Career Confusion and the Paradox of Choice

This month marks one year since I took a new job, returning to full time work after a year of part time while my daughter was a baby. My daughter is 28 months old now, and I am halfway through pregnancy with my son.

This past year has been one of the toughest years for my professional life. I’d say it’s rivaled only by the quarter-life crisis years that I experienced in my mid 20s. I’m 32 now, so those pains have faded somewhat, though I’ve carried their memory as a grounding that helps me see the good in the roles I’ve had since then.

That difficult professional time resolved when I moved from chemical engineering to software product management. I’d been spanning both areas for a few years while I worked a day job in environmental remediation and an all-the-other-time job with my husband on our startup, but at the start of 2011, at 27, I made the switch to software for my day job. I was relieved that I had found the right career track for me, one which used my analytical skill and passion for technology and had abundant career options in NYC.

While there have been challenges since then for sure, I can’t remember a period of such sustained professional stress as I’ve had since I took my current job.

So many nights I’ve been so preoccupied and worried about work that I had insomnia. In the fall I had to up my therapy from biweekly to weekly, a frequency I hadn’t needed for a few years. I’ve cried at the office or over work more times than I can count.

And that’s all just from my feelings about this job, not even going into how I feel about working full time while my daughter is under school age (not that the two emotional drivers can be fully separated).

I’m extremely fortunate to be in a career that has more jobs than qualified candidates, but one consequence of this is that I am aware that I have choices and don’t have to be where I am if it’s not the right fit for me. I tested the waters, speaking to recruiters and interviewing at another company a few months back. Already pregnant and feeling I didn’t have enough time with my daughter, I decided to test if I could find a new job while still positioning myself for the work-life balance I sought.

I came close to an offer in a role that was exciting and felt like a sweet spot for me in terms of the product and company culture, but they were only willing to go as far as one day working from home. Working from home with a toddler is either not caring for the toddler or not working. So when my boss finally agreed to my request for a 4 day work week (at 80% pay), I decided to stay at my company, at least for now.

At first that brought renewed peace and confidence that I was at the right place for my values at this point in my life. But the following months saw a lot of change in my role, with a new boss taking over a large portion of my responsibilities, and a lot of stress with the remaining ones. Luckily my old and new boss are really open to finding me a spot that better matches my schedule, strengths, and desires.

So I’ve been soul searching again, assessing what is stressing me out about this job.

I’ve learned a lot this past year, and I believe I’m stronger professionally from these experiences. I’ve learned how a different company works, operationally and culturally, and tried my skills in a new pool of office politics, which were things I sought. But I feel a lot of my distress comes from not liking what I’ve found. I’m plagued by the thought that no matter what the role, this company isn’t the right fit for me.

The amount of discontent I have and the amount I see around me in the peers I admire even has me questioning whether product management is the right discipline for me as I advance in my career. I suspect that it’s not the discipline but the flavor of it that seems expected here that I’m unhappy with. I want to be somewhere where my core motivators of creating great user experiences and working with exciting technology don’t feel like they’re so often compromised.

Perhaps I could find a better fit on a different team here. Is it the role or the company itself that I need to get away from?

And then there’s the question of how much I can stand being away from my daughter and our new son after maternity leave, which should be the last 3 months of this year. Last time I had a really tough time even being away 2 days per week when my daughter was only 3 months old. I think from around 6 months to 16 months I was very happy with the 20 hours per week, 2 days in the office work-life balance. But if I can’t get my hours reduced that much, I might rather stay home full time than be away from home more days than I am there. It would be tough on our finances but I would be willing to take on the things needed to make it work, and my husband says he would support that. I suspect he might even be grateful for it, except for the lack of paycheck.

There are so many options, which I’m grateful for. But with it there are so many questions. And I feel like I’m in some sort of limbo, where I’m in a confusingly ambiguous role and just biding my time until my son is born. I tell myself how fortunate I am to have these options, but it’s tough to be happy when I’m feeling emotionally triggered in meetings, conversations, and emails from my coworkers day in and day out. I’m so thankful that my daughter and husband are there to keep me grounded at the end of each day. I only hope that I’ll be able to make the right career choices for me, and that I can be present for them and enjoy this time together until our family grows.

Back to full time

It’s the end of the day on Friday, and I’m on my way home following my first week at a new job. It was not just my first week here, but also my first week back at full time work. I feel so many different emotions over this transition.

