A Father-Daughter Duo Answers Your Questions: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

the clash

Dear Meghan and her Dad,

I’m 24 and I’ve been at my first job for about a year; it’s typically a two-year position. My supervisor has recently quit, and according to several coworkers in our (very small) office, I would be a good fit for it. I know the region of specialization, I just submitted a report to my big boss on long-term strategy that she really liked, and one of the other people in our office who works at the same level as my supervisor mentioned to the big boss that (as far as she’s concerned) I would be a good fit.

The problem? I don’t want to stay in this work long-term. It’s near-ish to what I want my career to be (I’m in international education, and want to join the Foreign Service), but this isn’t quite it. On the one hand, if I go for it, I get stability, a promotion/raise (and the attendant ability to not have roommates), and a job I’m reasonably good at in a community I like. On the other hand, I’m really scared that my desire to be stable and responsible will lead me to stay not just in a field I’m not in love with, but in an office where, beyond this position, I wouldn’t be able to grow long-term. Plus, taking the position would mean putting off grad school for at least another couple of years, and I have the feeling that if I wait too long, I won’t do it. I know I’m really fortunate to be in a position like this, but I don’t want to make the wrong choice just because I should be grateful to have it. So, come on and let me know: Should I stay or should I go?

All the best,

Aspiring Diplomat


Meghan’s dad says:

Dear Aspiring Diplomat,

Oh yes—that immortal riddle posed by The Clash in 1982 (eight years before you were even born, if my math hasn’t eluded me)—is as intractable in one’s work life as it is in one’s personal life. When do you step off one bus and onto another? Or worse—off one bus and onto … nothing?

You have done an excellent job of assessing your current situation—looks like you have a good head on your shoulders. You also have a job and one that has the potential to be meaningful, so you have already achieved much more than many of your generation or, indeed, the general working population have achieved. For the past half century, many kids have grown up thinking that they would get a job that was interesting and challenging. For the vast majority of people, and for life before the ‘60s, that was and is an illusion. Work is work. For most, it is hard and thankless and engaged in only to put the proverbial food on the table. And yet, for about 50 years or so, a large number of kids primarily in the Western world have thought it should be more, and for the lucky few, it was. Work could be important; you could “make a difference;” you could have fun and get paid for it. A very novel and recent concept, but one borne of privilege. It is a luxury and if you are fortunate enough to find yourself in that position, logic suggests you shouldn’t give up your seat on that bus.

But you clearly want to: “I don’t want to stay in this work long-term.”

Once you say that, I begin to wonder what the debate is about. You have made up your mind and you are looking to be reassured. Here goes.

Sure, there is risk. But you are 24, for crying out loud. You want grad school (you might want to check out the GMAT just in case it turns out to be a limiting factor) followed by the foreign service. This nice, sort-of-makes-a difference-but-maybe-not-really job just doesn’t cut it. Roll the dice. Say it blows up. So what. Then you are 26 or 27 and are trying to get back into the job market—not easy, but not impossible. On the other hand, you stay for three or four or five years and then try to jump into grad school (by which point you might feel that the G in GMAT stands for Gibberish) and you will be left wondering about what could have been.

So let’s revert to the land of punk with none other than Elvis Costello.

“I said ‘I’m so happy I could die’ / She said ‘Drop dead’ and left with another guy”

You are “she”; “I” is your possible new job as supervisor; “another guy” is your potential.

Okay—it’s a big stretch, but it is one of my favorite punk lyrics so I had to try to make it work (“Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes” from My Aim Is True). And you could do worse than look to Elvis for pithy words of wisdom.

Go chase the other guy. He’s on a different bus.

Meghan says:

Man, remember 24? I do. I think. Correct me if I’m wrong, Dad (you always do), but I’m pretty sure I was living at home at 24, having recently finished driving solo around America for three months. (That sounds more purposeful than it was; in actuality, I woke up one morning so terribly depressed in my post-college haze that all I could think to do was try to drive away from it.) I was sleeping in a bedroom next to my parents, working as a barista where the median age of my coworkers was 16, and kept coming home to find innocuous-seeming papers on my bed that read things like, “The Top 50 MFA Programs” that I would sweep off the duvet before climbing under it to weep about my lost youth, my lack of direction, my interminable loneliness.


