There are few things in life more stressful than the race to land that first “career” job. It can feel like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t get hired right out of school, and watching everyone else post their good news and share their workspace Instagrams can feel like torture. It’s easy to be envious of what we perceive to be the perfect lives of the professionals around us, and when you haven’t yet gotten your foot in the door of whatever you want to be doing, nothing is more agonizing.
And it’s exactly this sense of “I have to get something” that sets us up to rush into jobs that may not be right for us at all. That is what happened to this week’s question-asker, who breezed into the 9-to-5 game without reading the fine print about what the job would actually be like on the day-to-day. Let’s get to her question, and in the meantime, don’t forget to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org!
So, I graduated college two months ago with determination to get a job. I majored in journalism, and have been freelancing and interned at one of the largest news organizations in the country. I think I’m good at what I do. Exactly one month after I graduated, I got a content writing position at a marketing firm. On my second day, I realized that I’d made a huge mistake. My dreams of writing important pieces and being published with my name, chasing stories, speaking to people, learning and reporting on issues were not present here. And I know this seems very obvious, but I was so focused on securing a job, I just took whatever was in front of me without stopping to think if it was what I wanted.
So, here I am, a month into this job and looking for any and every way out. I’ve done a lot of thinking and decided I’d probably rather serve tables and work on freelancing until I can land a position in my field. Is this a dumb decision? Should I stay here until I land another position? My parents say I should be grateful for a job, but I don’t just want a job, I want a career that I’m passionate about. Of course I need a job, but is it wrong to want to enjoy the flexibility of a serving position as I attempt to become the journalist and writer I aspire to be? I don’t know what to do. I’d love to know your thoughts.
Hey, G! You have a great question, and a predicament I feel is a lot more common than we’d like to acknowledge. We put so much pressure on each other — and especially on ourselves — to slip into this perfect professional life, and we never stop to consider if it’s actually what we want. Add to this the fact that most of our “dream” jobs are lottery-level unlikely to happen (at least right out of school), and you end up with a lot of people in some version of what you’re doing right now: aspiring journalist who is working at a content marketing agency. That happens to be the dynamic of a lot of writing gigs, and as someone who has been a professional writer for five years and has worked with everything from sponsored content to paperback books, I feel uniquely qualified to at least give perspective on this particular situation.
But even if you’re not a writer, the idea of “I had some perfect mental image in my head of what my ideal job would look like out of college, I rushed into taking something that would have me because the race to land that 9-to-5 is crushing, and now I’m unhappy” is pretty universal. Most people could benefit from a year off after school to work flexible jobs, travel, see people, take up hobbies, or just breathe and think more critically about what they want. But even if that were economically feasible, the social pressure to secure that contract alone is enough to make a person forgo any waiting period.
In your particular case, though, the story of the writer who becomes copywriter and hates it is as old as time. But I think that most people are simply too hard on the content marketing game, and refuse to embrace it for what it can be: a very well-paying writing job that can allow you to get more and more into the technical details of writing, the business side of supporting publications, and the challenge of having to write well within very specific constraints on a regular basis. I understand that for many people, these things aren’t nearly as satisfying as the novel they have going in their desk drawer, or the hard-hitting journalism they could be doing about some cultural phenomenon, but it has its benefits. For me, my first two years at my old job were spent as a staff writer, highly cordoned off from anything business-related. I didn’t know what made money or how it was made, I didn’t know what was a good or bad month for the company, and I didn’t know if I was adding to or taking away from the bottom line. Only after a year spent as Creative Director, working closely with campaigns and seeing how the sausage got made, could I feel a) confident enough to start my own site and b) sure that I would always be lucid about my job security and how I could make the most impact in my career.
All of this to say, there is a lot to be learned where you are today, particularly considering this is your first writing gig. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you are lucky enough to start at a job that actually pays you to write words — take a second to think about how great that is, and how many people would kill to be there, particularly in their first job out of school. You say you’d rather be a server, but I think that’s a move you’d quickly regret, especially if your pay is competitive where you are.
And these truths apply to everyone, regardless of field. Not having the ideal job in your field, and having something more tangential, is not the end of the world. It’s up to you, and to all of us, to find what is useful and teachable about our job, and try to get really fucking good at it before we decide it’s beneath us and move on. If you’ve decided by two that you hate the job, chances are your expectations of what a full-time job actually looks like in practice were probably a little skewed. And trust me, as someone who does “fun writing” full-time for years, this job can get tedious and frustrating as hell, too. All jobs can, that’s the nature of it being a job. That’s not a reason to throw the baby out with the professional bathwater.
If you absolutely hate your job and have no desire to progress in the field, fine, leave. But if you want something that is essentially the sexy cousin of your current job, you owe it to yourself to make the most of the chance you’ve been given, and write your other stuff on nights and weekends. You’ll have a much easier chance of getting an editorial position with a year or two at an agency on your résumé, and you’ll have a much easier time building your social media platforms — one of the most important parts of getting steady writing gigs — if your day job is at a content marketing firm, and not at a restaurant.
The job might suck for now, but you still have it, and you have yet to make the most of it or even really give it a chance. Invest in the job a little bit, and I think you’ll be surprised how much it gives you in return.