I am very excited and happy about my new job. I think I made the right choice. There were stresses at my old job that were making me very unhappy, so I decided to see what else was out there for me. And I found that there was quite a bit. I was upfront in my interviews that one of the things I wanted was work/life balance and that a flexible schedule was important to me. I was pleasantly surprised at how many companies were willing to work with me on that.

After much consideration I accepted an offer to work at the one company where my department head would be a woman. She is a C-level executive and we have several things in common. I’m really excited to work with her!

So when I’m at work things are great. When I’m at home and my daughter is up I like to focus on spending time with her, and that’s great too.

When I’m commuting… That is the worst right now. I find myself with time to think about what I missed of my daughter during the day. And I just want to be with her Right This Minute!

She is handling it all pretty well though. And the new income has made it possible for us to rent a new, big, clean apartment – we just got the lease and will get the keys next weekend! The income should alleviate our financial stress, and the home will provide a new comfy refuge that home has not been for me lately (we’ve had a serious cockroach problem). And I’m learning new things and getting new opportunities. Taken together, these things should help a lot with our general happiness and put us in a better position for baby #2 down the road, so that I can hopefully spend more time with our children again when we get to that milestone.

We’re finally ready to start a new journey

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, but I’ve been feeling the need to write again lately, and today feels like a great day to start.

So much is different from the last time I wrote. About a year ago I got my energy up and my resume together and started applying to jobs. I got a good amount of interest and interviews and ended up with opportunities at several places, most of which were great and 2 of which seemed like dream jobs. After consideration I picked one, putting the opportunity to work on a team of people who I could learn from above my initial interest in the industry, and also keeping in mind how well the role and culture would likely work with our plans to start a family.

Almost a year ago now I started there, and I couldn’t be more happy about it. I’ve grown tremendously, get to do important work for the company, and really enjoy the company of my coworkers, who are smart, hard working, and fun. On top of that my income has nearly doubled! (I’m still amazed to be able to say that!)

It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I feel so lucky.

During this year, we continued working on lowering my antidepressants, because we wanted me to try going off them before getting pregnant. At the time I was on a significant dose of both Wellbutrin and Prozac. All told I think I’ve been working on reducing that for over 2 years! As I got to a minimal dose of both and then just one, I realized I was struggling again. But when I saw my doctor in the fall in that state of mind, I didn’t have the strength to tell him no when he, not bothering to ask how I was feeling, suggested we take the final step and drop it altogether.

As the fall continued I slipped further, having a harder time talking to my husband about what was on my mind, worrying more and more, ruminating often. Life was stressful as we filed to sue his former client and my former employer for nonpayment of a considerable sum, and as he worked less while dealing with the case money was getting tight again, but I didn’t share my fears of being broke again. Instead, I stayed in my head, worried and sad.

As fall turned to winter I stopped getting up to go to the rink. Still loving work, I managed to keep it from affecting my job performance more than a little, but it definitely affected my relationship and my marriage.

One day it came to a head, and I realized I could and should do something about it. So I went back to the doc and told him this wasn’t working, and I wanted some meds again. He gave me meds but sighed and acted like he didnt want to, and he didn’t consider that we should try the safest one because I might need to stay on it. He just said, “This is going to delay you further. You will need time to get this out of your system again before you start.”

I started crying, quietly, and he either didn’t notice or didn’t care, because he said nothing. So I left with my prescription and a plan to find a new doctor, crying on the train and in the park before collecting myself to go back to the office.

That’s when I found a reproductive psychiatrist – someone who specializes in mental health and medication during events like pregnancy and breast feeding. She has deep knowledge in the area and gave me lots of information about all of the studies on both SSRI’s and Wellbutrin during pregnancy. I am so glad to have her to work with me, and with her guidance we’ve switched me to Zoloft, as it has less accumulation in the baby’s system than Prozac and is better for breast feeding than Wellbutrin.

If you check my archives you’ll see that I had baby fever over 6 years ago, and I’m elated that everything is in place now. I have no depression symptoms, am happy with my job, we moved to a nicer, more baby-friendly apartment and neighborhood, and husband is ready and excited too.

So, I’m super excited to say that as of tomorrow, I will have completed my medication transition plan, and we are ready to try to conceive!

