … and gratitude that he only urinated.
            (Maybe there weren’t any potted plants.)
            People are truly amazing.

            Note to new readers: Years ago someone described an interviewee who, when briefly alone, pooped in a potted plant.

    2. earl grey aficionado*

      Agreed, but I think it’s a fast-paced kind of stress that can feel more fulfilling for some people. My brother works at a major coffee chain with great pay and benefits and plans to make it his whole career (eventually moving up to management). He says he’d go nuts in an office and that he gets a real rush out of, well, the rush – even though it sounds like a nightmare to me. I think it’s all about what kinds of stress are most tolerable for you.

      1. BubbleTea*

        It’s also a kind of stressful work that can’t come home with you (or if it does, you can call the police and have it arrested as a stalker).

        1. ThanksMom*

          I disagree that stress at these jobs can’t come home with you. Having the type of experiences that people do in service jobs absolutely takes a toll on a person, and it’s not frequently something they can just shake off at the end of the day. Plus, these jobs tend to be completely standing for a full shift and involve a lot of lifting and movement, so the stress on the body alone is considerable.

          1. Valancy Snaith*

            Good point. Working on my feet 8+ hours a day wasn’t any fun, but once I left that world, my plantar fasciitis and repetitive-motion injuries (beginnings of carpal tunnel and tennis elbow) went away and my general health went up since I had the energy to exercise properly and was no longer regularly waking up at 330-4am.

            1. earl grey aficionado*

              To bring this back around to advice for the OP (which was missing from my first comment), I think dipping your toe in food service work is a good way to see if you’re the kind of person who thrives on it or not, at well as whether or not your body can take the strain. Can OP work at a state fair food booth for a few days? A charity pancake dinner? Those aren’t exact analogues to coffee shops, but they’re a start. Did OP work a food service job earlier in life? What was it like? That would also be data to consider. Some people find that work unbearable (myself included) but some people find it truly fulfilling. I wish OP the best of luck in figuring out where they fall. (And of course, coffee shops are not the only escape hatch from office work! There are plenty of other options to check out too.)

            2. Little My*

              I appreciate both of you bringing up the physical stress of these jobs. I have been disabled for three years with pain whenever I walk or stand because of only a couple of weeks spent working retail on my feet full-time. The severity of my injury is pretty rare, so I’m not saying this will happen to other people, but I do refer to it as the job that ruined my life.

              1. Kal*

                My partner works a job that expects them to be on their feet all the time, and their feet (and toenails!) are just permanently fucked up now and never aren’t causing them pain, even after extended breaks from work.

                I’m disabled and have a genetically bad back, but I previously worked an agricultural labour job and a retail job, and I honestly would say the labour job was almost less bad on my body? Like, it was far, far more physically exhausting and hard on my back, but it was accepted that it was bad on the body so we got proper breaks and my family understood that I needed aftercare and proper rest after work.

                But that retail job HURT and people acted like I was speaking in tongues when I complained about how hard it was on my body and how exhausting it was to be in that much extra pain all day. I think part of how hard it was for me was because half the time I’d just be standing there, staring at the door in case a customer came in, so there was no legitimate reason why I couldn’t be sitting for that except that the owner didn’t like anyone sitting down at anytime they were on shift (including breaks!). And then being expected to do a bunch of things after work, because ‘its just a retail job, its not that hard’ just compounded it.

          2. Grits McGee*

            Yep- every time I’ve had a cash register job, I’ll start having dreams where I sit up in bed at 3am thinking there’s a customer at my bedroom window I need to ring up. No idea why it happens, but it’s happened with every retail job I’ve held for the past 10-15 years.

            1. it's just the frame of mind*

              I was a member of a working coop for a while, meaning everyone has a shift to do, and for a while I worked the cash register for my shift and it was so stressful I was constantly in a state of utter panic. People lining up, trying to get every item rung up, trying to make friendly conversation, trying to recognize each type of vegetable, it was just a stress nightmare. And I would definitely take it home; I’d be worrying about it before and after my shift. After a while I switched to stocking shelves and I was shocked at how calm I can be when I’m just carefully checking what needs to be stocked. But I know some other people find stocking shelves very boring and find the cash register just the right amount of stimulation. So that was a lesson for me about how individual we all are in terms of what we like and what we can tolerate.

          3. Boof*

            Yeah my husband was the type that would come home fuming when customers were inordinately rude when he used to wait tables; admittedly i think he has rather more anger management issues/intolerances than most which tends to make almost any job more stressful. (Currently he is homemaker + low grade freelance videographer)

          4. Noxalas*

            Yeah, I have a customer-facing job and the emotional bandwidth I use with customers is bandwidth that is unavailable for friends and family members.

          5. PT*

            Wasn’t there a study that said something like half of customer-facing front-line employees (food service, retail, hospitality) have similar symptoms to PTSD from customer abuse?

            1. Usagi*

              I can’t speak to any studies, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true. I worked in retail for over a decade, and have PTSD from something separate. Without getting into too much detail, I do get PTSD-esque (although I guess according to the study you mentioned it’s not even “-esque” it just is) symptoms from customer service type situations from time to time, and very often I can relate that situation to a terrible customer type situation I experienced in retail.

          6. Not So NewReader*

            The part that I could not shake off was not the customers. It was the unbelievably bad management. That one kept me awake nights. There are too many supervisors/managers out there that are very interested in setting their employees up to fail.
            I had to reprogram a cash register one time. This was way back in the 80s. There was over 20 pages of instructions, typed single space and both sides of the page. I used a straight edge to follow the instructions and keep my eyes from crossing. My boss had removed one page entirely. I did not notice. Of course the register did not work properly. I figured it was my fault somehow so it was up to me to fix it.

            Fortunately the computer room chief was an absolutely BRILLIANT woman. She quickly figured out that I had skipped a whole page of programming. “Oh you did not do pages 16-17.” I was incredulous that I made such a huge mistake, so I checked to see what was on those pages. And that is when I found the pages were missing. She said the pages were stapled together, but my packet was missing the staple.

            This angel of a person fixed the whole problem. And she told me to watch my back. This is the world of retail and the service industry in general.

            The look on my boss’ face when she came in and found out everything was just fine- was absolutely priceless.

        2. Kay*

          I guess it depends on the person. The stress from my retail and food service jobs followed me home a lot more than my office jobs ever has! I would have horribly stressful days at work, find it difficult to shake off the day, and then I’d dream I was at work all night. It wouldn’t necessarily be a nightmare about a horrible customer, just a mundane workday. I’d wake up feeling like I’d just spend the night at work!

        3. Formerly Ella Vader*

          Working in that kind of service/retail environment, a lot of stress and discomfort can be added by an arbitrary, unfair, or vindictive manager. Not to the level of calling the police, but definitely the kind of worry that came home with me.

          Some managers in that kind of environment don’t have a lot of oversight, and can behave as if all their employees are desperate to keep their jobs and don’t know they deserve better. If I was going to get into a lower-paying job again as an attempt to enjoy my life more, I would try my hardest to save enough money beforehand that I could quit if I needed to.

        4. JB*

          Not if the stalker IS a cop. (Actual thing that happened to one of my coffee shop coworkers.)

          Another one got stalked by a child too young to drive (around 13 years old). Seriously and in a very scary way. He would ride his bike by her house two, three times a day and come by the shop looking for her. The police didn’t take that very seriously either.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I have a relative who works in the food industry and while it’s stressful, there’s nowhere they’d rather be than in a kitchen. Depends on who you are.

        As for LW1 – talk to people in those industries. What is their day to day really like? Is it sustainable long-term? Are there pitfalls a woman would have to overcome? How did they get into it? What advice do they have? There’s nothing wrong with looking at your career path and realizing it’s not for you.

    3. bluephone*

      Yeah, if you hang out on the starbucks’ sub-reddit long enough, you won’t even want to shop at Starbucks anymore because of second-hand stress

    4. VermiciousKnid*

      I have been in corporate jobs for 10 years and I waited tables for 10 years. When I’m stressed about my current work, that stress manifests as nightmares about working in a restaurant. Not even the worst day in a corporate job comes close to the stress of people screaming at you about your food while the kitchen is 30 tickets back and a line cook just quit because he doesn’t have the patience for the BS anymore.

      1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        Haha yes, you need to find which type you can handle, and which kind weighs on you.

        I’m not back in restaurants, but I am back in a service job, and when I’m overly stressed it manifests in nightmares about my office job. Sometimes I have soothing dreams about being back in a busy kitchen. But then, I had a good boss who recognized the rush as a part of everything, and jumped in with us, rather than scream like we were doing something wrong.

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        I was coming here to say this. I worked retail at a very well-known store in the mall. It was… chaotic and stressful in a way that my desk job never has been. Not even close. As a rule, I find the general public to be categorically awful to people in jobs “beneath” them – retail, food service, etc. I would have to reach a new level of desperate to go back to that kind of enviroment.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          This is a good point – the experience of dealing with the general public will depend on the role you’re in.

          And it’s not a clear scale of easy to hard, I don’t think. It’s just worth thinking about what works for you as an individual if you’re thinking about a wide range of careers. A children’s librarian, an ER nurse, a hotel desk clerk, a bus driver, a lifeguard at a public beach, a cable repair technician going into people’s homes, a crossing guard – they’d all probably have their “dealing with the general public” horror stories, but the overall experiences would vary a lot. Not being cut out for one kind of public-facing job doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not cut out for any of them.

          1. PT*

            I’ve been a lifeguard and it’s terrifying. Think of all of the crap your bosses pull cutting corners in your typical customer service environment, and then realize that any day, any time, one of those cut corners could result in a fatality on your watch. It’s SO stressful.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          ” As a rule, I find the general public to be categorically awful to people in jobs “beneath” them – retail, food service, etc.”

          And TPTB encourage it by remaining passive at all times. I worked for a grocery store briefly. We were not allowed to report animals or children in a hot car because we were not allowed to tick off the customers.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      When I was in legal, I prioritized resumes with food service and retail experience for no-legal-experience-required positions because anyone who can deal with the general public day in/day out is not going to be phased by lawyers or clients (and neither of those are easy groups of people, especially when there’s a lawsuit involved).

      I do not have the mental fortitude to deal with the general public.

      1. Anononon*

        Hah, as a lawyer, my prior retail experience definitely comes in handy. As a part of the job, people so often want to argue with me, and there’s nothing like just saying “okay” with a smile and not getting sucked in.

      2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        It’s funny because this is the exact opposite for me! I went from food service to legal for a no-experience-required position, and I quickly burned out because I was terrified of lawyers and the people who answered phones in doctors offices. I thought that would go away as I got used to it but I just got more and more intimidated.

        Now I work with teenagers, and my friends think I am absolutely nuts.

      3. Jay*

        When I opened my medical practice, the first woman who interviewed for our medical assistant job had worked at HugeBoxStore since she was 16. When I met her she was 22, had been promoted to assistant manager, and had gone to school at night to get her associate’s degree. I figured if she could handle BigBoxStore customers well enough to last six years and get promoted, she could handle whatever crises or chaos would come her way in our office. I interviewed two more people just to reassure myself I wasn’t jumping too soon and then hired her. She was AWESOME.

          1. allathian*

            Also, some people are simply much better equipped to handle CS stress than others. They have enough empathy to genuinely want to solve whatever problems customers bring to them, but not so much that they get stressed out by the inevitable unpleasant customers.

    6. cut the new release wall*

      It really, really depends.

      I worked at Dunks for 3 years and was never once yelled at by a customer. Now, being yelled at by the owners, on the other hand…

      It’s true that even coffee shops and restaurants have their own stresses, but it’s not necessarily the case that if you work at one, you’re definitely going to be a punching bag.

    7. Yuck! Pfaugh!*

      For letter 1 specifically, if you pick a particular handy thing that you want to try out, you can look and see if there are any local hobby groups. Most metro areas have social clusters of people who are really into (for example) woodworking. They might share wood sources, or fancy tools, or workshop space, etc. If you want to just dip your toes in, try looking on social media for people in your area who are doing woodworking. Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook groups are all possibilities depending on what you’re looking at. You can probably reach out to them, tell them you’re interested in woodworking in the DMV, and ask if they know about any meetups/tutorials/events/whatever. One of the things common to all the hobby spaces I have been in is that the people there know how what they are doing can be monetized. They know who has made the jump from amateur to pro woodworker, roughly how it happened, and what the obstacles are to getting there. They also know the pain points woodworkers face in your area, and how you could get started on trying woodworking out! I’d highly recommend trying this as a low-risk way to explore your options.

      1. JayNay*

        When I looked at the ideas letter 1 mentioned, it struck me that they’re all hands-on as well as require technical expertise (plumber, sewing machinist, dental assistant). So it seems LW1 wants to do something with their hands, where they can make something, and where they can keep learning new things. I’d pay attention to that common thread more so than the “I’m confused” vibe.
        And yes, do find a local place where you can try that out. Shared workshop spaces, classes, make something and see if you actually do like the work itself. Woodworking for example I LOVE, but it also means standing up and being around sawdust all day ;) once you know if you enjoy it casually, you can research the technical training you’d need.
        also I think lots of people can relate to both those letters. Every job and situation has its stresses, but it’s definitely worth figuring out which ones you want to put up and which ones you don’t.

    8. Catnip*

      I fully agree!! But, having worked a highly stressful coffee shop jobs, as well as highly stressful office jobs, I think they’re very different kinds of stress. I found my coffee shop stresses tended to be EXTREMELY intense but lasted relatively short periods of time (at worst, a whole shift, but usually off and on throughout the shift as rushes came and went), and once I picked up the rhythms, the stress greatly diminished. Whereas, my office stresses were usually lower to mid-level stress that was more or less constant, and definitely didn’t end at the end of the workday, punctuated with one or two weeks of intense stress around events, major project deadlines, etc.

      I actually didn’t mind either kind of stress; I’m pretty good at handling stress well in a bunch of different contexts. But it seems to me that each job had its own rhythms and intensity of stress, and I imagine different types of people would be better suited to different types of stress.

    9. Nicotena*

      I went through a period like this (quarter-life crisis, then a later midlife crisis) and I think to some degree they’re normal and healthy. It’s good to take stock of your life and re-evaluate periodically. I can say that I left the rat-race and borrowed a different set of problems. It was great to address burnout, but ultimately, like a vacation, it caused me to have newfound appreciation for a good salary and benefits at a relatively cushy office job. Mostly hourly jobs are extremely stressful and you usually can’t make your bottom line as an adult if you’re making anywhere close to minimum wage. It’s not realistic to assume most people love their jobs all the time. That said, you can definitely try to make changes within your general field, and don’t let accusations of “job-hopping” be the only reason you’re afraid to mix it up.

        1. Quantum Hall Effect*

          I relate pretty hard to that question, though not so much to the answer. “it’s OK not to know what you want in the middle of a global pandemic!” isn’t that helpful when I didn’t know what I wanted to do even before the pandemic and I won’t know what I want to do after the pandemic, either. I hate when people ask me what I want to do because it mostly doesn’t matter what I want to do. What matters is what people are willing to pay me to do. What I want is some thing that matches my skill set that is difficult enough to keep me intellectually engaged. If anyone is tempted to answer, “oh there are lots of options!” then they should be prepared to name a few.

          1. Raida*

            I feel this so much.
            turns out the right response to “Why do you want to continue filling in this role?” is not “It pays more than my substantive one.”
            the look on that Director’s face! I turned it into a bit of a joke, but still – that’s the damned truth. I’ll do a less interesting job for more money, or the same job for more money, or fill in for six months and learn a few things for more money. It’s just logical to me, and frankly I don’t think that a burning passion is necessary for most jobs – I reckon that a commitment to behaving in a defensible and ethical manner and holding your work up to that is far more healthy than *worrying* at night about something because you care. so. much.

            I’ve never been able to answer those “what do you want to do/be?” questions. And now as an adult I’m most likely to respond with “I don’t know, what are you offering?”

    10. AnonInCanada*

      This! Customer facing jobs (retail, foodservice) has all the stress of a career with half the pay and none of the benefits. Plus you get to have to listen to the Karens and the Kenneths screaming in your ears because you pumped a half-pump of maple syrup in their extra special latte when you should have pumped 55%, or chew you out because you are legally obligated to enforce mask mandates/proof of vaccination etc., all with that retail smile and being all apologetic because of their sense of entitlement.

      In other words, the grass isn’t always greener…

    11. Ladybugger*

      I literally came here to be like, this is not a Hallmark movie, working in a coffee shop is incredibly stressful and full of rude jerks. LW2, it’s fair to assume all customer-facing jobs are basically nightmares so take that into consideration when you consider ‘low stress’ work.

    12. LKPNYC*

      One of my favorite jobs ever was as a barista/cashier at a combo bookstore/coffee shop. I think the fact that it wasn’t a chain where people could order incredibly complicated drinks had a lot to do with lower angst and different levels of customer entitlement. The owner let me take home as many books as I wanted on the weekend as long as I didn’t damage them. It was like a library but better!! It also paid practically nothing, but I was so happy at that time.

      1. LKPNYC*

        Oh yes, and CLEARLY pre-pandemic. The anti-maskers should have to start their own commerce world just to accommodate their BS.

    13. Editor*

      If either OP wants to see if they like other types of work, couldn’t they try out a weekend or some other second job, especially in retail. Working at a coffee shop part time might answer that question.

      For sewing machine repair, can the OP get training on the weekends or evening, then do part-time repair work at a dealer? There are some kinds of hands-on work training available through vo-tech schools, and in Pennsylvania, the regional programs often offer adult training/retraining programs. In New York State, the BOCES regional programs offered day classes for high school students, evening and weekend classes for simple basics (basic auto maintenance, including how to do an oil change), and more serious training classes. Don’t overlook apprenticeships and training in plumbing, HVAC, electrical work, appliance repair, and so on.

      For OP1, would working for a more hands-on place help make your day better? The HVAC place that maintains my furnace and AC had a lot of admins who book appointments for plumbing, heating, and AC servicing, plus the front office, HR, accounting, and other work. The employee mix at that office is a lot different than at a corporate office. Construction firms, transit offices, surveyors, landscape architects, and trucking firms are going to have different cultures than the ones the OP is used to, but often need good admins who often take on a lot of responsibility. It takes careful vetting to avoid the small and family-owned business cultures that are nasty, but I know some folks who have really thrived just being support staff for more hands-on workers.

      For sewing machine repair, ask local quilt guilds which shops handle maintenance and repairs and whether there are long wait times due to a shortage of technicians. Bonus points if learning to repair a Bernina takes you to Switzerland or another brand takes you somewhere else in Europe.

    14. Dorothy*

      In my experience, coffeeshops and bookstores are two businesses that frequently suffer new employees assuming that they’ll be relaxing and pleasant compared to other work, but there’s a lot of labor that goes into making those places *feel* that way for guests.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Perhaps the turtle boss from yesterday needs to take responsibility for a career panther.

      1. Tea*

        Clarifying question: is it the work itself you hate, or the industry? Do you feel like you’re adding something good to to the world by showing up and doing your job?

        1. Clorinda*

          Not sure if this is addressed to me wanting a predator in my classroom, or is meant to be somewhere else? But I was joking. I do not actually want my students to be eaten by panthers.

    2. starsaphire*

      Me too!!! I want one SO bad. :)

      That being said:

      You are at the best time in your life to make changes or have adventures, if that’s what you want. Your education’s not going anywhere, nor is your work history.

      “Took a year off to work on an archaeology dig/oil rig,” “backpacked across Europe,” “spent a year working as a 17th century stablehand” are all things that someone with no ties and a reasonable amount of savings (and, presumably, a safety net) can absolutely do in their twenties/thirties/whenever they are young and healthy enough to do so.

      What do you say in a job interview if you end up going back to the rat race? “It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I just had to take it. I’m glad I did; it gave me some perspective, and I’m much more ready to settle into a career now.”

      What will you say about it when you’re my age, waiting for your kids to finish college and leave the house, and you never did The Thing? Think about that, and you’ll already know the answer.

      1. Not that kind of doctor*

        Agreed, I’ve never had interviewers react with anything but admiration/envy when I explain my irrelevant-to-the-job PhD (ages 27-32) by saying, “I got the chance to live abroad and dive deeply into something that interested me, basically doing my retirement dream while I was still young enough to make the most of it.” (Not to insult intended to retirees! But it’s convenient shorthand.) If you have an established work history, then you can position the period as an adventure you wanted to take and now you’re ready to get to work doing X.

      2. ophelia*

        Absolutely agreed. Do it now, because the longer you wait, the less likely it is that you can extricate yourself from other responsibilities.

      1. Abogado Avocado*

        Hmm, I don’t have a panther, but I do have two rather large-ish cats (who keep telling me they’re just big-boned) and I fear their career advice would be to find someone who will: feed you and deal with your sh** as a matter of course, allow you to sleep 18 hours a day, be satisified with occasional purrs and chirps in response to head scritches, and if you don’t do what they want, will attribute your perversity to being what you are.

      2. Metadata minion*

        90% of your time should be spent napping in a tree; the remaining 10% biting things in the face.

    3. Llama face!*

      I’d say having a career panther shows that she is probably quite well suited for a national parks job. ;)

      Sorry OP #1 I’ve been in pretty standard office jobs my whole life so I don’t have any alternate path knowledge to share. But wishing you well in your hunt for a good-fitting career!

  2. 3DogNight*

    You can both volunteer or take a part time job in the areas you’re considering, to determine if you like that kind of work, and would be able to stomach it in the long term. It is more of a time commitment up front, but will save you tons of headaches down the road. You can also look into apprenticeships in some areas (woodworking, plumbing, whatever) and work on that to see if you like it. I caution you to be careful of the “grass is greener” thought. Maybe it really is, but you won’t know unless you actually do it.
    Good luck to you!

    1. Nea*

      Seconded. The best way of knowing if you’d like different work is to do the different work. We’re coming up on “desperate need for holiday workers” season, so you could probably get a foot in the door to test out sales/service work without tying yourself to it if it turns out to not be what you want.

      If it’s creative work – as in “I wish to create [thing]” then there’s always starting an Etsy store on the side.

    2. Public Sector Manager*

      A friend of mine did this. He was doing in house counsel work for a fairly large company and had his nights and weekends generally free. He wanted to give up law and be a stand-up comic. So he kept working as a lawyer and did shows on the weekend and evenings. While he is one of the funniest people I know, he realized after doing a year’s worth of shows that he couldn’t make it financially as a comic. That did motivate him to change legal careers to an area that was more fulfilling for him personally.

      1. JayNay*

        this is such a great story, thanks for sharing it! especially because it didn’t work out as planned for your friend, but still lead to a change he’s happier with.

      2. Junior Assistant Peon*

        I have a friend who was able to make money off his stand-up comedy experience. The stand-up work itself is just a hobby and he knows he isn’t good enough to be on TV, but the outfits that put on SAT prep courses, business training seminars, etc hire people with stand-up comedy experience because they’re comfortable speaking in front of a large audience. They basically just need someone to narrate a canned curriculum, and subject matter expertise is not required.

    3. SoundLikeMyMother*

      This is great advice – taking classes as a “hobbyist” or volunteer will give you the lowest cost idea if this change is right for you or not. This is what I was going to recommend as well. Also try talking to folks in those career fields. For example, my nature loving friend explored national park service and learned that many national park employees carry guns and it is sadly a really challenging work environment for women not because women aren’t capable (not at all!), but due to widespread sexism.

      The rest of my advice isn’t as actionable, but I think worth thinking about. I feel like a lot of people are sold this idea that your work must be your passion and/or defining of who you are; if you are passionate about your work, it won’t feel like work etc. That isn’t true in my experience. Work shouldn’t be miserable, but for most people it is a means to an end – paying bills and what not. I am in the middle of my career with a family and I find it helpful to think of my job as a means to achieving what it is important to me e.g. paying my bills, taking care of my family, being able to go on vacations, minimizing unnecessary stress etc.

      So I’d take time to think about what you want your life to look like first, then decided what job to pursue. Do you want to be super passionate and possibly work 60+ hours? Do you want to be possibly less fulfilled in your job, but able to take sick leave? Do you want to make enough money so you can retire early/on time? I’d love a job that I was passionate about, with great benefits, great pay, great work life balance etc, but there don’t seem to be many of those. So for me, it is about priorities and tradeoffs.

      Good luck! I do hope you find the dream job, but please know it is ok if you work a job that lets you live your dream outside of work too.

      1. Ginger Baker*

        This, 1000x this. I detest the “work must be your passion” messaging, as the granddaughter of a man whose ConEd union job was 100% a “what you do so you can support your Actual Life [and family]” and as someone who has worked “I like this well enough and I am very good at it and it pays pretty well” jobs. I have had less money and having more now, well, it is a HUGE life-changing thing [up to a point…I have not reached that tipping point yet…at “has money to get 9k sink repair done right away instead of waiting multiple years” though and OMG it is AMAZING]. I’ve also watched a number of friends working retail really really struggle, because the stress level for the piddly amount of money (leading also to significant financial stress) is not to be scoffed at. And my ex-husband worked decades in retail before finally managing to launch himself into his much-longed-for art career. I am SUPER proud of him (he is a muralist now, and can actually pay his bills for four years running) but he and I both counsel our kids that following that path is…maybe not a great choice. Those 20 years lost to so much stress and worry and the inability to pay for things – and definitely contributed to the dissolution of our marriage – all for a need to work a “dream job” and well…it was a lot to pay.

        1. Hopping to it*

          I have to agree! I’m a little over a decade in a career I spent years to get into, and am finding that as wonderful as my colleagues are, and neat as the work is, I really am enjoying working less and doing hobbies more. My job now pays enough for me to work part time and try out all kinds of fun things without worrying that I need to make money from them. Having something you really enjoy and that’s meaningful to you outside of work make work a more enjoyable place to you. The extra benefit to working for a hobby is that you can continue to go up and accrue pay and benefits in your current field instead of starting again at the bottom in another industry, especially if you later find the new industry is not for you. Big caveat: if there’s something specific about your job you find soul crushing, it’s absolutely worth changing industries. For example, my husband used to working in consulting and his company started taking oil and gas clients. When he researched them as part of his job, he found their human rights practices made him feel sick about working to save them money. He went back to school and is now a public defense attorney. Still stressful, but better aligned with his values.

      2. Green Beans*

        I’m in my early thirties and my friends are all hitting the….natural plateau of their careers, for lack of better term? Everyone but me and one of the SOs has reached a point where they’re like, “I want a job that pays $X, is interesting work for 40 hours/week, and lets me focus on all the other things in life I like. I don’t want to go higher than Z-level position.”

        And all of them are honestly much happier for it, even though most of them are classic over-achievers.

      3. talos*

        Yes – like, I like doing my job, but I’m not passionate about it and there are sometimes bad days. The real reason I’m there is because it pays me money, has benefits, has PTO and sick leave and such, and is only 40 hours a week.

      4. Mannequin*

        I’m totally down with working to support your life (that’s how I always did it), but if you are miserable at your job or it makes you feel hollow and empty, you are still doing it wrong. Work doesn’t have to be your passion or your dream job, but you should still get enough fulfillment that going in every day isn’t a soul-sucking chore.

        My husband has worked in a warehouse for 16 years and while it’s not his ‘dream job’ and it’s certainly hard labor, its work that meshes with his particular strengths so he does well and finds it rewarding, and is recognized for his good work. While it’s repetitious, it’s also busy enough that his days go quickly. His main stressors there have been crummy coworkers and bad management/management decisions (probably about average for a Big Corp with its portfolio/history.)
        Hubs has ADHD and undiagnosed learning disabilities that would cause him to find any kind of office job very stressful.

      5. allathian*

        Oh yeah, definitely.

        I like my job and I’m good at it, which gives me quite a bit of job satisfaction. It’s not a passion of mine by any stretch, though. I don’t want to be that emotionally invested in what I do for a living, the fact that some people fall for that is pretty much the only way some employers get away with paying very low salaries for important and stressful jobs (teachers, nurses to name just two examples). I have a job, not a vocation.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      Also, just taking the classes towards certification can help you know if that’s a career you’d want. Head over to your local community college and try intro classes in several areas. Welders are always needed, HVAC’s booming… Then really think about what the job entails: HVAC means a *lot* of crawling around under people’s houses, with dirt and spiders. The HVAC peeps I know say it’s a young person’s game – what do you think you’ll want to do when you’re 50?

      Also really think about what you *like* about something. I love to solve puzzles and to translate stuff, but I didn’t see a way to turn that into a career until I found Supply Chain in grad school. I’m leaning more into the ‘translate’ for my next move, learning Data Analysis tools so I can translate data into knowledge, and tell other people the stories that the numbers tell me.

