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Old 10-09-12, 09:39 PM   #1
WilliamK1974
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A bit of career soul searching (long)

Hey gang,

Foosters ask for advice about everything, so this shouldn't seem any different.

I've been working in my current job for just under three years. It's with my state government's department of probation and parole. That's right, I'm a probation officer. I'm glad to have had the job during a time of economic hardship, but I'm trying to find a way back into the private sector. The job looks and sounds good on paper, but the reality of the situation is that its time demands are big and its paycheck is quite small. I'm not one of the state government workers who qualifies for food stamps, but the end of the month is always stressful from a financial standpoint. I'd be willing to trade job security (which really doesn't exist the way some people think) for a chance to have higher earnings potential in a more suitable field. Also, the job itself is very thankless and the office environment is a political minefield. My manager and I don't get along very well, though we used to be fine, and I can't pinpoint when or what happened. The main boss likes to keep people uncertain and unbalanced. I've been threatened with termination at least once per month for the past 15 or 16 months, and it's getting old and demoralizing. I know that the job's important and I need to do it well, but being treated like that has my give-a-****e tank running down near the E.

A little background: I graduated from a private high school, and later obtained a BA in Communication from the state university. I've not worked in that field (journalism, PR, advertising) very much. I've spent some time at insurance companies, did a little sales, and now I'm at the State. None of those previous jobs were really all that great either.

It may seem funny, but the catalyst for at least some of this soul searching has been the lady I've been dating since January. She works as a national sales manager for a software company, and is doing quite well. She earns it, working some long hours at times. She never intended to get into that field, having a degree similar to mine, but it's working for her. I think we fell in love in part because of understanding the other's professional challenges. But she once told me that I was so smart it was scary, and was like, "why are you letting yourself struggle working for the State, when you could be doing just about anything?" To this day, my parents still tell me I'm smart and can do anything, but it means something else when it comes from someone who's not "obligated" to say it. Between them, it's planted a seed of sorts. It has me wondering what I really want to do. A friend who's known me about 20 years pretty well said to figure out what I want to do and go for it.

When my friend asked me what I really wanted to do, I reminded him of how I always liked working on cars, how some cars were like a passion of mine. There have been other times that I've thought about pursuing that further and making a career out of it, but also I wonder if it's better left a hobby. If I make a mistake on my own car, it's only going to effect me, and no boss is going to be barking about how the book only allows XX hours for this job or that. But mechanics can clean up pretty well money-wise if they're working in the right shop. If I could really make a leap, I would love to be a freelance automotive journalist. It's a competitive field where a good many of the participants seem to have degrees in automotive engineering. But P.J. O'Rourke didn't, and he seems to have done just fine.

The hardest part about this is that whole "what do you *want* to do" thing. For so long, I've pretty well done what I had to do, i.e. need a job and need it now. It's like flying by the seat of my pants, and it's not working anymore and it didn't work all that well to begin with. It feels like alot more is at stake now. I'm older, own a home, care for my pets, have some bills to pay... Whatever choice I make now kinda needs to be the right one. I realize that all jobs/careers have good and bad days, but there has got to be more to life than what I'm dealing with right now, and if change is going to happen, I'm going to have to make it happen.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Thank you,
-Bill
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Old 10-09-12, 10:09 PM   #2
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Well, you need to get out of there ASAP, but don't quit your day job just yet.

It's going to take a lot of hard work.

You can do it.

Look around you and see what part-time opportunities you can find. Most Cable TV stations have some kind of public access programming. You can make your own show and start from there. You could cover local cruise ins, races, or go around to the local dealerships and talk with them about the new models or service issues. Contact the speed shops as well. See if you can get a program on a local radio station or contact the local papers and volunteer to do a column. I do a bicycle column in one of the local alternative papers.

Look for places where you can give a talk. Rotary Club, Lions, Chamber of Commerce, any group that meets frequently. I give some talks on using Python with the program Blender 3D.

Here is the bio of a fellow I know who goes by the title of The Car Nut. He got started doing pretty much what I described. First you do it for free and get a reputation, then you move to larger venues by stages. It's all about networking.

The Car Nut
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Old 10-09-12, 10:15 PM   #3
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I'm only 23, so keep in mind that I don't have a ton of experience in the workforce or financial independence, but I do have some thoughts. It's the type of situation that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. My suggestion would be keep your job for now, start submitting articles to publications that accept freelancers, and submit resumes to automotive publications. Internet publications have made it a lot easier for people to get published, but they have also made the contender's pool much larger. Getting published, particularly in an automotive publication, would be your first step to doing your dream job I would imagine.

