You should stay at your first job for at least one year.
That’s the advice I heard over and over. And, I won’t deny that it’s a solid recommendation—nobody wants to start their career looking like a noncommittal, undependable job hopper who’s going to hit the road the second something better rolls along.
Personally, I didn’t think holding myself to that standard would be a problem. I’m reliable. I’m professional. I’m trustworthy. I assumed I had that whole “one year” requirement down pat.
So, imagine my surprise when I found myself just three months into my first real job, contemplating already putting in my two weeks’ notice.
The thought alone still makes me queasy. But, that’s exactly what was happening: I’d barely just learned everybody’s name, and yet I was already considering another offer.
Making the Decision
I landed an assistant position for a commercial photography studio after college. But, despite the fact that I was surrounded by great people in a creative industry, it didn’t feel like a fit for my skill set.
However, I kept pushing forward in an effort to make the best of it. I involved myself in more photoshoots and projects. I formed bonds with my colleagues. I went above and beyond to make my boss’ life easier.
Then, one unsuspecting Wednesday evening, I received a call from my former internship supervisor letting me know that a marketing position just opened up and she wanted me to interview for it ASAP.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. I was finally getting my feet under me and beginning to feel comfortable. But, at the same time, I absolutely loved where I’d previously interned—and, they were offering me an opportunity that was more related to the things I really wanted to do. Add in the fact that it was a small office with almost no turnover, and I knew that this was my one shot to land a full-time gig there.
I’d like to say that it was a decision I agonized over for weeks, but it wasn’t. The second I hung up the phone, I knew I’d quit my current job if I got the offer.
Breaking the News
While I may not have tormented myself with the actual decision, preparing to have that dreaded conversation with my boss was an entirely different, angst-inducing story.
As surprising as my abrupt departure was to me, I knew it’d be even more unexpected for her. Because I didn’t want to march into her office and blindside her (and because I was scared to have the conversation), I did something that was perhaps cowardly—yet I convinced myself was noble: I sent her a heads-up email that I needed to speak to her about quitting.
The next day, we sat down and I explained the situation to her, emphasizing how bad I felt about leaving so soon. I told her that I’d fulfill my two weeks, but then I’d be moving on to the marketing position.
Honestly, the conversation went surprisingly well. While she admitted she was disappointed I’d be leaving, she was incredibly supportive, encouraging, and professional. I was relieved to have that piece over with—and that none of my nightmare-ish visions of her flipping her desk actually came to fruition.
Needless to say, I finished my two weeks, said goodbye to my boss, and moved on with my career. And, I assumed that would be the end of things.
After all, when you leave suddenly, it’s easy to assume that it’s a bridge you’ve burned—that you’ll pretend each other never existed, and any happenstance future run-ins will be incredibly awkward and strained.
However, things played out exactly the opposite of how I predicted. In fact, my boss and I stayed in touch after my departure, and still continue to connect on a frequent basis to this day.
This was—without a doubt—the most surprising piece of the whole experience: What I had assumed would be the death of a professional relationship was really just the start.
What I Learned
There’s so much advice out there that it becomes all too easy to think that there’s a black and white, cut-and-dried answer for every single dilemma you face.
But, while you often should try to follow those recommended best practices (hence why that “one year” requirement haunted my dreams), it’s also important to remember that they don’t take your own unique circumstances and situation into account.
Careers aren’t a one-size-fits-all sort of thing—unexpected things happen and surprises crop up. Ultimately, it’s still up to you to make choices and navigate your path in a way that suits you best.
My own experience worked out much better than expected, and honestly, I accept a lot of the credit for that. I communicated with my boss in a way that was clear, honest, and professional. And, instead of leaving that job and never turning back, I made an effort to stay in touch and keep that relationship intact.
I'll never say that quitting my job after such a short period of time was easy. However, my situation is living proof that you can put yourself first in your career—without having to throw all professional etiquette out the window.