my ambitious, driven self is gone – and I don’t feel like working anymore

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I feel like I’m at a bit of a crossroads. I used to love reading your site because I really identified with the letter writers aiming to improve their careers and furthering their professional growth. That’s always been me: self-starting and passionate and dedicated. It didn’t hurt that my work was interesting, meaningful, and varied.

But lately, work has lost most of its meaning to me – to such a degree that I’ve completely lost my drive. After a period of freelancing, I’m interviewing for a job I’ve got a really good chance of getting (I have a very narrow specialty and this is exactly it). And I don’t want the job.

A bit of background: I’ve been very, very driven since the age of twenty (think doing two full-time master’s degrees at the same time combined with a part-time job, and writing six published novels in four years while working more than full-time). I’ve been ambitious, and I’ve always been eager to find new challenges and meet new goals. And now I suddenly … don’t feel that way at all. Just thinking about the “dream job” makes me slightly sick.

To make it clear, I’m neither depressed nor burned out (I’ve been both, and this is not it). Covid may have something to do with it; it very much enhanced the fact that while I’ve developed my career, I’ve not been good at maintaining relationships with friends and family. I’m also the perfect age for a midlife crisis – but I don’t feel like I’m in a crisis; I simply don’t feel passionate about my work. If my work was a romantic relationship, then it used to be a passionate luuuve affair, and now we’re simply roommates nodding politely to each other.

To ”complicate” things, I live in one of those “socialist hellholes.” In other words, I have excellent unemployment insurance, free health care, and so on. Combined with a healthy savings account, that means I have no financial incentive to find a job tomorrow – or even next month. I’ve also got a couple of recurring interesting freelance jobs to look forward to, and I’m itching to travel again. I also seem to have a relatively easy time finding jobs.

I’m not even quite sure what my question is. Or rather, I think I have two: The first one is: Are you really allowed to turn down a job that on paper is absolutely perfect and would fit perfectly into your life – simply because you don’t feel like taking it? I grew up poor; everything inside me screams that I should choose financial security over something as flimsy as my feelings.

The other question is perhaps mostly for the readers: How do you handle such a radical change in your self-image – and in your idea of “the good life”? Especially in a society which focuses so much on work. I feel like an alien bodysnatched my former ambitious self, and I have no idea what to do with the current version of me.

I’ll answer the first one: Yes, you are allowed to turn down a seemingly perfect job just because you don’t want to take it. You should consider what that will mean for the rest of your life (finances, career progression, etc.) but you are allowed to make any decision you want; it’s up to you. And in your case, you seem to have lots of sound reasons for choosing not to take it.

Let’s throw the second question — about how to handle a radical change in your self-image and what you want from life — to readers to share thoughts on in the comments.

{ 461 comments… read them below }

  1. Pippa K*

    I wonder if you might be in exactly the right circumstances to benefit from a sabbatical – not in its current academic usage of “a period away from the classroom to focus on research” but in what was allegedly the original sense, of a “sabbath”-like break from work. A real break with existing patterns, combined with the space and intention of reflecting on what you want to do or be next, could be really restorative and even invigorating.

    1. Marie*

      1000% this! It sounds like you’re in a unique position where you are secure enough to take a sabbatical.

      It’s normal to grow and change in life- the person you are now is not the person you were right out of college, and that’s OK. The drive that you had to get two master’s degrees means that you’re able to be in a position to take a sabbatical; it’s like a gift that younger you is giving older you.

    2. Hellooo*

      I know amongst myself and a number of peers that the relaxation in travel rules is spurring a lot of us to make up for lost time and go travelling – I’ve got a heck of a lot booked for this year after 2 two years of feeling defated by my dead end job. Prehaps this is a good time for OP to indeed look at getting away from a bit, recharge, and explore whereever they want to go?

    3. Harriet Wimsey*

      I was going to suggest a sabbatical too. I had a sort-of sabbatical when maternity leave coincided with my husband’s secondment abroad- we ended up being there for 17 months*. It really clarified how important my career was to my identity- I’m not really cut out to be a full-time stay-at-home parent. *I extended my maternity into a career break (UK public-sector), and have since returned to work and got promoted.

    4. GRA*

      This was my first thought, too! Take a year off! Travel! Do something fun! Or just a whole lot of self-care, whatever that looks like to you.

      One thing I heard once was, if you’re going to take a Sabbatical Year, let everyone you know in on your plans. People apparently get very concerned when their friend/family member isn’t employed, and you’ll be amazed at what can come to you at the end of that year.

      Best of luck, OP! I hope you get out of your funk soon.

    5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I wonder if you might be in exactly the right circumstances to benefit from a sabbatical – not in its current academic usage of “a period away from the classroom to focus on research” but in what was allegedly the original sense, of a “sabbath”-like break from work. A real break with existing patterns, combined with the space and intention of reflecting on what you want to do or be next, could be really restorative and even invigorating.

      That’s what I’m thinking, too. Maybe even quasi-retirement if the safety-net, savings, and side gigs are good enough.\

      To make it clear, I’m neither depressed nor burned out (I’ve been both, and this is not it).

      LW sure sounds burnt out to me. I’m of the mind that each burnout is unique, so the fact that LW has burnt out before doesn’t fully preclude the possibility that this is another, different sort of burnout.

      1. Sloanicote*

        Yes, I’m not sure how you can say “the thing I wanted and worked so hard for no longer appeals to me” but also be sure you’re not burned out; as far as I know, that’s pretty much how burnout works. Sometimes it’s permanent, other times it’s not.

        1. quill*

          That’s like, the early stage of burnout or depression for me. Hovering on the edge of progressing towards worse. It either clears up or it gets worse, depending.

      2. mlem*

        Depression can take different forms, too; it might not be the same form of depression, but it’s *possible* for it to be a different form. LW knows their situation best and I don’t mean to question that, just to push back gently on the thought that burnout or depression always look/work the same.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        That could definitely be the case, but I think also it’s probably pretty common right now that many people have found their priorities have drastically shifted in the last couple of years. It’s completely possible and understandable to me if building their career used to be their number-one priority but now they just don’t care about it and would rather prioritize building and maintaining relationships and having time to travel.

        Either way a sabbatical is probably a good place to start! Take time to clear your head and enjoy like without work pressures, and then after a while you can reevaluate what you want and how to pursue it.

      4. coffee*

        Yeah, my experience is that it’s really hard to self-diagnose depression while you’re in the beginning/middle of it. Talking to friends/family can be a good way to check, and it’s quick and free to have those conversations.

    6. Wisteria*

      The use of “sabbatical” for any extended, voluntary period away from the workforce is on the rise. I think we should all just adopt it.

      1. Claire*

        I agree! Though it’s sort of funny to me in the context of a letter a bit ago asking about calling an extended maternity leave a “sabbatical.”

        1. Wisteria*

          Honestly, if it helps the person avoid the prejudice toward women who take time away to care for children, I’m all for it. It is, technically, an extended, voluntary time away from the workforce, and if we think a person is “cheating” somehow by raising a child rather than writing a book or hiking the Appalachian trail, we should examine what beliefs we have that cause us to react that way.

          Funnily enough, the stigma against long-term unemployment is great enough that I really hoped employers would assume I dropped out of the workforce to have kids.

    7. Rach*

      Yes, I think you’re right. My first sabbatical is coming up (we get a 4 week paid leave every 4 years OR 8 weeks if we wait and take it at 7 years. Leave has to be taken all at once and you still get your regular vacation). From what I’ve heard, these chunks of time really do help people to reset and even reevaluate their lives and jobs. Some people decide not to come back even (high pressure, high stress tech job).

          1. rubble*

            long service leave? that doesn’t fit with the 4 year leave the commenter gets, and you don’t have to use long service leave all at once

    8. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

      Definitely agree, and that also might be the perfect time to intentionally invest more in relationships with friends, family, community, etc. since LW mentioned that. To me it sounds like what LW needs is permission from themselves not to work for a while, or to only take on the projects that interest them.

    9. Hannah Lee*

      I love the idea of a sabbatical. Just LW reframing the situation in their mind, planning to take this period of time to not work, might be the reset, refresh they need and at the end they’ll be ready to start the next phase of their life.

      And if they combine this with a stretch of travel, that can amplify the “reset” effect. I’ve found that a change of scene, routine does wonders with changing my perspective, helping me align where I’m putting my time, effort, attention, emotional bandwidth more with what’s important to me (important to me now … not 10 years ago)

      And don’t underestimate the pandemic impact on all of this change in ambition, enthusiasm for work. 2+ years of such upheaval in what was normal, in day to day routines, in social norms, and a sustained existential threat to millions (billions) of people, and the wide range of reactions to that, can cause even the most steady-eddie folks to reach for the reset or e-Stop button. And it also provides cover if LW switches gears down the line and wants to pick up their career again. Any sane employer will not have an issue with anyone having a break in employment or career shift anytime in the early 2020’s

      1. Hannah Lee*

        On the travel front, it doesn’t have to be intense or “big” travel to have an effect. I’ve found day trips, or even long weekend renting an AirBnB place near my home … one town over, or whatever place nearby with a different feel than where I currently live/work can do the trick.

    10. Overeducated*

      I agree, but also find this line of discussion funny given the post just a couple weeks ago (?) after which it seemed like most of the commenters insisted that it didn’t count as a sabbatical unless it met the current academic usage (time off for a work-related independent project followed by return to the same job) and would be deceptive to claim otherwise.

      1. MissBliss*

        I was also thinking about that letter. I think the difference is that in that letter, the OP’s friend wanted to describe their time off as a sabbatical in a resume (which I’m not sure I disagree with), versus here, commenters are suggesting to OP that they consider taking a sabbatical of sorts.

      2. biobotb*

        But this commenter isn’t saying that the LW should then list their time off as a formal sabbatical on their resume, which is what that LW was asking about.

    11. Elizabeth West*

      I was thinking this same thing.
      OP, you said you’re itching to travel. This might be the answer to your problem.

    12. AnonInCanada*

      Yes! Perhaps the best thing for OP to go is just take a break away from it all, for an extended period of time, and see if they can rekindle the passion and the drive that working brought them? OP says they’re in good financial shape, so what’s stopping them? Maybe after a couple of months of doing something other than work, they may find they miss it? Or maybe they’ll find their new passion to make a career out of? Who knows? The world’s your oyster!

    13. Whoo Girl*

      Agreed! A colleague of mine did this — left a high-paying, high-stress job where he was working way more than full-time. He took almost a year off to rest and consider his next steps before being hired at my company in a role that is a perfect fit with his background but a significant shift in focus. It’s also much lower-stress, 40 hours a week, and a nice, supportive culture. My company jumped at the chance to hire him and was totally unconcerned about the resume gap, as he was a great candidate who was understandably burned out.

    14. Helen*

      I went through the exact same thing and after decades of striving found that I wasn’t all that interested in taking the job that I’d always wanted passionately and was part of my self image. It took a while of processing and healing to realize that I was much more in love with the goal and the learning to get there than the destination. I spent a hard 18 months reconfiguring myself and am in a job I would never have considered and enjoying it. But, I also built out my other interests so that work is a component of my life but not really my self image anymore. I know in a few years I may choose to do something else altogether and that will be okay, too.

    15. Happy Introvert*

      Therapy. Find someone to talk to that can guide the next stage of your life. The messages from childhood create our adulthood and sometimes we need to learn to be different. Good luck!

    16. BasketcaseNZ*

      100% agree.
      I took the better part of a year off after leaving a role that had been hell for my mental health.
      Initially the break was to get my brain back on track, but I found that I really just enjoyed the break, so it extended a bit.
      When I decided to dip my toes back into the finding a job space, I wound up barely able to keep track of which role was at which point in the recruitment process.
      I’m not doing work I love, I’m doing work I’m good at – and I have an end date when I get to go and do something I love for a while instead.

  2. Amy*

    It may just be that in the end, the freelancing work turns out to be the best and most interesting thing the writer ends up doing! Sometimes it’s also ok to not be driven by the same things we once loved doing. Interests and passions change. If you have the ability and means to chase down something new, that sounds like a great idea to me.
    Hope the writer finds a way to reignite their spark for something new!

    1. Hunnybee*

      I love this response! Very thoughtful and so true; freelancing is dismissed by so many salaried corporate folks, but it is interesting and fulfilling and gives a lot of opportunities for personal and professional growth!!! I am, in some ways, at a similar place as the OP, but I actually left freelancing to take the “dream job” and the job itself turned out to be not the dream I had imagined. Or as my family says, some dreams are actually nightmares. I have been front-loading my 401k and savings and plan to quit this role soon and return to consulting, where the projects were interesting, the corporate politics were minimal (I was just there to do my best work and leave), and my engagement was high.

  3. quill*

    No advice, but I feel like Covid has left me in the early stages of burnout for the past 18 months. If you can take a break, Covid will be a great excuse in the future for a gap in your resume.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This person has several published books. Any gap can be waved off by research on a book she decided not to complete.
      But maybe it’s just time for a career shift, and a break would create the time to consider the options.

    2. Hannah Lee*

      agreed, quill!

      In my friend group, there have been several conversations among people who have good careers, advanced degrees, achieved this and that, where one after another we’re realizing we just don’t have ambition around our jobs/careers anymore. For example, opportunities that 3-4 years ago would have been right up our alley, or that sound great on paper are now met with a resounding “meh, I don’t think I want to do that right now” or “but then I’m going to have to do the “prove myself in a new job” thing, and I LIKE not having to have my life revolve completely around work” It’s like with everything going on, all of us are decidedly in a “work to live” phase instead of living to work. And we keep checking in with each other to see if that’s okay, because it’s SO not who we’ve been before.

      1. quill*

        I think a lot more people are in survival mode regarding this pandemic than realize it. Survival mode tends to shut down ambitions in favor of safety, and also, the work of living takes up more time / energy during survival mode.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, I definitely agree with this. I’ve never been particularly ambitious, but what little ambition I’ve had has all but disappeared in the last 2 years.

  4. Nonny*

    Since you’ve experienced depression and burn-out, I suspect you may already have a therapist, but if you don’t– I’d really recommend speaking to one! It’s easy to get into the mindset that therapy is for when you’re in pain or crisis, but it can also be so so useful (with all the usual caveats about finding the right person/style) for working through exactly this kind of change in direction and sense of yourself. The pandemic has caused so, so many people to reevaluate what they want from life, and that kind of shift in self-definition– especially for someone who seems like you’ve maybe pinned a lot of self-worth on your extremely impressive productivity– can be really difficult and painful– having someone experienced to talk through these changing feelings can be so helpful.

    1. dresscode*

      I could have written this letter a few months ago, I’m doing better now and I still could have. I stepped away from my career at the company I had been with for 10 years, moved to be closer to family, and took a step back in terms of my career to figure out what I wanted to do next. Like OP, I was a very driven, career oriented person right up until COVID (and about 8 months before that, I’d had my first child). So I am not sure what exactly caused those feelings, but seeing a therapist helped me: a. determine that I need to re-evaluate my priorities, allow myself to take a step, and realize b. in the long run- that really none of this matters. If feeling good in your career is serving you, great! lean in and all that. But if it’s not it’s OK to take a step back and figure it out. (and OP, I couldn’t agree more about the growing up poor thing- that kinda of security-scarcity mindset is hard to shake).

      1. Moshimosh*

        This feels like it sums me up to-a-tee right now. I’m in the processes of wrapping up my time with a company I’ve been with nearly 10 years for a role that im planning to leverage as a step back to reevaluate. Therapy and a career coach helped me feel ready to make that choice (after having twins and moving across the country to prioritize time with family too!).

        As a society we do not place value on all part of our lives equally, something that is so clear here. You have the means to do whatever feels right to you right now without significant hardship. And yet you struggle to say “no” to something you clearly don’t want but that you feel you “should”. Listen to your gut.

      2. Moo Skies*

        Dresscode, that’s uncanny! Last year, I left a company I’d been with for 10 years and “downshifted” a bit in my career to take on an independent contributor role instead of a people manager role. AND my first child was 9 months old when COVID hit. I feel very seen…

        I also found it helpful to talk with a therapist to process all my feelings and work through not tying my whole sense of self-worth to my job.

        FWIW, I am SO happy I changed roles! My new job is related to the field I worked in previously, but from a slightly different angle/discipline. Stepping back and shifting within the larger field re-energized me, even in areas where I thought I’d completely lost my passion.

        It’s interesting: after this past year, I feel my “normal level” of drive again, but toward a different end. Before, I was driven to do well, advance, or otherwise be “successful”. Now I find myself driven to get involved in interesting projects, take advantage of learning and wellness opportunities, and just generally grow as a person even if it ends up having zero impact on my title or job grade.

        I concur with many others that taking a true break and/or talking it through with someone might be a good way to gain new perspective and some clarity.

    2. Mollie*

      Yes! I’m doing this combined with a different kind of sabbatical as described above right now, and I am also typically very driven. People around me are a little confused by the shift, but I’m finding space and time for things I had no idea I loved. Even if I go back to the same career in an equally driven way, I will have been forever changed for the better by this time and experience, and I have no doubt it will positively impact whatever I decide to do next.

      If you have the means to pause and get to know some other parts of yourself, I say go for it! (Especially if you can do so alongside a therapist who gets this- mine has been insanely helpful in the process).

      May you find some fun in the journey!

    3. earmouse56*

      Hard agree – I went through a big shift in self-image and what I wanted out of life a few years ago (albeit as the result of a trauma and life events) and therapy was the most helpful tool in re-setting my self image and making peace with who I am instead of who I thought I was. Honestly, people spend their whole lives trying to reconcile the question “who am I now that I’m not who I thought I was?” It’s healthy to have someone to talk through these questions with.

  5. lunchtime caller*

    If you can afford to take some time off, I think you should! It sounds like you DO know what you want right now, you’re just not used to thinking those things could be just as, if not more, important than work. You want to travel, you want to reconnect with family and friends. Those are two great starting points, and they could help you find out more stuff to want. Maybe you’ll get a lot of fulfillment from gardening, painting, rock climbing, fostering kittens, meditation–who knows! But as I think you’ve realized, even when the work is good and you’re good at it, there comes a point where it’s not enough to base an entire life around. Now that you don’t have to hustle just to get your basic needs met, you can think bigger. Good luck!

    1. Ama*

      I think you’ve really hit on something here. To me the letter does sound a lot like OP wants a break, realizes they can afford a break…. but is having a hard time giving themselves permission to take that break because it is so at odds with both their former sense of self and what a large part of the world tells us is important (productivity, continual advancement at one’s career, etc.).

      I actually have been in a very similar mindset for a while in that if I’m really honest with myself what I want to do is quit working entirely for 3-6 months and give myself time to reset. (My job was particularly intense in 2019, so I was burned out before we even hit the pandemic, and while things are better at work now three years of extremely intense stress and a high workload has left me completely mentally exhausted.) But I also know I can’t guarantee how long I would be out of work if I left my current job (and I have the added complication of having to decide between saving for a down payment on a house and using those savings for my break, which is what’s stopping me at the moment).

      I really do wish there was more cultural acceptance around the idea of taking a mid-career break, but I also think we only get there if more people actually start taking one if they can feasibly manage it.

      1. Chief Bottle Washer*

        I think OP needs a break, but I also think it would be useful for OP to understand that they can dial back the enthusiasm and commitment level and it’s not slacking. Everyone’s interest, passion and enthusiasm waxes and wanes over time. You can take the job and set limits; you’re going to be productive for 40 hours a week. You don’t need to pour every waking moment and bit of energy into a job, and frankly it’s probably not healthy to do that.

      2. Ally McBeal*

        This. The best thing I’ve done for myself in a decade was take almost a year off. I quit my stressful job during Covid and floated by on the savings I’d been building for this exact purpose. I tried to re-launch 2 or 3 times, applying for jobs even though my gut was telling me I wasn’t ready, and the search process was SO much better and more fruitful when I finally did feel ready. I’ve been at my current job for 5 months and have already been promoted, and feel refreshed and relatively more enthusiastic* about work than I have in a long time.

        *As the TikTok meme goes: “I do not dream of labor”

    2. kiki*

      Yes! A lot of our culture is so organized around work and prioritizes that above most other things, it can feel like you’re defective for not being driven to work, especially if you’ve previously been driven. But it’s actually really normal to want to prioritize other things, especially if you don’t need to work for financial reasons. Taking time for leisure and savoring all that life has to offer outside of work is wonderful.

    3. another_scientist*

      Agreed. OP sounds like they are a bit disoriented by the perceived norm that one should want to excel at one’s career, and they are used to fitting that mold, so their self image was in line with societal expectation*, but not anymore. It’s perfectly normal to feel a little unmoored when you discover that you held on to some part of your identity for a bit longer past its usefulness. Like a shirt that used to be your absolute favorite, and one day you realize it’s really worn and stretched and doesn’t fit you right anymore. And somehow the memory of loving that shirt clashes with the acknowledgement that you don’t enjoy wearing it anymore. Moving on to a new phase in life doesn’t invalidate all the good memories, and the satisfaction you got from excelling at work! Those are great memories and they will surely continue having a positive impact on your financial stability and your ability to provide for yourself. In fact, because you worked hard (plus living in a supportive environment), you have the freedom to take a break, or pick a slower pace, lean into your personal life more, and find the next thing that you are passionate about. It’s a direct consequence of what your former self did, not a betrayal. The fact that your former self couldn’t envision this happening, just goes to show that nobody can predict the future, which keeps life interesting.

      *about the societal expectation: I feel more and more like the rat-race expectation is much less universal than it might seem to someone who is ‘in it’. There are (and presumably always have been) scores of people who work to live, who value an occupation that pays the bills and gives them the freedom to do as they please, and who are neither impressed by your career, nor judge you for not ‘fulfilling your potential’. Once you start looking, you will see them everywhere.

      1. Claire*

        I want to echo this, LW, in case it’s helpful for you – I’ve never been particularly driven or passionate about a job. I’ve never been on a clear career track, and I work to pay the bills. I’m not sad at work, I don’t mind my job, but I’ve never felt like I fit in with the popular career narrative. But I’ve met a lot of other people like that, about as many as I’ve met who are really passionate about their job. So I think both are common and okay!

  6. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    What sounds like fun to you? If you aren’t interested in ANYTHING, that’s a signal that you might want to get some mental health assessment and treatment. You indicate, though, that you’re interested in some of your freelance work and in travel, so there might be ways to envision a future career that includes more travel and variety.

  7. Understanding worker*

    I don’t have advice for you but I just want you to know you’re not alone. I started a new job a couple of months ago and I’m doing okay. But my focus isn’t there, my drive isn’t there. I wish I was able to just take time off and figure out what’s up with me and I can’t logistically do that. Don’t take the job.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Same. I could have written OP’s letter, except I don’t live in socialist dreamland where quitting my job wouldn’t have enormous consequences for my family and I am currently employed. But so, so unmotivated, which is unlike me. I have looked around to see if another job might pique my interest more, but nothing so far. I would love to take an extended leave, go see family I haven’t seen in years due to COVID, try my hand at writing, paint my living room, or even just sit around and watch TV/listen to podcasts. I am totally BEC with work lately and then have to expend extra energy not letting it show because I manage a lot of people and need to be present and positive for my team.

      I also agree that OP shouldn’t take the job if she doesn’t need or want to. Life’s too short to be miserable.

  8. Office Drummer*

    I find myself struggling with the same issue. I used to love what I do, and now all I want is to get to the weekend and put the week behind me. I dread meetings, deadlines don’t phase me one iota, and I find myself simply. not. caring. anymore. I can look back at a day of “work” and see a few hours of half-assed effort that those around me say is great work and I wonder how I’ve tricked them so well. Major imposter syndrome creeping as well. I found a new job about a year ago and thought that would change my mindset, but it only did temporarily. I used to be the “go-getter” who did everything I could to learn more, help the team, and advance. What happened?

    1. Fly Free*

      This was exactly me a couple of years ago! My colleagues noticed my attitude wasn’t great, but my standard of work was still high, even when I was spending half my time on a side hustle while in the office… Now I’ve had two years out volunteering (and a lot of relaxing) and I just can’t face the idea of going back into full-time work… At some point I will need to earn some money (I’m living in a country with significantly lower costs than where I’m from which is why I haven’t needed to yet) but the only jobs that truly excite me are far removed from my previous career, so my chances of getting them are slim!

      I have no helpful advice to offer, just sympathy….

    2. ENFP in Texas*

      THIS. OMG. So much this. This is exactly where I am, including the “half-assed but people think it’s great” and wondering how I’ve managed to fool them… along with anxiety that it’s going to come back and bite me in the butt (not that that is enough to actually motivate me).

      I’m glad it’s not just me, but it’s frustrating and I wish I could find the motivation that I used to have. Or at least the enjoyment and pride in my work that I used to have.

      1. Office Drummer*

        Oh, the stress over both being anxious that people are going to figure me out and that not being enough to motivate me. You’re speaking my language! How to fix this? Is it that I’m in the wrong field? Do I need a break? Am I putting too much stock in my job offering any sort of fulfillment? Where’d my mojo go?

        1. Ravine*

          I’m in the same boat as you guys, except that I never had drive to begin with. Not sure why.

          I kind of always assumed that “go-getterism” was hardwired and permanent, so it’s interesting to learn from today’s letter and comments that it can weaken under certain conditions.

        2. ENFP in Texas*

          Another reader posted this TED talk and it made a lot of sense to me. I think it’s the “momentum” part that I struggle with right now,because so much stuff I’ve worked on over the last couple of years has been unused or canceled midway through because of budget cuts and company reorganization and reprioritizations. I’m mentally at the “Why do I even bother?” stage.

          I’m going to think about what he has said about Languishing and Flow and see if I can find some way to get back into the Flow side of things.

    3. JustMyImagination*

      Same here. It’s goal-setting time of year at my company and we’re supposed to include a development goal related to your career but not necessarily your role at the company. My manager asked mine, and when I said I don’t have one, she asked where I want my career to go in 3-5-10 years and that could help. It was hard to explain that right now, all I want is to do a good job at my job. I honestly just want to coast for a bit after two bouts of FMLA in the last two years (one personal and one for a family member).

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*


        I’m in a similar situation (minimal motivation, just trying to recover from some personal setbacks, being pushed for professional development). My proposal is, “I’d like to learn more about RandomSkill* via webinars on our internal training site, then do some practice exercises to apply them at work to see how it translates from training to a real life example. That will help me learn more about RandomSkill and let me assess if it’s something to go deeper into.”

        We’ll see if it works for me. Maybe it’ll help you?

