Midlife Malaise

Due to an unfortunate decision in my choice of major in my college years, I have been an administrative assistant my entire adult working life. I’ve been in my current position for nearly 13 years with the same company and my job has changed very little in that time. I don’t really foresee it changing very much in the next 13 years either.

The work is not challenging, my coworkers are not my friends (I am the only woman among 8 men), and culture of my company has changed from  we’ve-got-your-back to it’s-all-about-the-dollars in the last 5 years. Within the next year, my office will be moving inside an industrial plant where I will be forced to dress like a construction worker (goodbye cute summer sandals!) and share a space with my blue collar coworkers (they are good guys but there’s not a lot of talk about arts and culture if you know what I mean). Those are the cons of my current job.

Here are the pros: the pay is decent, the benefits are excellent, I have a mere 17 minute commute, I can pretty well come and go as I please, and I have 4 weeks of paid vacation plus 8 paid sick days per year, plus 10 paid holidays.  My boss is a good boss – my only complaint is that he’s an over-thinker to the nth degree and sometimes that can be exasperating, but overall I enjoy working with him. My job causes me very little stress and I don’t have to work evenings or weekends, or be on call.  Also, and this is a big PRO – I don’t have to work with the general public. On paper, the pros definitely outweigh the cons, especially in today’s job market.

I feel like I outgrew this position a long time ago, but it was a good fit for my family and see also the pros above – it’s hard to walk away from all that, especially since my husband is self-employed and doesn’t bring in any health insurance or a regular bi-weekly paycheck. I feel that I have more to offer than simply being able to do my job quickly and efficiently, but do I really? When I look for other jobs, I see gaping holes in my resume that hold me back from applying for those positions. I haven’t developed any marketable skills over my time here that would be useful elsewhere. And there’s a lot of fear of the unknown too – fear of starting over at another company, fear of rejection when going for interviews, fear of getting into a worse situation…lots of fear all around it.

I hear all of the talk about following your dreams! and dream big! Do what your heart wants you to do!! Honestly, that all sounds exhausting. Hustling sounds like a lot of work when I feel like I should be slowing down and settling in at my age.

I think what is really happening is that I have hit midlife and don’t have a career I can be proud of. I sort of hate that my kids say “my mom is a secretary” when I’d originally had such lofty goals for myself in college. My best friend’s title is Senior Director of Development at a major university…she gets to travel and go to fun events and talk to different people every day. I come to work and sit behind a desk and listen to podcasts so that I can distract myself while I do the same work I’ve been doing for 13 years. I’m not jealous of my friend – she has worked damn hard for her career and deserves every accolade that comes her way – she’s very, very good at what she does and I am so proud of her. I simply wish that I had a career that I could talk about with some sense of accomplishment and pride as well. I feel almost embarrassed to say “I’m an administrative assistant” when I have a French degree under my belt (also embarrassing: I remember very little French now, seems like a waste of tuition).

I heard a term the other day in a Ted Talk I watched on YouTube – “Midlife Malaise”. I think that perfectly describes how I’m feeling. I’m not having a midlife crisis as much as I’m just sort of bored, really. And I’m actually not bored with my whole life – my marriage is solid, my kids are good and healthy… it just seems to be my career or lack thereof that has me feeling inadequate.

This feeling cycles around every so often. A lot of times I can squash it down and ignore it, but it always comes around again eventually. Not sure what to do about it – do I simply need to learn to appreciate what I have or do I need to put myself out there and risk it all for something that may or may not be better? Should I develop one of my hobbies into a side gig and look for fulfillment there? Should I volunteer somewhere and hope I feel useful? Should I just go buy a lottery ticket and pin my hopes on a mega-millions win??

If only I could get paid to read books and drink tea all day…my life would be complete.

photo of teacup on top of books
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