      1. OtterB*

        Seconding community college, especially for OP1 in the DC area. I know Montgomery College has a lot of certificate programs that might be helpful in figuring out other things you might like to do.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I know a couple of HVAC people who went into commercial specifically because there’s no crawling under houses.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        My friend’s company closed. Since it was a large area employer, the state came in and offered free re-training to do something else. My friend took HVAC. He got a job at a hospital. He will always have work- but like every job there are drawbacks, one of which is he has to work in refrigeration units. They never taught him anything about that in school, so he’s winging it. Fortunately, my friend has a work ethic that is outstanding and he is admired by those who know him. He will pull through this challenge also.

    5. Ginger*

      Absolutely second this. I used to work for a very large conservation organisation, and frankly it couldn’t survive as well as it does without volunteers. I’m in the UK, so may not be directly comparable, but they offered the opportunity to do long term volunteering, ‘working holidays’ (have a look at the National Trust) – I’m sure that these kind of opportunities must be available all over. It’s a great way to try out, and if you like it, and carry on, it can sometimes lead to jobs

    6. Jurassic Park Employee*

      Also! Reaching out to colleges/universities that offer courses that would be needed for some of the potential career paths could be useful. Arranging to sit in on a few of the classes the dental hygenist students take etc. Could go a long way in the decision-making process.

    7. CG*

      Yes yes yes! I have a couple of volunteer gigs because of things that I’m passionate about but that (I discovered) I’m not 40-hours-a-week passionate about. (One of them is volunteering for the National Park Service! Phenomenal and important work; absolutely not at all a place to go if you’re looking for something breezy and low-stress.) Volunteering is a great way to get your foot in the door and get some experience on your resume if needed, but it’s also a great way to learn the ins and outs of a field before you fully join it. Outdoors and/or low pay do not at all correlate with lower stress, though…

    8. Beth*

      “I caution you to be careful of the “grass is greener” thought.”

      Seconded times eleventy million. In lower-paying fields of work, you will run into the same percentage of jerks as everywhere else. And your job, every job, especially including working for yourself, will always include elements that are dull and unsatisfying; and you’ll be paid less to put up with all of it. In addition, in any field regarded as sexy or glamourous or instrinsically special (this includes park service), you run the risk of being paid much less and kicked around even more on the theory that you’re doing it for the love and “can’t be happy doing anything else”.

      The key question is whether the parts of the job that you love (or at least don’t hate), are worth the parts that you do love (or at least like). One upside of the less exciting but more stable jobs is that they tend to leave you with more resources (time, energy, money) in which to lead a satisfying life outside of work.

      That said, evaluate your risks and preferences, do some research and volunteering and shadowing, and give it a try if it seems worth trying! Changing jobs is a constant of modern life, and changing fields is now extremely common as well. In my own experience, the older you get, the more difficult and risky it is to test out a new field — which is an argument for trying it this decade at least.

      1. Letter Writer #2*

        Thanks, Beth. Your comment is very wise. “The grass is greener” phenomenon is what has kept me securely tethered to my professional career.

        I mentioned “coffee shop” in my letter, but I think that’s probably a poor example of what I meant–I was thinking (hilariously, as I don’t know LW1–but she seems like my type of person!) more along the lines of park ranger, landscaper, library assistant, doggy daycare attendant–jobs that seem to line up with things I care about.

        Your point about people being the same everywhere is key. I just have to remember that. I can choose to get kicked around by the corporate machine, or I can choose to get kicked around by Becky, whose schnauzer I didn’t groom to her satisfaction.

        I just want to use this space as well to send out a preemptive “Thank you!” to all the comments. I appreciate them all, and will take the advice to heart!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I made the opposite switch. Life has been such that I will work forever. I decided to switch to desk work so I can stay employed. All you need is that one person/company willing to take a chance.

          My friend decided to go to school to be a vet assistant. I thought she was pretty clever about how she made the jump from retail. She got a job as a cleaner for a vet at the same time she went to school. This put her in the environment. She let go of the fact that she was on payroll for cleaning. When a dog had a rough birthing, she volunteered, “I will help you, Doc, since no one else is here!” She snagged all the opportunities she could in this manner. They loved her. I dunno if she got a job there, but I am pretty sure she got one heck of a reference. And her resume was filled with actual things she had participated in.

        2. Stitching Away*

          Reminds me of the joke about the difference between a large university and a small college.

          Large uni goes “screw you student 11204.”
          Small college goes “screw you Jane.”

    9. Firecat*

      Couldn’t agree more.

      There is a reason for the saying – the grass is always greener on the other side.

    10. Katie*

      This is what I was going to say. I would recommend volunteering or doing some job shadow’s through your local technical college or trade school. I am a volunteer EMT and it really satisfies me need to do something in the Healthcare/helping fields, while I continue to work in my corporate job.

    11. Nora*

      Definitely! I considered leaving my desk job to do something more hands-on or service-focused but then I started volunteering at a museum and now I get a lot of fulfillment out of that but also met a lot of people who work there full time and know that it’s not for me.

  3. E*

    I think these feelings are a lot of what fuels the financial independence movement – people live well below their means and then retire early or transition to a type of work that the letter writers describe. I think it’d be be worth looking into the philosophy more to see if it resonates.

    1. Kes*

      Yeah, letter 2 in particular pinged my FIRE radar, and baristaFIRE (basically retiring to a part-time or less stressful job) is a concept they might want to research

      1. Letter Writer #2*

        Thank you! I will. And coincidentally, I have been hoarding money for years to try to retire early, lol! I didn’t realize there was a name for it or a movement. I need to look into it!

        1. LBRose*

          There are a bunch of “FIRE” communities. Some that might apply to you are leanfire, coastfire, and baristafire. I’m coast myself and have started thinking about what my coast is because it appears that I’m three-ish years out. It’s totally freeing

        2. kng442*

          If you want to see what an extreme FIRE mindset looks like, check out Mr. Money Moustache. While there’s a number of things that I disagree with him about, he is almost always an entertaining and thought-provoking read.

    2. aubrey*

      It’s what fuels my FI goals! The FIRE community is known for the people who go extreme, but there are plenty of people doing financial independence in a more measured way. My personal plan is just to pare down my working hours to part time as my nest egg grows, and get pickier about the work I do over time until I’m just doing work I find interesting and think is valuable, and have the freedom to say no to anything I don’t want to do. Lots of people take extended sabbaticals, or switch careers, or work seasonally. One blog I like is the FIoneers and their “slow FI” approach, but there’s also CoastFI and BaristaFI to google for this kind of thing.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      And this is a middle of the road answer, too. Just live below your means with modest splurges. Knowing you have enough money in the bank that you could leave at any time, can actual beat back the need to leave right now. Options are a powerful tool.

    4. RedinSC*

      Yes, this. My sister worked a relatively unfulfilling job that paid her really well. She lived in a low cost of living area, that she didn’t love. Basically all was fine, but not everything. But she had a goal to retire early. And she did! She now spend her days volunteering in animal rescue and lives in an area that she loves.

      It’s really about trade-offs, and what is most important to you. She didn’t hate life, and she wasn’t stressed, she just had a bigger picture for down the road.

  4. Need More Sunshine*

    Firstly, I’m totally using the phrase “career panther” from now on!

    But onto the real comment – I know lots of people who have done this and maybe make less money but feel more fulfilled in their work. I’ve done the opposite, though I will probably switch back within the next 10-15 years after saving up some money for my retirement. I used to work in food/retail – that distinct local food-to-table grass-roots support-local-farms-and-agriculture type – and I loved it and loved the work we were doing to support our community. And there were specific examples of people doing just this – leaving the corporate grind to come work with us to feel more connected to our community and more fulfilled.

    For me personally, I ended up in management there and managing a small business (esp in the food industry) is STRESSFUL, so I actually left to work in a traditional office atmosphere so that I’d be less stressed. But I am definitely less fulfilled and care a lot less about my work now. It’s always been the plan to get back into work that means more to me personally when I can.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Yes. All jobs come with stress, but I think a lot of the time people are seeking a change in the type of stress. Being exposed to the same stressors over and over for years really wears you down, and sometimes you can withstand new types of stressors better. Tedious and soul-sucking work is stressful in a different way than worrying about project execution which is different from interacting with customers.

      I washed out of public school teaching (my first career) and went into office work. I found it a good change of pace from teaching, but also much more boring. When I taught, I knew a lot of people who made the opposite career change and went into teaching from corporate work because they wanted meaningful work. They were more able to withstand the stress of teaching because they were seeking a change in the type of stress and getting more meaningful interactions in exchange.

  5. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Take a class! Anything from adult ed to university to LinkedIn Learning or Udemy or a professional organization. No need to commit to a degree program until you’re sure, but you can get an introduction to the field and maybe meet some other people who are interested in it. Worst comes to worst, you’ve learned something, and learning is always a good idea.

    1. Jules the 3rd*


      And when you’re taking the classes (community colleges are great for this), really think about what it is you like about various options. Then look for ways to apply ‘what you like’ inside various careers. I like problem solving and translation, and put them to work in IT, then found Supply Chain and was able to apply them *and* add a green component – I support computer recycling.

    2. Rainy Day*

      There’s even a lot of free learning on Youtube, and through there, you can pick up promo codes for reduced rate subs to sites like SkillShare etc.

    3. ObserverCN*

      If there’s a professional organization for the field you’re interested in, see what kind of classes/training they have available. I recently took such a class, and it gave me some good insights into a field I was considering.

  6. OrigCassandra*

    Perennial rec for these situations: Herminia Ibarra, Working Identity. Excellent, somewhat-contrarian career-choice and career-change advice.

    OP2, after my attempt at a Ph.D derailed I did this and that until discovering an odd little niche I fit into. I went back to school for that niche, discovered that the relevant workplaces could be amazingly poisonous, and ended up educating people for them anyway (with a heavy helping of “here, O my students, is how to notice and avoid the poison places”).

    I’m also kidless (and now partnerless), and you’re right that it matters. Check your financial situation, to be sure… but a period of rough-and-tumble where you learn things (as I certainly did) might be just the ticket.

    1. Letter Writer #2*

      Thank you for this suggestion! I really like it. I’m about five years post-very traumatic divorce (Army husband, cheating with a non-US resident, gaslighting for months/years, financial messiness caused by my cheating spouse, etc), so I can understand where rough-and-tumble situations can ultimately lead to finding the right path.

      I have always loved being a student (former H.S. valedictorian here!), and part of my fear of going back to school is that I will simply never want to leave again. But it can lead places that you don’t anticipate–that’s very true.

      Thank you so much for the book rec and the advice. I appreciate it!

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Ouch ouch ouch. My divorce wasn’t nearly that bad (though few divorces are unalloyed good; mine sure wasn’t). I’m sorry.

        I didn’t intend to end up teaching. It honestly just… happened. Turns out I’m good at it, who knew. I will say that second-career and other starting-anew folks are absolutely a joy to teach and I love having them in my classroom. I will warn, though, that few if any professional programs can teach only to these folks, so there will almost certainly be some workplace-acculturation stuff in any program you go into that you will not need and is not there FOR you. Please be patient with it; some of your classmates really need it.

        1. Misk*

          Can I please ask what you teach and to whom, and any further details you’re able to share? Something in your comment just *pinged* something in terms of my own niche…

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I feared I would not want to leave school also. I don’t know when you were last in school, but when I went back it had changed so much that I was HAPPY to leave. Retail was less catty. Sad, but there it is.

        My suggestion here is to divide it up. Decide to go back to school for what you need and get that part done. At the same time, decide that later on you will “let” yourself take courses as you wish. A friend got a degree in culinary arts while working her office job that paid for the education.

  7. Casual Librarian*

    Job shadowing isn’t just for high schoolers! Requesting to follow a technician or somebody else in a trade and using that time to ask questions about work/life, job, tricks to avoid the chaos of certifications, etc. is probably well worth the day off you’d take from Office Job.

    Also, don’t trick yourself into thinking in the extremes of Corporate Office vs. Trades. As a librarian, I have a healthy balance of customer-service time and some office time as well. There are middle-ground areas.

    1. Spearmint*

      I second the point that there are many jobs on the spectrum between corporate office and the trades. My brother is an electrical engineer and does a lot of hands on work (often in the field) as part of his job, but he also spends a lot of time on a computer in the office too. While some engineering jobs are purely abstract office work, many are not, especially at small/medium-sized employers. So that’s another area to consider.

    2. Letter Writer #1*

      That is a really good point! Becoming a librarian is actually something I have considered in the past.

    3. Share the Hedge*

      +1 to job shadowing. While doing the career-reassessment dance about 5 years in I briefly considered becoming an ultrasound technician. I shadowed everybody in the department at a local hospital for a whole day. It was a hell-to-the-no for me after that experience. I would never have guessed that without trying it, since based on my education, desired hours/salary, and demeanor at that time in my life it looked like the perfect job on paper.

    4. CheeryO*

      Yes, definitely don’t think about the working world in black and white terms. I’m in the environmental field and know plenty of people who have very cool jobs with a significant field component. Of course, the more well-paying jobs require specialized and sometimes advanced degrees, but there’s a whole world of jobs out there that are more than just taking meetings at your desk all day long. I’ve also found more personal fulfillment working at a government agency compared to the private sector, although it has its own frustrations.

  8. Precious Wentletrap*

    2: “If I quit earning my excellent salary and went to work at a coffee shop or plant nursery, would I feel any different? ”

    Not that those don’t have their own stresses, but there’s something to be said for going from abstract office work to jobs where you come in at a set time, make a physical item, exchange it for cash to a live person, then go home and be done for the day.

    1. StrikingFalcon*

      I would encourage you to give some real thought to what brings you satisfaction at work and in your life outside of work. For me it’s learning new things, solving problems or working on big picture questions, and being recognized as a valuable team member. Other people get more satisfaction from producing something tangible, or interacting with customers, or keeping things organized, or being the go-to resource on something.

      Also think about where you want to live and what the job market is like in those places, what kinds of hours you want to work, what kind of work-life balance you want, what benefits are important to you, etc. Make sure any career change you are considering matches what you want on those!

      1. BB2*

        You just describe the things I would like to prioritize in my next career…’learning new things, solving problems or working on big picture questions’. What career do you have that you get to do those things?

        1. Rocket Woman*

          The biggest thing that bring me joy is learning new things. I am an aerospace engineer and deal with these 3 scenarios daily in my career. On the side, I’m going to school for my Master’s (my company pays for it!), I read a lot, I listen to podcasts/watch ted talks. Engineering, or a manufacturing position at a small company may work well for you!

          1. BB2*

            Thank you for chiming in! I actually was a structural engineer for 5 years. I ended up leaving engineering for where I am now, Parks and Recreation. (I leveraged my volunteer work into Parks and Recreation) I think a main reason I left engineering was that I did not grasp the concept/ideas that seemed to come natural to everyone around me. That translated over to me not really caring or wanting to pay attention to the finer details of engineering/calculations. I am pondering my next career move and all my ideals….learn new things, solve problems has me wondering if I should try engineering again, just in a different sector.

            1. Who is the asshole*

              You could also go into tech support (the one with ticket systems and support for specialized software, I don’t have experience with literally fixing computers). Your background could help get a foot in the door and you will learn and solve problems all day.

        2. StrikingFalcon*

          I’m actually still in grad school, but I’ve gotten that kind of satisfaction from jobs that involved research, one that involved building a website from scratch, and an internship that included policy research. I’ve also heard auditing described that way (with more of an emphasis on the problem solving aspect).

          I can’t say I’d recommend grad school in the field I picked, however. If you’re interested in pursuing a graduate degree, find someone who’s completed or attended the program you’re looking at and ask detailed questions about things like workload, job opportunities after graduation, and opportunities for professional development that are more than just doing grunt work for your professors.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I loved working retail and would still be doing it if it paid. I once left a terrible, high-stress, sleepless-nights job and worked retail while I looked for another full-time gig. The structure was the most appealing part– all I had to do was show up for my shift, sell stuff, go home. It was wonderful.

      But again, didn’t pay. And for me, that was a huge factor.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I worked in a plant nursery. I loved the job, it was my job. Between the chemicals and the heavy lifts I knew it was not a long term plan. I loaded 100- 50 pound bags of lime for a customer one day and the very next customer needed 50 bags. (lime feels a lot heavier than 50 pounds.) I am not sure how I drove home after that. But I could eat 4k calories a day and never gain weight. My jaw hurt from so much chewing.

      1. Chris too*

        I was going to put in a plug for some type of horticulture! My life is structured around different jobs in it. The pay can be low but doesn’t have to be, a living wage is perfectly possible. You just won’t get rich.
        You can learn more and more every day and it’s not intellectually boring. It’s actually an applied science, with a lot of university science courses in my training.
        The reason I put this comment here is remembering a large after work meeting in a hotel conference room. There were about a hundred people there and a dinner buffet had been arranged for us so we could eat during the presentations. The hotel staff manning the buffet at first looked surprised, then astounded, then panicked, as we went through the dinner line like a horde of locusts.

  9. EPLawyer*

    For both —

    You have bought the line that SUCCESS means getting a good paying job with good benefits and a clear career path. then you get married, have 2.5 kids, buy a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence and get a dog.

    For some this is Success. For others, it is soul crushing. Each person needs to decide what success means.

    HUGE CAVEAT: All jobs have their soul killing OMG moments. No job is stress free. All have their own kind of stress. No job is fulfilling ALL THE TIME. Even Park Ranger — great, I got Greenbelt National Park, not the National Mall. Or vice versa depending on your preference.

    1. Beth*

      I didn’t see anything in either letter to support the idea that they’ve “bought the line that SUCCESS means” etc. One LW is childless; the other never mentioned family plans or any other trope-driven assumptions.

      I read in each letter a clear awareness that a stable job with decent pay and benefits is a solid place to be in life, and abandoning it is not something to be done lightly. This isn’t buying into a tired myth; it’s recognizing the absence of a safety net.

        1. Letter Writer #2*

          Agree! At this point I am working for health insurance. Bottom line. There is no safety net for me, and that’s largely why I don’t just try things. I am so aware of the good fortune and bounty I possess, I don’t want to casually toss it aside, you know?

          I don’t know if it’s extra important in my mind than others–I grew up poor, and my parents instilled in me that if I didn’t work REALLY hard, I wouldn’t make it. Because they had no means or intention of helping me.

          I’m super proud of being a hard worker….but at a certain point you just ask yourself, what’s the point?

          1. Letter Writer #2*

            ETA for clarity: I’m proud of being a hard worker, but my job is often thankless and the finished results are very abstract….so I do ask, can I find something that just means more to me? And would it feel less awful and pointless?

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I have read that food service is one of the most soul-sucking jobs because there is no sense of completion, you get up the next day and do the same thing all over again. There’s no end, no finished results, no satisfaction.

              I often think that job satisfaction is something we have to dig around inside ourselves to find. Additionally, it’s important to look at your life goals. People who don’t have life goals or whose goals take a long time, can really flounder. It could be you have met most of your immediate life goals or it could be that your life goals are so long range that there is no sense of accomplishment yet and there won’t be for a while. Interim goals can help on this one.

              I have had three jobs that lasted a decade or longer. I noticed around year number 8 there was a make it or break it barrier. I had to push myself along to keep showing up for the job. I knew the job like I know how to breathe. I did not see where the job was helping me meet life goals but in one instance I did see that I was meeting intermediate goals.

              I often see comments here about people who are not making ends meet and that is a serious problem. But there is another kind of problem where people are paying the bills and what not but life has just stalled out on them. Every job comes with advantages that other jobs don’t usually have. At my current job I am most fortunate to have bosses who are super concerned that I “go home!”. If my car breaks or the dog gets sick, it’s NBD to take extra time. (They know they will get it back later on, too.) I am in year 9 at this job. I worry about falling asleep as I do some of the tasks and stuff slipping by me. I am overly familiar with some aspects of the job. There are other parts of the job that rarely come up, but it makes me snap to attention when those things come up. It also makes me think about working some where else. Then the bad thing passes and life resumes. So I continue on with the job. I have the flexibility with the work and that is hugely valuable to me.

              1. allathian*

                Yeah. But also, people are vastly different in this regard. I don’t really have any life goals beyond working to at least an acceptable if not excellent standard when I’m not sick or on vacation and maintain a healthy work/life balance so that I can be a good mom and spouse at home, and to practice enough self-care that I’ll still hopefully be able to enjoy my retirement, whenever that happens within the next 15-20 years. Life has a way of throwing screwballs at you, though, and this really isn’t guaranteed.

                One of my more distant relatives was a FIRE pioneer before FIRE was a thing. He worked hard for 30 years, invested most of his earnings successfully, and retired at 55 as he’d planned. Six months after his retirement he was diagnosed with cancer and a year later he was dead. So while I’m saving for the long term, I’m also making sure that I have the means to enjoy life now, just in case I don’t live long enough to enjoy my retirement.

    2. JB*

      I have a friend who’s a park ranger and he loves it but it is DEFINITELY just as stressful as many other jobs.

  10. Hate corporate life*

    I resonate so hard with this. I work in a corporate job and I hate it. I hate the work, I dislike the majority of my coworkers. They’re just – not good people? They are self serving and only care about their careers and they are not the type of people I want to spend a huge chunk of my day with. I make decent money and as a single mom that’s why I’ve stayed. I dream of opening a restaurant or writing a novel. I’m sad to see myself wasting my life working for a soul sucking company (you’ve definitely heard of my employer and you probably already have a negative opinion of them). I don’t know how to get over my fear of leaving but every day I stay here I am sadder about my situation.

    1. lunchtime caller*

      fyi, all writers need dayjobs for a long time (possibly for forever) unless you have family money or a rich spouse so if you want to start writing a novel, may as well start now. It’s not a “quit your job to do it” kind of dream.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yep. A friend of ours is an award-winning author; he has three books out and his fourth is currently in edits. He also had his first novel optioned by a cable network and is in talks to make it into a TV series. He’s successful by most any measure. He’s still got a day job as a college professor.

        1. Boof*

          My friend just got her first big publishing deal last year; for well over a decade she’s worked a day job and written and submitted short stories to magazines etc. i think jk rowling was a waitress was on government benefits and fairly destitute writing her first harry potter book, and she also had been writing for decades

      2. dbseale*

        I started writing my first novella about six years ago and didn’t finish for three of those years. After I published it, I got the writing bug and was ready to charge full steam ahead and quite my job. I am very grateful that I didn’t because the work of trying to sell a self-published novella has not been profitable. I had settled down into a steady rhythm and used the writing to de-stress. For a time. These last two years have crushed every last iota of energy and creativeness that is needed to write.
        I am the same age as OP#2 and have been trying to change career fields all year. It has been…challenging. I have worked in healthcare foodservice for almost twenty years, and most of those have been spent in management. The 60-70+ hour weeks leave little to no time for writing, but it is beginning to provide a slow buildup of a safety net. I might be able to do what OP#1 wants to do and just quit in a few years to devote my time to writing. That is my goal, anyway.

      3. Hate corporate life*

        Oh yes, totally get that. Whenever I have PTO I spend it writing, and I try and write on weekends but the burnout from work has really made that hard to do. I definitely don’t think that I can quit my job, finish my novel and be successful. But I do wish I had the energy to finish it, even just for the feeling of accomplishment that would bring to me.

        1. RagingADHD*

          I wrote my first novel in tiny pieces, a little before work every day and a little on my lunch break most days. I almost never wrote on weekends because they were taken up with the kids. It took me about 18 months first pages to final revision.

          Hold onto your dream! There is a way to make it happen!

    2. MissGirl*

      There are a lot of “corporate” jobs that don’t suck and are great places to work. I think the OPs and a lot of people get trapped in black and white thinking. Either I make awesome money at a soul-sucking job or I make pennies with a non-traditional job.

      You and them aren’t stuck where you are. You have the means and experience and time to job hunt for a better fit. Figure out what you don’t like about your job: is it the company, the industry, certain parts of the job?

      I quit the low-paying “dream” job in publishing for a “corporate” job and my life is much happier. While I don’t love the work like I did, I still enjoy it. The big difference is now I have savings for retirement, own my home, and can afford to travel and do fun stuff. I actually have an investment portfolio!

      1. Nicotena*

        Yes, I think this can depend on the person, but when I left the 9-5 job it helped me appreciate the deal that white-collar employees actually get (in at least some jobs). It’s worth pushing to get into the right reasonably cushy office job where you don’t hate your job, are paid well, and have good benefits, and then focus on other things to make you happy. That said, I recognize that this is an older person’s perspective: it wouldn’t have made much sense to me when I was 20 and it was also very difficult to get that type of job as a new worker. I think mid-to-twenties can be so difficult because you’re working your a** off but not seeing the rewards. It’s a real leap of faith to stick with it sometimes.

    3. My Brain Is Exploding*

      I am sad for you, and I understand what you mean when you say you are wasting your life… But please know that I think you are awesome because you are providing for the person/people in your care! I don’t think that’s wasting your life, and I hope that eventually your work life will be something you really enjoy.

    4. Kali*

      Oof, are you me?

      The stress of my job doesn’t even let me write, particularly these last 18 months. I’m just too overwhelmed/exhausted, even on weekends – all I want to do is sleep.

      I hope we both figure out our paths away from our respective situations!

  11. FD*

    If you can physically handle the work, the trades are desperately hungry for new people and a lot of them pay quite well! When you need a plumber at 2AM, you REALLY need a plumber at 2AM.

    Things I know we need, which I suspect is a general demand too:

    Appliance Repair- This one is huge because all the appliance repair people I know are aging and starting to put their backs out so they don’t want to go on service calls anymore. This is an issue because a broken fridge isn’t exactly portable! I know there are appliance repair schools in the country.

    Plumbers/HVAC People- Good plumbers are very valuable, and although you do have to do some on call work usually, plumbers generally charge a LOT extra for the service. And if you have a leak at 2AM? You’re going to call that plumber.

    Electricians- Again, a lot of demand here, and a lot of the people in this field are a little on the older side. A lot of electricians don’t take much in the way of after-hours work so it’s less of an on-call thing than plumbers.

    Some vendors I work with will just hire newbies and train them. I also hear some people talk about going through a program at a community college or a formal apprenticeship program. My brother, who’s planning to become an electrician, was told that another way to get in is to check in with the local union, who sometimes takes on laborers to help out, but will keep them on if they seem promising after a few tries.

    Things I hear my vendors talk positively about: Most of them hate the idea of pushing paper in an office. They like to be more hands-on and they take satisfaction in fixing things. A lot of the vendors we use are small business owners, which can be satisfying for some people although others would prefer to work for someone else.

    Things I hear my vendors talk negatively about: Back problems seem to be very common in these fields. Some of this might be happenstance–a lot of people in the trades are skewing older right now because people in the last couple of generations were kind of encouraged to see the trades as a loser’s occupation.

    Also, sometimes you end up LITERALLY up to your ankles in sewer water.

    1. Casual Librarian*

      Real Estate Appraisers and Inspectors are in high-demand in my area, and those jobs are less stressful on the body. There is paperwork involved, but the focus on site visits and apprenticeship/training needed make these fall in the “trade” category for me.

      1. FD*

        Don’t they work a huge number of hours though? It seems like all the appraisers and inspectors I know work an awful lot.

        Which is fine if you like it and the money’s good, but just be aware of it.

        1. Wandering*

          The one I know does this on the side because the market for appraising is so small. He makes more working retail – yes, retail.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Electricians are a high-paying, satisfying trade. If my kid wanted to do that, I would whole-heartedly support him in that choice.

      The fact that I live in a 1950s era house whose last owner thought he was a competent renovator has *nothing* to do with it. Nothing. Nope. (3 un-insulated cable joins in 6 feet – wth, dude, wth)

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Oh, my goodness, yes!

        Finding good tradespeople for house stuff is very difficult in my area. The one thing we have is a go-to electrician! We found him years ago when he first struck out on his own, and now he has a successful business with people working for him. They’re responsive and helpful, and we don’t mind paying a little more because all his folks are full-time-with-benefits and provide really good customer service. Now, I need a plumber and HVAC company of the same caliber!

        I’m not sure electrician is a great fit for mine (absent-minded enough to electrocute himself), but we’re already eyeing the vocational programs at the high school for when he gets there in a couple of years.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          We found the HVAC of that quality, we need the plumber and electrician…

          And if nothing else, these are *great* summer jobs.

      2. FD*

        The one thing I could not get past myself is the claustrophobia aspect–electricians have to get into some pretty small spaces sometimes! But if you can handle it, the money’s good and it’s not an easy job to either outsource or replace with AI.

        1. Nicotena*

          For me dealing with unhappy customers, on their own turf, would be a real challenge. I don’t want to go over to some weirdo’s house and get treated badly.

          1. Usagi*

            You could work for a company that mostly/exclusively works on larger projects, like office building renovations or new condos. My good friend is an electrician like that, and he VERY rarely meets clients, and pretty much never without his boss/boss’ boss (owner) present.

            The availability of these jobs kind of depends on the city, though. Obviously larger cities with plenty of development are going to have a better job market.

