24 July 2007

Getting Older

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from an old friend, someone I hadn't talked to in nearly twenty years.

First of all, how is it that I'm old enough that I can have grown-up (well, close to grown-up; definitely not childhood) experiences that were twenty years ago?

I knew this person from youth orchestra. We were both in the woodwind section and part of a core group of close friends who were all geeky enough not to care that we were geeky. Youth orchestra was the highlight of my high-school years by a long shot. I don't know how I would have survived that era without that outlet and without the friends I had there.

Sadly, I'm not in touch with any of those friends anymore. We were true friends, but we went to different colleges, pursued different careers, and lost touch. It happens. I think back on that time and those people with great fondness, though, and while I have little to no interest in going to any of my high school reunions, I would love it if there were youth orchestra reunions.

But I digress. So, I got back in touch with this old friend. We have not been able to talk on the phone yet, but we've exchanged a couple of brief e-mails and we hope to chat soon.

I was able to look up his picture on his company's website. I have an image in my mind of what he looked like twenty years ago. Here's the thing: I never would have recognized him. If I'd seen him on the street, I would have walked on by. My friend, if you're reading this, don't take it the wrong way. You look great. You just look TWENTY YEARS OLDER.

Wow. When did we start to look like grown-ups? Do I look that different? I don't think I do, but I would guess that most of us don't think we do. I feel like I look essentially the same, that someone from that time in my life could easily recognize me. I'm thinner than I was back then, and I'm in better shape. I have a better haircut. A WAY better haircut. I also have better eyebrows, as in I started getting them waxed. (Why did I wait so long?) But I still look basically like I did twenty years ago, right? Maybe not.

I do know that I look older. I can tell you when that happened. Pictures of me the day before John's cancer diagnosis and the day after look palpably different, and the difference is that I aged years in those two days.

Self-perception is such a funny thing. Would people from high-school recognize me? How much have I changed over the years? And again: when did I start to look like a grown-up?

On a related note, I've been thinking a lot about my job. It bugs the crap out of me. I desperately want to quit and find a new job. Here's the thing: I've thought and thought about it all, and I feel like it's not worth the time and energy to switch jobs and stay in this line of work. I have a decent gig for what I do, pay-wise, time-wise, and responsibility-wise. The more I think about it, the more I feel like I'm looking for a big change.

I've always been the kind of person who gets bored easily. I like to do something for a while, then try something new. One of the few things in my life that's been constant it a love of languages and a love of travel. I think these interests have stuck with me because they inherently bring newness and change. In high school, I studied two languages. In college, I lived overseas twice. Then I was in Peace Corps. Then I got a Masters in Translation/Interpretation. I took and passed the Foreign Service exam. Then I moved to Boston and ended up in a career in publishing, using my English language skills.

I've been doing what I do since 1999. The skills I have are somewhat transferable to other careers, but not ones that hold much appeal to me. Project management? Been there, done that, hated it. Copy editing? I don't think I could copy edit all day, every day without going insane. Proofreading? Ditto, only the insanity would come faster. Teaching? I really miss teaching sometimes, but I'm not sure I could handle the pay cut.

I want to maintain (or improve) my standard of living in terms of pay, amount of hours worked, and flexibility. I would prefer something with fairly regular hours. I prefer not to work at home or be a freelancer. I like someone else to take care of my administrative tasks and my health insurance. I like to work with people (how trite!), use my brain (I guess toll collector is out), and would love to get back into languages. I've also completed the prerequisite classes for admission into acupuncture school, and could enroll in the fall if I wanted.

Options I'm very vaguely considering:
  • Overseas teaching. I have friends who do this. Pros: travel. Relatively good pay depending on post. Challenging work. Lots of time off in the summer, with paid trips home to see family. Cons: being even further away from my family.
  • Retaking Foreign Service exam (and, hopefully, passing again). Pros: high-rolling overseas life. Challenging work. Cons: high-rolling overseas life is insulated from host country nationals. Supporting US foreign policy whether I agree with it or not. Being even further away from my family.
  • Acupuncture school. Pros: intriguing career. Going back to school! Doing something completely outside the box in terms of what I've done before. Transportable career; can live anywhere and practice (if licensed; depends on state). Cons: Student loans. Three years of paying to be in school while not having an income.

Who knows. I'm tossing a lot of ideas around in my head. I want to be careful of making any big changes so soon after John's death, too. I know the conventional wisdom is to not make major life changes in the first six months to a year after losing someone close to you. So I'm sitting with all this, thinking it over, seeing where it leads.

To tie this back to getting older, it gets hard once you're this far in a career, though, to think about making a major change. I don't want to be at the bottom of the ladder again. And while I don't consider myself entirely risk-adverse, I don't do well at all with financial uncertainty. Not to mention that I have a lot at stake now with the twins. But I'm only thirty-five. A kernel of me—the kernel that's feeling older by the minute—has the sense that's too late to start over doing something new. That just can't be, though. Thirty-five is not old! But are the risks too great?

