Do I Need to Settle for a Meaningless Job Out of University?

University felt like a safe haven for me; as long as I was studying, I felt as though I didn’t have to decide exactly what I wanted to do with my life. If I’m totally honest, I chose to go to university for hundreds of other reasons; to pursue a job was never one of them.

Alas I eventually graduated and all of a sudden it felt like ‘BAM! Decide!’

Within weeks after receiving my results, I remember sharing some concerns with one of my older friends. I told them how I was worried because I felt a bit lost. I felt confused as to what career path I should take, and anxious about what things I could actually offer to an employer or an organisation. My friend, with the best intentions, attempted to console me by saying, ‘Oh don’t worry. Our generation, on average, changes careers six times throughout their lifetime – I still don’t know what I want to do!’

Could it be true that the only way to find a fulfilling career would be to endure six meaningless jobs first?

Six? I couldn’t quite comprehend this number.

Why are so many of us changing careers six times throughout our lives? Is it because we happen to enjoy change, and are more excited than our elders about doing different things? I guess I liked this answer; it was positive and hopeful, and alleviated some of the stress – but I didn’t believe it. Deep down I felt suspicious and cynical; could it be true that the only way to find a fulfilling career would be to endure six meaningless jobs first?

As much as I appreciated my friend’s advice, I felt more anxious than I could’ve ever possibly imagined.

Nevertheless when I began looking on The Guardian job page, one thing became very apparent to me; I could not be picky. I needed a job, and so did 12 million other graduates in the UK. Thus I began the tedious process of application writing. Sure enough I found my first meaningless job in marketing. Six months on however and I’m elated to say it only took one job and not six.

There seems to be a mindset amongst people my age (and maybe this extends to other generations as well) that when you find a job after graduating, you have to ‘stick it out’. I really wasn’t enjoying my first job, and yet I criticised myself for this.

I would like to share with all students, twenty-somethings and everyone in between what I believe to be one of the most over-looked tragedies of young graduates today: we excessively undervalue our intelligence, abilities and worth in the ‘real’ world.

How is this a tragedy?

When I began working in marketing I found myself constantly questioning my decision-making. I thought I was on the right track, things were going well, but I didn’t really have anyone guiding the strategic choices I was making for the firm.

Having been a student for the past four years, I wasn’t exactly used to this kind of a ‘non-learning’ environment. I don’t mean to say that I needed someone to hold my hand, stroke my cheek and tell me ‘you’re doing great’ – not at all. But I wanted to broaden the knowledge behind the decisions I was making.

I wanted to learn how to improve my choices, and to see things from different angles, to learn what to challenge and what to push forward. I couldn’t gain this in the environment I was in, and yet I felt so ready to absorb and master new talents.

I realised very quickly that I wasn’t there to learn or grow. I was only there to complete the trivial tasks that others didn’t have time for. Rather than having conviction in my intelligence and capabilities, I started to believe that this was what it meant to be a graduate in first time employment, and I began to devalue my worth.

I don’t necessarily believe a graduate should soar straight into an executive position just because they have been to university – not that they can’t, either – but there are two disheartening tragedies that come from this kind of situation.

1. Your confidence slows down and your development goes into recession.

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. Without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.” – Albert Einstein.

This quote really resonates with me. Whether in school, at university or in the workplace, you can lose your abilities to experiment and be creative, if you are not given the freedom to do so. Roxane Liddell, learning consultant at Saffron Interactive, describes learning as more than ‘acquiring knowledge – it is about exploring, taking a step into the unknown and creating experiences where experiential learning can take place… We have much to learn from children in their refusal to stop questioning and wondering’.

In a restrictive, and uninspiring environment, I lost confidence very quickly because I wasn’t experiencing the virtues in challenging my weaknesses and fostering my strengths. I started to forget everything that I was good at, and everything that made me curious. Gradually I became more and more demotivated.

2. As a detrimental result of this, You get stuck.

I wasn’t happy, yet I did very little to change my situation. Mostly I felt conflicted.

