Captain Awkward on: How do I set goals if I don’t want anything?
May 12, 2020 3:42 AM   Subscribe

 
I also want to say that if you’re feeling disconnected and useless and unsure of what your purpose should be right now, you’re not alone, and it’s possibly because a lot of the messages you were given about how to be safe and good and happy only worked if you cultivated a habit of tuning out the suffering of people who made your comfort possible and mentally reframed a history of institutional and systemic failures into individual inadequacies.

This got me.
posted by snwod at 5:35 AM on May 12 [51 favorites]


There are a lot of psychological aspects at play in my own "why bother" but as a millennial who was just on the cusp of having her shit completely together (with fulfilling goals in place and everything) that was disrupted by the pandemic I'd say it's mostly being forced into pure survival mode AGAIN by a mishandled crisis.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:06 AM on May 12 [34 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, seanmpuckett. This is an epic Captain Awkward response, one that strongly resonated with me. I am begging the hive mind to go RTFA. Totally worth it.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:09 AM on May 12 [12 favorites]


This was so good. I especially liked "fuck the bread".

The article mentions the need to learn to be effective at making political change even when you don't like any of the people in the room with you. How do you do that?
posted by rebent at 7:11 AM on May 12 [10 favorites]


PS this has nothing to do with lockdown, I’m actually less stressed out working from home than I have been for a long time, and even before the economy tanked I felt the same about planning the future.

And CA goes on an epic rant about the pandemic and the economy. I don't know, I feel like maybe she's not in the best space to give advice right now? Could she have found a different letter that this would be a better response to?

On the scale of human suffering no one is writing into advice columnists about anything important. We're not going to solve American authoritarianism in a Q&A format.
posted by muddgirl at 7:37 AM on May 12 [28 favorites]


I agree with muddgirl, this didn't seem like a response to the question the letter-writer asked, and I would have felt a bit disappointed if I was the LW.
posted by Mauve at 7:48 AM on May 12 [10 favorites]


Well I think telling the letter writer that she did not need to make her therapist happy and make up stuff but actually tell her therapist how she feels was a direct and appropriate response to the letter writer’s question. That is in fact a completely appropriate and valid thing to explore in therapy.

Sure, Captain Awkward’s response went far beyond that. But I genuinely believe it was a response that will be helpful to literally thousands of people in addition to the letter writer. Which is a pretty great community service, even if you don’t happen to be one of the people who find it helpful.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:03 AM on May 12 [15 favorites]


OP seems to me to be suffering from dissonance in that she thinks she is "supposed to" be strongly motivated to become a career-crushing Master of the Universe, but basically just isn't. The answer touches peripherally on this as a problem of seeing cultural and systematic issues as purely personal failings, but I basically agree with muddgirl that it mostly went off on what CA thinks she should have asked, with some hand-waving about "subtext".
posted by thelonius at 8:09 AM on May 12 [8 favorites]


Well I think telling the letter writer that she did not need to make her therapist happy

Sure, the first few paragraphs are a decent if perfunctory response to the letter itself. Again, if CA wanted to address feeling like all of this is pointless in the face of what we're going through as a nation, was this the right letter to respond to? I would go a bit farther and say that it could be seen as insulting. Like how dare the LW not be preoccupied with these bigger issues? How dare they feel less stressed now than before?
posted by muddgirl at 8:13 AM on May 12 [12 favorites]


Interesting take, muddgirl. Maybe I just missed it.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:26 AM on May 12


Captain Awkward's style is taking questions and using them as the springboard for essays going well beyond the question itself, drawing in a number of related and secondary links; it's very rarely about succintly and directly and only addressing the question itself on its own terms. It ain't AskMe, in other words, and has never really been. It's probable that people who write to her are aware of that style and approach.

