I’ve become accomplished at many things over the years –- memorizing '90s rap, copious tea-drinking, growing dreads in my bird’s nest hair. But none, I confess, has come close to my ability to quit jobs.
It all started when I was a teen and took a job in a chocolate shop in my town. The owner was a rather fastidious man who inspected my nails and criticized the way I cut lengths of lavender ribbon. My mental arithmetic wasn’t quite up to par, either, and after a single day’s work, I hung up my apron, waltzed out the door, and never returned.
After I graduated in 2014, I went straight from throwing my mortarboard cap on high to working in events -- and promptly threw in the towel nine months later. After working as a features writer for a tech start-up last summer, I quit after a miserable two months spent under the thumb of a terrible boss.
You might reasonably assume that my life thus far has been characterized by dropouts. But that’s not the case. I knew when to stick things out; like working 12-hour supermarket shifts each summer, helping me save much-needed cash for university. But I also struggled to make sense of what everyone else at school and college seemed to accept: that settling down in a 9-to-5 was simply the way of life.
Now in my early twenties, I’ve become pretty good at quitting jobs without having new roles ready to transition into. It’s viewed by onlookers as either brave or incredibly stupid, depending on which end of the stability spectrum you identify with. Growing up with a strong mother who’s been self-employed from the age of 21, I was never afraid of going it alone. The pull of being my own boss was always far greater than the urge to secure steady employment -- I just needed to work out how to get there.
Eschewing a "traditional" job isn’t something that always sits comfortably with others. People will often assume you’re lazy, reckless, or misinformed –- sometimes all three. But despite the negativity that others project onto me for my decisions, I refuse to believe that quitters can’t win. Naturally, I see that my choices stand in stark opposition to what society wants twentysomethings to do -- get their heads down, embrace routine work, plow away at a job even if it goes against their grain. I find that a lot of my friends have followed this path because during their education there was a fixation on increasing "employability" instead of encouraging them to take risks while young and unburdened by responsibilities.
As I wrote recently, the twentysomething life crisis encourages young adults to believe they have all the time in the world, and that taking risks, such as quitting your job, taking an advanced degree, or traveling abroad, is something you do later on in life. But I’d argue that quitting situations that aren’t meeting your expectations can be a vital life lesson to shoulder. Life is too short to settle for something that makes you unhappy or isn't advancing your career in the direction you'd like it to go -- not least helping you to become the person you deserve to be.
Nine months ago, I sat sunbathing on the rooftop, looking out across London and thanking my lucky stars that I wasn’t holed up in a gray office block. I’d decided I wasn’t prepared to entertain the traditional standards of work that had served to limit me thus far. I wanted a future filled with fresh air and walks in the park and mini-breaks as and when I fancied them. I wanted a pick-and-mix career, made up of a selection of projects and opportunities.
Fortunately, the landscape of work has evolved massively in the last few years, meaning that the stakes for younger generations no longer mean a "job for life" or a 9-to-5 post. Nowadays, we want choices, control -- space to plot and ponder and grow. Some of us want, as Joan Bakewell aptly summarized, a “working life of irregular hours and unpredictable routine." That might mean rising with the sun at 5 a.m. and working off that little package of creative energy, or typing on your laptop into the early hours (as I’m doing now writing this post). It might mean an afternoon in a café down some hidden side street, or a collaborative office space filled with beanbags. The challenge facing future generations is no longer getting a full-time job but finding companies that are ready to accommodate an independent workforce.
It’s down to my fondness for quitting that I arrived upon a "portfolio career." After I worked out that, actually, I didn’t want a cozy office environment, casual uniform, or company benefits, quitting became par for the course. As a full-time freelance writer, I can pay bills while having the freedom to pick and choose my lines of work has meant that I’ve been able to keep a tight rein on my ambitions, keep my ideas fresh, and see and do things around my city that I’ve finally got time and energy for.
I’ll never forget the time I left my first job in digital media. As I walked out the door on my last day, one member of the staff crowed loudly to the entire open-plan office, “The youth of today! Aren’t they naive!”
But we’re not. We’re more adept than ever at recognizing opportunity, scouting out work, navigating our own paths, and bending others to accommodate us. We’re moving through our early-adult lives strategically. We’ve worked out how to finally make work fit our lives -- and it’s setting us free.
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