And So Life Begins… Thoughts on Turning 33

In five days, I will be turning 33 years old. I was just reminiscing the time of my life when I thought 33 was quite old, and I realized I still think it’s substantially ancient. Sure, I have a lot of years ahead of me, but 33 is no longer my “early 30s” which could pass off as an accidental overage of my 20s. Thirty-three is serious adult business.

I honestly never pictured myself at 33 because I couldn’t imagine it. I’m not sure how many people see themselves as working professionals or mothers or whatever else it is 33 is supposed to be when they’re younger, but I didn’t have any sort of vision of who I’d be at this age. If a six-figure salary and wedding ring on my finger = success then I guess I’ve made it. But I feel ridiculously behind and lost, which is much scarier at this age than it was my 20s.

What’s become clear is that I can’t cut it in my current line of work. I can fake it but faking it until I make it isn’t a sustainable feat. My frustration lies now in my inability to get interviews at virtually any role outside of one identical to the one I’m in now. While I can apply my learnings from yet another go at it and try harder and attempt to be better at startup marketing next time around, I know I’m not cut out for this role.

Friends and good-meaning commenters advise me to take a lower level role but no one understands that lower level roles require even more subject matter expertise which I do not have – I can’t land an interview for a lower level role. Trust me, I’ve tried. As my boss put it the other day, with eyes glaring of “when can I get rid of you,” I’m a good “marketing generalist.” I was great when the company was small and the really good marketers wouldn’t consider touching it with a ten foot pole because of all the risk and uncertainty. As soon as the company achieves a modicum of success they become more attractive to better marketers who come in and take over and I’m out. It’s a no-win situation at this point other than constantly changing jobs every year, and that’s not sustainable for the rest of my career.

There are many aspects of marketing that I will never be good at, and others I could likely learn. The big question I have now is, can I change my career to something that I actually would be better at? Although those who have managed me in the past would likely say I should move into something less quant-focused and more creative, the reality is that I’m not super creative and I’d probably be better off getting really good at the quant side and taking on a more analytical role. I’m just no where near good enough right now. Sure, my boss would say that my failure in the company has to do with my lack of ability to get my work done when I say I’m going to (true) and my poor communication skills collaborating with peers and superiors (i.e. my eternal awkwardness that can be muffled but not fully unlearned.) But I know it’s the constant anxiety which makes it impossible for me to live up to my potential. Thus, I would like to identify and pursue a career that does not create additional anxiety so I can focus on doing my work well.

Today, I’m trying to focus on doing my job while being well aware of my teammates and my boss interviewing behind my back for my new boss. I’m not at all upset about them hiring someone over me, just more how I let knowing this get to my head and not being able to do my best work because I seethe with anger towards myself at failing to live up to expectations and failing to be someone who would be at least included in this process versus hidden from potential candidates out of fear that I’ll botch the hiring process. I don’t blame my boss at all for any of this – I’ve just gone from being in charge of a department to being a peon who is overpaid for my “now” role and that means I can’t be long for the organization unless I magically become supernaturally good at my job with no mess ups in the next few months. Given I’ll be absolutely paranoid knowing that my new boss is likely looking for ways to get rid of me, I don’t see how this will end well. In short, I feel like I have to get out now and soon – which is unfortunate as there are a lot of things I do like about this job and where I can see myself adding value. It’s just too little too late.

This story at 20-something wouldn’t be so tragic. But at 33, it’s rather pathetic. The difference between my 20’s and now is that I’m starting to feel more confident in being able to get a job. It’s certainly not easy and I have to be really on point in my interviews (and I don’t get that many interviews) but for the particular kind of company that’s early stage and that wants a marketer who can do everything and is having trouble hiring someone to do that, I’m the perfect fit, at least on paper. I’m in talks with one company that is in an industry that would be totally new to me — I normally go to companies that have some sort of benefit to the general population, but this one would be purely business efficiency. There’s something attractive about that at the moment, though. Marketing a product that doesn’t have clear ROI adds to the anxiety. If a product is built first and foremost to help a company save money then maybe that bit of anxiety will be taken away, and I can focus on promoting the product.

I wish I had other late-stage opportunities right now but I don’t. And I also wish I knew what my boss was thinking… I wouldn’t even be looking if I felt like he appreciated my work and how I contribute, but it’s clear I’m not his top priority to retain right now. For better or worse I understand how he thinks as he’s constantly evaluating risk – if losing me was a risk to the business (in this analysis) he would not be treating me this way right now. I imagine he views firing me to be a risk since it might upset a few employees who are highly productive, thus he is hoping I leave on my own or that he will have the new head of the department remove me as part of their planning and review of my work. Either way, it gets him off the hook.