    3. Nobby Nobbs*

      As far as trades go, my hairstylist friend’s employer was dealing with staffing shortages even before the pandemic and cannot find job candidates for love or money right now. Might be worth looking into if you like people and can handle standing on your feet all day. Landscaping is also an employee’s market at the moment (in my area, at least). Or look into what classes your local community college or technical center offers.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        On your feet and with your arms up. My neighbor got spine problems and had to stop after he turned about 45. OTOH, his parents did hairstyling into their 60s.

        1. allathian*

          My hairdresser mostly uses a saddle chair, and she’s in her mid-20s. A former hairdresser had to quit in her early 40s, because the smell of hair dye and bleach started to make her nauseous. Later I heard that she started an allergy-free salon, where they only use hypoallergenic products. I expect that most of her current clients are severely allergic and need to be selective about the salons they use.

    4. Woman working in the trades in the south*

      FD how open and accepting of women to entry level/ journeyperson or mid-level management opportunities do you find as an attitude in these fields? I’m in the southeastern US and I’ve been experiencing and hearing from other women that these fields are actually trending less open to women over the last few years due to retired snowbirds coming in taking up part-time work for less pay or other polarizing current events. I apologize for the way this comment sounds, NOT trying to troll, just hearing about and personally experiencing a strange trend towards attitudes highlighting gender stereotypes regressing to what they may have been 40 years ago., and it is frustrating. Honestly as a woman in my 30’s working in blue-collar trade fields I had thankfully never experienced or heard about lack of upward career opportunities for women, but it has strangely regressed over the past few years in my state…

      1. FD*

        That’s a very reasonable question! I honestly can’t tell. I am a woman myself but since my knowledge of what these trades are looking for is primarily around hearing the vendors talk and not based on personal experience of being a woman in those trades, I can’t say what is or isn’t going on.

        I know our local construction businesses are recruiting women quite heavily to the point of having job fairs specifically to get women interested in getting into the trades. My *guess* is that this is somewhat a mark of how desperate employers are for jobs. My guess is that like a lot of women in male-dominated spaces, it’s a lot of having to work harder to be taken seriously/put up with some sexist bullshit.

        Is it any easier or harder than being a woman in a office in a male-dominated field? I honestly don’t know.

        If I had to guess, my guess is that it’s going to depend a lot on the person, on the manager, and on the company.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        That’s what I’m kind of wondering, as well. My daughter is thinking of entering the trades (plumbing, electrical, etc.) and I wonder what the working environment will be like.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        There’s been some news stories and it can be challenging. Some women are having to start their own companies to get job assignments. But the need is so great (esp for construction trades) that it’s getting better. Have kids look for women-owned companies, and also use Alison’s work train them to interview the company and check for sexism.

        The medium / long term outlook is very good – those snowbirds and half-backs will have to retire within the next decade, and there will be huge need for experienced trades.

    5. The New Wanderer*

      Land surveying can be a good option of lots of outside time, generally low contact with the public, and offers a couple of career paths with more or less desk time depending on whether you get certified in various areas. I have a relative who wasn’t interested in any kind of desk job or career track, spent some time in food/retail, and fell into this work with zero training. 20 years later, he’s happy with his situation and able to afford living in the DC suburbs.

      1. ObserverCN*

        I have a friend who started out as a surveyor and eventually became a state forest ranger (his dream job).

      2. allathian*

        This could be a great combination of a job where you get to use your head as well as your feet. Although I’m surprised he could get started with basically no training, in my area most surveyors have at least a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, and if you want to do really advanced stuff, you need a Master’s.

    6. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      And if they’re up to it mentally (and physically), (and they’re in an area where it isn’t entirely volunteer), EMS has a HUGE shortage right now. EMTs get paid crap, Paramedics can make in the $30+ range, and it can be incredibly stressful. But it can also be very very fulfilling! There are non-911 jobs–hospitals contract with private companies to transfer and and discharge medically fragile patients.
      (My fiancee is a paramedic and loves it, it’s their calling. It’s also a job I would not be able to handle because I am not good in a crisis and I’m somewhat squeamish)

    7. Midwest commenter*

      My wife entered the trades a few years ago in her 30s (she does concrete masonry and historic preservation as a union bricklayer) and is really enjoying being outside, making things with her hands, and learning a skill. She did a women in trades 12-week pre-apprenticeship program, got the first construction job she applied for and now gets more training through the union. It’s hard physical work and it’s hard being a woman on the job sites but it’s been a good move for her! Oh, and the highest paid trades around here are electricians and elevator technicians.

    8. Mimi*

      I have a friend who left office work to become a carpenter. She spent a while doing a couple of hours a week with the office’s carpenter (they had a lot of maintenance needs) and then left for trade school for a year (North Bennett Street School, if anyone’s curious — she really liked it) and then got a job at a home construction company. She likes it a lot and seems to feel a lot more satisfied than she did sending emails and sorting out keycard issues.

      Tangential, but I will note about park ranger specifically: I know someone who got park-ranger certified, only to discover that the only park ranger jobs in our area are things like “guide people through this historic house,” and they’re very competitive (to get, presumably not to work in), so check the availability of jobs in the area you want to work in BEFORE you get the schooling.

    9. Lora*

      Welders. The MIG/TIG welders up at work get paid more than I do. Half the time they don’t even show up to work, show up very late or not sober, and we tell them to go home, sleep it off, come back tomorrow like no big deal because we need welders sooooo bad.

      For a while if the whole pharma thing didn’t work out, I thought about restaurant or bakery ownership, but crunching the numbers and figuring out what the schedule has to be completely put me off that idea. But one I really considered for a while was diesel mechanic – I had a biodiesel car I worked on myself, and for a while there was a trend for people to convert old (warranty-less) cars to biodiesel, I had done some biofuels work so knew that eventually converting any kind of engine to run on something else would be coming along. Failing that I could run a women-owned car repair shop with flat published prices so people don’t feel like they’re getting ripped off. It would have taken about two years to finish all the certifications though, and I didn’t have two years’ worth of savings.

      Another thing I thought about was logistics. There’s a whole Maersk-run program for that, which is also a couple of years to complete, but many of the classes are like, a week or a long weekend type of thing. You have to travel to the class site, which means international travel usually.

      You have to really be careful about training programs for trades – there are a lot of rip-off for profit schools, and in my state trades people mostly get certified through union apprenticeships, so any program that gives you a certificate of completion but no clear route to the union apprenticeship is just stealing your money. For auto repair there’s usually certifications specific to particular brands as well.

    10. Ann Non*

      From what I hear, while plumbers and other house maintenance type people technically CHARGE a lot, actually GETTING that money from their clients is very difficult and they often have to run after people for months, taking them to court etc. They always seem surprised when we actually pay them. So that is a whole other layer of stress to be aware of.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        We had a plumber stop by our house a couple of weeks ago, looking for the contractor who hadn’t paid him. My husband’s parents are the ones who renovated the house and sold it to us, and I know that they paid the contractor in full. Now it’s several months later and the contractor still hasn’t paid his sub-contractors. The plumber said he was going to put a lien against our house in order to get the money {eyeroll emoji}. My husband told him he was sorry he hadn’t been paid by the contractor, but he didn’t have a leg to stand on suing us for it.

      2. FD*

        Yeah, if you want to be an independent plumber vs. working for a company that hires plumbers, you have to be good with the business side of things including the legal side.

        That said, both small and large businesses do hire a decent number of tradespeople, and from the specific numbers I hear, the pay/benefits sound decent). So you don’t necessarily have to be self-employed if you don’t want to be.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Our state university hires plumbers, electricians, HVAC, etc. as part of the facilities management staff.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I can’t get anyone to come to the house to do anything for less than $200 starting price. Interestingly, I got to talk to a person who repaired pellet stoves. He said the insurance costs and the vehicle maintenance costs were the driving forces behind why it costs so much to have someone come to your home.

        However, if you are good at the work and you live in a rural area, you will never be without work. We have a plumber in this community who everyone knows by just his first name. If you say “Nick is coming today to fix the sink”, everyone in the community knows who Nick the plumber is.

        However small appliance repair is also a big deal. Here, bench fees are $90 and if you want the thing repaired that will cost extra.

    11. Mallory Janis Ian*

      After my husband’s plant closed, the employees were offered worker re-education as part of a state program, and they had to select from some options where the work was needed in our state’s economy. One of the ones he looked into was ammonia refrigeration. There is a 18-month vocational certificate (if I remember correctly) and it pays pretty well. While he was there visiting the program, the instructor told him that a winery in California had contacted him to ask if he had any graduates ready to go, and when he said he didn’t, they offered the job to him. I think typical workplaces with that skillset include factories or warehouses where food production occurs.

    12. Jessica Fletcher*

      OP, especially since you live in DC, look for union apprenticeships in the trades you’re interested in. In my city, the unions have training centers where you’ll learn the basics in a school, then apprentice, then become certified. You get paid well the whole time.

      Try things out though. Working in an office, we romanticize other fields without seeing that it’s all hard work and it all has crappy parts, just in different ways. Trades are physically demanding, they’re often boys clubs that allow more harassment than most corporate jobs will tolerate, and you have to deal with The Public.

  12. TechWorker*

    I am only repeating a comment from someone else on here to a previous ask them readers but it stuck with me – it is worth considering whether your self worth is tied to how much money you are making… would you feel resentful if today your time is valued at ‘medium – large number of dollars per hour’ and tomorrow it’s valued as minimum wage?

    It doesn’t sound good to admit it but that definitely is part of the equation for me. I am proud of my career, though I don’t always love it, and I think it would be hard to feel less respected (or at least, I’d want to make sure I was including that in the trade off as well as the money itself).

    1. JB*

      This is a big thing to consider. Also – whether you will be able to handle being treated without dignity.

      The less you are paid, the more likely your supervisor is to treat you as replaceable (at best) and the more likely the general public is to treat you like something they found on the bottom of their shoe.

    2. new_nickname*

      I agree. I’ve always worked for huge multinationals and hated it. However, it’s easier to work now when I earn 4 times the average salary in my country than at the beginning of my career when I worked 12h/ day for “peanuts”.

    3. lemon*


      I think compensation can also affect how much stress we’re willing to tolerate (to a point). I worked food service and retail jobs for years. I *loved* certain parts of those jobs: the adrenaline of getting through a lunch rush, merchandising, the relationships you build with coworkers, etc. But, as others have mentioned, customers could be truly awful. I’ve had people curse me out, wait for me after work to threaten to beat me up, people who pooped in the middle of a clothing rack or dressing room, people who’ve left urine-soaked clothing behind, etc. If I’d been getting paid what I make now in my office job (with benefits), I would have continued to put up with those things to be able to enjoy the good aspects of the work. But, it just wasn’t worth it at minimum wage with no healthcare.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Yep, so agree.

      When I started working minimum wage was $2.91 per hour. When I went up to $5 per hour, I finally felt decent about myself. That was decades ago. Yes, to look at you pay stub and see that all your hard work is only worth x amount can do a real number on the thinking.

  13. LDN Layabout*

    One thing to look at when transitioning to non-office jobs is to consider carefully what the future looks like e.g. are there options for when you’re older and might physically not be able to do the work?

    For some careers it’s a strong union/pension that covers that, or transitioning to running a business that employs others. Or being able to earn enough to transition to a lower impact job.

    One parent has an office job that can technically fairly easily be dragged into their 80s if they wanted to. Their sibling drives trucks and is feeling the strain of the job/lifestyle already in their 50s, with no back-up plan.

    And a good friend is a vet tech, loves the job, but knows she doesn’t want to be a vet AND that the physicality of the work will get to her eventually. She’s looking to do the opposite to here!

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      +1 ! Factor in that in the US, SS retirement age is likely to increase at least one more time, though progressives recognize this is hard on people doing physical trades and are working to prevent it.

    2. Edie W*

      I came here to say this as well — a more physically demanding job may be something you like now, but it’s important to think about what would happen if as you got older those physical demands felt less enjoyable or feasible. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go into such a field but to take a longer view. For example my husband started out as a mechanic but over time the physical demands of the job (and related things like coming home sweaty and dirty at the end of the day) got tiresome — he was able to move into a teaching / training role where he was still using his expertise but in a different way. Would there be options like that in your chosen field?

      Also I think it can be helpful to remember that not all “office” jobs involve sitting in front of a computer all day. There are lots of roles in fields like education and medicine that are white collar (for lack of a better term) but have a lot more opportunities to move around during the day, interact with people, etc.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I see this with a lot of people. The 70 y/o contractor who never goes on roofs anymore so he has to hunt around and find a warm body to fill his contract that he just signed. ugh. It’s stress but a different kind of stress.

  14. Tasteful Mullet*

    I’m in a similar boat to LW1. I am very, *very* good at my job at a social services-type nonprofit. And I actually do enjoy the work! BUT the work I do is not going to be sustainable for me long-term- it’s really hard on me emotionally. I’ve taken steps to change my job description to something that allows for less exposure to stress and vicarious trauma, and I’ve even changed roles entirely from doing direct services to more community-based work. It’s helped a bit, but I know I don’t want to do this forever.

    Being outdoors is my favorite thing, and I keep looking into jobs doing landscaping or grunt work for environmental restoration groups, fantasizing about getting paid to be alone in the woods doing manual labor all day. But you’re right, LW, those jobs do require training AND are often a significant pay cut if you’re coming from the corporate world- and what if you get there and hate it? One way I’ve addressed this is by volunteering with my local environmental programs doing the exact kind of restoration work I dream of doing full-time. It’s given me a sense that yes, that is the long-term path I want to take, and having a consistent non-work passion has really improved my ability to do my actual job. I feel better going into work knowing that it’s not all I’m doing- that I have passions outside of my job.

    So, LW1, I’d super recommend finding organizations that offer volunteer opportunities in the areas you’re considering- or, if training is required, to start looking at your local rec centers and public school systems to see whether they’re offering introductory or continuing education courses. You can build experience (maybe even get certifications!) while also staying in your current job as a way to save money if you have to take a paycut later. That’s what I’ve been doing, and it’s made my real job a lot more bearable!

    1. Swisscheez*

      Restoration field work is the kind of work that not everyone can do when they get older. It can be hard on your body. You may encounter machoism. Volunteering and full time may not be the same experience. Full time can be a lot more physically demanding and technically skilled work than one would expect from any kind of volunteer.

  15. Wolf*

    Keep the job (for now) and go big with volunteering. Your work doesn’t have to be the thing that you’re passionate about.

  16. too many too soon*

    My partner & I did this. She quit a career-type job with great benefits and a lot of vacation, but was incredibly stressful. She managed to find a low-responsibility part time job with a city that still provides benefits and is union, but it’s stressful in other ways.
    She has little agency in her duties or schedule and taking time off is even harder because the understanding is that part time workers can do all the life things when they aren’t scheduled for work. It’s also been hard to go from someone with authority to just a cog to be bossed.
    I’ve done the same thing a number of times, and there is always stress, but a change of scenery can buy time before the stress creeps up to intolerable levels.

  17. What She Said*

    As someone who quit college because why go to school when I have no idea what I am working towards here is my experience. I got a job right out of high school in a call center. It wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great either. I was promoted to one of their external offices which was great I was learning more and more stuff. Then I started thinking I wanted to go to school to work in a particular job sector. The time for school meant I had to quit my job so I found a way to work in the area I wanted to at a lower level to see if I even wanted it, ended up it was not what I wanted. So I started trying out something else. And that something else has been my employer for last 20ish years. My point is, if you can dabble around do it. Volunteer, take part-time jobs, but get out there and see what feels right. Sometimes you don’t know what you want until you stumble upon it.

    1. youknowmestephieb*

      YES!! So many opportunities to “try it out” before making the plunge. Volunteering or having a part-time job in that field can give you a sense of the ins and outs. Also, informational interviews are wonderful for this. You can ask questions and really dive into the nitty gritty of it and people feel more open to talk with you because the purpose isn’t “can you get me a job in your field” the purpose is “does this field sound like a good fit for me”. Take it from someone who has done both – leapt without looking and planned ad nauseum – and the more you can get a true sense of what a certain career will be like, the more realistic you can be with yourself about what kind of career you want.

    2. Pam Adams*

      That’s how I became an academic advisor- I returned to school in the mid-1990’s to get a computer degree- the hot career of the ’90’s! Worked as a student assistant in various departments, got offered a job, and am still here 21 years later.

  18. Tussy*

    LW2, the problem with coffee shop or plant nursery worker (which is just a retail job) is that you will also have to get used to a job where you do not get respect for it. Retail and hospitality have huge aspects of emotional labour and you will come across people who are in a bad mood and want to take it out on you or have a power trip just because they can get away with it.

    That’s why people try to get out of retail and hospo very few spend their whole lives in that industry. I know you say you think you understand that all jobs have problems but… I don’t think you understand that it is not less relaxing at all. I am so much more relaxed at work now I’m in an office than I was when I worked in retail.

    1. Hell in a Handbasket*

      I agree. If you’re accustomed to being a respected professional with a degree of autonomy in how you accomplish your job, I think the transition to retail or similar could be really rough.

      1. Nicotena*

        Also the “shift” schedule is really challenging if you’re used a more flexible arrangement; and watch out for rotating shifts in retail. See the letter earlier in the week about working holidays (wouldn’t be an issue in a greenhouse necessarily but coffeeshops and dog walkers (my personal millennial escape fantasy) work holidays.

    1. Nicotena*

      Yes, I think it’s normal and healthy for us all to fantasize about alternative lives and jobs (I have lots of friends who dream of opening cafes or coffeehouses, cat cafes, florists etc), but when you’re seriously contemplating quitting a well paying job in your field to pursue these roles it really behooves you to examine these fantasies critically. Any job dealing with the public directly is going to be stressful and unpleasant a lot of the time.

    2. A Girl Named Fred*

      It might be, depending on the person! My boyfriend is a one-man department in a retail store, and he vastly prefers his day-to-day stress to many other potential work. He’s a people person so he loves interacting with tons of customers, even though some of them ARE rude, and he truly enjoys helping people find exactly what they’re looking for as well as managing his budget/stock/etc.

      Would retail be less stressful for me than office work? Absolutely not. But for him, it works. Different strokes for different folks and all that. :)

  19. lunchtime caller*

    I’ve thought this before but am thinking it again as I read these letters: SO many people get pulled into this all or nothing thinking that is (in my opinion) a product of TV and movies and not at all necessary in real life. The choices don’t have to be “work a corporate job until you wither away” (which is seen as safe) or “blow up your life, leave your job tomorrow, become a full time sewing machine repair person” (which is seen as brave). As someone who works a “passion” job that required another full time day job on top of it to get started AND pay the bills, if you’re willing to put in the elbow grease you can always just try stuff out before committing and be both brave AND safe about it. Build a savings net, find out how you could transition to less time at dayjob stuff and add in more time of passion project stuff, make real goals for yourself and see if you hit them, find out what it would even take to run a business like sewing machine repair or whatnot (in terms of time/money/essential skills and knowledge). Or frankly, start with getting a hobby and see if that affects your life at all. Good luck, LWs!

    1. Cendol*

      This! I second the idea to get into a hobby or a volunteer gig to test the waters. I dream of being a novelist, and to support that dream I work a pretty chill office dayjob so I don’t have to worry about health insurance. It frees up a lot of headspace to be creative.

  20. capedaisy127*

    Would suggest before planning a career change, be honest about your life goals. Do you want to study, purchase property, travel, live somewhere else. Do you have family or friends that you need to be near or far from? What financial support do you need? Healthcare, food and shelter. What do you need to thrive?
    Next do an internal audit. What are your strengths and weaknesses. Do you want training or further education?
    What are your hell-no jobs and industries?
    Are there any resources for industries or roles you might be interested in? Trade shows, training portals, Youtube videos like a day in the life of.
    Deconstruct why you are unhappy or restless. Do you need a therapist or mentor to help you unpick your current mindset?
    You might want a mind set shift. With myself, I have an admin role. I help people by making their working lives easier by looking after the small stuff, that makes the big stuff happen. Does it rock my universe? Not really. But it’s OK. I have my fun after work and on many holidays. The day stuff pays for the other stuff.
    I got rid of the I want my job to be my everything years ago.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      The job is a means to an end.

      What is good about this approach is that it can match how the boss feels about us as employees. The boss is not invested, why would we get invested? Do your best each day and go home.

  21. Ocho*

    I have a friend who left a high-pressure white collar job to be a vet tech because they loved animals. They were quickly disillusioned by the low pay, lack of sick leave/vacation time, and the on-the-job injury they suffered. They also found the business side of the job demoralizing. They are back in the white collar world, although not in the same high-pressure profession. I would recommend having a plan C, if plan B doesn’t go as hoped.

  22. LittleRedFox*

    I have been feeling this way all throughout my career – but especially so when I first started out. For context I’ve been in the corporate work world for about 15 years. I really resonated with Letter Writer 1 because considering things like national parks jobs or other practical jobs (like plumbing or electric) are all things I’ve considered as well.

    What I can tell you is what has worked for me. I’ve learned to become content with my office job and appreciate it for all of the things it provides me: steady paycheck, benefits, regular hours, etc. I really enforce work/life boundaries; I’m not saying I never do volunteer to do overtime or anything like that, but I am very strict about not letting my job consume my life. I find my fulfillment outside of work and that was a hard one for me. My generation was really pressed upon to “follow your dreams” “live your passion” “do what you love” and I really felt unfulfilled and like a failure because I didn’t.

    I pursue my other interests on my time – I have a podcast with some of my friends, I am writing a novel on the weekends. And maybe one day one of those things will pay off big and I can quit my boring day job. But if not, I know I can look back and be content with my decision. Hope that helps you LW :)

    1. Bagpuss*

      My brother did something similar for a long time. When he first graduated from university he did a lot of work for which he was, on paper, over qualified – data entry and help desk work, in particular . It was work which let him do compressed hours and which wasn’t mentally demanding so it gave him the time and energy to do the thing that he really enjoyed and was good at (mostly geeky stuff to do with music , helping bands to make their first CDs, doing tech for small scale gigs and so on )

      This let him work out the things he really wanted to do and is good at, and to meet people who did those things professionally, and he was then able to go back to university (part time while working) to get a second degree that fitted the niche he wanted, and then managed to get onto the graduate program with a big organisation, in their R&D department, where he has been ever since.

      But part of it was that it wasn’t, an isn’t, a mainstream career path and even knowing what qualifications you might need to get a foot in the door, or what the job you want is even called, was a something which took a long time and a fair bit of trial and error.

    2. Eeyore is my spirit animal*

      I went to a presentation at a Wildlife conference by a man that was a cardio-thoracic surgeon in LA for 6 months of the year. The other six months he volunteered with a Grizzly Bear study in Yellowstone. He cheerfully admits that he practices medicine to fund his bear habit.

  23. Cant remember my old name*

    First, a quick question – can you find fulfillment outside your jobs? Like could you keep a job that you’re good at but don’t love and do things you love outside of work? (This is more for OP1, since OP2’s job sounds stressful.)

    Onto your questions – I’d ask around! I know that’s probably why you wrote into AAM, but I’d recommend working your network (and your network’s network) to find people who have made that change and can have a very detailed conversation about it or someone who has never had an “office job”. But I’d also recommend doing more introspection to decide what type of work you actually want to do. Set the bar higher than “non-office”. Good luck!

  24. GigglyPuff*

    I’ve thought about doing this, just ditching it all and starting over with something new. I like my job but sometimes I want to try other things. Unfortunately I have an expensive chronic illness so with my healthcare tied to my job, that’s probably never going to happen. I do miss the days of my college job though, doggie daycare. It was so simple, a nice checklist of things that needed to be done, having things to cuddle when not picking up the poop=totally worth it. Course I never dealt with the front of the house and dog owners, but I’ve briefly thought of starting my own if I ever wanted a career change.

    Sorry, not really advice, but commiseration.

  25. Cheetah*

    Quit your jobs! Be happy! I made more money last year than I ever planned, and quit my job in January without a real plan because it made me cry weekly. After the pandemic – no job is worth being unhappy. I asked friends to let me know if they needed part-time help, took some freelance jobs, and am now consulting at a company with potential to increase salary by 30% with a less stressful job! but if this doesn’t work out, I know it’s ok for me to go and try something else. It’s ok to change plans!

    If you are a woman, PLEASE read “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle. It’s really what gave me the courage to try and be happy.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Quit your job and be happy isn’t really workable advice for a lot of people. They still have to pay for housing, food, utilities, etc., and have at least catastrophic health coverage. There is no job that’s made me as unhappy as not knowing where my next week’s grocery bill or next month’s rent was coming from. Being broke and on the verge of eviction sucks a great deal, and our state’s unemployment is stingy and hard to get (and just choosing to quit your job makes you ineligible anyway).

      It is 100% okay to try other things, change plans, or to take a non-traditional path, but I can’t get behind encouraging people to quit without a plan (even if that plan is just living off savings for X months while looking for another job or piecing together part-time gigs to make rent – those are still plans). Quitting without a realistic plan only really works if you have family or a spouse or someone that can cover the basics of living.

      1. another take*

        I disagree. Everyone’s level of risk tolerance is different. I have quit my job without a safety net several times and it’s been fine, even great a few times. I don’t have a family (or a spouse) that I can rely on for help paying bills, and have supported myself since I was 18.

  26. Esmeralda*

    I’m going to sound like a worrywart parent but…think hard about living without good health insurance and think hard about how long you’re willing to go without saving for retirement. That doesn’t mean — don’t do anything without a retirement match and other benefits! (I have a kid in art school who’s been…desultory…about getting internships and thinking about careers, and I am butting out of that, except to fund a Roth IRA for them)

    But when you’re 64, do you want to feel you have to keep working the next 20 years to avoid homelessness? or at any age, to put off needed healthcare because it’s unaffordable?

    1. DEJ*

      I dream of quitting my office job sometimes in favor of a more freestyle life but everything you mention are things that stop me, especially your comment of avoiding homelessness as a senior. Allison gave advice once that was along the lines of how money and savings gives you options and peace of mind, knowing that you can handle a financial emergency without having to go into debt for it. I want that security.

    2. Spearmint*

      This is fair, but not all non-office jobs are minimum wage gigs with few/no benefits. Many jobs in the trades and manufacturing, for example, have good pay and benefits, as do many non-office government jobs like park ranger or fire fighter.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I’m on the worrywart parent couch, too. Not that I’d want my kids to do something that makes them miserable nor do I have any sort of strong feelings about whether they work an office job, an outdoorsy job, or something else. But I can’t support them forever, both of them have health conditions that will require health coverage, and that’s going to have to be a factor in the jobs they will have.

      I think this is my biggest issue with the whole “find your bliss” and “do what you love” thing – what if those things don’t pay the bills? I can’t imagine my job being my source of happiness. I wouldn’t want to do something that I hated… but somedays jobs are just meh, and that’s fine. It’s work, not my family or hobbies or source of fulfillment. And it’s my job that funds the things that actually make me happy.

    4. Fingerlime*

      Right, the issue with moving to a low-paying retail job without benefits is that it puts you much further away from having financial independence and being able to retire, ever. The reason most people put up with their boring office jobs is so that they can eventually retire and be financially secure in that retirement.

    5. Librarian*

      False dichotomy – it’s not either a rat-race job or working til 84/no healthcare/homelessness.

      There are lots of jobs that are meaningful, benefitted, and not stressful/cutthroat/soul-sucking (such as mine).

      It’s even possible to responsibly have a much lower-paying job if you learn to do 2 things:
      – reduce your expenses
      – develop a value system based on experiences, not things.

  27. Web of Pies*

    It sound like the LWs have experienced these feelings at multiple jobs so this may not be relevant, but I’ve experienced dysfunctional workplaces which definitely convinced me that my career path was not for me, even that I was super bad at it! (I was not!) Finding a functional workplace (in the same field) changed my “I don’t wanna do this anymore” feelings drastically.

    But, presuming changing fields really is the goal, if now is a bad time to go off and be a cottagecore farmer, maybe take some time and examine what else you can control may be contributing to your burnout. Maybe lessening screen and social media time, maybe going on a news diet, or decluttering your house, or just letting go of some projects you “need” to do for a while could help. We’re all bombarded with choices and media and information all day every day, maybe simplifying in whatever way makes sense to the LW’s could have an overall helpful effect while they figure out what to do about work.

    PS getting your finances in order (if they aren’t already) is going to contribute to your sense of peace a LOT and help you jump ship from your career more easily, since you’ll have a safety net. Good luck!

    1. Web of Pies*

      Oh! And another thing that was cramping my style was where I lived. I hated it! And that affected every part of my life, including dissatisfaction at work. Once I moved to a new city, I felt much better about everything in my life.

      LW1, DC is super pricy! I’d suggest mulling over pairing a career change with a move farther out where your living expenses can be less. If you super-hate that idea, that’s valuable info to figure out what you want to do (i.e., maybe you don’t become a plumber, but you seek a better working environment with a new corporate job, and REALLY push to be in whatever department you want to be (not HR)).

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I second the comment on DC. I live in the DC metro area, and it’s not the Bay or NYC, but it’s not affordable at all, especially homeownership. The upside is that there are lots of jobs, so if you don’t like one it’s not horribly difficult to try something else… but the area is not representative of the rest of the country.