Every mechanic I've talked to has said they probably wouldn't go into the field if they had to do it over. If you have the skills, do private driveway jobs... That's where a lot of them make most of their money anyways. Pretty much the only way to be a mechanic and do more than just OK is to own your own shop. You could also look at that as your goal for doing your current job if you can't break into automotive writing, or make a living at it. You put away some pension/retirement money every month, and figure out how long it would take you to save up enough to open your own small shop. I know that a goal is why a lot of people keep at their jobs that they hate.

And obviously, keep your eye out for jobs that you would find more enjoyable that would pay enough and you would be qualified for, and submit a resume whenever you find one. It never hurts to just submit a resume.

Reading over this, these are probably things you've thought of, but you know, sometimes it helps to hear things from someone else. Best of luck to you. I know someone who is a psychologist in the prison system, and I know it can be a very disheartening area of work.
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Old 10-09-12, 11:58 PM   #4
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Perhaps you should start a blog in the vein of automotive journalism. It'll allow you to hone your skills and build a portfolio of sorts to promote yourself. If your blog takes off, you'll be able to attract advertisers or monetize it somehow (I don't blog- unless you count Foo- so I'm just pulling stuff outta my arse).

If you're thinking about getting into automotive technology (auto mechanic)- consider diesels instead. Today's automobile powertrains are more complicated now than when you went to high school. Heck, the local tech college offers a degree in automotive technology, but you have to pick the Ford, Nissan, or Toyota certification tracks.
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Old 10-10-12, 09:46 AM   #5
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There has been good advice so far. The hardest part will be just getting yourself to make the first move. Keep your day job for now for financial security and start venturing out into the areas you'd like to explore. Since you have your day job as a backup, you really have nothing to lose.
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Old 10-10-12, 11:12 AM   #6
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Hey gang,

Foosters ask for advice about everything, so this shouldn't seem any different.
Well, a typical FOOvice thread is something like: "I have been ignoring my wife for 15 years and my mistress left me and my wife is mad. What could I possibly have done wrong?"

As far as the real question of the OP, it hits too close to home for me as I just went through this. My solution was to talk with friends, and one of them was able to offer something...the cards all fell together just right.
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Old 10-10-12, 06:14 PM   #7
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"Well, a typical FOOvice thread is something like: "I have been ignoring my wife for 15 years and my mistress left me and my wife is mad. What could I possibly have done wrong?"

Well, yeah, but someone will tell that individual something serious that they can use lol.

"And obviously, keep your eye out for jobs that you would find more enjoyable that would pay enough and you would be qualified for, and submit a resume whenever you find one. It never hurts to just submit a resume."

Frankly, I think I'm at a point where I need to find something that's more enjoyable and with better pay involved. They've made alot of reforms to the civil service in this state, and most of it was needed. It's going to be more like working in the private sector, which is fine, but the private sector pays better. There are private probation companies, and for the most part, they have higher pay rates than we do. But if I might as well be working in the private sector, then it needs to be a tolerable environment. You can run into Machiavellian types anywhere, but they don't seem to last. State employment seems to have drawn in a large number of petty tyrants who don't know how to effectively manage people, and since it's hard to fire them, they stick around.

But being able to find a job with better pay and less of a psychological drain would be nice. I could take care of some deferred items around the house, keep bills fully current, better manage student loans, and build up savings.

Frankly, I've been demoralized and feel beaten down for so long that it's hard to imagine taking that first step, even if it's not directly in a dream job direction. But getting out from under that professional dark cloud seems like a good first step at this point.

I appreciate everyone's contribution here, even if I didn't quote from it right now.