    4. Jules bee*

      Wow, this entire comment hits eerily close to home. I started a new job about a year ago. By all accounts, it’s a great job! Meaningful work, excellent pay and benefits, a healthy work environment, supportive boss, flexibility, etc.
      I’m so fortunate to be in this position, but my
      heart’s just not in it.

      1. Damn it, Hardison!*

        Me too! Objectively my job is great, I got an amazing review and bonus, and my team is awesome. But I don’t care about it in any meaningful way. I put in the minimum amount of effort and am just waiting for someone to call me on it. But if the do, I still don’t think I will care.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Alison has addressed this sort of question in the past, and what I took away from her answer was to talk positively about wanting to master the current position. It may be worth looking into the archives.

    5. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      Oooh, I’m with you. I was super career-driven honestly right until Covid hit. I lost my job and was unemployed for 8 months, freelancing for 10-15 hours a week for an old boss. I thought I would go out of my mind with boredom, but I adjusted to not working full-time for the first time in over 20 years pretty easily. I’m working again for a great company with excellent salary and benefits, and my boss is thrilled with me even though he hasn’t given me nearly the amount of work I know I’m capable of. In the past I’d be badgering him for more tasks, training etc., but I find myself thinking that if he’s happy, why not take it easy? I am 100% remote so it’s easy for me to use downtime to do housework, write a little, and hang out online.

      The combination of the pandemic, some health problems with myself and my husband over the past 2.5 years, and determining that we should be able to afford to retire in 16 years if all goes well has me feeling a complacency I’ve not experienced before. I just want to to what’s required of me and and more or less tread water until I turn 65.

    6. Christina*

      I could have written this. My days at work (100% telework since Covid hit) are spent lazily replying to emails, doing some laundry, and trying to catch up on whatever task I need to do to fool my colleagues into thinking I’m productive and keep from getting in trouble. In my 20s and early 30s I was ambitious, passionate, and impressive at work. I thought I’d be the executive director of an organization by now. But man, the idea of taking on any amount of real responsibility is completely uninteresting to me these days. It all seems so pointless.

      I can only hope/assume that I will rediscover my driven work self again someday.

      1. ENFP in Texas*

        Exactly. I know exactly what you mean.

        That reminds me, I have to put the laundry in the dryer…

    7. Cendol*

      You’ve described me to a T! I’ve been in my field for almost a decade, know that I’m a perfect fit for my line of work, and still feel like such a fraud because my heart just isn’t in it anymore. Unlike OP, though, in my case it’s partly due to depression: pandemic aside, I’ve had a lot of upheaval in my personal life in the last 3 years. I know the dust will settle eventually, but if I could afford to, I would love to take a break from the rat race and spend six months loafing around on the beach.

    8. This is the bad place*

      I could’ve written this, verbatim. And I don’t know what field you’re in, but I’m in a nonprofit/social service role, which means extra anxiety about the quality of my work affecting the actual lives of vulnerable people. Luckily I’ve always been a very efficient worker, meaning that what feels like “half-assing” to me now aligns more (in output) with the rest of my field…but I really need to get out of this field before it dips below that point. I feel like I use up 80% of my physical and mental energy getting out of bed, and the rest is spent desperately “trying to try”, if that makes sense. Like, mustering the energy to even consider my to-do list, after which point I have nothing left to actually *do* the to-do list. I’m working with a therapist (thankfully – I’m in the US so it’s a miracle that I managed to get connected with one) but in the meantime, it’s just anxiety on guilt on exhaustion.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        If you haven’t looked into this already, please consider taking medication for depression on top of the talk therapy. Having less interest in work isn’t the worst problem, but the amount of energy that you’re expending getting out of bed isn’t great. I got my meds adjusted mid-pandemic because of similar feelings, and it was really really helpful for me.

    9. WindmillArms*

      Yet another identical experience here. I freelance, and every time my rate goes up, I take the opportunity to work less rather than take home more money. That was never me, and I’m struggling a lot with not recognizing myself. For me personally, a lot of it is coming from despair at what the next few years are going to bring.

      1. N'Moose*

        Oh my gosh me too! I can afford to take a reduced income, so I’m just not filling my plate with more projects… This is so not me, and I keep telling myself I’m going to use the time to do the things I put on the back burner when I was working a ton – get in shape, address my personal goals, whatever on my long list, and I just haven’t done any of that either! I don’t like what I see in the mirror, nor recognize this new version of me – and I want the old me back! But – I just can’t get there…

    10. quill*

      This, but the half-ass is becoming apparent, even though it’s unintentional. No matter how hard I try, I’m operating at 50% brain and it’s a 90% brain job.

      1. This is the bad place*

        “Unintentional half-assing” is EXACTLY what I was trying to say. Thank you.

    11. What She Said*

      Ditto. I even told one of my bosses “apparently I have you fooled”. Though mine has been going on long before Covid so I can’t even blame that. I’m just coasting at work.

    12. Manna Mahna*

      I have no suggestions but that fact that I am not remotely alone in feeling/operating this way is quite comforting.

  9. Kirsten G*

    Sounds less of a socialist hellhole and more like a great opportunity to explore other aspects of your life. There are lots of people who would give up a lot to be in a position to travel, spend time with loved ones, and explore your purpose. I have had a complicated relationship to productivity that I’ve explored deeply with my therapist. Turns out, I had a lot of messed up views of the world and of myself. Take time to breathe deeply and chill out. You’ve got the rest of your life to work.

    1. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

      I assumed the “socialist hellhole” comment was tongue-in-cheek since many European countries have safety nets and other benefits not common in the US.

  10. Morgan Proctor*

    Wow, GREAT timing on this one, because I’m at the exact same place myself! I’m 35 and I’ve lost all motivation to work. I too was once driven and ambitious, and the pandemic just killed that sentiment dead. And, like you, I have robust savings that doesn’t make working feel particularly urgent at the moment.

    I was fired from my job a month ago (bad culture fit) and I was absolutely walking on air, I was so relieved. I’ve been freelancing since, and I have no plan to return to full time work. I knew for the last 6 or so months that I needed to make a big change in my life regarding work, and sometimes life hands you a big neon sign in the form of a firing that says DO IT NOW!

    I realized that what is important to me in life isn’t my “career.” It’s family, it’s friends, it’s free time, it’s my personal projects, it’s the ability to travel without asking anyone’s permission. I have an MFA and I intend to throw myself into my creative practice fully, in a way I haven’t since grad school.

    For me, the change in self-image hasn’t really been a change. All of my friends are creatives who don’t have traditional 9-5 jobs, so I fit in more than ever, actually. And my parents are both super supportive. They knew I wasn’t happy in my job. They are both creative people who didn’t follow their passions, and they don’t want me to make the same mistake. So that might be different from your situation, but I think that if you look inward enough you’ll find that your self-image has been warped for a long time, and you’re finally getting caught up and course-correcting. Therapy helps too!

    I’m happy for you, LW! The world has been unkind to workers for a really long time. It’s time for us to find our own happiness and not waste the one chance at life on Earth that we are given on office politics and “circling back” emails.

    1. Morgan Proctor*

      Also, I’m seeing a lot of millennial and Gen X women struggling with this, especially. It seems we were sold this idea that our personal worth is derived from having a capital-C “Career,” since we came of age during a time in history when there were more women in the workforce than ever. But the problem with that is that our Career is at the mercy of forces out of our control. Bad bosses, recessions, pandemics, misogyny, childcare, healthcare. Gen Z women don’t seem to be following this same path, at least not in the way we did, which is great. But dang, this line of thinking really set us up for disappointment and burn out.

      1. Critical Rolls*

        Better go to college or you’ll never get a Real Job!!! The kind you wear jackets with shoulder pads to!

    2. Mrs. Bond*

      Something very similar happened to me about 10 years ago, when I was about the same age as you are (only substitute little kids for the creative stuff, and scratch the supportive parents because mine were definitely not!). I’m still freelancing, and only over the past few years started getting closer to normal full time hours. It’s great to be able to balance work & life in a way that works for me. There were definitely some lean times in there, but I never got to the point where I needed to get a full-time job.

      And great comment about being expected to have this amazing career too. Your career is not your identity. Or, it doesn’t have to be :)

    3. Mrs. Bond*

      Another thing I found about freelancing is that you’re not caught up in the whole rat-race competitive culture in a large organization. Way better for my mental health and I slowly started to find more fulfilment in my work as time went on and I started to get clients that were a better fit for me.

      So for the LW, I suggest continuing to freelance and do some travelling. If you can, work remotely from wherever you are in the world. Work doesn’t have to define who you are.

  11. EMP*

    Sounds like you actually know what you want from life – to step back from work/career advancement and get some different experiences like traveling and improving your personal relationships – and you’re just concerned that that’s ok. It’s totally ok! If you’re worried about finances, maybe sitting down with hard numbers and planning out e.g. if you take 3 months to travel with a budget of X and 3 more months to find your next job, what do your finances look like? It sounds like the answer is “good” but maybe having actual numbers will give you more confidence. Change is scary but it’s not always bad. I hope you find the right path for you going forward :)

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      I think they need to get the job to improve their relationships. I think when someone lacks structure, they isolate more. It may sound counter-intuitive, but being at work everyday busy may motivate them to reconnect with people more, even though they have less time. I think if they’re alone or freelancing more often, they’re going to postpone and catastrophize any social interactions and make them into a bigger thing than they are. I am not judging at all, I am saying this because I totally do this. Reconnecting happens organically when I am super busy and put as little thought into it.

      1. filosofickle*

        I’m the opposite of you. Over decades of work, the only time I’ve been able to have good relationships and a strong social life is when I worked freelance at home, and not full time. When I have a structured full time job I am so tired and people-d out I spend all my off time recovering and become totally isolated.

        1. Avril Ludgateau*

          filosofickle, I could have written this same comment (but replace part-time freelance with full-time WFH). My relationships with the important people in my life have improved since COVID, and yes, it feels very uncomfortable to say that considering global suffering. But I used to not even have the energy to talk to my friends or family on the phone, or even text with them. I passed on so many weekend events because I was so exhausted from being “on” all week. Now, I’m inclined to grab a coffee or a bite even on a weeknight – with an individual of my choice, not the person who my desk happens to be situated next to!

          1. Dasein9*

            Yes! I have limited capacity for dealing with other people and far prefer to deal with the ones I choose over the ones hired at my company.

      2. ThatGirl*

        In this case, the LW sounds like they have some freelance work lined up and want to travel — neither of those things sound isolating! There’s no reason to believe their connections or interpersonal relationships will suffer.

    1. Csw*

      Came here to say the exact same thing about languishing. That blah feeling that’s not really strong enough to be depression or burn out, but was cause by the pandemic upheaval/lack of physical interaction/upended normalcy etc. is probably something a lot of people are feeling right now.

      I felt it around the time I changed jobs in early 2021 when my new job meant I was going through even more change, when suddenly i could barely muster up the will to do my best in my new job. I ended up lying in bed a lot and not telling my boss if i had more bandwidth than the projects she assigned me… my change in attitude scared me enough, so I spent the past year actively managing it.

      Would definitely encourage the LW to explore this. It might be this, or it might be a shift in wellbeing and priorities caused by the pandemic, which is another cultural trend. People are moving away from hustle culture now that the past 2 years has caused everyone to reevaluate what’s important to them.

      Either way, definitely worth taking some time to figure out what exactly the LW sees as their new priorities in life.

    2. ENFP in Texas*

      THANK YOU for this!! I had never heard this before, but it makes a lot of sense and I’m going to see if I can use it to get out of my own Languishing mode!

  12. So Tired*

    I don’t have a great answer for your second questions because I’m still struggling with it myself. But honestly, if you’re itching to travel again–and you feel safe to do so–I think you should go for it! If there’s no immediate pressure to find a job right now or next month like you say, then going away for an extended period could really help you. Take some time to do what you want to do and go where you want to go, and it may end up helping you reset and find your passion for your work again. Or it may help you realize that what you want to do for work now is different than it was when you were younger, and that’s OK too!

    Sometimes getting away from the day to day is exactly what we need. If you have that chance, take it and see where it leads you!

  13. Prospect Gone Bad*

    Am I wrong in assuming you’re not very employed right now? I feel like getting into a routine will help. If you’re not working towards anything now, it can quickly turn into a chicken or an egg problem where you think you don’t want the job because of how you feel, but in reality, you feel the way you feel because you don’t have a solid FT role.

    Try to get the job. Once in it, make goals. They will probably come to you naturally. If you’re midlife crisis age, it can be a saving for retirement goal or for later middle age travelling.

    I am not 100% sure you lack motivation, I think you just don’t know what to be excited and motivated about. I am going through this now too. But that also means you have years of experience to apply. You might find that serves you really when when you get a FT job and you enjoy feeling connected to a group of people at work, even if you aren’t saving the world.

    1. Sloanicote*

      I think this is a good alternate perspective to share. My parents would definitely say this if I had written this letter – give yourself more goals just to keep moving, even if they feel arbitrary to you now; you’ll feel better, and work leads to work. There’s some wisdom in that, certainly, but I also think that small voice saying “I don’t want this anymore” is worth listening to, rather than something to drown out. It’s very much tied to a larger values system I think.

  14. MK*

    Honestly, OP, you are hardly the only person in the world right now to be questioning whether the vision they had for the rest of their lives. Probably there are always people going through that, but the pandemic has likely multiplied their number. You no longer want the things you used to want; frankly, that should be a non-issue for yourself and others.

    1. The Original K.*

      Yep. I’m making a career pivot, as I’ve said here, and part of the reason for it is that I want a more balanced life. I am more than my job title and I want my life to reflect that. A lot of my peers are having similar realizations. One of my best friends, who has always been pretty career-oriented, recently had a baby and is trying to decide if she wants to go back to full-time work at all – she says she’d love to work part-time for a while. OP is definitely not alone.

    1. Sloanicote*

      Alright, I do sense a bit of humblebrag here, admittedly, but I think it’s okay to present a contrast to the usual type-A letter writer who is all in on career achievement.

      1. Not a Real Giraffe*

        Right! Plus there are several comments indicating that people are feeling much the same way, though perhaps their personal circumstances are a little different. As someone currently waffling about my career (which I used to love!), I’m reading the advice and taking the bits that I can apply to my situation to heart. Just because someone has the luxury to take a break from working when others do not, doesn’t mean it’s not a valid question that might receive valuable responses.

        1. Avril Ludgateau*

          I am so so here for this OP, even though I am stuck at my job for the health insurance, would not qualify for unemployment if I quit, and could not survive without a job for more than a few months. I unfortunately do not live in a “socialist hellhole” where I could float for a little bit while I tried to re-align and re-integrate. And STILL, I relate to this submission more than any submission in a long, long time. Even though OP’s specific circumstance seems to be more flexible and favorable to her than my own, my heart and her heart are vibrating in tandem.

        2. quill*

          This. Most of us can’t afford to take this kind of break, but everyone is feeling some degree of pandemic burnout, and many would like to take a break. There might be bits here we can actually do when everyone puts their heads together. But also, Allison’s job is to give the Letter Writer advice, not every hypothetical reader.

    2. Joielle*

      What? It’s a job-related question on a job-related advice website. Seems like a good fit to me. Not every question has to be about someone going through something awful.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Right? There’s plenty of gloom and doom in the world, and the larger question of “am I allowed to not take what seems like a great job/am I allowed to slow down and step back from regular workweeks for awhile” etc is still a good and relatable one for many people!

    3. Expelliarmus*

      Poor taste? Those seem like really intense words for the situation. Why do you think so?

    4. Morgan Proctor*

      I love that this was published. A lot of us are feeling this same way! If this feels like a personal jab at your feelings or ego, maybe examine why that is? Are you jealous? Do you wish you could be in this same place in your own life? There are ways to get there! You just have to be really honest with yourself.

      1. Hermione Granger's muggle cousin*

        I mostly agree, Morgan Proctor. I would have expected to feel some jealousy at the end of this letter, but I actually don’t… I’m happy for the LW! Do I wish I lived in a country that had social safety nets in place where after years of rigorously working to achieve really high goals I could just decide to chill for a bit? Totally! But, alas, I don’t and that’s not the LW’s fault. But I don’t know if many of us can ever “get there” because of the kind of society we live in and the way it’s set up. I think the feeling of this being in poor taste comes from feeling like the LW is oblivious to the realities that workers in other counties face. That may or may not be true, but it is understandable to find that mildly irritating.

        1. Spearmint*

          It’s more difficult to be in LWs position in countries with less robust safety nets, but it’s far from impossible. I know many Americans who have taken sabbaticals, or who don’t work long hours in a full-time office job and have the flexibility to travel. It does require more planning and figuring out what you’re real priorities are, perhaps, but it is possible if you want it.

          1. All the words*

            Travel, sabbaticals or working short hours is just not possible for most of the U.S. population. Telling people they can do it if they try hard enough is similar to the “learn to code” advice for people dealing with long term unemployment. Please don’t do that.

            1. Sloanicote*

              Right! I think it’s possible to be both supportive of OP and take the question seriously *and also* acknowledge that this is a question coming from a place of privilege that most people can’t imagine or earn even if they are smart and hard working etc etc.

          2. MeepMeep02*

            I was in LW’s position in the US with no safety net whatsoever. I lost my engineering job during a layoff and started tutoring to make ends meet, on a very part-time basis. Never went back to a regular 9-to-5 job. Turned out I was good at tutoring and enjoyed it.

            Yeah, not everyone can do this – but a surprising number of people could do it if they wanted to. There are lots of ways to be self-employed. It’s not just “learn to code”. My wife and my parents all went to self-employment from standard 9-to-5 jobs and are extremely happy with it.

            1. quill*

              I mean, my mom went from teaching to being a nanny, but I have doubts about how well my parents would be doing in an emergency if my dad didn’t still have a job with benefits. Or if they didn’t have as many career decades behind them as they do, and therefore as much accumulated savings / retirement funds.

              It’s always worth looking into if you think you have any chance of making it work, but it’s also a pipe dream for those of us who don’t have well paid jobs / family money / a long work history & therefore some assets. The things you need to make it work are, almost universally, 1) existing access to money, whether that’s savings for getting started and a place to live that you actually own, or some sort of business plan and investors, 2) decent health, and 3) some idea of how to make it work with your existing skill set (assuming it’s a skill set that can historically gain you a fair wage.)

              1. MeepMeep02*

                The key problem is of course health care. I was lucky that I could afford health insurance after about a year of building up my tutoring practice, and very very lucky that nothing drastic happened to me during that uninsured year. I know people who could not go self-employed because of the health care issue, and I think it’s a disgrace that this should be happening in a First World country.

                But for the record, when I started my tutoring practice, I (a) did not have real estate that I actually owned (I roomed with a friend to save housing costs), (b) was up to my eyeballs in credit-card debt (from the abovementioned failed startup) and had no assets, and (c) had maybe 2 years of work history behind me. So I wouldn’t be as pessimistic about what you’d need to make self-employment work.

            2. Irish Teacher.*

              Starting a business is not easier than getting a job though. Yeah, it may be an option for some people, but there are probably a lot more people who can get a job than can start a business. Having an engineering qualification would put you in the very desirable category. Engineers are up there with doctor for being very respected and assumed to be exceptionally intelligent. The options open to you, as an engineer, were probably many times greater than the options open to somebody who left school at 16 due to a learning difficulty or somebody who couldn’t afford college or somebody who has a criminal record.

              And starting a business is a risk. A lot of new businesses fail, even losing money. Many people who are without a safety net aren’t inclined to take that risk. Probably rightly. Not saying nobody should risk self-employment without a safety net. Just saying that there are probably a lot of people for whom the risks would outweigh the opportunities.

        2. quill*

          Am I jealous of LW? Yep.

          Does that mean I get to be mad that they wrote in for advice relevant to their specific circumstances instead of mad at *gestures to the flaming pile of pigeon guano that is the world as it presently works*? Nope.

    5. Spreadsheets and Books*

      Why? We’re all in different places in our careers and lives. The pandemic left a lot of people feeling very different about work and how it balances with the rest of life. I think a lot of us can sympathize with OP, if not from the place of not wanting to take a job because we don’t need it but from the POV of no longer caring so much about career advancement or looking for meaning from work. Or from feeling lost at work.

      Personally, working from home during the pandemic gave me time to fall into some old hobbies, and my perspective on work has totally changed. I don’t want to find fulfillment from work anymore; I want a life that’s more than that. And I don’t think I’m alone.

    6. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      What the actual?? Not everyone is super jazzed about working. Guess what, that is really ok! I’ve always had a roommate type relationship with my career, we co-exist out of necessity. I’m a good employee. I make decent living but I’m not motivated by career accomplishments. I do what I need to do so I can afford to live the life I want. But nothing more than that. And the world
      needs the solid B team workers who show up every day and do the work and don’t care about climbing the ladder. There’s only so much room at the top anyway.

      1. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

        Honestly, I think in some ways, those solid B-team workers are even more valuable than those who are constantly climbing. They’re the ones who know the industry, know the company, and Get Things Done.

      2. sofar*

        Same! I got promoted recently simply because people quit, and I was very Jon Snow about it (“I don’t want it.”) I’m not career-motivated at ALL, but I’m dependable, and had seniority, so upward I went. And so it’s SO HARD to now be in a higher-up position because I have to give that Golden Retriever energy all. the. time.

        What helped is reframing my job. What if it’s OK to not ACTUALLY care-care, but PRETEND to care “enough” during working hours and produce good enough work to keep the paycheck? Save money. Take really great trips. Make sure to have fulfilling hobbies in my off-time. Help loved ones who need it. Invest in some home repairs I really needed to make.

        I have a feeling a lot of those who appear high-achieving are pretending to care, too.

        Most people don’t have the luxury of quitting and then going back to work when they’re “ready.” And what if you’re never “ready”?

    7. HelloHello*

      People don’t stop having problems just because other people have worse problems. Surely we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and acknowledge there are big, serious problems in our world that need attention as well as personal struggles like this, and that both are worth talking and sharing advice about.

    8. DEJ*

      I’m having some similar struggles as the LW and seeing letters like this helps give me reassurance that I’m not the only one.

    9. AGirlFromIpanema*

      This has to be a bot or something posting some low-stakes “controversial” “takes”. This makes zero sense in context otherwise.

    10. Second Identity*

      Not “speechless” enough to avoid posting this nebulous comment.

      But, hey, you got a lot of responses, which is what you were going for, I guess

    11. AnonInCanada*

      In what way? I’m not sure why you figure this letter is “in poor taste.” OP is asking a big-picture question about where they are in life and career and how this relates to Alison and/or the commenters here. This is a job-related blog, y’know.

    12. lockhart*

      I’m actually on this commentor’s side. Not all of us are lucky enough to go “I used to love working and now I don’t!”
      Some of us have to work at jobs we used to love but increasingly hate because we’re struggling to support our families. Oh, and free healthcare is a fantasy. I can’t even afford to pay for therapy.
      Honestly this letter just made me mad. You worked hard to get where you are OP — but you’re also incredibly lucky, and you should remember that.

      1. gmg22*

        I get that the kind of flexibility the LW is describing has some inherent privilege attached to it (Plan B of “freelance some more for awhile and see how it goes” is clearly not as lucrative, but it sounds as if it will be sufficient for the moment), but I would just say this: I did not at all get the impression that LW is ignorant of that privilege — note the mention of growing up poor and how that memory is a source of doubt now when looking at options.

        The question being asked here doesn’t seem to me to be “Why do I have this embarrassment of riches and not feel psyched about it?” Rather it seems to be “Why is something I always thought I wanted right in front of me and now I suddenly don’t think I want it?” I don’t think that’s an entitled question to ask; I think people in all walks of life may ask it of themselves about a variety of things (personal and professional), every day.

      2. Cee*

        Just because not all people are lucky enough to not need to work, doesn’t mean that this was an inappropriate question.

        Some people are lucky enough to be in that position and its still ok to look for advice in their specific situation.
        Just because it happened to make you ( and the original commenter potentially) mad, certainly doesn’t mean the question was in poor taste…

      3. Kelly*

        Okay, but surely you can envision a scenario where someone with fewer privileges and resources than you might say the same about a (very real) problem or challenge you might be facing? If you shared that problem on a highly relevant website looking for feedback and advice, it wouldn’t be inappropriate or “in poor taste.” People have different experiences.

      4. Danish*

        Okay? But none of what you said makes this letter “in poor taste”. Someone with more relative privilege than you still gets to have, and express, and receive advice on, problems. This is a real crab bucket mentality.

      5. Unkempt Flatware*

        Isn’t this kind of response against the site’s commenting rules? You don’t get to minimize people’s experiences and feelings and tell them to be lucky to be employed or employable. Be mad. But just tell someone else about it.

        1. lockhart*

          I’m not minimizing anything — was just saying I’m in the same boat as the person annoyed by the letter. I just don’t get the vibe of “type A person asking permission to not work.” Like, that seems obvious to me, if you can afford to not work or work part time, do it!

          I love this site, I love Allison, but it was honestly kind of refreshing to see a comment that isn’t sunshine and rainbows that I agreed with. Sorry if I offended everyone.

      6. biobotb*

        The LW never said they didn’t consider themselves incredibly lucky, so your resentment doesn’t seem warranted. (Are you OK with people who don’t have jobs but want one being mad that you mentioned having one?)

    13. Batgirl*

      The OP is perfectly right to question the priority of financial security against relationships. It’s not like she’s alone in that.

    14. Not So NewReader*

      So Alison has poor taste? hmmm.

      Alison’s blog has been a viable venture for a very long time now. She has answered questions that were so simple it’s hard to figure out how to explain such an obvious answer. She’s answered questions that are so layered and so complex that very, very few people would tackle that difficult a question. She’s widely recognized as a person who knows what they are doing. And it appears that this question is actually relevant to a lot of people.

      I also believe she has taken similar questions in the past. Maybe you missed it?

      I grew up in an environment where questions were not always handled with respect and consideration. I have nothing but admiration for Alison’s ability to remember there is a human being behind each and every question.

      I don’t think rating the tastefulness of a question serves the OP. Plus, Alison has already decided that the question is okay by her.

    15. Cocafonix*

      I don’t get it. What about this is in such poor taste for you that it renders you (not quite) speechless?

    16. Pot Meet Kettle*

      I am absolutely speechless about your comment. It is in really, really poor taste.

  15. Kelly S.*

    Might be worthwhile to take a bit of a break–it sounds like you’re financially able to do so–and reassess what’s important to you. It also might not be a bad idea to find a therapist. Sometimes talking with a professional can help you dig down to discover what the real issue is.