Goodbye, summer!

What a summer it’s been. Every year I brace myself as June comes along and announces that hot, sticky weather won’t be far behind. For me, with it comes extra transit delays due to track work and more time waiting in stifling subway stations. I also inevitably find myself jealously listening to other people’s vacation plans and stories, and wondering when we’ll get our finances and lifestyle in place enough to take trips ourselves. And to make it worse, I miss the convenience of having multiple outdoor rinks around the city where I can fit skating in at least weekly. I struggle to exercise as much, and start feeling sluggish. So I tend to think of a summer as a long hot slog through three months and I just bear it enough to get through.

This year, I remember thinking that maybe it won’t be so bad, that I need to try to enjoy it.

But, unfortunately that would not be so for me. This summer, my Husband and I:

Returned home from a pleasant walk on a Saturday afternoon to find our apartment had been burgled and 3 laptops, 2 of them work computers, had been stolen

Commenced an apartment search planning to finally move from our starter apartment that we’ve been in for 6 years, only to determine that we could not yet afford to move somewhere better

Worked overtime every week, feeling stressed and overwhelmed that we could not get things done in the timeframes asked of us

Learned of a family member’s struggle with cocaine use

Supported our family as they faced another eviction proceeding, which ended in us coming to the rescue with 1-2k that we’d been planning to use to book an anniversary trip, our first non-family-visit vacation since our honeymoon 5 years ago

Fought a tiresome battle with our CEO to get Husband’s freelancer paycheck in time to help our family close that eviction case

Fought another tiresome battle to get a review that was promised to me for 3 months after job start, and has still not been completed as we reach month 9

Experienced 2 painful cyst ruptures despite being on birth control which is usually prescribed to prevent cysts from forming, and

Had one breakdown that ended in doubling my dose of Prozac after months of carefully reducing it as part of a plan to try to reduce my meds before trying for baby. Now I’ll wait 3 more months and then try to reduce the Wellbutrin instead.

Now, there have been some good things happening – we are on track to finish paying down 2-4 of the debts we’ve been carrying for years, we’ve both gained tremendous experience in our jobs, and Husband is successfully charging over 20% more for his freelance work than he did just last year. Once he actually gets paid for that work, I’m sure that will feel good.

I turned 28 last weekend, and I’ve been thinking a lot. We need a change. I need a change. I feel as though inertia and lethargy have settled in, and I can barely stand it anymore. I want to start fresh, to move somewhere new, decorate our living space as the adults that we are instead of the college kid that I was when we moved here, start taking vacations, saving a nest egg, exercising and eating healthier, planning for a family, and enjoying life more. I’m trying to muster what energy I have to make that happen.

Perhaps this Fall we will get ourselves solidly on that path. I sure hope so.

Half a year into the new job

And I can’t believe that much time has passed. I love the job and am still so grateful for the opportunity. I actually enjoy going to work most days and I am really excelling. The company is having a strong year and I believe I’ve been a big part of that. The environment is so much better for me – I feel accepted and comfortable and valued.

I’d even thought about ending this blog. After all, it was originally an exploration of school and depression, research and science, and life in academia as a woman scientist. I’m no longer in school, academia, research, or considered a woman scientist professionally.

But, that doesn’t mean the themes of my life aren’t similar. I still struggle with dysthymia, and I’m still in a male-dominated industry. I’m still a young woman figuring out herself and her future. And I still enjoy the outlet of blogging and the companionship of other bloggers (although I’ve mostly been a lurker lately).

So, I’m still here. And I still have things to talk about.

I’ve wanted to start a family for many years now. The time is nearly right, and I’m glad I’ve waited through our struggles with money and career. A few months ago, we started decreasing my antidepressants. Following my friend’s suicide last fall I had spiraled out of control, and it took many months to feel better again. During that time we changed my medication, such that I was on both Wellbutrin and Prozac. It helped me feel alert enough to go to work mostly on time and feel aware in the mornings. It felt like the cloud lifted and my head was clearer.

Then I started the new job in January, and I felt energized and motivated. Also, my students did well and finished the skating season fabulously, earning an invitation to skate at the end of year gala with Olympians, where I shook Evan Lysacek’s hand and watched him give a $100,000 donation to my organization.