This is a pretty good essay, in my books! (Some internal armchair editor-homunculi twinges, sure, but that's blogging in a nutshell.)
posted by Drastic at 8:29 AM on May 12 [17 favorites]


Yes, I know. But if she's received lots of questions this month along the lines of "what the hell do I do with my life?" and she wants to address the subtext of trying to fix a broken world with individual personal growth, she couldn't have found one letter that doesn't end with PS this had nothing to do with the pandemic?
posted by muddgirl at 8:34 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]


Maybe send that question in!
posted by Drastic at 8:39 AM on May 12


I found CA's response to be compassionate while also bringing up the very real stressors at play right now. Maybe I'm projecting but "help I don't want to do what capitalism says I need to do in order to be a success" of course necessitates a criticism of the systems that uphold that ideology. The point is that there IS no self-help answer out of this crap. The malaise is part of the capitalist systems.

Is that answer soothing? It depends.

Personally, I'm glad to see middle class voices lose their shit a little. And I'm glad that CA wrote this because I feel it will speak to other people who are frustrated, and it might motivate a few of them to get involved in mutual aid etc.
posted by buteo at 8:43 AM on May 12 [23 favorites]


Anyway sorry for being a negative nancy for people who found this essay helpful. I have also always struggled with long term goal setting and didn't really know what to take away from this except, like, stop trying.
posted by muddgirl at 8:52 AM on May 12 [10 favorites]


I thought this was an amazing, far-reaching and thought-provoking essay. I have been struggling with the concepts raised by the pull-quote snwod highlighted, for a long time. Can I enjoy things I am privileged to have, while being painfully aware of the sacrifices others make to bring them to me? Doing small things like avoiding retailers who are horrible to workers, supporting fair trade... knowing that doesn't go nearly far enough. I work for money and donate a portion of it to people who are "in the trenches" trying to fix the systemic problems, yet wonder if my work does more to sustain the rotten system than my donations can do to fix it.
The advice to develop a healthy resentment toward your work helped me. It gave me permission to stop feeling bad about not being enthusiastic enough about it.
It was a good essay.
posted by evilmomlady at 8:59 AM on May 12 [14 favorites]


muddgirl, I read that essay for the same reason and with mounting irritation for the tangent and the ranting and what the hell is going on here?

I'm 58 goddamn years old and I have no idea what I should want to do. I've given that shit up. I like weaving, and maybe 3 people in the world make a living with their weaving, so I'm a weaver with a day job. It's not a bad gig.
posted by corvikate at 8:59 AM on May 12 [18 favorites]


action is the antidote to despair

I needed to hear this today.
posted by beandip at 9:47 AM on May 12 [6 favorites]


The first two or three paragraphs were fine and they should have stopped there. Why CA thought it was a good idea to dump thousands of words about mass graves and how privileged the letter writer was, on a person who noted their issues with anxiety, I have no idea. But then I haven't read CA in ages as they seemed more and more useless in terms of advice, so other posters may be right that people write in because they want to be ranted at.
posted by tavella at 9:52 AM on May 12 [10 favorites]


I'm glad I'm not alone, I ended up zoning out after a few paragraphs. I do relate to LW though I wish there was a more succinct way to express my feeling of being lost in society and be OK with it.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 9:52 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]


I read it as an effort to help in re-framing; why individual goals? Many of us have lived in a world that is extremely personally focused, and the example about how history is taught is a good one (IMO) - if you look at historical efforts that really improved peoples lives, they were collective. We're often taught, however, that they were the result some individual genius or transcendental thinker making great strides.

Someone mentioned Zinn's concept of "Guards" recently, maybe here or on twitter - middle class and above people who are very comfortable (but not robber baron-esque wealthy) who are complicit in helping keep many other peoples standard of living much lower then it should be, in order to feed the wealth of the Establishment, and keep everyone else comfortable. Once these "Guards" realize that, to the Establishment, they are considered as expendable as the workers, systemic change may be possible. Many many people have begun to understand this for the first time due to the current pandemic. It's at the end of the Peoples History of the US, and you can just read that chapter to get the idea.