  16. Sloanicote*

    For some reason, I’m usually unable to decide what I want until I’m presented with something and have this gut “no thank you” reaction. If OP is getting this feeling about this job opportunity, that’s a good sign. Don’t be afraid to grow and change OP; holding on too hard to identities that don’t fit you any more (like ambitious world-beater) just keeps you to evolving into new and more powerful forms – forms which you may well evolve out of again in the future.

  17. OrigCassandra*

    So, I had a big life change that knocked my self-image for a loop shortly before the pandemic, and then of course the pandemic hit.

    I’m very much still wading my way out of all this (with a possible job change on the horizon, too). One thing that’s helped me turn away from ruminating over the past and its losses is simple curiosity, keeping it as un-judgy as possible. Okay, I don’t have/want that any more, so in its absence, what is it that I do want? How am I feeling at this moment, and can I work out why? When I think about an ideal state for myself, what does that look like?

    I’m not a person terribly accustomed to listening to or caring for myself — I’m a fixer and a worrier — so just listening without racing to judge or fix hasn’t been easy. It has, however, been useful and kind.

    1. JessicaTate*

      I think this is very good advice. When I re-read your letter, I see a lot of what you don’t want and what you lacked – that being, “the career stuff I used to want” – but not a lot of concretes about what you DO want.

      When I faced a self-image shift (not career or my over-achieverness; that’s here to stay), I found it was important to first acknowledge that I was feeling “I don’t want X anymore,” then to move on to, what DO I want instead? And from there, create the plan/steps to get there. So, stop thinking about whatever you want as “nothing” compared to being career-driven. Articulate it to your self as the new goal and create the plan to make that – whatever it is – a reality. (And if that changes in a year, it changes. We are complicated creatures. Just know thyself.) It might tap into the good part of your acheiverness and identity to think about it as moving toward something, rather than away from something.

  18. Avril Ludgateau*

    Oh man. Oh MAN. There has never been a submission here that resonated more with me, or at least not in a long time. I think along with “The Great Resignation” there’s also a simultaneous collective reckoning, dare I say identity crisis, regarding the nature and value of work vs. all of our other priorities (family, friends, romance if applicable, fun and entertainment, emotional and physical and intellectual well-being, creative pursuits, etc.). I’ve always been a ‘work to live, don’t live to work’ person, so for me it’s not like I lost my professional ambition per se. I burned out early as I was a total keener all through school, holding jobs, doing extracurriculars, pushing myself academically, and then full-time work post-graduation hit me like a 10-ton truck. And I’ve always struggled to cope with the idea that work will take up so much of my life and energy until I die or retire… and then die (if I am blessed to have a long enough life).

    (My “good life” is one with an abundance of free time, but it seems to enjoy your free time you must make money, and to make money you have to sacrifice free time, so the solution is “be born rich,” which sadly I missed the boat on.)

    I don’t really have advice. I’m chiming in in support of you, OP. And maybe I can gain some insight from the commentariat. Oh, but I might suggest reading some Oscar Wilde and his contemporaries. Back in the day, people welcomed automation because they anticipated it would free us from the obligation to work to survive, and allow us to devote more time to what makes us human. There are politico-ideological directions to go from there, if you wish, but if you want to feel less alone.

    1. yup*

      My mind went here too. I immediately thought “LW has been living to work for way too long” and I think the shift in attitude toward work the last two years has made LW essentially think their life’s purpose doesn’t matter any more. Therapy to get a shift in perspective and a vacation sounds like a fabulous place for LW to start. I suspect they’re not the only one in this boat.

    2. Prospect Gone Bad*

      I would like to give a word to the wise. I am seeing a lot about the reckoning of which you speak. I have zero problem with it in theory and in fact it makes perfect sense for some people. I’ve had friends postpone having families for jobs that were totally not worth it. In that scenario it makes total sense.

      But I’d like you warn people, that being a type A careerist doesn’t need to last from 22 to 65. I think many people make it sounds like you do, like it’s an all or nothing choice. The less you do when you’re younger, the most catch up you may have to do later. Personally it made sense to sacrifice life for career and money in my 30s. Then I had actually stability to focus on other things. If you focus on other things before you ever get going in your career, it’s always going to be in the back of your mind. I hear some younger colleagues saying some things about work life balance and all of that and I am thinking, they do realize that if they value work life balance and never advance, they are going to have to work to a later age, right?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        That’s a fair point. I did a GRIND in my 20s to build a career and now…I still work hard and I like my career but the balance is starting to shift. I expect that will continue to change throughout my 30s. I am observing that’s true for a lot of people – there may even be ebbs and flows where you want to work more again! You might change careers. A lot can happen but you aren’t shoehorned into the way you approach a job when you’re first starting out.

      2. WindmillArms*

        I used to believe that as well, but I currently have no expectation of ever growing old (as for reasons, pick one: climate, pandemic, war…) I’m nearly 40, so I’m certain that people younger than me feel this even more intensely. How many 20-somethings truly believe there’s going to be a world left to live in*if* they ever get to “retirement age”?

        In that context, it is absolutely logical for Millennials, Gen Z and younger to no longer see that promise of an eventual pay-off to be worth gambling on.

        1. Avril Ludgateau*

          Took the words out of my mouth! (The irony of a Windmill being opposed to Grind Culture(TM) does not escape me.)

        2. Cendol*

          Yeah, I mean…this is 50% flippant, but I often say my real retirement plan is the collapse of society. So. I’d rather do my best to enjoy life now while my joints don’t hurt and before all the parks in my state are lost to wildfires.

        3. quill*

          Yeah, seems like for a lot of years back, elder millennials and Gen X-ers are like “hey, you were born into (relative) peace! What’s up with the fatalism about the world?” and now that things continue to get worse many more people don’t envision a world where they will be able to retire at 70 and have any quality of life, pandemic, megalomaniacs with a nuclear arsenal, or whatever notwithstanding.

          I mean, personally? As one of the latest millennials, I grew up with the knowledge that 1) the world is ending slowly due to climate change and the government is disinclined to do anything about that, and 2) Social security will not exist by the time I’m old enough to claim any. Throw in the last, uh, seven years? Yeah.

        4. J*

          Yup. And as someone who was diagnosed with cancer while in college, I really faced this when I was doing therapy for my PTSD and “failure to launch” feelings I was having with jobs that weren’t career roles. But the distance between then and now brought back the aggressive for promotion version of me. Then the pandemic hit and I remember getting furloughed/laid off and thinking “thank god” because my job was killing me. Like literally, I spent the next year dealing with health issues related to it and deferred health I had put off in favor of my job.

          Being high risk there was other forms of panic like health insurance but also this feeling of “what’s the point?” and “how much time do I even have left?” Followed by a family member who died in the pandemic a decade before retirement, right before a bunch of milestones that he put aside to ramp up his career. I don’t value the same things I did in early 2020. I have had the shadow of my own mortality hanging over me since I was 19 and I don’t want to die thinking I gave my best to a job and not to myself.

      3. Avril Ludgateau*

        Speaking as a Millennial, through the Millennial lens, but not speaking FOR Millennials (only for myself)… I can’t help but feel resentful of this advice. It’s… dated. It presumes your greatest earnings potential is at the beginning of your career, that you are paid fairly (for your cost of living and near-inevitable student debt), that you have the opportunity to save what you grind out, and that you will live long enough to see the fruits of your overwrought youth; it asks people to put off time sensitive decisions they may want to make (i.e. getting pregnant, or spending time with your kids in their formative years). I graduated into the height of the recession, and the twin specters of the ever-delayed retirement age and “Social Security will run dry, there won’t be any left for you!” have loomed over me since early in high school, frankly. With that in mind, the threat of “beware! You’ll have to work until you die!” is no longer compelling; I’ve had to make my peace with that fact since before I was even in the workforce, proper. I’ve always been a saver and a forward-thinking person, but due to being grossly underpaid from the get-go, I simply didn’t have the means to invest for retirement until this year (outside of my mandatory pension).

        And finally, the idea of putting off my life until I’m in my… 40s, if I’m still supposed to grind my 30s away? In hopes that I can retire before I die (of heart disease, or cancer, or dementia)… This is certainly part of why people like me (and perhaps OP herself) are so checked out. This is why nihilism is so trendy (a la ‘doomers’). It just doesn’t seem worth it. I don’t care to keep up with the Joneses. Like another person suggested, I want a cottage in the woods with a slow-paced life and a lot of cats (and books!).

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I didn’t read it quite that way. I responded like I did because my experience looks more like this: I spent my 20s working myself to death, working multiple jobs, going to grad school, and building a professional reputation. Now that I did all that, in my 30s I have a job that pays better – and I COULD keep grinding and trying to really maximize my earning potential, or start a side hustle, or just live and breathe work. A lot of my peers are doing that. But I’m established enough now that I can kind of lean back on my heels and take a breath, and figure out what my personal ambitions are. If that wasn’t the case, and if I was still grinding, I certainly wouldn’t put anything off for it.

          Now being established and feeling secure is absolutely a place of privilege – but given the framing of the question I think that premise makes sense.

      4. Loredena*

        I get that but I’m advising my nieces and nephews to seek balance. I constantly pushed off the travel and vacations to focus on work and career. And now I’m facing the reality that health issues mean I’ll never be able to do what I postponed even though I can afford to. Don’t sacrifice your life to work

        1. N'Moose*

          This!! I didn’t necessarily put things off, but I didn’t do things at the pace I could have. Throw in getting a little older, an injury here, an issue there and what do you know – that thing I wanted to do likely isn’t going to happen the way I wanted.

      5. quill*

        Got any suggestions for those of us who have spent their youth unable to really establish a career? Because while some people clearly are able to live for work for a decade and reap the rewards, it seems like for most of us there’s just work and no rewards.

        (Any advice that isn’t “don’t graduate into a recession” that is…)

      6. Not So NewReader*

        Work/life balance is not the only reason people have to work to their dying day.

        A person can work hard and work steadily and still end up working until their dying day. I think this is an illusion that we should stop perpetuating.

        There’s many reasons this happens but the number one reason on my mind is catastrophic illness. He’s gone and so is our savings. I will work forever.

        The myth of foregoing work/life balance in order to have stability later in life is just that, a myth.

        Being on the other side of all that, OP, my best thought is work at a sustainable pace. This means physically, financially and psychologically sustainable. Above all else, keep yourself and your home safe. (Whatever “safe” means to you.) This means don’t let your apathy ( right word?) creep into every aspect of your life. Keep with people and activities that you DO actually connect with and find value in. Don’t let a year go by without learning something new or finding a new skill or interest.

        Ya know, OP, as you start this new path, it might seem daunting/scary/lonely/bunch of other things. I can attest to the fact that life gets good again. It’s not the same kind of good as before. It’s not the “good” we dreamed of in our minds. But in some ways it’s better than we can imagine. Yep. I have to work the rest of my life and I am at peace with it. Just see where this bring you. You might be surprised.

    3. quill*

      Yeah, I ran out of idealism in college, got a degree that I was passionate in but that does not directly qualify you for anything that pays the bills, and have been wandering the working world in adjacent fields wondering how exactly I’m meant to support myself financially while also doing the work of living and have any time left over to be human. The pandemic has not helped. I feel like a lot of people who were using their momentum to get by across the crust of this reality pre-pandemic are now suffocating like a shark that has to keep swimming in order to breathe.

  19. Redhead*

    I think covid really threw us all for a loop with work-life balance. My company provides 5 weeks of vacation so I can still travel, or take a mental health day, or whatever if I “just don’t feel like it.” But as someone who took off 8 years to raise kiddos from birth to elementary school, it really set my career back a lot! There’s a lot to consider – good luck!

    1. Sloanicote*

      Yeah, I think OP should chalk this sense of ennui up to the pandemic more than anything. She might have burned out anyway after pushing hard for a long time, but being literally forced to stay close to home contemplating mortality and the loss of your loved ones does tend to put capitalist ideals into perspective. Also, achievements that might have been more satisfying in person can feel extra anticlimactic over zoom or email (promotions with nobody to congratulate you in person, big year birthdays that were spent ordering takeout and eating with your family, etc). I think OP is wise not to jump straight to depression, this is something bigger and more cultural IMO.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “No big life decisions during a pandemic” has been my motto. At least not ones you can’t walk back.

  20. Feral Humanist*

    I could have written this letter. I used to be very ambitious –– I spent years earning an advanced degree and really cared about my work. I feel like almost all of that ambition has just evaporated over the past two years. I am geographically much farther away from my family than I would like to be, but I read job ads that would let me move (back leaving one extremely high COL place for another extremely high COL place –– essentially the two parts of the US that constantly swap the #1 and #2 spots) and I don’t want to do ANY of them. I thought I was burned out on my industry but it’s not even that; I just don’t want to work anymore. I want to have a small house and a garden and foster cats and be near my loved ones and be creative. Part of why I’ve been thinking about starting my own thing is because I don’t like any of the options available to me (though starting my own thing would also, of course, be a lot of work –– but at least I could choose where I live).

    As for me, I am trying to lean into the change. I found the book Work Won’t Love You Back by Sarah Jaffe (which is, admittedly, U.S. and Canada-centric, though she does venture over to Europe in certain parts) to be really helpful in framing for myself what is causing the change in me and validating the idea that the change is 1) not indicative of some deep character flaw in myself, and 2) maybe even healthy? I’ve been a classic overachiever since I was very young, and there is something scary about not being that anymore. But I’m not a kid and I get to decide what kind of life I want to live –– I get to decide where the *meaning* in my life (and I do think that for many of us, this is a crisis of meaning) comes from. Though being in the U.S., figuring out the health insurance situation is always going to be a thorn in my side…

    Anyway, I think we should celebrate these changes. There are so many places we might find meaning other than work. Let’s lean into those.

    1. Avril Ludgateau*

      I love your comment and I feel this, viscerally:

      I just don’t want to work anymore. I want to have a small house and a garden and foster cats and be near my loved ones and be creative.

      I’m there, mentally, every day.

      1. Incoming Principal*

        I’m there with you. I shocked myself recently when I realised I am fine with not making partner within 18 months. I am still delivering incredible value to my firm but I no longer put in the crazy hours and I have a bit less guilt with not working non-stop. I even started taking some cooking classes on Friday evenings so that I have one personal thing to do once per week.

    2. Teatime*

      “Small house and a garden and foster cats and be near my loved ones and be creative.” Yes, please. That’s the dream. If you figure out how to get it, please fill us in. :)

    3. Danish*

      Yes, all of this.

      Tbh when companies angrily go “nobody wants to work anymore!” part of me goes “not for poverty wages and disrespect they dont!” and they other part goes “correct. No more work”

      1. Radical Edward*

        Absolutely. I had the same thought just yesterday, reading another one of those articles!

        I used to think that not having a regular job would be boring and isolating for me, but it turns out it’s allowed me to be mentally rested enough to renew my interest in creative hobbies… and that I genuinely enjoy ‘keeping house’. Quelle surprise, I don’t actually want to go back to full-time work (although it’s financially necessary).

      2. WindmillArms*

        They don’t seem to realize that nobody *ever* wanted to work in drudgery for low pay, which is always what jobs these comments refer to. People had to, or felt like it was worth it for some future payoff. Now, the calculation changed and doing the thing no one ever wanted to do in the first place is far less attractive,

        1. quill*

          Yeah. Nobody ever WANTED to work in a match factory and have their jawbones go bad. It was simply a choice between being able to feed yourself and not.

          People might legitimately want SOMETHING beyond basic human maintenance that consumes the majority of their waking hours, or a potentially career based sense of achievement… but a lot of people I’ve seen are thinking along the lines of not being sure if it would legitimately be harder to live in the woods like our paleolithic ancestors or if we would simply be trading one type of danger and grueling labor for another. And in the living in the woods fantasy, you don’t have to hear about Elon Musk or cryptocurrency ever again.

          1. Danish*

            Ha, yes, that’s where I am. At this point I’m feeling very “well when contrasted against a match factory I would choose living in the woods…. But I also might choose the woods over my well paying tech job at this point because I’m just so over the idea of working to live”.

            1. Quill*

              I mean I have no illusions that I’m any good for manual labor but I am pretty sure there are skills that don’t involve hauling around building materials and food that I could develop.

    4. generic_username*

      Adding that book to my TBR. I’ve been rethinking the role of work in my life recently. I feel like in the US, we have centered our lives so much on work – in large part, it’s who you are, not just what you do. I’ve been working to unlearn that and approach work as something I do to earn enough money to live.

    5. Pescadero*

      “I thought I was burned out on my industry but it’s not even that; I just don’t want to work anymore. I want to have a small house and a garden and foster cats and be near my loved ones and be creative.”

      I feel you… but then, I NEVER wanted to work. It’s just a painful chore that I have to do so I’m not homeless.

      …and it isn’t my industry – I just hate the concept of needing to work and being required to have a job to live. If it’s an obligation, it sucks.

    6. Irish Teacher.*

      “I just don’t want to work anymore. I want to have a small house and a garden and foster cats and be near my loved ones and be creative.”

      That sounds like an ambition to me and a pretty awesome one. I don’t think ambition has to centre around work. Wanting to start your own thing and be creative sounds pretty ambitious to me. I would think somebody who achieved that extremely successful.

      1. Feral Humanist*

        Thank you! I appreciate the reframing of that. I am actively working toward figuring out what version of that goal works for me.

    7. FormerProducer*

      Yes yes yes 100% yes. I actually said something very similar to this: “I want to have a small house and a garden and foster cats and be near my loved ones and be creative.” in an interview for a part time barista role recently. I was trying to explain that I wanted a job that was a small part of a larger life, not a stepping stone to something else. The owner knew exactly what I meant and we had a great conversation about how our ideas of ambition had radically changed during the pandemic.

    8. Wonderer*

      I’m not a huge cat person or even a gardening person, but Feral Humanist has just captured exactly the feeling that we all want:
      “I want to have a small house and a garden and foster cats and be near my loved ones and be creative.”

      I think you can translate this to:
      “I want to have safe and sufficient shelter with time and space for simple pleasures, with people I care about nearby and a source of daily joy.”

      Thank you for this, it helps me put in perspective the feeling that I just want to narrow my world to a much smaller bubble. I’m tired of international politics and corporate targets. I want to stop caring about such a big universe. I want to pretend that I’m blissfully ignorant of global economics and infrastructure projects, because they no longer feel relevant to my life. I just want to be selfish but in a kind and generous way.

      My ‘foster cats’ could be kids or homeless people in my city, my garden could be night school classes. It doesn’t matter. I totally get the exact longing in your goal.

      1. WindmillArms*

        I think in short it’s a desire for community. To be around the people, places, animals, and activities that know us and care back.

        I am totally nodding along with you all here.

    9. quill*

      Not cats, but I’ll join you in that small house and garden situation. I want a dog and the ability to regularly host game night! To its full extent, meaning that I’ll have time to plan, and cook, and clean, and actually still have some time to relax and/or work on other hobbies.

      There were so many tiny little houses in my hometown that were like, 50’s single story two bedroom affairs. One of those would have been the perfect size for me: they were certainly the perfect size for my elderly neighbors in the 90’s. Alas, even staying in one place for a decade feels out of reach now – no wonder millennials haven’t been buying houses.

  21. Arts Admin Pro*

    You’re allowed to change your mind about who you want to be. Choice is the thing that makes you who you are! It sounds like you want to be your old self and just can’t. This is coming across like a bad thing in your writing. Can you consider that it is perhaps your true self finally coming out now that you’ve accomplished what you told yourself you have to in order to survive? You mention wanting to travel. Maybe you should! If you’re living in a country with a social safety net that ensures you cannot fail, use the opportunity in front of you. It’s not lazy or wrong or any other negative thing to do that. Why on earth would we have so much productivity to simply not take advantage of the fruits of all that labor? And becoming someone different is not shameful either.

    When I was nearing age 30, I completely changed who I was outwardly in a span of about 6 months. It was one moment of realization that led me to do this, but what resulted is a life I much prefer. In hindsight, I think I was actually finally listening to my core values and doing something about it. At first I was scared and skeptical, but I eventually embraced it and I have never regretted it.

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      Yes! Changing who yourself doesn’t mean something is wrong and you need to get back to Old You, or who you used to be was wrong or inauthentic either. We are constantly evolving as people.

  22. Happy Thursday-Yay!!!*

    Been having this same conversation with my husband re retirement (for context: he’s worked through two early buy-outs and is waaay past “normal” retirement age). Mention it because you may find that the articles and resources for “early retirement” or just plan old “next stage in your life” stuff applies to you.

    And remember: change can be good. scary but good

    1. fposte*

      I chimed in on this one because I went for early retirement and so, so don’t regret it. It is astonishing how happily severed I feel from what used to consume me. I’m by no means bitter and I’m enjoying friendships with former colleagues, but it’s like that had its time, and now is a different time.

    2. Very Social*

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing–early retirement, FIRE, and mini-retirements could be helpful things for this LW to read up on.

  23. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    I want to know where this “socialist hellhole” is?

    That said you might consider figuring out if you can retire early (FIRE) but perhaps an appointment with a counsellor to examine your feelings and make some decisions is a good idea?

    Also perhaps you should push your start date forward to get some extra time off?

    1. Santiago*

      Replying here because your comment made me think of it — excellent username by the way — I wonder if OP would be able to adjunct teach a course at some point. Regardless of working or not. I’m under no illusions about the pay and benefit issues with adjunct, but if my good grace and grit OP is in a situation where that isn’t a major concern to her perhaps she would find some passion in being able to “pay it forward” to the next generation, and also keep her skills sharp // potentially work part time.

      1. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

        Thanks, the username actually has an interesting history if you google it!

        In the end the OP wants some kind of change but doesn’t know what. This happens, people reevaluate their life choices all the time but the OP needs to not become self destructive in figuring this out.

  24. Teatime*

    I’m in the same place. Used to be ambitious, but realized after some post-pandemic and mid-life reflection that all working had gotten me in this economy was renting an overpriced tiny apartment that still feels ‘temporary’ after 10 years here. The work that my grandfather and father’s generation put in could support a family of four and the purchase of a house on one salary, and I’m struggling to maintain a 600 sqft apartment, and the idea of living like this for another 20 years until I can retire and do something else makes me nauseous.

    After some reflection about what matters to me OUTSIDE of work (having a home– doesn’t have to be a house– but where I can properly host guests, and finally have a pet) I’m now set to meet with a career coach/consultant/counsellor to help me look at my transferable skills and target a work search where the work doesn’t matter as much as funding (and geographically supporting) the life I want to have outside of work. This will probably mean looking for positions outside the city or remote work and moving to a smaller community, but I don’t care. I don’t want to find any self-worth through work anymore. It feels like a trap in this economy.

    1. Zee*

      This is a good point – we’re raised in a society that constantly pushes us to work hard at our jobs, but we no longer get the rewards from it that previous generations had. It forces us to view our jobs as what we should be passionate about and worthwhile in their own right, because your job is no longer a tool to get what you want. (There was a similar shift a while back when people stopped having to have kids because they needed someone to work the farm, and had to make having a kid implicitly valuable, which also ended up in a massive change in marriage dynamics – it’s fascinating to read about.)

      1. The Original K.*

        Yes – I heard someone say “we’ve never worked harder to have less” and it struck a chord.

      2. HigherEdAdminista*

        Yup! I am envious of the LW for living in a country with a social safety net. I feel like I am working hard not to benefit my life or build something, but to just have a hope of surviving in the future. That makes work feel very discouraging.

  25. fposte*

    I agree that just because it’s not like depression you’ve had before doesn’t mean it’s not depression this time. But I also think “midlife crisis” can misleadingly suggest that it’s a big bad upset; pretty commonly it’s a crisis in the Greek sense of a turning point rather than a trauma. A lot of people find it an era when they change up what they want from their daily existence, and that’s a good thing, if sometimes a challenging thing for those of us who had an identity linked to wanting one thing and then found themselves wanting something else.

    So maybe you want to work at the things that do interest you only for a bit, or maybe you want to think about whether the new feeling about work could be okay and that you want to spend more energy on life outside of work for a while. Lots of people are at best nodding roommate acquaintances with their work and have fine lives; even if you never thought that could be you before, maybe it could be you now.

    1. DantheMan*

      For what its worth, I have found this book really helpful in thinking through these kinds of feelings recently.

      Not just about work, but about how to think about the various kinds of self-image issues that crop up around mid-life. It is written by a philosophy professor, but is very readable by a non-academic audience (at least, by the standards of books written by philosophy professors).

      For me, it has been accentuated by the illness of a parent, which (at least for me) really brought into focus the reality that I’m already half-way through this journey and I’m not sure that the way I’ve been living is the way that I want to live the second half.

      1. fposte*

        That looks really interesting! Parental illness, death, or just increasing fragility can have a way of concentrating your focus on that part of your life trajectory, that’s for sure.

    2. joriley*

      I had a similar thought about burnout as you did about depression. Depression, anxiety, burnout… all of these things can look different to different people, AND can look different for one person from year to year. OP, it may be worth digging into that a little more (or getting an outside opinion from a friend/family member/therapist). Not that it’s definitely burnout or depression! Your passions could just have changed! But it’s worth considering.

    3. Quinalla*

      I agree that the term crisis can be very misleading. Brene Brown has an article called midlife unraveling that really spoke to me. I think a crisis would be eaasier to deal with, everything kind of feeling wrong and off, but nothing you can really point to – that’s hard. Maybe that is more your experience too?

      1. TeaCoziesRUs*

        I love Richard Rohr’s framing this as the second half of life. The first half is full of everything we’ve been told us important – work, career, achievement, success. At some point a crisis point offers an invitation into the second half of life – where we come to understand that we are not defined by ego need or societal expectations, but by living an authentic life. In essence, we become what God (however you understand the Divine) has put us in this Earth to become. You might end up changing the world… or simply your circle of family and friends, who find you a valuable and loved source of wisdom, compassion, and kindness. THIS is how you become an Elder in the truest sense of the world.

        You can choose to ignore the invitation, because it is a scary path, particularly in the US’ youth-obsessed society that relegates “old” people to the back-burner of importance. Or you can hear that quiet invitation to growth, and begin the hard work of learning how to let go of who you thought you were in order to understand and love who you ARE.

        Finally, you don’t have to be a certain age to begin this journey – all you have to be is in a crisis or inflection point. We have teenagers who walk the path of elder wisdom and senior citizens who still cling firmly to ego and avoid self-reflection.

