Never had a proper career. Why can't I put this to bed??

(21 Posts)
gandalf456 Sun 03-Jan-16 12:03:13

I have also posted in Chat but I feel this belongs better in here.

I am 45 and have two children. I went to university and, when I left, I joined the family business which was sort of related to my degree but nothing high flying or that would necessarily require a degree - though it was useful. I stayed for ten years and enjoyed the work but missed out on terms of social contact and career progression.

I intended to go back after I had dd, now 11, but the business failed so I just took any job and ended up in retail. I don't actually mind it. I enjoy the social contact and the banter and just having a job that I can just leave and forget about.

However, I always feel slightly ashamed that I did very little with my degree. All my old uni friends are doing great and haven't struggled financially the way I have. I hate just being a shop girl and long to use my skills but am not that bothered about money and must admit I don't want the stress and aggro of a career on top of a family. I do a tiny bit of voluntary stuff related to my degree which I love so why can't I put this to bed?

lorelei9 Sun 03-Jan-16 12:14:13

I'm just posting to say I can relate
I don't care re degree but at school it was considered I'd be a high achiever etc and now I do a fairly average job which I picked because it was low stress, pays mortgage etc

For me, I can't do all the politics, networking, office presenterism etc required to climb higher. I did have a higher job, it's how I raised my deposit, but as soon as I had saved enough to do that, I realised I wanted easier work and early retirement. I still struggle to put this to bed in spite if feeling it was the right choice. Maybe it's about the message of not being good enough unless you are the CeO of a Ftse firm!!

strawberryandaflake Sun 03-Jan-16 12:19:13

Because you know you can do better and feel like you are worth more. It's not too late to get a job that uses your intellect a little more. Maybe do a short course (online if time is tight) and get back out there? Carpe diem xx

lorelei9 Sun 03-Jan-16 12:37:02

strawberry, your reaction, although totally fair, is why I don't talk much about it.

Great if that's what the OP wants to do though. I just felt early retirement was much more important than seeking out another line of work where similar issues apply,
. I think higher level jobs have very similar issues.

Also, for me, the cost of retraining was so huge it wasn't worth the risk. But I appreciate we are all different.

In case it helps, oP, one thing I read was a lightbulb moment for me. A summary "do you fear success because it will mean more work?" I did. And at 40 I knew I wanted to wind down rather than up!

gandalf456 Sun 03-Jan-16 21:10:47

Thanks, you two. And two very different views. Strawberry, yes, yours is the most common and I do ask myself why I don't just get on and do something before it's too late but, lorelei, you seem to have summed up my feelings. I do fear success. I always have. I was a bright child. My parents had very high expectations but I hated the stress and the pressure. I cried all through my A levels as it was just too much. I didn't even want to go to uni - though I'm glad I did and they were right about that as I found uni easier, made some great friends and had some very interesting experiences which I would not have had simply staying at home.

However, when I left, I was pretty sure I didn't want a stressful job even back then. But I do want an interesting job without piles of work and strict deadlines. I guess you can't have both unless extremely lucky, huh? And I know I would not fit in a corporate environment. It would be a huge culture shock. However, I have considered public sector as a compromise and feel it would suit me better.

The career thing does remain unfinished business. I don't know what it is. Partly, I'd like my children to look up to me when they're older. Also, my father was a very successful man, very comfortable in his skin, went very far in his career. I'll never forget talking to his compatriots at his funeral, telling them what I was doing now and feeling very insignificant. Maybe part of me wanted him to be proud, though he was from modest roots and was never snobby about people's careers and had friends from many different backgrounds so maybe not.

Can I ask how old you are, lorelei?

lorelei9 Mon 04-Jan-16 19:20:25

Gandalf, I’m 40.

Reading through your summary, it is different than mine - but there’s a key thing we have in common. Firstly your title really jumped out at me, and secondly my dad is a massively high achiever.

I won’t bore you with the details of my working life to date but will just put some thoughts down in case they are helpful to you.

You mention about your dad’s funeral. I am familiar with the pressure of having a high achieving parent, it’s pretty grim. It’s not just about what the parent thinks, but it’s about what their friends think.

I do some voluntary work which some see as “prestigious” – not sure what alternative word to use, but you know what some people are like. Is it Hyacinth Bucket syndrome (I don’t watch that so I am not sure) but you know, the sort of person who is impressed when you say “I am on the committee for x y z”.

Oh, and add in being single and childfree by choice – people think you should have a marvellous career otherwise wtf are you doing with your life? Enjoying work life balance, good health, time with friends and time to play on MN are not valued!