I'm feeling like I should meet with a career counselor. I'm sure there are tons of other options that would be interesting to me that I have not even considered, and maybe some more easily transfered skills I'm not taking into account. What I should really do now is the job I'm currently getting paid for.


shauna said...

I know a lot of people fear change, but it's always been exciting to me. Reading your post reminds me of all that excitement. Possibilities. Options. They're wonderful! Have fun, whatever you decide to do!

And I hope you don't mind, but I gave you the rockin' girl blogger award over at my blog (because I do think you rock!).

Indie Mama said...

I walked away from a job that many people considered me nuttier than a fruitcake for leaving...but it was the right decision for me, and eventually, I just *knew*. I think for big decisions, you know when you *know*.

As far as living overseas, being away from family with young ones is tough (really tough), but in Europe at least, childcare options seem to be much easier and cheaper.

Oh yeah, and I just happened upon my highschool reunion webpage. I totally feel old now too!

Rebecca said...

I'm sending you an email. I just wasn't sure if you still check the yahoo account you have listed on this blog. :)

Jolene said...

I know the feeling. I get thet feeling from time to time. You're right...you're ONLY 35 years old...you're right in waiting to see where your thoughts take you but I'm all for change...especially change that will make you happier. Good luck and keep us posted. And about the age...hmm...I don't think I look much older either! You should post a picture of yourself from high school and then we can really answer the question! :)

amy said...

You do what you feel you need to do, and gosh no, thirty-five is not too old to start something new! Good for you!!

Karen O said...

From someone old enough to be your mother, here're some thoughts on parenting while employed:

Although I'm not a single parent, my husband became self employed when our children were in early elementary school. Maintaining an income became his top priority which meant I was left to hold down house, home and family most of the time and often felt like a single parent.

At the time, I worked in retail, but it quickly became clear that I needed a job that matched my childrens' schedules and a job in a school was the only answer. Nights, weekends, holidays and summers off are a fantastic gig for anyone with children. Having schedules that matched and getting to know the inner working of our school district were valuable perks.

My children are now grown and gone, but I still love my school job in an elementary school computer lab. It sounds like you could teach, but the stress most teachers endure might not be worth it for you. There are many non-teaching positions in administration, community relations, media center, etc, etc, etc. to consider, however.

I know school seems like a long way off for your little ones, but when the time comes, having an interesting job with hours that matches theirs will help more than you can imagine at this point.

Your fan,
Karen O

erk said...

We know a career counselor - she's married to our photographer!

Julia said...

Which languages are you proficient in? Harvard just posted something for Slavic languages. If that helps at all.

ccinnkeeper said...

I went to my 25th high school reunion in November of last year. I could hardly believe I was that old either. I might have skipped it except that one of the few people I wanted to see came all the way from Holland so I figured I could suck it up and drive the two hours. It was pretty odd seeing everyone looking grown up, but it was definitely more difficult to recognize the men than the women - their hairlines have changed substantially! Waistlines, too, but less so in this particular crowd.

I was in a similar bind in my career in my early 30's. It was around then that I discovered that I'd have really loved a career in emergency medicine. I looked into what I would have to do to go to medical school and decided I was just too old. I would have had to take three years of post-bach pre-med (core sciences) before I could even take the MCAS and apply to med. school. I would have been 45 before I would be done with my training. It was depressing to discover that I was actually too old to do something.

After much soul-searching and some discussions with my husband, the idea for my current career came out of deciding where we wanted to live, then figuring out how to support ourselves in a place with no industry and no large companies. You might say I "backed into" my current vocation, rather than plowing forward. I made the switch at 36 and it not only involved a career change, but moving far away from friends and a life we'd built. That was eight years ago and the business we started is doing well.

Life takes you in funny directions sometimes, but when the right thing comes along, you'll know it.

Anonymous said...

A career counselor could be a great tool for you. Most people are "smart" enough to think through these options on their own, but if anything, a career counselor can give you an outsider's perspective...something that even friends and family cannot totally give.

As for stability, there are really several ways to look at it. If a pay cut could ultimately lead to better, happier options, then in the long run you'd be in much better shape. Life altering decisions are never easy, but we should not stop ourselves from something out of fear or a belief we can't/won't/shouldn't do something.

I'm preaching to myself now, by the way. :)

What's that quote about only asking questions for which we already know the answers?

- A (another lurker)

Anonymous said...

Lurker #478 here delurking to tell you to go see a career counselor. I went and it was the best thing I have done for myself.

Anonymous said...

