I’ve held down several different jobs during my 20s: I did a few stints at Blockbuster, I was a research assistant for a psychology professor, I worked the front desk at the law school library, I was a research assistant for a law professor, I was a litigator, I did campaign field work, and I’m a lobbyist. Of these, I’d really consider only the last three to be “professional” jobs, in that they have any relevancy to my “career”. But even though that list of work experience is rather short when it comes to actual real-adult work, it’s still long enough for me to have learned that as easy as it is to feel trapped in a bad job, especially if it’s your first job, there are other jobs out there and getting out just requires the courage to make the leap.
When we’re in high school, we’re encouraged to think about what we might want to do for the rest of our lives, and develop a “career plan”. We think of our career trajectory as linear: you go to college, you get a degree in a field you’re interested in working in, you get a job, you work hard and get promoted up, and you keep chugging away until you retire. One long line, trending upwards. It’s a comforting idea to fixate on, the idea that things just keep getting better and are headed up from here. It’s also completely wrong.
You get that first job and you’re so enthusiastic to start your real life…you’re going to work so hard, and get raises and bonuses, and promotions, and you might move laterally once you’re established, but you’re never going to go downward at all! This goes double if you, like so many of us millennials, had a long job search and maybe ended up outside your intended role. We’re just going to work twice as hard at THIS job to get to where we wanted to be!
And then this job starts to get hard to stay excited about, or even just get up to do. And then it gets not just hard to get up to do, but you actively start dreading it. And that is the scariest moment. You feel trapped. One job in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? You’re so worn down by your day that it’s hard to find the energy to come home and job search to find something new. This wasn’t at all how it was supposed to be. What if something else is even worse, though? What if there’s not even something else out there? Dropping out of this job now interrupts that nice little upward line we’re so stuck on.
It’s hard to see when you’re stuck in it, but there is something else out there. Your career path is not one single upward line. It’s got hops, skips, jumps. It might mean moving. It might mean starting out at the bottom again in another business. It might mean discovering what you’ve always thought you’re good at isn’t really what you’re best at. It’s incredibly scary, but you have to remember that your first job is not your last job. There’s no such thing as a perfect job out there anywhere, but if you can’t find the strength to leave the wrong one, you’ll never get to the right one.