        I also find that DC is very work-oriented, if that makes sense? Lots of focus on what you do or who you work for and a lot of academic competition/snobbery that is not prevalent outside New England-ish East Coast area. My industry, in particular, is chock full of hyper-achieving Type As, so the emphasis on career advancement and traditional, office jobs is probably greater.

        1. ObserverCN*

          Another DMV resident here, and you’re absolutely right — work is a huge part of people’s identity, and the cost of living in some areas is ridiculous. I’ve had to work hard to make sure I don’t wrap up too much of myself in my job, and I’ve found a lot of fulfillment in my side job and volunteer gigs instead.

    2. The Decent Docent*

      Or conversely, adding a project or two in your down time to fill the mental pleasure circuits.

  28. Merry and Bright*

    Try visiting the career counselor at a local community college. Community colleges tend to have more connections and classes associated with trade professions and know people locally who you could get more information from. They also can administer strong interests tests that can help you know what kinds of Carter’s you might find fulfilling.

  29. Bagpuss*

    I think in both cases it is worth trying to sit down and work out which elements (if any!) of your current or part jobs you did enjoy or find fulfilling, and which parts you actively dislike and find stressful, and also do dome research into the type of work you think you may prefer to see how much of those elements you would have anywhere.

    For instance, coffee shops / retail etc. have lots of very immediate stress – people being horrible, pressure at busy times etc, but mostly you work the hours you have agreed to / been rosta’d, you have much less in the way of stress from having to meet deadlines, or complete big projects.

    Outdoors jobs will vary hugely but again, they will have their own stresses – seasonal variations on the levels of work valuable, working in unpleasant conditions, potential for isolation / loneliness etc.
    They may also be more likely to be jobs which involve significant physical labor which may mean added risk of career-ending injury or having to retire earlier due to fitness requirements .

    You also need to think about the realistic financial implications of a change – in particular the point at which, for you personally, the stress of lower income or more financial uncertainty would outweigh the benefits of the more congenial job. (of course, you may find something where you can combine decent income with a job you enjoy, but a lot of lower stress / more enjoyable jobs are also not very well paid, and / or are only well paid if you get to the point where you are able to set up in business for yourself, at which point you need to bear in mind that running a business requires work – you can be a great plumber and not be great at running a successful or profitable plumbing business, for instance.

    1. Allison K*

      This is a great point! I was a full time circus performer for about 20 years, lots of physical labor, lots of interaction with the public. Now I’m a writer and editor, which at first sounds like the opposite!

      It wasn’t until we all started doing events on Zoom that I realized oh hey I love teaching and public speaking because it’s performing! I love leading writing retreats in Italy and Costa Rica and that hits my travel joy; and editing is a lot like circus coaching (pick what they can fix first, better skills need pickier critique, gotta inspire them to keep doing this thing that is hard and thankless).

      I’ve been full time editing/writing/teaching for about 8 years now and just had my first year that beat my circus income (there’s a lot of money in hanging on a trapeze over the buffet while people eat shrimp and ignore you.) But the job works because it touches the same parts I loved about circus work—creating, presenting to live audiences, being an independent contractor, using comedy, and (when it’s safe) traveling. Note that the actual writing of books is about 15% of my time and so far close to 0% of my income, but fingers crossed that will change as I have a book out next week :)

  30. Tim C.*

    I did a similar bout of soul searching about 12 years ago. In fact, it lead me to this site.
    Jim Koch said “Love what you do and never work a day in your life”.
    Mike Rowe said “Never follow your passion, but always bring it with you.”

    I did a major career adjustment, but within my industry. I was management and recognized I was not cut out for it and am much happier as a staffer. I learned a new specialty and have a much better understanding and respect for management. It helps that I like doing new things.

    What do you like to do for a hobby? I am not saying to turn a hobby into a career. Use it to point you in a direction. Say you like building and flying model aircraft. Maybe engineering is a career. You like fishing? Wildlife management or biologist. It helps if you understand if you are a people person or more introverted.

  31. BigTenProfessor*

    I, along with most of my close college friends with business or STEM degrees of some type, graduated into corporate jobs and were excited to be earning money, saving for retirement, etc. About seven years later, there was a pretty large exodus away from those jobs. I went back for my phd and started teaching, a CPA friend became an interior decorator, a lawyer friend left corporate law to do immigration activist work, etc. Even just folks who were doing road warrior consulting work took pay cuts to be in non-consulting jobs.

    I hate to say it, but the number one thing that let us take these sorts of risks was socioeconomic privilege. There’s no getting around the fact that most/all of us were from backgrounds that allowed us to have a safety net. Sure, I cut expenses and saved as much as possible in the year before I left my job to live on TA wages (about a fifth of my corporate income), but even *that* was a function of having no student loans, which in turn, is a function of privilege.

    All that said…I don’t know that any of us entirely closed the door on our previous careers. I gave lots of notice and there is no doubt that if I had wanted to go back to my old company, I could have done that. I also kept certifications up-to-date and continued to keep my network active. The decision I made was never permanent (and still isn’t!). Especially in these weird COVID times, if you try something else for a year, decide you don’t like it/it doesn’t work for you financially, you can go back to your old industry. When I thought about it in those terms (what’s the very worst that could happen?), it wasn’t nearly as scary.

    1. A Genuine Scientician*


      So very much of my career path has been made possible by the fact that I didn’t have student debt, and that let me make many of the choices I made. Even within a given career path (or panther) I’ve been able to make choices that better reflected what I was interested in doing, instead of having to chase the most lucrative path. And that, in turn, has made the more negative aspects of the path I’ve walked — and there are negative aspects to all paths — more tolerable, because I felt like I had a choice in the matter, rather than being forced into specific things.

      Sure, I worked hard for the scholarships I got, and I worked part time in college on top of those, but that doesn’t negate the fact that there absolutely were strong elements of privilege in getting those scholarships in the first place.

      1. Pollyanna Sunshine*

        Yes! Nothing is permanent. You can definitely try things out and go back to something more corporate later. Companies are more forgiving about gaps in resumes these days. Shore up your savings, do your research, and try it out.

        OP2, I’ve been where you are. I mentioned this in another comment, but you may need to get out of the crap companies you’ve been at and see if that alleviates some stress. Once I realized that I didn’t want to deal with all those BS meetings and reports, my interviews have been really targeted to screen that out. My last few jobs have given me the space I needed to breathe and energy to really chase after what’s important to me.

  32. FrenchCusser*

    The most fun job I ever had was the 10 years I spent as a nanny – I was not a kid, either, mid-30s to mid-40s. 7 of them with the world’s most delightful child.

    BUT – no benefits, long hours, no health insurance, no retirement plan, low pay (but with room and board and a car included).

    So I’ve spent the last 20 years working in Finance – I have health insurance, a retirement plan, savings, all that adult stuff you need as you get older.

    Do I regret it? Not in the least. It fulfilled my life in ways I would have missed otherwise. But I’m also glad I gave it up when I did because I also need all that other boring stuff.

    So if you’re young and can swing it, following that dream is something you’ll never regret – but also be willing to say, ‘well, it was nice while it lasted’ if the time comes to give it up.

  33. Jenny*

    Another book recommendation, Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s about good decision-making in general, but they use career changes as examples many times. They talk about things like setting parameters, trying out decisions before fully committing, etc.

    Also, use this time to prep. Milk your unsatisfying job for all it’s worth–need wisdom teeth out? Get it done now while you have dental. Do they have educational benefits, discount programs on technology, whatever? Use those to get yourself ready to launch. Also, even if your new career path will ultimately be lucrative, there will probably be a thin spell while you transition. If you have flex in your budget now, build up as much as you can in the way of financial reserves and take care of preventative maintenance while you can.

    And third, I once read advice that I thought was very wise. If you don’t know what to do in terms of searching out something new, do something, anything. Think about what you liked best from that experience. Look for something else that gives you more of that. In the next iteration, look for what you like best. Search out an experience, job etc that gives you more of what worked for you. Repeat until you are in a situation where you’re happy enough that you don’t need to look for something new. My brother worked himself into a self-owned, very lucrative business (that no one’s ever heard of, but that the people who need, REALLY need) pretty much that way.

    Best of luck to both OP!

  34. PolarVortex*

    As someone who worked those jobs for 15+ years before I transferred to corporate, it’s a mixed bag to work in either side. You’ve seen the downside of the corporate world, but the trades world/retail world/food world can be equally soul sucking. (Holidays: required work. PTO: often crap (one place I worked for gave me one PTO day a year, at full time work). Everyone will also treat you terribly because you’re there to help them and getting paid to take their crap.) I went corporate because I was sick of being treated terribly and wanted more financial stability/ability to actually take vacations.

    You need to weigh a lot of things. You need to do some budgeting to determine what is feasible including long term budgeting like retirement. Figure out things like what medical would look like in your new job. You need to take some time to explore those jobs you’re interested in – take on a part time job over the holidays doing coffee/working for a nursery/etc – to see if they’re the right fit. Tradesjobs you can often do a job shadow. Explore before making the jump but don’t let anyone stop you from making it if you’ve explored it and you’re excited for it.

    That being said, if you’re looking for a trade to get into and you have the stomach for it: anything to do with sewage is highly lucrative and nobody wants to get into it. Particularly Septic Tank pumping. (I know this because my dad works in this world.)

  35. cactus lady*

    I would LOVE to hear from anyone who works as a state or national park ranger. That is something I would love to do once I’ve paid off my student loans (someday…)

    1. Bagpuss*

      A friend of mine, Sharon Stiteler is a National Park Ranger – she blogs and tweets as Birdchick – mostly about birding but sometimes about her role as a ranger.

    2. different seudonym*

      I’m not one, but a family member tried to get into this field. Turns out, it’s like painting or acting–many people interested, very few jobs, extraordinary personal sacrifices required even to get your foot in the door.

      1. londonedit*

        That was also the experience of a family member of mine. It turned out the vast majority of roles were volunteer-based, and the few actual paid positions were held on to for all they were worth by the people already in them. On the rare occasion a full-time job would come up, there were hundreds (if not thousands) of people from all over the country going for it. They enjoyed volunteering for the organisation, but it quickly became apparent that moving into a full-time position would be extremely unlikely.

        1. Ali G*

          Yup. And if yo don’t have a degree in natural resources, wildlife or the like, you will never get a job. You can’t just sign up!

          1. Eeyore is my spirit animal*

            There is a lot of trade work. We had carpenters, mechanics, heavy equipment operators, etc. most of whom got started through the construction industry. Though nowadays, you might need a degree in something, just because.

    3. Metadata minion*

      If you’re interested in the outdoorsy aspect of park-ranger-ing more than the docent aspect of it, you might want to look into places like ecology labs, especially in government, if you have any background in the sciences. The pay is pretty terrible unless you have at least a masters’ degree, but is probably better than retail.

    4. walwen*

      I volunteer for the USFS in my local national forest. It’s not something I’m trying to make a career out of, but we are usually among the first to know when permanent positions will be opening up. The state parks in my state typically have entry level seasonal openings for a variety of positions too.
      Most of the work I do is what we like to call “preventative search and rescue” since our mountains do not mess around. Mainly providing info and advice to hikers and collecting data for yearly usage and SAR reports. We also have people who do trail maintenance, patrol for and dismantle illegal campsites, people who survey the flora in the alpine zone, and volunteers who help with archaeological surveys in the 19th century logging ghost towns we have literally everywhere. There’s a lot of variety for people with different backgrounds and interests! I would definitely suggest researching volunteer programs in your area to get your foot in the door.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      I have a college buddy who was a park ranger for a number of years. I believe she had an interdisciplinary degree that drew from hospitality management, forestry, history, and business – we had a design-your-own-degree program. She lived onsite at her park. The pay was lower because of the provided housing/utilities, and she started out at a smaller/lesser known park and worked her way up. I think she now works in an executive position at a well-known cultural site in our state.

      She was a ranger before she got married and had kids. She loved the outdoorsy side and doing interpretation and programs, but she also had to deal with drunk people (including some who tried to break into her house), people sneaking onto the park outside of hours, living on an isolated spot, and never really being off the clock.

      1. retired*

        Volunteered and worked for National Park (seasonal). And poop. We were expected to pick up poop personally while out on the trails; also a lot of dealing with the poop folks leave in the back country outhouses. People without permits, with dogs, cutting trees in very fragile areas…lots of difficult public stuff. People can take guns into the Park. Are you comfortable dealing with people wearing weapons? I experienced a lot of mansplaining and sexism in the volunteer/seasonal staff…also some professionals.
        Ah, but the hiking…

    6. Cheesecake2.0*

      Would you consider city or county too? I live in a place with a ton of county-maintained parks and they all seem to have rangers too. Might be less competitive than federal.

    7. A Park Ranger*

      Working for a land management agency typically requires 60-90% office work, admin work, customer service, janitorial services, and or basic facilities maintenance. The job description will tell you what the job is. Technician positions are typically the “field work” positions where you are the “boots on the ground”. Technician positions can be seriously fun with open opportunities to learn GIS skills and to contribute to protecting an endangered species. The key is to understanding your own finances and what you are willing to sacrifice to potentially move around the country and work in grant funded limited time positions. Many of these positions are highly competitive, recent grads, graduate students, mid-level career technicians, and people trying to transition into work other than what they have been doing are all applying to and working these jobs. Recent grads especially because they often cannot get hired into their field of study full-time without field experience. And then you also have the retirees who are wanting to earn money and work a rewarding meaningful field job. The social hierarchy in these organizations is just like any other industry with the typical office politics, sometimes with hyper-competitive co-workers and sometimes a more reasonable mix of personalities.
      Because most of these are government jobs in some way, bureaucracy is inescapable as well as the current majority politics of the time. In my agency there was a memo and a directive where-in we were disallowed to mention climate change in our educational programs for the public. There are many openings for positions with my agency currently over the past 5 years the turn-over rate has increased.

      I’ve been working a job which my agency head at the state-wide training indoctrination program just 3 years ago still literally called us proudly a “work-cult” and a “lifestyle choice” instead of just saying we are in a career field.

      The health insurance, vacation time and sick leave along with a guarantee of a steady job and mostly rewarding work (jack of all trades, master of none) are what keep people in my career field for 20 years. Merit raises are not possible and you will not be able to take your current salary with you to another park of the same agency because of individualized branch finance budgets. In order to move up to a higher responsibility and potential pay position you will likely either stay in the same branch and gamble on applying for the next tier of the organization when the current occupant retires or you will move around to several different parks and be required to take a pay cut back down to the base pay rate. (There are many applicants for these positions who are highly skilled in construction trades and wanting less physically demanding work, a better benefits package, and willing to work for lower pay).

      The work I’ve experienced at land management agencies (including my current one) is highly rewarding and kept me in the field for the past ten years instead of the medical field working in a hospital setting for higher pay.

      But that being said, most parks rely heavily on volunteer labor and even if you are in an FTE type position with benefits as a volunteer coordinator, a naturalist, or an environmental scientist or a biologist- you likely will be setting up the field project and may be required to turn over the actual field work operations to another agencies volunteer project leader, while you yourself will be required to work the ranger station or go back to the office to finish writing grants or reports.

      The above example is not always the case! There are FTE positions with benefits and good pay which do allow you to be performing a specific field land management task the majority of the time. Just learn to identify them apart from the others and weigh your current and future financial needs. And getting that ranger station or office work shift can be a welcome break from the past 3 weeks of heavy physical labor in heat/cold extreme weather.

      More diversity in the personnel of land management agencies, park rangers, forest rangers, etc. is needed. Other commenters have touched on the potential discrimination (intentional or un-intentional, there is still a great amount of bias to get over) in these agencies.

    8. AnotherAnon*

      I’ve worked for USFWS, USGS, NPS, state parks, and now municipal parks. From the bottom now to a fairly high level management position. My background is in wildlife biology. I would recommend to any interested in the field to volunteer before making a career change. People have a lot of rose-colored assumptions about this line of work, and to quote Cypress Hill, it’s a fun job but it’s still a job. It’s very competitive, dictated by politics, largely low pay/good benefits, and to move up you generally need to be willing to relocate to where the promotions are. If you make a good name for yourself volunteering it is possible to get hired on assuming you have the qualifications for the position, otherwise you need a degree (graduate these days) and work experience. You see some amazing things and get to experience stuff most other people don’t, but working in nature also means you seem some horrific things and have to deal with a lot of dumb people who don’t ever spend time in nature.

    9. Anonymous Today*

      It’s the most fulfilling job I ever had. Now I’m an office-based bureaucrat in the park service, because it pays more than twice as much for a year-round, permanent job. It’s possible but difficult to advance in the field positions; the majority of higher paid jobs in the agency (by which I just mean higher five figures – entry level park ranger jobs pay in the $30-45K range) are much less delightful on a day-to-day basis and much more administrative in nature.

      I think the people who take up seasonal park ranger jobs as a retirement activity, or volunteer as campground hosts, are on the right track.

  36. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I am a big fan of finding what’s going to keep you going financially AND spiritually and seeing how that constellation of needs can be met by different constellation of hobby vs work for pay vs creative reframing.

    There’s A LOT of people finding incredible fulfillment in doing the sorts of “solve this physical need and move on to the next task” kind of work. And sometimes even satisfactory compensation. And a surprising number of them are YouTubing or [insert your social media platform of choice]ing about it. I’d start following a bunch of people who are doing similar things and you can get some great insights about how to do The Thing, how the business of The Thing works, and all kinds of other cool ideas. You might even be able to chat up that person directly.

  37. Dunno*

    I did it, sort of by happenstance. Moved to a new town and thought it would be fun to work in different jobs. I ended up resenting being treated like a lowly wage earner (definitely made me realize how privileged I am, and how everyone deserves a hell of a lot more respect for working any job at all), and quickly missed the money. I went back to the world that I hated, and no surprise found out I still hate it. Looking for a more lateral move at this point that can use my skills, take a paycut but not drastically, and find that middle ground.

  38. Generic Name*

    For the first letter, you mentioned you’re decently handy. If you don’t want to get formal training/go to school, you could look into general construction or carpentry. My husband is a carpenter and they happily hire folks with zero carpentry experience. As long as you’re willing to follow instructions and start out by doing the boring grunt work (picking up the jobsite, being a go-fer, doing nothing but making cuts in the blazing sun for hours) while you learn the trade, you can make well above minimum wage to start.

    1. Generic Name*

      Oh, and folks who get those jobs basically walk up to the job site ready to work (meaning wearing appropriate work clothing, have their tools if they have them, and have lunch and water) and ask if they need any help. In our area, literally everyone is desperate for workers. If you do a decent job on the first day, you’re hired. If not, they pay you for the day and you aren’t asked to come back.

  39. Anna*

    I find these letters interesting because they reflect lots of conversations I’ve had recently. Many of my mid-thirties, white-collar friends are all dreaming of quitting our jobs, doing something more tangible or rewarding, and in some cases just quitting the rat race entirely to go live communally on a farm somewhere and raise chickens.

    I don’t know if it’s a reflection of the current state of stress and burnout from the pandemic, disenchantment with the juggling act of home/work/family, a realization of how little what we do actually matters in the grand scheme of things… but it is something I’ve seen in folks with office jobs, teachers, personal trainers… people from all kinds of backgrounds.

    It appeals to me too – but I wonder if it’s just ‘the grass is greener on the other side.’ I know folks who work more physical jobs who complain about feeling physically worn down, not feeling mentally engaged, feeling like they can only work at that job so many years before their body wears out. I also think that much as we idealize the change, it is HARD to go from a high-paying job (and nice house, car, ability to do things you want) to a more financially constrained life. This is why people follow the FIRE-type lifestyle!

  40. Nanny Wa*

    I’m in the process of doing exactly this: I’ve been in a white collar nonprofit career path for about 15 years, and am in the process of bailing. I adopted a dog with a lot of issues about a year ago, and have become interested in dog training, particularly for anxious and reactive dogs. I’ve started volunteering at a local shelter and will start a dog training class soon. I’ve been able to do it because my wife works full-time and her job pays for health insurance, and we intentionally moved out of our VHCOL city to be somewhere where we both didn’t need to have white collar jobs to pay the bills. My plan is to see what I can learn in the next six months, and then look for jobs in my original field in March if it doesn’t seem like it sticks.

  41. Owlimentary*

    Not me, but my mother. While I was at university, she quit her high-paying sales job and switched first to a social care apprenticeship, and then into nursing. It’s not less stressful (and is often more) but she’s way happier about it because she finds it meaningful, and she’s physically doing things as well as mentally, which she finds very rewarding. I know that for her, the apprenticeship was a good way of switching because the first part of the course didn’t take super super long, and it meant she could put a timer on working out if it was for her. Obviously also having the kid no longer financially dependent helped too.

    I’m now at the point where I’m considering something similar (though not nursing, way too stressful and intense for me) and I think my plan is to try to sell my current boss on me going part time at my role and using the other part time for picking up the skill I would need to switch role. But that only works if you have an accommodating boss/a company where that’s a thing that happens.

  42. Bex*

    While it’s not exactly the same, I did transition from office-heavy to field-heavy work and I love it!

    I started off doing corporate IT work about 20 years ago. Great pay, good hours and benefits, excellent team, and honestly pretty easy work. But I found myself growing dissatisfied. Having more days where I just dinked around all day, and more days where I called out sick or left early because I just … I hated it.

    On a whim I applied for a role being a traveling tech focused on quick build outs and cabling – I used the two office moves in less than 2 years that I’d successfully overseen to sell myself. And then … I got the job. And started traveling everywhere and flitting around.

    That was great for about seven years, but eventually my desires and needs changed, and being on the road and traveling all the time didn’t work for me. I tried to go back to straight office – and it was a nightmare. I failed at it abysmally (and ended up resigning rather than being terminated) in six months. So I made a list of everything I liked and didn’t like about my work.

    And that led me to realize I liked seeing end results of what I did, I liked physical activity and variation in an overall routine setup, and I liked working with a wide variety of people. Some of my fondest memories were of doing cable installs with construction crews and hanging out with them.

    I started looking for jobs that could offer a challenge, and a decade ago applied to a field technician role in an industry heavy on construction and labor. I used my past work to highlight my skillset, and got the role. It was a pay cut from the office world, but I was much more satisfied.

    I’ve changed overall industries (still in the IT role) a few times since I jumped in. I’ve worn more jeans and steel toed boots than slacks and heels. Summers are awful – I’m out in the heat and come home with my hair crackly with dried sweat rather than hairspray. Been exposed to more than my fair share of crude humor and harassment both. Almost drove in front of a bulldozer, spent thirty hours straight fixing a failing automated comms center, and had to escort a contractor to the emergency room where they amputated some of his fingers due to a humdinger of a workplace accident.

    I love it and it’s amazing. Even now, as I look at transitioning out of IT and into a different role, I’m looking for things that keep me in the field.

    Anyways. All of this is to say …
    1. Look at field positions tangentially related to your current role.
    2. If none are available, look for field positions that use similar skill sets to what you have.
    3. Have an idea of what trade offs you’re willing to make – longer hours but more varied work? Less pay but more satisfaction? – and be prepared for them. (For me, this meant reducing my fun spending significantly)
    4. Just go for it. At the end of the day, the worst thing that happens if you apply for a role is you can be rejected. And if that happens, then that means you’re right where you started – not working that role. There’s nothing to lose.

    Also. Make sure you’re developing yourself outside of work. Volunteer and mentor. Join a bowling league or pub trivia team. Take up line dancing or learn Dutch.

    You are more than your job. Your job exists to allow you to do the things that fulfill you.

    Good luck!

  43. Not the intern*

    Letter 2, would it be possible for you to just work less? I have had low paying jobs and I recently managed to become a cog in a large governmental-type organisation (yay!). People at my current job who do part-time make more than people doing full time at my old service jobs. I’m in my 20s and in Europe so idk if it applies to your situation.

  44. AnonaLlama*

    A bit of a dissenting opinion here but I will add it anyway. This was my experience, obviously it won’t apply to everyone. Just sharing in case it will help.

    I felt the same early in my corporate career. Seriously considered going back to school to be a teacher. Eventually, my life filled out a little outside of work (I had a baby, bought a house) and that put things a little more into context and my corporate job that I strongly disliked became a smaller part of my life and the money allowed me to enjoy my house/family life more and/therefore the dislike became less strong, albeit very gradually. I was good at it so I got promoted and realized I really liked the manager gig and gradually I now love my career and am grateful I didn’t give up on it during the early years.

    Some people call it “paying your dues” but I think that implies more of a punitive nature than is real. It’s more like if you want to learn to play the piano, you have to spend lots of time practicing scales and boring drills. The music of it, which is the payoff, can’t happen without that drudgery. For me, the early years were the drudgery but I wouldn’t be nearly as good at (or love) my job now if I hadn’t done that work.

    1. Overeducated*

      I think the point about work-life balance is particularly important to point out for people early in their careers – I certainly didn’t consider it because finding a fulfilling job at that point WAS my goal for work-life balance. But what I valued in my 20s and what I need in my 30s are completely different because I got married and had kids, and now have a lot more practical limitations on following my dreams (a spouse who also works, so neither of us can move cross-country for promotions easily; a need to provide good family health insurance and make enough for the high cost of childcare; the day to day logistics of drop-offs and pick-ups, plus the need for flexibility to deal with sick days and school cancellations). I really miss the engagement and fulfillment of my work and grad research in my 20s that was heavily outdoor focused and sometimes involved travel, but I left it for office jobs in my field that paid better and were more compatible with family life.

      This is to say that the mid-20s may be a great time to take risks or live on less than you can at periods in your life when you need greater financial stability or flexibility (of course not everyone wants to get married or have kids, but people who don’t may also have personal medical and family care needs that develop as they get older, plus uprooting your life for work is especially hard on single people because your support system isn’t moving with you). But it’s also good to consider how advancement on your chosen career track can help you have the work-life balance you might want or need as your life changes.

  45. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

    LW #1: for outdoorsy stuff, can you take a second job that’s part time to see if you actually enjoy it? Lots of outdoor-industry work can be part time or seasonal.

    I have a traditional office job, but at times I’ve also worked as a hiking guide, outdoors writer, done gear consultations, worked with trail maintenance agencies, etc. Usually it’s been a one-day-a-weekend type of thing on top of my full-time office job. I still do a lot of outdoor writing, but I found that customer-facing stuff is definitely NOT for me. Even when the customers were lovely, there was so much pressure to deliver a good experience, and I hate disappointing people.

    On the money front, hike guiding actually paid pretty well, and I could’ve lived on the gear-advice work, but I was reliant on tips or commission — I don’t like that lack of certainty about my paycheck. I LOVED working in a trail town on the AT and chatting with thru-hikers, but it paid shit and it was only an option during hiker season, so I would’ve had to take less-desirable work the rest of the year to make it happen.

    The other thing that was hard for me was the outdoor industry is…a complete mess when it comes to equity and inclusion, to say the least. That’s a fundamental value for me, especially as someone who looks different from outdoor industry stereotypes, so having to put it aside to work in that space was really hard. (The number of times I had to listen to shit from customers about being a 5-foot tall, 110-pound “girl” carrying a 30-pound backpack up a mountain really got under my skin.) I have experienced more sexual harassment than I can describe in that space, and there is little infrastructure to support dealing with it – HR isn’t really a thing. It’s downright scary to be on a trail team 30 miles from the nearest paved road, dangling from ropes over a waterfall to clear logjams, and having your male colleague who’s 30 years older than you sticking his hands down your shirt while holding the ropes your life depends on.

  46. Dahlia427*

    Agree with all these – lower paid does not equal less stressful. And if you’ve ever been down-to-your-last-dollar-how-am-I-going-to-make-my-rent poor you know that having that cushion does mean something.

    It’s just work. Find meaning elsewhere. That high paying position gives you the luxury of extra cash and more vacation than a retail position. I’d only suggest moving jobs if you really don’t like the people you work with. A decent environment makes the worst work better.

  47. Limepink*

    I normally wouldn’t pick out typos… but LW1, I LOVE “career panther” and just imagined like a shadowy panther you pet and feed time and effort to, so it eats your bills and defends you.

    I would suggest trying to get volunteer opportunities in fields you would like to try…. maybe being fulfilled outside your work week will bring you happiness but let you stay in the field you worked to be in. Sometimes you love something until it’s your day to day stress/ grind.

    Then you can safely transition after building s network and going into a new industry with eyes open. Best of luck!

  48. Goddess47*

    My niece got a 4-year degree in Math (!) but without a strong idea of what to do with it. Luckily, she had lots of scholarships and ended up with minimal student loan debt.

    Her brother went to the local community college for machine shop training and told her about all the cool jobs he was offered.

    Niece went back to the community college for the machine shop training (with zero previous experience), and found she loved it. Being one of the few females in the classes increased the number of job offers she got. (Sometimes, you get to take advantage of that!)

