I’m not even sure if a third-life crisis is a thing, but I think I’m a little late to call it “quarter-life” since I turned 30 last week. I, for one, do not plan to be around to see my 120th birthday. If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time you’ve probably noticed my absence for the past, oh… way too many months. If you’re new here, Hi. I’m Kelly. Yes, there is in fact someone behind the blog, and thanks for stopping by!
The blog is not the only thing that I’ve been neglecting over the past six months. My work life had completely taken the place of my free time, my gym time, my early mornings and most of the evenings I should have been able to spend with my husband. I was commuting 45 minutes each way, 4 to 5 days a week to bust my ass 10 to 12 hours a day working on a thankless project that was making me miserable.
Before I knew it, I was past the point of no return. I considered taking a 50% pay cut and an entry level job that would have bored me out of my mind. I thought about quitting my job with no real plan in place other than to play housewife for awhile while I try to figure out what I really want to do with my life. All I knew was that I was burned out. I could not imagine continuing on in the position I was in for the next year, much less the next 35.
Wrestling with my loyalty and commitment to my company versus my sanity and happiness over the past few months has been one of the more stressful times in my life. Finally making the decision to quit the job that I originally thought could be my lifetime career has made me feel like I’ve failed in a lot of ways.
I’m here to tell you though, I think in the long run I will look back at this as a positive life experience. Even though I’m still not 100% sure I’ve made all of the right decisions, I’ve learned some solid lessons already that may actually make me a better person. So in case you’ve found yourself questioning your job or what you’re doing currently in life, I’m sharing those lessons learned today, at my wise old age of 30.
1. If you’re not happy, do something about it.
This is easier said than done. I remember telling my husband this very thing about a year and a half ago. At the time, he had a job that paid the bills, but it didn’t challenge him or show any promise for personal or career advancement in the future. While he did enjoy the fact that he could spend most of his workday watching youtube videos, it wasn’t the most fulfilling position to be in. Being happy with my job (at the time), I had fairly little sympathy for his complaints after a couple months and told him that he needed to do something about it. He did make a move to change his situation, and while it wasn’t an easy transition, he is definitely in a better place now.
I found myself eating my words when I was less than loving my job a year later, but it really is good advice. You are the only person that can change your situation when you aren’t where you want to be. Probably the most difficult thing I did during this process was make the decision to tell my boss that I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t sure what I would do yet, but taking that first step to admit to myself, and to my company, that I needed to make a change was half the battle.
2. Thank God we paid off debt.
The ONLY reason I was able to consider quitting my job without a plan, was the fact that we are out of debt except for our house. We’ve been busting our butts over the past 3 years to get to this point, throwing three times the cost of our monthly mortgage at our student loans and car debt. It’s the reason we could feasibly live on half of our income if we had to. It’s true that money can’t buy happiness, but knowing that you don’t NEED it will give you peace of mind.
I didn’t buy a new sporty car or a boat through my recent life crisis, but we have spent a lot on things like new snowboards, golf clubs, and clothes over the past few months. We’ve been on a splurge recently, partly as a reward for working to dump a whole lot of debt, and also probably because of stress. It didn’t solve my problem.
I was fortunate enough to find a new job opportunity that is still in the construction industry, and offers a similar salary to what I was making previously. However, knowing that I didn’t absolutely have to keep my job or find similar pay is an incredibly freeing feeling. Sure, had I taken some time off completely or taken that 50% pay cut, I would have had to make some lifestyle changes and slowed down on our plan to pay off the mortgage. Even having the option to do so and knowing we would be just fine is a huge luxury. So put that money to work while you’ve got it. You’ll thank yourself later.
3. Applying and interviewing for jobs is good life practice.
I had not interviewed for a job since I was in college, 6 or 7 years ago. Because I was so burned out at my job, I think I was in denial about staying in the same industry. I was looking for jobs that would be completely different from the fast paced, high stress job that I was in. I applied for a couple jobs that looked interesting, and got called in for two interviews for an entry level position at our state office of tourism. I was pretty nervous going in to the interviews, trying to anticipate the zinger questions they might ask that would trip me up. Overall, the interviews were pretty laid back, and I got through just fine. Through this process, I also learned that:
4. Being over-qualified is a real thing.
The interview committee struggled to hide their confusion as to why I was applying for this position, given my work and salary history which was required as part of the application process. They actually said to me “So wait, you’re OK with… starting over??” Waiting for the phone call that would either offer me the job or let me know they were going with someone else (it turned out to be the latter), I came to the realization that the job probably would have been a bit too much of a change for me. Taking a big pay cut at the risk of getting bored quickly was not going to be the right move.
