The Great Resignation led to big regrets. So should we all be ‘career committing’?
Fancy looking after a Hebridean island or counting penguins in Antarctica? Both roles are on offer currently, following much hyped opportunities to run a bookshop in the Maldives, become an Austrian hermit, or a lighthouse keeper at Cape Wrath.
The enthusiasm with which “dream jobs” are greeted speaks to a communal hankering to chuck it all in. We’re emerging from an existential reckoning that made life feel precarious and precious, so we want to put our hands in soil, wake with the dawn chorus, get the camper van, write that novel. My WhatsApp threads return to this regularly: let’s get a €1 Sicilian house and a few goats and live off the land (no, none of us knows one end of a goat from the other).
But before we resign with the bridge-burning panache of a JetBlue steward, let’s take a moment. Is there something to be said for sticking it out? How are the pioneers of the Great Resignation doing? One – admittedly very small – survey this year suggested 80% regretted their decision; another last year highlighted a similar percentage (72%) who experienced regret or surprise after quitting for a different job.
A job that doesn’t define or consume you can offer freedom too – it’s just a different kind
In 2023 there are sound economic reasons for wishing you hadn’t called the CEO a sociopath in a mic-drop email, but some regrets seem more profound. A former Google and Facebook employee writing in the Atlantic recently described how her decision to quit and prioritise her emotional and physical health proved harder than she expected. “I ached for what I’d abandoned,” Emi Nietfield wrote. “My deep bond with my manager, whom I viewed almost as a parent; the promotion ladder that, for years, gave shape to my future; my self-image as a hardcore woman engineer making it in a male-dominated field.” Nietfield spoke to others who had stepped off the career ladder for their wellbeing or to pursue creative dreams but were struggling with the loss of identity, purpose or connection. I can believe it: a friend of mine who gave up work to finish her novel is finding it a grim, lonely slog.
If the grass isn’t necessarily greener, what’s the alternative? Enter the newest world-of-work buzzword: “career committing”. That’s the phenomenon identified in new LinkedIn research that found that 56% of 2,038 UK workers surveyed had made positive changes at work in response to the current economic climate. Changes included taking on new projects (39%), networking more (35%) and making an effort with colleagues (30%); 74% are planning to acquire new skills.
I imagine this as a Kirstie and Phil’s Love It Or List It scenario. If your TV tastes are more refined than mine, basically one of them zhooshes up your unsatisfactory home and you decide if you like the improved version enough not to move to somewhere else. Here, instead of a poorly laid-out semi, it’s your career. With time, investment and imagination, could it be exactly what you need? Could you discover new dimensions and forge a new appreciation for a taken-for-granted nine-to-five? You might, but there will always be “list it” jobs: 60% of the workers LinkedIn surveyed were also considering a change this year.
Equally, you might end up making the best of a bad – or a “fine, whatever” – job. Surely that’s OK too. We need to work for, you know, food and shelter reasons, and not everyone can be a baby panda wrangler. A job that doesn’t define or consume you can offer freedom too; it’s just a different kind.
On days when dream jobs sing their siren song of self-actualisation, I remind myself how nightmarish they might be. Baby pandas are idiots, probably worse than most human colleagues. I’d starve trying to grow stuff in Sicily, and the goats would eat my corpse. Imagine working in a place where everyone else is on holiday, getting Ambre Solaire on your hardbacks as they sloppily browse, day drunk. Or how about the grinding isolation or uneasy, incestuous cohabitation in tiny communities over long, dark winters – remember the (probably apocryphal) story about the polar researcher who stabbed a colleague who kept spoiling book endings? There’s something to be said for the devil you know.
Emma Beddington is a Guardian columnist