Lessons of the Year from a Millennial-Gen. Z Cusper
Quitting jobs, moving across the country, going on a month-long solo trip, starting a side-hustle, and navigating the pandemic
At the beginning of 2020, I entered my first big-girl job as an associate at a public accounting firm, so thrilled with all the possibilities of life in front of me after struggling through college. I was filled with the most hope I’ve ever had, my dream life just a grasp away. Then the pandemic happened. And I joined in on the collective shock of the situation, a time period where every single human’s life and happiness flashed before their eyes. As twenty-somethings, we are in constant consumption of life lessons, things-you-should-do posts, graphics, and videos on our phones. And as an avid scroller, I decided this was the year to take action. Here’s what I learned.
1. Don’t quit your job.
The first two lessons go hand-in-hand. I think “Quit your job!” is a tasty slogan built around hustle and entrepreneurship culture. The possibilities are endless, you can work on your own time, and do something you love! Sometimes risking it all is all it takes for your perfect life to begin!
Quitting your job should be as methodical as getting a job and requires time, a lot of it.
I spent most of the later spring and early summer months crying at my home-desk which also happened to be my kitchen table. I cried almost every day, so much so that by the end of it, my sister would just carry on with cooking her breakfast or lunch while I balled my eyes out in front of my computer screen. I would wake up, turn on my computer, try to work as best I could until the late hours where I’d get up and go to bed. You can expect long hours in the public accounting world, but I didn’t expect the strenuous workweeks to be consistent, seemingly no end in sight since there were always urgent deadlines around the corner.
I spent seven weeks talking with my management team and then one week of vacation that didn’t even alleviate the extreme burnout I was dealing with before I decided to end it all: I resigned. I took a couple of weeks in existential crisis before I decided to take the risk and move to Denver, Colorado (a place I’ve never been and knew nobody). I just put together quick plans along the way and happened to receive an offer for an internship at a start-up SaaS company. After three months there, I quit again because I could not afford the limits on my hours, restriction on health benefits, interference with working my other two part-time jobs and work on graduate school courses.
I had no plan. No real safety net. And I tried to wing my way through what is the foundation for my future with last-minute, gut decisions. While I do not regret my resignations, I wish I laid out a more thoughtful plan to support a more fluid transition into a direction that was better for my mental health, my future career, and my relationships.
If you do want to quit your job, start building a plan. Ask yourself why, reflect, and build a little more awareness around what you want to do next. Start budgeting to make a move: to a new role, new place, or something else entirely. Take the leap, but maybe bring a parachute.
2. Don’t start a side hustle.
I’ve always wanted to be my own boss and own my own company. I even have a dream plan on what benefits my company would provide our employees like two-week paid shutdowns in summer and winter, remote work opportunities, bringing pets into the office, paid leave for both physical and mental illness, and performance systems that aren’t based on how long you’ve been at the company but on the impact you’ve had. But I never had one real clue on what I would build, so if I couldn’t cultivate my own idea, I would do the next best thing I could think of: direct sales.
I have always been avid research of businesses that go beyond the bottom line. While searching for clean skincare and makeup, I discovered Beautycounter: a certified Benefit Corporation that removes 1,800+ harmful ingredients from their beauty and personal care products. I decided to become a part of their Consultant network and try my hand at this side-hustle. I joined the company with a mentor who just quit her full-time job due to her success. I read books about marketing, selling, and relationship building, and got help on a social media strategy to reach an audience online as well as invested in the products to be able to speak on them honestly. A lot of time and effort went into learning how to get started and I had my first and last hugely successful month in December. Since then, I’ve only relied on my loyal customer base and don’t bring in enough supplemental income to quit my day job.
I think it is important for our generation and younger generations to realize that the people we see online (that are wildly successful at their side-hustles, influencer marketing, and direct sales) put a ton of time, effort, and sacrifice into getting there — and there are a ton of more people who did the same things and they have failed. If you’re not ready or capable of doing the work and making sacrifices required to start (and are not ready to fail), don’t quit your job for your side hustle. Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur so don’t let hustle porn turn the idea of your current job sour.
3. Don’t cry alone.
I only recently heard this piece of advice on TED Talks Daily with Simon Sinek. I wish I heard it last January.
It is easy for this generation and younger generations to be dissociative when we’re upset. We are being taught that we need to be able to take care our ourselves with movements of self-care, self-love, self-healing, and other cliches of learning to be alone so our relationships with others will be better. You have to love yourself before you can love others. Go on dates by yourself. Learn to self-soothe.
