I’m Stuck in a Career Rut

I’m 30 years old, and I still don’t know what kind of career I want to have. Having a job you love isn’t everything, but lately, it’s all I can think about. I’m spending over 40 hours a week selling luxury goods to people with money (which sounds harder than it is), and feel like my career isn’t really going anywhere. Most people seem to figure out what they want to do in college, or at least form an idea of what they want to do in their twenties, but nothing has seemed to click for me yet.

I’m sure I still have time to figure it out, but I feel like I’ve wasted the last couple years of my life in what seems to be a dead-end job, and feel incredibly stuck. I’ve told my boss that I have other interests and feel I am talented in other areas, but few things have changed. I don’t know how to turn it around, and feel destined to be at a job I loathe for the rest of my life.

There have been times when I’ve cried in the morning, because I didn’t want to go to work, but I push through it, because there are bills to pay. I want to quit, walk out and say goodbye, but the only time I’ve quit a job without another one lined up was when I moved across the country. For me, being unemployed feels a lot worse than having a job you can’t really stand.

I have never been one to have huge career aspirations. I just want to have a job that I like, do well at and bring home a decent paycheck with good benefits. When I tell people I’m job hunting, and they ask me what I am looking for, I usually say, “I’m not quite sure.”

“Well, what are you interested in?” people ask.

I struggle to come up with an answer. These are the things I like: baking, running, cats, looking at Buzzfeed and napping. What sort of longterm career can I build based off of that? Apply for a small business loan and open up a bakery? Maybe a bakery with treadmills? With a room with couches and cats for customers to pet?

It seems like most of the people I meet in New York City have these amazing and important jobs, and I can only assume—maybe wrongly—that they pay pretty well. I blame Facebook and Instagram for publicly documenting people’s “perfect” lives. I feel as smart and driven as these people—the only difference is that they seem to have everything figured out, and I’m in a career rut. Here’s what I do know: I don’t need to earn six figures, or work in a glamourous office. I’d just like to have a job that I don’t hate—a job with retirement and health benefits, and free coffee. So the first step I’m taking is to apply for jobs that offer these things. I’m casting a wide net by applying to anything that looks remotely interesting.

“Don’t worry, things will work out,” people say, but all these unanswered job applications are making me worry and question my self-worth. On bad days, I feel like a loser. I dread meeting new people and having them ask, “So, what do you do?” Selling luxury goods, doesn’t exactly conjure up images of success. I know I shouldn’t care why people think (and they probably don’t care what I do), but I just feel so small when I have to explain to people my line of work. Clearly, I am dealing with issues of insecurity. I’m not going to sell luxury goods for the rest of my life, and quite frankly, I’m worried that my increasingly dissatisfied disposition will eventually get me fired. I deal with successful and well-connected people on a daily basis, and I often want to ask them if they happen to be hiring, but feel like that’s inappropriate to do at work. (Is it?)

Maybe I shouldn’t be complaining when there are so many people out there who are having a hard time even finding any job, so to counter this buzzkill (I’m not going to throw myself off the Brooklyn Bridge, I swear!), here are a few things I know I have going for me: I’m able to pay my rent, and I have no debt. I have my health, and a little bit of savings, but not enough to take a vacation, or bail me out if catastrophe struck. I have a great boyfriend, and a good group of friends. I’m smart, and know that I’m not a total lost cause. Yet, it’s hard not to feel like one every time I get my resume rejected, but I’m doing my best.


Maggie Hamilton lives in New York City and is an avid pie-baker, cat-stalker, and park-runner. She’s awaiting your job offers at maggie.hamilton.nyc@gmail.com Photo: mnem


37 Comments / Post A Comment

EM (#1,012)

Last night I had drinks with two friends who both have (in my outsider opinion) interesting, creative jobs that make good use of their education and skills, and they were both like “MEH a lot of the time I think about quitting.” Not to trivialize what you’re saying–that it’s frustrating not to know what you’re passionate about doing– but I hope it’s reassuring to remember that even if you have a job that is supposedly the apex of your education and planning, often you are like “Whatever.”

Also I read an article months ago (I think on The Billfold!?) about how it’s a relatively new concept that our careers have to be really fulfilling. Up until recently a career was a way to support your family and your lifestyle and pay all the bills, but now our generation in particular feels like we need to define ourselves as people by our amazing, inspiring, interesting careers, which is a lot of pressure and also kind of an existential trap, because they wouldn’t call it “work” if it was a free-kitten party with an open bar; all jobs have big, boring components.

