“I'm Scared To Stay, And I'm Scared To Leave. What Should I Do?”

Alex is in a double-bind: bored where she is, yet afraid to leave for something new. Should she quit, let down her family, and risk everything she's worked so hard to get? Or should she stay put, be grateful for the good things she's got, and keep everyone happy (except, it seems, herself)?

What's your career history and current job?

I'm a Senior Statistical Analyst in a major government services department.

I've been in this job for the last three years. Before that, I was juggling my postgraduate studies with a position as a Statistician for a well-known medical university.

How do you feel about your work?

Well, something's not right.

I dread going into work every day, I'm often bored and disconnected from my job, and I keep finding myself daydreaming about something else.

Don't get me wrong, my colleagues are nice and I'm paid well, so it's not all bad. I have a nice office, a short commute, and my family are proud as punch to tell people what I do for a living – and I love that. Really, it ticks all the boxes that everyone talks about when they're looking for a job. And yet the longer I stay here, the more I feel like I'm just not meant to be here.

But that's not how this was supposed to go! I know how childish that sounds, but really, I've put so much work into getting to this position, I'd be so angry for it to all turn out to be wrong for me.

What would you like to be doing instead?

My gosh, even answering this questions feels like a really guilty pleasure!

I've never told anyone this before – isn't that strange? I want to go back to school. I want to study. I want to become a researcher in Natural History and Life Sciences. When I watch scientists on TV documentaries working on research vessels, out in remote environments, making their notes and studying animal behaviours, it's like my whole body is lifting out of the chair and trying to launch itself through the screen. That's how much I want to be there, studying these kinds of things.

And then I go back into my office, look at my stack of paperwork and I want to hit my head on the desk.

What's the biggest obstacle in your way?

Good, old-fashioned fear and guilt, I think.

My family really helped me out financially with my studies, and they're all so proud of how far I've come. You should hear them telling their friends about what I do for a living; it's like I've really achieved something special in their eyes. How can I go to them and tell them I'm throwing it all away?

And, for goodness' sake, who's to say it's not all a silly pipe dream anyway? Do you know how many people want the kind of job I've been daydreaming about? Millions. Millions of people want to spend their days studying wolves and waiting for whales to breach and pretending to be David Attenborough. And then there's little old me, preparing to throw thousands of pounds back in my family's faces in order to go off and try to make it in a field like that?

It feels very self-indulgent, to even be thinking about something like this. Not everyone can just pack it all in and go off and do something else. Why should I think I can?

The whole thing just makes me feel so childish and silly. So childish and silly, in fact, that I can't even bring myself to look into what I'd need to do to make it happen! I know there's loads of advice on Careershifters about trying things out, but I'm too scared to even do that. What if I try it out, I fall totally in love with it, and then I have to ruin everything I've got so far?

Or worse, what if I try it out and discover I don't like it and I have to stay here?

I'm just so torn and guilt-ridden right now that I'm not doing anything about anything, and I have no idea which decision is worse.

Can you help Alex?

  • Have you been in a similar situation, or are you in the same boat right now?
  • How can she make a decision about what to do with her dreams?
  • Is she being self-indulgent for imagining moving into a new career?
  • Do you know anyone she could talk to?

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