While I am an avid supporter and follower of these movements, I cried by myself enough and to enough mental health support lines before picking up the phone to lean on friends and family. I have always felt as though my mental health was a burden for others, talking to strangers was easier, and that paying for therapy to only be allowed to cry for an hour was a waste. I read self-help and psychology books so I can learn to heal myself. In fact, I am so independent that I’m extremely prideful and fearful about keeping it that way.
Nothing in my life has ever felt better until I finally started crying with somebody else there, at least over the phone with current circumstances. And I have built better, deeper relationships because of it. I’ve reconnected with friends I lost touch with. I now have at least monthly, if not bi-weekly, phone calls with them. I’ve visited old friends on road trips and have even been lucky enough to be referred to a wonderful position for a new job.
I have started building a real relationship with my siblings that was never there before. My family grew up without expressing our emotions. Although laughs and good times were shared, crying and sadness were usually dealt with alone. Our feelings weren’t necessarily a topic of conversation. And that’s difficult dealing with life after losing our parents. One day I decided to call up my triplet brother and just talk. And now we talk regularly and it’s so comforting to share these moments and lean on someone who can understand my situation better than anyone else. Sometimes people who you call family are the hardest people to talk to in difficult times. You don’t want them to worry, you don’t want to add burdens because you know exactly the other things they are dealing with. Pick up the phone and start the conversation because sometimes they’re the best people to talk to.
The turnaround from my bad days is so much faster now that I know I can call on my brothers or friends when I need to talk. It helps me detach from the loneliness that keeps my thoughts dark and it’s also helped me think about other ways I can feel less alone and build better relationships with the people closest to me. Don’t cry alone.
4. Your brain is underdeveloped and that’s okay.
I recently read The Defining Decade, where a psychologist discusses the most common problems that twenty-somethings face during these formative years that are claimed to be the best decade of our lives, however, are statistically the most anxiety-induced. We are entering a decade where we are constantly facing new situations that we don’t know how to handle on our own.
I never gave much thought to our brain development. There is a common joke in dating culture about how male brains do not fully develop until they are around 25 years old. For some reason, I never translated that to also meaning the female brain does not fully develop until around 25 either. We have not yet developed our full capacity to be forward-thinking, reasonable, and provide proper judgment to situations. Instead, we are extremely emotionally reactive and often believe situations are more life-threatening than they appear: like the tone in the email your boss sent you or the constructive criticism we receive from a peer.
I found extreme relief in this fact: that things will be difficult and anxiety-ridden just for now. It took some weight off of my shoulders in believing life would always feel like this. I can breathe a little better during stressful times and work on building sustainable practices for the new situations I face at this time in my life. Maybe this will also take some pressure off of you, knowing that your brain is underdeveloped and that’s okay.
You can read the book notes from The Defining Decade here.
5. Nothing is a failure if you’ve learned something.
As I packed up my belongings after quitting my job to move to Denver, I had to constantly tell myself that if I would have to retreat back into the life I was leaving, I would still count my time as a success. I would only have failed if I didn’t try.
I wish I learned this lesson earlier in my life. I was so afraid of failure when I was younger — an accomplishment-junkie-perfectionist — that the first time I ever got a B+ in high school, I cried about it. I believed that if I didn’t have the perfect life (by everyone else’s terms), especially at 24, that I would be a failure.
I am sitting at my favorite coffee shop in Denver, the time being 9 months since I quit the prestigious job everyone told me I was lucky to have and 8 months after moving to a place I’ve never been, reflecting on my decisions and where I will go from here.
Would other people have done the things I have? Definitely not.
Do I wish I was a little more responsible in my plans? Yes.
Do I regret the past year? No chance.
I do not consider any of my decisions failures no matter what has happened in my life. Everything that has ever happened to me and every decision I have made has been perfect. I would not have had the experiences, knowledge, and awareness of myself and my life. I would not be the same woman without every moment that has led me to this moment. You would not be the same person without every single little aspect of your past turning out the way it did.
This mindset shift is helpful in letting go of the past, being grateful for times you might have regretted previously and can set you up to overcome the times when life isn’t pretty. It’s going to be difficult, but you know that you’ll be a better person for “failing.” Nothing is a failure if you’ve grown from it.