Exactly 114 days ago I quit my first ‘real world’ job. I know the exact number of days because I traded in my source of income for a blog, and recorded one thought a day as an unemployed 22-year-old with a cloudy vision for what came next. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
I had been working for a non-profit organisation, mentoring underprivileged middle schoolers, and introducing them to the game of tennis. I was excited to share my love of the sport with the students, and hoped that it could open doors for them, as it had for me.
What I experienced during those two months could not have been farther from what I had imagined.
I will not go into the details, but my role as “Tennis Coordinator” in practice failed to match the job description that I had been thrilled and eager to step into. I found myself feeling overwhelmingly unsatisfied and unfulfilled at the end of each day. I was fatigued and broken, and it began to seep into my personal life. My typical optimistic and happy-as-a-clam self started to laugh less. I complained more, was quick to agitate, and lost touch with those closest to me. And so, I somehow found it in me to say, “no, not anymore!”
I quit my job a long time ago — 114 days is a lot of days. The emotions aren’t as vivid — the heat of the moment has passed — and the memory of the process is faded. However, I jotted down some “game time thoughts” from that fateful day, and I will never forget the pure wave of relief that washed over me the moment I left the office building for good. There were tears and the shakes and more tears, but there was relief.
Quitting took every ounce of my courage. The only reason I had been staying put in my position was because I was terrified of quitting my first job; I was afraid of how my team of coworkers would react and I was afraid of how my family, friends and acquaintances would react. I was terrified of being mislabeled as a “quitter.”
Those are not good reasons to stay put at a job that you hate.
My “game time thoughts” from October 19 read in purple pen in a Moleskine notebook:
I cried and cried and felt guilty, hopeless, scared, shameful, etc… But then I got completely over it! I laughed and cracked a joke for the first time in two months. I genuinely smiled. I actually got truly excited for Monday, the day I would NOT go into work, but rather, the day I would start searching for meaningful, fulfilling work. What lies ahead is exciting! There’s opportunity, options, a whole world out there that I can choose to navigate as I please.
Quitting is scary. The unknown is scary. Lack of income — scary. If fear is the only thing keeping you in the office though, I encourage you to take a scary risk.
After getting over the “scary part” I seemed to arrive at an equally scary chapter in my life — the chapter where I was stuck with a year long lease in a brand new city, lacked income, and could not formulate a plan for anything past the next 60 minutes of my life.
And so I thought back to something the cofounder of Netflix, Marc Randolph, once told me at a summer entrepreneurship program I had participated in. He said that the key to innovation is starting with a personal problem — simple or complex — and then thinking of a way to fix it. That is how great ideas emerge. He reassured me that inventions, discovery, and innovation are far from being extinct — even in such a technology driven society that has seemingly generated every gadget, tool, or idea possible — because problems continue to surface. And where there exists a problem, exists innovation.
I had a big problem. One that was a bit more philosophical or existential than the inaccessibility of DVDs. It was not necessarily more complex or important than that conundrum that Netflix conquered, just different.
My problem was that by society’s standards, I was an adult. Graduated college? Check. Turned 21 and sampled some adult beverages? Check. Moved out of my parents’ house? Check. While it may not always feel like it, I am an adult — a 22-year-old one with a Spanish degree from an excellent Liberal Arts college. All of this meant that that age old question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?“ had expired for me. It was no longer a fun icebreaker or fourth-grade poster-board project. It was “supposed to be” answered by now.
Answering that question was my problem.
My solution — my innovation, or “Netflix” per se — became my personal blog, Little Fish. Big Pond. I turned to the one thing that I have always found comfort and stability in — writing — and I used that tool to help myself navigate the confusing, unemployed, and career-seeking situation I found myself in.
After 79 days of introduction emails and informational phone calls; impulsive inbox checking, LinkedIn stalking and résumé tune-ups; and 79 days of limbo, doubt, and unemployment, I received lovely news that now has me wide-eyed and bushy-tailed in a vibrant newsroom on Fifth Avenue.
Someone asked me shortly after I accepted the position, “So that means you’re done blogging, right? There’s nothing left to write about.” The thought had been in the back of my mind for a while — this question of what becomes of the Little Fish. Big Pond project once I secure a job.
I still blog. My project continues because my journey continues. I may have been offered an incredible opportunity in the industry I hope to thrive in, but that does not instantly solve the original problem I started with. It does not answer that age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I still have questions that need answering, and most importantly, I still have the writing bug. I am still itching to write, itching to use writing as a tool — as a way to self-reflect, learn from my experiences, and hopefully help others who find themselves in similar situations.
To answer that person: No. I am not going anywhere. I may have an internship, but that doesn’t make me a big fish. That doesn’t give me all the answers, nor is it the end of the journey. Rather, it’s a beginning. An exciting beginning.
I would not be at the start of this exciting beginning had I not said “no” and quit. It’s an interesting position to be in as a “millennial,” the group that the media has labelled as a “generation of quitters” who flirt with job after job and leave out of boredom. A recent Millennial Branding report found that 60% of millennials leave their company in less than three years, and the media is quick to blame this statistic on boredom or indifference. That is not always the case. Your 20s is a time to explore career paths; it is a time for experimentation, failure, and learning from that failure. It is impossible to know exactly what you want to be or do right out of college. It’s not about finding that perfect fit right away; it’s about exploring, making mistakes, taking risks, and learning when to say “no” and when to say “yes.”
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