I always thought that the hardest jobs to leave were the ones that were “just fine”. It’s a stable equilibrium. You’re not unhappy, but you’re not happy either. It’s just a job. There’s no force of emotion to push you in any direction. So you stay and stay, doing the sensible, logical and safe thing.
I’ve had three “proper” jobs since university. The first was easy to leave. The second wasn’t an obvious jump, but I’m glad I moved on in hindsight. And the third one… Well, it’s pretty hard to quit a job you love.
To quit a job you hate
It got to the stage where I couldn’t stand it any longer – and in well under a year at that. I was working in sales – telesales – which anyone who even vaguely knows me might find surprising. What was an outwardly introverted girl with a Maths degree doing in telesales…? And that was exactly what I was doing in telesales.
I was scared of the telephone. Not in a ‘run and hide under the covers’ sort of way, but I’d avoid it in any way I could. Yet I also knew that, as a girl in her early 20s, this was ridiculous behaviour. Especially as an entrepreneur. So I got myself a job where I had to be on the phone and selling every single day. Well, okay, I was part time and doing something called appointment setting. You act as a white label intermediary between potential customers and the sales team for each client. The aim is to book in meetings for the client’s sales team with the target company’s buyers.
I’d started the job knowing that I was going away in 3 months’ time. My first Alpine Tour and a cycling trip around Europe – although I’m not sure it was originally going to be so long. Things just escalated. And I certainly didn’t go in intending to leave at the end of my probation. I came to learn.
I wouldn’t say I was ever good particularly. It was a baptism of fire. But I did manage to get appointments with some of my clients’ dream list of customers, so I’d definitely learnt something. It was a huge primer in B2B business and how to make sales on the telephone. Which was exactly what I wanted. And with some 60 calls a day in a room full of other people, you just have to get over yourself. Never mind having to listen back to recorded calls with your manager to receive feedback.
But, by the time my adventure leaving date was looming, the atmosphere had changed. We’d gone from a company who tried to make smart and targeted calls, to having daily call time targets. The way the dates lined up seemed like good luck. I was not a happy bunny and I left.
The job that’s fine
My second proper job was as a data analyst for the marketing department of a financial services company. I got it from a speculative application, sometime after returning from my bike ride, on the merit of my Maths degree. I knew just enough about marketing to get through the door and I’m a quick learner.
This was my job that was, essentially, just fine. I was there for two years. The people were nice, the work has its ups and downs. There were projects and variety and random office banter. It wasn’t me, but it did just fine. And since we’re indoctrinated into thinking that what we do 9-5 shouldn’t necessarily be enjoyable, I figured this was just how jobs should be.
As well as cycling 40 miles a day to get to work and back, I was blogging about adventure, dipping my toe in freelance writing and setting up Intrepid Magazine. Maybe the exercise balanced out the stress – I don’t really know how I kept it all going. But clearly it was unsustainable. I was allowed remote working in the last year to reduce the ridiculous commute, which helped a lot.
Although I remember leaving because the work level had ramped up to breaking point and the colossal spreadsheets made my eyes bleed (metaphorically), this is not strictly true. By the time I left I’d passed a lot of the business analytics on to a new hire and was doing big a SEO project for local adviser landing pages. This felt like the perfect mix of my words and numbers background. And it turned out I had quite a knack for it. The company was going at pace and there was clearly scope for career progression. But I still had this adventure stuff going on the side.
On the train home from an AAC Alpine Team meeting, I was googling for trips and sponsorship and hit on a page looking for photographers and videographers to go on comp-ed trips. I looked at the samples and thought, “I can do that.” So I hit the apply button. That company was Much Better Adventures. It turned out that the page was out of date, but they were interested in my writing and the rest is history. I applied for their new writing job, mostly in airport lounges to and from Switzerland, got and interview and then the job offer.
I did feel a bit bad handing in notice at my current job. I felt like I was letting the crew down, even though we were really more colleagues than friends. But I was more excited about where I was going and where that might take me.
The job you love…
My third job was my dream job: a staff writer for an adventure travel company. I could barely believe such a job existed. Where exactly had that been on the list in all of my secondary school careers advice? I’d spent my life thinking that I wasn’t cut out for jobs – well, “careers” – and yet here it was, something that had my name written all over it.
Of course, it’s not quite as glamourous as it sounds. I did not spend all – or even most – of my time getting paid to go on adventures. But I got to spend my days writing about topics I found enjoyable and interesting, interview cool people and play the SEO game (which appeals to the box-ticking/competitive part of my personality). I was part of a small team of people trying to make the world better one adventure at a time, whose ethos and mission I believed in. Better still I could work from literally anywhere and had colleagues that felt more like friends.
