Is it just my parents who don’t really understand what I do for a living? My mother often vaguely mumbles something about ‘PR’ when probed, but I know she really has no idea. And why would she? As a ‘digital planner’, I’m sometimes not sure either. I’ve been working in media agencies for the last 7 years, feeling grateful for just having a job, and even better, making enough money for endless of bottles of wine every weekend. However, nearing my 30th has given way to a new thoughtfulness. I suddenly realised that corporate jobs, the digital age, and being ‘always on’ (a term I have grown to loathe) have led to an awful lot of bullshit.
It is very easy however, to keep your head in the sand, and continue to be a slave to routine: eating the same Pret porridge every day (or misery goo as one friend coined it), always saying ‘no problem’ to another ludicrous request from your boss that makes no sense, ending every email with a smiley face. Routine, whilst important in some ways, can, without you even realizing, give way to mundanity. In a recent podcast, Adam Buxton and Miranda Sawyer both spoke about routine in your 40s, which made me realise how lucky I am: kids, a big mortgage, responsibilities. I have none of these responsibilities.
Around December last year, I began to itch for a change, wanting to take ‘that’ leap. It seemed too terrifying to quit on the spot, so instead, I decided to take a month off, a mini-sabbatical of sorts, and for want of a better phrase, get my shit together. I spent that month in Costa Rica, travelling alone, reading, listening to podcasts and enjoying life with the hope it was the reset I needed to inject some passion into my day to day. I’d been writing whilst I was away and loved doing it. It was a task that seemed both arduous and rewarding, I knew I wanted to pursue it further, if only as a hobby.
Coming back to work and London, I managed to retain some of that Costa Rican glow, but it soon dawned on me that I’d have to do something more drastic. It wasn’t going to be easy to give up the security of a 9-5, and I felt a misplaced guilt that I owed my company something, particularly as my boss has been so understanding about giving me some time off. Women are especially good at feeling guilty and giving ourselves a hard time for saying no, often allowing ourselves to be coerced into tasks below our pay grade. Thanks, patriarchy. In reality, to achieve at work, in the rest of your life, and maintain some semblance of sanity, you’re going to have to say no to various requests, or as Sarah Knight puts it in her book, just ‘give less of a fuck.’
And I’m not the only one who is thinking like this. More and more people are swapping their corporate jobs for multi-faceted careers or the start-up life in the pursuit of happiness. Contrary to the baby boomer generation’s belief, this isn’t the snowflake generation being typically, well, flaky. In reality, our expectations have risen. Large corporations are struggling to foster a culture of innovation. The extraordinary amount of endless emails and pointless meetings in bigger companies has led many millennials to consider working smarter. Millennials clearly value entrepreneurship: “Nicknamed “millinnipreneurs”, the proliferation of internet and technological use among millennials in the UK means there are many flexible ways of going it alone, with 49% of us wanting to start a business as a result. In contrast, less than a fifth of baby boomers (18%) see working for themselves as a work-life aspiration.”
And it doesn’t have to be as radical as quitting your job. Emma Gannon explains in her upcoming book, ‘The multi-hyphen method’, that it’s possible to continue working and indulge in a ‘side hustle’ or explore creative opportunities in your spare time. It may seem insurmountable, but there are ways to pay the bills and dare I say it, be happier.
I’m right at the beginning of this journey into the unknown and I feel excited by what’s to come. We all know that women can have a terrible habit of viewing themselves as underqualified for roles outside of their usual remit, whilst men often see themselves as capable of more. It is possible to ‘pivot’, to reinvent yourself, it’s mostly a question of self-confidence.
Tips for pursuing a multi-faceted career:
- If you are already thinking seriously about quitting your job, consider applying for the Escape the City accelerator. It is called an accelerator for a reason, it gives you that jump start and mentorship to make the next move. Put simply, as Escape the City will tell you, ‘Life is too short to do work that doesn’t matter to you.’ Tap into networks and you’ll soon find there are lots of people trying to do the same.
- Writing courses in London that aren’t expensive, and can only take up one evening per week. Faber has some great ones.
- Start a blog to collect your thoughts: even if no one is reading it, you’ll begin to find your voice, and it’s useful discipline to engage in. One journalist advised me ‘anyone can write. What’s more important are your ideas, and the way you pitch them.’
- Consider flexible working. Companies are recognizing this behavioural shift, and are trying to accommodate. See if you can work a four day week, and use the 5th day to do what you want.
- Say no sometimes. To people and to projects you don’t want to do. Think about what challenges you enjoy at work and gear towards them.
- Use your free time to pursue other projects and see how they grow or develop over time into something viable. Changes can be gradual.
- Engage in some shameless self-marketing: why else do we have the internet?
- Volunteer to speak whenever you can, whether that’s in meetings, or intercompany events, or even panels outside of work, build a profile for yourself.
- Talk to everyone, use every contact you can possibly think of. You soon realise that the vast majority of people want to help. Be open to the idea of meeting people with no specific goal but with an optimism and open-mindedness. It may lead to something.
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