So, to some extent, if I feel the need to “show” the world that I’m impressive in some way, I can bandy that volunteer work around – though that was nothing to do with why I took it on. Funny how things turn out.
Also, I work for a prestigious organisation (in its field) and have worked for similar in the past. I would like to cut the commute but, as well as there being issues with lower salary, local recruiters said “once you’ve broken that string of prestigious places on your CV, you won’t get hired by another one”.

In the end, it was the difference in salary that made me decide I would stick with commuting into central London, but it was interesting to hear that.

Sorry, I’m waffling. The reason I talk about this prestige factor is I think you need to ask yourself – is this something you want to do for yourself or is it something you want to tell others you have done?

when I re-examined all this at 38, I realised I was doing myself down to some extent – some people would love to have my job.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my job/line of work.

I just struggle with that little voice that still occasionally whispers “why haven’t you achieved more?”

And yes, I could go back and retrain in something etc, but while I don’t want to make this post longer and duller, I know that’s not right for me and I know I would not be doing for a genuine ambition but more just to say “look, I did fulfil my potential after all”.

You may have a genuine ambition of course, or something you really want to do. But it took a good deal of thinking to realise I didn’t. And advice is hard; not many people will say “just settle where you are now”. If you were really unhappy, I would obviously say something else, but if retail suits you.

anyway, hope that has been of help for something other than insomnia

eastwest Mon 04-Jan-16 23:38:32

The most intelligent person I know (straight As in everything, 1st in her degree from a Russell group uni etc., multi-lingual) has worked for years in what most people would consider a 'dead-end' job (it is professional, but no chance of promotion, and low salary, and no glamour attached to it whatsoever - think admin of the dullest sort). She likes it. She is still without a doubt the most intelligent person I know, plus incredibly witty and sharp in conversation - she just prefers it this way. Don't get hung up on what you think you should be doing, concentrate on what you actually enjoy.

gandalf456 Tue 05-Jan-16 13:16:37

lorelei, don't worry, you have not bored me. Your story is very interesting and it's reassuring and a relief to finally talk to someone who knows where I am coming from.

The reason I talk about this prestige factor is I think you need to ask yourself – is this something you want to do for yourself or is it something you want to tell others you have done?

When you said this, I did try to rack my brains. In truth, I still don't know. I think it's a bit of both.

Perhaps if I'd done the career thing, I'd have got it out of my system. If I did succeed, I may decide I hated it, which I think is quite possible but I do not know this for sure.

I am not a snobby person (far from it) so I am not comfortable with the idea that I may care too much what other people think but, deep down, I think I do a bit. It is human nature. And I don't think there are many graduates who have or would want to follow my path!

I have realised that my self-esteem is linked to my work, my achievements etc more than I thought but I am definitely conflicted. In some ways, I really hate retail in the way that it's not valued, they way customers treat you, on occasion, and even how the managers, who are often young and inexperienced, can behave. On the other hand, I work with a lovely, friendly team, who aren't trying to climb the ladder so you don't get the politics the way you would in some offices.

I don't quite know what it is. It's almost like a calling - as if I have to do it. Some of what is holding me back is practical (childcare, time, financial constraints, lack of support), some is confidence (can I do it?) and some is the question 'do I really want this?'

In truth, though, I am bored. Bored with the whole mum scene and would like something else in my life.

gandalf456 Tue 05-Jan-16 13:17:44

Thank you, Eastwest. It is also reassuring to hear of others like me and not feeling as if I am making the biggest mistake of my life. smile

lorelei9 Tue 05-Jan-16 16:18:17

Gandalf – yes, I do have an advantage in that I have had a better paid job and could honestly say I hated it, so the experiment is done, to some extent. That said it’s amazing how people – including line managers! – will tell you that you might like it better in a different team, organisation, line of work etc.

I am a realist. I think there are lot of eternal optimists about. I had a lovely team, lovely manager etc, there was no reason to suppose the things I hated about the higher level job would be different anywhere else. It was fundamentally that higher level of responsiblity that I hated!

Re prestige, because I didn’t want to bore you I didn’t add in a fairly crucial component. For me, it was money – the cost of training vs wanting to retire early. That was something I knew 100% that I want and I think when you really want something, you know it in your bones. I looked at the cost of training (Which I would have done at evening class to keep earning normal) and thought "how many mortgage payments is that, with no guarantee of change?"

I think many professions are under valued and retail is one of them – I’m so impressed with the patience and customer service skills shown by many retail staff. I’m glad you have a good team and enjoy it.

Boredom isn’t something I feel very often but I realise you have to tackle that. However, it may be that you need to offset what you call “the mum stuff” with something other than work? If not, then of course you will have to keep in mind that the mum stuff might seem harder if you are retraining and then doing a new job and still having to do the mum stuff...