It is not too late, but don't wait too long to make a big change. I am now going on 44, and in a job that I hate in many ways, but pays well, and in which I am relatively secure. I kept making excuses for not going back to school and making a big career change until now it really is too late, for a lot of reasons, one of which being the giant and expensive house we bought 2 years ago (which I do love), not to mention the three kids and the ADVANCED AGE. I really regret not having done it earlier.

Amy said...

An appointment with a career counselor sounds like a great start.

35 is young. I hate to think of you feeling forced to do something that bores you for the rest of your days..

My brother taught English in Japan for 3 years. Besides totally loving the position and the travel he paid off the student loans for his Masters .

uberimma said...

How about being a writer? It's pretty clear you can do that. I used to think that to be a writer you had to be either in journalism or fiction, but I had three jobs in higher ed, one in the fund development division of a hospital, and now I'm a speechwriter at an international humanitarian nonprofit. It's something different every day, a fair amount of flexibility and a biweekly paycheck with benefits. The pay would be better in corporate speechwriting--by about a factor of four--but that's just a different world.

Anonymous said...

Change is good. Go for it!

Here's my experience, for what it's worth. I'm an editor who has gone through near-constant cycles of boredom and career crises for--yikes--almost 30 years. I've worked in magazines and books, fulltime and freelance. I've also explored various career changes over the years but have always come back to editorial work.

Since becoming a parent, eliminating some of the stress of managing home and work lives has made it easier to accommodate a little boredom.

For the past 14 years (since my 1st kid was born) I've settled into working at home as a freelance editor. I do a pretty wide range of jobs now, including some writing, and the mix changes fairly often. Most importantly, I can control my schedule (most of the time) which has made me able to be with the kids as much as possible.

Another great idea, as Karen O said, is to work in the schools. It's hard to imagine when they're little, but the babies will someday soon be living lives governed by school schedules, and it'll make -your- life a lot less stressful if you're on the same calendar. Assuming, of course, that you can find something you want to do in that context! Good luck!


Maggie said...

Is there any way to make a career move that locates you and the kids closer to your family? Their support as the twins grow up will help you enormously, and your support as your parents grow older will mean a lot to them.

Heather said...

Couple of questions for you ...
Was your job making you unhappy before John died?
Does any work idea excite you right now or is the main goal just not doing what you are doing right now?

All this from a woman who did not pay the smallest ammount of attention to the "don't do anything for a year" rule. In the first week I talked to a Navy recruiter {wanted to cover the basic needs of life and not think}. In the first two months I applied to art school {I have this great idea for a book that I don't have the skills for}. Things kind of went on from there. I have transistioned from libraries to healthcare {non-clinical} as a result of my John dying but it was a wild, strange ride to get there.

Also, I get the before/after picture thing, I think it took about 4 years after John died {so 5 from the time of his heart attack} to recognize my eyes in a picture.

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog you may want to read or as she puts it share in a journey through grief


AMH said...

I can understand your need for a change. I too am one of those people that always wants to be doing something different... friends and family tease me that I like "projects" whether it is a location change, a job change, a new degree, etc.

I agree with indie mama that sometimes you just *know* when the right opportunity comes along. keep looking, the right thing will find you and it will be easy to make the decision.

jenny said...

My brother and his wife are Foreign Service Officers in South America. Both of our kids are <1 and we're already jealous of all the opportunities their daughter will have. The get great support for their family (nanny, cook, very inexpensive daycare).

A big con is that unless you're at a large post, it can be isolating because the American community can be small at your post. We visit them once a year, but it isn't the same as having family nearby.

Tiffany said...

Keep your options open! Start looking around quietly and see if you find anything. I have always looked for a new job even if I enjoy my current job to see if there is anything better out there. Hey - it never hurts to look.

Marie-Baguette said...

what about teaching or working for an international school?

Yankee T said...

I think a career counselor is a great idea. You do have a lot to think about, what with the twins and all. I hate the feeling of being bored. My job changes and expands so much all the time that I never have time for grass to grow under my feet. Do it! See a career counselor! Explore your options! And bless you, my dear, for being so strong.
(Berlitz has a huge office in Boston, by the way. Maybe they have something interesting.)

Rev Dr Mom said...

I am waaay older than you, and I know very well the feeling of "how did I get so old?"

But I want to encourage you to explore your options and follow your heart in terms of retooling for a different career. I've "reinvented" myself twice, and even though I do have a mountain of student debt, it has been worth it. (Note I was in school for a looooong time and earned four degrees to amass that debt-it wouldn't be that bad for you!)

Seeing a career counselor might be a good step as you figure out what you want to do. Good luck~

Anonymous said...

Consider setting a deadline for yourself, to re-evaluate. That way, you're not wondering about it all the time, but say, in six months, assess your current job and career, and then do it again in another six months. And, write down what you thought through (in this blog for the bloggable stuff? and elsewhere for the unbloggable). I think the advice not to do anything drastic at this moment is probably wise, but that doesn't mean never.

You are amazing, and deserve the future you want.