    She now does quality control for a production company (you have to know what you’re looking at!), her BA put her into a management track in the company she’s working for, and she’s making more money than she ever thought she would.

    No job is perfect, but I’m echoing that ‘check out the local community college’ mention… they can give you a low-cost entry to the trades and a chance to see if you really like it.

    Good luck to you both!

  49. Nanani*

    Honestly, that feeling is relatable. Maybe an overhaul to your work life will help, but it’s also possible you’re just a “work to live, not live to work” person and what you really need is to engage your passion elsewhere. For a lot of people, NO job is all that fulfilling, even when it’s the theoretical maximum of job fulfillment for you. Is this making any sense? Like, “peak work satisfaction” is just not all that satisfying for a lot of us, but we still need to pay the bills.

    It’s probably a good idea to explore your “maybe this instead?” ideas in a part time/volunteer basis, or by taking classes on the side or something, instead of overhauling your whole life in one go. Until/unless you’re more sure of what you want.

  50. Em from CT*

    As someone who actually does work for Parks, I can add that there are lots of parks jobs where you… go into an office and stare at a computer all day and never spend time outside. Which makes sense, when you think about it—someone has to do the budgeting and HR and admin for parks, too!—but is definitely not the mental image people get when I say “oh yeah, I work for the parks agency.”

    That said, that might be a different way of thinking about it for LW1. Admin and HR positions have skillsets that are transferrable, and most industries need that kind of work. One way to make the kind of transition you’re describing would be to find an admin/HR/whatever position in a totally new kind of field—like Parks!—and give it a try. That’d expose you to the culture of the org and give you a chance to see what kinds of other positions there are, and it’s often easier to jump laterally into a new position within an agency, in my experience.

  51. Rage*

    #1: If you have a steady job with good money, why not do some volunteer work in “non-office” jobs/situations that you think might appeal to you? Not sure if it would work with plumbing, but you mentioned park service – you could volunteer at the National Zoo, or be a docent at an art museum. There are probably dozens of smaller orgs in and around DC that would be happy to have willing help.

    #2: I had a former coworker who was starting his 2nd career. He had been a nurse anesthetist, and sadly become addicted to the medications used. He went through recovery and realized he could not work in that field again. So he went back and got his Masters in Social Work. He absolutely loved it. Making less money, sure, but he was happy. Bit of a risk, I think, but for him it paid off. So it’s definitely possible. I think for him though it was more that he had such a “helping” nature that the counselor role was just a natural fit. Always remember that if you don’t like it, there are plenty of other options out there.

    1. Coenobita*

      Re: the National Zoo, specifically – I volunteered at various Smithsonian sites for a number of years, and the volunteer program is very well-organized and also can actually lead to paying work, especially at the zoo. I know a whole bunch of staff/contractors who started as zoo volunteers.

      1. TiffIf*

        Unfortunately, from what I can tell, currently a lot of the Smithsonian volunteer opportunities are suspended due to Covid.

  52. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    I made the jump from receptionist/admin to plumbing (I ended up not completing that career path, but it was enormously fun while it lasted.) Check out apprenticeship programs. Typically, an apprenticeship will be a learn-on-the-job deal with concomitant classwork. You are paid for the job according to standard rates, full wages, full time work. Your employer is signing off that you’re completing the requisite OTJ (On the Job) hours. You typically are acquiring the tools of your trade at your own expense as you go, likewise you are paying for the classroom tuition, but it’s not a prohibitive cost. So on the whole, you’re not giving up any earnings or going into debt. You’re also allowed to be a blank slate–it’s okay to have zero experience, they’re *supposed* to teach you what to do. Your state will have an agency for apprenticeships (I think it’s through the Department of Labor).

  53. Quickbeam*

    I made a profound career change at 31. I was a professional in a criminal justice role with all the correct degrees for 10 years. There was a crippling residency requirement which chained me to a specific county for life in one of the most expensive counties in the US.

    I started by finding out what my career change goal (RN) would require. I began to take night classes aout 5 years in. I also took a side job as a nursing assistant so that there would be no surprises in what I could handle. I saved my money and then wnt to an accelerated BSN program. Ive been an RN now for 35 years.

    I tell you all that to say this: there were definite positives and negatives to a midlife career change. I had to start all over at 32 and lost a pension with my old job. Instead of salaried work and an office I was locked in to shift work and working weekends/holidays. There was a huge culture shift from my white collar job to the “pink collar” work of clinical nursing.

    Investigate what it takes to make the jump and see if you can do something to work or shadow first hand before you make the leap. Overall, I am happy with the opportunities nursing has provided me. But I also know that the people I left behind in Criminal Justice retired 10 years before I did with huge pensions. So like everything else there is give and take.

  54. HotSauce*

    LW#1: I was a dental hygienist for a few years. I loved what I did, but the industry changed dramatically while I was getting my certification. After working in offices where I was paid by piece work, meaning if my patients didn’t show up I didn’t get paid, being sent home 4 hours early or asked to come in 4 hours late (and not getting paid) because patients cancelled their appointments, working with unscrupulous dentists who were more akin to used car salesmen than healthcare providers, no real vacation or PTO, no retirement benefits, having to carry my own insurance and the intense pain I started to develop in my back, I left the job I loved and took a position in an admin role in manufacturing. Is the job boring? Sometimes. But I have 5 weeks of vacation, a nice benefits package and a retirement match. I’d love to be able to work in a job I love, but to me, it wasn’t worth all of the other disadvantages. At this point in my life, comfort and stability has become much more important than loving what I do and I’m able to find satisfaction through other avenues like spending time on hobbies and with my family.

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      I have often said this: my job is for earning money. The money allows me to fund my real life–my family, my friends, my hobbies, and the things I enjoy. That is where my satisfaction in life comes from. To me, the stress of a passion job is not worth it. But I definitely did not feel this way when I was in my 20s or whatever–it came as I got older.

  55. miss chevious*

    I’m coming at these questions from the opposite angle — I quit my passion job (teaching) to get a “soul-sucking” corporate job (lawyer) — and it was the best decision I ever made! Now, I work for money, which makes it very easy to set boundaries and weigh pros and cons when it comes to changing jobs, et cetera, and I do what I love for LOVE. I teach night classes sometimes, or give seminars, or just mentor junior colleagues to get my teaching fix and contribute back to my community.

    I wouldn’t keep a job that was making me miserable just for the money, of course, because no amount of money is worth that, but a decent job with a steady paycheck and genial colleagues frees me up, mentally and financially, to do what I love instead of using what I love for money.

    OPs, definitely explore the things that you think might fulfill you, but know that, in many cases, your choice doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

    1. Sad desk salad*

      This is exactly what I went through–replace teaching with scientific research. My job has its drawbacks, and I’m stressed, but I do my hobbies because I want to (and can afford them), and keep them separate from my legal work.

      I get asked a lot, when I do my hobbies, if I want to do them professionally. If I’m singing, do I want to go do musicals? No, are you kidding me, those guys are way better than me, work way harder, and get paid way less. I do my hobbies because I can and because I love them, and there’s no better way to stop being passionate about something than to try to turn your passion into a paycheck.

    2. Time for Tea*

      Me too!
      Before my office career, I worked first as a barista then as a daycare worker (3+years in each). It is hard work. Some pros and cons:
      – You don’t get lethargic from sitting down, because you are on your feet all day. All. Frickin. Day.
      – Customer service. You meet lovely people and deeply unreasonable people. Toddlers are the sweetest most charming things and the most insane hell-devils. Usually in the same 15 minutes.
      – You work with some interesting characters, and because you work alongside them for 4-8 hour shifts (depending on how your shifts overlap), they will define how you experience the company. Some of my coworkers were utterly amazing, my sisters in the trenches, but a couple made my life utterly miserable. For 6 hours a day.
      – Non-exempt is very different than exempt. You clock in on the dot and clock out on the dot. This can be tough when the amount of work that you are supposed to do exceeds the hours in which you are supposed to do it (and I knew plenty of preschool teachers who regularly worked off the clock), but on the bright side, once you’re off the clock, you’re off the clock.

      I loved the kids, but the pay was awful and there was some serious drama at the company. And I wanted a job where I could actually sit down and have a desk. My hobbies are where I get to set the hours to do the same things I used to do (though I do miss having a fancy espresso machine.).

  56. Felice*

    I think the OPs should look into volunteering in some of the industries they’re interested in. Also, it might be that the type of company they work for could make a difference (if they’re not just sick of admin work). I have worked in offices since I changed careers many years ago, and for me, WHERE I work makes a huge difference.

    While I was trying to figure out what my new career would be, I worked for a bank as an admin. It was interesting at first because I was learning new software and learning the industry, but I wasn’t excited about banking. After that, I moved into corporate training, and I really enjoyed it because I discovered that (1) I’m good at teaching and (2) I enjoyed helping people do their jobs better/more easily.

    And now I’m in biotech, and I really love it. My company is doing research that has already helped people with serious diseases. When I was job hunting the last time, I was looking in any industry, and then I realized that it was important to me to stay in biotech. So I’m still in an office, but I’m much happier than I was at the bank.

  57. Ali G*

    LW1, you mention you live in the DC area. Did you move here after school? I think this area is…hard. Is it possible that you don’t hate the work, but you hate your lifestyle? Do you live in an old house with 3-4 other people and have a long commute? Do you hate that in order to catch up with your friends you have drop $100 on food/drinks? I’ve been there, and I fantasized about quitting and leaving in my 20’s too.
    If any of this resonates with you, a couple of things to think about:
    1. I decided to spend more money to live closer to work, by myself. Not everyone can do this, but I needed my own space and I would never sit in a car for an hour or more to get to work. I lived in 300 square feet for years to save to buy a condo. All I am saying is you might be happier at work, if work doesn’t affect your free time so much – so are there things you can do to alleviate it? Get a house cleaner, meal subscription, etc.
    2. If you had more time out side of work to pursue hobbies, could you get through the day better? Maybe you need a job you can leave behind you so at 5 pm you can go do yoga, ride your bike, pottery, whatever.
    3. Invest in relationships outside of work. Really lean into (safely obvs) your friends and family. Find group activities – basically make your life outside of work so inviting that you are regularly rewarded for making it through the week. Make plans!!
    For me there ended up being 2 paths: stay, stick it out, make money and invest in retirement or leave it all behind, go live somewhere cheaper and work longer, but at a slower pace. I chose the first one.
    I am now 43 and my husband is 47. We both make good money, own a home, take vacations, etc. But we also aggressively save for retirement. Our home is part of our retirement plan. We just bought a piece of land in a much cheaper state we will build a house on it about 10 years. We will sell our house, retire there and live like royalty (well that’s the plan anyway!). Neither of us will work past 60 and we will be debt-free. That’s what keeps me going when the drudgery of day-to-day gets to be too much.

    1. Letter Writer #1*

      LW#1 here!
      Haha, I did move here after school, however, I lived alone (now with my partner) and had a short commute (now WFH), so those issues don’t resonate so much with me. I have a really rich life outside of work, and have made a really lovely friend group around some hobbies that I picked up in the last few years, which I am immensely and regularly grateful for.

      I think ultimately I fall into the first category, but hoping to find something that feels a bit more like a happy medium :)

  58. SuspectedDragon*

    No advice, but I am in the same boat! I’ve realized that I really love informal science education and want to break into the zoo/nature center/museum field. Unfortunately I’m 15 years behind everyone else in that VERY competitive field, and starting over means giving up a pretty cushy office job with decent pay and good benefits.

    1. Nea*

      Is splitting the difference worth it? All of those things also need experienced office managers, assistants, marketers – office job stuff for which you have 15 years of experience to bring to a new field.

      1. Your friendly neighborhood Zen Buddhist*

        As someone who as worked in informal science education/museum — those jobs are also extremely competitive (and low paying).

        1. LDN Layabout*

          A lot of my friends did/starting out wanting to do museum work. As of today, none of them are working in that sector any longer. That includes the ones who looked at the potential jobs and the work needed to get there and thought ‘nah’, those who did it for a while and retrained (nursing) and those who actually had coveted positions (working with collecting, curating etc).

          And with the caveat that these were not people priced out of museum work. All upper middle class, parents willing to support them through multiple unpaid internships and placements. It’s just massively oversubscribed and underappreciated, like a ton of passion sectors.

        2. Jay*

          +1 My husband worked in a science museum for 15 years, and the only reason that was possible was that I’m an MD and I earn a lot more money. He loved it for ten years, tolerated it for three, and hated it for the last two which had to do with the incompetent CEO who was a terrible manager and a great fundraiser, so the Board didn’t think the “terrible manager” part mattered so much. By the end he was doing effectively two jobs: leading all the professional development and doing full-time grant-writing.

          After he left there and started looking for other jobs, he realized that everything he saw was also at least two jobs and sometimes three. His blood pressure returned to normal in two months and in the year after he left, he lost weight, got into shape, and discovered that he’s not actually chronically depressed. So he retired at 57. He took over everything at home – seriously everything. I do the dishes most of the time and I sometimes throw in a load of laundry. He does everything else. He loves it and has discovered that he’s really an artist, I love it because I never have to do housework and he now has time during the week to do home repair and maintenance so he’s free on the weekends to play with me, and we are heartily enjoying our empty nest.

  59. Nea*

    This is advice that I got from online (so filter accordingly) but it made sense to me:

    In addition to debating “what” you want to do, factor in “where” and “who.” Are you happier in a city or the country? Are you happier near a lot of people/specific people/on your own?

    If in your heart of hearts you want to be able to walk among trees, then your dream job won’t be downtown. On the other hand, if you love having a lot of people around doing all sorts of things at all hours, then you won’t be happy out in a small rural town – even if you like the work.

    LWs, it seems that right now you’re in the “not this” portion of imagining what your life ought to be. What makes you happy to be around? Books, animals, trees, people, museums? That’s going to help point you in the right direction.

  60. BigHairNoHeart*

    Could I recommend seeing a therapist and/or career counselor? Both letters give me the vibe that the writers are unhappy but not sure exactly what might fix that. Working with a professional (there’s a time and financial cost there, but it’s far less than what you’d be giving if you jumped into a new job and didn’t like it!) can help you figure that stuff out. When I was miserable at my last job and looking for a change, my therapist was incredibly helpful. He got me to really think about what parts of my job/hobbies I enjoyed, what I was good at, what I should look for in a new career, managing the general fear and anxiety of major life changes, etc. Basically, he made an overwhelming decision easier for me to handle by breaking it up into manageable chunks.

    I have no doubt a career counselor could do something similar, and would probably have better advice on navigating different career fields (but potentially worse advice about managing stress and anxiety, so that’s a trade off to consider).

  61. Don’t Ride The Giraffes*

    LW #1, check out docent (volunteer speaker) positions at your local zoos, aquariums, museums, parks, sanctuaries, etc. Many of them will have opportunities for you to try it out and it’s a foot in the door if you decide to make the full jump. I was a docent in high school and loved it, but it was very public facing and not always stress-free. “No, you cannot ride the giraffes” and people who think they’re funny but are very much not can be grating.

    1. TiffIf*

      Since LW1 is in the DC area they could actually do something I always wanted to–volunteer with the Smithsonian–there are AMAZING museums in DC. Though, at the moment it looks like most of those volunteer opportunities are suspended–because covid.

  62. Mrs. Hoover*

    I’m a mid-level manager for a non-profit and I don’t enjoy it at all. I was able to tolerate my role as an Independent Contributor, but to be perfectly honest – I do not like the career I’ve had for 15+ years. Now, my emotional susceptibility is increased 3-fold by the fact that I now not only have to worry about my stuff but those of my direct reports.

    I’m desperately trying to figure out next steps, because I am unhappy and exhausted and burned out. I want less responsibility and a more clearly defined role, one that doesn’t require regular travel or working before/after hours. I’ve done the project that needs someone at a site by 5 AM to run logistics for an event and after nearly 2 decades, I don’t have the stamina for it anymore. So, I ask sincerely – as lots of folks talk about all jobs having a type of stress – what jobs exist where you can live simply and frugally, put in an honest days work and leave it all behind at the end of the day?

  63. Sad desk salad*

    I’m a professional cog in a professional machine, and it’s fine. It pays my hefty student loan installments. I’m not passionate about it–if I could redo my career I’d probably be a park ranger or a tour guide for hiking groups, or a trapeze artist or or or…but then I wonder, would I be deep in the forest with all the singing birdies and lamenting my paycheck all the while worrying about certain politicians removing environmental protections from national parks, etc.? Would it be enough to hike the same trail over and over, reprimand the same jerks for setting fires they shouldn’t be setting, having to remind people not to mess with the animals? Everything gets old if you do it long enough. Everything has a give and take. “Follow your dreams” has a nice ring to it, but you have to think of the ups and downs of each decision you make. I have a friend who’s a tandem skydiving instructor and he loves his job more than anyone I know, and he can’t move on Monday mornings after a busy weekend. Plumbers make excellent money and work with their hands, but they also have to deal with…well…plumbing issues, if you get my drift. It may sound cool to be a mechanic until you realize most modern cars have sophisticated computer systems, and wrenching and tinkering is more for hobbyists than career mechanics.

    All that is to say, there is nothing at all wrong with changing your career from office drudgery to something that seems more exciting. Just make sure you go into it with your eyes wide open and make sure you’re not romanticizing it. And for the love of all things holy, please do not romanticize working at a coffee shop. I’ve never had a job I hated so much–not even fast food, not even resetting pins at a bowling alley. The hours are atrocious, the customers are either lovely or terrible, the pay is pretty hard to get by on. You do smell amazing when you leave work, though. If that or a retail bookstore is what you’re dreaming about, get a part time gig after your work hours to see what it’s really like.

  64. Your friendly neighborhood Zen Buddhist*

    As someone who put two degrees and over 10 years into a passion-but-low-paying job…don’t. You have no idea how much being underpaid with no benefits sucks. I’ve switched careers at 34 and am now looking to reskill.

  65. LizardOfOdds*

    I appreciate that a lot of people here are saying that retail and other service industry jobs aren’t less stressful, they just pay less. I think the stress of retail is different, though. For me, one difference between retail job stress and office job stress is the amount of time that stress exists. In a retail environment, it’s stressful to deal with an a-hole customer but that is one transaction that usually doesn’t last too long. Unless you’re working in a company where *every* customer is an a-hole (and those companies do exist), retail might be a lot less stressful than an office environment where a stressful project or a tense relationship can persist over many months or even years. Retail environments can also be very satisfying for someone who enjoys crossing things off of lists, and I’ve never experienced the kind of camaraderie in an office job that I’ve had in retail.

    I’ve thought so many times about walking away from my lucrative career and going back to the retail world. I just can’t figure out how to make the finances work in a way that would allow me to eventually retire, and that is something worth considering. I remember being young and full of energy and thinking: I can just go back to retail if this office thing doesn’t work out. And while that’s probably true, I’m older now, I have less energy, I have more dependents and obligations (financial and otherwise), and I have chronic health conditions that would make being on my feet all day near impossible. Some people can and do spend their whole lives working in service, but I’d advise the letter writers to be wary of making long-term decisions based on temporary circumstances.

    1. FD*

      Yeah, I actually really liked working at the front desk of a hotel–I didn’t mind being on my feet and it was actually a lot of fun, despite a certain percentage of jerk customers. I’m also a weirdo who actually really likes answering the phone, so it was genuinely a really good fit for me.

      Problem was, 10 years ago, it only paid about $10.50 an hour. The local rate has increased to about $15.50 an hour, but while my wife and I could make ends meet on that, it doesn’t allow for much room to save for retirement, for instance.

      1. LizardOfOdds*

        I loved my night auditor job at a hotel! I worked there during college and I could check all the things off my list within a couple of hours and then I’d just do schoolwork in between folding laundry and checking in late night guests. I would have stayed in that job forever, but like you said, the pay just wasn’t there. Even with shift differential I was getting $11/hr and the benefits were almost non-existent.

    2. Over It*

      This is really true. I’d add that in retail/food service jobs in can be easier to compartmentalize the stress. When I worked at a cafe in high school, customers could be awful a lot of the time, especially during the lunch rush. But since I wasn’t the one in charge of making sure the business was financially solvent, I almost never thought about work outside of work. Now I work an office job in public health managing high stakes projects and contracts, and while people never scream at me for not immediately getting them what they need, I have such a hard time turning my work brain off and I’m frequently stressed about work outside of work.

      That said, these jobs are not known for being well-paid and being poor does indirectly add a lot of stress to your life. Having other sources of financial support mitigates that stress enormously. I worked in food service in high school to save money for college tuition, but I still lived with my parents who were taking care of my food, lodging and other basic needs so it felt comparatively less stressful than my white collar job does now. But now that I’m a financially independent adult, the thought of going back to retail or food service full-time terrifies me, because it would be nearly impossible to find a job that could pay my rent in my HCOL city.

  66. different seudonym*

    I don’t want to presume too much about either letter writer, but both seem to be approaching this as “I can take out the job I don’t like and slot in something more meaningful, and the other moving parts of my life will remain stable.” In my experience, people who prioritize meaningful work (teaching in higher ed, politically radical nonprofits, park ranger, chef/restaurant owner, etc., your more specialized manual labor like antiques restoration, as well as all the arts) make irreversible sacrifices across the whole of their life. Lifetime earnings, where you live, whether to have kids at all, or how many to have, the very thought of retirement–all these things are going to be completely reshaped, not just by low income, but by the weird, often exploitative, cultures of passion industries. It’s specifically when there’s no “desk job” aspect, I think, that life starts to become really precarious for most people in an industry or field. These are gig economies avant la lettre, for the most part.

    So think really carefully about whether you can weather a storm financially, where “storm” = 9 months or more of un- or under-employment. And also recognize that you can be **even more viciously exploited** doing what you love than otherwise.

    1. Rock Prof*

      These are great points. Getting a PhD and teaching at a university has basically shaped every single major choice I have made: where I’ve moved and lived, when I decided to get married, when I decided to have a kid, etc. I definitely, for better or worse, have shaped my life around my career instead of vice versa.

  67. Rock Prof*

    I’m just going to add an overly practical point that really just addresses one specific thing LW 1 said (my career panther is a pessimist). I teach a lot of students who want to go work for National Parks, and it’s an incredibly difficult field to break into. Generally, unless you are willing to move to very remote areas (and that’s not even a guarantee) or have very in demand skills (one student who double-majored with degrees in environmental science as well as an arts field with experience in digital design was such an exception), you need to do internships and seasonal work before even being considered for a full time position. These types of positions don’t necessarily come with any benefits.

  68. JenJenJen*

    Dear LW 1
    I am a dental hygienist and I can say alot of things you may hate about working in an office could still crop up! You know that expression hell is other people….It can really apply to dental jobs.

  69. Bette*

    I know it was an autocorrect in OP 1, but I love the idea of a career panther. Like Lyra’s daemon in His Dark Materials.

    1. Reluctant Manager*

      Don’t think about getting to 65. You may not. Better to work more years at something you can stand–fewer hours, more vacations, work for a while and quit for a while–than saving up for a mirage.

      As for how, your can’t try out being a hygienist, but you can volunteer at something related, learn to repair sewing machines on your own time, get a part-time job at a garden center or become a master gardener–something to learn more about what the life will be like.

  70. MadSquid*

    Expand your thinking from “I need to get a job working for someone doing X” to “what skills do I need to start a business?” I started working on a career transition in my late 40’s, moved full-time into the new industry about 5 years later, and then started my own business a few years after that. It has been very personally fulfilling; it has been life-changing to be a business owner. Finally, after several years of hard work, it is becoming financially viable as well. I was always very intimidated at the thought of starting my own business and only did so after not finding a great long-term fit in the new industry. To the OPs who are in their 20’s and 30’s — you definitely have time to figure this out. My advice is to save aggressively now while you figure out your next steps. You can take more risks with a big bank balance. And you absolutely can use your nights and weekends to get the education/training skills that you need.

  71. Holly Jolly*

    Some good career exploration might be good for both people. Sometimes, you can take those transferable skills into another profession and be happier. Also, trade schools usually have grants so it’s possible you could try out something. Or see if your current employer offers any different training, career exploration, etc.

  72. Eeyore is my spirit animal*

    Everyone I know that got a lower-level job with the National Park Service was either a long-time volunteer or had a Co-op/internship program. Volunteering would also give you a sense of what jobs are available because there are often niches people don’t really think about. Parks need IT, HR, construction (there is a lot of trade work) and admins, etc. along with the educators, historians, biologists, etc. I have a friend that does HR for a zoo. She says there are the usual HR stresses but when it gets bad, she takes a snack and watches the otters for 10 minutes.

    If you get into something physical/outdoorsy, make sure you have a plan for when your body can’t do it anymore. I was an environmental biologist for 25 years. I spent my life outdoors and then I got cancer. I was fortunate that I had developed the skills to transition into GIS and an office job. Having said that, one of my college professors was in his early 70’s and would out-hike all of us in our 20’s.

    1. Sad desk salad*

      I hope you made/will make a full recovery! People seem to forget this when they’re young and invincible (or worse, when they’re older but still think their sedentary bodies will bounce back the way they did in their 20s). I’m friends with a fair amount of professional athletes and every last one of them has to consider what life will be like for them in their 50s and beyond.

  73. Liz*

    Seconding a lot of statements that other jobs have stresses of their own, but I really can’t emphasise enough in relation to coffee shops and similar: LOUSY PAY. (Also no benefits, shift work, unreliable hours, calls to come in on your day off, all these are typical problems in retail and hospitality.)

    Every job has its setbacks, but they are far easier to deal with when you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and the ability to engage in fun activities in your time off. Most of the people I know who are working those jobs are struggling, striving to get out, barely scraping by. I know a couple of “lifers” who are ok doing that for the long term, but even some of them they are reaching breaking point with the pandemic.

    Maybe this is a biassed sample, but the overwhelming trend from my friends in the retail/hospitality sectors is “work is shit, I can’t afford to do anything fun, and I’m exhausted”. Have you worked these sorts of jobs before? How did you find it? Perhaps it’s different if you choose to be there, and maybe you have a huge stash of cash squirrelled away to enable you to survive ok on that kind of money, but I would never want to go back.

    If you do go for a change, be wary of picking any job just for the sake of the change. You risk jumping into a worse situation, and may find it’s way harder to get out once you’re there.

  74. MissGirl*

    I have had the corporate job and I’ve worked ten seasons as a part time ski instructor. I dreamt of finding a job in the outdoor industry as it’s my passion. Then I saw what being a full time instructor did to my friends’ health and long term earning potential. I thought I could find a more office job in the sector like marketing or something. Then I realized how low the pay was and how competitive the jobs were.

    Now I work in healthcare as an analyst making 100k with killer benefits with great time off. I still feel longing for that other dream life but I had to accept that if didn’t exist in the way I wanted it to.

  75. No Dumb Blonde*

    LW #1: How do you leave an office job? You just do it. My spouse obtained a doctoral degree in a medical field and practiced for 7 years, but he hated it. He was so emotionally drained that he wanted something completely the opposite. Due to a family connection, he decided to be a long-haul trucker for awhile and pay off loans from the unsatisfying medical career. This required attending a training program at a community college. There were two attorneys in the class as well, but my spouse was by far the most highly educated student in the course. The great thing about my husband is he’s very personable and seems to be good at everything, and he has no shame. So, he went from graduate school, to the medical field for which he was trained, to truck driving for a couple years, then back to the same medical field but in an educational role (a related college program). However, he found that role to be almost as unpleasant as the medical career itself, so after a couple years he was ready to leave the field behind once and for all. By that time we were married, so we moved to another city where I had found an interesting job. This was in the early ’90s when the economy wasn’t very good, and my new job didn’t pay well enough for us both to live on. He didn’t want to pick up the truck-driving thing again because he’d be away from home a lot, so he walked into the local Job Service and took an entry-level position in a niche insurance field.

    Over the next 25 years, that entry-level job led to many promotions and well-paying management-level positions with amazing benefits. We have always lived within our means and we don’t spend money on boats or other toys (and we don’t have children), so he was able to save a ton of money over that time and has now retired. I also have enough savings and investments that I could retire, but I’m younger and enjoy my current job so I’ll keep working for a few more years.

    Bottom line: You can do whatever you want. And if the change doesn’t work out, you just do it again. It’ll be fine, if you’re reasonably frugal. It’s actually very freeing to realize you can make a big change — or several big changes — if you want to. My husband and I learned not to care what people think, and as it turns out, most people we meet find my husband’s unique career path to be quite fascinating!

  76. Scarlet Potleaf*

    I transitioned from an academic career to nursing. Started out taking online prerequisites at community college, then got admitted to an evening and weekend RN cohort. I completed my RN while working full time in my old career, then got a job as a nurse at my local hospital. The transition was not without challenges, but it is doable if you are motivated and organized.

    My main advice is to learn all you can about the culture and realities of the new career panther you are considering. As a previous commenter stated, “wherever you go, there you are,” meaning that your strengths, weaknesses, and thought patterns will follow you.

