Illustration by Adam Q

Young life: Quitting my first job

Without a concrete job title anchoring me down, I feel slightly lost. But I know I’ve made the right choice
December 9, 2021

I was at my desk in my childhood bedroom when I completed my master’s degree last summer. I hit the “submit” button, sat back in my chair for a moment, then padded downstairs to put the kettle on. All in all, it was anticlimactic.

In normal circumstances, I might have spent the next few weeks lounging in the Grantchester sun and drinking lukewarm, tinned G&Ts with my coursemates. But this was 2020, and I was nestled in my family home in the Midlands, over 100 miles away from university. With little else to do, I started looking for my first job.

I was apprehensive about entering the world of work. Unlike some of my peers, I had not filled every summer holiday with internships, nor had I signed up to a million different clubs in a bid to make myself more employable. But I was quietly confident too: I had achieved two degrees, sat on the English Society committee and written for various student papers. I knew it would be difficult to get a job, but I thought I had done enough to land one without too much fuss.

One month of searching turned into two. In that time, I sent out over 60 applications. I spent the days glued to my laptop, furiously typing out cover letters and obsessively re-arranging my CV. With every “unfortunately, your application was unsuccessful…” email, despair set in deeper.

I spent evenings sobbing in bed, wiping my tears on the same butterfly-print bed sheets I’d had since I was seven. I had gone from total, unbridled independence to texting my dad asking him to pick me up from the pub at 10pm. Society gears us up to place so much emphasis on our careers, and so without one I felt abject and worthless. “What do you do?” is one of the first questions you might ask a new face, after all. Answering “nothing” was essentially a social death.

I sent out an application—my last—for a job at a social media marketing agency in late August. There were the usual hoops to jump through—CV, cover letter, a writing sample, an interview over Zoom. A few days later my inbox pinged. My heart sank when I heard the noise, pre-empting another rejection, then swelled when I saw the words, “we would like to offer you the role.” I cried with joy.

“Financial anxieties aside, my job makes up a considerable chunk of my identity, whether I want it to or not”

Fast forward to the present day, and I have just handed in my notice, fulfilling the cliché of quitting my day job to follow my dreams. It feels reckless to be swapping my nine-to-five for the rollercoaster of freelance journalism, where I’ll be pitching story ideas and praying for the odd assignment from a benevolent editor.

But moonlighting as a freelance journalist on top of 40-hour weeks had left me burnt out. My evenings had taken on a discombobulating shape: after bidding a virtual goodnight to colleagues I had never met, I would immediately open Google Docs and start working on an article. Some of my peers told me I was “smashing it.” But those closest to me would underpin their congratulations with concern, asking if I was getting enough rest. It was unsustainable, and eventually it became clear that something needed to change.

I couldn’t extinguish the part of me that has always wanted to write—some of my earliest memories involve writing stories on plain A4 paper and stapling the pages together to make a “book.” When we made a newspaper as a class project in my penultimate year of prep school, I wrote around 20 pages, when most of my classmates submitted two. Today, writing feels as integral to my life as breathing.

But the prospect of resigning was still terrifying. Financial anxieties aside, my job makes up a considerable chunk of my identity, whether I want it to or not. While on holiday in Greece this summer, one of my friends discussed her new promotion, while another told me proudly that she had passed her probation period at work. I silently nibbled on a chunk of pitta bread to avoid sharing that I was actually planning on leaving my job. I’ll be freelancing full-time going forward. Without a concrete job title anchoring me down or the allure of a promotion buoying me up, I feel slightly lost.

But I know I’ve made the right choice. The pandemic has highlighted with painful clarity the things that matter: family, friends, health. Twenty-two-year-old me might not have understood, but I’m hopeful that my future, 24-year-old self, will.