Does that mean I’m out the door tomorrow? No. I can see it going a few ways. I believe that if I do my work and get everything done I’ve committed to, I will not be removed from the company this year. However, even if I’m on point with getting my work done I’m just too expensive to keep. My salary was based on running the department, not being someone that can be replaced with a manager-level employee at a much lower cost. The team I brought onboard is highly productive and cost efficient, whereas I’m no longer necessary or desirable in the organization. I can’t see anyone making the case to keep me for longer than another six months.

I’m not sure right now if I should fight through those three to six months and try to be the best employee I’ve ever been, despite being sad and anxious about how my replacement has gone down – or should I just get out now when there may be a viable opportunity on the table? Every day, I change my mind on the answer.

A part of me really does want to stay. If I can just focus and stop being so anxious I know I can do good work in the short term. It can’t hurt to stay longer and continue to save money before I have a kid. I’m definitely worried about getting fired or looking for a new job by choice while I’m pregnant (since I’d like to be pregnant by June) as that’s just not a good place to be in – it would be better to start a new job now, but only if I felt that job would be more stable and sustainable than my current one. At least I know what is expected of me here (for now) and who knows, maybe my new boss will be great and we’ll get along and she will respect my ideas and contributions and everything will be hunkey-dory. That’s highly unlikely since my current boss is probably hiring the opposite of me for this role as he is convinced he made a horrible mistake in hiring me – but who knows. It could go either way.

Separately, I’m wondering if an MBA would help at this point in my career. I really really really need a strong quant background that I don’t have to open up job prospects. It really isn’t about salary increases because I’d probably have to take a lower salary in a new field after completing my MBA – but at least I’d feel more confident and look better on paper for roles beyond “startup marketing department in a box.” What I really don’t like about marketing is having to take risk and being responsible for that risk. Maybe that’s all of business – but I’d be ok with risks such as “should we open a store in this new market” but less “let’s spend a ton of money on this trade show and figure out how to make it successful and then it isn’t and you look like a shit.” So, there are aspects of marketing that I might enjoy even, the more MBA-type marketing that is based on quantitative analysis versus the bullshit type that is based on no one else wants this job… until they do.

The funny thing is, I actually like business. In an interview the other day a question caught me off guard – “what is the favorite thing you’ve learned in your life?” I blanked for a minute and then answered in a way that might have sounded like a suck up answer but was actually true – my favorite thing I’ve learned in my life is how businesses work. Growing up I felt like business was this whole other world that I never would touch. I moved to a new area and ended up writing about business and I still had no idea how it worked. I love learning about how businesses work and how they don’t work – every part of the organization and how companies grow or don’t grow, and where money can be saved versus where it shouldn’t be saved. Nerdiest answer ever, but it’s true. I like business. I like efficiency. I like complex systems of people and processes and optimizing those systems. So maybe I should stay in business after all.

Anyway – I’ll be 33 whether I like it or not, and if I’m going to get pregnant that’s happening in the next 12 months. It’s certainly not logical to have kids right now (or ever) with my inability to handle life as is, but if there’s anything I know as fact it’s that I want a family and I don’t want to look back and regret not having one. Yes, I can adopt but that won’t be the same and I don’t know if I’d want to do that. I at least want to try to have my own family first. Everyone says just have the kid and it will work itself out. Those people are either married to rich engineers or they are struggling and complaining about how they never have enough money. Well, I won’t be the first kind of friend so I’d like to ensure I’m not the second.

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One comment

  1. Ella says:

    Based on what you’ve said here, I think you should try to get out now. Pursuing that other opportunity or applying to an MBA program both sound like solid options.

    I think an MBA program could offer you the flexibility to have and raise a baby (but I’m not positive, and it might depend on the program). You’ll have to dig into your savings, but you still have 30 years to hit your retirement goals. Plus, your husband will be contributing to that goal as well, and even if it’s not much, it will help. I don’t think you should be too worried about allocating all your future savings to your family’s needs. You’ll most likely be able to continue saving for retirement even after your child(ren) is born. You might even still be working when they start college. That’s how plenty of parents manage to pay for their kids’ tuitions.

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