    1. Rock Prof*

      I know at least 3 other people who have made this exact career transition, and one who went from academia to being an EMT. I think one thing that helps, at least for my friends who were all in STEM fields, is that they were unlikely to have graduate school loans before making these changes.

  77. Reluctant Manager*

    Don’t think about getting to 65. You may not. Better to work more years at something you can stand–fewer hours, more vacations, work for a while and quit for a while–than saving up for a mirage.

    As for how, your can’t try out being a hygienist, but you can volunteer at something related, learn to repair sewing machines on your own time, get a part-time job at a garden center or become a master gardener–something to learn more about what the life will be like.

  78. Bethie*

    My husband is 45 and worked in state government for awhile. He hated it. I work in state government and love it – although we are niche little department so that helps. He is going back to school and getting a new degree. Good news is I make almost enough to make this happen, and with everything going on in the worls its nice to have a STAH partner (school is out this week due to COVID). I got my masters after working in the legal field and hating it – like I cant do this for the rest of my life hate – and I love my new career path.
    But I think we both bought into the college/career path as we both come from families with doctors and lawyers in abundance. Sometimes I think – what if I had done something like nursing? radiology tech? something with less school and more career options.
    Do some research! See if you can job shadow! Take classes that arent degree seeking at your university! Find out what it is you want to do – because life is way to short. I recently interviewed for a job that was step up in title in another department – but all I could think was ‘this will not leave me fulfilled’ and fortunately I love the job I have so I could turn it down.

  79. Liz W.*

    Just make the leap. Not all of us wind up where we think or ” plan” to be and are all the happier and richer for it.
    For sake of interest, here is my Dad’s (75 years old this year) story instead of mine:
    -30+/- years Law Enforcement (patrol and desk job), retired
    -(4 years Navy, 28 years Army Reserve, retired)
    -? years Teacher/School Resource officer
    -20 years NPS Ranger, retired
    -Currently working as a notary and local history tour guide
    Some were better than others of course, but safe to say he has never been bored and managed to stay solvent.

    Personally, LW 1, go into sewing machine repair. We need you.

  80. Jess*

    You can quit and find a differently stressful job. It’s important to do that, actually, because you should choose what kind of stress you’re going to have. Jobs are all stress but some stresses will ruin you, personally, less than others. If you know yourself you’ll know what kind of stress suits you best. I love frequent and inflexible deadlines, other people get really disconcerted by deadlines, other people find working with the public unbearable, other people find it amusing, some people find taking orders awful, other people find giving orders awful. Just choose the sort of stress that you like or that’s least awful and do that. At all costs. Because bad stress will kill you.

  81. mreasy*

    I have been a barista and if I could afford it, that is the job I would have until I retire. It’s my favorite job I’ve ever had. If I had the option of taking a step back into something less corporate and non-office, I would absolutely do it.

  82. Heather*

    Unpopular opinion: a job isn’t what’s made to bring fulfillment into your life, it’s just a job. I’d personally keep the well paying corporate grind and use the money you make to build the life you want outside of work, find fulfillment in what you enjoy outside of 8-5. (And I agree with what everyone else is saying about those other jobs being JUST as stressful. Plus weekend and night work, meaning less chances to see any friends you’ve formed that have your current schedule and less opportunities for regularly scheduled weekend and evening activities. )

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      +1, though I wish this were a far more popular take.

      I am so glad that my mom didn’t feed me the find your passion/do what you love BS. The job funds my passion/fulfillment; it’s not the source of it.

  83. Det. Boyle*

    FIRE – Financially Independent, Retire Early.

    Google Mr. Mustache or FIRE or “Your Money Or Your Life.”

    You don’t have to work in a job you don’t like until you’re 65.

  84. Olivia*

    LW 1– if you’re on the younger end of mid-20s, I would highly recommend an AmeriCorps program, particularly a conservation corps. I just got back from a seven week program and it allows you extensive exposure to Forest Service bureaucracy, as well as helping you develop the practical skills you would need for such a role. Pays like crap, but the Forest Service people we met essentially said that conservation corps grads were automatic hires in most regions.

    1. Olivia*

      By “automatic hire,” I do not mean seven weeks and you’re in— more that a short CC will allow you to decide if you like the work, and more, longer term corps work = super relevant experience.

  85. Charlotte*

    During college I completely bought into the whole “do NOT attempt to follow your passion” thing, and I really regret it. I just ended up…not doing anything because nothing seemed “safe” enough.

    Advanced degrees? Too risky: law is expensive, librarians don’t make any money, and the PhD market is garbage.
    Teaching? I tried for a while, got offered a job but turned it down because of pay concerns.
    Anything remotely creative? Hah, no way, don’t even think about it, you’ll never make it.

    And maybe this was the right choice–it’s not like I had a strong passion to be a lawyer or a librarian or a professor, so it likely truly wasn’t worth taking the risk there, and I’m pretty sure no one ever would recommend “member of sitcom writer’s room” as a viable career goal. But I feel like by being scared to take any risk at all, I locked myself out of the chance to do anything interesting or that I feel good about.

    I’m 28 years old, and I have a six-figure net worth, and I hate it. I hate feeling guilty when my peers talk about their inability to save for retirement (the whole “you should have a year’s salary by 30” meme about how traditional financial goals are out of touch? Yeah, I have more than that). I have all the guilt of wealth and what feel like none of the benefits–in a HCOL area so I can’t afford to buy a house or condo, can’t even afford to rent an apartment on my own, so I just keep stashing away money in a savings account that isn’t saving for anything.

    I thought, okay, I’ll get a boring job that leaves me plenty of time to pursue my hobbies and passions! And indeed, I work 35 hours a week doing mostly brainless stuff, but it turns out I actually just don’t have very many hobbies or passions, and COVID’s only intensified that. What’s the good of getting to log off at 5 PM every night if all I do is go into the next room and watch TV or read?

    I did everything right, I made all the safe choices, and I’m bored and miserable. Maybe taking a risk wouldn’t have worked out, but at least then I’d feel like I’d TRIED to create a better life for myself.

    1. Spearmint*

      I’m not as financially well off as you are, but otherwise I’m in a similar boat. I’m now seriously considering attempting a career switch or at least a job switch even though I’ve only been in my job for a year and a half. I have a good boss, great benefits, and amazing work-life balance, but I’m depressed almost every day at work because it’s so mind numbing and uninteresting to me. And like you, while I have hobbies and passions, they mostly involve me consuming media alone.

      There’s a balance between “pursue your dream!” and “be practical!”, and I think in many circles the latter has been emphasized a bit too much lately.

    2. Your friendly neighborhood Zen Buddhist*

      Just to say: it is way better to have the guilt of wealth than the fear/reality of not being able to retire, believe me. I tried, took a risk and it doesn’t give me any comfort.

    3. four-eyes*

      I was feeling this way earlier in the pandemic, and I signed up for online classes. This is my second white-collar career (with a bunch of low paid customer service jobs in between) and I don’t want to have to retrain again.

      I studied Hebrew online through a JCC (and met a lot of nice people!), took a bunch of online cooking classes, and took French online through an Alliance Francaise (I picked the one with the cheapest classes). It’s made a big difference for me and my mental health.

      I never liked school (I had an undiagnosed disability, so it was miserable), but it’s been a totally different experience with other adults, a diagnosis, and most critically: no tests to study for.

      Another thing that gave me perspective on my very well-paid and boring job was my spouse being diagnosed with cancer (which is $$$ and life-consuming). I was able to add them to my health insurance without worrying about the added expense and I’ve been putting all that restless energy my job doesn’t use up into handling all the admin and caregiving work related to the diagnosis. We would have been up a creek if I’d still had a minimum wage job with no benefits, or my old low-paying job at a nonprofit.

  86. Lady Glittersparkles*

    I think this is very much a subjective issue and answer. Personally, stability is very important to me. I have a very stable job. I am a veteran and am very lucky to continue working in support of the Military. I have great benefits, a great pay check and really enjoy the people I work with and for. My husband is only a few years from retiring from the Military and cannot wait to quit the rat race. He is very much a dreamer and would prefer to live in a boat on the ocean for 2 years at a time. (This is the most illogical thing I can think of doing with my life. I am much more of a realist than he is, which can make our life together very interesting; our poor kids!)
    My best friend actually did have a complete change of career (for lack of better word). She has a Masters in Forensic Psychology and was certified as a counselor. She worked from home before it was the norm. When her parents passed away within a year of each other, I think she may have had an early mid-life crisis. She quit her job and went to a 2 week course to become a travel guide. I thought my head was going to explode! She wanted to follow in her mom’s footsteps and travel the world. I can’t say that she has been “successful” in terms of money or less stress. She now works mostly as a Dog Chaperone delivering purebred puppies and I can tell you that she does not get to enjoy the places she travels to as much as she had planned. To me the logical way to enjoy traveling is to have a stable job that pays well enough to allow you to afford to travel leisurely.

    I say all of the above to point out, some people can make it work. Some people are driven to get jobs that bring them joy and some, like myself, are drawn to the stability of a paycheck and benefits. I can enjoy my life without making my career something that must bring pure happiness and joy to my life. No matter what it do, I try to do it the best that I can.
    Good luck with your future endeavors!

  87. Beth*

    “I am open to advice, stories, just hearing what interesting non-office jobs people have.”

    My first career was non-office; I got a degree in theatre and spent fifteen years working in costume shops, ending up at a major regional theatre doing very high-end work. I loved the work itself. I wasn’t in NY or LA, though, and I was horribly paid and treated as an expendable nuisance. I eventually decided to leave while I still loved the work, so I would at least have good memories of that.

    Shortly before I turned 40, I went back to school and studied business and computers. I have worked in offices since then. I don’t get the same creative thrill from building spreadsheets, but they sure pay me a lot more to do it. I find the stress of this kind of work much more bearable in part because I AM so much better paid.

    I still have lovely memories of my first career. If I had it all to do over again . . . I don’t know if I would or not.

  88. Letter Writer #1*

    Wow, I am so blown away by everyone’s advice and stories! I am so glad my typing error (Career Panther), gave so many people a good chuckle!

    I wrote this letter in March, and am still at the same job, although closing in on a year there. It has improved since the Spring, and I have taken to focusing on how much I appreciate working for a thoughtful company during moments when I have a lot of frustration or disengagement with my day-to-day duties. I feel very lucky in that regard.
    A Little Update:
    While it is none of the things I mentioned, I have come up with a plan that I am excited for. After some different discussions with folks my plan is to return to school to receive my degree to become a therapist (MSW, if I get into the program of my choice). For me it checks a bunch of boxes and holds a lot of possibilities. There are strong elements of practicality, creativity, self direction, relationship building–all things that are important to me, not to mention that I believe very strongly in the power of therapy. Of course, I expect frustration (mostly likely with seeing the effects of our broken social support systems and healthcare system) as well as the doubt and difficulties that come with training and eventually being a licensed and practicing therapist.

    One of the common threads that I saw in posts was about having a fulfilling life outside of work and I wanted to share a different perspective (maybe): I have a really fulfilling and lovely life outside of work, lots of hobbies, friends, a loving partner, family I am close with, and for me that makes the 40+ hours/week I spend in a job I don’t like that much MORE difficult. Instead of work becoming just another piece in the puzzle of my life, it looms like a cloud against the activities I love doing! Of course, work financially supports those activities, and that reality is very present in my mind!

    Thanks again to everyone, especially those who feel frustration at their work situation!

    1. Beehoppy*

      Awesome – that sounds like a great plan! I am also in the DC metro area and have a friend who has just gone back to school to get a masters in social work with the goal of becoming a therapist – she recommends the University of MD.
      I cannot urge you more to take this “risk” while you are young and unencumbered. My friend is going back to school at the age of 46 while fighting Stage 4 cancer because she decided life was too short to continue in an unfulfilling career. It’s so much harder to make the leap when you have a family and a mortgage and cc debt etc.

      Best of luck!

      1. Washi*

        I recently graduated from that program! I’ve been in the social service world for years but finally went back to get my MSW. I had a wonderful experience overall, it’s much more affordable than any private school, and that program can definitely set you up to be a therapist, which is what many of my grad school friends are doing now.

        Being a therapist would be too much of an office job for me, but you can do a lot of things with a social work degree if you decide to go in a different direction.

    2. Liz*

      This is really exciting! I too went into training as an older student to become a therapist. In my case, it wasn’t so much a switch from a successful career, but I can relate to that feeling of dread over the working day. I was stuck in a minimum wage job, working shifts that meant I had little to no life, aside from what little PTO I could book to actually do stuff and see people. My mental health was destroyed, but that ultimately lead to me making the decision to go into psychology.

      I’m now at the tail end of my training, building up my practice hours to fully qualify. It has been a long, hard slog, but I’ve already been working in the field for 3 years just off the back of my postgrad, and I love it. I’m absolutely a person who needs to care about the work that they do – slogging my guts out to put money in someone else’s pocket was soul destroying. Non-profits don’t pay much, but even on the bottom rung where I am now, I’m already on a living wage, and I’ll be able to earn even more once I qualify.

    3. TPS Reporter*

      That’s great news! My friend who is an MSW used to work for a giant corp and felt so disillusioned. She was finally able to make it out and start her own practice. She’s happier than ever- she likes calling the shots, setting her own schedule and still doing the work that she went to school for and is still passionate about.

  89. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    Hoo boy. This is not going to be what either LW wants to hear, but it might be what they need to hear:

    1) If you have had well-paying but stressful, salaried jobs only, you might be under the impression that you are paid well because the jobs are stressful and you work long hours. You might think – well, I’d gladly trade some of that money for a nice simple job where I can leave every day at five. So HARD reality check:
    -The low paid jobs are not less stressful.
    -You’re not working less either. Going home at five doesn’t mean much, when you have to go to job #2 to make rent. And being poor is a hell of a lot of work. Everything you smooth over in your life with money? The reliable car? The occasional Uber or dinner from Seamless? Seeing a doctor when you want? Not so much now.
    -Have you ever been poor? If you have been, you are probably not terrified of it, because you know that you know how to survive. But you also know just how bad it sucks. And it does suck. It grinds you down and every year it gets harder. Poor at 20 is a different animal than poor at 50, and poor at 80 is ***ing gruesome.

    2) Are you sure your job is the problem? If you’re unhappy, it can be tempting to pull every lever and flip every switch on the console, trying to make it better. And “job change” is the big, tempting, bright red button. It looks so easy! It will change everything! Well, what if the problem is something else? Now you’ve got the same problems you used to have, just with less money.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      3) Lots of manual labor is hard on your body. Again – easy enough in your twenties and thirties – you’re tired and it hurts a bit at night, but not so bad. By your forties and fifties? Welcome to chronic physical pain. Do you have a realistic sense of what it means to be on your feet all day with a bad back?

      4) Going back the other direction gets harder, the longer you are out. Remember that the US retirement age is being pushed in the direction of 72. If you want to go back to a desk job at 60 to work out those last ten years sitting down, after your shoulder freezes and your knees are blown? Don’t lie to yourself about the odds on that one.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        5) How many workplace injuries have you seen? I’ve seen a mangled arm, a finger sliced off, a broken sternum. And I didn’t work in particularly dangerous fields. This wasn’t at a chicken processing plant or an oil refinery – it was a machine shop, a supermarket, and a construction site respectively. How are you with that kind of thing? You good to work out your shift with a broken wrist so they can avoid the worker’s comp claim and you can keep your job? I’ve seen that too.

    2. Spearmint*

      As I said above, you seem to be suggesting that most/all non-office jobs are low paying and physically grueling manual labor, but I don’t think that’s the case. Many non-office jobs have good pay, good benefits, and lower stress. Sure, on average they probably pay less, but many are still reasonably well-paid. Some examples are park ranger, fire fighter, and engineering jobs with a field work component.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        I’d say re-training mid career into a field engineer is less likely, park ranger doesn’t actually pay well (and is hard to get!) and firefighter is the absolute epitome of physically grueling and dangerous jobs. Also – most big fire departments have an age cutoff. You’re not becoming a firefighter at 34.

        Again, I’m not saying the LWs are going to go work in a Tyson plant, earn minimum wage, log five hours a day off the clock, and sever every tendon in their hand inside a year. But people who grew up middle class and have only had office jobs can have very unrealistic ideas of what life is like at a working-class wage or in a manual job.

        They can also have unrealistic ideas of how easy it is to get the good jobs. Plumber’s great – it’ll take you about five years before you’re earning decent money. Hygienist is a solid job – you’ll need a new degree, supervised work experience for a year, and a license. I’ve seriously looked into doing pest control – I even have a friend who would give me an apprenticeship – but the reality is it would take years to get the experience I would need and I’m out of time to save up enough to license my own business. It took my friend a grueling, grueling decade before he was earning good money, and he still works 70 hour weeks and crazy hours. It might have been the right fit for me, but that ship has sailed.

        So I’m pushing back on this notion that taking a manual job is going to be easier, or more stable, or less stressful, or more fun, or whatever the fantasy is. I’m not saying manual jobs are crap – I tend to like the people better, actually – but people shouldn’t waltz in thinking they can just do them because they were good at college. I hear this too much, and it bugs the hell out of me. Like people are working class because they don’t try that hard, so if I want to lay back, I can just join them. It’s not like that. You’ve got to hustle way harder and have more skills and some pretty rare smarts. It’s office jobs where you can sit back and be lazy and get paid. Every other letter here is about the colleague who spends all day playing Candy Crush and doesn’t do their dark. Try that on a job site an see how long you last.

  90. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Blue Forevermore*

    I don’t know how to say this without it coming across as seriously grouchy/sniping but…. personally I would love to have more options, to be able to move into higher paid work, not go down the ladder to less paid but fulfilled. For me being fulfilled would be able to take care of myself fully, take care of my 14 year old foster cat (liver problems), fix my car, not worry over every ripple and nuance at the job I have, wondering if it’s going under this time.

    I helped my sister last year through surgery, chemo and radiation and realized that when my time comes, I simply won’t have the resources to get treated. I have insurance but the daily and weekly care requires more than that, and ins. doesn’t pay for it all. So when I see letters like this, I think, wow. I’m glad for all you folks who get to make the choice for fulfilment.

  91. Rusty Shackelford*

    Do you ever hear from people in my type of circumstances that just quit the rat race and find satisfaction in less lucrative (but less pressure) jobs?

    #2, it seems like you think all office jobs are high pressure, which isn’t true.

  92. The Happy Graduate*

    My biggest advice is to find relevant volunteer opportunities (internships if you were a student). I was CERTAIN that I wanted a specific field when I was in university and found a dream internship in it, but when I got there I realized I hated the work and moved into a field that I had been volunteering in for some time. Before that, I found I had too many interests in my major so I volunteered with a couple different labs and ended up narrowing down to my favourite field (that I pivoted into after the internship).

    Volunteering is the easiest way to see if you enjoy the nitty-gritty of something, and if that’s not an option (i.e. can’t volunteer at a coffee shop), then see about reaching out to people in the industry who are doing what you like and see if you can set up an informational talk with them to get their honest thoughts/opinions. Bring up your situation and that you’re interested in their work for X reasons and if they were willing to provide their input.

    The only caveat though is that at the end of the day you have to comfortably support yourself/emergencies, and could you actually be okay with the lifestyle change of losing a massive chunk of your income/benefits/security with the career change (government to coffee shop employee is…risky…)? A lot of people don’t love their careers but have really fulfilling lives outside of work (hobbies, extracurriculars) that makes the 9-5 life worth it. Just extra food for thought.

    1. Lizzo*

      +1 to that caveat. There’s been a big push over the last 2+ decades to “do what you love”, but the reality is that there are bills to pay, and if you can’t pay your bills, you’re not going to be very happy or fulfilled, regardless of your career choices.

  93. Sharon*

    At some office jobs you work very hard but can’t actually see any sort of concrete results – you’re just pushing teapot reports around, or writing policies & procedures, or monitoring stuff. But what if you were investigating potential fraud cases, or managing product launches, or even working in sales? Consider whether you’d feel better if your work resulted in something concrete you could point to as an accomplishment at the end of the day/cycle and if so, maybe look for a different type of office job.

    1. TPS Reporter*

      right there are all kinds of positions in offices and you could see that as you move up the ladder you enjoy it more. you could be involved in more high profile and complicated issues that required nuanced decision making that is lacking in a more starter, lower level role.

  94. Lizzo*

    LW1: My spouse made a significant career change from a desk job (in a field associated with his Bachelor’s degree) to a trade job in a completely different subject area after 20 years at the desk job. He’s now four years post-change, and two years into the new career, and he is SUPER happy. The work is interesting and mentally challenging; he’s up and moving around, which is better for his physical and mental health; he’s got a general interest in the field, which keeps him motivated and engaged even when things are a bit boring.

    Here’s what we needed in order to make this transition successful:
    **A robust savings account – in our case, to cover tuition costs and also have a safety net if things didn’t work out according to plan.
    **Health insurance – in our case, this was through my full time job.
    **Some reliable income to cover our expenses – in our case, this was my income.
    **Affordable tuition for his program, relative to what his new career is paying him (i.e. he invested $25k in a two year program, and was making $55k for an entry level job in the field, with a clear path for advancement and salary increase in a short period of time).
    **He was pursuing a job in a field that is experiencing an insane amount of growth, mostly because the folks who are currently in his field are older and nearing retirement. He had four job offers before he graduated.
    **DO YOUR RESEARCH. Gather as much info as possible about your options, including speaking with people who are in the field you’re considering, before you make any big decisions.

    I fully support you pursuing something where you’ll be much happier, but please please please PLEASE make sure your have your financial ducks in a row before you start down this path, you have a way to take care of your health needs (current and future), and you’re headed towards a career that isn’t going to start off with you being $$$$$$ in debt for student loans.

  95. Give*

    A lot of retail jobs hire non permanent workers over the holidays. Don’t know your current work situation but can you possibly take a job on the side over the holidays that will give you a picture of things and best of all keep you in your current job if you think it’s not for you.

  96. Stepped on a Lego*

    I got really lucky and enjoy my office job that pays well with good benefits. I have a hard time with monotony, so I made sure I chose a job that is different every day, yet is still related to my STEM degree.
    For my husband, it has been a longer career path, and he is still figuring it out. He is working in skilled labor, and it is really affecting his body; he comes home with aches and pains, is getting arthritis, and there isn’t much the doctor can do. He had specific training before he immigrated here, so he has been going to community college and is almost done with his associate’s in a different but related and more modern and in demand field. It has taken a long time, and English isn’t his first language, so that has been an additional barrier, and with small kids running around while he tries to study and take virtual classes, it has also been a challenge, but I am so proud of him. And the community college makes it affordable; we haven’t had to take out student loans, and if he chooses, he can continue with a bachelor’s at the nearby state university.

    1. Lizzo*

      Major kudos to your husband for his persistence, and also to you for the supportive role you’ve played! This is not an easy path, but I hope you are all rewarded with prosperity and a much less stressful life once he’s transitioned into his new field.

  97. A Former Wildlife Tech*

    As someone who has worked both office jobs and “practical, outdoorsy” jobs, including some at national parks, I would definitely suggest trying to volunteer in the job you want to try on first. People often idealize “outdoorsy” jobs, but the reality is often the opposite of glamorous. A lot of entry-level national park jobs are things like “entrance station attendant”. If you do get one of the truly out of doors jobs (competition is usually pretty fierce), remember that you will have to work outside in ALL weather. As a former boss commented, “Everyone is always telling me how wonderful my job is… When it’s sunny. When it’s snowing, not so much.” Also the pay can be really awful and you will probably have to move around a lot in order to stay employed in your chosen field.

    This isn’t to say that you definitely won’t love the outdoorsy job. You may love it! You may be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to stay in the outdoors! But you may find that you can’t or can’t afford to or that you hate being too hot or too cold or whatever. So try volunteering first if you can.

    1. A Former Wildlife Tech*

      Also just for context, I went from outdoorsy jobs to office jobs (I went back to school for it) and I LOVE my office job. The pay and benefits are so much better, my work is fulfilling and rewarding, and I can work from home. A book to consider is “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport.

  98. Liz*

    I recently moved from grant writing to the operations department of a public park. My job now is probably still 70% desk-bound but if I stick around here, that will increase. It’s been awesome.

  99. Rich*

    LW2, Over the years, I’ve made a lot of changes within my (very wide) field to make me happier with my working life — not the degree of change you’re considering, but in a similar spirit.

    “My job stresses me out” is an important signal — nobody wants to show up to work miserable every day. But it doesn’t do anything other than recommend that you change _something_.

    The most important thing for me was focusing on behaviors and activities. What triggered me, what did I dwell on, what did I dread? For me it was schedule volatility, travel demands, and a focus on late-stage execution of someone else’s plan rather than early-stage development of the plans themselves. For you it might be that, or dealing directly with the public, or emotionally charged conversations, or social isolation (or a LACK of social isolation) at work. Or something else entirely.

    But take that inventory. “The job” might stress you out, but “the job” isn’t a single thing. Reflecting and analyzing those sources lets you do the two things you have to do to be happy:
    – it tells you what has to change if you decide you want to stay with the type of work you do now. You might be able to do that!
    – if not, it gives you a way to predict what your life will be like in a new field.

    If you don’t know what’s good for you and what’s not, you’re just going to trade one pressure cooker for another.

  100. Qwerty*

    For both letter writers – look hard at the themes of your past jobs. Both of you seem to be romanticizing non-office jobs a bit, when the reality is that you’d be trading one type of stress and politics for another.

    There is also an option to split the difference – I’ve known many people who had a shift a week at a more “fun” or interesting job like bartending that ended up making them much more content with their day job. The side job was not so much about the money, but a way to fulfill another aspect of their life – meeting new people, enjoying the crazy stress of a last call rush, etc. (Ok, some of them started about the money when they were younger, but one person kept her waitress job for 20+yrs until the bar closed because she loved meeting new people and it gave her great stories to tell)

  101. singlemaltgirl*

    op, you’ve tried or looked at many things but none seem to feel ‘right’ or address your general dislike/unhappiness with them so what do you like doing? some people just do not like having to work. period. is that your issue? or is it something else? figuring this out would be helpful.

    and all jobs have their headaches. just a lot of us find enough to like about our jobs that we can live with the headache bits. or the paycheque is worth it. or we make work/life balance critical and don’t live to work. etc. sometimes, it’s about reframing things in your mind. but without understanding why your jobs are not enjoyable for you, it’s hard to make more concrete suggestions.

  102. Just say no to "work-family" or "this is more a lifestyle choice than a job"*

    It sounds as if both LWs are highly skilled and experienced in many areas. The easy thing is actually transitioning your skills which you use in an office to other work which may be 60-90% “field” based. Organizational skills, computer program skills, admin skills, customer service management skills- all of these are needed in large scale disaster recovery projects, trail work projects, bio-blitz projects (iNaturalist, etc), gear/ tool inventory and repair shops, and many other facets.
    Any field or trade work industry needs more diversity in the people working these jobs.
    If you’re based in the US, looking into Americorps service terms may be an option to try out a “field” job. While there are age limits for many of the conservation corps programs there are some states which do not have an age-limit (I’ve encountered people from ages 18 up to 70 in Americorps outdoor conservation programs). Even if you do not need the Segal scholarship award for existing student-loan repayment, the Ed award you receive upon completion of your service term can be used to fund a NOLS program which may lead to other outdoor adventure work.
    ACE (The American Conservation Experience) has EPIC intern positions with many federal land management agencies.
    The Student Conservation Association may be a paid option to learn natural conservation work as an entry-level technician.
    Fire departments sometimes offer volunteer job training if you do not want to go into a paid certification program for this career field right away. EMS and fire are very rewarding professions and may transition into outdoor work like guiding.
    If you can afford to work part-time while going for a certification, heavy equipment repair, small engine repair, or other automotive mechanics are always in demand skilled trades.
    Many large metro areas are offering trade school/ apprenticeship programs, starting by asking around at a local vocational school or a career center may help to locate these options. While most trade or vocational programs are not eligible for Pell Grants, some vocational schools will have scholarships available for income assistance.

    Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and to have the rewarding satisfaction of knowing that you contributed as a part of a team:
    Habitat for Humanity or another disaster relief group will allow you to acquire hands-on practical experience in construction.
    Trail clubs will have skills training camps, often they will offer sawyer certification courses or wilderness first aid courses.
    If you can afford the travel- volunteer internationally, try out some WWOOFing (farm harvest work), volunteer on a dig site.
    If you’d like to help out kids- volunteering with the Sierra Club or Big Brothers Big Sisters are good options.

    All of these options are able to be pursued short-term (2 years max.) and the skills learned will be with you for the rest of your life and can be picked up again. You can always work a side-job guiding hikes or being an on-call boat repair technician. Best of luck!

  103. Lab Boss*

    This mostly relates to OP1 as it’s more of a switch to a non-office but more on the tier of changing from office work to plumbing rather than office work to working at a cafe (since the change in income adds a whole other twist to OP2’s question). This is my wife’s story of how she made a mid-30’s major career change.

