|"Hold on guys - which one is mine?"|
Remember May? You ripped off your robe and threw up your cap to celebrate your first real taste of freedom. You enjoyed the slew of parties, binge drinking and awkward conversations with people your parents insisted on inviting to your graduation party, and now a bunch of people are getting ready to ship off to grad school, and a bunch more will be shipping off to careers they've had figured out since December. This post is not for those people.
This post is for you, person-whose-degree-and/or-career-choice-requires-significant-DIY-work-post-college. I was you, two years ago, and I was lost as all hell when it came to what I was going to do next.
Technically, I'm still figuring that part of it out, but along the way, I have learned a crap-ton about what NOT to do. So strap in, hold on, and get ready to hear about the three times I've left behind a "grown-up" job in the past two years. With any luck, you might be able to skip making a couple of these mistakes in your own life -- but, if we're being honest, probably not.
Life's all about the journey, right?
Leaving My Job, Part I
The first time it happened, I was fired from a job I was holding on to out of desperation.
Here's what I learned:
1) Don't take the first job that comes your way post-college. ESPECIALLY don't take the first job that comes your way if it's not even remotely in your field of interest. On a related note, if you're still in school, please make sure you have some kind of job waiting for you on the other side of graduation. I know those last few months are insanely busy and stressful -- but a little more stress beforehand is better than twiddling your thumbs and trying not to panic afterward. If you're already out, STOP PANICKING. This is the time to take your parents, friends, or other acquaintances up on their offer of a free couch to sleep on - just make sure you have an exit strategy in mind. And don't forget about volunteering! "Wwoofing," Peace Corps, and a whole bunch of other organizations can give you some fresh perspective, add to your resume, and help fill up your time while keeping you under a roof and fed. BOY do I wish I had considered this option. Need more reasons to consider volunteering? Here you go -- and you're welcome.
2) Don't ever hold on to a shitty job just because you're worried you won't find a better one. For all you know, they just might be betting they will find someone better for the job than you, and you may find yourself out on your ass without a backup plan. Get your resume out there and start looking, NOW.
3) Getting fired freaking BLOWS. If this is your first experience with it (it was for me), you might become consumed by self-doubt, feel like an utter failure, and question your overall worthiness. Acknowledge those feelings, hug it out, and then get right back up on that gainful-employment horse. Even though it might feel intensely personal, it's probably not -- you don't need to act like you just got dumped at prom (I am totally guilty of having acted that way, too -- oops!). It's okay to feel bad about it, sure. But life is going to continue along whether you like it or not, and I promise you're really truly going to need some fresh income coming in pretty soon.
Leaving My Job, Part II
The second time, I quit a job that was great on paper because I'd grown to hate working there.
Here's what I learned:
4) Good jobs can still turn bad - even if you work with good people. Don't let yourself get trapped in the "but I like my coworkers" or "the benefits are really good" mindset: if you wake up in the morning and wish you didn't have to go to your job, it is time to make the plans to make those tracks. Start applying elsewhere, immediately.
5) Address issues you're having at work directly and early on. No matter how terrifying your boss may be, if you ignore, hold back, or try to hide that feeling of wrongness in your gut, it is going to fester. It is going to get infected, and it is going to poison your entire work experience. I went from having a job I loved to having a job I loathed with the fiery passion of a thousand suns gone super-novea -- and I often wonder if I could have avoided much of that by just speaking out when I felt that something was wrong. Ultimately, it was still the right decision to leave, but I could have skipped a lot of restless nights and heartache in between.
6) Keep it classy (aka professional), no matter what. And I really mean, no matter what. To this day, I am not going to name names or spread stories about my former place of employment, just like I would never have allowed myself to scream at my boss in frustration and anger (like I actually did in a dream I had) while I worked there. Even if you're not going to be asking this person for a letter of recommendation, learning to maintain a cool professional exterior will be an absolute necessity for the rest of your life -- assuming you don't want to be known as insane -- so you might as well start practicing now. Also, burning bridges is some serious Dark Ages war tactic shit -- evolve already, dammit.
Leaving My Job, Part III
The third time, things were complicated. Like irreconcilable-differences-but-we-still-love-each-other complicated. And I'm glad I had finally learned enough to recognize that it was time to move on.
