Guest Post: Quitting that first job. By Zena James from Eyes Wide Opened

It’s no secret that 20-somethings often feel guilty about leaving their first job to pursue something they really want to do. After all, it was so hard to get a job in the first place.

 Zena James from social enterprise Eyes Wide Opened (the organisation helps people get on track at any stage of their lives) has written QLClueless a guest post about quitting that first job.

The first job


Zena James, freelancer at Eyes Wide Opened. Photography courtesy of Eyes Wide Opened

I stayed in my first grown-up job for four years. Invaluable experience in a top PR firm, it was the best start anyone could have. But as the politics and additional responsibilities (not always fun ones) of climbing the ladder increased, I wondered whether I was missing something by staying in the unforgiving private sector, managing the reputations of profit-making corporates. I watched quietly and curiously while a colleague who’d joined as a graduate 2 years after me left us after only 2 years in the job to go and work for a charity that helped the homeless. She was radiating excitement. I was fascinated and strangely disconcerted that she chose to jump ship so soon after landing such a great job.

The need for meaning

We both had at our fingertips some of the world’s best PR practitioners and strategists, interesting clients, a clear progression path, a sense of belonging, a varied and sometimes hilarious work-related social life, and a fairly decent salary for the hard work we were expected to put in. But somehow, although it took me two years longer than her to feel it, there was something missing. And that something was meaning, a cause, and in both our cases, campaigning for something that wasn’t about profit.

And there we have it. Meaning.


As Roman Krznaric says in his thought-provoking short book, How To Find Fulfilling Work (published byThe School of Life), money and status are not enough for most people. At this very moment you may be huffing and puffing up your own career ladder or maybe you’re coasting, but you daren’t quit your job security for fear of overwhelming regret, not to mention fear of being labelled foolish, even careless, by parents and peers.

But what’s the point of staying if it’s giving you very little back except money, a tiring commute, a sometimes slippery career ladder and a nagging feeling that there really must be more to life?

Like using our talents and passions, or, as I was harbouring an increasing desire to do, be making a meaningful difference in my long day at work.

The quarter-life trap

‘Quarter-life’ is a curious stage to be at. Your bold decision to quit the security of that first job may well alter the course of your entire career. But that’s OK, isn’t it?  It may seem like a reckless and irresponsible move, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Asking yourself the right questions and consulting others around you about your true values and beliefs and what you really stand for counts for a lot right now. You may feel trapped and uninspired and feel like leaping but with no idea where to leap.  Again, that’s OK. Small steps towards change are better than no steps.  Put the time and energy in and it won’t be a wasted effort.

After all, fear of quitting, or being seen to quit, is really just fear of the unknown.

Who wouldn’t be anxious about a big change? It’s a risk. Psychology studies show that we’re much more sensitive to negative than positive stimuli. It’s primal, and Krznaric quotes evolutionary biologist theories:  that hazy object in the distance could be a fruit-laden bush, but it might be a lion, so our instinct is to steer well clear. So when it comes to career change, we are psychologically predisposed to magnify everything that could go wrong.


How to take the leap

But that doesn’t help those of you with little or no job satisfaction and a growing desire to do yourself a favour and move on, does it? So, now that you’ve accepted that YOU are the author of your life, it’s time to face the facts. You, like everyone, have strengths and qualities unique to you. No-one else can tell your story. So what are they? What gets you out of bed – is it really just money and status? What sets you apart and how are you going to translate and communicate that?

If you’ve got a sideways/upwards move in sight, ask yourself why you’re going for that role.  List all the reasons and prioritise them.  What rises to the top?  Are you happy with that? Assume for a moment that you’ll have several careers.  Right now, one might be based around a skill or knowledge area.  What about two others?  Where might they lie?  What underpins them – a passion?  A value?

And what did I do?

Why it was worth jumping ship

I’m proof that following your instinct towards more meaningful work and asking those hard-to-answer questions makes you happier with your own life story.

You should enjoy telling your story and enjoy knowing that you’ve been true to yourself. If I hadn’t jumped ship from that first job even though it was perfectly secure, I might never have gained the experience and variety you need to make the most of freelance life. So go on, do some serious research, consult everyone around you, reflect on what makes you tick and if after all that, it still feels slightly more exciting than terrifying, then enjoy the next life stage!  No -one else will do it for you…

Thanks to Zena for giving us some much needed inspiration!

Zena now freelances happily for organisations whose goals she really cares about, including Eyes Wide Opened, a social enterprise that runs career-clarifying coaching courses for people who crave more meaningful work.

The next London course is on 16 and 17 May.logo

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Quitting that first job. By Zena James from Eyes Wide Opened

  1. Reblogged this on Eyes Wide Opened and commented:
    Here’s our Zena’s thoughts on quitting your first job – a guest post for our friends at Quarter Life Clueless.

  2. Pingback: Clueless? | Why generation Y is unique

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