Do you feel gloomy every Sunday evening, anticipating work the next day? Do you worry you may never find a job that you love?
That’s how Emma Rosen felt, even though she had a place on the prestigious Fast Stream civil service graduate programme. Eventually she quit and embarked on a year-long search for her dream career, deciding to try out 25 different paths before she turned 25, documenting that journey on a website, from which has come a book, published this week.
Rosen’s book about that experience, The Radical Sabbatical, is just the thing for perplexed millennials searching for the right path. Indeed, it starts by declaring itself an “unapologetic millennial manifesto for career happiness”. Each chapter offers a series of useful exercises, asking questions such as “Who am I?” and “What makes me happy?”. The ever-resourceful Rosen leads us through her year-long job hunt, from making the initial decision to move and putting together a wish list of jobs, to setting up placements and networking
Growing up in Borehamwood, from a traditional Jewish background, Rosen studied History and International Relations at Exeter University, followed by a Masters in Applied Security Strategy. Feeling pressurised to live up to the expectations of her community and family she quickly secured a place on the Fast Stream programme.
“I knew quite soon that the civil service wasn’t for me,” explains Rosen, “but I felt guilty as I knew that the programme was highly regarded. The scheme I was on focused on improving your weak points, so every day I felt like a failure. It knocked my confidence and affected my mental health. I tried to plough on, as my parents had always taught me a strong work ethic.”
Rosen’s mother worked in client strategy in financial services but, according to her daughter, hated her job. “She worked so hard throughout my childhood, as she wanted to give us the best start in life. I realised that I wanted to do something I didn’t dread every day.”
Rosen stuck it out at the civil service for a year, whilst simultaneously devouring self-help career books for inspiration. Finally, during a holiday, she found herself panicking about going back to work.
“I wasn’t sleeping, and I knew I just couldn’t do this anymore. Once I resigned the weight lifted.” She had two weeks holiday owing to her. “I joined an archaeological dig in Transylvania, after contacting my university for leads. They were excavating in a palace there in what was Roman Dacia. It was a lucky start to my project.”
Without a regular salary, Rosen moved back in with her folks. “I was very lucky to have parents who were willing and able to allow me to move back home in my early 20s, I am very grateful to them.
“I had some savings from the year before when I was earning a full salary, which were intended for saving for that elusive flat deposit. I also worked part-time in the background as a freelance writer and speaker.”
Rosen is driven, clear thinking and extremely personable, oozing energy and positivity. Her first step to job nirvana was to list her 25 dream jobs, however far-fetched they seemed. To this she added a list of things she wanted in a job, including travel, the chance to think strategically and making a difference to people. She sent hundreds of emails to secure her placements, most of which were not paid.
“It’s true you have to have drive to do something like this,” she says, “But mine was born of desperation rather than inspiration. How much you hate your job is the crux. It’s easy to put up with things.
“I did worry about finances, not earning a salary for a year and whether employers would see me as fickle, hopping from one job to another. But the world of work is moving to portfolio careers and diverse skill bases. No one expects a job for life anymore.”
Current research reveals that 72% of millenials want to change career, but few do anything about it, she says. “The point of the book is not to get everyone to quit their jobs but to translate this into something that’s manageable for the average person. I’m not saying you should have 25 interests, you can have two, but that’s worth looking at.”
Rosen writes about being an investigative journalist (she admits that a week was too short a time to get the gist of the job); forest school teacher (identifying trees, whittling sticks, “certainly something I can see myself doing later in life” and wedding photographer (“I did begin to find it a bit repetitive”). She tried out farming alpaca — “If you like farming in January, you are meant to be a farmer,” she was told— and loved it. “It combines the great outdoors and being close to nature with the intellectual stimulation of innovative entrepreneurship”.
She drove through London at breakneck speed in a police car, with siren blaring, during her time with the Metropolitan Police Dog Unit (“Frankly, it was fantastic,”). Working with a landscape gardener, she dug and planted in the rain and gained respect for the knowledge involved in the job (“I can certainly see myself retraining to do this in later life.”)
She spent time working for a tech start up based in the Brecon Beacons. She loved the frequent brain-storming sessions but asks, “How do I find the job that has the intellectual and creative challenges I’m looking for, but also that isn’t entirely behind a computer screen?”
She acknowledges that many young people cannot afford to do what she did. Rosen was paid for five internships, and around ten covered her expenses, which leaves ten that didn’t even do that. She strongly believes internships should be paid.
“There is a clear distinction between work experience/shadowing (which is what I was doing) and internships. Interns are legally classed as ‘workers’ and are therefore entitled to a salary — they are contributing work of substance to an employer and should absolutely be remunerated for their work.
“What I was doing was a step down from this, simply getting an idea of what a place of work was like, and whether it was the right fit for me. Yes, I was doing some work, but the focus was more on shadowing than anything else, so that I could speak to as many people as possible about their experiences in that career.”
One by one Rosen measured her experiences against her hopes and dreams. She had a few surprises. She loved her week working for a company that trains people to deal with crisis situations — such as diplomats, dealing with a plane crash with British victims in an unstable country. This had everything that Rosen was looking for, yet was “so bizarrely niche,”she writes,” that even if I’d had the best careers advisor in the world at university I would probably never have discovered it.”
And yet she hasn’t pursued it as a career option. “Along the way I discovered was that I wanted to help people and make a difference and that’s where I am putting my energy now, with my careers advice work. I go into schools and universities talking about how to find the right job.”
She’s launching a start up, also called Radical Sabbatical, which will offer a match-making service between employers and people seeking work experience, careers advice and workshops, as well as research and advocacy campaigning for better careers education.
“Try as many jobs as you possibly can and talk to people about their work,” she says. “Remember that ultimately you are doing the job for yourself, not for anyone else. Happy people earn more, but earning more won’t make you happy. There is no Prince Charming job.”
The Radical Sabbatical is published by John Catt Educational