        Falling Upward is the book in which Rohr lays out most of this path, but it’s a backbone to all of his work.

  26. Web Crawler*

    I know a lot of friends in this position. And I guess to some extent, I’ve gone through it too during the panini. Basically, the thing that we all ended up doing was working through The Big Questions- who we are, what we want to do during our life, what we believe, and what we think is worth chasing.

    There’s been a lot of shifting of spiritual beliefs too, as far as I can tell. I know people who have dropped, gained, or changed religions, and people who have solidified their existing beliefs. There’s also philosophy which does the same thing (since I don’t trust organized religions).

  27. Wisteria*

    I used to be really driven, too, and now I just want evenings and weekends off to lie on my couch and drink gin in my underpants. Non-work pursuits (including drinking gin on the couch) are just as valid as work pursuits. I sort of envy my friends who were always “work to pay for my life,” and I take inspiration from my friend who seems to do nothing but buy cool clothes and go to concerts. It’s a bit of a struggle to break free of the messaging that non-work pursuits are frivolous, but having that friend in my FB feed actually helps.

    I’m working actively on being more accepting. I tend to be quite passionate about, say, using a particular brush to get a particular effect in the llama fur. Now I work on letting go of my attachment to that particular effect and just saying, “yep, I’ll use that artificial bristle brush, just as you say.” It’s a constant struggle, bc I am pretty passionate about grooming llamas, but I remind myself that I am just as passionate about lying on my couch and drinking gin.

    I would take that job, in your shoes. Cool clothes, concerts, and gin all cost money. Set your limits on how much you care about the job, and put your head space toward leisure activities. The biggest thing will be recognizing that reframing your relationship to work will be an ongoing activity, not a one time adjustment.

    Good luck.

    1. nozenfordaddy*

      I mostly drink Irish coffee in my underpants, but otherwise I second everything. I would take the job and work on my personal work/life balance rather than swinging from one driven work extreme to the other do nothing extreme.

  28. Jodi Scott*

    If my work was a romantic relationship, then it used to be a passionate luuuve affair, and now we’re simply roommates nodding politely to each other.

    This is a great line! It made me laugh and also reflect on how I feel about my job

  29. LC*

    OP, about a year ago, I was in a very similar position, minus the “socialist hellhole” (I’m guessing you meant it with quotes based on your description, but even if you don’t, I do) and my potential job wasn’t really a dream job but it was something that I could do well and provided good salary/benefits. But the state of mind was (and still is) very familiar to me.

    I took the job. And it’s been … fine. I’m hardly miserable, and I am (apparently, according to them) quite good at the job. I’m not a stressed anxious mess like I was at my last job. Overall, it’s fine.

    But if I could have done what you are contemplating, I absolutely would have.

    Obviously you don’t need this, but you did write in, so maybe it’ll help. You have this internet stranger’s permission to do what’s in your heart and to feel good about it.

    And I really, really hope you do and that you enjoy the hell out of it.

    1. Ashley*

      There is a lot to be said for have a job that is not a stretch job, or positioning yourself the next step up the corporate ladder.
      I think the pandemic literally forced many of us to slow down and another huge group to rush around even more experiencing so much death and trauma that reconsidering what you really want (and what we were culturally taught to want) is natural.
      Personally I love my life so much more now without the high stress job. Could I be doing more and earning more? Absolutely, but I don’t have to and for that I will be grateful and go home at the end of the day and not stress about my job.

      1. ENFP in Texas*

        I am really glad that you posted this, Ashley, because it gives me a way to reframe how I am looking at my job and the lack of engagement that I have been feeling lately.

        Instead of stressing stressing that I am “not as passionate as I usedto be”, maybe I could look at it as being “happy to have a job that doesn’t stress me out”. Instead of viewing it as “something that defines my worth”, look at it as “something that pays the bills and allows me to do other things that I do enjoy”.

  30. Sherry*

    If you don’t have to take the job, don’t take it. Enjoy changing your priorities. Give yourself a break or explore. There’s a lot more to life than work.

  31. JSPA*

    I’ve known people who feel that to keep keen, they have to massively change fields every decade. Others get tired of being keen all the time, especially if it’s a keen-ness born not primarily from fascination, but from a sense of “should.”

    Philosophically, do you subscribe to the idea that people’s functioning should not shift, even as their experience shifts, and their bodies change, and their awareness of the world changes? Some people define their “essential self” early, and brush away impediments as a momentary lack of “fire in the belly.” Others decide that “fire in the belly” is fine if you’re young, but not great if it’s turned into middle-aged heartburn.

    You can try working backwards. How do you picture you at 80? At 80, what will you be glad to have experienced and learned and done? Now, take that back to 65. Now, to 50. Stop when you’re at whatever age you now are; how close is that picture to the you, on the path you are, now?

    Then run the scenario forward; then backwards again. Iterations will help you figure out what items are core goals, and which ones were temporary goals (and ones that you may have already achieved).

    But I’d also caution that burnout doesn’t feel the same each time, and neither does boredom, and neither does depression. If you’ve had plenty of experience with all of the above, please ignore. But if it was more of a one-and-done, this new one can be different, yet in the same category. After all, all human experiences are on a multi-dimensional continuum. The words we use to describe them (or diagnose them) are gross approximations, at best.

    If you’re in the sort of country where a thermal bath mountain rest cure is a thing, there are worse ways, than focused boredom, good clean food, and plenty of hot water and fresh air, to help you decide whether you’re actually burnt out, bored, or just more aware than you used to be that no matter how hard you work, there’s no gold star from your superego, waiting at the end of the path.

    1. LadyofLasers*

      This is an awesome, well-rounded answer. You’ve said everything I would have said, except way better. +1000

    2. Not So NewReader*

      “But I’d also caution that burnout doesn’t feel the same each time, and neither does boredom, and neither does depression.”

      Let’s take this out one step further. Let’s apply it to world events as they can impact us on the individual level.

      I was 3 when Kennedy was shot. I remember asking my mother if we had to hide and what would we do for food. I was scared. I will always remember that fear.

      When Watergate came around, my feeling was different. It was more like helplessness, we are just puppets on someone else’s stage.

      There were a bunch of world events that altered me and altered what I thought of as important.

      Fast forward. WTC. I was on fire. I was going to do something different with my life. I became very much aware sometimes there is no “re-do” button. I got my education and then lost my husband. I kept thinking of the ad, “life comes at you fast.” You can make plans but life does whatever it wants.

      And now with Covid …. and war… and…. Well, my thinking changed yet again. But my personal life is very different now too. My needs are different. What I value is waaaay different. It’s okay to let what is happening around us teach us and show us things that we have never seen before. It’s okay to let this new information shape us and shape how we want our lives to play out.

      It’s okay to NOT be the person you thought you were or think you “should” be. When we let go of one thing that gives us a free hand to grab on to something better.

  32. hallucinating hack*

    Dear OP, I would like to share a quote with you.

    “His need to make poetry had been his master; having lost his master, he had lost his freedom. Like a tree grown up on a hillcrest where the wind always blows the same he had grown all in one direction, trunk and branches shaped to the wind, and the wind had ceased to blow.”

    This is from a lesser known novel of Ursula K. LeGuin’s, “Malafrena”.

    I’ve been where you are. I spent an enormous amount of my life and career seeing myself as a writer, from my very childhood in fact. Then, at some point, my love for the profession wore out. I was, and am, still good at it – skills don’t go away, as I’m sure you know. But I no longer identify with it in the way I used to. At one point, I refused to call myself a writer at all; I turned down a number of opportunities, withdrew from every single writing community I was part of, and made a very sincere try at reskilling myself and completely changing my profession, to the tune of several thousand dollars spent on getting a certification in a different line.

    Well, mid-career switches don’t work out as well as advertised – or at least, they didn’t before the big C; apparently it’s a lot easier to do this stuff now – and I caved and went back to what I was good at (i.e. what I had enough of a hefty resume in to actually find a job in) before my savings ran out.

    I still write for a living. I just don’t identify with my work any more, and the writing part of my job, which thankfully isn’t the larger part of the work at my level of seniority, is basically just another task. I don’t take pleasure in writing for the sake of writing any more, but I do take pleasure in exercising the skills I spent several decades honing and doing that task well. I’ve more or less come to terms with that, and it’s a better fate than what eventually became of the poet in “Malafrena”. (No spoilers, partly because it’s potentially triggering.)

    So OP, it is possible to get past this. Like I was, you’re in a good position to go and blunder around for a couple of years while you work out the rebuilding of your self-image. Will it leave a permanent hole in your identity? Well, yes. You can’t shape yourself around something for so many years and then expect it to not leave a scar when it goes away. You may have to go through a grieving process for it. Or you may be able to reconcile more easily with the change, and I hope that’s how it turns out for you.

    Best of luck.

    1. Sel*

      Malafrena is my favorite LeGuin book. What an apt use of that quote. I hope OP fares better in the end than Amadey did.

  33. Justin*

    Take your time. I just made a change recently too, which I knew was happening as I finished school, and I’m really looking forward to not being under immense pressure once the next month or so is over. It’s okay.

  34. Firm Believer*

    This will be an unpopular comment but I see a direct correlation between these feelings, which a lot of people have right now, and working remote in isolation. There is something about the energy of interacting with a team that is missing and it’s causing people to feel a lack of motivation and stimulation. No one is talking about it, but I think there is something to be recognized here.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      When I have those feelings, it’s from interacting with colleagues too much. Mine come from having to compromise the long run for people who can only see the short run, catering to the Lowest Common Denominator, and compromising on quality.

      If anything, remote work delays their onset for me.

      1. Incoming Principal*

        Same. After the nth interaction with a partner who only wants to sell projects no matter the impact on his team, I start to redefine what success means to me. I do not want to turn into said partner yet I struggle to see examples of leaders with my same set of values. Perhaps I picked the wrong industry…
        I usually feel better on days that I get to work from home and endure less of those grating situations

      2. quill*

        Personally it’s spending my work time with people I don’t know well or care for much beyond passing acquaintance, and my free time very far away from people I love.

      3. Dragonfly7*

        I’m similar to you, Sola. My mental health actually improved during the bit of time that I was able to work from home. Part of that was to do with not being around certain people, but also because I was doing more creative work to fill the space that used to be entirely focused on customer service.

    2. Meow*

      I think good social interaction can definitely help, but you’re making an assumption that everyone has good relationships with their coworkers. I discovered that working from home – with my husband and cats who I actually like and like me – is far more uplifting than working in an office all day with coworkers who don’t give a crud about me.

      1. Firm Believer*

        I don’t think it’s just about having good relationships with everyone you work with. It’s about the energy that comes from engaging, getting to be part of larger conversations, feeling a part of something larger, watching what your coworkers are doing. These conversations about lack of desire to advance in a career have a direct correlation with this shift. Not necessarily for everyone, but I think it’s a component.

        1. MsM*

          I do work better in an office environment, to the point that I started looking when my previous job made it clear they weren’t going to come back from an all-virtual setup, and I still disagree. Being able to have in-person chats about little things that are far more distracting or complicated to tease out by email is incredibly helpful, but it doesn’t make me feel “part of something larger,” and it hasn’t relieved my occasional “am I settling?” concerns.

        2. Avril Ludgateau*

          It’s about the energy that comes from engaging, getting to be part of larger conversations, feeling a part of something larger, watching what your coworkers are doing.

          Just so you know, some of us find this utterly exhausting, in ways that negatively impact our social and mental health. WFH has afforded me a wealth of energy to interact with the people I choose to interact with, rather than having to be ‘on’ to ‘show face’ to my employer. My mental health has improved more in the last two years than in all the therapy of the two years before that, and with better mental health and higher energy levels, I’m investing in all the relationships that got sidelined because “life got in the way”. (Realistically, “life” always meant “work,” which is depressing in its own right.)

          “Teatime” has summed it up beautifully in their response to your initial comment.

          1. Firm Believer*

            Your mental health has improved but the overall conversation about worsening mental health has grown significantly. Plain and simple several years ago most of us were consistently going to the office every day, putting in long days, dressing up, commuting and there were far fewer conversations like this happening. People have more time off and flexibility than EVER before and yet there has never been as much lack of job satisfaction. I’m no mental health expert but there has to be a correlation. The OP is speaking about lack of career drive. What is causing it? Flexibility and focus on work life balance has never been better than it is right now. So why are so many people dissatisfied?

            1. MsM*

              Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Except that I think the one thing we can definitively say is that just going back to the way things were isn’t the solution, since clearly there were a lot of people who didn’t find the whole dressing up and commuting thing conducive to their job satisfaction, and just didn’t complain because what were they going to do about it? The uptick in conversations about people being unhappy aren’t documenting a sudden, new phenomenon: they’re the result of people suddenly feeling permission to admit all the things they’ve been holding in for a while and receiving validation they’re not alone in that, or realizing that not only does it make sense to ask certain questions it seemed pointless to ask before, they might actually be able to generate some change by bringing this stuff up.

              1. Avril Ludgateau*

                The uptick in conversations about people being unhappy aren’t documenting a sudden, new phenomenon: they’re the result of people suddenly feeling permission to admit all the things they’ve been holding in for a while and receiving validation they’re not alone in that, or realizing that not only does it make sense to ask certain questions it seemed pointless to ask before, they might actually be able to generate some change by bringing this stuff up.

                (Just repeating you a little louder!)

            2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              My circle is a weird one, but I have noticed that everyone since going remote has engaged more in their actual community, rather than their work communities. Whether it is volunteering, grassroots activism, local politics, engaging in arts/hobbies, getting connected with the parents at their kids schools, getting to know their neighbors, getting into bird watching/plant ID/geology/wildlife watching, etc.. I totally understand that this isn’t universal or even common, but until the pandemic I never would have gone to a city council meeting, a crochet circle, volunteered at a vaccination site/isolation facility, worked as a poll worker, gone to a political protest, or bird watched in my neighborhood. However, now that I don’t have to expend as much of my social energy at work, I find myself directing it in different places. I am someone who likes interacting with coworkers, but have discovered I like doing this other stuff more.

                1. Avril Ludgateau*

                  People have more time off and flexibility than EVER before and yet there has never been as much lack of job satisfaction.

                  This is a claim, not an opinion. You’re conflating “conversation about lack of job satisfaction” with “presence of lack of job satisfaction”. I do agree the conversation has become more central and omnipresent, along with people’s willingness to leave a situation where they are dissatisfied. This does not necessarily imply that people are more dissatisfied than before.

                  This is the same fallacy that observes a rise in divorce rates in the ~70s or so and assumes that people suddenly became unhappy in their marriage in the 70s (not for nothing, often pointing the finger at Second Wave Feminism). The truth is that divorce became “easier” in certain ways and people – women especially, no longer as dependent on their spouses – were no longer willing to put up with unhappy or even abusive relationships that they were pressured or obligated to tolerate in the past. Just because you are newly observing a trend does not mean it is a new trend!

                  See also: the conversation about race in America. Always there, only recently spotlighted.

            3. Avril Ludgateau*

              People have more time off and flexibility than EVER before and yet there has never been as much lack of job satisfaction.

              Because people have had a moment to reflect. The dissatisfaction has always been there. The mental illness (or unwellness) has always been there. The context that allowed people to reckon with it has not.

              I feel that you’ve already arrived at a conclusion and are working backwards to support it, rather than following the premise to its logical conclusion.

              1. Firm Believer*

                I’m asking the question and frankly this thread has skewed to far in the direction of mental health and not around lack of career drive and job dissatisfaction.

                1. Avril Ludgateau*

                  Are lack of career drive and job dissatisfaction wholly unrelated to mental health?

                  At any rate, I did specifically say “The dissatisfaction has always been there. … The context that allowed people to reckon with it has not.”

                  Remove the reference to mental illness, if needed.

                2. This is the bad place*

                  It’s the same conversation, Firm Believer. It’s impossible to discuss “career drive” without also discussing the sheer existential terror of approaching adulthood and staring down 60-70 years of nonstop work. For many of us, our “career drive,” to the extent that we ever had it, was completely imaginary – a desperate attempt to make our situation more bearable. The pandemic allowed us to drop the facade.

            4. This is the bad place*

              For myself and other younger millennials/zillennials, the lack of job satisfaction has been there a long time. A LONG time. What the pandemic did was give us a brief glimpse of what another world might look like, and many of us found that far preferable. That made us realize that our feelings about our jobs were NOT borne of laziness, or selfishness, or asocial temperament. That is where the conversations about mental health and career dissatisfaction are coming from.

              When the world had us convinced that things could never be different or better, we resigned ourselves and swallowed down our true feelings. Now that we’ve proven we CAN change things, we’re talking about it, and people are so quick to blame the *improvements* for causing the original problem. Make it make sense.

                1. This is the bad place*

                  1. That depends on where you draw the line – I’ve usually seen them described as 1994-1998, but I’ve sometimes seen descriptions that go as early as 1992. That means the oldest Zillennials are 28-30.

                  2. Work experience in high school and college count. Internships count. Any immersion in 21st-century work culture counts.

                  3. Even if our individual conceptions of “a LONG time” are irreconcilably different (as they may be – I’m 30 and have worked since 18, which is LONG for me), it’s telling that that was the only part of my comment you felt merited a response. My point was that remote work did not create these feelings of dissatisfaction – they only made us realize how dissatisfied we really were pre-pandemic.

            5. quill*

              Honestly I think most thinkpiece writers have gotten it wrong that the correlation is between changing work and less motivation: it’s more likely due to changes in overall stress. A lot of people have more ambient stress now (due to pandemic, due to global political events, due to having fewer social outlets because pandemic) so their work suffers whether they’re in office or not. Other people experience less stress during work than they used to because stressors from their previous mode of work have been removed.

              Or, to extremely oversimplify things: when it comes to WFH versus in office, neither choice is going to suit everyone, and switching between them every time the pandemic waves ebb and flow just means it sucks for everyone.

              1. This is the bad place*

                Yup. I would love to see a study comparing pandemic-era work to the alternate universe where work was always flexible, well-paid, and non-negotiably(??) secondary to personal and family life. I’d bet you my entire 401k (which is admittedly tiny) that the proposed correlation between those things and mental health/career drive/job satisfaction would either vanish, or go in the opposite direction.

                1. quill*

                  Conversations I’ve been having recently about mental health problems all seem to center around the fact that for the people in that conversation, half the problem is the brain, half the problem is the world. And there is no “make the world make sense and people NOT actively do things to end it” pill, so we’re only ever getting 50% treated.

    3. Teatime*

      It depends on your personality, I think. As a super-duper introvert and perpetually online person I thrived during work from home. I had never been happier at work, and met my now current work bestie over zoom. My social calendar had never been more jam-packed, even though it was all done through my laptop! It was once I was forced to return to the physical workplace that I had my abject crisis of work-faith, because I hadn’t realized how good and stress free work could be before I got to work from home, and now I had to give it all up with no compensation. I have to go back to faking smiles, and being polite to people who are horrible, and doing all the emotional labor that I could avoid at work from home. (The ability to just walk away from my computer and yell into a jar or something, and then calmly return to my desk and write a polite e-mail was a game-changer)

      Meanwhile, my boss and grand boss (who both have degrees in acting) are THRIVING now that their ‘audience’ is back. The extroverts were in CRISIS during the lockdown, but now they are happy again. But it’s absolutely a personality thing.

      1. Zee*

        My social interactions took off during the pandemic too! The extroverts in my life were desperate for human interaction, and the introverts (like me) were thrilled to now have an avenue for social interaction with a much lower energy barrier.

        1. WindmillArms*

          I’m already nostalgic for the regular trivia and game nights that went on during the heaviest restrictions. I’d love to have those back (without any of the rest of that time).

    4. Feral Humanist*

      I think that is probably true, and I am generally a proponent of remote work that will let folks set their own priorities in life. Having everything be remote has made things easy and convenient but also sort of joyless.

      1. Firm Believer*

        I like the way you put that. It’s like, I think a lot of people would rather work from home, but it still means some of that exciting work related energy can still be missing. It becomes a lot more automated.

    5. generic_username*

      As someone who loves WFH and plans to do it as much as possible in the future, I agree. We become more disconnected from the team and that can make us feel more disconnected from the work we do. There are ways to combat this by intentionally forming those work connections, but it’s still a result.

    6. OP who lost the will to work*

      I agree – many people are probably fine working remotely, but I’ve realized I do a lot better when I meet up in person with colleagues/contacts now and then.

    7. Danish*

      I don’t disagree, but I see it more like, we all gaslit ourselves with Energy Of Being On A Team into thinking that work mattered.

      once all the glimmer of Office Culture was removed and jobs became stripped back to accommodate wfh, it revealed the truth–that there are a lot of office jobs in the world that contribute nothing to society and barely have worth to the company, on an individual level, and yet that you’re still supposed to approach them with unbridled ambition.

      1. Loulou*

        Ha! This is…pretty real. But I also think there’s a difference between being satisfied or happy at work and thinking it matters. Like I feel like spending 8 hours a day alone on my computer doing something that’s basically fake would drive me INSANE (like that sounds like a surreal short novel) in a way that doing it around other IRL people might not. I realize many people would feel the opposite!

        1. quill*

          I could happily spend 8 hours solving a computer problem… every few weeks. But it would have to be something that affects something I care about and something I could actually logic through. Team energy might have made it easier sometimes, but personally for me it’s a trade off between loneliness and interruption.

          Alas, even though my work has tangible consequences (I’m in quality control) I feel like there’s just not enough me to go around, if that makes sense. I’m feeling very Old Bilbo-ish, like too little butter scraped across too much bread. And I didn’t even get a sweet magical artifact out of it.

      2. Eyes Kiwami*

        Strongly relate to this. I realized that I could go days without anyone noticing whether I worked or not. My job means nothing to the company or society. At least if I’m at home I can listen to music and wear PJs.

    8. NancyDrew*

      I think there’s something to this…

      I spent the past two years working fully remotely, including starting a brand new job/company last winter. So that meant virtual onboarding, zooms all day, never meeting my team in person, etc.

      Just a few weeks ago I switched jobs (yes, after just a year at the last place) and we are hybrid. I am gobsmacked at how much more connected I already feel to my colleagues and my work. And I love working remotely! There are so many benefits! But in terms of feeling fulfilled and affirmed by my work (which not everyone strives to do, obviously, but it’s really important to me in all my jobs), seeing people again has really helped.

    9. RagingADHD*

      I worked remotely before the pandemic, and I think the ubiquity of remote work has been bad for both people who crave more social interaction, and people who crave solitude.

      Because when everything is remote, you’re never really *away* from it. When I was remote but it wasn’t common everywhere, expectations were different. I could afford to be really flexible, because other peoole had constraints, and the demands were never too much.

      Now, it’s expected that any hour of the week, anywhere you might be, you could be working. It’s an unbounded abyss of demand, and the only way to have balance is to be arbitrary and rigid about drawing lines.

    10. Koala dreams*

      Yes, I think this is part of a general trend driven not only by working remote but also of having a remote non-work life. It takes more active effort to find a community and keep connected, when you lose out on things like meeting people next to the coffee machine, in the elevator or whatever. A lot of the time, it’s not the work itself that’s the motivation, it’s having nice co-workers and the feeling that what you do matters to other people in some small way.

  35. FrogGirl*

    OP doesn’t give her age, but around me everyone had a spiritual/work related/life goal kind of crisis when they reached the end of their 20s (before COVID).

    Generally, they all quit their jobs to find other jobs or occupations that carried more sense to them. Results varied (two of them launched their own companies but only one company survived, some had to go back to a 9 to 5 job as it wasn’t paying the bills, one travelled the world, some had kids…) but it seems that OP isn’t alone in trying to find a life goal that’s not traditionnal employment until retirement.

  36. Berlie Girl*

    I am going through the same “don’t want to work” struggle. I am self-employed though and have been for 25+ years. Doing, in essence, the same work the whole time. I am not really burned out, just not passionate about it anymore and even though I am making good money, I just don’t “want to” anymore. However, I just cannot picture myself going back to the 9-5 grind working for someone else, so I keep plugging away.

    I have over a week planned off at a cabin by myself in the middle of nowhere as a “work retreat” in May where I will be solely reflecting on how to pivot my work to interest me again and completely disconnecting. I am also working on a new side-project with my boyfriend that incorporates the knowledge I have gained during my 25+ years in my field, but the work itself is different, and I find I am excited about that.

    My advice, if you can swing it, is to take time off from work, travel, reconnect and disconnect, whatever it takes.

  37. gmg22*

    Like others, the LW’s situation is resonating very much. Work has always been a big focus of my life, especially as a single person with no kids. I’ve been in my current job for 7 1/2 years, and in my current role at my org for about 4 1/2. I spent the first half of the time in my current role working for a REALLY micromanagey, demanding, and sometimes gaslighting program director. My focus was on sticking it out until his retirement, which I knew was coming at the beginning of 2020. I got there, I felt like I got at least a little bit better at delivering what he wanted, I felt like I’d won the race, so to speak. We got a new director, who I got along well with but who was VERY low-key and often hard to read. And then right after that, covid hit. Oh, and then at the end of last year the new director left and we got ANOTHER new director (who is great, very good but different energy, so it’s still an adjustment). I feel like I’m slowly awakening from hibernation, and I feel VERY burned out on my job, the organization, and our mission, which relates to climate change so that’s a whole other can of worms. I do also think, as some commenters have noted, that WFH is sapping my energy and introducing bad habits of letting work and home stuff bleed together. Our office is open and we’re free to make our own hybrid schedules, but getting back into a routine of being there will involve getting accustomed again to a lengthy driving commute.

    My productivity level is basically the bare minimum. And when I look at job listings, I simply cannot conjure up any enthusiasm. It’s not depression in the traditional sense, though I am working with a new therapist — I love my weekly volunteer work, I thrive on my favorite hobby (dance classes), I eagerly plan weekend getaways with friends now that travel (with prudent precautions) is easier. It’s WORK. I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to be micromanaged and nickel-and-dimed on every project budget and be force-fed strategic goals and constantly questioned and critiqued. I want a break from all that. And I spend a lot of time almost getting to the “I’m just going to quit and rest and regroup” moment, and then getting scared and pulling back.

    I am rooting for the LW, who seems to have a current situation of flexibility and interesting work that serves them very well. No, do not take the “perfect” job just because you think you should!

  38. A non*

    Ask yourself: what do you want, what do you need, what are the trade-offs (money vs time vs other interests vs long-term stability, etc), what can you live with? Ultimately, there’s no “right” answer. But if you really think about it, you will probably know what the correct decision is. You don’t need any of us to tell you it’s ok.