That's what I think this is about, an idea about how you might think about goals, and how (and why) to live, going forward.
posted by pilot pirx at 9:53 AM on May 12 [21 favorites]


action is the antidote to despair

despair is overloading how I was feeling, but last Friday was not a good day for me ... until I finally kicked up and took for the dog for a walk. Sometimes, it's the little things. And the dog was happy, too.
posted by philip-random at 9:59 AM on May 12 [5 favorites]


mudgirl, I feel the need to defend Captain Awkward's expansive (and I think thoughtful and awesome) response by pointing out that after she replies specifically to NOT AMBITIOUS, the Captain very clearly states that she is also addressing the SUBTEXT of a multitude of similar questions she has received from others asking about goal-setting and "what should I do with my life?" She acknowledges the actual timeline we are living in instead of offering useless platitudes. There have never been easy answers to these questions. And people who pretend a fulfilling and meaningful life can be created in "EIGHT EASY STEPS!" < insert balloons and smiley faces here > are charlatans. Personally, I think it would be irresponsible to offer any sort of "life" advice to anyone right now without taking in to consideration the extraordinary circumstances we are experiencing, whether or not the questioner acknowledges it or not.
posted by pjsky at 10:03 AM on May 12 [14 favorites]


I don't think there's necessarily a contradiction between "PS this has nothing to do with the pandemic" and the initially-pandemic-focused answer that CA gave. The pandemic may have made it more starkly obvious, but I feel like the broader underlying question is really, "How do I personally prosper and thrive while my society decays and slowly collapses?"

To which the going answers seem to be: you develop some degree of sociopathic indifference to the world around you (having a lot of money to insulate you helps with this, I hear) or....you don't. Maybe that means you fight, you organize, you resist, you do everything in your power to change the world, or...maybe it just means you accept that you're not going to have a fulfilling career and a beautiful storybook life, and you find a way to be okay with just getting by, while still having compassion for others. Or, for most of us, I think it's some combination of all these things. CA's answer lays out a pretty good formula for prioritizing surviving, compassion, and resistance, in the numbered list at the very end.

For me, personally, the mental bugaboo that I would turn up when my conscious mind went looking for the answer to "why can't I get emotionally invested in planning my own future" was never previously the pandemic but was often climate change; but either way it's the same basic issue of trying to find personal meaning when you feel like the whole world is falling apart. It doesn't have to be the pandemic, it doesn't have to be climate change, it doesn't even have to be something you're consciously aware of; that vague feeling that our problems are unfixable, that sense of "sameness" that Brandy Jensen talks about in the piece that CA quoted and linked to - that sense that things are bad for everybody, and they're only going to stay bad or get worse, makes it hard to spin out the rosy visions of our own personal future growth that we were all taught to do in our optimistic, individualistic capitalist 1980s and 1990s adolescences. Or as CA says in her answer:

It’s that possibly everything you’ve ever learned about “how to career” told you to tune out the noise of the world and focus on perfecting yourself, and there is a certain point where pretending things in the outside world are not affecting you or that there exists an optimal amount you can perfect yourself that makes those outside forces irrelevant creates a cognitive dissonance so great that it is actually destructive.
...
And I honestly think it has something to do with political and economic realities, the way institutions and safety nets and shared realities are breaking down to the point that they starkly reveal the limits of the self as a tool for actualization or for building the kind of society where such actualization is possible.

posted by mstokes650 at 10:49 AM on May 12 [8 favorites]


I don't think there's necessarily a contradiction between "PS this has nothing to do with the pandemic" and the initially-pandemic-focused answer that CA gave. The pandemic may have made it more starkly obvious, but I feel like the broader underlying question is really, "How do I personally prosper and thrive while my society decays and collapses?"

That's your broader underlying question, because you find it starkly obvious that society is decaying and collapsing in ways that are at odds with thriving, but that's a pretty big premise that not everyone shares.
posted by value of information at 11:15 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]


that's a pretty big premise that not everyone shares.

Hence the words "I feel like".