Thank you.
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Old 10-10-12, 07:11 PM   #8
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Frankly, I've been demoralized and feel beaten down for so long that it's hard to imagine taking that first step, even if it's not directly in a dream job direction. But getting out from under that professional dark cloud seems like a good first step at this point.
Don't imagine it, just take it. Don't be afraid of a misstep. At this point in your new career, few will be watching, and those who are will admire your courage in getting back up. Make them short doable steps. At this point, write an article and find someone to print it. It's the old Taoist advice, the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. You don't have to walk the journey. Just walk the step.
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Old 10-10-12, 07:27 PM   #9
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what about teaching? gotta be better than probation. although, i should add, you seem like a decent sort of person, which is desperately needed in today's criminal justice environment.
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Old 10-10-12, 08:17 PM   #10
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what about teaching? gotta be better than probation. although, i should add, you seem like a decent sort of person, which is desperately needed in today's criminal justice environment.
The problem with teaching is that it's going through at least some of the same political mess that I see in probation. I actually started a teaching master's degree a few years ago, and my grades were good. I got burnt out on school and left it with one semester to go, and that's the one that involves student teaching. So, in order to complete it, I'd have to give up the current full-time gig. I stayed in contact with some of the people from my classes, and their consensus seemed to be that if they can find something else, they will. One of them teaches in a "high-end" public school, and she says the only thing that saves it for her is her passion for her subject, and she questions how long that will last before she burns out.

The reforms involved changes to tenure, and like what I talked about earlier, some of the changes needed to be made. But if people who were once passionate about teaching say that it's barely worth the time and effort that went into becoming a teacher, it's pretty disheartening.

You're not the first to comment on how I'm a good person for my current job. Maybe so, but if these agencies want people like me to stick around, then the job needs to be made more manageable. To my mind, 160+ cases is a public safety risk, not to mention overwhelming on the best of days. Some people seem to handle it, but I struggle. So, realistic caseloads, fair and professional management, and realistic salaries might solve it. Guess I'm not holding my breath at this juncture.

Ladyfriend's step-father suggested law school as he made a switch from research chemist to patent attorney at age 48 or thereabouts. The job he had once enjoyed turned sour with managerial changes, and he knew something had to change. It was good for him and he was successful in both fields. He's 70 now and has been retired for at least five years at this point. But I've had two law school grad friends, one of whom was in the top five of his class from UT Law, tell me that it's not worth it. One will admit to a six-figure income and a daily-driver Porsche, but also $1600 in student loan payments every month. He said you spend a soul-crushing amount of time chasing clients to pay their bills. Both of them suggested an MBA instead.

A dentist once tried to recruit me to be a hygienist in his practice, but I couldn't help but want to be the dentist instead. I onetime considered the paralegal profession, but decided I would rather just be the lawyer.

Perhaps there are flaws in anything. But the jobs that we were once steered toward as the path to the American dream seem like baseless promises now.
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Old 10-10-12, 08:39 PM   #11
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The key words are "degree in communication".
Tough sell in todays economy as stated in many recent college grad reports but you choose Foo for career advice so you're in the right joint

There's no money like "gubbermint" money so hang in there till the economy recovers.

*Some of those ex-cons you check on might have the inside info on some fun and profitable careers.
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Old 10-11-12, 08:03 AM   #12
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If I could really make a leap, I would love to be a freelance automotive journalist. It's a competitive field where a good many of the participants seem to have degrees in automotive engineering. But P.J. O'Rourke didn't, and he seems to have done just fine.
P.J. O'Rourke didn't start out with automotive journalism (and it's not his only gig). He's not a useful example for you.

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Ladyfriend's step-father suggested law school as he made a switch from research chemist to patent attorney at age 48 or thereabouts. The job he had once enjoyed turned sour with managerial changes, and he knew something had to change. It was good for him and he was successful in both fields. He's 70 now and has been retired for at least five years at this point. But I've had two law school grad friends, one of whom was in the top five of his class from UT Law, tell me that it's not worth it. One will admit to a six-figure income and a daily-driver Porsche, but also $1600 in student loan payments every month. He said you spend a soul-crushing amount of time chasing clients to pay their bills. Both of them suggested an MBA instead.
There's a glut of recent law-school graduates (it's much harder now for them to get jobs).

MBA's not from top schools aren't worth that much (they never were).

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Old 10-11-12, 08:58 AM   #13
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you might also want to peek around in your civil service jobs database to see if there's something more light-hearted you could transfer to? not spending your day with parolees will probably cheer you up, and reult in an easier time making life decisions.
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Old 10-11-12, 12:11 PM   #14
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Is there a way you can transfer within the government system? I don't know how it works, but I've heard moving sideways to a different civil service job is easier than getting in from the outside. But I had a boss like that once, tried to wait him out (it was a postdoc research position and just wanted to get my paper out and then find a new permanent job), and eventually got fired after a couple of years of stress and hard times with my family and nothing to show for it (refuses to right letters of recommendation for me and is having someone repeat exactly the experiments that I did to produce identical figures so he doesn't have to put me as an author on his paper). Let's just say waiting out a megalomaniacal boss doesn't always work, and when he's got a position of power (in my case was a biology professor with an endowed chair at Harvard) they can scorch the earth and salt it behind you. The best thing to do is get out before they reach the breaking point and decide to fire you. Sometimes, these guys can be quite complimentary of you if you leave soon enough. But wait too long and you're toast.
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Old 10-15-12, 07:55 PM   #15
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"P.J. O'Rourke didn't start out with automotive journalism (and it's not his only gig). He's not a useful example for you."