Hopefully until you find a career you are really into and in the meantime try volunteering in areas you think you’re interested in, take some classes, and focus on fun non-work related things?

@Michelle Yes, this. So many of my friends who’s careers I admire or think are actually relevant to what they do are just “eh” about it.

I hope to not be one of those people, because if I’m going to spend 40 hours of my week chained to a keyboard, I’d like enjoy what I’m doing (while recognizing that all jobs have data entry days ;) )

TARDIStime (#1,633)

“they wouldn’t call it “work” if it was a free-kitten party with an open bar”
This. Tattooed on my forehead.

Smallison (#155)

This speaks to me. So much. I feel just like this. I have a college degree that is basically useless (at this point, I’ve spent 8+ years doing things other than what I studied in college). I have a job that is ok, but doesn’t give me vacation time or sick time (let alone a 401k).
I want to do something more, but I don’t know what, so going back to school is out until I come up with something concrete. Seeing my friends with jobs where they’re able to negotiate and get raises or promotions makes me feel like I’m not living up to my ‘potential’.

Beck (#2,269)

Have you thought about the Peace Corps? No, seriously! No debt, good health, no kids (I assume) – this is the time to take a risk and do something wildly different! Even if it doesn’t permanently get you out of your rut, helping people who need it sounds a lot more fulfilling than selling luxury goods to people who don’t.

smalina (#2,566)

Something that helped me IMMENSELY was taking a Myers-Briggs personality test: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp

Knowing yourself in this way can help you diagnose the best career path by finding one that avoids your weaknesses and concentrates on your strengths. It’s quite amazing, and motivated me to quit one path (teaching) and pursue another (journalism) wholeheartedly. Good luck!

selenana (#673)

@smalina Thanks! I just took the test and it pointed me to social services, which I already knew, but it feels good to be validated on my chosen path!

Maggie Ham (#2,571)

@smalina Definitely doing this. Thank you!

Re: I deal with successful and well-connected people on a daily basis, and I often want to ask them if they happen to be hiring, but feel like that’s inappropriate to do at work. (Is it?)

While you’re on the phone trying to sell them stuff, yes. But, if you think they do something really cool, it’s not out of line to tell them you like their field, and could we maybe meet up for coffee one day to talk more about it? Most people lurve talking about themselves/what they do, so get together with them, pick up their coffee, and ask away! You can let them know that you’re looking at changing fields, so you’re trying to expand your professional network, etc etc. At the end you might get them to refer you to other people you should chat with, or if you find any opening at their company, you now have an “in” who you can contact for questions, for a reference, etc. I wouldn’t straight up ask for a job, but these bits of knowledge you get should be helpful.

Apple (#2,568)

This was me a few years ago! I still don’t know what my “passion” is, but career-wise, I’m a thousand percent happier now. (And no longer cry in the morning about going to work.) I didn’t make a dramatic career change (although I seriously thought about it), but I leveraged all my experience from the career I hated to help me get into a slightly different, but related, field.

My advice:
– Take action. ANY sort of action will make you feel better. Sign up for a continuing ed class. Join a women’s professional networking group. Ask people whose careers you admire to coffee to pick their brains. Volunteer for a non-profit (maybe one that’s focused on cats or food?) to feed your interests and pick up some new skills. DON’T go home and sit on your couch after a soul-sucking work day, contemplating how much of a rut you’re in.
– Explore new jobs that aren’t a dramatic shift from your current one. Are competitors hiring? Are there agencies/consultancies looking for someone with luxury goods experience? Or another field of sales you could explore? A new work environment can open you up to new experiences and professional contacts, even if it doesn’t lead you to your passion right away.
– Definitely don’t quit your job without anything else lined up.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@Apple Great advice! And thank you to the author for sharing your story – it’s very similar to how most people I know feel these days (myself included).

selenana (#673)

@Apple YES. Good advice. Animal shelter volunteer! Maybe you could become a vet tech or an adoptions coordinator!

wearitcounts (#772)


TARDIStime (#1,633)

So, so relevant. I’m finding the comments really awesome, though!

Morbo (#1,236)

Well, if you are selling luxury goods in a middling economy, I am going to say you have some sales-oriented skill set. That is a valuable tool that can be leveraged into many industries. After all, people will frequent a baker if their customer experience is more pleasant.