Here's what I learned:
7) Working for someone you love can be incredibly difficult. You might have the best time ever together, but if your boss is a respected mentor, close friend, or - gulp - a romantic partner of yours, it may not be built to last. Not because it's impossible to do, but because part of the reason you adore that person so much is because of how you function as equals. When they become your boss, an element of that equality is lost -- and thus your relationship has to change. In my case, it meant seeing my friend transform into an adversary instead of an ally or impartial observer, because all the weight of the decision rested on their shoulders. That's not a fun feeling to experience, and it's almost guaranteed to bleed into your personal relationship one way or another. In the worst case scenarios, it can get pretty darn messy -- so please, avoid this if you can.
8) Sometimes, there really is no right answer. Like at all, for anyone. There are some situations where the best you can do is mumble "Namaste" as you pull back from a complicated issue, and hope that if you really do acknowledge the other person's spirit (without sacrificing the recognition of your own spirit), then maybe you can learn to coexist. Sometimes, you will. Other times, you'll find that the differences are too great. When that happens, it leads to the saddest experience I've ever gone through due to a job -- the moment where you recognize that no matter what you do, there is simply no other solution than for the two of you to go your separate ways. Hopefully, there's enough love surrounding your working relationship that you can do that without feeling like you've left your heart behind in the process.
9) Learn to let go with grace. Grace is, in my opinion, one of the very most challenging behaviors we attempt to learn as human beings. We're not naturally rational beings. We prefer being able to let out our inner toddler, to throw a fit and scream and kick and break things. But if you can overcome that urge, and recognize that sometimes, ESPECIALLY in a situation where you have an incredible amount of love invested, it would be better to just say thank you, stop trying to prove yourself right, and walk away with your head held high -- that's when you're really going to start kicking ass and taking names. With any luck, you'll be able to walk away with the love that initially cemented your relationship intact - which to me seems like the ideal ending to any sort of disagreement, but especially those that arise in professional situations.
So, what does this all mean??
Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Number Ten - but there's something I need to mention before we continue on. When I first graduated, I was a confused-as-all-get-out art and creative writing major, with a music minor and ZERO idea of how I was going to turn my degrees into actual means by which I could make my living (short of starving in a garret or becoming a professional housewife, that is). Almost miraculously, after I got fired from that first job, I had the opportunity to become the graphic designer for a local political campaign, thanks to a personal connection (remember the no burning bridges comment from above? Yeah, THAT). Had I still been working 40 hours a week, I would never have said yes, and instead chalked it up to not having enough time. Instead, because I was hungry for work, I felt ready to take on the challenge. Accepting that freelance gig led to my having the credentials to achieve my second "grown-up" job, which in many ways paved the way for my third. All the while, the Mr. and I kept building our graphic and web design portfolio -- to the point that, when I left my second grown-up job, I didn't feel like I was leaping without a safety net to catch me. In my case, I also had the third "grown-up job" waiting in the wings, but that was only a part-time gig. Which brings me to my tenth and final lesson:
10) NEVER put all your eggs in one basket. It's such a cliche, I know -- but seriously, this is best advice you will ever receive, income-wise. It's a big scary surprising world out there, and you can't possibly foresee all the challenges, shakeups, and incredible opportunities that are going to come your way. What you can do, and what I've been lucky enough to be able to do (or at least attempt to do, we'll see how it works out in the long run), is diversify your income streams. Just like a good stock portfolio (which I do not have, so take everything I'm about to say with giant iceberg-sized chunks of salt), you don't want to become overly invested in one thing, just in case it slips out from under you. Instead, start your own mini-business. Sell crafts on Etsy. Buy and trade video games. Make amazing vegan cookies that you can sell to local coffee shops. Elaborate on the above ideas, make up your own -- what is something you can do that someone else will pay you for?? Do that, even if it's only severely part-time. I know people who each are currently doing one of the things I just listed, and you know what? They're having some awesome success - and fun - with what they're doing -- but more importantly, they're creating a safety net that exists outside of their regular job. My graphic design business, which I basically fell into on accident, has been running on the edges of my professional life for the last year and a half, and although it meant I had to work twice as hard as I would otherwise, it also meant that when one job fell through, I wasn't so panicked about finding another one -- which helped me keep in mind all the lessons I've learned so far.
Therefore, Graduate, go out into the world with a full heart and a mostly full head, and make sure to gird your loins thoroughly before you step into the rat race we call "work." It's a jungle out here, and you're going to make a bunch of mistakes before you figure out what you're actually doing with your life. We all do. Just trust your heart and try your best to enjoy the journey -- if nothing else, it will be a great story to bore the grandkids/robot overlords with one day.