Existential crisis on Linkedin

Isn’t it interesting how the big life insights of people always sound trivial? Like “and then I realized it doesn’t matter what others think.”

This kind of insight is everywhere, in every second self-help book and motivational poster. And yet if people think they have finally understood it, they talk about with shining eyes, like it was a message from heaven that suddenly hit them.

The point is of course that while it is easy to understand intellectually, it is very hard to obtain emotional understanding. This is why preaching to others they should not care what other people think is useless, and why it is also stupid to think that this is a trivial insight. It is trivial intellectually and non-trivial emotionally.

I recently visited a job counsellor who told me that getting yet another degree at my point in life was a bad idea, and pushed me in the direction of getting some kind of quant job in finance, insurance etc, the normal thing that people with my background do. He also strongly advised me to get a Linkedin profile, which I really didn’t want to do because the entire social media crap makes me very tired and annoyed and Facebook is already annoying enough.

Yet of course after a few days of internally debating with him I decided it could not really hurt to try, made a Linkedin profile and started to find out where all my colleagues that were part of the mass exodus that my field recently experienced have ended up.

Yep, practically all of my former colleagues have some kind of quant job now: Most work in data science, data analytics, some in technical consulting. Many of them have profile pictures where they suddenly look very business-like and wear suits, and blab about the usual things one blabs about on Linkedin profiles, and they look like they have become different people and claim to be excited about adding value to their companies while a short while ago they claimed to be terminally excited about the exotic subfield they worked in.

While this irritated me, I still felt a sudden and strong pull to follow in their footsteps. I couldn’t fight it and started to frantically search for job ads in big data. I noticed that the prospect made me  unhappy, but I was unable to weigh my unhappiness higher than the fact that everyone else with my background is seemingly doing the same thing, and it is not what I do. I also felt I really had to hurry up and get a job like this now, possibly before I could think about it too much. I found lots of reasons why this was a good idea. I like data and statistics, really, I miss analyzing data.

Yet looking at the typical, incredibly fake and cheesy ads of the kind of company my colleagues now work at makes me want to curl up and forget that the world exists. God, how I hate this kind of consulting/management/huge company which changes the world for the better bullshit. I get so tired thinking about it. I have always been this way; as a teenager, when I looked at typical job ads in the news paper “sales regulation software management technician for a consulting company specialized on textiles” I decided I did not want to grow up and instead hide in a hut in the wilderness somewhere.

And probably this extreme nausea about typical job ads made me want to do something radically impractical, which I did; for me having a job in a relatively esoteric field has always partially been a protest and escape from the kind of jobs that most people seem to do, although of course I intellectually know that this is the way the world works and that if everyone thought like me blabla etc.

The more I look into jobs in the quant field the more depressed and tired I feel, and yet I am still not sure if maybe I am deluded in my wish of not wanting to be a data analyst or technical consultant.

I am not trying to claim that I had a big insight along the lines of “It does not matter what others do”. I didn’t have this insight on an emotional level. I understand intellectually that I need to find out what is right for me, and that what others do should not matter, but still I suspect that they might know something that I don’t and are ahead of me.

My conclusion for now is that other people’s actions seem as foreign to me as the migration of salmon and yet I want to be like them and really migrate with them wherever they go.

This entry was posted in Anxiety, Leaving Academia, Psychology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Existential crisis on Linkedin

  1. elkement says:

    Great post – I feel much the same about the Dilbert-cartoon-like aspects of the corporate world.

    However, I once was a technical consultant at a large corporation, and I feel that such ads / profiles / business-y “case-studies” etc. don’t represent what I found most interesting and rewarding… which is working with like-minded geeks and techies that are not, by any means, “suits”, and who are typically not very active on LinkedIn. I found the technical community within such corporations not different from the one made up from “open source rebels” – and not different from the physics geeks community. Perhaps it depends on the department and specialization – I have no experience in quantitative analyis but I worked with IT security “hackers”.

    I think I would miss data analysis and quantitative work, too, but I don’t see that I need to get a “corporate” job to do that. I am running a down-to-earth engineering consultancy, and I absolutely love the interesting problems I am working on, including seemingly small projects for non-corporate clients.

    • zinemin says:

      Thank you! You make it sound less scary than it seemed to me on Linkedin. 🙂 Still, I don’t like the idea of being swallowed up and used by some large corporation with goals that I probably would not be able to identify with, even if I worked with people that were similar to me and that I liked….. Having your own small company seems like a great solution though!

      • elkement says:

        I agree – not having to meet such goals was one of the reasons I started my own business. Yet I admit the time in the corporate world gave me some interesting ideas – e.g. re the initial ideas my business was based on, though that has changed considerable – or let me connect with interesting people I would probably not have met otherwise. But yes – my own business was the best move ever, and I never regretted it. I have always said that I am happy to take more risks when I can set goals for myself.

  2. xykademiqz says:

    I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all to get another degree at all.

    I don’t know if you follow Janel Stemwedel (Dr Freeride) who blogs on Adventures in Ethics and Science, but she got a PhD in physical chemistry, decided that’s not what she was into, and got another PhD in philosophy. Here’s her story

    She is now a professor at San Jose State University and teaches philosophy.

    Alyssa of Apple Pie and the Universe has a PhD in astronomy, did outreach for a few years, but her love was always grade-school teaching. She was admitted into a very prestigious program in Canada and is now working towards her education degree.

    My own sister dropped out of college, did a string of secretarial jobs, and finally found her passion and is finishing a degree in social work at the age of 37.

    There are plenty of people who just kind on endure the PhD, resist with all their might the changes to their mind and psyche that thinking deeply about difficult problems would naturally make. They just want to go through as fast as they can, unscathed, and get a boring quant job (isn’t it funny that the first few times I read it in your post I thought it said “quaint” :-)). I have met a number of students like that. They have no real passion for learning or growing intellectually, just learning enough so they can get a good job.

    You, on the other hand, yearn to keep learning. I think you should if you have the opportunity. Good luck!

    • zinemin says:

      Thank you! It is always encouraging to read about people who manage to make a new start relatively late in life. If I am honest I would like to go through the entire undergrad-to-PhD experience again in a different field, even if I know that this is impractical. Maybe I am immature but for me the PhD was the best time in life and I am jealous of people who still have this phase of intense learning and discovery ahead of them… why people would get a degree or do a PhD as a means to some end is hard to understand for me. They must be really disciplined and be fine with very delayed gratification. To do a PhD if research in the field isn’t intensely fun to me would have been impossible for me.

  3. kolytyi says:

    Maybe you should take a look at https://www.researchgate.net, and search for, for example, cognitive science, experimental psychology, social psychology, etc.

  4. Arseny says:

    The beauty of linkedin is exactly that it is boring as hell. You can be connected to people, and NOT read about their life. NOT like their dogs, or their travels. Yet when you need to find them 5 years later – woah – here they are. In linkedin you can add anybody you have any kind of business with, and be fine with that, because the connection is so minimal. Just make sure to unsubscribe from pretty much all e-mail notifications (except the one you get when people try to connect to you).

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