Perhaps not everyone shares it, but it's one that seems to me to be shared by Captain Awkward in the column this thread is about. The fascist, corrupt authoritarian state, the collapsing institutions, the rulers in a death cult, the government that can disappear people, the possibility of a stolen 2020 election or the impossibility of getting a passport - more than half of that whole list of things that CA puts out there right at the beginning of the piece - are not "pandemic" things. Trump wasn't elected three months ago. The death-cult GOP and the forces that led to Trump's election go still further back (and the rise of right-wing populism is not a strictly United States phenomenon, either). The collapsing institutions...well we can argue about when they started to collapse and probably come up with answers ranging from "the day the were built" to "Watergate" to "2015" or anywhere in between.

Did you have a point to make other than "not everyone agrees with you?" I didn't think it needed spelling out that not all 7+ billion humans agreed on any premise.
posted by mstokes650 at 12:06 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]


I have enjoyed Captain Awkward although in recent years it's been too many words for me to get through when there are other haunts. I kind of wish CA would just make the leap to essayist.

I resemble the arc of her essay here myself in that we are more-or-less contemporaries, and my liberal arts snobbish education complete with a side of Gifted Child Excellence contributed to very similar narrative. And over the last few years, I have had a midlife crisis and changed my life from a white-collar job to a less white-collar job. And I agree with some of her reflections on structure and inequity, and particularly on the narrative that women of my generation were given. The Anne Shirley line killed.

But this too was a new imposition of narrative. I think the core contract with most advice columnists is even when they like Dear Sugar or Ask Polly permit their writerly wings to soar over the plain, that they come back to a point where they address the questioner's needs directly.

And in this case although CA did actually give some actionable advice at the end, it was ill-matched for the stated needs. The questioner was asking a question in the realm of "Who Am I?" and Captain Awkward answered the question "What Do We Owe To Ourselves And Others, In The Current Maelstrom of Inequity." I'm assuming that's why it was posted here, because it is a nice look at that - if you aren't following along with the first question.

And of course, to out-meta the meta, that's because right now all our narratives have been hijacked by an existential threat.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:06 PM on May 12 [13 favorites]


Did you have a point to make other than "not everyone agrees with you?" I didn't think it needed spelling out that not all 7+ billion humans agreed on any premise.

Sort of -- I was arguing against the idea that this was necessarily related to the original letter writer's problems and framing, which I thought you believed. I agree with your description of where CA is coming from.

Personally, I related more to the letter writer's issues, so I was a little disappointed not to leave much wiser about them than I entered.
posted by value of information at 12:44 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]


I had no idea anyone thought Georgetown was a really good school.
posted by snofoam at 12:59 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised that so many people think the answer did not respond directly to the question that was asked. The question asker starts by talking about their lack of long term goals (which could be anything!) but then immediately segues into a list of work/career related things that they struggle with.

So CA suggests, essentially, that maybe the question asker should reconsider their relationship to work. I can see why someone might not like or agree with that answer (it's a very socialist way to think about work, which not everyone is going to like) but it seemed like a valid and on-point way to answer the question.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 1:09 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]


I guess from my perspective, as someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety and just getting through the day; then recovering from those brings up questions I've never had the brain space to consider before like "What am I doing? Where am I going?" I don't think she did address ways to work through these questions, even in the context of the world we live in. At the end she does give a list of actions but she basically says "Don't bother thinking long term because the world is coming to an end, just keep swimming" which IMO sounds like my own depressed brain talking.
posted by muddgirl at 1:14 PM on May 12 [11 favorites]


Honestly I came here to point out the revelatory quality of CA going through what seemed like a long shaggy dog to actually address the problem the asker actually had instead of the question they asked.

I, too, was getting a bit impatient as CW seemed to hijack and ignore the question, but then I realized they were doing something better for both the questioner and the audience.

Sure, that could be tone deaf but it sure landed spot on for me: deciding your long term goals is not a question it's possible to answer when constrained by all these broken expectations and existential threats, so it's both okay and truly adaptive to give that advice to forgive yourself and rebuild your expectations.