So earlier this year I began talking to my doctor about planning for a baby, and we started tapering off my meds. We started with Prozac because Wellbutrin had been the more recent addition and had helped a lot. We dropped the Prozac from 40 mg to 30, then to 20, and things seemed ok. So we dropped it to 10, and then planned to start reducing the Wellbutrin.

But somewhere around then things degraded. The increased stress and long hours of the new job had started taking their toll on me. I began crying too often and worrying and sleeping too much. The doctor said we had probably dropped it too fast, and we upped it half a pill, to 15. That was about a month ago.

Work continued to be stressful even as I enjoyed it and felt proud of it. Night and weekend work that had seemed like a temporary measure dragged on. I got a summer intern which relieved some of the pressure, but the work kept increasing and that wasn’t enough. We won more and more work from new clients, and the projects I led went extremely well, but I was getting worn-down.

The last few weeks I noticed increasing negative and repetitive thought patterns, and I found myself crying alone quite a few times. Finally, on Thursday about a week ago, I got so upset during the work day that I dashed to the bathroom so no one would see as the tears started. I finally had broken down, and I called my husband and told him how much I’d been struggling.

It was disheartening to reach that point, but it forced me to see that I must change something now to prevent a full relapse of depression. I saw my dr that eve and told him how I’d been feeling, and he said I sounded depressed and increased the Prozac back to 30. I talked to my boss and told him that I could not keep working nights and weekends, that there had to be an end in sight for that. Then I worked from home the next day and rested over the weekend. The next week, I forced myself to take full lunch breaks and go home at a decent time. And I took all my meds.

It’s been about 9 days and I’m starting to feel better. I want to keep writing, and focusing on my health and sanity. Maybe I’ll even stop lurking and let some of you know that I’ve been reading.

Happy New Year (Really)

For the first time in years, I am ending the year with a strong sense that next year will be great. Here’s why:

– I just left my office for the last time. I resigned. I’m done there, forever!

– Next week I start at a new job that I am very excited about!

– The new job is in mobile marketing – technology and services – a rapidly growing, changing industry with a strong NYC base.

– The new job is at a 5 year old tech startup, with an atmosphere that is on the other end of the spectrum from the office environment I just left and in which I had such a hard time.

– After just 3 meetings I feel more comfortable with my new coworkers than some my current ones.

– I will work with technology that I am new to and learn more about using regular expressions.

– The company is small and thirsty for innovative, driven people.

– I get to dress casually most days – even jeans. I will feel like me again!

– My husband just increased his freelance rate by 20% and the main client said sure.

– My skating students are doing well and I’m loving coaching them.

– My own health has improved. I’ve lost around 25 pounds in the last year, and dropped my low density (“bad”) cholesterol by 50 points down to a healthy range.

– After over 3 years of hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice, we launched the beta of our website!!!

(due to pseudonymity I won’t link to our website here, but email me if you want to know what it is)

Our work is paying off. We’re going to have a great year!

On top of the long view, I’m psyched for the weekend because my brother is visiting, he gave us a Kinect for Christmas which is very fun (and generally amazing), and I’m on holiday until I start the new job next Wednesday. Time to celebrate!

As December marches on

I am taking each day at a time. Some days I have energy and optimism and the day passes fairly quickly. These are few but increasing in frequency.

Other days, even on a good night’s rest, I can’t stop yawning well into the afternoon and my head feels funny, fuzzy like I have a hangover but I don’t.

Still, things are looking up. I got the job offer yesterday, and am planning to accept it tomorrow when he gets back to me about details. The timing is great because yesterday they fired my best friend at the office – who had just been saying that if I left, she’d need to get out more urgently. Well now she’s gone already, and the desk next to mine sits empty. I want out. Hopefully I can accept the new offer tomorrow and get my resignation in before the day is out.

I’m ecstatic, and yet reserved. I’ve wanted out for so long, it feels surreal to finally be ready to leave. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet. I’ll feel better tomorrow after I finalize and accept the new offer. And start telling my coworkers that I’m saying goodbye…

On Thursday I am meeting my deceased friend’s Aunt (her NY family) to talk about planning a memorial here in NYC. Meeting a family member who was at the funeral with the family will probably be more final – somehow without being at the funeral or wake, or in a community that all misses her, sometimes it feels like maybe it’s not so final and she’s just moved away…

I want to help plan a beautiful memorial for her here in NYC.