  39. JSPA*

    Also: you’re allowed to cross things off of your mental to-do list, when you’ve done them. It’s surprising how often people get caught up in commands, whether their own or externally-given, and can’t stop doing the thing, even once it’s demonstrably been done. It’s even more true organizationally and in philosophy, religion, etc.

    Don’t quite believe this? Consider, “be fruitful and multiply.” (From a purely practical standpoint, it seems like every group ascribing to this could reasonably recognize that we’ve achieved that one, certainly in comparison to other instructions given concurrently.)

    OP, you have the right to say, “done that; looking for a fresh challenge.” You get once shot at the life you’re now living; you might as well make it the life you choose.

  40. Lianne*

    All I can say is that the socialist hellhole sounds like an amazing place to live, lol. After spending over $100,000.00 USD in out of pocket for medical expenses after insurance and taking out my retirement to pay for it, free medical sounds pretty awesome.

    1. gmg22*

      Absolutely read that as gentle sarcasm — guessing the LW lives in Canada or a European country and just wanted to clarify for the US-based audience another reason why not taking a full-time gig isn’t necessarily as big a risk.

  41. Danish*

    This letter is so validating. I too was such a go getter, and now when I think of Office Jobs I cannot imagine ever caring in that way again. 2020/2021 I worked for one of those big companies that experienced soaring profits, doing work that in no way improved the real world, and it crushed me. I’ve considered writing into Alison with some version of “I think I’ve been ruined for office jobs by the pandemic”, but I don’t even know what my question would have been.

    I am currently employed with a job that gives me a lot of flexibility, on a topic I personally care about, and I’m so lucky–because even with those factors the best I can manage is “you need money to live”. Every part of me years for a world where I can do a little bit of work and then just do whatever makes me happy.

  42. Joielle*

    I feel like I had this experience early in the pandemic (and starting even before the pandemic, actually) and now I’m out the other side and ready for a bigger challenge again. After five years in a super stressful job with terrible work-life balance, I was so burnt out and just over it. I just didn’t care about the work anymore and hated going to work every day. I ended up leaving for something less prestigious, but much slower paced and with a very flexible schedule. Now I’ve had a few years of pandemic-imposed quiet, not working a ton, focusing on mostly solitary/home-based hobbies (I don’t have kids or this time period would have looked a lot different). It was an absolute joy at first but I’m finally getting bored of it.

    I recently started applying for jobs again and I relish the idea of having a bigger title again, more responsibilities, and more prestige. And, the fact that I don’t hate my current slightly-boring job means that I can take my time and find a position that I’m really excited about.

    So I think if you have an opportunity to step back for a while, you should take it! It doesn’t have to be a permanent change – you may find yourself excited to focus on work again after a while. But a change of pace can be really invigorating. Trust your gut.

  43. anon for this*

    OP I’m laughing ruefully because last night I started having a massive gender crisis (happy trans day of visibility everyone!) and I am currently sitting around on my lunch break doing terrible things to my hair to cope. So yeah. Bit of a radical change in self image/what I want in life.
    In general when this kind of thing has happened I’ve sort of split my response into two halves that run simultaneously. One is the fun, impulsive one, where I do silly things like get a new tattoo or dye my hair. It’s fun and refreshing, and it feels like a “new look new me” kind of thing. It also gives me immediate control over something in my life. The second is planning and running through contingencies. So in addition to murdering my hair, I’m also currently making plans about seeing a therapist who specializes in trans patients, mentally going through what I do and don’t want, etc etc. That gets me a good foundation to work from as I move forward.

  44. SJP xo*

    This person sounds like me in terms of just, loosing all motivation for a job entirely and I hate to say it OP but I was burnt out and I also just began subconciously being resentful of that job and how under valued I was… It wasn’t until I had a smalll surgery last summer and had to take 6 weeks off to recover that I realised how time away from that job meant my drive and happiness sky rocketed… then I had to go back and I hated it all over again.

    I left and started a new job and my excitment for waking up and going to a job returned, I am motivated as it’s a job entirely different from my old job in terms of sector (Secretarial but moving from Healthcare to a niche industy that’s entirely different) that I’ve combined with my knowledge of a long term hobby and I am happy again..

    So maybe PO it is something to do with the job and being burnt out from what you’re doing. It was in my experience anyway

    1. SmoothViolet*

      I’d agree with this. I lost interest in my previous favourite tasks, to the point where I could hardly force myself to focus. I got a new job with a different focus in a different industry and it has energised me again.

  45. Soph*

    I felt similarly to you, OP – I’ve been burnt out, I’ve been miserable in jobs, but I took a six month sabbatical in 2019 after I had a small windfall. I honestly think it was the best thing I’ve done – I had been so hard on myself for not going for another job, for not taking the next step up on the career ladder, but I just… didn’t want the jobs I was applying for. I had a couple of terrible interviews before I removed myself from the application game. I took some time out, budgeted v carefully, did a little bit of travelling. Then, rather than jumping back into the high focused career, I took a very low paid temping job at a place I admired, which turned into something much better and I ended up with a career change. Am I making what I was before? No. Did I struggle financially for the couple of years after the sabbatical? Yes, but some of that was down to the timing of the pandemic etc. But I’m now happier, more fulfilled, on a different path, and healthier than before. Honestly if I could advocate for anything in this world (aside from basic human rights for things like healthcare and housing etc which should be standard) then it would be for something like universal basic income – having that space for a few months meant that I came back to the workforce a different person, with different aims, better worklife balance, and am delivering better work to my employer. I would never be where I am now had I not taken that sabbatical (and had that small but important little windfall that covered my basic costs for six months).

  46. Nomnom*

    I could have written this about four years ago. I was someone very passionate about work and based my identity around my job, I had a long commute in an expensive and disfunctional city, and for the first 5 or 6 years I loved it, but then it just got to be exhausting / rat-racy / same-oldy. Now I work in a much less prestigious job, live somewhere more affordable / easier (also way less exciting, I don’t love that bit), and am much more engaged in life outside work, including volunteer groups working around issues I’m very passionate about. It probably took about two or three years to come out the other side of it, but now I’m much happier and my life feels sustainable. My advice : don’t take the job, you don’t want it and you’re lucky enough to not need it. Give yourself time to figure out the next step, it’ll come to you (and may not be what you’re expecting).

  47. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

    I think it’s helpful to take a judgment-free look at what you’d like your life to actually look like in, say, a year, or two years, and then build from there.

    I don’t do well as a full-time, not-working stay-at-home parent, especially not now that my kids are in school. Even with them home all last year, I still needed work to help fulfill me. I work as a freelancer, I love it, and the only way I’ll go back to a 9-5 is if it becomes necessary for some truly catastrophic reason. I have a lot of personal freedom that goes along with freelancing, and that, to me, is worth any potential drawbacks, including the fact that technically, work could dry up any time and I would have to go back to the drawing board.

    But that’s me.

    Do you thrive on stability? Like connecting with people in the office? Need the income from a place that’s not freelancing? At that point, it’s probably reasonable to consider what type of job you want, how you can get it, and what benefits (like, potentially, extended vacation time) might make it more worthwhile for you. You’re negotiating from a position of power since you don’t have to take a job right now, and you can take the time to figure it out before you have to dive in, which is nice. So start by looking at what you really want/what would make you feel most fulfilled, not just in work, but in life, and then work backwards to figure out how to get there.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Tour de Mont Blanc is amazing and suitable for all levels since there are busses between refuges if you don’t feel up to a tough bit

      2. Megj*

        Long distance hiking season is just starting right now in the US and our long trails (the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide Trail) are particularly wonderful for some extended (4-6 months) soul searching. I speak from experience on the PCT.

  48. generic_username*

    I feel you. It’s COVID burnout, probably. It’s been two years of never-ending low-level stress – we’re all just a little tired of living. If you’re in the financial position to stop working/freelancing and to take a month off, do it. Give yourself time to reset and to think about what you actually want to do. It also might be worth seeing a therapist – talking through what you’re feeling with a professional might help you articulate what’s missing for you

  49. Zee*

    You say this doesn’t feel like burnout you’ve had in the past – but there are different kinds of burnout. Just like being tired after a single night where you only got 2 hours of sleep feels different than being tired after a month of being short just half an hour, but every single night. You may have been burnt out during a single intense job in the past, but now you might be burnt out on working/capitalism/etc. in general.

    If you have the means, I’d say it’s okay to take time off. You might consider asking the new job (assuming you get it) if you can have a month off before you start. But it also sounds like sticking with freelancing is a really good fit for you – take time off between projects to travel and visit friends/family.


    For your second question – how to deal with a radical change in your self-image and what you want from life… well…
    My entire life growing up, I had a specific image of my life, and it revolved around my desired career. Then medical problems closed off that avenue forever. It’s TOUGH. I still randomly think about it and start crying. It’s one of those things you never really get over, but still kind of have to accept on a daily basis. A bit like how you might never love vegetables, but you still have to eat them.
    One thing that helped was to re-define part of my identity based around hobbies and other activities. Instead of having my main identity be “I’m a Llama Groomer,” I started identifying with things like “I’m a runner” and “I volunteer” and so on. Breaking it up so you don’t just have one Thing, so that in the future if something like this comes up again, it doesn’t shatter your entire self-image.

  50. NW Mossy*

    I think many professionals encounter this mid-career, particularly those who are high-achieving. You’ve completed the quick-rise portion of your career, where your expertise grows by leaps and bounds each year and you ascend the ladder speedily through accomplishments, regular promotions and job changes. It’s a cycle that’s energizing for an ambitious nature.

    Now you’re into the years where that pace slows dramatically. You’ve been moving towards this stage for decades, and you’re here! Hurray! But now you can see what “here” really looks like, and how the destination that seemed so obviously right 15 years ago doesn’t necessarily line up to the person you became over that stretch of time.

    I went through a similar turning point when I missed out on a promotion I’d been driving to and the pandemic hit less than a month later. I went into survival mode as parent to two kids, and by the time that started to lift, I’d been irrevocably changed. I just plain did not want to center work in my life the same way anymore.

    I downshifted into a part-time, non-leadership role about 18 months ago as part of my survival strategy, and it’s turned out to be an incredibly positive decision for my quality of life. It’s not feasible for everyone, but it’s allowed me to develop a deeper non-work identity. Paradoxically, the increased emotional remove from work and the rigid boundaries a part-time schedule imposes has actually made me more effective at work.

    So if you’re asking “can I ramp down and still be me?”, the answer’s yes. What you’re seeing is a doorway to being a different self with a different balance of components. That kind of change can be terrifying, but the rewards can surprise you.

    1. OP who lost the will to work*

      This really resonates with me – the journey is always so much more interesting than the destination.

  51. CCC*

    I think there are way more people who go to work and do decent work but aren’t trying to climb the ladder or add new skills than there are people who are ambitious, chasing another skill, etc. And that’s perfectly fine. I was between “professional” jobs once, and got a job at a call center. Many of the people working there didn’t have a lot of education or opportunities in life, and many of them thought the job was awesome. It was air conditioned, had breaks, clear performance metrics, ways to get raises and bonuses. It really reframed what my idea of a “good” or “professional” job was, and whether or not it was “good” to advance in your career. I came to realize that ambition or lack of does not have a moral value. It is neither good to have ambition or bad not to. You say you are neither depressed nor burnt out, so perhaps it’s a good time to reassess what values you hold. It’s okay for ambition not to be one of them. (And perhaps it will come back– I personally think people change all the time!)

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      “I came to realize that ambition or lack of does not have a moral value.”

      This needs to be shouted from the rooftops!

  52. Meow*

    I can definitely relate. I’m stuck in a dead end, thankless job with no chance of a raise. I feel like I should be more ambitious and start pursuing jobs where I can learn more, do more, and be paid better. But this job also offers a pretty flexible work/life balance, and I can read/study anything I want in my downtime.
    I feel like a new job might revitalize my passion, but I’m also afraid I’ll go get a more demanding job and find out that I’m really just not that ambitious anymore… maybe I’m just at a point where I want to focus on life outside of work.

  53. Writerboy*

    OP, I do know from experience that ambition and drive and other factors can wax and wane as we go through life. If this has never been an issue for you before, then it’s bound to feel a little disorienting. There have been times in my life when the most important thing I wanted to get from work is a feeling that what I’m doing matters.

    There were also times when I was just starting out that the day job was primarily to support my writing ambitions.

    At other times (like now), the most important thing is keeping a steady paycheque coming in while lining up remote freelance work to supplement my defined-benefit pension plan (I also live in a “socialist hellhole,” in my case, Soviet Canuckistan). I don’t need the money either, but I want to travel in comfort once I have the time to do so.

    TLDR? What you’re feeling is pretty normal but it doesn’t feel that way because it’s a new feeling for you. Doesn’t mean everyone goes through it, but lots of people do.

  54. EngGirl*

    As someone who is both struggling with a lack of drive compared to my younger (more academic) self but who is not as well positioned as OP to be able to take a break I have to say that I am both incredibly empathetic and incredibly jealous.

    It’s… really really rough to wake up one day and look in the mirror and at the world and life around you and just think “why am I doing this? Why does this no longer bring me a sense of joy and accomplishment”

    I can’t say what the OP should do, but I can say what I would like to think I’d do if I was in OPs position. Take the time. Give yourself 3 months and just do what ever strikes your fancy. Travel. Try new things. Take an online class in something you’ve always been curious about but never had the time to pursue. See if there is something else out there that you can be passionate about. If you haven’t found it in 3 months reevaluate.

    I’d also suggest therapy. Sometimes having someone to bounce your thoughts off of and who’s job is to help you learn about yourself is what you really need.

  55. Tara*

    Alot of people over the last several decades (myself included) have thrown themselves into the idea of being driven, career focused and the being the best because that what’s supposed to be rewarding. But we are finding that the company we have poured our energy into is not giving back the same energy. If you were to die tomorrow, the company would just replace you with no fanfare. The companies (in general, of course) have trained us to give up everything for them, and they give little in return. And I’ve known far too many people who died in their first few years of retirement because they sacrificed their health for their job.

    I struggled at a mega corporation and went back to school for a totally new field. I have now worked at tiny companies, giant ones and even the government. I like my current job and company. They are good to me. But I know they can replace me easily. I’m still not happy. I am making money to keep a roof over my head.

    May I suggest taking a step back and thinking about what you want from life? Not from your career, but your whole life. Do you want to work until your 65 because you like the job? Do you want to travel all the time? Have you always wondered if you could do somethings not profitable, but makes you happy? I know for myself that plain ole working doesn’t make me happy. So I am figuring out how to retire before age 50. I’ve already put in 25 years in the labor force. That feels like enough.

    In short, your company isn’t going to take care of you. Only you can take care of you. And what do you want out of life?

  56. Spearmint*

    When I read this, my immediate, flippant reaction was “welcome to life as a normal person!” But I actually think that gets at the heart of what’s going on here. Your younger self was an unusually driven and ambitious person who found a lot of meaning in work, which means that you have no previous experience with feeling ambivalence about work. Those feelings of ambivalence you have, though, are actually much more common than your youthful drive. Most people have mixed feelings about work. Most people derive most of their life’s meaning from non-work things. Most people would probably want to take long breaks from working if they could.

    I say all this because I think recognizing that these feelings are very common may help you learn to deal with them. So I would recommend that you look at people in your life who you love and/or admire who *don’t* derive most of their life’s meaning from work. What non-work things do they do to find meaning in life? What do they prioritize? I’m not saying you have to copy their lifestyles, but it may help you think about how you can find meaning and fulfillment outside of work. And once you start figuring out how to find more meaning and fulfillment in non-work things, then perhaps your ambivalence about working won’t bother you as much anymore , and you can accept it and make work a relatively lower priority in your life.

  57. Ravine*

    I can see why you’d eventually lose your drive if you’ve worked in a “very narrow specialty” for a long time. Maybe your brain is just crying out for something new, even if you’re still good at the thing you’re doing. You don’t need to keep doing something just because you’re good at it.

    Also, a lot has been written about the “hedonic treadmill,” and about how reaching milestones never leads to lasting happiness. We’re often driven by thoughts of “once I get that promotion, things will be great” and “once the book is out, I’ll be ecstatic,” but those effects are temporary, forcing us to set new goals and start again, and again, and again. Since you’ve achieved so much, I wonder if you’ve subconsciously learned that (true, sustainable) happiness doesn’t come from the achievements themselves. If so, it would be understandable if achievement-chasing lost its appeal. And that’s okay! There are other — arguably better — ways of being fulfilled.

    If you still want to achieve things, though, there’s a recent book you might find useful: “From Strength To Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, And Deep Purpose In The Second Half Of Life” by Arthur C. Brooks. I admit I haven’t read it, but I know the premise from the author’s column and podcast. One of the blurbs seems fitting: “From Strength to Strength is a wise and inspiring guide to reimagining the rest of your life. If you’re a striver tired of striving, this remarkable book is for you.”

  58. Honor Harrington*

    OP, I feel this so hard. I too have always been the intense, goal-driven go-getter achieving success and defining myself by what I was doing. And I just don’t care about it anymore.

    In the past 3 years, I’ve dealt with family deaths, family trauma, working in Diversity and Inclusion which has made me see both my company and my world differently, working in HR which has made me see my company differently. Plus I realize now that I had bought into all these beliefs about how the world had to work – and Covid lockdowns proved that the world would continue without those things. I no longer believe the old path and the old goals are viable. I don’t believe the old promises of rewards will happen if I just Work Hard, so I don’t want to make the old sacrifices of 60+ hours weeks. My identify had been entwined with this at work, in my social life, etc. And who am I if I am not that person anymore?

    I am not sure how to figure out who the New Me is, but I know I won’t discover her over night. I have to build her, day by day and choice my choice. The new Me did a weekend trip with old friends I hadn’t seen in years, and it was (to my shock) a lot of fun. The new Me is going on vacation somewhere awesome. The new Me is left work after 8 hours yesterday, and went to the gym. I feel guilty about it all, like I’m doing something wrong. But I also am beginning to have a vision of all the things I would do with my time and energy if I didn’t have to work.

    Don’t take the job. Take the time. Figure out who you want to be. Figure out a new vision for your life. You can always go back to work and get another job. What you can’t do is waste the time building a new future. You deserve that new future. You are in the privileged position of being able to figure it out now. Take advantage of that. You bought the time to build a new life with everything you sacrificed in your old life. Do it! And come back and tell the rest of us what you learned when you are done, so we can do it too.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. OP who lost the will to work*

      Thank you so much for this comment! And best of luck in your own quest; it sounds like you’re rocking it:).

  59. Wonderlanded*

    I had a similar issue at 27, took a break from a demanding career (film), ended up taking some part time work unrelated to my degree/ career, and ended up finding it fascinating. I worked part time for a couple years, then decided I wanted to make it my new career and now 11 years later I’m a VP at a household name tech company in said accidental second career. But having the time to work part time and learn to bake and garden and connect with family made it possible for me to know when I wanted to “lean in” and overachieve again.

  60. Chris too*

    You’re writing this question to a great advisor on all things work-related, and it’s being read by people who are interested in such things, but I’d argue in the broader picture that our society and culture isn’t as focussed on work as you think. It’s just that you’ve historically plugged into the part of our society that is, and paid less attention to the parts of it that aren’t. Connections with family and friends, and time to do things you enjoy, would be considered more important by most people I know than a big “career,” provided you can earn a living.

    I think this pandemic made people realize life is too short to spend it chasing “success.” A sabbatical sounds like a great idea for you. Travel, reconnect with people, enjoy yourself! Think about how much you do and don’t miss working at a career type job, while carrying on with the freelancing. If you are meant to have the kind of big, consuming job you’re talking about, you will feel a tug back to it. I hope you find a balance that makes you happy.

  61. Jessica Fletcher*

    If you can afford to take time off to rest, travel, do whatever, and that’s what you want, do it! Sounds like an absolute dream come true!

    Do it and let us know how it was!

  62. bunniferous*

    It sounds like what you need more than anything is a change of pace. Midlife reevaluation is a thing. As we get older, our values change, what we consider most important in life changes. You’re not the only one fwiw. And yes, it’s not exactly depression (although I want to point out for others that a person can be depressed without actually feeling sad, even if it is not the case here.)

  63. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I know where you’re coming from OP, part of why I spent a long time unemployed a few years back (that and major health problems but yeah, my drive was gone).

    I ended up changing my job from techie to manager. Turns out having a bit more oversight on things stopped me feeling so much like a cog in the machine.

    Additionally I composed a list of the things that make me want to go to work in the past like:
    Finding a new unheard of problem to fix
    Having a big complex job to do but knowing I have the skills to do it easily
    Making order out of chaos
    A constant moving environment with lots to do and little downtime
    And, yeah, having enough spare dosh in the bank to afford little luxuries like fixing my PC.

    I did once change my career entirely (virologist to IT tech) and I was surprised how much I actually loved the new work compared to the old one. Kinda reignited a lot of things.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Also – something my mother taught me: you’re never too old to change your mind. Perfectly okay to decide you don’t want something you previously did.

    2. Esmeralda*

      I really like this, Keymaster. I recently had an interview unexpectedly fall in my lap (a friend passed on my resume), and the first thing I did was make a list of my values, and then a list of nonnegotiables in work environment. And then I looked closely at the employer to see if it matched. And only then did I prep for the interview.

      I know I am privileged to be able to do this and decide whether to interview or not. Not everyone can do that. I just feel I am too far along to waste any time on work that is meaningless to me. I wish everyone could do this. If the OP can, they should.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        It really does help to clarify things doesn’t it! I’ve had a few opportunities to interview for jobs where I’ve taken a closer look and they just don’t excite me, or they are e.g. too far away (I have decided the maximum regular daily commute I’m willing to do these days is 20 miles. Not negotiable).

        There’s also a list of firms that absolutely no way am I ever working for again. And the reasons why.

  64. She of Many Hats*

    As others have said, even a radical change to your perception of self is okay. When you were young you had your own and others’ expectations of goals, success, and career. You’ve met them, often exceeding at least your own expectations. Now is a good time to evaluate what you expect and want from **yourself **- not what others expect of you which is baggage we often don’t realize we still carry decades later. You have the resources of money & time to do it so travel a bit, explore areas of interest even if they’re way outside your current career path. You may find a new passion.

  65. I'll Take The Hellhole*

    I can’t imagine calling a good social safety net and the opportunity to spend some time to rest and do what you want in life a “hellhole” so maybe start with re-framing how you’re thinking about this

    1. Teatime*

      I think that was sarcasm framed around how some conservative politicians paint ‘socialism’.

  66. RinaL*

    I know the feeling. I am at this crossroad myself. Over-ambitious, got degrees while working fulltime AND having kids and suffering from chronic depression. If I tell somebody what I have done over the last 20 years, the normal reaction is sheer disbelief, followed by „Wow, I couldn‘t have done that..“

    Now I have a very nice job that will drive me sooner or later into boreout (no typo), really well paid, flexible hours so I get to go home early enough to see my kids. I do literally nothing most of the day, a productive day means I can write one email. A part of me wants to run away screaming and is constantly looking for a job, where I can burn again for work.. the other part is sitting there daily, asking me if this isn‘t the best thing for the current situation with Covid and little kids. Haven‘t gotten an answer from myself so far..

    My advice would be: If you have the luxury of being financially independent, do what you really want to do. There is no such thing as a perfect CV, it all boils down to „what makes you happy and what is feasible in your current life“.

  67. emmaX*

    If you can afford it, you should absolutely turn down the job and live your life.

    I can relate somewhat. I used to work a lot and love it. I would bounce into work and turn out a 14 hour day and bounce home. Now? I have a decent job, financial stability and I’m relishing my vacation time and evenings off and planning for longer trips and life outside of work.

    I don’t know if it is the same for you but when I was younger I was surrounded by other cheerful, driven, ambitious people establishing our careers. Work and social life overlapped and I got both my intellectual stimulation and a lot of friendly people time.

    Now, I am still surrounded by excellent professionals, but the job is more political, work-life boundaries are firm, much needs to be left unsaid during coffee with work friends. This is very very good for a functional office, but it means that a large part of my core personality (irreverent, sarcastic, authority poking, dark humour) has to stay at home while I’m at work.

    I have friends outside of work now. It wasn’t easy. Making friends in middle age takes effort, but I prioritized it and
    invited people to things and made it happen.

    I don’t know if this applies to you, but I think that time to find what makes you tick is super important.

  68. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    I feel you OP. I went through the same thing with university. I was a Systems Engineering major in my 30s, and two panic attacks during finals hit me hard. And when the pandemic came along, the lack of self awareness and disdain from my university authorities (I could write a long rant about it) made me realise this side quest was not for me anymore, and quitted. It wasn’t a easy choice, and people around me questioned me, but I’m at peace with it.
    Take your time.

  69. blair waldorf*

    I don’t “have” to work, and a few years back I was burnt out and sick of working. So I went back to school and studied something I found interesting. It gave me purpose/something to work towards, but I found it fun/engaging and…not work. Try to turn your “passion lightbulb” back on, and you don’t necessarily need a 9-5 for that.

  70. Specks*

    I went through this a few years ago — I was burned out, depressed (with meds barely keeping me afloat), and dreading job interviews that were going well. I also grew up with absolutely no money, so deliberately not working was a big mental hurdle. But, I took a look at my finances and took a few months off to travel — thankfully, although I’m not in a country that has any support at all, I actually found that it’s cheaper to be abroad and I didn’t have kids at the time to take care of, so a few thousand would go a very long way. I couldn’t recommend it more. It was one of the best times of my life, traveling solo around Asia, and it really helped me beat depression and find joy in life again. I actually ended up traveling for less time than I’d planned, since a “perfect” job came up and I was actually excited to apply for once. Got the job, came back, and established a much better work-life balance than I had before. Unfortunately, covid threw it all for a loop since and that job (which was my favorite ever) is long gone, but that period really helped me be ok with not being such a high achiever and helped me find joy in other things in life. So please, please do yourself a favor and take as much time off as you can, see the world, meet amazing people, rediscover yourself. Few people have this privilege and it sounds like you’ve worked hard to get yourself there. Enjoy it.