Lots of people in here seem to share the plight of the letter writer where you're asking "how do I decide which store to drive to" when the issue is "all the stores closed a decade ago, you have no car but it doesn't matter because there's no petrol left in this sector, and can we talk about the fact you're submerged in a vat of slowly warning water?"

I maybe forgot about CW or never read them before, and generally find advice (or "advice" as a springboard for essays) barely tolerable, but this was good.
posted by abulafa at 1:20 PM on May 12 [15 favorites]


cultivated a habit of tuning out the suffering of people who made your comfort possible

I'm actually with the entire pull quote, but I wanted to parse just a little. The cult of blaming individual action is certainly hollow and illogical. But what about this other bit above?

There have been messages carried by people in history about 'us all being one' and 'loving each like your brother' or what have you. But also in history that's never really happened at scale, right?

What I'm asking is, since a global egalitarian social system is at least a few months away, isn't the habit quoted above sort of necessary from a coping stand point? Aren't some self delusions necessary so we aren't constantly mulling the suffering of humanity all the time?

If so, when is that ok? If not, how do we not go crazy?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 1:57 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]


how privileged the letter writer was

Just want to note that CA was not referring to the privilege of the letter writer, she was referring to her own privilege.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:17 PM on May 12


METAFILTER: all the stores closed a decade ago, you have no car but it doesn't matter because there's no petrol left in this sector, and can we talk about the fact you're submerged in a vat of slowly warMing water?
posted by philip-random at 3:24 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


I’ve tried career counseling and I run into the same thing. I’d like to make more money. I can list things I’m good at. I don’t understand how to translate those into a better or different job and when I try to articulate this people tell me I have a lot of options and it depends on what I want to do. And there is nowhere to go from there.

If this were AskMe, and as of right this second it is, because heck, this is the bit I'd focus on. Our culture is abysmal at recognizing talent and putting it to good use. We don't even know how to tell each other how to succeed in this stupid system we knitted together out of garbage.
posted by bleep at 4:41 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]


cultivated a habit of tuning out the suffering of people who made your comfort possible
You know I interpreted this as "we have built this expectation into careerism" not "you must feel all the pain or you're a monster."

Like recognizing your own propensity for bias and blinders and working to build structures and networks to control for those and counteract them when possible, perhaps we should look for ways to dismantle the necessity of ignoring the plight of others just to, say, secure a job or advance in a career, hold office, lead people, etc.

So, just cure exceptionalism generally *brushes off hands*.
posted by abulafa at 5:25 PM on May 12


This 'passion' askme answered by the legendary grumblebee has 1,152 favorites. Seems useful. Pre-pandemic, so doesn't address those complexities.
posted by j_curiouser at 5:33 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


What a superb essay.
posted by PhineasGage at 6:10 PM on May 12


While I agree that the letter seems to wander off into Glorious Bitchrant territory and wanders off from the OP's query, it does circle back. And while I think that's a little shitty for the letter writer, because it does wander off for quite some time, I think our times needed that bitchrant. And she does circle back. But yes, I think the heart and core of it does boil down to:

"Don't bother thinking long term because the world is coming to an end, just keep swimming"

Honestly, the letter writer's angst is toward the top of the Maslow pyramid. We have gone down to the bottom of the pyramid these days. Self-actualization is for someone who's safe and comfortable and fed and loved. Nobody's safe any more. Most people don't have jobs any more right now, and even more will lose them in the future. Does it fucking matter if you don't have career goals any more? IT DOES NOT MATTER ANY MORE. THOSE DAYS ARE DONE. MAYBE FOREVER. IT DOESN'T MATTER, IT DOESN'T MATTER. That letter felt so pre-pandemic it felt tone deaf, even if it was really "pandemic just made that issue seems worse to me now somehow."