I thought 24 was old. Now I’m 30 and I realize I will probably never be old, not really. Old compared to what? According to whom? This time last year, I got fired from a job that I had thought would be mine for the long-haul, in a field I had chosen as my end-stop. Cue montage, throw in a breakup, add a dash of SSRIs, and a year of serious grindstoning, and now I have a career I didn’t even know existed, and am more professionally fulfilled than I could have ever imagined.

So I could ramble about best laid plans, etc. etc,, but I think what you’re really looking for is someone to tell you that it will be okay to leave. And it will. You’ve already left, I think. The worst way to do a job is with one foot out the door. It is unfair to those who have invested in you and it is unfair to your 30-year-old self, who is out there whispering—begging—you to go, go, just go already. Of course you should be grateful for your luck (on the back of your tenacity and dedication), and of course there is the chance that it won’t work out the way you’ve planned (it hardly ever does), but at the age you are, even in an economy like this one, it is always, always okay to go.

Trust me. I’m old.


Punk rock with us at meghanandherdad@gmail.com.


17 Comments / Post A Comment

appleaday (#6,367)

Why is it one or the other? If you haven’t applied to school, it will probably be at least a year if not before you start. The raise might help to pay for school too.

sherlock (#3,599)

@appleaday Exactly, this is exactly what I came down here to say. I didn’t see any mention of what else the LW is planning on doing in the next year, so why not take this in the meantime? It can’t hurt to get the raise and the extra experience.

chevyvan (#2,956)

Honestly, I don’t think you can make the wrong choice here. If the desire to go to grad school is strong, it will still be there in a couple years and you’ll have some money saved up (you’ll save more if you don’t get rid of your roommates).

On the other hand, I think it really helps to have the energy/drive of a 24 year old to deal with a rigorous grad school program. Maturity also helps, but you sound very mature. I was in grad school for a very long time and the long nights of studying/writing got physically tougher as the years went on.

ECW (#2,765)

OMG. Don’t quit before you quit! Take the promotion! Worst case scenario there is you make a bit more money while you figure out if grad school or the foreign service is next. Then you hire someone to do a great job underneath you, train them up, and the cycle repeats. The conundrum here sounds like “I will feel bad if I take this job and then quit in a year or two” and let me tell you, whatever bad feelings that generates will be fleeting compared to the resume boost, networking options, and extra income that almost every promotion comes with. Take it, then if you want to go, go. Do both!

nell (#4,295)

Agree completely, though I would point out that applying for grad school is a fairly long process depending on where you’re at now, and that it typically has to take place on a set schedule. Presumably you’re not planning to go this fall (if you’re asking this question now) so why not accept the new position and take the additional money for the next 10 months or whatever? Keep your roommates and save the extra money you’re making for grad school. You don’t have to spend years there just because you take the new job– you don’t owe them anything. (although I know it’s tough not to feel that way when it’s your first job and everybody’s telling you to be grateful to have a job in the first place.)

OllyOlly (#669)

Perhaps this isn’t of any interest, but I work for a grad program and most of our students are part time. Not that working full time and part time grad school are fun, but many many students do it. (Especially in international relations type fields)

aetataureate (#1,310)

@OllyOlly I am a full time worker, part time grad student, and I love it and am so grateful my previous grad-school schemes didn’t come to fruition.

LW, I’ve never ever heard anyone say “I really regret that management position I had for a year or two and put on my resume.” Grad schools and future jobs all want you to be well rounded, experienced, and with something to bring to the table.

dotcommie (#662)

@OllyOlly I am a full time worker, part time grad student, and most of the time I hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. My grad program is really hard, and not designed to be done part time, but I am doing it anyway. My job is no cake walk, either. The sad thing is that I think I would love the program if I had done it full time, but right now I just feel burned out at work and burned out at school. Oh, I am also planning a wedding.

Anyway. OP, don’t undertake a scheme like this lightly. It’s real hard. At least go to a program with night classes.

Theestablishment (#7,469)

I wholeheartedly agree with appleaday. Why does it have to be one or the other? Why not plan to take the job for two years only with the explicit target of starting grad school by X date.

The only downside is that you’ll lose two years (though since it sounds like you really haven’t started the application process in earnest yet, it’s likely only a one year delay vs. the earliest date you would theoretically start at this point).

The upside is that your grad school application will be much stronger for the experience and you’ll be able to bank some money to put towards tuition or living costs while you’re in school.

