I graduated from college with a double major in history and political science. Hell-bent on proving that I could get a job in my field, I moved to Washington D.C. where I managed to land an internship. I then dove headfirst into the networking hustle, wrote hundreds of cover letters and scored an interview that resulted in a full-time, full benefits, salaried job in politics. I accomplished my goal of landing a real job in my chosen field of study within 6 months of graduation and I was ecstatic. I put on my big girl pants and got ready for my first day! Quit your first job said I to myself.
The other shoe
Ironically, within 9 months of landing what I thought would be the perfect job, I realized that a career in DC politics wasn’t really my thing and I was ready to move on to something different. After having many conversations with family and friends, making lots of pro/con lists and reviewing my very shaky finances, I decided to quit my job and reevaluate my career goals.
What did I do??
When I moved back to my parent’s home, several well-meaning family members and friends asked me how I was doing, and my answer was typically something like this: Great—I’m unemployed, I’m on Medicaid, and I live with my parents!
Although I was quick to make fun of my circumstances, the truth was that I actually was great. Resigning from my first job created opportunities to build my career in a way that better aligned with my personal and professional goals. I did not want to be stuck in a career that I despised, simply because I was too afraid of financial insecurity, or too afraid to take a chance on an uncertain, unknown career path.
I’m happy to say that I am now gainfully employed, have health insurance through my employer, and am totally financially independent. I even had a chance to create a side business pursuing art that I would never have had time to investigate if I was in the D.C. circuit.
Go with your gut
Everyone’s story is different. Making the choice to leave gainful employment is not easy and it is a deeply personal decision. Also, not everyone will have a support network to fall back on when making these hard decisions. I know I was lucky, and don’t get me wrong, my pride needed a lot of pampering in those early months. But my gut knew I was making the right decision and you will also instinctively know what’s right for you. Most of the time, taking that scary but intuitive risk will lead you down unexpected paths and allow you to expand your horizons in unknown ways. Remember, there are no failures in life, only opportunities. 🙂
How I Nav.ed it
So with this in mind, here are some concrete steps I followed in order to quit a job that did not suit my talents, and instead create a career path that would provide both financial security and personal fulfillment:
I saved up.
Although I made the decision to quit about 9 months into the job, I stuck it out for another 5 months before putting in my two weeks notice. This gave me the time to plan financially for the future. I used those extra months to save money so I would have a little extra to see me through some lean months of unemployment. I also was very careful not to get into any extra debt. Debt is the most financially draining thing you can do, even if you’re employed.
I moved home.
My decision to change jobs also coincided with the decision to change my career path and my geography. Moving home allowed me to save money for rent, grocery bills and utility payments while I applied for new jobs. Thanks mom and dad!
I used external resources.
I was no longer on my parents’ health insurance plan when I landed my first ‘big girl’ job, and I was no longer covered by insurance from my previous job, so I applied for Medicaid and gratefully used the healthcare services provided under that plan while I was job searching. I am happy to pay my taxes now for others to receive the same benefit!
I found a side hustle.
A couple months into this journey, I realized I could make some money on the side. Not enough to survive, but something to put on my resume and through which I could gain more experience. Check out here how I continue my side hustle to this day while managing a work-life balance.
I worked 8-10 hours a day.
While I was unemployed, I worked 8-10 hours during the week, perfecting my resume and portfolio, researching job opportunities, networking, and setting up interviews. I was on a mission and worked hard to keep the momentum up, even when it felt like the reward would never come!
What I learned
Would I do things differently if I had to do it all over again? Maybe. But I wouldn’t give up what I learned in the process of quitting my first job. Here are some takeaways :
It’s good to have a plan.
Giving myself a solid 5 months between making the decision to quit and actually formally resigning my position gave me time to plan for the future, save money, and feel confident that I was making a rational well-thought out decision.
It’s not shameful to ask for help.
No one gets to where they are in life completely alone. Reaching out to those who could offer advice or temporary financial help made my decision to pursue a new career path much less stressful. Someday you will be in a position to pay it forward!
There is something called a side hustle.
Side hustles are such a big thing in our generation, there is even an industry around it: blogs, books, a podcast all dedicated to helping you figure out how to swing one.
The Biggest Lesson
One big concern that I had about quitting my first job was quitting too soon. Would it look bad to future employers? Luckily, it turns out there are a lot of us are making job mobility the norm in the workplace—see here, here, and here. This knowledge empowered me to leave a job I was not suited for when it was right for me.
Oddly enough, as I was interviewing again, my ability to thoughtfully articulate my reasons for leaving job #1 is what helped me land the job that I have now— and my future career prospects have never looked so bright!