It’s all up to the individual of course. Some people need to be busy – my parents are good examples, they can't do nothing. I’m much happier when I’m not busy and can just mooch about.

gandalf456 Wed 06-Jan-16 14:15:32

No. I am the same. I go crazy if I don't get my down time. I certainly wouldn't spend it running or anything like that

lorelei9 Thu 07-Jan-16 11:06:27

oh I have to spend a fair chunk of down time working out - but that's partly because I'm stuck at a desk most of the day.

I forgot to ask, did you have anything in particular you fancied doing?

kathrunneth Fri 08-Jan-16 10:08:17

When i career coach people in this situation, I find it can be helpful to go back to basics about what's important to you about work. I meet lots of people who feel that they should be striving for something that isn't really important to them - and so their heart isn't in it or it doesn't feel quite right and they don't move forward because there is a conflict.

I call the important stuff your work values and it is different for every person. Some people (not many) value money the most, others value prestige/reputuation, intellectual stimulation, working with friendly people or in a nice office environment, making a positive impact on the world, etc. You can get a quick snapshot of what is most important to you by asking yourself what a job would need to have in order for you to do it. Also what would make you leave a job if it did/didn't have it. Write them all down and then rank them from most to least important, and focus on the top 3-4 values.

Once you've done that, you can start to think about how your current role stacks up and what might be missing. It sounds like there is something missing for the OP so then she can decide whether to fill the gap with this job/employer (maybe by taking on a project or volunteering to do a new role) or by finding another employer/job, or by finding an extra role (like the good idea already suggested of taking on a more prestigious charity role, for example).

Also, if you can think about how your father was successful, perhaps you can discover why his career is important to how you feel about your own career and how you define success. Get into the details. Many of us paint our fathers with the success brush but what about his career worked and didn't work at a detailed level. Was he respected by other? Well paid? Did he help improve the lives of others? What of thrust do you strive for? What about the downsides - did he travel or work long hours? was he less emotionally or physically available perhaps? The more granular you can get the more real you can get about why this model of success might/might not work for you and you can decide, rationally, how you want to define your success.

And finally - sorry, didn't mean this to be SO long, it's worth thinking more creatively about jobs and what's available. Not all roles are high powered/political/nasty offices or lower paid/less political/nicer offices. To divide them so neatly is, in my experience, wrong and will limit where you look for your dream job. The less boundaries you can put on what you expect, the more likely you are to find something that meets your criteria.

I hope that helps but feel free to ping me with any questions.

lorelei9 Sat 09-Jan-16 11:22:22

Kath "To divide them so neatly is, in my experience, wrong"

you may have been speaking generally but I can't see anyone on this thread has divided them like that.

OP, have you had any further thoughts?

kathrunneth Sat 09-Jan-16 16:40:52

Yes, sorry lorelei9, I was thinking more generally and I didn't make that clear. It's a common barrier I see with the women I coach (either in looking for a job after a family break, or seeking to move job) so I thought it was worth mentioning.

Mostly I see women making the "get paid less/have an easier life" assumption and it doesn't always work out like that. I've met people who are paid very little with very highly stressful jobs and long hours, and others who are paid very well with low stress in a friendly environment.

I thought it was worth raising this point because lots of women settle on choosing a certain type of role (and, frankly, often lower paid roles) assuming that other jobs would be worse on some level (stress/hours/politics/interest level/etc). But there is such a range of roles available today that it can be really helpful to stall any assumptions and just explore lots of jobs with an open mind and see what you find. That's what I meant by not limiting where you look for your dream role.

I hope that makes sense?

lorelei9 Sat 09-Jan-16 20:51:15

Oh that's interesting
I do know what you mean, i was just confused as for some reason i thought you got that vibe from the thread, sorry.

kathrunneth Sat 09-Jan-16 21:38:53

No problem at all, I'm glad you asked. smile

gandalf456 Sat 09-Jan-16 23:42:17

Sorry. I haven't forgotten and am still thinking as you've mentioned many things I've not thought of!

Money is not that important. I've always been skint. The intellectual stimulation is becoming more important now where it wasn't when the kids were v young and not sleeping well. I do want recognition and some prestige but is hard to admit as it feels a bit snobby.

What's missing from the current role are the two things mentioned above. The team is nice but management and customers can be disrespectful at times which I am growing to hate. I am also suffering with my back and neck so I will have difficulty keeping up long term.

Re my father, he did work long hours and had a commute, which he grew to hate and was often stressed when we were young. I can't see how he did the job with a young family. I would have died. But the upside is that being in education, he had long holidays and retired early. He drew on his experiences and went freelance where he made it, so to speak. He never had a lot of money, though, but was extremely well respected in his field. He was very confident too and revelled in this.