At 24, don’t be so afraid of making wrong choices, just keep your eyes open so you can change those choices if necessary. Your biggest sin at this point in your life is to assume that all of your choices have to contain mutually exclusive end points and that once made, decisions can’t be changed.

I personally feel that taking the promotion keeps the most options open with the potential to make the currently preferred option even better, but at the end of the day, do what you gotta do.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Theestablishment “Lose two years” of what, though? Lose them how?

Theestablishment (#7,469)

@aetataureate Not really ‘lose’ in a sense that they disappear, it’s more of a theoretical delay vs. the vision that the aspiring diplomat has in her/his mind.

Basically, it’s barely a sacrifice at all.

jalmondale (#6,721)

+1 to take the promotion, apply to grad school (start working on the application now), and leave in 10 months. Think of it this way: at the moment, your company has no one except you ready to jump into this position. If you take the new job, you have 10 months to find and groom a successor who can then take over for you when you leave. You’ll be leaving your co-workers in a way better position then they currently are, and you’ll be in a better financial position, particularly if you keep the roommates. Bonus: if you dislike having the roommates, keeping them will help stave off some of the complacency you’re worried about.

lilijing (#6,798)

Totally agree with the posts above – take the promotion, apply to grad school for next year and use this time to get the management/job experience that will help you get the most out of grad school (and make you a much more valuable contributor/classmate!). I did an IR masters at 24, and although it did give me a head start on my career, I definitely didn’t get as much out of the coursework or networking as I would have with a little more experience.

Also, if you’re dead set on the foreign service, start studying for the written exam now. You don’t have to have a masters to get into the foreign service, and the timeframe from taking the written exam to actually getting a posting can be around 2 years or more (if you pass!). A masters will certainly enhance your skills and knowledge but there’s always the opportunity for a mid-career degree. If what you REALLY want is the foreign service, start that process now.

Thingamabob (#5,522)

Agree with the posts above– apply for the job. Either you get it or you don’t, and then go from there. Even if you get it, you’re not obligated to stay, and everyone understands when a 25 year old leaves a job to go to grad school that it’s an ok thing.

Also, as someone in international development, who probably went to one of the programs you’re thinking of applying to, I can say this: the median age at most of the top IR schools is around 27, or at least it was a few (<5) years back. It’s also expensive. Saving some money and having a longer resume will not hurt you. The average starting age for the foreign service is 30, so you won’t be at a disadvantage if you find yourself applying a little later on. (Also, as people have pointed out, applying to FS is a funny sort of a job search, anyway.)

I hope that helped.

@fo (#839)

“You don’t have to have a masters to get into the foreign service”

See, this is what I think is *KEY*. Why do you want to go to grad school? Bc you think that it will get a FSO job? It’s likely that *everyone* you go to grad school with will also be applying, and you’ll all have the same degree–you know what *none* of them have? 2 or 3 years of a ‘management’ position in international education.

You know what’s *great* about that line on your resume, aside from being different from everyone else applying–instead of you paying $100k to get it, someone paid you to get it.

I am legitimately *baffled* by the slant here at the BF toward getting a masters degree which may or may not actually aid one in getting a job. Baffled.

As someone who has both attended grad school (I’m a few months away from defending my PhD) in a related field and taken the Foreign Service exam, I would strongly consider applying for the promotion. The application for the Foreign Service is brutal – maybe 1-2% of those who sign up for the test make it on the list. The test itself appears to be designed to weed out a lot of really smart, really well-rounded individuals. If you pass the test, the next round requires you to write several narratives about your various qualifications. Believe me, the Foreign Service wants people who have managerial experience. Managerial experience trumps a graduate degree, and I’m saying this as someone who has a ton of formal education, but not a lot of supervisory experience.

Obviously, you do you, but what you want is largely immaterial to what employers want.

guenna77 (#856)

i second all the calls for taking the promotion, if what you really want to do is be in the foreign service. you don’t need grad school for that. i’m good friends with two ladies who got in directly after undergrad, and i know a lot of other people in it, many of whom don’t have a grad degree. the test series is brutal but it wasn’t about their education. it was about problem solving, working with others, leadership, curiosity, perseverance.

Also, if you get past the tests, you have to get a security clearance. this process took 9 months for my one friend, and it’s up to you to support yourself during that time. you aren’t “hired” until you’re cleared.

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