    When I met my now-wife, she was an upper-level manager at a fast casual restaurant and had worked in restaurants for 10 years. She’d decided she wanted out of that field, inspired by needing surgery and thinking “these people are really making a difference in people’s lives.” She did her research and decided to become a surgical technologist (the person who hands the surgeon the tools, and a few other things). When I met her she was taking part-time classes online to finish the pre-requisites for the program. Once that was complete she resigned from the restaurant for the 1 full year of full-time Surg Tech programming (classwork and surgical rotations). Her original plan was to get a job at a private plastic surgeon’s office she had some work done in, but she ended up working at the large city hospital where she did one of her rotations instead.

    From a practical standpiont, this move required a few things: Researching jobs to decide exactly what she wanted to change to, and then researching exacly what pre-reqs and course work would be required- this kept her from getting in the quicksand of “I want to change but I don’t know to what.” She also had to have a plan for the full-time course load it required. In this case we were close enough by then that she could move in with me and live largely for free, her tuition was covered by a state job training initiative, and her parents provided a bit of help with some extra expenses. If she’d still been on her own and hadn’t had parental support it would have been a gruelling slog of working night shifts at restaurants after full days in class. Be aware of the barriers to entry into a new career and how you’ll balance supporting yourself with clearing those barriers.

  104. Katefish*

    Putting in a quick plug for white collar jobs that allow you to move around during the day: off the top of my head, I’ve liked that aspect of car sales and some attorney positions (although in person court is way less common than before)… I’m sure there are other jobs with movement and variety.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      This is a good option, actually. Jobs where you are a site auditor or a sales rep can be good for changes of scene. It can be a lot of driving and a lot of Fairfields, but not bad jobs and good if you’re more restless.

  105. RagingADHD*

    You try out different types of work by volunteering or by freelancing on the side. It doesn’t give you the full experience, but it will give you a sampling.

    I was able to transition into my current career path because I had a partner who was employed with good health benefits, and we were able to scrimp by until my income came back up where it needed to be. If I were single without kids, I would have done it the same way I took creative breaks from the day job back in the day — saved up six months or a year’s expenses, quit my job, and go look for another good-paying one if (when) I needed to.

    I will say, if you are used to a higher salary, make sure you pare back your major lifestyle expenses so that you can afford the lower one. That may involve changing where you live to get lower rent, your transportation choices, clearing debt, etc. If you are going to cut your income in half, just giving up takeout and lattes isn’t going to be enough. How about healthcare?

    You will also need to look at your life goals, hobbies, and emotional commitments outside of work. There are a lot of things that are temporarily off the table or less available right now due to the pandemic, that will be options again at some point in the foreseeable future: Is it important to you to travel to see family twice a year? Do you love going to live concerts? Also, do you have pets that will need expensive care in a few years? Would you like to own a home or have kids within a certain timeframe? What are your goals for retirement? All those things will be much harder to pull off on a lower income, and some will just be out of reach entirely.

    I would say that overall, life is always going to have stressful parts somewhere. They just swap around. If you have a stressful job and plenty of money, that’s one thing. If you trade down for a less-lucrative job, you will have more stress about money (and there will still be some job stress).

    It is really nice to have a job you like, and I wouldn’t go back. But there is no magic bullet- just different balance points.

  106. CommanderBanana*

    Honestly, anyone thinking a coffee shop or other restaurant or cafe job isn’t a high-pressure job hasn’t worked one before. You do get to leave work at work, as it were, but it can be exhausting and physically grueling.

    1. TPS Reporter*

      no kidding! I had restaurant jobs throughout college and they were so draining. I had nightmares.

  107. CranberryCheddar*

    Hey LWs!
    I am someone who spent 5 years completing an undergraduate degree – including an Honours thesis – and then 6 months after graduating from university I started learning to be a mechanic through a trade school program.
    Since getting my trade school diploma, I’ve ended up working in a series of different jobs that have included some combination of sit-down desk admin/coordination work and hands-on repair/maintenance. It suits me really well! I like thinking big and developing policies and procedures for my workplace, and then being able to get up from my desk to work with some tools and focus on the specific task in front of me.
    I have a sense that there is a real need for people who are good at both types of work, especially in smaller workplaces. Examples could include: a tradesperson who needs an assistant who can both coordinate scheduling *and* do some wrenching on site; or a garden centre that needs someone to serve customers, do some plant care and also update the website catalogue.
    These might not always be the most well-paying jobs but they can pay decently enough, as well as having the added benefit of keeping you moving regularly and engaged with people face-to-face.

    I guess my suggestion for next steps would be: see if you can find a local non-profit that does some of the things you’re interested in and needs volunteers. That might be less obvious for a trade, but maybe you have a local makerspace or community bike repair project, or Habitat for Humanity chapter that needs some extra hands and is happy to teach you some skills?
    If there is a trade you’re interested in, maybe there are continuing education programs near you that offer short versions of some trades training, such as those directed at people who want to learn home maintenance. That could get you the basics and also get you in a room with a professional who could tell you more about what the trade looks like in a full-time context.
    And if there is a business that you’d be interested in working for and that has a storefront, go talk to the person at the cash (assuming they aren’t totally overwhelmed)! I think customer service people in general have lots to say about their experiences, while also being kind of rendered a semi-invisible part of the work, so I bet they’d be happy to talk to a friendly face about things from their perspective.

  108. Hedda*

    This applies mostly to LW2, but I’m sure there’s value for LW1! I have a friend who worked in government related jobs in a field they were trained in since they graduated college, and liked it. Managed to use that experience to move to the city they really wanted to be in, to work in an office with a good job, good salary, and good co-workers/boss.

    But they were miserable. I’ve never seen them with such anxiety (I’m the anxious one!).

    Well, two months or so ago they put in their notice. They’re living off savings now (the amount they could live if discretionary spending was the same, less, or eliminated was carefully accounted for), and after a few week break are now applying to “less serious” jobs that they know they’ll like better, and deciding what to do long term. It’s night and day. If you have the support and savings, why wait? Quit now. If you don’t, start applying. It’s not crazy, it makes sense and it can be so incredibly worth it.

    LW1, I sew and good sewing machine repair is so hard to come by. Not saying *that’s* what you should pick, but that’s totally what you should pick.

  109. Polly Sprocket*

    I relate to all of this, especially LW1! I’ll share my experience FWIW – I had been working in publishing for 8 years right after college, and generally found it to be very low-paying and thankless. A few years in, I also started taking woodworking classes on the weekends and fell in love with it, and I eventually decided to take the plunge and look for an apprenticeship. At 30, I quit my publishing job and went to work as an entry-level carpenter’s assistant – it was VERY SCARY, and my family thought I was nuts, but I loved getting to work with my hands and not stare at a computer all day. It was hard work, but I liked coming home tired from using my body all day, rather than from staring at a screen.

    When the pandemic hit, I got laid off, and during the turmoil of the past year I ended up moving on to a different, better-paying desk job – but I’m SO glad and proud of myself trying something completely different (and I may still go back to woodworking full-time one day). It can be done! And if you find it’s not right for you after all, you can always go back to working in an office if you choose.

    Anyway I recommend taking some classes or volunteering like other commenters said above – but I’d also say that there will never be a “perfect” time to go for it and try something totally new, so don’t hold yourself back! Finally, I highly recommend reading Hammerhead by Nina Maclaughlin. It really inspired me and made me feel much braver about my own new-career exploration.

  110. Shelby*

    Just jump in. If you do plumbing, get ahold of the local plumbers union.

    I just did this for corporate security to carpentry.

  111. cosmicgorilla*

    My advice to both LW’s would to be to examine your personality and your general skillsets. What do you like about your current job? What do you dislike? I couldn’t handle any form of retail for more than 30 hours a week because of the need to be constantly “on” with customers, the need to be busy doing piddling stuff around the store if you weren’t busy with customers. I do better behind a screen where I can concentrate and deep dive. Other people thrive on people interactions, thrive on constantly putting out small fires, prefer to be up and moving and active vs stationed at a desk. Do you do better in a very regimented environment (you clock in, you clock out, you get exactly 15 minutes for break and 30 mins for lunch, and don’t exceed it!), or do you prefer more flexibility? Start with this kind of general analysis of yourself before committing to a specific job. And if you are looking at specific jobs, what appeals to you about it? Google it to see pros and cons. Ask someone who is in that profession if you can do an informational interview, and get them to talk about pros and cons.

  112. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer*

    For every career change I wanted, I volunteered in the area first. At age 18, I volunteered to be a secretary for a local political office, which eventually turned into medical transcriptionist positions (my typing speed got me the first job there). Before getting an associates degree in computer programming, I was a freelance and volunteer computer programmer (which got me a programming job for a large corporation 6 months before I graduated). While creating my own applications (and when I created a huge application while in the Peace Corps in Kenya), I created my own technical documentation. That (and later a bachelor’s degree) got me several technical writing positions after I returned to the US. If you can’t find a local place to volunteer (especially now), volunteer online (I volunteer with UN Volunteers). I tell everyone who asks for help on their resumes that “volunteer experience is just as good as working experience on a resume!”. I also believe in apprenticeships, but there weren’t any around where I lived. Good luck with your future!

  113. Itsjustanother girl*

    I was so insanely unhappy in my first career – I was jumping from job to job and though I thought it was my passion, I realized, I actually hated what I was doing. So, mid-thirties, I went back to school while working part-time and did an intensive 4-month course in web dev. Spent three years trying to launch my web dev biz until finally I couldn’t take my old career any longer and just walked away and hung out a freelance shingle the next day. I did that for 8 years before I went back to working for someone else. I chose a tech start up where I work remotely (long before everyone was doing it) and I found my place. I’m so much happier and more fulfilled now.
    Here’s the thing. If you hate what you’re doing now, but it will take a few years to get to where you want to be, in a few years, you’ll either have the new career, or you’ll be even more unhappy than you are today. So jump if you want to jump.
    If you can keep freelancing/contract work until you are ready for the new role, that helps keep a roof over your head and food on the table. It’ll be a hard few years, but you’ll come out the other end in hopefully a new and better place.

  114. Rachel*

    My feeling is – the job/career is only 1 part of your life. I have an accounting job that is sometimes stressful and sometimes boring/repetitive. I work with good people, make good money and have some flexibility if I need to be out of the office or work from home. That being said, this is not my dream job by any means. I have this job so that I can enjoy the other parts of my life, travel, cooking and eating interesting foods, my pets, my spouse, my friends and my hobbies. Your job does not define you at all. It is a means to an end.

  115. Julia*

    Seconding the advice in the comments about getting experience before making a huge leap into a new field. My partner is only 25, went to school for a trade and practiced it for a few years before injuring himself and now he has chronic pain and is trying to make the exact opposite move so that he can do work that isn’t so physically taxing. (In fact, if any readers have advice on doing the exact reverse of these letters, I’m all ears!)

  116. BugHuntress*

    For years, I felt like both letter writers. I was seen as a “creative person” as a kid, and that was reflected back to me when I wondered what to do for a career. People kept telling me that I should develop one of my talents as a career, but it felt wrong in the pit of my stomach. Taking money for art stuff dampens my creative drive, and I didn’t have a strong enough pull towards any one medium to make it my career. I was secretly afraid that the problem was me – if I wasn’t a musician/writer/etc, there *was* no job that would make me happy. I looked into library science, accordion repair, publishing. I worked as a barista for years.

    Then my friend helped me get a temp job making ID cards at a university. That led to a full-time job at the ID card office, once one opened up. Then THAT led to a job a few years later at the same university, helping run the three performing arts colleges in an administrative capacity. That academic affairs job was way more responsibility than I’d ever had. I thought it was my dream job, but it was a nightmare.

    My (two-person) team’s purpose was to gut and standardize the quirky culture of three artistic schools, for the sake of “efficiency”. We were instructed to let people fall through the holes in the new “money-saving” bureaucratic systems we designed. Most of the beloved professors at the colleges feared and disliked us. The toxicity was breathtaking. Operationally everything at the university was starting to fall apart, but we had to act like it wasn’t. People stabbed each other in the back, but we needed to pretend that we all loved each other. Advertising materials for the college bragged of its justice and equity, but my coworker and I (both women) were told to smile at a certain (male) dean whenever he walked into the room…

    But one day my coworker said, “You have such a logical mind” to me, which shocked me. I had been anticipating registration problems by analyzing registration reports – for which I’d taught myself some Excel tricks. I thought about it, and thought about the things I did at my job that other people seemed to have a hard time with – anticipating problems, finding inconsistencies. I at first looked towards data analysis / data science, but realized how flooded the market was and how much math was required, and set my sights higher, towards software engineering.

    I quit the toxic job two years ago. Now I’m an associate software engineer at an up-and-coming company, for almost twice what I was making at the university, doing much less work (a “normal” amount?). It’s got ups and downs, but it fits me so, so much better.

    Part of what helped, honestly, was having exposure to different kinds of work. Barista work was grueling in many ways, but it helped me be proud of what my body could do, and helped me recognize toxic boss behavior.

    I think a common mistake is trying to think your way out of this problem. You think and think and think about what you might like to do for a career, and it doesn’t help. I don’t think you can solve this problem by thinking alone in your house. You need to also _do_ things and _try_ things, which will give you information and experiences and memories. Then you think about what you did. Then do/try something else, based on previous experience.

    1. Your friendly neighborhood Zen Buddhist*

      This is awesome. How did you get into software engineering? I have a lot of “artsy” friends who took a bootcamp or were self-taught (one started as de-facto tech support at a printing company). I’ve also made the switch from arts/education to tech but I’m trying to find a way forward.

      1. BugHuntress*

        Thanks! I actually signed up for a data science bootcamp, but quit it in the first week – the pre-work for the bootcamp included learning some Python, and the joy of Python blew my mind enough that I was like “Ah, ok, Python is much more fun than anything else I’ve been doing.” It felt like building little Rube Goldberg machines – like doing magic.

        Then a friend of a friend was doing some engineering work, and had some Python that he didn’t mind me taking a whack at – we called it an internship.

        Then I went to Recurse Center for six months, and it was SO AMAZING. (It’s an educational retreat for programmers, it’s free, and they give grants to people traditionally underrepresented in programming.) I learned a ton about programming, and also about the industry.

        Then, found contract work at my current job because they liked the look of my hybrid skillset – they wanted a dual project management/coding person. Did that for a while, got made permanent, shifted over to pure software engineering.

        1. BugHuntress*

          More details:
          I made the shift over the course of about a year.
          I put most of my stuff in a storage unit for that year, gave up my apartment, and lived as cheaply as I could – on friends’ couches, in other cities, dog-sitting, etc.
          I was unemployed the whole time (except for the internship) and got free health insurance through New York State. The Medicaid has been expanded in New York, and it is actually pretty good insurance and relatively easy to get. I had surgery during that time period, and paid nothing.
          I didn’t have the expense of a boot camp, but borrowed $15k from my mother for living expenses that year. I was able to pay her back fully after a year at my new job, and I’m grateful I was able to do that.

  117. Who the eff is Hank?*

    I left my career path as a nonprofit program manager (admittedly not a very lucrative role, but I liked the work) to become a lactation consultant. I spent two years doing the schooling required to become an IBCLC while my kids were little, so I got more time with them as well. I interned at a hospital during my school program and decided I didn’t like the internal politics of the hospital system. So instead, I opened up my own clinic.

    Running my own clinic is stressful in its own ways. I have to do my own taxes and marketing (though thankfully word of mouth is very effective in this type of job). I don’t get any benefits or PTO. My income is never guaranteed. But I have the right personality and organizational skills suited to running my own business and I’m lucky that my husband’s job provides health insurance and enough money to cover our base expenses. I love that I get to set my own schedule and can be available for my kids during the day. I have to answer to my clients and am motivated to perform well for their sake, but I don’t have to meet arbitrary objectives or care about corporate goals that don’t effect me.

    I could have been decently happy had I stayed in nonprofit work, but I really enjoy my work now. I’m glad I made the career change.

  118. AnxietyRobot*

    Oooh, finally a question I feel somewhat qualified to give advice on! As background: I’ve spent most of my life working non-office jobs by choice (and actually started reading AskAManager because I tragically fell in love with a career that will stick me in one, and I realized they needed to understand how they function.) I’ve encouraged a lot of people who feel stifled in offices to explore those feelings, as they genuinely may be happier without one! I’ve also seen A LOT of people come from corporate/office jobs to jobs where I’ve worked, only to quickly realize they prefer office life after all. Survivorship bias, grain of salt, etc., but here’s my advice:

    1. Find out why the people doing the job you’re looking into hate it. The downsides of a profession aren’t always obvious to the outside observer, even if it’s a job performed publicly (one time I was bartending and chatting with a customer, and he told me he thought being a bartender seemed great, and included in his reasons ‘you don’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to.’) Even if it’s something you’ve done in a non-professional environment, doing it professionally can be a completely different experience. The good news about this is that it can also work to assure you you’re making the right choice– one of the things that drew me to my current field is when I realized the most tedious task professionals hate is a type of tedium I tend to enjoy. Everyone’s most hated job is someone else’s dream job, and if you’re cool with a job’s bad points, it’s a good sign you’ll thrive.

    2. Consider any changes in lifestyle/resources. Steadiness of work/amount of money/benefits/time off/retirement/physicality/etc. This one isn’t always as black and white as it appears… while office jobs are seen as more stable/better paying, that is far from true across the board, and people have pitied me and assumed I was struggling at some of my best, most well paying/accommodating jobs. Find out what the typical areas of insecurity in your new profession would be, what a boon period and what a bust period looks like, and how often you’re likely to experience them, and then be prepared to ruthlessly interrogate how that’d work for you short and long term. It is true that office jobs tend to be more secure for retirement/health issue considerations, but again– you could wind up surprised.

    3. Consider your social circle. A LOT of people have been conditioned to think of office jobs as “good, accomplished” and anything else as “bad, embarrassing.” I’ve had very well meaning friends and loved ones try to find me new positions in “better” fields, only to be shocked when they found out their receptionist job paid less than half of what I was used to making. (I’ve also had MANY, MANY times of being flat broke and desperate to get to that point, to keep perspective.) People who generally should know better. You might be able to brush off this sort of thing, but I think that’s the number one reason I’ve seen people who try to leave offices return– it’s hard for them to stomach the sudden loss of respect they didn’t realize was there before. No matter how important/prestigious/fulfilling your new career might be, some people just won’t ever get it.

  119. Fingerlime*

    LW2, I think you may be romanticizing how low-stress working in plant nurseries are. Just like all the other retail outlets, ever nursery I’ve been to over the summer has a sign out saying, “we’re short-staffed, so please don’t yell at the staff who bothered to show up. Also, we’re hiring.” Because ultimately, this is a minimum-wage retail job with high turnover, and there’s a reason for that high turnover. There’s a number of greenhouse and other horticulture podcasts, and the gist of a great many of them is, this is really hard work for next to no pay. Which would ultimately get you further away from your goal of early retirement. So, it might make more sense to just put more time and effort into your hobbies.

  120. El l*

    Re LW 2:
    Have you tried something smaller and/or more entrepreneurial? There are places where results matter far more than TPS reports. I can’t promise it’ll be less stressful – but at least then the stress would be for some result.

    I say this because (depending on who you are) the “follow your heart” stuff can lead to some really sad places.

  121. FemFarmer*

    I more or less did this. I worked for a very famous tech company and was considered a top performer. I had a great team, loved my bosses, and my work, but I was CONSTANTLY stressed and I just couldn’t see myself staying on that path for another 10-20 years. So I quit my fancy job, moved out of the fancy city, and became a farmer in a rural-ish part of my state. I went to work on the family farm, took a 30% salary reduction, and lost all my shares that i hadn’t quite vested in yet (I only needed 2 more years). Regardless, its been one of my best decisions I’ve ever made.

    This does not mean that my new life is stress-less.
    One thing to remember when thinking about going from a “corporate” job to a “non corporate” job, is that all those corporate problems dont disappear. You’ll still run into bad bosses, or terrible co workers, or paperwork that just buries you. For me, I realized that the combination of working for something that was never MINE, combined with being tied to a computer and a desk all day, made me very unhappy. Now, I have stuff that balances out that bad. I go walk around my orchards, or dig up carrots, or fix machinery and move to take my mind off the parts I dont like. Its like a reset button, which gives me the peace & presence of mind to do those tasks I dont enjoy.

  122. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    From my experience, I suggest getting an admin job at a large university. The level of pay will go down, but usually the benefits package is incredible, especially at large state universities. Those are also preferable because, since they’re funded by the state (meaning taxpayers) there is a lot of transparency about salaries, policies, and everybody gets a lot of regular ethics trainings. They also usually have unions, which, even if you’re not a member, benefits you because they keep a sharp eye on things.

    Large state universities also have tons of admin jobs open all the time. You can start in one position (in an academic department, maybe) and then switch to another. Once you’ve learned the university’s main systems pretty well, you can gain skills and boost your salary by doing different admin jobs.

    The most valuable part, I think, is that usually after only a year of service, you can take classes for free, including classes toward a degree. You can build on your professional contacts to talk to professors and grad students about their fields. If you find that there’s a field you really want to work in, take the classes you need (for free), and then go do it.

    Even if you don’t find field you want to go into, you’ll be in an environment totally different than the one you’re in now. People who go into educational admin aren’t doing it because they want huge amounts of money to Be Successful, or at least Better Than Everyone Else. It’s non-profit work, but it’s not a tiny non-profit where no one makes any money or benefits and the stress level is always at Defcon 1. It can be stressful, there will be some jerks, but it just feels better than corporate work because it is never about profit margins.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Having spent most of my professional life working at Universities in various capacities, higher ed comes with plenty of stress, toxic people, and while profit margins aren’t the thing- budgets are. I think it’s a great environment and I love it very much, but I know many many schools that aren’t unionized and my experience with faculty unions have been that they are there to protect the faculty- often at the expense of staff. There are sometimes serious downsides. However, free classes are a nice perk.

    2. BugHuntress*

      I commented upthread about how much I despised my university job – part of the reason I hated it was jealousy and irony, because sometimes colleges are *amazing* to work at.

      It had been so fun and cozy to work at the university for a long time – lots of quirky, smart people – but big new changes were making everyone’s lives miserable. I hated seeing the faculty and alumni lose faith in the place that they loved. I felt like I was taking the main branch of the New York Public Library and turning it into a DMV.

      Colleges are in trouble these days. I didn’t realize companies in financial trouble can become interpersonally toxic, shockingly quickly – like a wound getting infected. Financial stress flows down straight from the top, and puts pressure on everyone to work insane hours, compete over resources, and hide structural problems. Colleges in financial trouble are desperately cutting costs, laying off operations staff, and raising prices, which enrages the community (especially because they always seem to hire more deans), and breaks the heart of staff and faculty who want to help students and can’t.

      Beware of university-branded language championing innovation and flexibility. Beware colleges and universities with recently-created one-year masters’ programs and certificate programs, who refuse to publish their job placement rates. But yes, the benefits can be incredible – my university provided free college tuition to the kids of people who worked there for long enough.

    3. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Both of you make excellent points, and that’s one of the reasons I mentioned large state universities. Private colleges can get away with a lot of sh!t, and I totally understand where you’re coming from. I worked for a large state university for eight years, and while I had to cope with some jerks, it wasn’t any more or less than I’ve had to cope with in other jobs.

      Then I came here, to “Saint Thomas of Florence University”, a private university, and it is THE WORST. I want say that you wouldn’t believe the sh!t that has gone down, except I know you absolutely would. I still believe in public universities, though. The hundreds of (mostly white, mostly male) people here who have the word “provost” somewhere in their ridiculously long titles could never get away with paying each other their obnoxious “consulting fees” at a state university.

  123. Recovering Chef*

    I made the opposite career shift: pastry chef–>office job. Being a pastry chef in my 20’s was fine; I had a job that paid more than jobs I could have gotten with my zoology degree, and it had good benefits (not the norm in that industry). Unfortunately, that above average pay and benefits meant I was kind of locked in at a fairly toxic employer. Also, the job was physically demanding in a way that, as I approached 40, I knew would not be sustainable into retirement.

    The thing that really helped me think through the shift was to look at the bigger picture. The reason we have jobs is to pay for the rest of our life. What do you want your whole life to look like? For me, I don’t want to work when everyone else is playing (the reality of the hospitality industry – forget your non-hospitality friends, you won’t see them), and I want to make enough money to fund rather expensive habits like vacations and owning horses. Are you feeling unfulfilled because of your job, or because of some other missing element in your life?

  124. Gail Davidson-Durst*

    I would say the day-to-day environment of work is the most important thing to me, and having experience in jobs and volunteering is how I’ve discovered what I wanted and got to a place where I love my job. For me, I want a comfortable, predictable physical environment, a cooperative relationship with people I encounter, a reasonable schedule, and interesting problems to solve. I could probably be happy in many office environments, but was miserable as a lawyer (fails at least three of those parameters HARD).

    One time it only took a few hours of volunteering to realize that NOPE, lawyering for a good cause does NOT help!

    So I guess I’ll echo others saying that trying stuff out is key, and you probably can try things in smaller “bites” than you fear to get a good gauge and prune out options that don’t work.

  125. RB*

    If you don’t mind physical work, there are so many things. Some of them would lead to having your own business and managing other people, so you may want to consider whether you have the knack for that (we had the letter last week from someone who was clearly struggling with that). There is landscaping, electrician, HVAC technician, painter, anything related to home improvement. Or just working in the stores that sell those things (I don’t mean Home Depot, but like managing a paint store). Plant nursery, like #2 was considering, arborist/tree service, etc.

  126. A Mechanic*

    This is a lot of comments already, but I hope I can add something to the discussion – namely, being a mid-20s (femme presenting) person in a trade job (albeit not in the US, so I’ll skip the “how to start working in this field” part ;)) I am – surprise surprise – a mechanic, specifically for excavators and the like. Before I started my apprenticeship, I did go to university (and left without anything to show for it but some Swedish and opinions about linguistics), and at some point I realised that I did NOT want to spend most of my waking time in an office, at a desk. Nooooope.
    Anyway, long story short, I do love my work (most of the time). There’s rather more paperwork than I envisioned (albeit bearable) and of course there’s ups and downs, but overall I love *seeing* the fruits of my labour, I love the machines and most importantly – i love getting dirty :DD
    I don’t know that I have much advice to give that hasn’t been given already (mainly: inform yourself, don’t walk blindly into this!!), but let me also just say: Do iiiit. If you want it, and can feasibly do it… Follow your heart. Leave that office.
    ((On European Time and an early schedule, replies WILL be late… early))

  127. Product Person*

    Letter writer 1:

    I love my office job. I also know I’d hate admin work (at the beggining of my career I had to cover for one a few hours and quickly realized it’s not for me–I greatly admire people who can do that work).

    I also work closely with program managers and would hate that job too. The thing is, there is a huge variety of office jobs that may be suitable to you and you never tried! Some are more creative, or require talking to clients to understand their problems and solve them like an interesting puzzle, the list goes on and on.

    I’m not saying you should avoid non-office jobs, only that to me it would be a big mistake to jump to the conclusion that because you didn’t like these two particular jobs, there aren’t any office jobs that would appeal to you.

    My suggestion would be to spend some time in Linkedin or Indeed going through various job descriptions, and seeing if some office jobs don’t sound like fun to you. Initially, for brainstorming purposes, don’t focus too much on the required qualifications; just explore what intuitively seems intriguing, and then expand your research in that field.

    You may be surprised to learn you would be happier in a different office job than working at a park. (Or not, but at least you’d be working from a larger body of evidence than your limited experience so far.)

    Good luck findinf work that you love! I did, so there is hope :-)

  128. sara*

    Just to add kind of the opposite perspective. I switched from an outdoorsy/active career that I found very stressful into an office career that I find way more satisfying, fun and low key. But I think some people would find the complete opposite about these jobs.

    Yes, some days are stressful or seem pointless but I think the biggest thing I found between the two is that I really enjoy the overall day-to-day work in my office job. My previous career (think zookeeper) I thought was a dream, and I loved the big picture, but the day-to-day was so much not a good fit that I ended up hating really everything about it. Now I work a career where I love the day-to-day activities, and then managed to find a company/team/job where I really love our mission and big picture stuff, too.

  129. Full-Time Creative*

    I work in several creative arts industries and have my whole working career. My jobs are such that anytime I tell someone what I do the response is inevitably wide eyes and “Oh, that must be so cool!!”