I guess the question is, did you pursue a higher education, and if so, did they do anything to help you explore your interests?

frenz.lo (#455)

It is hard to find work in the profession of Employed Person in the field of Offers Benefits, because I think that the wide net approach can read like a lack of focus.
I would say, don’t worry about your actual interests, but instead think about the types of tasks you enjoy, types of work environments you love or hate, and other aspects of any given job that make up the actual workday, and the think of something vaguely connected to your current field that might give you some of what you want in terms of day to day duties. Like, could you pitch yourself to an interior design firm as an expert in luxury goods in order to get entry level work there?

EM (#1,012)

@frenz.lo Or I would add to this, do you have the time to volunteer and gain some of the skills or expertise you are missing? Often it is way easiser to get involved with an organization as a volunteer, and it can be a great way to demonstrate your interest, pick up some references, make professional connections, and eventually land a better job. Plus in my experience a volunteer commitment is at most a few hours a week- doable even with a full-time job.

DarlingMagpie (#1,695)

A big source of your stress could be the fact that you’re in a lowerish paying, unsatisfying job selling luxury items to people you perceive as being wealthier/happier. Direct comparisons of these sort are a killer. I worked a lot of retail during university, coffee shops and candy stores, wine, etc. But the time I felt this most disconnected and unsatisfied was selling pricy homeware at William Sonoma. I was surrounded by conspicuous consumption and people dropping thousands on a whim and it was just bizarre. I can’t imagine how people work at Coach and Holts while making just a touch over minimum wage…

Anyway, I second what a lot of people said here. Volunteering definitely helped me when I was at my lowest. I fed and played with kittens at a shelter and volunteered for arts festivals and got to see things for free!

Second, I reskilled and took a post-grad certificate which definitely helped with that aimlessness that you described.

Third, I started going out to meet-ups and networking events. I found a good group of people who helped me figure out my next move.

You’re not the only one! Good luck!

glow bug (#1,606)

First off, I suggest you not buy into the myth of “Most people seem to figure out what they want to do in college, or at least form an idea of what they want to do in their twenties…” It’s a habit we fall into when we are dissatisfied with an aspect of our lives–comparing our insides to others’ outsides–feeling like everyone else seems to have it together where we don’t. It’s not true. Most of us 20, 30, even 40 somethings have no idea. Most people go through several career changes in a lifetime. Often your first career choice is dictated by the values handed down by your parents which you eventually discard for ones more meaningful to you.

My suggestion is to find a well-reviewed career book and follow its suggestions, possibly side by side with a friend or a group. Think in terms of vocation (broad) rather than job or career, and most importantly give yourself a break. Most people don’t love their jobs, and it sounds like your situation is not a bad place to be while waiting for inspiration.

mishaps (#65)

@glow bug this is very true. The secret of adulthood is that everyone is making it up as they go along.

You may find the career you love in your 20s, the same way you may meet the love of your life in high school. More likely, though, you’ll go through a few transitions along the way.

sunflowernut (#1,638)

I love this article and all these comments! It seems like so many people feel this way, myself included. It’s nice to realize I’m not alone in this. And thanks to everyone for all these comments! There are some really good ideas here.

CLhere (#2,548)

Have you read What Color is Your Parachute? It is SO HELPFUL for this exact situation.

Maggie Ham (#2,571)

I really appreciate all the positive feedback! I was hesitant to even submit the piece, but it is really nice to hear that I am not the only one that feels this way (or has). Your suggestions are all very helpful and I look forward to trying them out!

Hi everyone! It seems that we all go through cycles of finding what to do with our lives and then refining that vision. I was definitely in this mental space when I was 30, and I expect to cycle back through a few times throughout life. Many of you commenting here might like a blog post that I wrote recently about retro-fitting your current job into a calling: http://www.dawntrautman.com/urbannomadusa/retrofit-your-job-into-a-calling/. Be well, and keep searching instead of falling into complacency!

BornSecular (#2,245)

Get out of my head! I have felt this way basically since I graduated over 4 years ago. I’ve been in a dead-end job since then with a company that publishes phone books. I’ve been looking off and on for over a year with no luck, but I had another interview yesterday for something completely different, so fingers crossed! If it doesn’t work out again, I will be looking into some of these comments more in depth!

honey cowl (#1,510)

Ugh ugh ugh. I, too, hate my job. I, too, cry before going to work in the morning. I, too, am criminally underpaid. I have failed at every single interview and feel like I am trapped in my current industry.

So what I’m saying is I feel you. I don’t want my dream job, I just want to not hate it and to maybe not be so worried about money I have anxiety attacks. Thanks world.

Maggie Ham (#2,571)

@Lauren I hope it gets better for you too!

