Career & Education | Life | Personal Stories | Article

I Dumped Job Stability for a Year to Grow My Career

by Sophia | 20 Mar 2019 | 8 mins read

Sucks when you’re broke at the end of the month. You can’t pay for meals, you let your phone bills roll over and snowball into a Lovecraftian monster. Well, that’s what a lack of job stability will do to you.

Now imagine that, but for a whole year. Within that one hellish year, I went from having a job -> unemployed -> freelancer -> intern, then back to gainful employment.

I wasn’t technically forced into that position. You might even say I did it to myself on purpose. I had reasons that were mostly – believe it or not – career-related.

I know, I know… it’s ironic and ridiculous. But hear me out.

July 2017: I quit a well-paying job to “readjust”

For some context, I’d been working at my first ever full-time job for about 2.5 years by the time I dropped my resignation letter. It paid decently, considering I only had a diploma (think above $2,000). But I had always felt restless about my position.

To put it bluntly, my first job was not anything related to what I wanted to do, eventually. And what I really wanted to do was create content. Become a copywriter.

The current gig was soulless work, and so was dealing with my grandma’s recent passing at the time.

So, it didn’t take me long to make a choice. In 2017 I decided to make a leap to what I really wanted to do – write.

But, no employer’s going to trust me if I could only say I could write well – my resume was just not going to cut it. No one gets a job without a portfolio and some actual experience. (Try justifying why your experience in serving coffee will make you a great computer engineer, and let me know how it goes.)

And so began the longest year… ever.

Four Months and Unemployed AF

I did not hold a fifty-dollar note in a year…

You know how people say you shouldn’t ever quit a job before you actually secure a new one? Yeah, um, I didn’t take that into consideration. At all. (And that’s some solid advice.)

What I did was tender my resignation, used my notice period to try and pull together some vague possibilities, and quietly dealt with my grandma’s absence.

These mystical, “vague possibilities” only bore fruit four months after my last day at work. So you can imagine the state my finances. I began feeling that all I did was just dig myself a fresh new grave to lie in.

On the bright side, I’d just moved out and finally had some space to myself to grieve and take things day by day. So even if I struggled with mental health issues while watching my savings deplete, I was able to do it in a comfortably safe place. And so, the job hunt persisted, come rain or shine.

My first gig came when I chased a potential job with a friend who worked for a local print company. They covered marathon events and races, and I took up the job when it was offered. The only downside was having to run the actual race I was covering – and so began my first lesson in working hard for a pretty penny.

But I treasured the experience of writing that story. It gave me money, yes – but also the ability to say that I expended so much effort (literally) to make it happen.

Entering the startup scene as a freelance writer

But it occurred to me that if people weren’t going to hire me because I lacked experience, then I needed to find a place where I could gain it quickly.

That’s when I turned to the world of startups, turbulent as it was. I’d found a local startup that needed regular content. They were looking for freelancers; it was the perfect opportunity. I could still control my own schedule, earn some dosh, and I could write content that meant something to people.

Sensing something there, I just went for it. After a couple of interviews, I landed the job (!) and quickly got to work. Of course, let’s preface this turning point with the fact that I wasn’t paid a lot – because startups.

So while I had work, my finances was still in shambles. Easily, one of the biggest things that kept me in a safe place was that I lived rent-free. And I got by with a little help from my friends. That all made the shoestring budget tolerable, even though there were still days where I absolutely felt the pressure and heat. I wasn’t at the end of the tunnel yet.

Fixing my eyes on an ideal resume (and, uh, following my passion, I guess)

Personally, I don’t buy into the hustle culture where you say, “RISE AND GRIND!” to yourself every morning in front of the mirror. I don’t believe in monetising every hobby and passion I have, either, because I don’t want to lose the ability to draw boundaries between work and play.

But I knew that I was good at writing, and I wanted to do it for a living. So my primary concern was really to get my resume into shape

That meant no random side jobs that wasted time and effort. It was as good as wasting money (which I was super short of, woohoo) to me.

The second guessing is real with this one.

While the startup was providing regular work, I looked actively for other gigs. I built my portfolio website, reached out to clients. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but make no mistake: I was still only making less than $500 a month on average. Budgeting became an extreme sport, and I worked really hard on learning my grandma’s old recipes and making it work.

Hanging off every cent almost felt like hell. A hell within which I was just writing, invoicing, pitching, writing, invoicing, pitching – and so on. I learned a crapload of things and made it work.

On hindsight, I might have just had a year-long fever dream. But it was all real.

Then a break came when I converted from freelancer to a content marketing intern within the same startup. That gave my income a solid bump. By this time, I was a little smarter and more prudent with my money, so things were looking up.

With a little more breathing space, I started thinking big again. I was ready, after all. I finally had the confidence to tell myself – and others! – that yes, I can do this now. How I viewed myself changed significantly – for the better. My portfolio was thicc, and I knew what I could do (and what I couldn’t!).

I was sad to leave when my internship came to an end, but I knew something better was coming. And it didn’t take me long to find my next job.

Present day: employed and back on my feet

This is going to sound strange, but I’m glad I can pay my bills now (and absorb utility fees off my flatmate).

Throughout my experience, some friends supported my decision to leap. But others thought I was making a costly mistake.

During the days I was down to my last dollar, it was tempting to agree. I asked myself every morning if what I was doing was worth it. Some days I couldn’t say yes.

But the one piece of advice I consistently turned down flat was when I was told (urged), to just “work in an admin job first, then explore other options when you’re financially stable.”

Save up first. Think about career direction later.

If your dream job won’t pay you well, then what’s the point?

It all sounded so logical and rational. Mature, even. Maybe I was just being a foolish 22-year-old – the wilful young millennial everyone loved to hate. But I didn’t change my course.

Call it a gut feeling or using the Force, Luke, but I knew I couldn’t jump ship and give in. Despite the fog, I could still make out what my future was supposed to look like. And it worked out – in the span of a difficult year, I managed to muscle myself into the career track I wanted.

At the very least, I’m no longer broke. Cheers.