  71. morethanbeingtired*

    I have also had this shift and I realized it’s because I no longer want to live to work, I want to work to live. My job used to provide 90% of all my stimulation, fulfillment and socialization in life. After a layoff and the pandemic, I have realized I can’t have that anymore and that I should seek the opposite. My personal life should make up most of my socialization, fulfillment and stimulation. When it is, I suddenly am better at work because I want to do good work in order to fund and round out my personal life! It sounds like you have a great opportunity to focus on building your personal life after so many years of focusing on building your career. Take advantage of this opportunity! No one dies thinking “I wish I’d worked more.” Your value is not determined by your productivity. You have one life on this Earth and do not feel guilty one bit if you don’t want it to revolve around your work. Not all of us have a great passion or mission in our work and that is 100% okay. Life is what happens outside of work. Having that shift in identity where you feel defined by your work and ambition can be scary, but connect with your friends and family to tap into your true identity. You are so much more than your work. Best of luck.

  72. TeaCoziesRUs*

    TL;DR – advice about the journey into the Second Half of Life ahead. Feel free to bypass if spirituality is not your cup of tea. OP, I hope you find lots of wisdom and grace in all of the comments here! I’ve already seen some great ones!

    I have been in this journey for a while of figuring out who I am, versus how I used to define myself (as what I DO, who I KNOW, or what I HAVE – Thomas Merton’s three lies by which we define ourselves). Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think you might be on the cusp of this journey – it’s the feeling of, “Well… I’ve done everything society says I need to do in order to be successful… but now what??”

    First, if that question resonates with you, I’d encourage you to pick up Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. I have read through this book so many times that my copy is tattered and torn, but it has helped me tremendously. Although Rohr is a Franciscan priest, this book is written more as an invitation into a deeper spiritual journey, regardless of the face of God you worship. I’ve met Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and New Age figures all working through the existential questions Rohr brings up.

    I also find this a better area for a spiritual director’s insight, rather than a regular therapist. Most therapists I’ve worked with are great at handling crisis mode, but didn’t help as much when I needed to do deeper, soul-healing work. I’m of a more mystical / Contemplative bent, so I’ve found quite a bit of wisdom in these paths. OP, I have no clue which Face of God you see, or even if you see one… but it might be worth seeing if there is a monastery or retreat space where you can simply start to learn who you ARE when you let what you DO / HAVE / who you know stop defining you. Franciscan and Benedictine are my cups of tea, but seek out whatever pops up in your area! I’d go to a Buddhist or Hindu temple if one were near me, because they have much wisdom to teach my Western Catholic-leaning mind!

    If this is where your road is leading, then congratulations and my condolences! The Second Half of Life journey is not for the faint of heart but the blessings found within it outweigh the pain of releasing who you thought you were. :)

    1. Santiago*

      Your comment was just what I needed to hear. I’ve been going through some medical stuff that is making me reevaluate my career goals, and I’ve heard Merton and Rohr’a names many a time (lived at a monastery once.) excited to check it out. Cheers :)

      1. TeaCoziesRUs*

        Aww, yay!! Falling Upward is a great place to start – Rohr was a student of Merton, although I’m not sure they ever met. I’d love to hear what you think!

  73. LadyA*

    I used to be way more ambitious than I am now–not quite the level of OP, but working several jobs at once and also chairing committees for professional development. At one point, I had two days off a month, and I had no idea what to do when I wasn’t working.
    I don’t have the financial ability to stop working, but once I got a full-time job doing exactly what I want to do, I started actively cultivating meaningful hobbies. I also stopped doing so much extra above and beyond the 35 hours I’m obliged to work per week. If OP is fairly confident they can find another job in the future, maybe take some time away from work and just explore other ways to spend time. OR, take the job, but be deliberate about setting hard boundaries between work and personal time, and stick to them! If you set good habits right from the beginning, they will be more likely to stick (unless new job has a culture of being on 24/7, which doesn’t seem like it would be a good fit long term).

  74. Mx Burnout*

    This could have been me last year — when I quit a high-paying, high-profile position in my field working with people I cared deeply about on work that really mattered, every day, and I just could. not. do. it. for. one. more. day. It wasn’t depression or burnout (although I would caution LW that if you aren’t finding things in general that spark joy for you, you might be teetering on depression aside from this work issue) it was just that after striving for nearly 20 years to be a leader in my field/skillset, I realized that my career was not the source of identity + fulfillment I had thought it was supposed to be. I didn’t want to work. I wanted to spend time doing creative pursuits when I wanted to, and … not do anything else the rest of the time unless it sounded great. I banked a ton of savings and have a partner who makes enough to support both of us, and just bailed.

    The first few months were really, really hard. I took a couple of freelance gigs that were a lot like the job I’d quit, even though I promised myself I wouldn’t, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to be working and making money to be a valuable person. It’s only been in the last month or so that I’ve allowed myself to say no to work I don’t need or want, and to focus at my leisure on the creative outlet I’m passionate about (and it turns out that “at my leisure” is more or less treating it like a full-time job, but one that I love and don’t want to put down at the end of the day!).

    I’ve also been working on getting an ADHD diagnosis, and that’s also been really helpful in reframing how/why I worked at such a breakneck-burnout pace for so long (keeping my brain occupied with new! shiny! things! all! the! time!) and in helping me think about why my “must work/only valuable if working” mindset is so tied to my thirsty brain (because it will run off the rails if I don’t keep it occupied).

    tl;dr don’t take the new job! enjoy your savings and your socialist hellhole (lol) and be a person of leisure for a while and see what happens

  75. Generic Name*

    You have savings, you’re a freelancer, you can get a job whenever you want, and you want to travel. What if you travelled, spent your savings a little, freelanced when you feel like you need money, and then when (if?) you’re tired of travel, pick a place to live and get a job? There is absolutely nothing wrong with this lifestyle. I think it sounds fabulous! If you grew up a certain way where your whole family and surrounding culture told you that you need to get a career, find a spouse, buy a house, and then start a family (in this precise order, of course), well, it can be hard to give yourself permission to do anything beyond this one path. Sure, life looks like this for a lot of people who are very happy living this way, but it’s not for everyone. The good news is, as an adult, you get to pick how you live your life. Think of it as the ultimate freedom, rather than a failing that you aren’t hard-charging ambitious all the time. It’s okay not to want to work all the time.

    1. Momma Bear*

      This sounds like an excellent idea and a great way to fill a resume if you don’t want a big gap. I freelanced for a bit and was able to fairly easily transition back into a FT role. They just wanted to know that I could and I assured them I was ready. The experiences OP could get from travel and freelancing may prove very beneficial to future roles.

  76. goforit*

    I agree with the others here that this does sound like a different type of burnout. OP, you sound unhappy at the idea of taking this job. I know it’s hard not to take a steady income when you come from a low income background, but you sound very prepared to take some time for yourself. I think the second part of your question – how do you adjust to your new self image – will come once you’re happier. Right now it will continue to feel like you’re supposed to have a job. The only way you’ll know whether there’s another way, and whether that way will work for you, is to take the leap. When making a financial leap of some kind, I remind myself that I clawed my way out of poverty once. I can do it again if I have to, and it’ll probably be a lot easier because I have a playbook now. I hope that helps you as you consider not taking this job.
    Just remember that time is really going to be your friend here. This feels crappy right now, and it will take some adjustment. You sound like someone who is thoughtful and considerate of all your priorities and responsibilities. I think you’ll land on your feet, and maybe get to enjoy life a little more in the process.

  77. Nikki*

    I’ve always been an extremely driven person overall. I push myself hard at work and in my free time and love staying busy and feeling like I’m always accomplishing a lot. Every so often, I’ll have a few months where I just…lose that drive and passion for staying busy. I’m still performing well at work, I just don’t go above and beyond as much, and most of the things that keep me busy in my free time fall to the wayside. I’m actually in one of those phases right now. Like the LW, it’s not depression exactly, just a feeling of ennui. I think it’s my body telling me it’s feeling overworked and it’s time to take a break, so I give in to the feeling and don’t make myself feel bad for not accomplishing as much as I normally do. I know in a few months I’ll feel more rested and my drive to accomplish things will pick up again.

  78. Astro Steve*

    This sounds like I wrote it, OP, though I live in a “red state”. I don’t want to be too political, but I do feel like I’m tired of being a cog in a capitalist machine. This pandemic, along with my parents advancing age, has just turned me off the entire concept of driving into an office and sitting under fluorescent lights. I’m not opposed to work, but I am opposed to *having* to work. I want to be creative and make things, but I also live in a system where I need a steady paycheck to say, get a new apartment in a rapidly gentrifying area, or get health insurance in my middle age. Again, I don’t want to jump onto a soapbox, but I do think the issue is society, not you or me.

    1. Hunnybee*

      Amen. Being crushed in the corporate machine is not a reasonable substitute for the life opportunities you miss. Especially when that involves family, aging parents, etc.

    2. TeaCoziesRUs*

      Anne Helen Peterson has been doing an incredible deep dive into the culture of work for work’s sake / negative aspects of capitalism for a while, particularly in her Substack community. She might be an interesting newsletter to check out. :)

  79. Esmeralda*

    Do it! I was you for a long time (without the novels). Then my child got very very sick. I tried to stay on the ambition track, had to step off, and then when I had the time and bandwidth to step back on — I just, didn’t.

    Other things became more important, especially family. So I stayed off the ambition track. Sometimes it’s frustrating, because I don’t have the position to make certain things happen. But I get over that pretty quickly.

    I’m still working. My job has gotten less enjoyable (only partly due to the pandemic), but I’m making a lateral move into a position that I think will bring back the enjoyable parts that have been removed from my current position. If it’s not right, I’ll retire and probably pick up some part time remote work.

    Life’s too short to spend 1/3 of your hours every day on meh. If you can do something else, you should do it. Do it now, and enjoy it.

  80. Ellie*

    I was once a very ambitious person in the first field I went into. For me, at that time, retail management was important to me as I was helping young people build work skills, resumes, and job experience. And then it stopped being important to me. A major school system in my community went free to state residents, so we had less young people needing work. I was thrilled for the students, but it left an aching hole in my heart. Work had very little meaning and I was beginning to have panic attacks going to work. There had been some gunfire in my mall – and while I was not on shift when it happened – it was pretty hard to get up and go to work. Maybe if I felt like what I did mattered, it would have been different.

    So I stopped working. I was incredibly lucky in that we lived simply and my husband’s job could pay the bills. I went back to school and obtained an advanced degree and immediately started working in my field. And you know what? My ambition came back. Stronger than it was before. In a way, I felt a purpose I hadn’t felt in a long time and that feeling helped me through the past six years.

    If LW feels the job doesn’t provide meaningful work, then perhaps some time off is needed to figure out what types of work does provide meaning.

  81. Don't be long-suffering*

    There are lots of us out here who choose not to pursue greater financial goals. Instead, we are focused on travel, on making the world a better place, on relationships, or whatever we ARE passionate about. You sound well equipped to find your new passion and soar with it.
    As for handling the sea change, it’s a bit at a time. When we decided to sell house and possessions to travel full time, it took over a year to accomplish. We started small and could have stopped at any point. We kept feeling happier at each new point so we kept going.
    You may find it useful to think about what you do want, make a vision board (sounds lame until you try it), read some blogs and articles from people who changed life utterly.
    Remember that you need only to answer to your gut and your heart. They don’t want that job. Ask them what they do want.
    Grow and fly, friend. Enjoy.

  82. Morticia*

    There’s nothing wrong with how you feel. I used to be in a career that I loved. I would work all day, and go home and do the same thing on a personal project at night. For 2 decades, I was very happy and successful. Then, the little things that were pretty much always a part of it really started getting to me. I realised that I was completely burned out (and honestly in a very bad place mentally and emotionally). I thought about it, realised that I wanted to completely change careers, and retired from that profession. Two years later, I am very happily self-employed. I’m not making much money, and mostly living on savings, but things are picking up, and I don’t dread going to work each day.

    I’ve had recruiters contact me from my old profession, but it doesn’t matter what they’d offer me, I’m not going back. Change and rest are both good.

  83. RosyGlasses*

    Writer, I have gone through this for the past two years. I am 43 (ripe for midlife crisis) and have always been (and probably always will be, an overachiever. I’ve been in a wonderful job for awhile that has, on paper, provided me everything I’ve asked for (except a higher salary – but there are tradeoffs at times for that!).

    Mine was complicated by burnout (which I acknowledge is not where you are at) and taking a 30 day leave of absence was what I needed. I needed to step away, completely detach from work, really think about where my identity was coming from and consider coping mechanisms to help me find the joy again in my work. I don’t have an answer – other than to say – this is a real thing. Being in a place that for all intents and purposes is “right” and just … not feeling it. But mindset accounts for quite a bit, and so far I’ve been able to keep in a positive place since I returned and focus on the little things that I really enjoy instead of letting myself feel weary about EVERYTHING.

    I’m sure that part of what many of us are experiencing is in no small part due to the current economic, political, societal climate we find ourselves in. If you’re in your 40s — the world was a very different place, job success was visioned differently, many of us were told “hey, get good grades in HS so you can get into a good college, get your degree and you’ll get a great job and have financial security and a house with 2.5 kids” — and then for many of us… that has just not materialized for a variety of societal reasons we can’t control.

    I sympathize and I think the best advice I could give is to listen to your body and take the break if you need it. It just might be what your mind and body needs to find equilibrium.

  84. Catonymous*

    I’ve been feeling in the same boat; in addition to some mental and physical health problems, I just am very tired of working – even work I’m excited about feels deeply burdensome when I actually have to sit down and do it.

    For myself, I classify it as burnout. But however LW classifies it, I think taking a break is an excellent idea.

    I sometimes “joke” (narrator: it’s never a joke) that we ALL need a really long vacation after the past two years. Even if nothing bad has happened *to you*, it’s been a long, heavy weirdness. Friends who’ve gotten new jobs or promotions have been kind of, “yay, I guess?” about them. If I could take a several months long break right now, I wouldn’t hesitate.

    As for shifting identities – I’ve had to alter many of my self-perceptions for various reasons (at 16 I was an overachiever, good christian kid who was going to get married by 20 to a future church leader, graduate university with honours and no debt etc.) …hello basically-an-atheist, nearly 40 and unmarried self who is STILL paying off the degree I almost didn’t finish because I became severely depressed partway through.

    I like the idea someone else mentioned of taking time away to reflect. And then doing that regularly forever, because we don’t just become something and then stay that way. It’s exciting and scary, and very cool that LW isn’t just pretending to themselves that everything is FINE and distracting themselves with work until either they can’t anymore or they retire into a life that feels alien.

  85. Quoting Bronte*

    This reminds me of a quote from Jane Eyre, “During these eight years my life was uniform, but not unhappy, because it was not inactive…I availed myself fully of the advantages offered me…but at the end of that time I altered…I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon.”

    Just because everything looks great on paper in our lives, doesn’t mean it’s what we actually want or need. People change, often. It’s easy to get caught up in the achieving and then wake up one day and realize you want something different. There’s no shame in that. Travel, meet new people, try new things, give yourself a fresh perspective on what you want now. Maybe you will come back refreshed for your current work, maybe you will want to change careers. Life is long (if we are lucky), you shouldn’t stay stuck in something that makes you miserable if you have the means to escape it.

  86. Momma Bear*

    People grow and change and their priorities, wants, and needs change as well. Your driven nature may have been in part due to fear as much as personality. It sounds like what is “worth” the most to you now is…you. And that’s perfectly fine. I also grew up with not a lot and have decided that my mental health is worth more than money. If I can pay my bills, have a little to play with, then I’m OK. I had to learn to change what is “OK.” You might benefit from therapy to deal with a scarcity mindset in the face of …not scarcity. You described it as a romance gone cold. Just like with people, sometimes the career you thought you wanted turns out in the long run to not really be what you need. IMO allow yourself to value your time, your leisure, your mental health, your family, your friendships…anything that makes you happy outside of the office. To continue that analogy, a good person at the wrong time is still not the *right* person, and likewise a good job at the wrong time is not the *right* job for you in that moment. It’s OK to pass it by.

    I took a break from working FT when my kid was small in part because my salary did not compensate me enough for the lost time with my family or the damage to my mental health. I came back FT a few years later and have steadily improved my jobs since. You can pivot until you find your new direction. You are not less successful for taking stock and saying, “I need this now.” My only regret about my bad job was not leaving it sooner.

    Good luck, OP. I think you’ll be fine.

  87. Starbuck*

    Lots of good advice here but I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned that a change this drastic is worth a medical investigation just to rule that out! Check in with a doctor if you can. I’ve heard of people with similar attitude changes that ended up being the result of hormone fluctuations. Not to say that your feelings aren’t reasonable, considering the world we live in of course.

    1. anxiousUndergrad*

      For sure. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in October and it definitely made me feel less driven and just generally not like myself. I missed a lot of the signs because the symptoms started in March 2020, so I just figured that it was all pandemic related. After I started the medication I realized how many psychological and physical symptoms I was having.

      1. londonedit*

        Absolutely. I have the opposite, hyperthyroidism, also diagnosed in October! My consultant specifically said not to make any big decisions when my thyroid is out of whack.

  88. Asenath*

    1. Yes, you’re allowed to turn down a job offer – for any reason, really, but not wanting the job and not needing it for survival are two excellent reasons.

    2. I think you need to reflect a bit on the “current version” of you. It sounds like this version kind of snuck up on you when you weren’t looking, but I sometimes think that everything that I am or could be is still me, and if I notice myself doing something completely unexpected, I try to figure out why that previously unsuspected part of me is surfacing right now. Is there something I’m doing that kind of, well, “turned it loose”, or am I trying to tell myself that there’s something I’m missing that part of me really needs? I realize this makes me sound like very confused; I don’t have the vocabulary to express the idea well. But when I had to make a really major change, there was some part of me that knew that what I was doing wasn’t working entirely, while my sane, sensible side was thinking “I need a steady job, I need to hold on to this particular steady job….” Well, yes. I do need a good deal of stability in my life, but that particular job was really doing a number on me. And part of me knew that. So maybe this “current version” of you is trying to tell you something.

  89. catwhisperer*

    I am also a very driven, A-type personality who grew up (and spent my 20s) under the poverty line and something similar also happened to me in the past year. It’s very weird to go from having your life revolving around work for decades to not caring about it at all. I was fortunate enough to be able to take 3 months off between jobs to travel and recharge, so I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted the next phase of my life to look like. Ultimately I came to the decision that I wanted to prioritise my hobbies and re-explore things I loved before entering into the working world instead of prioritising work projects and output. From a day-to-day perspective, that looks like having a hard stop to my workday, activities planned after work almost every day (much like my extracurriculars in high school), and spending a lot of time doing the things that brought me joy in middle and high school (like blasting ridiculous pop punk and reading book series I used to love). I’m much happier now than I was during my last job and it sounds like a similar approach of rest -> goal reframing -> new activity plan implementation might also be beneficial to you.

  90. Ruby*

    I could have written both the OP and many of the comments here, except I have (on paper) a “good” job, great pay, flexibility, and a good boss. I just… don’t care about it. I’m looking down another 20 years working to make a corporation money, then maybe 15 years in retirement, and that’s it? That’s my whole life?

    I don’t have any answers but wanted to say you’re not alone.

  91. Sparkles McFadden*

    Kindred spirit here, LW. Thank you for asking this question. My reply may be too long because you’ve touched a nerve.

    I think part of this is a thing that happens when you’re someone who is determined to reach particular goals, and it’s especially the case when you are from modest circumstances. No matter how hard you work and what you achieve, you feel as if you may miss an opportunity if you slow down. Being busy and productive becomes so familiar, that when you have less to do you feel oddly guilty about not doing as much as you possibly can.

    The other part is something that happens as you get older. When I turned forty, I became very selective about the people I spent time with. I thought “I have limited time and I don’t want to deal with this exhausting person anymore.” When I turned fifty, I stopped worrying about a lot of things. Nothing seemed to carry the weight it used to. That attitude couldn’t have come at a better time. I got laid off from my long-time career and I had to care for sick parents. I became their live-in help until they died…and then came covid. I was more than happy to hole up in my house and try to decide what would come next.

    When I had an interview for a job that was perfect on paper, the interview went great. I turned the job down because I just didn’t want what I used to want. It surprised me. When they called back and said “Are you sure you don’t want to accept our offer?” I thought (but did not say) “I’d rather eat ground glass.” Again, that was a surprise and I even tried to make myself feel bad about turning down the “perfect” job. I decided to follow my gut and stop worrying about unraveling the mystery of what changed. What does a driven person do when she doesn’t have concrete goals anymore? I don’t actually know, yet.

    …and I have decided that is totally OK. I’ve spent my life doing everything that needed to be done. I even did things other people should have been doing. I felt happy and fulfilled doing all of those things. That’s not who I am now. I have accepted that but I, like you, miss the old me and how driven she was. I am making my peace with all of this very slowly, and I think that’s OK too.

    I wish you all the best LW.

    1. OP who lost the will to work*

      You’re spot on in this comment – especially about the lack of ability to turn down an opportunity and feeling guilty when not being constantly productive. May we both get to know our new selves; maybe they’re awesome:).

  92. OP who lost the will to work*

    Dear commentariat: I just want to thank you so much for your input. There are so many thoughtful and inspiring comments here that I want to give all of you a heartfelt thumbs up. I’m reading them all; if I don’t get around to responding, just know that I’m both inspired and very grateful.

    Update about the job: I withdrew from the interview process – and it was such a relief. I haven’t had even the slightest bit of panic about the financial side of it (which is highly unusual for me). Just the opposite; I think it’s time for me to sit back and take a break. I’ll be travelling before my next freelance gig, and I’m thinking of living abroad for a couple of months after that. I think it’s about time to have a good hard look at how happiness looks to me.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Very glad to hear this, OP. Best wishes to you for what comes next — whatever that turns out to be.

    2. dresscode*

      Kudos on taking a look around before jumping into the job. I hope your travel and experiences bring you enthusiasm for your next step, whatever it is! Keep up updated. :)

    3. Morticia*

      That’s wonderful to hear. I understand about the financial panic. I was once given nearly a full year’s pay for severance after a layoff, so I figured I would at least take the summer off to relax. I sent out my first resume the following day.

      Retiring was scary, but intellectually I knew I had it covered. I think time helps give us perspective.

    4. LC*

      Acknowledging that relief is so important. Sometimes we don’t really know how we feel about a choice until we actually make a decision and see how we react to it.

      So much good luck and happy thoughts and well wishes to you!

  93. HannahS*

    I wonder if some of your previous passion had to do with underlying beliefs about productivity? Did it feel awesome to get two concurrent master degrees while working a part-time job because you adored both of the degrees and the job was too great to pass up, or was there also maybe a “high” from being so productive and successful–something that’s really highly valued by our society? I know you aren’t experiencing burnout in the way that you did before, but I wonder if you’re feeling a bit of the accumulated exhaustion of being super duper productive for a long time while also becoming a bit disillusioned about that time in your life. Or even just plain tired and ready for a change.

    I’m in a profession that’s rife with high expectation, high-achievers, and high burnout rates. It took me a long time to admit to myself that I am not interested in all the signs of a high-performer–the research conferences, the publishing, the academic appointments, the MScs and PhDs. And also, I love the actual work, but a lot of what I do is not my favourite part of my job. I am not fulfilled by playing phone tag with people and filling out forms and talking to IT and trying to stay on top of the endless administration of my job but all of those things take time. And I’m feeling very “over” my job because I don’t want to wake up at 6:30. I know people who worked passionately in jobs that they loved and then fell out of love simply because they got older and were no longer interested in working long hours in the travel-heavy contract jobs that were glamorous and exciting at 23.

    You can also just be ready for a change. You didn’t marry your job; there’s no requirement to rekindle the passion.

  94. Just Me*

    OP, I think a ton of people are going through this right now–that could be one of the reasons so many people are leaving their jobs. I do think that many of us were stuck at home working during the pandemic, so our work became one of the only things really going on in our lives, and it caused many people to ask, “Is this what I want? Why do I put up with this?” Because money isn’t an issue right now, have you thought about just doing something fun you’ve always wanted to do (teach English in a foreign country, freelance part time with a charity you like, do a working holiday, etc.)? It could be a nice reset for the time being.

  95. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP, did you love the work you did or did you love the crazy level of activity it provided? Maybe the most dreadful part of the job is the structure. Two degrees while working, multiple novels simultaneously…You may just not be a 9-5er.
    You make a comparison to a romantic relationship. I think you should look at that further. Maybe you are not the “marrying kind,” and function better when you can play the field, not be committed to one thing. If you could do the work this position entails for two or three companies over the next year, would you sign up for all of them and be excited?
    Do you not want to do the work or do you not want to settle down in one place to do it?
    Just one more thing to think about.

    1. OP who lost the will to work*

      Thank you for that input! I think I might, in fact, be very happy as a serial adulterer, professionally speaking. I might have to work a bit on that terminology, though…

      1. OrigCassandra*

        The character Elena in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series (um, minor spoiler warning, nothing plot-critical) turns aside from a career she had doggedly pursued in the early books. When asked why, she talks about an older character Cordelia Vorkosigan’s broad and varied career and life experiences, and sums up “I want to see what ELSE I can be.”

        I’ve always liked that. The series is good (though it does have a couple of standalone clunkers), and several of its books hinge on characters making extremely consequential decisions about what they want their lives to be — including middle-aged and older characters. It might be a good read for you right now, OP, if you do science fiction at all.

          1. OrigCassandra*

            Yes, that one is arguably the best book in the series. (Don’t leap right to it, though, folks who are new to the Vorkosigans: Memory relies on a LOT of character and plot stuff in earlier books.)

            1. ronda*

              lmb asks her readers not to tell new readers that they need to read other books 1st. she believes that all the books can be read in whatever order you want :)

  96. reformed ableist*

    LW, we live in a world where drive to succeed is ingrained in us as the perfect goal for most of our lives. But why does it have to be? Why do you have to be idealized as a driven person, why do you feel as though by not identifying as a real go-getter any more makes you somehow defective?

  97. Irish Teacher.*

    I might well be completely off-base here, but I wonder might it help to sort of pull hard-working, ambitious and successful apart in your mind as three different things? Turning down a job offer that sounds perfect on paper but that isn’t what you want isn’t necessarily unambitious. It could be very ambitious, if you do so because it’s not right and you want better. And better doesn’t have to mean higher ranking or higher paying. It could be “less hours.” That is what I mean by pulling apart the three things. A person who takes a 25 hour a week job that pays $500 dollars a week in preference to a 40 hour job that pays $800 might be working less hard, but…they might be equally ambitious. Their ambition might be to have more leisure time. If they succeed in covering their expenses and getting more free time, I’d consider their quitting the 40 hour job to be a great success for them and it could be argued it was also ambitious.