However, I am so glad that I went through the process. I spent about a week getting my resume and a cover letter up to date, sharpened my skills, and made some new connections. The lady that called to let me know of their decision was extremely nice and told me that she would like to keep me in mind and reach out if there are other positions that come up in another department and could be a good fit. Win-win.
5. Check out all of your options.
Similarly to point #3, it never hurts to think outside of the box when you’re considering a career change. I applied to two very different jobs before deciding to take a chance on an opportunity that was in front of me to stay in the same industry. I also broke down crying (only once) AFTER I had committed to this new position because I had another potential offer that I hadn’t looked into before making a decision. Jesse reminded me that we had talked a lot about pros and cons of my options, and that I was making a smart decision for several reasons.
I did feel better after making a phone call and finding out that the other potential offer was not going to be comparable, salary-wise. Gut feel is worth a lot, but don’t jump into something unless you have at least considered other options. It never hurts to apply for posted positions, and call around to check out options that might not be published. Word-of-mouth and who you know can present opportunities that you may not know are out there.
6. Be honest going into a new opportunity, and learn from your mistakes
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through this whole thing is what it takes to become burned out. I read a statistic recently about overwork that went something like this: When you work 50 hours a week consistently for 10 weeks, you lose about 35% of your productivity for those working hours. Working 60 hours a week for 10 weeks leads to a 45% decrease in productivity. So putting in an extra 10 hours every week likely only results in an extra half hour of productive work.
I feel like I was working hard in front of my computer for almost all of the 10 to 12 hours that had become my daily standard. So while I wasn’t sitting around wasting time, working at the rate that I was for months on end was not making me happy and was definitely not sustainable. I now know that I have limits and needed to re-prioritize my life. So, going into a new opportunity, I was not shy about explaining that I need a better work-life balance. At the same time, I tried to remember to:
7. Be positive
During a conversation with a previous supervisor and good friend/mentor, I got some really great advice. It’s important not to sit and complain about all of the things that were not working with your previous job. While you can be frank and confident about what it is that you are looking for with a new position, it’s important to put a positive spin on it rather than turning an interview into a bash session on your last gig. This made a lot of sense to me. It’s a small world, and you want to avoid burning bridges.
8. People will be supportive
I found that breaking the news that I was leaving to my family and to several team members at my previous job was not as difficult as I imagined. While it can be tough to leave when you care about the hard work that you’ve put in and friendships that you’ve made, people will most likely understand. We’re all only human, and we all have the same basic needs. People get it. And if they care about you, they won’t fault you for doing what is best for you.
9. Take some time to refresh
After a couple months of agony and stress over changing jobs and making some fairly large life decisions, I knew I would regret jumping right from one grind to the next. I took a week off in between jobs, just to relax and be a little bit selfish. I went to yoga at noon, just because I could. I caught up on cleaning the house, and enjoyed being home without an agenda. I thought a lot about what is important to me, and how to remember to focus on those things moving forward. It wasn’t a ton of time, but I am thankful to have had the chance to refresh, so I was ready to start back up again with a new energy.
One week in to my new job, I obviously don’t have everything figured out. It’s hard to know how things will end up a year or several down the road. All I can do is learn from my mistakes, and focus on what I know is important to my health, happiness, and my ability to be productive at my job for a reasonable amount of hours each week. I do feel like a huge weight has been lifted, and so far it feels a lot like the fresh start that I needed to get my life back in balance.
So if you find yourself feeling like your job just isn’t giving back as much as you are putting in, it might be time to take an honest look at what you can do to change your situation. I hope that whether you considering a change in career, working for yourself, or just adjusting your work-life balance in your current position, my experience will remind you of what is most important. Your happiness and well being are worth a lot more than money and so-called success. After going through this, I am hopeful that by setting my priorities straight and going to work in a position that allows me some balance, I should be able to have all of the above.