I get asked often why I left my first full time job after college. It seems like there’s a pressure to stay at the place you work, to move up in the company (the corporate ladder as some call it) or to stop working because you’re off to grad school. It’s never really about the emotions you’re feeling when in the environment of this first post grad job, nor is it about yours dreams of something bigger and better. The focus is always on the fact you “quit” rather than stayed. And quitting is often times associated with “giving up,” which is definitely not the case for many.
Deep in my heart, I believe that quitting can be done if you do it for reasons that feel authentic and true to you. I had a lot going on for me at the time, and I chose to stay for several different reasons before making the decision to leave. Let me name a few of those reasons:
- I thought I had to stay to show I was thankful for being given a job and having a consistent paycheck (even though I wasn’t paid a lot).
- I felt bad for wanting to leave when things got hard for me and my personal life.
- I wanted to give the workplace a chance.
- I was connected with some of my coworkers, but not all of them.
And although I had this list of pros ready to keep me going, I chatted with my coworker and therapist about the cons I thought of in response. And there were a lot more cons than pros. (surprise surprise?) I haven’t listed everything here because parts of it are private, but these main concerns I had were definitely enough to push me to my limits and lead me to my decision to leave.
With that, here are a few of the reasons why I left:
- The mission was not in alignment with my values.
I was a fresh college graduate with a degree from UC Berkeley. Everyone thought that I would be able to easily get a job just because of my degree, but there’s so much more that comes with getting a job post grad. It’s about your connections and social capital. As much as “being smart” and getting “good grades” is a good quality to have, what helps you out more in the workforce is to have connections or be able to connect well with others.
But being a recent college grad, it was difficult for me to get a job. I didn’t prepare well for post grad, so I was desperately searching for anything. Every job I applied for, I was rejected or didn’t hear back from them. The search was tiring and there were so many different things that I couldn’t tell I needed to know before getting a job. I learned so much from working at my previous job, and yes, I’m so grateful, but settling for a job somewhere that wasn’t in alignment with my values didn’t sit well with me at the end of the day. I was into sustainability and education, not “fixing” people — I felt more inclined to empower and provide preventative measures that would be more of service to generations later on.
I chose to leave because the more I felt stress on the job, the more I questioned if I enjoyed the company enough as a whole… enough to put aside my stress and work toward the values of the mission. But the values were not in alignment with mine, and even if they were, which arguably, they kind of were, the thing was that this company did not act in accordance with the values. No workplace is perfect, but there was too much hypocrisy for my liking and ultimately, it wasn’t the environment for me.
- I was overworked and underpaid.
Other than my boss, I was the only person who worked full time at my company. And with such a small staff and a lot of work to do, I felt as if I was underappreciated and underpaid. I felt taken advantage of, and it was too much to handle on a daily basis.
I know many folks who mention when they feel underpaid and overworked. Many of these people are often taken advantage of because they are young and “don’t know better”. When put in this position, these people are seen as below the others at the company, and rather than seeing them as people who can grow and be mentored, they’re seen as inferior and people who belong in specific places (and yes, I know, it doesn’t sound fair at all).
Eventually, I learned that I had to understand where I stood in the company, and I had to ensure there was a healthy balance between my growth mindset and knowing my self-worth. If I was being underpaid for work that I wasn’t that good at, it would make more sense to me. But the work I did was worth a lot more than I was being compensated for, and with the additional knowledge of how much my friends made without their bachelor’s degree, I had to take a step back to see what was actually happening to me. You can be paid a little if you’re just starting out in the field, but when the starting pay is drastically low, you have to think about your abilities & the amount of money it is worth. There’s also the option of having a meeting with your boss and negotiating a raise, but if that doesn’t work (which in my case, it didn’t), you have to ask yourself what it is you want, and what will you compromise since you’re not happy at the job. I don’t want you making the same mistakes I made. (I actually know a fellow #entrepinay, Nadia de Ala, who is a leadership and negotiation coach, working specifically with WoC to help them “spark [their] vision, activate [their] voice and claim [their] value.” If you’re interested in checking her out, click here)
- I knew I wasn’t going to be there forever.
Research says that millenials stay at jobs on average for about 2 years before leaving. In my case, that was actually what I planned to do, but it was more so because of the idea of grad school and gaining work experience. I was purely academic before entering the workforce, and I knew that having consistent and relevant work experience would increase my chances of snagging an acceptance letter to grad school.
My boss had other plans for me, and although I admired the fact that she believed I was a leader, she had expectations for me that were unrealistic in the long run. Having her external validation reminded me that I was not destined to always be a follower, that I had qualities of someone who could lead. For that, I am honored and flattered. However, there was this odd pressure coming from her to take over the company, since she was growing older, and I was young and ambitious. Despite her faith in me, she forgot how I expressed to her during the interview that I wanted to potentially go to grad school in two years, and that as a result, I would be leaving short term. In addition to that, I was also at odds with other things going on in my life that I was basing my future from. I didn’t think to think of myself, but making the decision to leave was one of the first steps I had to take to refocus on myself. Because of that, I had to remind my boss that I was not the person to inherit her baby of a non profit, and that it was not my mission to live up to.
- Leadership was not organized and work culture was not what I was looking for after college.
Partially, this relates back to my first point about the company not being in alignment with my values, but it spans farther and deeper than that. The leadership was not what I was seeking because I had always been in spaces that were racially diverse. I told myself that I just “had” to get used to the “real world” and stay in a position with leadership that didn’t treat women, or even women of color, with respect. But eventually, I put my foot down, talked to my therapist, friends, and one coworker about it, and it made so much sense to leave that workplace considering the fact that I didn’t have to settle. I didn’t have to listen to what people told me I had to do and how life was going to be. I took matters in my own hands and created the life I wanted. I didn’t have to be part of the company. I didn’t have to be the person who changed the dynamics of the company. It wasn’t my responsibility to fix anything or anyone. And once I learned to be okay with that, I made the decision to leave, and it was so much better for my emotional and mental health.
Where I am Today:
Currently, I work full time as a College Coach with a national non profit. My time at the public health non profit I previously worked at has come to an end (about December of 2018). Although that job allowed me to travel, network with medical professionals, and have a relatively flexible schedule, I came to the conclusion that public health was no longer of interest to me (at least for the time being). Plus, I listed a few reasons above for why I left that specific non profit. I was unhappy and felt unfulfilled with the work I did. Even with a good mission statement, I felt an intuitive pull saying, “Okay Eril, your time here is coming to an end. You are ready to embark toward something new.” And my dear, it is okay if you are feeling that way too in your current job.
Now, I’ve had my blog for over a year now and have worked the most on it since being unemployed. 6 months of no full time work? It was the perfect time to rediscover myself and my interests. My personal brand is special to me, and even with my new job, I am working diligently after work hours to create content, network with like minded individuals, nurture my community, and expand my services to those who need it.
So if you’re contemplating on whether or not you should quit your first full time job after college, consider taking the time to reflect on your reasons for doing so. Understand what truly matters to you, talk to the people around you, and don’t be hard on yourself if you feel outside pressure to stay. This is your life, and you get to choose what you do with it.
* Oh, and if you are one of my college coachees, hi! Thanks for reading all the way to the end. I am honoured you took the time to learn more about me, and I hope I’ve established myself as a trustworthy coach, friend, and person you can share yourself with. Life after college is still far in the future for you, so take the time to enjoy the present. We can chat about the future later. <3