Every time I felt lost and despondent I made matters worse by feeling ungrateful. I felt spoilt for not focusing on the positive of being in full time employment straight out of university. I told myself that I was lucky to be working and to make the most of it by sticking it out. I was caught up in the belief that any experience is better than no experience at all. This just isn’t true.

The co-founder of Escape the City, Rob Symington, discusses in his TED talk how there are two kinds of people in corporate jobs. First, there are the kinds of people who know their purpose; the kinds that know exactly what they are getting out of the experience. And then there are the other kinds, the ones who end up there by mistake.

I accidentally found myself in marketing, because I rushed into finding whatever job I was offered. I lost confidence in my capabilities, and so sabotaged any notion of quitting. For graduates, we sabotage ourselves not so much out of fear (we have a lot less to lose), but rather more so out of failure to take pride in our abilities and strengths. The belief that you aren’t good enough, or smart enough, or experienced enough to do something you truly value, leads you to be complacent in a job that you found by mistake. If Escape has taught me anything so far, it’s that you won’t feel complacent for long. Eventually it will swallow you whole.

Clinical psychologist, Meg Jay gave a provocative TED talk last year titled, ’Why 30 is not the new 20’. In this talk she argues that your twenties is your defining decade, highlighting in particular the importance of gaining ‘identity capital’. By this Meg is urging twenty-somethings to do something that adds value to who you are; do something that is an investment in who you might want to be next.

“No one knows the future of work, but I do know this; identity capital begets identity capital. Now is the time to get that cross-country job, that internship, that startup you want to try. I’m not discounting twenty-something exploration here. But I am discounting exploration that’s not supposed to count, (which by the way is not exploration, that’s procrastination). Explore work, and make it count.”

She also says this:

“Twenty-somethings are like airplanes just leaving LAX, bound for somewhere west. Right after takeoff, a slight change in course is the difference between landing in Alaska or Fiji. Likewise, at 21, or 25 or even 29, one good conversation, one good break, one good TED Talk, can have an enormous affect across years and even generations to come.”

So what have I learned?

1. You don’t need to gain experience in meaningless work.

We’re told over, and over again by peers, lecturers, professors and parents that experience is everything, and largely it is. But if it’s meaningless and valueless it will drive you backwards, and you’ll begin to feel dumber every day.

2. Never again will it been easier to be picky.

As a graduate it’s so easy to be lured in to a job with a nice pay cheque, particularly after spending 4 years living off rice, cider and pot-noodles. We know how to live off very little, in fact many of us have become very good at it. However it’s much more difficult to choose a job you truly love once you’re used to twice as much pay, and have three times as many expenses. Now is the time to be picky.

3. Listen to your instincts.

You know what you know. And, if you’re wise, you’ll know what you don’t know and what you need to do to grow and progress in your career and as a human being. If you don’t feel like you’re learning or being challenged in the right way, it’s probably because you’re not.

4. Ignore people who tell you that you don’t understand the ‘real’ world just because you’ve been at university for the last four years.

In the last year alone, you’ve probably displayed more examples of critical thinking than those people have ever displayed in their whole lives. ‘Get back to the real world’, or ‘Monday morning – back to reality’; these terms are outdated and often only used by those working in corporate jobs they don’t like. Your reality doesn’t have to be shit.

5. Be kind to yourself.

You didn’t work your arse off at university just to feel unintelligent when you graduated. Take pride in your abilities, and don’t underestimate your worth just because you need a job.

6. Don’t wait to escape.

Above everything, I cannot stress this last point enough. Being unfulfilled in your job does things to your being you wouldn’t imagine — and I’ve only had a glimpse of it.

“Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know, or didn’t do. You’re deciding your life right now.” – Meg Jay.


Doing something different with your life and career is hard… but you don’t have to do it alone. If you need help with your Escape and if you are ready to re-take control over your life, join our Tribe.

“No one can tell you what to do with your life and there is no “one-size-fits-all” escape that will lead you to happiness. What does work, however, is exposure to new ideas, likeminded people and a safe environment for you to figure out what it is you really want.”

– Rob Symington, Escape the City co-founder.

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