Dreams and goals are gone because survival is now a lot more effort, and getting paid so that you can live is everything. Who cares if you don't want to be a manager now? Who cares if what you do for money isn't what you want to do but you don't know what you want to do either? It's all about surviving till next week, and then the next week, and then the next week after that. None of this angsty-navel-gazing-no-goals shit matters any more now that this has happened. That question comes from a place of privilege that most of us have lost. And I think that's a reasonable answer to give.

Like, sure, you don't like your job. Are you going to be able to find another one now? What industry do you like that can still hire people? That will hire you over the hundreds applying for that job? It is more ethical to hire someone out of work over you, who has a job? What happens if by some chance you get that job that fits you better and then you get canned or furloughed because that job turned out to be expendable? For all the issues I have with my job, I'm grateful AF now that I didn't get another job in a more expendable industry, in a more artistic industry, that I didn't "start my own business" like everyone tells me to. I feel like all the years I got cock-blocked by the universe every time I tried to leave has finally made sense as to why I could never leave. I don't have any angst or agita about having goals or leaving any more, because that shit doesn't matter. Survival is everything, and the OP needs to focus on that. Not "wah, I have no goals." Those times are over.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:34 PM on May 12 [17 favorites]


I think I might deep down agree with jenfullmoon. I'm probably in denial/super-repression. I sure am grateful every day for my tiny old apartment and super frustrating job, and I didn't really used to be.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:45 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Letter writer Not Ambitious is becoming my first hero.
posted by Harry Caul at 3:50 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Maybe specific jobs will go away. Maybe that dream company will close up, or the market will be saturated with social media professionals. But, finding purpose, finding something that makes us eager to move forward. I think that's still possible.
posted by rebent at 5:32 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


Does it fucking matter if you don't have career goals any more? IT DOES NOT MATTER ANY MORE. THOSE DAYS ARE DONE. MAYBE FOREVER. IT DOESN'T MATTER, IT DOESN'T MATTER. That letter felt so pre-pandemic it felt tone deaf, even if it was really "pandemic just made that issue seems worse to me now somehow."

I was watching a documentary on something totally unrelated a while back - Quiet Heroes - and there was an anecdote from one of the nurses or counsellors that stuck with me that's strangely relevant to this situation.

She said that one of the unexpected challenges after more effective HIV drugs were developed in the 1990s was how to help people who had been infected several years ago and had been living like they'd have no future since their diagnosis. If you've been in survival mode for a few years, having received a death sentence, divorcing yourself from goals and burning through all your resources is actually a pretty reasonable thing to do. The problem kicks in when a regular life expectancy becomes a possibility again and you have to figure out how to rebuild everything after you've fatalistically burned it down.

Presumably there will be a post-pandemic world that many of us will continue to live in for several decades. It's not going to look like the world we lived in last year or at least a few months ago, but at some point it'll probably stop being a next-level hellscape. I say this as someone who's been unemployed for a couple months now*, but I'm not sure it makes sense for people to be running madly in more directions than are necessary to stay afloat. Rebuilding our lives post-pandemic is going to be a more difficult prospect than it would have been before, so it sort of behooves people to not smash up their lives and their goals.

*but okay, I'll check my privilege here: I'm Canadian (albeit in an economically fucked part of the country), a white-collar professional, a woman with social sciences degrees who's never really held a pink-collar job as an adult, and I had pretty decent job search outcomes before this all went down. I get that this is going to shake out differently for people in different situations, but realistically at some point before most people die, the fucked-up-ness will stop peaking.
posted by blerghamot at 11:17 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


What I meant to say in my earlier comment but had trouble articulating is that there's a big difference between "What are my career goals?", which is the way it's usually phrased, and "What jobs are available that I might be good at and that pay enough to have a good life, and what do I need to do to get hired?" No one seems to have any information to answer the second question at all.
There are a lot of interesting jobs out there.
Guidance about getting into any job that you don't learn about in primary school is non-existent.
If you don't know the person doing the hiring personally, your resume will never be seen by a human.
This really does have nothing at all to do with the pandemic - it needed solving before, it still needs solving, and it will continue needing solving later.
posted by bleep at 1:46 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