    I think we tend too much to equate “success” with “making lots of money” and “being in a prestigious job” and that ambition means working hard to obtain this. And it CAN, if that is genuinely what the person wants. On the other hand, I would consider somebody who is working in a high ranking, high prestige job they hate but took because they couldn’t bring themselves to admit to themselves or others that they’d actually rather do something less prestigious to be unsuccessful. They failed in achieving what they wanted.

    I think success is different for everybody. For some people, it might be be starting their own business or rising through the ranks at work. For some it might be earning lots of money and being able to retire early and never work again. For some it might be having a book published. For some, it might just be finishing the book they are writing – they might not even want to bother with publication; they might be just writing it for themselves. For some, it might be raising happy and caring children. For some, it might be having a happy and fulfilling relationship or marriage. For some, it might be doing some good in the world, like working in a famine stricken country or with children at risk or becoming a foster carer or adoptive parent.

    What does succeeding look like for you at the moment? What is it you want from life? I think ambition is about working to achieve that, which may involve turning down the job that sounds perfect if it isn’t really what you want. I don’t think it is unambitious to turn down something that will not give you the life you want. I mean, I don’t know if the job would or not; only you can answer that, but I’m just saying, it’s not inherently unambitious to turn down a job.

    Can you live on the freelancing and any royalties you may be getting from your books? If so, beyond that, it’s about what you want from life.

    You said you’ve always been eagar to find new challenges and meet new goals. Is it actually true that that isn’t the case any more or could it be that the challenges and goals have simply changed? That the goal might no longer be to do as well as possible in your career, but to have more free time and to be successful enough at your freelance gigs to finance that? Or to take some time out to write another book and focus on it completely this time? Or to spend more time with your family or heck, climb Mount Everest or something? Challenges and goals don’t have to be something you are paid for.

    Again, I don’t know if this is actually the case or not, but just wanted to suggest it as a possibility.

  98. Lobsterman*

    I just wanted to note the casual cruelty of OP’s self-talk. I’d definitely pull on that thread with a counselor.

  99. learnedthehardway*

    Consider that you might be a bit burnt out and in need of an extended holiday. Personally, I sometimes feel that way, but COVID kind of took the place of the extended holiday I would like to have had.

    Also, there’s usually a reason why something that looks perfect doesn’t actually appeal. Odds are if you sit with the decision a bit, you’ll find your intuition is trying to tell you something.

    Finally, it could just be that you really like being independent and freelancing, and that you don’t want to be an employee. The upcoming projects sound interesting to you, so it doesn’t sound like you’re checking out. Just that what you want isn’t perhaps what you think you SHOULD want.

  100. Burrr.... it's cold in here*

    I feel this deeply.
    I used to be incredibly driven to be successful in my career. I was salaried at a nonprofit in upper-level administration and I worked pretty much all the time, and I was genuinely happy like that.
    Through the course of the pandemic, I realized that I just could not bring myself to do that much work anymore. Not out of angst, just out of … I don’t want to. I don’t want to work. I don’t want to work for an uncertain future. I don’t want to be paid to do things for other people. I want to spend time with my family, read books, hang out, clean my house, plant things, go on long walks, knit, weave, and spin yarn. I want to dive deep into craft interests. I want to drink wine with my neighbors.
    The only reason I continue to do paid work at this point (I quit my job and took a job that pays significantly less and requires significantly less energy and commitment from me, which has no position I can be promoted into – fairly dead end) is so my children have a roof over their head and food in their mouths. My husband feels the same way about his work.
    I have no answers. Just solidarity.

  101. ThisIsTheHill*

    OP, I’m here for the advice you get; I could have written this letter almost verbatim. I had my first 1:1 with a new manager today & told her that I’m at the point that I wish I had a reset button for everything – except that I don’t want to relive the pandemic. I’m pushing 45 & have been a hard-working go-getter since middle school & am completely lost as to how to get even a smidge of my old ambition back. To reiterate other comments, you are not alone in feeling the way you do.

  102. Retrotardigrade*

    LW, I feel you. I’m in a similar situation, except that I actually took the job that I was pretty sure I didn’t want even though it looked perfectly fine on paper, and I’m here to say *trust your instincts on this.*

    I still have that pre-Covid career that I used to be so passionate about running in the background (also in publishing), but now it’s a burden because I don’t have the time to give to it anymore. I had lost my ambition long ago, and I don’t know how to get it back, but I do know that I’m even more unhappy now.

    If you’re in a financial position to take a break, my suggestion would be: decline that dayjob, do those freelance gigs that you’re actually excited about, and take some time to go back to the well before you decide what’s next.

  103. Red*

    I always wondered how the 1920s became this wild robust time of people living lavishly and embracing life with full hedonistic grasp and quite frankly after going through a pandemic and now on the edge of a possible world war, I totally and completely get it. Most of us in our lifetimes have never dealt with the large scale death that a pandemic brings, most of us have never had to go through massive societal upheaval. So when you do and then the world tries to say ‘ok, go back to what you were doing’, you can’t. Not cause you’re depressed, or burnt out, but because you simply can’t. How can you go back when you’ve just discovered that what you had before was nebulous at best and what lies ahead is never guaranteed?

    LW I think what you’re discovering is it’s worth it to live in the moment and I, for one, think you should grab that and make the most of it. You don’t have to financially take this new job. You can finally work to live instead of live to work or simply not work at all. So, travel. Do anything you want. Enjoy yourself. :)

  104. OtterB*

    Book rec. Stopping: How to Be Still When You Have to Keep Going, by David Kundtz. About the need to catch your breath and revisit your goals in “stillpoints” of various lengths, from a minute of deep breathing to a month of reconsidering your goals and your options.

  105. Eldritch Office Worker*

    OP I would highly recommend talking to a counselor or a therapist if that’s a resource that’s available to you. Not because anything you’re saying is bad or wrong! Therapy has this reputation of being to fix broken people, but it can also be really helpful for just working through your thoughts and deciding what to do at a big life junction.

  106. Anonymous Koala*

    I’d encourage you to think about what you want long term, OP. It’s fine to take breaks, and it’s fine to decide that regular work is not for you. But once you drop out of the workforce, you may have difficulty coming back. I’d encourage you to spend some time thinking about what you want for yourself generally and in a more specific, “what do I want to spend my time on 1/5/10/25 years from now” way, and then making your decision.

  107. River*

    I have been feeling the same. I was a high performer. I have always been rewarded and socialized to be rewarded by achievement. I think I’m my 30s I really did a lot of CBT work around what I think / feel / believe and what I want for my life and the messages I’ve been telling myself because some of those messages, when I achieved them, didn’t bring the happiness I was lead to believe they would bring. So in my 30s, I became a part time river guide and kayak instructor and now spend my free time camping along the river and having the quintessential college experience that I missed because I was too busy achieving and working a data science day job during the work week. I made amazing friendships and went on so many adventures. And now, I recently found the concept of the FIRE movement (financial independence / retire early). The concepts outlined in this movement have really caused me to re-examine my priorities and make different life decisions (specifically, really advocating for what I am worth and not backing down). My goal now is to retire by 50 and that has revitalized my motivation and I’ve reshuffled my life again (spending 1 day on the water and 1 day working on starting my own business). Just empathizing and wishing OP the best!!

  108. Ann Furthermore*

    It’s a natural thing for your priorities to change, and you should listen to what your inner voice is saying.

    Last time I was in the market for a job, I ended up with 2 great offers. The “better” job was with a startup that was developing software using newer technology, that really did have the potential to be The Next Big Thing in the in the market. There was no worry about funding issues, because the CEO was getting all the seed money from her father, who was a billionaire. It was the chance to get in on the ground floor of something pretty exciting. But it would have meant having to unlearn everything I knew and learn something completely different. If I’d been 15 years younger at the time, I probably would have taken it, because it was a great opportunity.

    The other job offered a very competitive compensation package, the opportunity to be 100% remote (which was very appealing), and most of all, lets me just stay in my lane and focus on what I’m good at for another 8 – 10 years until I’m ready to hang it up and retire. I’m at the point in my career where I really don’t want to expend the time and energy necessary to have to learn a whole new way to do my job. It’s taken me years to accumulate my expertise.

    I took a pass on the “better” job, and I’ve never had any doubt that I made the right decision. It’s probably not the decision I would have made earlier in my career, but it was the decision that was best for where I am now.

  109. Justin*

    One thing I really hate about our work culture in the US is how you’re basically “not allowed” to just take time off without a really good excuse. You can’t just live off your savings and do whatever for a little while, you have to either be working (either paid or as an unpaid parent or caretaker) in school, or looking for a job.

  110. River*

    I think the pandemic did a doozy on everyone in some way or another. When I read the title of the post, I could not help and think that I too have felt this same way. I don’t have much drive as I used to anymore and some days I just don’t feel like going to work. I think it stems from being turned down for a promotion that many thought I was going to get but unfortunately did not. So my drive and ambition has been gone and I really don’t see a need or reason to continue putting myself out there. At this point, I am just going to do my job and do what is asked of me but otherwise, I’m just going to step back and conserve my energy for other avenues.
    To relate back to the OP and again back to the pandemic, I think people are re-evaluating financial security vs happiness and flexibility. I was always someone who chose less stress and happiness over money. At the end of the day, you aren’t going to take money with you onto the next life but at least try and make yourself and others happy while you’re here. I recently subscribed to someone on Youtube who is vlogging their life. They moved to New York from Jamaica for years and then moved to the west coast last year. They recently uploaded a video about how moving to the US was not what they expected and how it’s just been a constant grind of working, paying bills, having to do this and having to do that. It’s nothing but work work work. They’re considering moving back to NY or back to their home country Jamaica. So you aren’t the only one that been re-evaluating their life. I don’t have any other helpful feedback other than good luck and I hope you find what you’re looking for in this life!!

    1. gmg22*

      DID the pandemic do a doozy on everyone? Because this is a question I struggle with — I see some of my colleagues who appear to be absolutely thriving right now, with huge levels of productivity, firing on all professional cylinders. And I get a sense of an expectation that we should all be this way because we’re at “the end of the pandemic,” so it’s time to accelerate and celebrate, or whatever. It’s both intimidating and confusing to me. I don’t know if everyone else is doing the “fake it till you make it” act, or if some people really just did luck out and find clarity during this time that they could apply to their work.

      1. RagingADHD*

        Among folks I know, the ones who are doing really well now had their “doozy” early. During the first lockdown of 2020 they got laid off, or had mental / physical health crises, or just were unable to cope with the change and uncertainty and verbally freaked out / vented a lot.

        The folks who I saw who were fortunate to experience very little personal chaos in the early part of the pandemic, and were able to accept the situation with more patience and equanimity, seem to be dealing now with a slow burn of accumulated stress and reckoning with life changes that weren’t obvious at first but now have to be dealt with.

        So in that sense, it looks to me like yeah, it was a doozy for everyone, just at different times and in different ways.

        1. Filosofickle*

          It me. The first year was not very different or hard for me. But now? Holy hell the last year has sucked. It all caught up to me plus a fair bit of new chaos.

        2. quill*

          I did great for the first… six months? Because I have reasons why I’m pretty steady in an acute crisis that are not necessarily part of standard human operations, or healthy, but they are what they are, and the timing of that portion of the pandemic worked out personally for me: less other stress, more optimism that my fellow humans (mostly americans) had any ability to withstand a crisis. I had a big crash, as expected, after that, and I just have not gone back to normal.

        3. Teletubby*

          This was me in a sense.
          I lucked out in that, during the pandemic, I found plenty of jobs in the community health/mental health/ homelessness sector. Meanwhile my friends were getting made redundant here or there, or were going through constant uncertainties in their jobs.

          I suppose I was lucky in a sense that I had a career, a nice home, food to eat, hadn’t lost friends or family to COVID.
          But by the 2nd and 3rd wave of the pandemic…mentally I was barely surviving.

          It was as though the entire worlds weight was on my shoulders, and because I was one of the lucky few that lost nothing during the pandemic, I felt like it was up to me to carry everyone else.

          I just couldn’t do it anymore.

  111. RagingADHD*

    I think you may be suffering from some narrow and distorted views of both burnout and midlife crises.

    Suddenly questioning your career choices / motivation, and your self-image, is exactly what a midlife crisis is. It’s not necessarily an emotional meltdown.

    It is a fundamental dissonance that arises when you have been successful at getting what you wanted, and then realize you don’t want it anymore – or it’s not enough.

    People have these crises at different ages for different reasons (especially around milestones of relationships or starting a family.) It just so happens that midlife tends often to be the convergence of career stability / achievement, financial stability / options, and possibly an increase in free time / emotional energy due to kids growing up. It’s also a time when we have to reckon with the fact that some things we always daydreamed about aren’t going to happen – the professional sports, the performing career, maybe the ability to have kids or have more kids.

    We need new goals – because some have already been completed, and others are off the table. And we need a new, more lasting way to define ourselves, because we realize that goals and achievements are ephemeral.

    So LW, who are you? Aside from your achievements, aside from any goals, aside from finances. Who are you inside?

    You gave to figure that out, before you can figure out what you want. If all you know right now is what you *don’t* want, that’s a place to start.

  112. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    For those of us commenting here, it means we’ve been lucky and fortunate enough to survive the pandemic so far. But with that comes the PTSD and realization that life, as lucky as we are to have it, is really difficult during and after such a massive prolonged trauma event. Many aspects of life and personality and relationships and work will never be the same again. Some of that change is good, some of it is really painful. I hope you eventually find peace and aspects of life that make you content OP.

  113. Lori*

    There is a great podcast out right now called Quitted, all about what happens when you achieve the big dream you thought you always wanted, only to find that you don’t want it anymore. I recommend it if only to assure you that you are not alone!

  114. Stephanie*

    We’ve been through a mass disruption in routine, on both a micro and a macro level. It’s completely unsurprising that some people have found that the old ways don’t work for them anymore.

    All that to say, give yourself some grace. Take the time to find what things do make you happy, and then structure your life around them.

    I know the kind of financial anxiety you’re talking about all too well – I think everyone who’s had to fly without a net (so to speak) has. Things that helped me when I’ve transitioned my life in drastic ways have been to reduce my expenses, make a budget, and (just like you’re already doing) take intermittent freelance jobs to keep the well from running dry.

    Who knows what your next adventure will be, if you give yourself the opportunity to change? Best of luck, letter writer!

  115. Didi*

    You didn’t mention anything about retirement. Are you saving enough? You may wish you had taken a different path when you’re 60 or 70 and your life is greatly impacted because you sat out some prime earning years.

    Was in a similar situation in y early 30s, and so I told myself I would take the job and give it a good six months. I ended up loving it, felt energized and engaged, and stayed with that company about 10 years.

    Why not give it a try? You can always quit if you feel the same as you do now six months or a year down the road.

  116. Specialist*

    I’ve been working with a life coach. Mine is a physician, so she knows physician issues. This has been life changing.

  117. GoudaLovin*

    The world is on fire and my silly corporate job doesn’t matter. Not sure what line of work you’re in but I think a lot of us office drones are having a literal existential crisis right now. I don’t have a solution because I also have to pay my mortgage, healthcare, student loans, etc. If you have better options, please go start a commune or a cult or see the world or do nothing or whatever you’re into that is more meaningful than editing powerpoints.

  118. Eat My Squirrel*

    I went through this recently myself. I got laid off in a restructuring that was handled VERY poorly by my management. Got a new position in a different department in my company. I was not excited about it, but unlike the letter writer, I NEEDED a job. Severance pay was going to be nice but I couldn’t afford more than a few months off because I’m the breadwinner in my family, so I took the job.
    For most of the next year, I kind of felt lost. Disillusioned by the terrible treatment I experienced at the hands of my former manager, the lack of help from HR, etc., I basically completely shifted gears from “I want to be a Chief Engineer and be in charge of my own whole program and represent women in engineering leadership WOOOOOOOO” to “why the f would I give myself that kind of stress and that kind of workload for a company that doesn’t care about me at all?” I didn’t know what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I was secure in an easy job that didn’t challenge me and left me kind of bored most of the time.
    I thought maybe I would get used to that and figured if they’re paying me to sit here and play games on my phone while I wait for work to come in, that’s fine with me.
    But it really wasn’t fine with me. I was sooooo bored. It stinks to be bored at your job every day. But I knew I didn’t want the career path I’d previously been focused on either. I liked having time to pursue life improvement and hobbies and such. So I did some soul searching, read most of Simon Sinek’s book “Find Your Why,” and figured out that what I really enjoy is being an expert in something and helping other people with that thing. I realized that if I had my boss’s job, I could enact a lot of really helpful improvements for our internal customers, as well as being everyone’s go to for questions. (Boss wants to make improvements too, he just takes forever to get things done.) So I asked my boss about positioning me to take over his job when he retires in a year or two. He was all for it, so that’s my new game plan. I’m still bored, but at least now I have something to look forward to and plan and “strive” for, and some special projects should be coming my way soon. It makes a big difference in my happiness to have an idea of where I’m headed and to understand what motivates me to do it. It also helped me to reframe my current situation by focusing on those moments when I’m able to teach people how to do stuff right, and how much of an impact I’m making on a small scale already.
    I guess all that is to say that my advice would be to take some time to seriously think about what motivates you, what is it you truly enjoy doing, and then figure out the simplest way to do that thing in your current situation.

  119. cleo*

    I’m 52 and I’ve gone through a couple radical changes myself and observed other people do the same.

    One thing that I’ve learned is that you don’t need to know what your final goal is to start making a change. Part of the process can be figuring out the next goal. I made a radical work change 8 years ago and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do next, I just knew what I didn’t want to do and I had a vague idea for what to do next.

    It was scary but breaking it into smaller parts helped. I worked with a career center that broke career changes down into 3 stages; discovery, planning and action. Thinking of discovery as a specific phase helped. Thinking about bridge jobs and next steps rather than worrying about What Am I DOING With My Life? also helped.

  120. CASH ASH*

    To live in a socialist hell hole sounds like heaven when faced with such a dilemma.
    To be frank, it takes 3 generations for someone to be forgotten. Working extremely hard at something you have no passion for with no real drive behind it except monetarily when you have the autonomy to NOT do that, is not worth it. Take your time, do the freelance. Travel if you can. MOST of all, foster and maintain those long-neglected relationships. You can’t take anything with you when you depart this world, but you can choose what you leave behind. Leave behind love, and foster that love through time enjoyably and well spent together.

  121. Daisy*

    Man. I want the problem of living in a place where it’s totally fine to be unemployed and you won’t starve.

    1. European*

      I live in one of those places (Finland), and I would like to add a couple of things. It is true that you don’t starve even when unemployed. The basic unemployment benefit is not high, but to pays the rent. However, it is generally strongly frowned upon to consciously collect unemployment benefit while healthy and employable. I do not think the LW was going to live on the government, I think they had savings. The Nordic people are happy to pay taxes and support our fellow citizens in difficult life situations. We feel that the safety net creates trust and life optimism in society. But our populations are small and we need everyone to work, who is able to. I do not have high respect for people, who misuse the system. But jumping out of the rat race and living on one’s savings is totally ok!

  122. Dragonfly7*

    I’m similar to you, Sola. My mental health actually improved during the bit of time that I was able to work from home. Part of that was to do with not being around certain people, but also because I was doing more creative work to fill the space that used to be entirely focused on customer service.

  123. terry*

    OP I feel the same as you do. I used to work very hard but I’m at the point where I’m just CONTENT. Maybe you can look at a lack of ambition as just being content and happy with your lot. You worked hard to get somewhere and here you are.

    Most people would tell you that being happy where you are is great, and at the same time equate a lack of ambition to a problem.

  124. Boof*

    1) LW, it sounds like you’ve thought about whether there’s a health change behind this (ie, depression) but I’m just going to emphasize that, if you feel like this is a pretty major change in personality and energy for you in a pretty short time with no clear cause, discuss with your doctor to screen for a few things ie thyroid etc. It is absolutely 100% ok to want to relax, be noncompetative, not love working and I only say this because by your letter this sounds like a pretty radical change for you.
    2) presuming that first part is moot, maybe consider looking up the “FIRE” (financial independence / retire early) movement? If your new goal is to not work there’s a lot of tools there on how to plan that out and accomplish it, and for those who have achieved it maybe a good social group for those who are younger than usual retirement age but no longer working much / at all. Meanwhile, it sounds like what you want to do is freelance a bit and travel some and maybe meet up with old friends. Now’s a great time to do that especially if your finances support it!

  125. moonstone*

    In general, I think it’s healthy to have multiple areas of identity (or multiple interests, to use another term), and it’s usually unhealthy to base your identity on one area (like work). It’s also normal to sometimes go through “dry spells” with any of your interests (like a creative block) and it doesn’t necessarily mean you no longer like that thing, just that you need to step away for a bit.

    For example, I’m fortunate to be one of those people who likes my profession, but it’s not the only thing about me. I also am an avid dancer, I like to hike, and I have friends and family members I like to spend time with. It’s all about balance.

    And sometimes, some of these things aren’t going so well for me! Work gets stressful. One of my friends is being a pain in my side. It’s normal and is a part of life.

    I guess I would just think about whether this is a sign that you should quit your job entirely or just a bump in the road. Can you take a little break or vacation? Should you stay in your career path or just switch jobs?

    1. moonstone*

      Also fwiw, liking your job and being ambitious don’t have to be synonymous. I like my job, but I don’t think I would categorize myself as “ambitious”. I don’t care about prestige or climbing the latter. I work at a small nonprofit whose mission I support. I also have skills I like developing.

      It’s also okay to not want to work at all if you can afford to! But it doesn’t have to be all or thing.

  126. MeepMeep02*

    That was me after I got laid off for the second time in my twenties. I’m 45 now. I’d been very driven as a young woman – fancy education, fancy career in engineering in Silicon Valley, all the prestigious things my parents could brag about – and then I had a very bad time at a startup that failed. During the slow-motion meltdown of the startup, I had to find some freelance employment to survive, and found out that I really liked the low-stress and low-prestige lifestyle. When the startup finally failed, I just never found another job. I wasn’t making much money freelancing, but I didn’t need much. All the prestige and career-mindedness just evaporated for me, and never really came back.

    I had job offers and didn’t take them, too. When people asked me “But what if your freelance stuff fails?” my response was “Well, I presumably won’t lose all my income in one fell swoop, like I did when I got laid off”.

    I’d kept that up, with one very brief exception, for the 20 years since then. Freelance part-time employment, with plenty of free time left over for other things. Never regretted it. In fact, I was especially happy about that one when COVID hit. My wife and I have a small child. We were able to switch off working and homeschooling, since our work hours were so low (my wife is self-employed too). I’d never been as happy about my decision to do the freelance low-stress life as I was then, and it reinforced my view that I was right to have made that choice 20 years ago.

  127. Boof*

    LW, you could consider checking out the FIRE (financial independence / retire early) movement for how the financial side might look, and for those who have achieved FIRE, what life is like. There are a lot of permutations too ie coastFIRE (where working is just to maintain as no further savings are needed), fatFIRE and leanFIRE (related to how expensive your target FIRE lifestyle is), etc. Maybe you just freelance and travel a bit, sounds fun!

  128. Languishing Too*

    This is so relatable. I identify as someone who used to be really motivated and is perplexed at how much I check out at work. I don’t want to, I’m just over it all. I want a break but don’t have enough vacation days. I’m trying to figure out what to do next but barely have enough energy to even ask that question.

    Know you aren’t alone, and it’s time to trust your gut.

  129. Dan*

    You might think about getting a good physical. You could be experiencing a change in thyroid, other hormone levels, or some other medical problem or nutritional deficiency that is causing your change in outlook. Maybe not, but I suggest you rule that out, if you have not already done so. If by chance that is the case, you don’t want to just enter a holding pattern and let great opportunities just pass you by, hoping you might feel different at some point..,

  130. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I recognize this. I took a radical step out of my technology management career a while ago, took some time off and eventually came back to a role that looks nothing like what I went to school for, pays a whole lot less and I love it. I leaned out, leaned out hard and have strong boundaries against leaning back in too hard.

  131. No Dumb Blonde*

    You mentioned “midlife” and, if you are female, I might suggest from my own recent experience that your “body-snatched” feeling could be partly due to hormonal changes. I felt much the same way for three years and wondered daily, “who is this empty, unmotivated person inhabiting my body?” After much experimentation with the help of my doctor, it turned out the key for me was very small doses of estrogen AND testosterone delivered thru the skin (plus oral progesterone, in my case). Earlier experiments with oral estrogen (no testosterone) failed badly. Now I feel much more like myself. A good book on the subject is Estrogen Matters, by Avril Bluming (although he doesn’t mention testosterone at all, which is a shame).

  132. Avalon Angel*

    One thing stood out to me in this letter, because I both relate to it and suspect it may be one cause of your current problem.

    I, too, grew up very poor (Appalachia in the 70’s and 80’s wasn’t exactly a luxurious place to spend your childhood), and was partially raised by my immigrant grandparents who arrived in America just in time for the Great Depression. This sort of upbringing affects your life far more than most people realize. It stays with you, and guides so much of who you are, even if you are not aware of it. In your case, I don’t think you included that detail haphazardly; you likely suspect it was a big factor in your former career zeal and your current apathy. And you’re right: it isn’t depression or burn-out…but it is something you need help with.

    Fortunately, you live in a “socialist hellhole” and thus have access to the kind of help you need. Find a good therapist with experience in this type of “survivor’s guilt” (for lack of a better term). It will help you process how your childhood poverty is impacting your life and how to both come to terms with it and make healthy decisions. These types of therapists do exist and can absolutely help! I hope you at least consider it. You deserve to live the life that suits you best, without the specter of your past influencing your present and future. Trust me, I know.

    I wish you good luck in your future endeavors, whatever they may be and wherever they may take you.

  133. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    A concept that has really helped me as a new parent is the idea that life has “seasons”. It is so easy in many cultures to see life as something that is all about getting more and more money, power, excitement, prestige, stamps on your passport, etc etc. Instead it may be helpful to think that life is not linear; that there may be times when you focus on travel and freedom, times when you focus on stability, times when you focus on building financial wealth, times for excitement and growth. Some of these seasons have external triggers – as in the parenting example, where having young children could mean turning your focus away from your romantic relationships or your favorite hobbies, or in a situation where an illness means you need to focus on money and health insurance for a while, or where a global pandemic makes you reevaluate priorities – but also sometimes seasons just change because that’s how life works. It’s okay to want different things than you did before, or to want them but still need to step away for a while. Maybe you’ll go back to wanting them later.

    Sending the LW all my best.