Baking, running, cats, looking at Buzzfeed and napping. What sort of longterm career can I build based off of that? Apply for a small business loan and open up a bakery? Maybe a bakery with treadmills? With a room with couches and cats for customers to pet?

I know you’re probably just joking here, but have you ever considered opening up a cat cafe??

calamity (#2,577)

@Green Tea Ghost Story Um, that’s exactly what I thought when I read that part. A bakery with cats to pet? Think of all the depressed pet-free urbanites you could attract!! I would buy ALL the overpriced coffees for the chance to sit with a friendly cat or two …

AlliNYC (#1,725)

@Green Tea Ghost Story AGREED! I would go to that cafe!

selyse (#497)

I’ve found it useful to separate “the work” from “the job.” Sometimes the job you think you are going to love (cool company, interesting field) turns out to involve work that is actually terribly boring or downright crazy-making. And I think that sometimes, you may not be that excited about the job, but then what you’re actually *doing* all day turns out to be fun and engaging. I think your workplace culture (esp the people!) has an even bigger impact. I spent a lot of time job-hopping in my 20s (back when the economy and job market offered that luxury) and *hated* all of my jobs. I ended up at a small consulting company doing things I never would have imagined but I’ve been here a record 7 years because the work is constantly changing and I have the most amazing boss. Professionally, I’ve grown exponentially. Perhaps you could think about your search from a different perspective and instead of narrowing down by job, look for companies where you think it might be fun and challenging to work. Approaching it from a different angle might help you clarify some thinking.

You need to start your own pursuit of happiness. My sister and I a working on our own “passion projects” right now, where we are preparing to take the leap of faith into the world of doing what makes you happy. She is a graphic design professor moving out to NYC with her own studio. I am a college student who has studied design and have realized I want to do more with my life than sit I front of the computer. I still love design, I know I can use my skills how I want to though. Like making atisan chocolates, and sweets. So, I’m on the road to becoming a master chocolatier so I can spread my message to people. Do what makes you happy. This is YOUR LIFE. Never settle for anything less than pure happiness. Have no regrets and take chances. The only thing greater than fear is hope. If you believe that you can do it and you never look back, you will achieve so much more than ever expected.

This path won’t always be easy, but if you are happy and living life with love and passion, you will make it through it all. With a smile.

Good luck darling!

Mgreen (#4,418)

Hi Maggie, I know you posted this last year but I totally relate to every single thing you have described here. I am in my late 20s and have absolutely no idea what I want to do too. I have been in the same career since I graduated in 2005 and have been thinking of changing careers for the longest time. I just don’t know to what, how, where to start. I love all the comments in this article. I believe that its important to learn to be happy with ourselves first and not be afraid to take chances. Its a struggle but I am trying. How are things going with you now?

This wonderful post– and all of the warm, helpful comments here– have fed my soul. Thank you. I’m 28, recovering from a run of chronic illness that started when I was in my senior year of college. Ever since then, I’ve felt like the biggest loser in the game of adulthood. I was so busy playing the “game” of excelling in school that I never got a chance to be a teenager. Now I feel like I’m in the midst of an adolescence I never had– and asking questions that are straight out of “What Color is Your Parachute” at the age of 28. I volunteered for a nonprofit as President of the organization for six years. I left three months ago because I was desperately unhappy. It’s great being away from that stress, but now, I have no idea what my “path” is… and I have a hard time envisioning myself (and my time, my input, my skills) as being worth a paycheck. It’s so hard with my insecurities about adulthood (not feeling like I’m up to par with the adventures, failures, and successes that my peers are having) that it’s tough for me to figure out a way to take one of the many things that I think I’m kind of sort of good at (read: the way you described your hobbies and interests, Maggie!) and feel enough love for one of them that I’m ready to pledge allegiance to it and become a specialist of some kind.
Facebook and Instagram can be unbelievably destructive. I’m happy to see that other people are celebrating successes and growth, but sometimes, I have to be gentle with myself and remind myself that I might be better off heading to my neighborhood Starbucks with a latte and a set of Prismacolor markers (sans devices running social media apps) because reading about yet another new baby, engagement, vacation, or exciting life change might not be the most productive thing for me to do when I’m doubting my self worth.
I just want to thank you all for being so honest. I wish more people would use social media and blogs to share not just the happy, celebratory taglines and retro digital polaroid moments of their lives, but also their doubts, their vulnerabilities, their uncertainties, and their deepest hopes and dreams that haven’t come true yet. So… thanks for making my day less lonely. :-)

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