I know. He's done alot of different writing for many different publications. He's been someone whom I admired since high school.

"you might also want to peek around in your civil service jobs database to see if there's something more light-hearted you could transfer to? not spending your day with parolees will probably cheer you up, and reult in an easier time making life decisions."

"Is there a way you can transfer within the government system?"

Yes, we can transfer, at least in theory. I interviewed for a couple of other positions over the past year, though nothing went beyond the interview stage. One of those interviews seemed so positive that I was surprised I didn't get the job. The rub is that along with the civil service reforms comes changes to the job application process. Instead of the old register, each job is advertised for a shorter time, and those who apply and meet the qualifications of the job go into an eligible list that's erased and renewed every time a job is posted. They no longer have to pick from or hire the top five applicants. Problem is that it's a new system and the open positions are *slowly* being loaded back onto the HR website.

And all this assumes that my current manager or his boss haven't sabotaged my previous efforts. It may seem paranoid, but I really don't know what to think now. It's almost enough to make me want to tell everyone I know not to consider government employment.
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Old 10-16-12, 02:36 AM   #16
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Follow your bliss. Sometimes you have to get fired from your secure job to take the leap. That's how I got out of the car business, I was selling pricey cars (Mercedes Benz) @ retail and making six figures (give or take, more some years, less others) 20+ years ago. But I was burned out. Got canned in 1991. Quickly realized it was the best thing that could have happened to me, because I NEVER would have left a $80K-$100K job voluntarily. And I had no idea what I was going to do. But I was miserable in the car business after 8 years of it. Later that year I stared my current business, which I kind of stumbled into. I've been happily self-employed for 21 years. I made FAR more money than I ever would have in the car business (which was somewhat lucrative actually). More importantly I have been far happier.

How old are you? I was 33 years old and single when I got thrown off the ledge. Now I'm 55 and happily married, grown college age daughter. These are all factors in your decision. But when I got fired in 1991 I had a fair amount of financial responsibility, substantial mortgage. But I was single, no kids. If you are unmarried and have no kids do it now, it's MUCH harder later.
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Old 10-16-12, 11:42 AM   #17
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OP, a lot of options you mentioned are very good (other than the teaching ones as you are not that into it.) And appear to be intelligent enough to go for any of the field. I suggest you save a little money for rainy day fund and pick the option that you are most passionate about and go for it.
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Old 10-16-12, 09:47 PM   #18
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patentcad, I am 38 years old, single (divorced), no children but am responsible for the care of several cats. I own a home, and the mortgage is probably my biggest expense. The divorce, while not especially acrimonious, put me in a tight spot and has had a lasting negative impact on my credit.

I keep coming back to the notion that I'm not well suited to sitting at a computer all day shuffling papers. I know the job has more substance than that, but it often feels like satisfying everyone's need for endless forms is more important than actually supervising the offenders. Forget to dot an i on a form, and the error is mentioned and carbon-copied by email all the way up to the state capitol. Going the route of "Shop Class as Soulcraft" seems more appealing everyday even though it's not easy.

"*Some of those ex-cons you check on might have the inside info on some fun and profitable careers."

Totally... Hearing some of the stories would be something I missed about this job. One of my client's got asked if she could appear on the Jerry Springer show, and I had to tell her no. Some of them are quite entrepreneurial, but they're selling products that are frowned upon by the local constabulary. The depressing part is that I can spend alot of time trying to keep someone from going back to jail, and then they get arrested again for something else, which means I have to file a violation with the courts and wasted time that could have been used to help someone who was actually trying to do the right thing.

The mechanic thing is really tempting, and the community college has alot of automotive offerings. It's just taking that first step, figuring out how to make it all work, and steeling myself to deal with those who might try to convince me that I either can't or shouldn't do it. Being less specific than being a mechanic would be the idea of working with my hands, on my own.
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