  134. Kate*

    It can be really jarring to have a sudden shift in worldview! Just know that it is ok. And it might take awhile of living in the confusion before any kind of new direction appears for you. Go easy on yourself – you don’t have to solve your complicated feelings right now.

  135. Anony9847*

    I was doing a lot when I was in the office but started to feel the loss of motivation after the pandemic hit and we were all sent home. Work got slower and the lack of people interaction I feel like led to my slump so just cruising until the next big thing.

  136. KR*

    So I had something similar happen. I worked really hard for the first 10 or so years of my working career. I moved and had to leave my job and I was unemployed for about 11 months. I didn’t even start looking until like 7 or 8 months in. I was in a financial position to afford it but I felt like a real piece of gross just sitting on my behind not working. And now that I am working, I am not as driven to work OT and more willing to take vacations and not take on more work. I think I’m just tired. Really tired. It’s been an adjustment not to think of it like a personal failure to not be a go-getter. I think my parents and family stressed working hard and always trying to get ahead, and if I wasn’t doing well then it was I didn’t try hard enough, and I’ve had to learn to give myself a little grace and realize that not only are there factors outside of my control that are affecting my professional and personal growth, but I don’t always have to hold myself to a high standard of always grinding. So you’re not alone.

  137. Mehitabel*

    Just gonna observe that I suspect that a whole lot of people who have opted for the tiny-home/vanlife lifestyle have done so for pretty much the same reasons. The LW is not alone.

  138. LMB*

    Geez Louise. You are very lucky. Most people (me) also don’t care about work anymore but have to keep on keeping on for money reasons. Even for me though, as much as I really need to make more money, I’m just…doing what’s required for a while. I don’t feel kissing butts and looking for “mentors” and that BS. It’s ok to always be trying to get ahead.

  139. TheRain'sSmallHands*

    Almost ten years ago, in the midst of a fairly successful career, raising children, having a wonderful marriage, I had a “nervous breakdown.” They don’t call them that any longer, but those are the perfect words to describe crawling in the back of your closet and crying for days, ending up hospitalized, leaving the hospital to continue to hide in your closet. My short term disability was only 30 days, and at the end of that time, I was no where near healthy enough to go back to work. So my employer and I parted ways. I do not live in a socialist country. I didn’t qualify for long term disability – its difficult to do with mental health issues.

    My husband supported me, I’d saved like crazy while working. And so I got off the hamster wheel. I freelanced a bit, and ended up owning part of a small business. I only make half my former salary, but I work from home only a few hours a week. I now make enough that I can support myself if I need to. I have time to travel with my husband when he travels internationally for business – and that is what most of my salary has gone to. I’ve been able to be there for my kids as they start their young adult lives. I’ve been able to be the friend that moves in with my single friends while they recover from surgery.

    If I lived in a place where there was government provided healthcare, so that the opportunity to do this would be available to more people (in the U.S. its really the scramble for healthcare that keeps most of us tied to corporate jobs), I would be very grateful.

    If your freelance work is sufficient to support you, your healthcare is covered, you aren’t worried about running out of cash in retirement – semi-retire and freelance. Travel. Enjoy yourself. Make connections.

  140. Sergio*

    Hi op, I can totally relate to this! It’s as if I was reading something I wrote to a T.

    Same background, grew up poor, grew up fast, exceptionally driven, self starter, didn’t have an opportunity of going to college, but I became a software developer by self-teaching, got promoted, started to make good money, then started my own company, but went bust, and after that I lost all motivation. In my case the cause was a bit of a burnout after having overworked for so many years in technology.

    I then had the opportunity to start another small business that got me by for a few years, but it has recently gone under due to the pandemic. No luxury of having something to fall back on, such as unemployment and whatnot.

    I’m now getting back to software development due to necessity. I enjoy it, but still find it difficult to get myself motivated.

    Don’t have any tips or insight to make it better though. I just wanted to say, you’re not alone buddy, I feel you…

  141. Goldenrod*

    You’ve presented this as a problem, and I know that it feels like a problem, but….is it? Maybe it’s not a problem. Maybe it just…is.

    Sometimes it can be hard to give ourselves permission to change. But it’s actually totally fine to become a different person. Joan Didion said, “I’ve lost touch with the person I used to be.” Sometimes it’s like that – it’s not a crisis, it’s not a problem, you just slowly lose touch with your former self and realize one day that you’ve changed.

    Viewed in a different way, it’s exciting! What can you do or enjoy now that you don’t have the same drives you used to? What are some new things you’d like to try? It could be as simple as trying a new food. Start small. See what brings you joy. Follow that for a while and see what evolves.

    I would also like to recommend two books that really have helped me: “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, and “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. Both are inspirational in terms of the value of being present in whatever moment you are in, without judgement.

    Good luck!!!!

  142. Saucy*

    It sounds like your values and priorities have shifted. It’s not a bad thing, just need a realignment! Try taking a values assessment and see what your top values are and see how you can shift your focus to investing time and energy toward those.

  143. Nicole*

    I feel similar to the Lw. I’m not in love with my job as I once was, but I’m not quite out of love, so I’m still here. However, I agree with everyone else. Take the time off and travel. If you can work remotely with your freelance jobs then travel and work when you need to. Life’s too short.

    1. Roobarb*

      I recommend doing what you can to build a robust life and interests outside of work, in the free time that you have. For example, once I started taking an evening language class, it shifted my priority away from work (“I have to finish in time because my class is this evening”, rather than “I can’t do that because I’m too tired from work”). I struggled a lot recently with disentangling my identity from my job, and I found investing in my life outside that work shifted my self-perception. Work to live, not live to work – sometimes the cliches are cliches for a reason :D

  144. Stripes*

    Take the break. Do something you want to do. I made a decent shift in the way I look at work over the past few years of my life, and it’s hard, but sometimes doing that and letting yourself have a “reset” will make things fall into place in a way you weren’t expecting. For me, it came down to me realizing I need my “work” to be different than my “passions”. I know that sounds wrong, but I simply cannot be one of those people who turned their hobby into their job. I’m good at my hobbies, very good, but turning something I love into something I have to do every day absolutely ruins it for me and I don’t want to do it anymore. I’d rather have a job that allows me to do what I want in my spare time, and not live to work. I need to be able to shift gears and go from analytical work into creative fun stuff because that’s how I function best. It is absolutely not how I planned things to be for myself 10, 15 years ago, but it’s the way they are now and it’s fine. It was a huge shift, but sometimes that happens.

    It is okay to take a break, and reevaluate where you are right now. Sometimes you need to! You’re much, much luckier than a lot of people in the sense that you can afford to take a step back and not push yourself through something like this – take advantage of it! Motivation is difficult to maintain at full bore, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to operate on all cylinders 24/7.

  145. marvin the paranoid android*

    This letter really spoke to me, haha. I’m not as driven as you, letter writer, but I used to burn up tons of my time and energy being really dedicated to a job that in retrospect was way too demanding. I’ve recently gone through a lot of personal life stuff that has really made me rethink my priorities and not want to spend anywhere near as much energy on work. For now, I’m fine with just being good enough at work, and it feels weird but good. It’s kind of peaceful not to have to feel like I have to prove myself by being amazing at my job anymore. I hope you’re able to find the positive side to this shift too.

  146. Mama Sarah*

    I think any change or shift that requires us to give up an identity can be hard or unsettling. So just sit with it if you can. Nothing major needs to be decided right now. Get out in nature, eat well, drink lots of good water.

    For what it’s worth, we live in a part of the west coast where it was, and still is in some circles, very common for persons to forgo conventional employment for years (even decades) at a time. I found this to be a beautiful way to go about life. There is so much more than grinding away day in and day out.

    All the best, LW! Keep us readers updated.

  147. Roobarb*

    This has probably been said before in the comments, but I recommend taking some time for yourself, by which I mean developing a robust life outside of work. I was in a similar position, not wanting to give up a job but I found myself in my end-goal job earlier than expected and thought, what now?!
    This is partly to OP, partly therapy to my younger self: Spend time on your hobbies, or develop new ones if you don’t have them. I found so much of my identity was tied up in my job (it’s the kind of job that’s seen as a vocation, or a passion). When I started ‘investing’ as much in my life outside work, my work-life balance improved greatly because I wasn’t weighting work over life in that balance. YOUR PERSONAL LIFE IS JUST AS (more!) IMPORTANT AS YOUR WORK LIFE.
    This was easier to do once I had the professional capital to do this, harder as a younger person in my profession. What have you been building professional capital for, if not to afford yourself the best possible life. That life is not just work. It sounds like you too have plenty of professional capital to turn down this job without terrible consequences.

  148. Beth*

    We’re all changing all the time. When I was younger, I had this idea that ‘growing up’ meant reaching a point where…I don’t know, I don’t think I thought there’d be a point where I was totally done changing, but I did think there’d be a point where I would be sort of settled into myself and my life and would know what to expect going forward and would be good at handling my life. Now, I don’t think that point exists. There are periods in our lives where the ways we might develop are constrained (for example, someone who’s responsible for a young child probably can’t just quit their job and backpack around the world for a year), but we’re still all growing and changing constantly.

    Sometimes those changes feel like they grow naturally out of what came before. Other times, life throws us a curveball–something happens that radically changes our priorities, or something in our world that we had taken to be steady suddenly shifts on us, or maybe some subconscious thing shifts inside of us and suddenly the world looks different even though we can’t point to ‘what happened’. When we get curveballs, we adapt. It’s okay to let go of a path that no longer serves you. It’s okay to have wanted something desperately a few years ago, and no longer want it today. It happens. And there’s no sense in valuing what past-you wanted over what current-you (or your best guess at future-you) needs and wants. That would be a sunk cost fallacy in action, and you deserve better uses of your time and energy than that.

  149. Onetime Poster*

    We sound soooooo much alike! Only, I don’t know that I was ever super passionate about my job – except at conferences where having thought-provoking conversations that felt energized; yet upon return to the actual job, fell flat.

    Anyway, I’ve been going through this same dilemma for several years. I took my current job in 2009 as a means to jump-start my financial security again after a hiatus to finish a degree. My intent was to keep the job no more than 18 months to 2 years. If you do the math, that was over 13 years ago. It’s a company that one can get comfortable in while also leaving you open to apathy. It’s been an internal battle for so, so long, because, like you, I’ve always worked and worried first about my financial security. I now also worry about my health security because a few years ago I incurred a back injury that takes so much mental energy to deal with. that increased my fears of quitting and doing something different. Finally, I had transferred internationally for my role about 7 years ago, so that adds to my own sense of “stuck”-ness.

    I don’t mean to make this about me, however. Rather, I wanted to share that you’re not alone. I too am in my mid-life and feel compelled to make a change. Is it burn-out? I think for me, it is to an extent. I also think that a new definition should be created to better define this. Perhaps actually, Ennui, is a good one?

    Anyway… Allison is right. You don’t need to accept a job that’s right on paper (hell, that’s what I did 13 years ago and started this whole identity crisis!). *You* have the power to decide what you want to do with your energy. You owe no one but yourself anything. And, it sounds like you just need some time for yourself to find a zone that energizes you. I don’t think that can be done by going through the ‘normal’ process of taking one job after the next.

    It’s scary as hell for some, perhaps you and I are alike that way too. What’s taken me several years to decide will take others months or days. But now, the veil of fear has been lifted. I know I’m financially okay, there are solutions to all my concerns, and I will be leaving to pursue other areas of interest as a sort of sabbatical until I determine what is the next “best” thing for me. Maybe that’s permanent retirement, maybe that’s degree.

    I wish you the best and hope you learn from all these comments that you very much are not alone. For that matter, I tend to think more people feel this way regularly than think. Sort of an issue with the positivity movement: if we’re not happy in our job, keep mum. Well, let’s try to change that!

  150. lifeandlimb*

    OP, you are not alone! The term mid-life crisis is a bit of a misnomer because it often doesn’t feel so much like a crisis, but more of a slow, skeptical “…is this it?” You may want to sit down and talk through or write through your important values. It’s possible that the ambitious career path you chose doesn’t align with them, or you realize your values have changed over time. Perhaps you can find a new work niche to focus on, or a hobby lights your fire. Often times people choose this time to begin giving back, whether it’s teaching, mentoring, or donating. The feeling of nurturing a community is really unparalleled.

    Also IT’S OK FOR YOUR JOB NOT TO MEAN EVERYTHING. You can find meaning in other areas. Don’t let your friendships and loved ones pass you by.

  151. Crooked Bird*

    Wish I’d seen this yesterday. LW, I second the idea of a sabbatical, or simply of taking some time. A lot of time, as much time as you need–NOT “well I guess I can afford/not feel guilty about a month.” (I don’t know how much you can afford, so adjust accordingly. But this is worth making your life much more frugal for, if that’s something you can manage in your situation.) A month is good for recovering from fatigue. An inner change takes–you can’t decide ahead of time how long. End goals don’t help, not with this.

    A few years ago, I lost the use of my hands for six months. (I didn’t know it was going to be six months. First I thought I’d just take a month off and let it heal. Then as things went on I began to wonder if I was looking at the rest of my life.) Severe tendinitis, both elbows (which means the source of strain was the fingers. Using my fingers at all made it worse, and quickly.) I’m an author, farmer & mother. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t drive, plant, hoe, weed, cook, clean, I could play with my son only verbally, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t even browse the internet. I wrote the acknowledgments page to my latest novel by voice, making laborious corrections by using my chin on my laptop’s touchpad. I kept trying things, cures, therapies, hopes. I spent a lot of time sobbing.

    Eventually I found a specialist whose radical therapy practically healed me (though it did take awhile to work back up to full strength.) If anyone in my situation reads this, please comment, I’ll give you a link to him.

    … and then I got depressed. Spent the entire off-season (normally my writing time) wrestling with myself, having a series of awful fights with my husband, and accomplishing nothing at all. My only saving grace was that I’d accepted–I’d been forced and forced and finally turned around and voluntarily accepted–that it’s OK to accomplish nothing at all. I’d accepted that if I was without the use of my hands for the rest of my life, life was still worth living and I was still worth having in the world. I really don’t remember when I started putting my life back together, internally, I don’t remember how long it took. I don’t remember when the fights with my husband broke some of our bad dynamics and we started to work together for real. I did conscious inner work with the Enneagram (I’m a 3, surprise), but I also just existed, moved slowly, let things work themselves out inside. I watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and recognized my moment of life in the journalist character at the end–someone who’s slowed their life down completely because that’s just what you have to do to make a deep change inside. Roots grow slowly. That’s OK. Not everything has to be fast. Not everything has to be effective, efficient and great to be worthy. Existence is its own justification.

    The will to work will return. But it’ll be different. I remember the surprise of beginning to write in a different way–like being pulled along, quietly following the almost-invisible thread of story, rather than hacking my way through the brush with a machete. It’s not like that every single time. But I try to find the thread again when I lose it. I try to swim with the current. Maybe you know what I mean.

  152. On the other side of it*

    OP, I went through something very similar a couple years ago. The identity piece was really major for me — I had spent my entire life from my teens onward defining myself by my academic and career performance and ambition, and when that ambition fell off as I started to see the world around me differently, I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore. I can’t say enough good things about therapy as a support tool when you’re dealing with a major life change like this. I started therapy when I was mentally in a place that sounds a lot like what you described — feeling this shift in my identity and not knowing how to adjust to it — and therapy was what helped me understand why I had been fixated on my career in the past and what true sources of happiness I had in my life that I could lean into.

    Where I’ve gotten to is a re-definition of what happiness means to me, and I now know that that identity as a high-achiever that I had invested so much in over the years wasn’t actually making me happy. I’ve leaned into my relationships and little hobbies that bring me joy, and took a job that’s interesting and fulfilling but still fits into a neat little box in my life where it can’t take over everything else, and over time — and it really has taken years — I’ve redefined my identity in my head around who I am rather than what I do. My job and work achievements are maybe 10% of my identity today, whereas they were 95% in the past. And I feel so, so much happier.

    I will also say, re: your comment about being certain that this is not depression or burnout, that my experience has been that depression can feel very different at different points in your life. When I went through this crisis myself, I was also sure that it wasn’t depression, because I had had depression before and this didn’t feel the same, but over time I learned that I was experiencing depression, and that it just manifested differently than it has in the past.

  153. crafty75*

    I can really relate to this! I hit serious burnout at 45 after pretty much 30 years of unbroken striving and workaholism. I loved my work for so long, and happily layered one job on another and another, until I crashed. There were several months where I felt raw panic every time I opened my computer. I’m very lucky that I found myself in a situation where I could step back. My sabbatical lasted longer than I expected because of Covid, but feel so lucky I was able to do it. I have no desire to go back to my old career, and instead have started a new one that I enjoy, but I don’t identify with work in the same way I did before, and I find it impossible to perform ambition, generally. I’m really happy to have a life now, not just a career. Good luck!

  154. HHH*

    Hi – I think the sabbatical idea is a great one. It could provide the time and space to figure out what you want the next part of your life to look like. I’m doing something similar myself but without leaving my current job. I would be nice to have the financial security to do that but I don’t at the moment.

    I am not burned out, either. I just don’t like my job anymore – I don’t feel the enthusiasm for it any longer. I’m ready for something different and I’m trying to figure out what that new “something could be. It’s a fun time for me, not battle with burnout. This idea that we all have to be 1000% enthused, lifted-up, and inspired by our jobs 1000% of the time just isn’t realistic for many people. It’s ok to just not be into your job anymore and to explore other interests. You have the opportunity to be able to turn down work and maybe not work for a while so you can figure out what you’d like to do next. I think that’s really cool!

    Good luck on your adventure :)

  155. JamminOnMyPlanner*

    I’m feeling this lately.. unfortunately not in the position to quit my job. Honestly, it’s not even that I dislike my job. I love it and enjoy it.

    I’m just having trouble, as a single person living alone, with managing to get everything done. How am I supposed to keep a clean house, exercise regularly, grocery shop and cook healthy foods for myself, go to doctor’s and dentist appointments, pick up my prescription medication, get my car registered in my new state, get my taxes done, all while working 40 hours a week (plus a remote side job)? I’m paid hourly and I only have 10 combination sick/vacation days per year… so WHEN do I do all of it?

    I also want a puppy more than anything in the world, but I can’t see how I’ll ever get one. I live a 40 minute round trip away from home, and I get an hour for lunch, so I can’t just pop in at lunch.

  156. Ben*

    Like others have said, taking some time off and reassessing what you want in life is probably what you need. I also want to add that I have come across several lawyers in my life who have found themselves in this exact spot. They were highly driven, highly competitive individuals who were always ready and willing to do whatever it took to get to the top. Along the way, they never seemed to have asked where they actually wanted to end up. Or perhaps, they just thrived on the journey and are having an existential crisis that they have successfully eliminated the challenges.

  157. SleepyKitten*

    This feeling is completely normal. Sometimes you just look around at your life and go “eh, not really interested anymore”. Maybe you’ve reached a plateau where there’s not much challenge left in your job. Maybe you’re entering a new life stage. Maybe you just have long term ennui.

    You have the luxury of being able to take some risks and just try stuff. Maybe you’ll just travel for a bit and come back with renewed vigour for your daily life. Or maybe you’ll become a full-time novelist. Or retrain completely in a new field. Or retire early and spend your time connecting with people and gardening. Or decide that you’re fine with a chill roommate of a day job, take on enough freelance work to get by, and fill the rest of the time with hobbies and social connections.

    The safety net is not just for dire emergencies. Ringfence the amount you would need if your car or house exploded, and use the rest to improve your life.

    1. Snuu*

      I had friends in high flying corporate careers who then lost their jobs during the pandemic.
      As devastated as they were, some of them concluded that it was actually the best thing that had happened to them, cause they now realised the meaning of work/life balance, and also realised they had sacrificed so much of their own wellbeing for a job that didn’t love them back.

      If anything, the pandemic allowed them to step back and re evaluate their choices.

  158. Anonomatopoeia*

    I heard you say this isn’t depression because it’s not like your previous experience with depression (and I believe you that how you feel now and how you felt then don’t match), but I think that depression manifests in a lot of ways, and that it’s a catch-all term for kind of a lot. So, you totally may be correct that this isn’t what’s going on, but I also want to propose that how depression is experienced by someone who is, for example, 20 and very busy with things that involve going to places and doing things with their body, and how it manifests in the same person when they are 40 and relatively fixed in space (I mean, Covid, so we are all now fairly fixed in space in ways that in 2019 would have seemed like extreme homebodying, you know?) may be WILDLY different.

    And, besides activity level, people who are 20 and 40 have very different biochemical* realities even under the most ordinary life circumstances. Plus, depression happens for myriad and complex reasons**, and having experienced one of those does not preclude experiencing it for another, nor does it imply that a second experience would feel the same from the inside.

    I think, therefore, that unless you have already actually ruled out depression by visiting a specialist in the topic, you should perhaps consider it. Losing interest in all the things you have loved is maybe one of the ways textbooks talk about depression, after all. If you’re in a socialist hellhole and all, you probably (probably?) have access to medical care that might include trying some different solutions, and probably feeling excited about things again would be a nice thing and worth chasing a little, at least in retrospect. Personally , I didn’t do well on medication, but I also learned things from the experience of TAKING medication that changed my ability to clearly see what was going on with me, so even though I hated the medication, it still turned out to be a worthwhile effort.

    *biochemistry things: I mean, there are hormones. If you are a person who has a typical female hormone situation, then at 20 it is doing all kinds of “lets make babies” things and at 40 it is doing all kinds of “we still can, but let’s consider not” things. And then there are, like, thyroids that went nuts, or injuries that led to guarding behaviors that led to pain that changed how your body interacts with the world. And that’s before we consider that the stress of the last two years has messed with ALL of us in varying ways, and our native or learned stress response behaviors may or may not have helped.

    **myriad and complex reasons: depression can happen because of trauma (car accident; violence), or because of extended nontraumatic negative experiences (a boss that is just toxic every dang day for years), or for basic chemistry reasons (yay hormones), or because of a life event that is very upsetting (death of a parent), or a unique combination of those things, or something I didn’t think of.

  159. Teapot Gnome scandal*

    I was going to add this to a reply but I couldn’t find the original post and a few others sounded similar too. One other piece for those who feel less driven could be that it might be that time in your early career where you realize how much you really need to do to get your job done/real life expectations. I know I had that shift in my second, but first actual office job out of college. In college and when you’re really trying to climb the ladder or get your foot in the door things are a lot more “go,go, go, do the grunt work, stand out, show your skills, push, push,push” but then you get in a job for a while and you realize that most people do their best to answer a couple emails, do a little bit on a project, try not to look too bored in a meeting and mentally prepare yourself to do it all over again tomorrow. And most likely any sort of project or what not will be likely two steps forward one step back and might drag on forever or not actually be completed. That shift can take some adjusting once it’s like “okay, everyday is the same.”

    For your situation LW, it seems like you have your answer in that traveling is what excites you now. If you don’t have to work right now then I would follow where you feel excitement is. As a possible compromise is it possible that this job has a later start date or maybe you can agree to a later start date, say in a few months? Then you can do some of that travel and maybe freelance (if it’s interesting – otherwise I would say just take a break and soul search) and when it’s time to come back you’re head might feel clearer about feeling like the job is good or if it’s still “yuck”.

  160. Dodo Bird*

    This article resonated with me.
    I was an ambitious, ruthlessly driven over achiever whose identity was caught up in being “the best”.

    And then I hit my 30s…everything at this point seemed a blur and I hadn’t realised at the time, but I burnt out. That period of time in my life was agonising cause id gone to all the top schools and colleges and worked my ass off to get to where I was, but it ceased to have meaning anymore.
    Then that’s when I asked myself “whats the meaning of all this?!”

  161. Daisy Chain*

    Gosh…I didnt expect OPs letter to strike me the way it did.
    It was always ingrained from childhood that I had to achieve and be the top at everything. I enrolled and graduated with top honours at a prestigious university, scored a really impressive job and had an amazing career.
    But then Covid happened, and I went into an existential crisis of sorts. Like, everything I’d worked so hard for suddenly lost meaning.
    Also, my parents stopped pushing us to work so hard cause if anything, covid taught them that you can do everything right, but the world can still throw curveballs at you, and there are no guarantees in life.
    And losing close family due to illness made me seriously re-think my ‘ambitious workaholic ‘ mindset.

  162. old lady*

    After reading this, I actually had to take a few days to process because a lot of what most people are saying resonates with me also. I have always been a go getter. Going above and beyond to prove that I could do as well or better than other people. The push was mainly from my family as a kid. I worked really hard during the hard parts of the lock down to cover for people who were sick, dealing with kids at home, dealing with sick relatives, just basically having a harder time with stuff then me. Now that we are almost back to normal, I see that a lot of places where I gave 130% to cover for folks who couldn’t give 70%, now it is expected to be the norm. More money won’t fix it. I just don’t want to work as hard anymore as I did during covid and to be honest, I don’t want to work as hard as I worked before covid.
    The inner push that always kept me a few steps ahead of others is just gone and the scary thing isn’t that it’s gone (I have also burned out in the past and know what it looks like for me.) The scary thing is I just don’t care that it’s gone. I’m more confused with trying to find something to focus on because the old charms aren’t working.
    I still like my job. I still like most of the people I work with. I still want to do a good job but the urgency to shine is gone.
    We get a lot of self care talk and opportunities offered through work but I am not seeing my deliverables dropping as everyone comes back on board. In fact it’s going up. So how is saying “take time off and don’t miss your due dates “supposed to happen? Before I would just work harder to cover the time I would be out so that I wouldn’t let people down or fight to have stuff shifted to another team. Now I see it as MEH. I say that I’m not doing 14-16 hour days M-F and catch up on paperwork on weekends anymore. This causes management to say that I shouldn’t be working that much still. Cool. Then they look at the deliverables and get lost. They can’t really complain because I am already delivering at a higher level than others but can’t figure out what to do. Before I would make this something my thing to solve for them. You know, be a bright problem solving light that comes up with solutions. Now, not my problem to solve. Not my job to wrangle the troops. Not my job to split out tasks. I no longer want to prove that I am worthy of being on the management track. I want to just do my job well for my 9-10 hours and go home or sign off.
    I realized that just like me being in the office on some days allowed other people to work from home because I could do the stuff that needed to be done in the office, me giving so much before covid allowed other people to have the work life balance that they kept telling me I needed but mysteriously couldn’t find time to have. That means stuff will fail and be late until management fixes it or other people step up. I am no longer worried if that will ever happen. This is part of the switch. Before I very passionately cared, now I figure that if it is a real problem, other people will fix it. I don’t have to fix it.

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