In a world where our identities are so tied up with our careers, Courtney Grover explores how job hopping has affected her own sense of self.
Throughout my childhood, it was impressed upon me that education was the key to success. Teachers, friends and family promised that the world would be my oyster, provided I went to uni and nabbed myself a degree.
“It will open doors,” they said, and I had no reason to doubt them. The narrative they were setting out was a familiar one – one a large portion of people have heard, or grown up with.
In 2017, I found myself leaving a Russell Group uni, 2:1 in hand. I was happy. I was excited. I was optimistic as I left my adolescence behind to take on the real world. I had done it! I had set myself up for success, on the path to living the life I wanted.
Today, I’m in the process of leaving my sixth job in 18 months.
The thing I didn’t consider that while a degree can be a useful tool in success, the first step is figuring out what you actually want to do. This is also usually the hardest bit.
Leaving each job was the right call – I know this, but inevitably flitting between so many paths causes anxiety.
‘Will you ever be able to hold down a job for longer than six months?’
‘What gives you the right to be so picky? Just pick a job and deal with it!’
‘Who on earth would want to hire someone so indecisive?’
You get the idea.
Since graduating, I have been chasing the ‘do what you love’ mantra, and as a result, I’ve been dipping my toe into different careers over the past two years. From teaching to recruitment, policing to PR, with the odd bit of waitressing and customer service in between.
Along the way I’ve met some amazing people and learnt some invaluable personal and professional skills. However, as I find myself handing in my resignation again (and again, and again) – I am forced to accept yet another failure; I am forced to admit to another job I can’t and won’t do.
Often, the most difficult part is deciding to take action. It’s one thing to recognise you’re unhappy at work; it’s another to recognise that your work is making you unhappy. It might be role, the industry, the people, the lifestyle – there’s a whole bunch of reasons why you might be dreading every morning alarm and the thought of heading into the office.
I’ve been in the wrong industry, doing a job that made me uncomfortable in the promise of a decent commission at the end. I’ve been with the wrong colleagues, from those who made me feel uncomfortable because our interests weren’t aligned, to those who thrived on internal politics and drama. I’ve been overworked, stressed, taken advantage of and alienated.
It’s shit. But it’s also illuminating.
As cliché as it sounds, each challenge presents a new opportunity. An opportunity to reflect upon what you learned, what you liked and disliked. These simple reflections can help you get one step closer to finding that dream job you’re looking for.
Along the way I’ve learned that I thrive in a small team, where I am given equal opportunities to work independently and as a unit. I’ve learned that I love writing, but struggle with on-the-spot creativity. I’ve learned that I love autonomy and responsibility, but equally need proper support and structure to guide me along the way.
Today, I have a much better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, but reentering the job market with a CV that looks like a dissertation, I can’t help feeling a little like I’ve failed.
Everyone I know complains about their job at some point or another. None of them have racked up as many notches on the workplace bedpost as I have. Sure, work is tough at times, but they all seem to handle it and stick it out. So what’s wrong with me?
I used to obsess over this for hours. I’d constantly compare myself to those around me – friends, family, colleagues. Colleagues were probably the worst comparisons, especially in circumstances where the job just ‘wasn’t right for me’.
If everyone else can handle the seemingly stressful environment, why can’t I? If everyone else can manage the workload, why can’t I?
But this comparison is toxic. It’s isolating, unfair and extremely dangerous.
Do you know what’s wrong with me? Nothing.
I’m 23. I live at home with my parents. My mum still cooks me dinner. I’m still learning to budget. I’m no step closer to buying a house as I was the day I left university. I am about to become unemployed for the sixth time in 18 months. I don’t know what job I’ll have in five years, let alone 10.
Each job I left, felt like I fell down the career ladder. Sometimes I fell so hard, I had to find a different ladder altogether.
But that’s okay. I think I’m allowed to cut myself some slack for refusing to stick at a job I don’t enjoy – and so are you.
I used to punish myself for this indecisiveness. I would torment myself thinking I wasn’t worthy of being so picky. I was stuck in a reductive mindset that told me: you’re a young graduate without an inch of professional experience – you can’t afford to be picky and should be grateful to any employer that takes you on.
Guess what? That’s bullshit. I may be young, I may be inexperienced, but that doesn’t mean I should be comfortable being unhappy.
It’s estimated that the average person will spend a third of their lives in the workplace. Typically we spend more waking hours per week in the company of our colleagues than our friends and loved ones. Why should we settle? Why should we submit to a daily grind we don’t enjoy? So we can pretend to have our shit together? So we can prove we’re doing a good job at this adulting business?
We’re measuring our success against outdated notions that simply don’t have a place in the modern world.
We should be encouraging more young people to try out different careers. There are so many careers out there beyond the traditional archetypes you’re taught in school. It’s important that we understand the wealth of opportunities in front of us and, as society starts to embrace the job-hopping generation (yep, I’m not alone in this – us millennials are becoming renowned for our commitment issues!) we have all the more reason to take advantage of the diverse market.
It’s completely normal to jump from job to job. It demonstrates courage and confidence to admit you’re unhappy and actively go out in search of what suits you.
I am leaving my sixth job in 18 months and I look forward to finding my next role.
Words: Courtney Grover