To answer lore lei, I would be interested in getting into translation as this is the charity role I am doing. I have researched it but can't find a way in. It all seems either v specialised or v badly paid with odd language pairs. My experience doesn't match what is out there

Another thing would be TESOL but there don't seem to be many jobs advertised locally so am a bit loathe to start a course with no job to go to.

The other thing would be Adult Education. Again, I can't see any jobs advertised.

Finally, I looked into IT but my knowledge is out of date and the constant retraining and working alongside 23 year olds put me off.

This sounds v negative. Sorry. And I'm on my phone so excuse the disjointed post !

gandalf456 Sun 10-Jan-16 00:02:11

Would also like to add that all the jobs I've had have been okay but are not quite 'me?' It is definitely an identity thing - to do a job and someone would say, oh yes, it is very her. I feel I've shoehorned myself I to a lot of things and compromised a lot for whatever reason.

I just fall into roles and stay too long as I don't like change. It's also a confidence thing. I do jobs I can easily do so I can't fail or not be seen as not as good as they thought I'd be. Funnily enough, the charity job did give me a boost when the woman I worked for was really gushing about what a good job I'd done.

kathrunneth Mon 11-Jan-16 14:57:53

I always love looking at things the other way around and I think this might help slightly with the values thing. If you look at what recognition/prestige means in day-to-day life, it's that you basically care what other people think. Far from being snobby, it's often about making other people happy, wanting to be noticed for helping, wanting to make a difference to the world in a recognisable way, etc. It's also a driver for helping people to get out there and do their best - so it's actually a very positive value in most people's lives.

As for job ideas, if you have a real interest and skills in translation then maybe that's a good place to start. It's not the only option of course but, if you explore it, you might find jobs that are somehow related to it which appeal to you.

You don't mention what specific type of translating you have been doing but perhaps you could find other organisations who need that role (other charities perhaps?) and offer your services. A great way to find a new role is to ask people for information - maybe you could ask your charity colleagues if they knows of any roles that require similar skills to the role you have? Ask friends and family too - they often come up with good ideas then and there and, if not, they will keep their ears open for you. Suddenly a friend of a friend will have an opportunity for you.

Like most careers, translating is very varied so it would be good to pin down the bits of the job you enjoy. For example, some translating is very people-focussed and some is very paper-based. My brother does some paid translating and he started off translating chapters of books (or checking the translations done by others), and he is sometimes asked to translate documents and interviews by the police. It's mainly paper-based and done remotely which is quite different to your current role, I'm assuming in an office and with colleagues.

Another approach is to think about starting something for yourself, which you could do on the side and build up slowly. It's low risk, because you only need one client at a time, but it might be interesting and you can grow with it. Perhaps sign up to a website like: and start slowly and cheaply, build your reputation and increase your prices as you go. Yes the money is terrible to start with (although you say that's not a driver for you), but you could get paid for everything you do, and create a nice little business for yourself over time. On the plus sided, if you worked more for yourself, you could do it when and where you want and fit it around your family quite easily.

Or if you prefer more people based (face-to-face) translating, consider offering language tutoring or conversational language lessons for adults locally and see what the demand is. This depends a bit on which languages you have. Although I know someone who is paid well (per hour) for conversational English lessons - sitting and having a cuppa with a non-English speaker to help with their tenses and accent.

Would any of those types of roles appeal to you? Are they ones that you have already explored?

For Higher Education roles, have you tried

Lots of ideas - I hope that helps?

gandalf456 Tue 12-Jan-16 10:36:38

Thank you, kath. That is an interesting way of looking at it and I will certainly explore that as it feels much more positive.

The translating I have been doing is quite specific - it was for an animal rescue charity. I have researched similar charities on the Internet, including some of the big names and even unrelated charities but there is nothing on their vacancies saying that they offer paid positions. There have been one or two voluntary positions advertised but, as I am working 20--30 hrs a week already, I can't really justify spending more time volunteering. I would like to have a paid position even if it is only £10 per hour, which is more than retail. I have searched various job sites for translation work but many are either very poorly paid (£8 per hour, which I get in the shop) or too far away or the hours don't suit.

This brings me onto the other comment you made. With the translation, I do work remotely as opposed to in an office with people. It is written translation, which I do enjoy. I don't miss the social contact because I currently get it in my paid job. Since I graduated in 1993 (!), my spoken Spanish and German (I am currently working in Spanish) is very, very rusty. I don't think it would be possible to become an interpreter at this stage!

I would enjoy the teaching English to people from other countries. Again, I've tried to search the local colleges and council but have yet to find anything to advertise so I genuinely don't know where to start with that one.

I will also look at that people per hour and site. Thanks for the links smile and for your help and suggestions.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now