So why did you leave, Emily?
The pandemic has been a rollercoaster ride for pretty much everyone. Travel hasn’t exactly been the safest industry either. Most of us were put on furlough, rather suddenly in around March 2020. The first few redundancies happened in late summer. I was back at work in August for two days a week. Then suddenly not. Then on the last day of September 2020 I was given redundancy notice, along with several other people. I want to make it very clear that I hold no animosity about this at all. I absolutely didn’t see it coming and I was devastated. But these people are my friends and trying to steer a travel company through a year when travel is forbidden is a tough gig.
I got off the call as swiftly as I could, cried and then took an enormous breath. Because I had a month to find a new income. And, to my complete amazement, I managed to find enough freelance work to replace my salary in the first month.
“Huh,” I thought.
When the furlough scheme was extended, I was offered my job back. And I gratefully took it because – well, it was my dream job! I was told to still keep looking for work just, in case, until things were more certain. But my stint at full time freelance had gone well and I’d rather enjoyed it.
I went back to work full time in May – well, four day weeks. But I was watching the new furlough deadline with a long stare. This time I wanted to be prepared – just in case. I spent months yo-yo-ing back and forth about whether being made redundant would actually be a good thing. I’d have a dull day and imagine the freedom of being jobless. I’d have a great day and wonder if I’d ever find a job like this ever again. I went on the team meet up and remembered just how much I liked this group of people.
And then the day came… and went! I wasn’t made redundant, furlough was ending and I was due to come back to work full time from the start of October. If I was waiting for an opportune moment, there was probably one coming up soon. I’ll be writing another post about exactly how I decided to make the jump to freelance in a practical, logical way. But for now, let’s just say I spent weeks being unable to sleep at night, going over it in my head. For all the reasons anyone is ever worried about leaving anything: what if it’ll never be this good again? What if it’s the wrong decision and everything goes horribly wrong? But also, what if I don’t leave? What if I never get a chance to do everything I’m putting to one side?
The Devil Wears Prada Moment
In the end, it was the fear of regret that did it for me. I’m 28 and 28 is nearly 30 and 30 is a big number. Not one I’m scared of and not one I feel like I need to have my life sorted out by. Thirty isn’t a deadline. But there are so many things I’ve always wanted to do, like write children’s fantasy and guidebooks and spend a month walking across a country and run my own business. And I put myself in the shoes of that 11 year old girl, who knew exactly what she wanted from the world and couldn’t imagine an age as big as 30. I imagined explaining to her – to that part of me – why I hadn’t done all these things. And some of it is explainable, but some of it just sounds like making excuses. If I left it much longer – and for no good reason in her eyes – she would disown me. That’s not something I could live with.
The Devil Wears Prada is the kind of film I was embarrassed about liking when I was younger. Because it was about fashion and I most definitely was not. Although back then I thought the message was smart, “ugly” girl beats fashion industry. Now I see it more as a painful lesson about careers. Firstly, when Andy is complaining to Nigel, that being in a job you don’t like and winging about it is entitled and selfish, regardless of who your employer is. You’re working for them: do your job. “Because this place, where so many people would die to work, you only deign to work.”
And secondly, the scene at the very end when Andy is in the car with Miranda. Andy looks ahead and sees where the career path she’s on is going. It scares her enough that she leaves and goes back to being a journalist. Lesson: that if you don’t set your own priorities, someone else will set them for you. And you’ll end up on a path that isn’t your own. Just because you’re good at something and “getting ahead”, doesn’t mean you should do it.
Lying in bed one night, I realised that leaving might not be the right decision. But I would regret not trying more than I might regret leaving. And if not now, then when? How long was I going to go down a path that I enjoyed and was good at, but wasn’t 100% true to myself? Just because I hadn’t been brave enough to try. If not now then when? I didn’t have a good answer to that. So I left.
Actually, there were some pretty decent reasons why now was a good time – for both me and my colleagues. We were just at the point of planning for the next year and at the start of new projects. Because unlike a job you hate, where you can hand in your notice and go cycle off into the sunset, or throw your phone in the fountain, I really didn’t want to screw anyone over. And, in a way quite unlike any of my previous jobs, I really didn’t want to cause anyone any extra stress or hassle. Even now, I still feel guilty about the work I’ve caused in replanning content schedules and hiring a replacement. And I’ll miss being in team MBA. But equally, there are things that have been on my personal to do list, month after month for a year. Or in the case of a certain book project that you’ll hear more about soon: for years.
This was one of the hardest and most complicated decisions I’ve ever made. I have no idea if it was the right choice – and I won’t know until a long time in the future. But I need to go and find out.