"There are no jobs to be had" is a completely different problem that IS effected by the pandemic.
posted by bleep at 1:49 PM on May 13


"What are my career goals" bothers me as a question because everyone pretty much has the same goals - spend my work time doing something that doesn't make me want to kill myself, have enough time and money to enjoy planet earth. I wish we could flush the word goals down the toilet.
posted by bleep at 1:52 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


I gently beg to differ, bleep - there is an enormously wide spectrum of views toward individual careers, or even toward basic jobs. It's great that you have your views and priorities clear in your own mind. Slagging someone who is trying to clarify or perhaps even change their own priorities about gainful work - and, yes, goals - is unkind.
posted by PhineasGage at 2:03 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


But, finding purpose, finding something that makes us eager to move forward. I think that's still possible.

I agree, but I won't be doing that through my work for pay. Most people don't.

Rebuilding our lives post-pandemic is going to be a more difficult prospect than it would have been before, so it sort of behooves people to not smash up their lives and their goals.

But I think people's lives and goals are going to have to change so drastically just to work within the limits of the hellscape, that I think if you wanted goals, you'd better wait a few years, see how things are shaking out, and THEN try to come up with goals that work within our severe life limitations. For example, I'm gonna pursue performing online and NOT at all anything IRL, nor am I going to assume that IRL is going to exist at all, at least within the next few years. And I'm not going to ever attempt to do it for money. If the original writer doesn't have any goals, now is not the time to worry about getting some. At best, wait a while. A long while.

"What jobs are available that I might be good at and that pay enough to have a good life, and what do I need to do to get hired?" No one seems to have any information to answer the second question at all.

Nobody's ever had the answer to that one unless your skills and interests lie in a lucrative field already. A lot of things humans love doing are expendable. That's why you get paid to work, not to knit (well, most people don't).

"What are my career goals" bothers me as a question because everyone pretty much has the same goals - spend my work time doing something that doesn't make me want to kill myself, have enough time and money to enjoy planet earth. I wish we could flush the word goals down the toilet.

This is perfect. This explains it all.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:32 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Anyway, Captain Awkward is a treasure.
posted by homerica at 6:47 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Some internal armchair editor-homunculi twinges, sure
posted by sneebler at 8:35 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Slagging someone who is trying to clarify or perhaps even change their own priorities about gainful work - and, yes, goals - is unkind.

I wasn't slagging anyone. I was agreeing with the OP that it's really, really, really hard to make it in this society and it's not set up to support people the way it should. Focusing on individuals' goals puts the onus on them to rebuild every wheel from scratch instead of us all working together to have nice lives the way we're supposed to.
posted by bleep at 11:56 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


When the OP says "I’ve tried career counseling and I run into the same thing. I’d like to make more money. I can list things I’m good at. I don’t understand how to translate those into a better or different job and when I try to articulate this people tell me I have a lot of options and it depends on what I want to do. And there is nowhere to go from there." it's like, yes, that's everyone's goals too, and it shouldn't be this big mysterious quest involving super-human input of effort, luck, networking and monetary investment to figure out how to make that happen. But it is, and that's wrong. I'm on OP's side.
posted by bleep at 12:01 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


It's actually not very controversial that most if not all people have something to contribute to society and want to give and take from the group at a level that they feel comfortable with, and have enjoyable experiences along the way, and it shouldn't be as hard as it is to get the opportunity to do so.
posted by bleep at 12:07 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


it's like, yes, that's everyone's goals too

Is it everyone's goals, though? Would most people like a job that keeps food on their table? I think it's a fair assumption to say yes. But there's also a lot of people out there (and in this thread) who don't seem to be on board with the possibility of having their jobs be a significant source of meaning for them. And further to that, not everyone values the same things in a job, or even in their more general quest to figure out how they want to contribute to society.
posted by blerghamot at 3:00 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Nowhere did I say "job be a source of meaning".
posted by bleep at 10:51 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Career counseling never paid off for me. In my experience, if you need to have someone go over your cover letter/resume they're tops, but if you're trying to figure out what job would work for you, that ALSO works for whatever jobs are out there and finding a match between them... that's your problem. What's the point in reading a long list of vaguely arts-related jobs that you don't qualify for as a list of "you might be into this?" It doesn't so much matter what you want so much as what others need to have fulfilled and how much you can fit into their box.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:53 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


