I am about to quit my civil service ‘job for life’ for the uncertainty of unemployment and the even greater uncertainty of having absolutely no idea what I want to do.
I am part of the millennial generation, and many of us are known for wanting both total fulfilment and flexibility in our careers; we value meaning and a work/life balance over money. Whilst of course this is a sweeping generalisation, it is one that I very firmly fall into, alongside many colleagues, friends and acquaintances that I speak to.
Whenever I tell people what I do for a living, there is usually a genuine element of curiosity and surprise. I have walked away from a career where I get to work with some inspirational leaders on issues like what would happen if a deadly pandemic influenza strain raged across the UK, or if there was wide scale industrial action. I have played a part in approving and rejecting business cases worth tens of millions of taxpayers’ money, and have assisted in launching an initiative to get women back into the workplace after having children. I have even helped evacuate hundreds of British nationals from a war zone.
When I put it like that, even I am questioning my decision…
But every single one of those jobs involved commuting with my nose in someone’s armpit for two hours a day (literally – I am 5’1”), sitting at a desk, in front of a computer, going to the occasional meeting, and coming home again. And again. And again.
Making sure there are enough hospital beds during a strike? Commute. Behind a desk. Commute. Repeat.
Evacuating people from a war zone? Commute. Behind a desk. Commute. Repeat.
Limiting the spread of a deadly pandemic flu? Commute. Behind a desk. Commute. Repeat.
To the outside reader, these jobs must sound fascinating and unquestionably fulfilling, but for me the reality meant that it could have been a desk job anywhere, on any issue. There were several hundred emails a day, a smattering of meetings and phone calls, and leagues of inefficient bureaucracy. It involved being entirely sedentary with no daylight or fresh air – all day every day. The routine and inactivity of daily life is something I am completely unable to move past, a feeling that no lunchtime walk could alleviate.
I know this is something every office worker must experience fairly regularly, but for me it is all consuming. I have realised that whilst this is the dream career for many, the lifestyle that accompanies it is not for me at this stage of my life. This feeling is something I have heard expressed by numerous friends and colleagues and I decided that I wanted to do something about it and see if there was another way.
So I am starting again, from scratch. From the point when you are asked as a child what you want to be when you grow up and you say [astronaut/dustbin man/train driver/fairy princess].
I am going to try 25 careers before I turn 25, which is precisely a year away. There will be a fair few astronaut fairy princess jobs in there, and a few slightly more realistic ones.
So this is about what I am doing next, and hopefully when I find some answers it might help the others that lie awake at night wondering if there is another way.
Step One – write that resignation letter.