After six months of an unfulfilling first job, Amanda Zimmerman took a jump and quit.
Most recent grads are told they have to stick it out through their first job after college. They’re told to get some experience so they have something to put on their resume. Who cares if they don’t like their job? As a graduate of American University, Amanda heard this same advice. And then, she ignored it.
Instead of committing to work she didn’t love, she made the decision to spend the next four months in four different cities hoping to find out what really makes her tick. She chronicled her journey on her blog, Dresses with Pockets, and with #4MonthsX4Cities.
We caught up with Amanda to learn how she made the seldom leap taken from 9-to-5, to forging her own career path. Plus, she shares some tips for students who would like to pursue meaningful work.
What prompted you to start the #4MonthsX4Cities project?
4 Months X 4 Cities started out as an idea that my college roommate came up with at brunch one morning about a week after I quit my first job out of college. I’d only been at that job for about 6 months, but I knew fairly soon that it wouldn’t lead me to where I wanted to be and knowing that slowly ate away at my motivation and daily mindset.
When I decided to leave my job I didn’t have a plan (most people would not advise this). I came across a book called The Quarter-Life Breakthrough by Adam Smiley Poswolsky, which exposed me to the stories of like-minded, purpose-driven individuals. I started to think differently about how to find a career that aligned with my values. Two days after my college roommate and I started brainstorming what 4 Months X 4 Cities could actually look like, I decided to take the plunge and go for it – there wouldn’t ever be a better time.
What can other college students and recent grads learn from your journey?
You can get off the conveyer belt. For those of us fortunate enough to attain a good education and go to college, we’re told from the start that if we continue to follow this path laid out for us, it’ll all work out. And so we don’t ask questions because it sounds so comfortable and who doesn’t like comfortable?
I think that we only really begin to understand what we’re meant to do when we start putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations and start asking ourselves the tough questions, and when we don’t have answers to the tough questions, we need to force ourselves to go figure out how to find them. For me, it was knowing that I wanted to do something that made a difference in the world, but I had no idea what that was until I got out of my comfort zone and started exploring my interests.
What advice do you have for graduating seniors?
Dear seniors, I know you’re feeling the pressure – you need a job and you needed it yesterday. But, try your best to take a step back and be ok with not having a job by graduation day. Step away from the cover letters and start asking yourself questions like these:
- What are your unique skills and strengths, your gifts to the world?
- Which of your gifts do you actually like doing?
- What areas do you need to deepen your knowledge in?
- What experts or mentors do you need to talk to?
- What research do you need to do?
- What type of impact do you want to make?
- Do you need to see results of your work every single day?
- Do you need to have a face-to-face relationship with the people you’re serving?
Don’t think of getting a job like running a race, because you won’t give yourself the time to think, reflect, and understand what’s going to be important for you in your job.
What do millennials bring to the workforce that is unique to their generation?
A lot of us bring high expectations, which I see as a good thing. We should all want our jobs to be meaningful and our workspaces to cultivate a positive and innovative environment. Here’s a quote from the Harvard Business Review article “Mentoring Millennials” that I think sums it up:
Millennials view work as a key part of life, not a separate activity that needs to be “balanced” by it. For that reason, they place a strong emphasis on finding work that’s personally fulfilling. They want work to afford them the opportunity to make new friends, learn new skills, and connect to a larger purpose.
What’s unique about your story that many don’t know about you?
I’m a pretty open book – I even published a personal journal entry on my blog. Sometimes I feel like being an oversharer isn’t always the greatest quality. I get easily disappointed when I share personal things with others and they don’t feel comfortable enough to reciprocate. However, I’ve made some rare, but seriously amazing connections with people from being honest and upfront. For example, I had a super deep conversation with a random woman I met at 7am on a hike in Austin just because she asked me which direction the sun was supposed to rise. You can read the full story here.
What’s been the most rewarding part of this process? Most difficult?
I think the most rewarding part will come when I’m done and able to reflect on the fact that I turned a nice-sounding idea into my own reality. While being in the thick of it, it’s hard to remember that I made this experience from scratch – that’s pretty cool!
The most difficult thing has been being alone most of the time. I’ve always prided myself in being able to enjoy spending time by myself and having fun on my own, but being surrounded by strangers almost all the time isn’t always easy – it makes you value community more.
What have you learned about yourself by doing this?
I have a lot more clarity about what’s important to me: what kind of people I want to surround myself with, what routines make me happy, what I need to do to work on my personal growth.
I also figured out what I want to do in terms of a career, which was one of the initial aims of 4 Months X 4 Cities. I want to work with teens on leadership development. This is something that I’ve known for years, but my only experience in the field had been from being a camp counselor. I used to frequently say (half-joking) that I wanted to be a professional camp counselor, not knowing that there were full-time jobs out there that actually aligned with my passion. How could I have applied for a job that I didn’t know existed?