I found her response quite off-base and almost inappropriate. It's a fine rant, it's just not suitable for someone who is meant to be in an advice giving / supportive role. It's like going to a therapist and them going on a wild spiel about how the world is terrible. Maybe CA needs to step back from her job at the moment.
posted by daybeforetheday at 7:07 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


I think the question is the major weakness of this otherwise-excellent post. The answer is an on-point response to the issue of finding a path in a bad and crazy world. But the actual question wasn't the best starting point for the answer. I guess CA has to work with what is asked but I think the whole thing is stronger if I just forget there was a question at all. Once I did that it was great.
posted by Tehhund at 5:48 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


This Carolyn Hax letter (Washington Post only) and response is perhaps more appropriate. LW moved across the country for their partner, spent a year trying to make it in the industry they wanted, never got a job, and now feels like they will be unemployed for another year, given the circumstances. Feels like they wasted time "chasing dreams" while their partner is doing well in their career.

Carolyn said:

"You did nothing wrong.
And you’re doing nothing wrong now, except in succumbing to the pull of shame.
Trying something new is not a good or bad idea based only on the outcome. Some fine ideas tank for any number of reasons. Or, I suspect more aptly in this case, some ideas take longer to work out than we intended. Even some bad ideas produce eventual good results if you learn from them.
There was also no guarantee, by the way, that you’d have stayed just fine in your old job had you opted not to move.
So that’s where I’d start with the de-shaming process: You’re struggling now, yes — but, barring our ability to be present in multiple realities, you have no other present circumstances to compare that with. The past is no longer relevant for purposes of comparison.
Meanwhile, your partner is “doing amazing things,” yes. Your partner also is not relevant for purposes of comparison, any more than the other 7-ish billion people on Earth are, because they’re not you. Your journey is your own.
Plus, as time will eventually tell you much more persuasively than I can, a snapshot of a life — which is really what you’re looking at with your partner, just this one brief moment — is not even close to who a person is or how their life will play out. Your partner is no more a capital-S Success for being a rock star today than you are a capital-F Failure for being unemployed today. You’d probably see this about an unemployed friend, yes? And you’d be right.
So spend some of that love and insight on yourself. This move and career effort were harder than you imagined possible and you will figure it out. You just might need a Plan C to back up your B.
Use that reframing process to shift from regretting the past to mining it for useful information. You didn’t get one of these crazy-scarce jobs, okay, but you got close — a sign you did something right. What was it, do you know? Do you have a mentor? Did you give up too soon, or too completely? Is there a lower rung for entry, or a subspecialty or sister industry you didn’t try?
Alternately, did your one “wasted” year expose this field as a bad fit, saving you several years on the wrong path?
If you’ve done this mining already, then drop the past entirely in favor of now and tomorrow. Crisis makes that simple, if not exactly appealing: You can skip the whole fuzzy part about what you want and cut straight to whatever is still possible.
Then, from these possibilities, build a plan. Such as: 1. How long can you afford to be unemployed? Financially and emotionally. 2. What can you do to buy yourself more time for your “new direction” to bring results? Is anyone hiring, are volunteers needed? 3. Break for exercise and stress-baking, and ask yourself 4. if you were to veer off your intended path entirely, where would you go? Blame the catastrophe and leave yourself room for wild what-ifs and wondering.
Make the room, I should say, by pushing shame out. We are in the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a mass rethinking of priorities and purpose; you just got your invitation early. There’s no dishonor in that."

posted by jenfullmoon at 2:35 PM on May 17 [10 favorites]


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