    I mean, sort of, yes? But also, INSANELY stressful. I usually don’t bring that up in the small talk conversations. But the rate of burnout in all the industries I’m in is so, so, SO high. I’ve spent a lot of the last few years contemplating if/how to off-ramp and get into a more traditional office job. A hard thing when I have long overlapping contracts and commitments — there’s no such thing as two-week notice. Grass is always greener, eh…

    All that said, I keep thinking of a piece of job advice I read somewhere — I unfortunately can’t remember where — that said “decide what kind of sh*t sandwich you’re okay with eating every day.” The idea being that nearly all jobs are going to have their stresses and grinds and *which* bundle of stress feels most tolerable to *you*? I do wonder if the sh*t sandwiches my industry provides me — there are many, but are they more tolerable than the ones I’d get in a more traditional office job…? And it’s what keeps me hesitating on the precipice of trying to make a full career shift. That said, I’ve been taking classes to brush up the skills my degree is in so that I’m ready to jump if I decide I want to. Still not sure how I would figure out the actual transition, but the classes also give me something else in my life and make me feel like I have more options, so I second what other people are saying about classes/hobbies/volunteer work being a great way to put out some emotional feelers about other work. Good luck.

    1. Librarian*

      That’s super sad advice. Life itself is hard enough. Why have a job that makes it any harder?

      I love my job, there is nothing shitty about it. I had to look around for a long time and try different things to find it, but I couldn’t stop til I did. I wanted to be happy.

  130. Colette*

    Some thoughts.

    Be honest about what the potential jobs will be like. (How physical are they? Do they involve hiking through waist-high mud? Do you have to be on your feet all day? Do they involve dealing with awful customers? Are there emergency calls in the middle of the night? You work 6 hours a day but split into 3-hour shifts?)

    Be honest about the likelihood of getting a job, and whether you can live on the pay. (It pays great but it’s six months of the year at most? It pays poorly? You get paid only when you work?)

    Think about your backup plan if you can’t do the job any more. Think about what education you’d require, and how you’d pay for it. Think about the impact on your life if you don’t work business hours.

  131. AnotherLibrarian*

    When I felt a similar itch, I ended up volunteering and it was a great thing. Knowing that once I week over lunch I was going to read with a child who struggled with reading in the local elementary school made my weeks feel better. I did work at the local botanical gardens planting trees and I did some volunteer work with a local non-profit documenting undocumented cemeteries. I didn’t want to “give up” my job, but I did find a lot of satisfaction in exploring other ways I could do things outside of my identity as a librarian/archivist/university employee.

  132. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    “Low level” jobs that don’t require you to make important decisions are very often more stressful than they look. The “worker bees” are frequently regarded and treated with contempt by both management and customers, their input – even when it comes from first-hand experience – is either ignored or seen as a warning sign of a “bad attitude”, and they are required to be humbly deferential to supervisors who are far less competent than the “worker bees” are. Few things are MORE stressful than taking poorly-conceived orders from someone who knows a lot less than you do and who despises you for it.

    Finally – no, money isn’t everything but it can loom amazingly large when you lack it. When you’re poor you’re powerless; your word counts for less than that of a wealthier person and your poverty is assume to be your fault (you’re lazy, overspend on luxuries to which your poverty does not entitle you to even aspire to have, etc.) You will also face the likelihood of more medical problems (because good health care is expensive) and of watching a minor medical problem become a major – even a life-threatening – one because you couldn’t afford the care that would have prevented it or cured it in its early stages. That is the reality of poverty. It’s like sliding into a hole that’s 10 feet deep; easy to get into but almost impossible to get out of. Please think long and hard before sliding into that hole yourself.

    1. TPS Reporter*

      it’s so hard to think that far ahead when you’re in your 20s. This is good for the OP to think about. It’s sad but true, we don’t have universal health care, cost of living is rising. The social safety net is threatening to disappear. Just think about that a little more before making a radical change.

  133. X. Trapnel*

    I made the transition from corporate work to farm work over 25 years ago. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
    Yes, the pay cut was massive but I’m not an especially materialistic person ( no judgement on folks who are but it’s never been my thing). Lack of income has been more than made up for by freedom from stress. No more batshit bonkers managers and their obnoxious little office pets who can do no wrong, no more pointless meetings that suck all the joy from your life, and no more dealing with horrible clients. Life is so much easier.
    Getting your financial ducks in a row is the biggest thing. Apart from that, to paraphrase a well known sports brand Just Do It!
    Good luck!

  134. RB*

    #2 Since you are used to bureaucratic governmental jobs, you could maybe keep the great pay and benefits but switch to one where you’re not in an office all day. Like something with the utilities, home inspection, construction compliance, etc. Of course, there is still paperwork, but maybe it would be nice being out in the field most of the day.

  135. Rachel*

    I’ve been in very similar situations and two things that helped me a lot are “Designing Your Life” by Stanford design school professors: and counseling with a fantastic career coach, Karen Chopra –

    The idea of ‘rapid prototyping’ your career and trying out different options (ie on the weekends) before making a major switch has helped me so much! Wishing you both all the best.

  136. Squirrel*

    So, coming from someone who works in public education in a support role for special ed, and who has supplemented my income in other service industries, I think this all depends a whole lot on your financial situation. There’s a reason these are not highly desired jobs, they pay very little! And while everyone I encounter “appreciates” what I do for a living, “appreciation” doesn’t pay the bills, if I’m being honest. And even when I combine my salary with my husband’s we still have barely enough to scrape by. I might love what I do, but I would be below poverty level if I was on my own.

    I guess my advice is to do some real research into cost of living in your area and compare that with the starting salaries for the type of work you are looking into. And really research the jobs too. It’s not all serving coffee and chatting with customers all day. That batista probably has a second job somewhere if she isn’t a student. Plant nurseries are not air conditioned. Child care = changing 100 poopy diapers a day. Serving the public in times of pandemic is hardly ideal. Many of these jobs are seasonal or just high turnover jobs for other reasons. Be thoughtful about what you are really looking for here.

  137. Camp staff*

    I think an intermediary step for either OP could be to find a way to do office work in a non-corporate environment and see if that helped. I work at a summer camp, and we have office staff, but it has a very different feel to it. Any camp or conference center, or a charity with a hands on component (boys and girls club, nature conservancy), or a school or nursing home – these all need admin and HR support.
    I’d also like to push back on the idea expressed so much in these comments that all retail and food service jobs are terrible and everyone hates them. As with everything, people are different and respond well to different circumstances and environments. These writers are in corporate jobs and are unhappy – they clearly know that it is not the environment they want. They may well want a complete break and would enjoy a service industry position, even if it meant a salary cut. There are many ways to be fulfilled in your work, and I wish them luck in finding the right one for them.

  138. Ellen*

    Hey I did this! I wanted to be a librarian, but wasn’t sure about dealing with customers, and all my experience is non-customer-facing office jobs. I got a minimum wage part time retail job, and started volunteering at the local library. I thought I’d have to put in a few years, but I got incredibly lucky, and it only took 6 months to get a full time library job.

  139. Former Employee*

    You have to be very fit and I believe you also have to be good with a gun to get a job as a park ranger. Given that there is a fair amount of competition for such jobs, the pay is extremely low. I’m not sure about the benefits. To my knowledge, anything retail has very low pay and no benefits.

    While retirement age for most people in the US is now 66 or 67, if your pay is very low your Social Security benefit will be so minimal it will be difficult to afford to retire. Naturally, there is no way to save much on the pay you get in retail or waitressing. Please be aware that even if you work for many years, if your salary is minimum wage level (even if minimum wage is $15 per hour), your Social Security benefit will be about $1,000 a month, or even less!

  140. SweetFancyPancakes*

    Re: Letter #2- Two years ago I left my job managing a branch of a large, urban library system to take a job as director of a stand-alone library in a very small, rural town 300 miles away, and I took a 50% paycut to do it. While there are aspects of my job now that are similar to the old job, enough is different that it feels like a different job (I used to manage staff that provided all the programs and had a facilities department for when the building needed repairs, an IT dept for when the computers started acting weird, an accounting department to help me keep track of finances, etc. and now I do ALL of it myself). In exchange, I got a house- with acreage! where my nearest neighbors are a mile away as opposed to 20 feet, I work fewer hours, and everyone waves as I drive through town. Sometimes I look at my paycheck and kind of miss my old salary, but overall I am much happier here. Sometimes a move doesn’t look good on paper, but you have to trust your gut and make a leap.

  141. TPS Reporter*

    As Joe MacMillan says “It’s the thing that gets you to the thing.”

    you have to decide for yourself what is the second thing you want and what is the first thing that gets you there. For me I also felt pretty disillusioned by office work in my 20s. However, once I started to make more $ in my 30s the thing got me to the thing- more ability to travel, ability to afford adult education in various subjects, taking care of various animals, giving to charities I care about, having a nice home and being able to decorate it.

    I’m not saying these things that I have are what you want, I’m saying you have to figure out what you want and what you’re willing to sacrifice. For me as I got older I cared less about the substance of the job versus what it brought me for my life.

  142. Chickaletta*

    #2 – Been there, done that, go the t-shrit.

    I quit the rat race in my late 20s to follow my dream of being a graphic designer. Thought it would be so much more rewarding personally, would be able to express my creativity, work would be fun…

    Look, there were some great days doing design work. I did get to be creative from time to time and when a client/boss was pleased with my work it was beyond rewarding. But, to be honest, those moments were few and far between. The part of work that everyone hates was still there – bad managers, irrational clients, repetitive work, feeling like I was nothing more than a keyboard that other people steered, working on projects that weren’t meaningful, and stressing about money – all that was still there. I lasted 6 years employed and 4 freelancing before I returned to administrative officer work. And I will take the better paycheck any day because the reality is that work is work, no matter what you do. At least now I can afford to take a real vacation.

  143. Librarian*

    I have a non-corporate/non-bureaucratic job that I LOVE! I literally wake up happy to go to work every single day. I kid you not when I say that I have never had a bad day of work at this workplace. Not one. My coworkers and I joke that our workplace is our therapy – it gives our lives meaning and helps us deal with the vicissitudes of being a human being. I also love that it puts me in a mindframe where I have lots of time, energy, and enthusiasm for everything else I do outside of work.

    But it was a huge leap for me to stop the rat race and take this job. I remember my roommate’s investment banker boyfriend saying, “Oh, you’re a librarian? I hope things look up for you soon.” That kind of scorn, plus all the money I invested in a prestige education, seemed to pigeonhole me into a traditional career track. But I read the book Walden on Wheels and it helped me understand that it’s possible to stop the rat race, and find something beautiful and meaningful on my own terms. Also, associating with others who opted out of the game really helped me – my meditation group, my coworkers, my hiking buddies all have similar value systems.

    1. Librarian*

      Also: The average HOUSEHOLD income in 1950 was $37,382 in today’s dollars. Supporting an average household of 3.54 people. Some things are more expensive now, some are less expensive. But the point is: do we need as much money as we’ve been taught? Modern capitalism requires people to live a consumeristic lifestyle, and typically only rat race jobs can support that lifestyle. If you opt out of that lifestyle, your costs go down so significantly, you have a lot of job flexibility.
      For me, it’s better to do things than have things. I am single and earn $33,000 for 30 hours of work per week (full benefits, full pension, always investing 20% for retirement). More importantly, I get 3.5 days off every single week to explore this amazing world and connect with people I love. For free.

      1. Spearmint*

        “Supporting an average household of 3.54 people. Some things are more expensive now, some are less expensive. But the point is: do we need as much money as we’ve been taught? ”

        The problem is that the things that have gotten more expensive are housing, child care, education, and health care. These are all things you can’t defer on easily. I suppose that, yes, if you are young and childless and live in a low COL area, you probably don’t need a ton of money to be comfortable (I’ve lived that kind of life myself for a few years). But it’s hard to sustain over the course of an entire life.

        1. Spearmint*

          To give an example, I moved to a city with rising cost of living (think Austin or Denver), and even though I made $36,000 a year with benefits in my first job there, I was still living paycheck-to-paycheck despite living a relatively frugal lifestyle (I rarely ate out, didn’t buy new clothes, spent almost nothing on my hobbies), all because of rent. And I was not living downtown, but in a 1 bedroom apartment that was a 1 hour commute to my job. In fact, for the city, my place was relatively cheap, but it didn’t matter because rents were so high. I still live in that city (and can’t leave it for various personal reasons), and while I don’t need to make six figures in some high powered corporate job, I can’t easily opt out of the “rat race”.

          (And by the way, I recently looked it up and that apartment’s rent is 25% higher now than it was when I moved out 3 years ago).

          1. Librarian*

            Those are all factors of choice which the two LWs may choose differently on, as it appears (like me) their lifestyle values are different than yours.

  144. Apprentice?*

    My washer/dryer fix-it guy has had a million jobs, but now he just does this. He can support his whole family just fixing washers and dryers because not many people do it well. Last time he was here he told me he was desperate for an apprentice but couldn’t get anyone responsible. So if you can find someone doing something you like, you might be able to apprentice with them. Benefits would be iffy though. I know he got sick, and then had no income while getting treated. Something to think about.

  145. Eclecticism is a Virtue*

    Podcast suggestion (hope Alison doesn’t mind promoting a podcast).

    The podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People (usually shortened to Beautiful Anonymous) just had a call with someone who quit corporate America and now sells crossbows online. The premise of the show is “1 phone call. 1 hour. No names. No holds barred.” It’s hosted by the comedian/actor Chris Gethard (Trevor on The Office).

    The episode is Quit My Job, Now I Sell Crossbows. The official show link is here: It’s also on any platform that has podcasts. Insert fairly standard NSFW/some profanity warning.

    I bring it up because while it may not be quite the same situation, and certainly this caller is further along than just contemplating the idea, it can at least help remind you you’re not the only one going through this kind of shift (and it’s funny).

    (No, I’m not Geth, just a fan, and I moderate one of the online communities for it.)

  146. Raida*

    From a few of my mates that work part-time in an office environment or entirely non-office:
    Write every thing you’re interested in down, and earn about them. Look for facebook groups for the industry, check out the pay scales, see if most people in them are self-employed or not, learn what the qualifications are.
    Then you can see clearly noted down what the comparative barriers to entry are, the hours, the cost, the expectations you should have on income.
    After that – try them out! Obviously something that will cost a lot in training you might want to pick a pro’s brain before committing the funds, but for several of the things you noted you can do short courses, free classes, open days to learn about the actual tasks.
    If it’s feasible you can start, like a hobby business, and see if you enjoy the actual work on weekends or one or two nights a week.

    One other thing to consider in your research – common issues. Plumbers, for example, often have terrible knees when they’re older. Some industries have burnout, stress, illnesses and injuries, etc.

  147. HS Teacher*

    When I realized, after over a decade in finance, that I would never fit in with the corporate rat race culture, I had a mid-life crisis. At 42, I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I only knew what I didn’t want to do. So I thought about my current (at the time) job and tried to think of aspects of it I did like. My company had asked me to teach grammar and writing classes to executives (you read that right), and I enjoyed that so much more than anything else I did for the firm.

    So I became a teacher. It helps that I am in a state where the teacher shortage is so severe that I was able to teach while getting my masters in ed, which got me full certification. I already have tenure and am vested in my pension. I don’t make a ton of money, but I make plenty for the area in which I live. And, most importantly, I am happy to go to work every day.

    Full disclosure, I did not like my first two schools as much as I like my current one, and it’s not a job for everyone. But I love it.

  148. Swisscheez*

    Letter 1: since you are in an environment that sounds survivable at work, dont just leave. Ask yourself questions like, what have i liked about my jobs? What have i really disliked? What am i good at? What am i not good at? It’s important to know yourself and understand your motivations for wanting to make this move. You want to look for the overlap in what you enjoy, what you are good at, and what the world needs and is willing to pay for if you need to make money. People are complex and you may have different sets of skills that may not all be welcome across all jobs equally. An NPS job may sound terrific from behind a desk but you may find that you used skills in your desk job that won’t be relevant to an outdoors job and you may miss that. The reverse is also possible, there may be a latent skill you have that you havent been able to use at your desk job that needs an outlet. You listed a lot of roles that involve technician type work and that commonality is one clue. It is possible for a technician to be happy in an office. You just need to find the right fit for your skills. If you really want to try something new, you could get an entry level job in say a dental office to see what that environment is like or interview dental hygeniests. It may be workable to get a low level part time job while keeping your day job depending on your situation and you can definitely interview people in your free time without leaving your current job. Know that your current work environment may impact what you think you want. If you work long hours indoors, you may think you need a full time job camping in the wilderness when you really just want to camp on the weekends for fun. Know that outdoor work and outdoor recreation are two different experiences. In summary – figure out who you are and what you want and why you want it, talk to people in all the different jobs you are interested in and do your research while in your current job, and if you are still interested after that consider trying to get any type of job where you can fly on the wall observe what that path will look like down the road.

  149. Silverose*

    Honestly, in both cases it sounds like y’all are working for the type of industries that offer EAP as a benefit. Use it. Whether your EAP benefit offers life coaching, career counseling, or just the standard counseling benefit, consider talking to a professional who can help you work out whether there are other underlying issues to consider, or if it’s time to work out a viable plan to change career tracks. You could just be burnt out or in need of hobbies that enrich your life outside of work, or you could be right about needing a different career track, but it would be wise to consider all the possible causes for your current dissatisfaction before jumping ship lest you find yourself equally dissatisfied in another career field.

  150. Heffalump*

    When I was considering a career change ~25 years ago, I took the aptitude tests offered by Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation. It was helpful.

  151. Higher Ed*

    Number 1. Over ten years ago I started working in higher Ed. My first job was as a teaching assistant, then admin. Assistant, and finally found my passion as an academic advisor. If you completely change industries, you may not get your dream job right a way, but you will get your foot in the door and see what position to aspire to.

  152. NinaBee*

    The ‘Discover Your Strengths’ book is pretty insightful especially if trying to decide what path to take based on your way of working and skills (based on Gallup study). They’re non traditional skills to, so rather than ‘good at computers’ type ones, they’re things like ‘good at finding talents in people’ or ‘connecting things together’. There’s a test you can do (paid but if you buy the book you get a code to do it) to get your top 5, which may be useful in framing what path to take. The book also has case studies for each skill, which gives it a more personable ‘real-world application’ aspect. It’s probably pretty famous, not sure, but I found it very interesting.

    1. NinaBee*


      Leaving cold turkey could be problematic so evening grad schools or such, which allow you to keep working while retraining if necessary, are probably the best bet. Or trying to freelance on the side to get some experience (if wanting to go into work like design or trades). Overlapping current work while building up the new path would ease some of the financial strain/pressure. Doing research on the practicalities of the potential new job is a must too, because every job has good and bad points, so knowing what you’re in for is better than some ‘grass is greener’ idealism that can sometimes happen when dreaming of escape :)

  153. Flora_Psmith*

    Late to the party, but throwing in a suggestion of agricultural/ environmental/ hydrology research.
    These types of fields combine hard and deep intellectual work with intense physical labor.

    In research I’ve written papers for journals, done statistical analysis, and run lab tests as well as driven a tractor, repaired equipment, and spent days waking through fields with a machete collecting plant samples. Hydrology grad students I knew were skiing in Rocky Mountain National Park to reach their remote collection sites.

    Many jobs will be university- or government-based, so solid pay and benefits.

    If you already have a degree you would need to brush up on your basic sciences then look at grad school. The best part is that unlike in other fields, graduate work is research-based so you earn assistantship money (not a ton of cash, but far better than racking up loans) and tuition is paid for.

  154. Pollyanna Sunshine*

    For OP1, I think hobby groups are a great idea. Look into apprentice options too. Maybe you can start off in the back office to be around the trade and see if it’s something you’d still like to do. As far as being a park ranger, maybe you can sign up for an NPS program in DC. I’m not sure if any of those are on the nights or weekends, but it’s worth looking into. They really need seasonal help in the summer too.

    I’ve had the same feelings about the rat race. Volunteer work and freelance jobs have helped me. Money was always the thing that held me back. I’ve changed jobs over the years and learned that nothing is worth nightmares and that level of stress. “How spend your days, hours, minutes, is how you spend your life.” Find something that suits you. You’ll be surprised where that can come from. Have an open mind when interviewing and find a place where you feel like you’re growing, forming relationships, and doing good work, if that’s what you’re in to! But don’t let a job you don’t even like that that much power over you.

  155. CCC*

    I work at a community college in career services, and it’s fairly common for people to come to us to make switches like this. Whether or not that works out usually depends on their level of familiarity with what they are transitioning into. For example, most dental hygienists in this area work 2 part-time jobs at 2 small dental offices or they work for a giant dental chain. It’s a little odd– I’m not sure why that is to be honest. Residential repairs (plumbing, eg) often require a certain amount of on-call work, so you have to be prepared to drop whatever you’re doing (including caring for kids) and go to work at 3 am on Christmas Eve because someone’s drain is full of potato skins. Many of these more hands-on roles have unsteady hours (therefore varying paychecks), bad or no benefits, few PTO days, etc. In our engineering tech and welding programs, people transitioning from office roles are often shocked by the amount of mandatory overtime required by most manufacturers. I haven’t seen any sewing machine repair jobs listed through us, but I’d imagine that you’d have to be able to carry a sewing machine built in to a table up from someone’s basement, by yourself.

    When people already know all that, and are prepared for what their life would look like after making the change, they do fine. But a lot of people get kind of poetic about hands-on jobs, and aren’t familiar with the downsides. There is a reason there are so many job openings for dental hygienists and plumbers and semitruck drivers and welders. There aren’t tons of openings because of low pay, but because of lifestyle/schedule, safety, feasibility of doing the job in families with 2 working spouses and children, physical requirements, etc.

    We also hear national park service a lot. It is very hard to get into NPS full-time without being in the military first due to veteran’s preference. People do it, but it’s really hard. The good news is that federal jobs are super clear on their requirements when they post so you can figure out what you need to do to be more competitive.

    Another option, of course, is to drop the rat race and get into a job that isn’t a rat race at all. Most payroll clerks aren’t scrambling around all day, nor is the front desk person at city hall, etc. There are plenty of jobs and work environments where opting out of being ambitious is totally okay and common.

  156. Divergent*

    I haven’t read all the comments, I’m sure this is replicated elsewhere, but if it’s not: there are a ton of women-in-trades samplers at colleges/vocational schools where you spend several months doing some plumbing, some welding, some carpentry, etc to get a taste for what you like. Even my little town has one, I am dead certain you can find many of them near you. Often they’re run by folks who have worked in industry and who can answer your questions about what it’s like.

  157. fern*

    I’d recommend trying to hear first-hand about what it’s like to so the job. I bet there are gathering spaces online for this job you could access without being intrusive, like social media groups. What do people characterize as the highs and lows? You might be able to follow up with someone and hear more about their thoughts.

    I also wanted to mention that I switched office jobs last year and find my new office substantially less stressful than my old one. I’d say the pace, the expectations, and goals are all more reasonable. I’m finding it a lot more sustainable day to day. I’m not sure how to replicate this, so just providing one data point.

  158. UXtoPA*

    I made a HUGE change from ad/tech (UX Designer for a big agency) in to medicine (currently applying to PA programs…I’ve got 3 interviews with various programs this month and am working as a medical assistant for the time being). A few things I’d consider:

    – spend time exploring WHAT about these other jobs appeals to you and WHY you want to switch. I came to realize that I love working with people–especially kids–and that I wanted to feel my job made an impact on the world. Your reasons may be different but get to the root of why you want to make a change.
    – see if you can find ways to dip your toes in the water of a new field. I volunteered at a hospital when I first started the process of switching to make sure I liked that kind of environment.
    – make a plan. I did a TON of research about what I needed to do get in to PA school and it involved a lot of pre-requisite classes. I’m so glad I knew what I was getting in to and could check things off the list as I went along.
    – look at your finances. I had a savings safety net to fall back on which made it a loss less stressful. I ended up taking more a 50% pay cut to move in to the field.
    – give yourself a timeline. I originally planned to quit my ad job and spend a year exploring the field/taking classes. It’s taken me 3.5 years to at the point that I was ready to apply to programs. I realized quickly that this was the path I wanted to take and was willing to put in the extra time but I’m glad I gave myself parameters.
    – have a back up plan. I knew I could go back to my old industry and/or segue my exploration of medicine in a job in healthcare someway if I did decide that direct patient care wasn’t for me. You may figure it out along the way.
    – get in to therapy. I’m so glad I had someone to talk to when things were challenging or I was questioning my next steps.

  159. FishLemons*

    LW #2: Nursery work is manual labor blue collar work that can be hard on your body. It can take a physical toll. You will likely be exposed to noxious chemicals that can cause you long term health damage if you are not careful or you work for someone that does not care about your safety. No one respects you because you’re blue collar even though you are doing good honest work (which is such a sad reality of our culture). Work environments can be abusive, toxic, dysfunctional, unprofessional, or otherwise unfair. There can be a lack of accountability. The pay may not be enough to live on. You could probably find a nursery to work at nights or on weekends while keeping your day job, or maybe even find one to volunteer at just to dip a toe in.

  160. RobotBee*

    I worked as an engineer in industry a decade. Went back to get my doctorate at the age of 35. Tried being a lecturer for a few years and now I’m back in industry. Unfortunately I haven’t found the right fit at my latest job that seemed promising. I’m trying to find the right job within my field. I guess this is my long way of saying, I think many of us struggle with this.

  161. Miri*

    Is it possible to work (or contract) part time while you volunteer or build up a portfolio in other areas?

    I did this when I wanted to try moving into teaching music – kept my office job for 3 days a week and tried to build up a practice in the other 2 (plus Saturday). Covid kind of put paid to that and I’ve gone back to working 5 days remotely, but I’m saving up and when things feel safer I’m planning to go back down to 2-3 days at work.

    It has the safety net of keeping some regular income while allowing clear days of time to focus on building up your (for now) unpaid interest.

  162. Worker bee*

    LW #2, I work in the horticulture industry and it’s not as stress free as you might think. We get a fair amount of people who apply, thinking they will spend their days happily watering plants, chatting with wonderful people, then leaving promptly at closing. And while that does happen, it won’t always. And I say that as a person who did exactly that. I was disillusioned with my chosen career path, (government adjacent and less stable) so I figured that since I had no experience in the field, the best they’d offer me is watering plants.

    I was hired, after a 20 minute interview, about 10 of which was chatting about cell phones (the interviewer had gotten a new one recently and I happened to have that model, so I helped her with an issue) for a fairly complicated customer service role, with no plant watering.

    It’s a hot, hard, dirty job for not that great of pay. And while most people are completely nice, it’s still retail and the ‘the customer is always right’ mentality still comes into play. I’ve been cussed at, had soil thrown in my face, carts shoved at me, called stupid more times than I could ever begin to count, and was once called a b**** by a lovely gentleman who was turning red he was so angry that I wouldn’t give him a plant for free that I honestly thought he was going to hit me. Months into the pandemic, a coworker was spit on, another was nearly run over, and it was a daily occurrence that we had to cover for a cashier that a customer had brought to tears.

    Your weekends and holidays will no longer be your own. We recently had to implement a firm policy that all staff must work at least one weekend day, because the newer staff were calling in or simply saying they only wanted to work during the week. I understand that might sound unreasonable, except they were aware of this when they were hired. It’s only been in the past couple of years, when my role changed slightly, that I wasn’t working every holiday. A full time position, or even full time hours aren’t guaranteed, and you may not be eligible for benefits.

    I nearly quit when I started, but stuck it out and can’t imagine working in another industry, even with all of that. Most customers are very nice and I enjoy helping them beautify their spaces, plus my coworkers are awesome.

    And there are some fun/touching moments. I once told some small children that they should sing some song (I think it was that ‘wheels on the bus’ song) to their new shrub, as that’s their favorite song. The kids were delighted to be able to “help” the plant and the parents were amused. And I’ve had to console a fair amount of people who were buying memorial trees for their recently deceased loved one. They’ll tell me that X was that person’s favorite tree or shrub and sometimes they’ll tell an amusing story relating to their passion for that item.

    I’m sure I sound very negative, but these are the realities of the job. You might be working a 10 hour day in the elements, so it could be snowing or it could be 90 degrees, but the work still needs to be done. It might be completely dead of customers one day and half the city will be there the next.

    People are going to be VERY particular about their plants, sometimes to the point of hostility. Way too many people don’t understand that plants are living things, so they will grow, lose their blooms, their leaves, or will flat out ignore us when we say it’s not the right plant for their space. And they will be very angry when they come back to tell us it’s dead (or dormant), is too big, needs too much care, clashes with the color of their house, etc.

    Sorry for the novel, but I feel like people assume that that working in the service industry means lower pay, but lower stress and that’s not the case. It might be a different type of stress, but there’s still stress.

  163. Jane*

    Coming to this late, but just in case people are still reading:

    Think very carefully before going into a career that people will do as a volunteer. It will be *very* hard to get paid employment.

    Take “park ranger” as an example: they might need ten, but perhaps only two of these will be paid supervisors, and the other eight volunteers. And you’ll be expected to have experience from volunteering before you can get paid employment.

    This shows up in a lot of sectors, like museums, libraries, work with animals, sports coaching, media. I’m not just talking about having experience from an internship when you’re a student, in these sectors you will have “proper” jobs being filled by volunteers. Something that I wish I’ve be more aware of before my degree.

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