Why I quit my job

At the start of 2018 I had a stable, secure job working in marketing at a large company in the publishing industry. The work was challenging, but not too high stress. My colleagues were, on the most part, great to work with. The hours were a standard 8am–4pm, and I rarely needed to work outside of those hours. The pay was decent (at least within publishing), and there was a clear progression route within the company.

In March 2018 I handed in my resignation letter to my manager, and left that stable position 4 weeks later. You might think that sounds crazy, but to me it’s the best decision I ever made.

I studied English Literature at university, and publishing had been my dream career for the three years I spent studying. I had an idealistic desire to just stay around books for the rest of my life. As with most dreams, it turned out that the reality was a little different. In a nutshell, I just struggled to find motivation for the work I was doing. As with any businesses, the publishing companies that I worked for were driven by profit at the core, and working in marketing departments meant that I was constantly working towards targets: how many more textbooks could we sell? I didn’t want to get stuck, and find myself working hard to make more money for shareholders for the rest of my life. I wanted to do something that had real, intrinsic value for society.

So I started to think about what that would be. I’d gone vegan 6 months before, and was getting more and more engaged with the plastic-free and zero waste community, and so that was (at the time) the primary problem I wanted to work on. I’d also been getting more interested in entrepreneurship and going to lectures at the local Business School around starting a business — and that made me think that the best way to have an impact would be to start a company which had my values at the heart; that was working to solve environmental problems.

In January 2018 I started a 12 week Start-up Accelerator course with Escape The City (if you relate to my story, I’d definitely recommend taking a look at their work), and my master plan was to set up plastic-free grocery deliveries service to rival the likes of Tesco and Ocado — all your normal groceries, at a similar price, conveniently delivered to your door, but without all the unnecessary packaging. Interestingly, a year later Tesco have just announced their new scheme ‘Loop’ which will deliver groceries in refillable containers, so it seems like the supermarket giants are finally catching on.

I had enough savings that I didn’t need to be working full time. A role had come up in my local university administration team which was part-time, 3 days a week — it was a slight step down from my existing position, but it would also be less challenging, allowing me to focus on the business in terms of mental space. It was also a maternity cover, lasting until December 2018, so it had the advantage of giving me a finite amount of time to play with — if the business took off I wouldn’t need to find a new role, and if I had re-evaluated by that point I could find a full-time role again. So, part way through the Start-up course, I handed in my resignation at work. I worked my month’s notice period and then I started working 3 days a week, spending the other 2 days (and any other free time) working on building my business.

My business idea worked. By April I had regular weekly customers, and I knew I could build it up from there. What I was struggling with in terms of the business was my own satisfaction — I hadn’t really thought through the fact that it would essentially become a logistics business, transporting groceries from storage to customer. What I was enjoying was the community aspect: I had started generating interest through a free low-impact challenge (which is still available now) and by setting up a map of places to shop plastic-free, which had generated a buzz around the idea and had sparked a community of people who cared about reducing their personal waste. This wasn’t that far from what I’d been doing whilst working in publishing — I’d been in marketing departments and worked on building interest around products — it just needed to be a cause that I cared about rather than a physical product that I didn’t believe in selling.

So, I stopped the grocery delivery aspect, and started focusing on how to inspire people to think about their own impact on the environment through the community I’d already started. At the same time, I decided to use the rest of 2018 (and the free time I had from working 3 days a week) to do some career exploration. I felt like I’d made a lot of assumptions before going into the publishing world, and that I hadn’t really thought a lot about my skills and values in terms of a career, or learnt much about what careers were actually out there. Law, finance, and teaching advice was all readily available to me at university, but it felt like there were hundreds of interesting career paths out there that I didn’t even know existed. I started focusing on making connections and going to a networking event every week (not an easy task for an introvert!), and finding out about people’s work. I also put myself out there and did a few workshops on reducing personal waste, again in order to meet new people and test out what kinds of work I found enjoyable.

By mid 2018 I had a much clearer idea of where I wanted to take my career. I knew that I actually, genuinely enjoyed the work I did day-to-day working in marketing and communications — it ticks a lot of boxes in terms of creativity and writing. I knew that I wanted to be working for a cause I believed in (which wasn’t necessarily the plastic problem anymore — here’s why), and that I needed this in order to maintain motivation in my work. I knew that ideally I’d like to work in a small, tight-knit and value-focused company, and I’d also considered working as a freelancer from home as the idea of working on several different projects appealed to me (I get bored easily). And whilst I wanted to continue pursuing marketing/communications for the time being, I was also open to further study or a change of direction later on in life (I still am).

With this in mind, I started approaching charities, organisations, and businesses within my local area which fitted the causes and values I cared about, to see if they needed any support with marketing that I could pick up 2 days a week until the end of 2018 — with the plan of either finding a full-time position or a few freelance projects to fill my time by the start of 2019 when my contract with the university ended. Through these enquiries I ended up having a coffee with the director of a small local creative agency who work with charities and social businesses to increase their impact. Right up my street, and they were looking for someone to help them with communications on a new project. Through my career exploration and chats, I’d come to the belief that traditional recruitment rarely works well, so I was keen to have some trial period working with their team to check that it worked for me and for them — so we agreed that I would work with the team on this project for 2 days a week until Christmas 2018, and then review for the New Year.

And that pretty much brings me to now, January 2019. I’m still working with the creative agency: I have a couple of main clients with them as well as working on the marketing and content strategy for the business itself. I’m enjoying working with a tiny company, there’s a lot of autonomy and it really feels like I can influence the direction of the company as an employee. I’m also learning a lot from the other people working there and from working with a variety of clients, which is great for me.

When I first started to think about changing my career my grand plan was to start an impactful business completely from scratch,and I also thought I might need to completely change route and retrain. If I were to use those plans as a measure of my success, then I guess I failed. But I’ve learnt so much from the process. I know I could start a new project or business again if I want to, and the knowledge I gained from that process is invaluable for working with other companies. I’ve also built up my connections and networks more in the last 12 months than I ever would have foreseen. I’m working with a company I really believe in and can see the impact of, and, most importantly to me, can learn from and keep developing. I know now that having positive impact is the most important thing to me from my career, and that’s led me to organisations like 80,000 hours and Effective Altriusm who really investigate the best ways to do that. Above everything else, I’m happy, I enjoy the work I do everyday, I have enough time to spend learning and developing in whatever areas I want, and I have a clear idea of where I want to be in the future.

I’m not sure how helpful this story will be, but I hope it speaks to you in some way — and I’d love to hear your career change stories or plans in the comments.

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Tabitha Whiting

Tabitha Whiting

Ramblings on communication and our climate crisis🌱