In September 2016, 24-year-old Emma Rosen left her job with the Civil Service Fast Stream to take a “Radical Sabbatical” and launch 25before25. Her mission? To try 25 different careers before her 25th birthday.
Emma turns 25 in August 2017, which marks the end of the project in its current form. I spoke to her to find out more about the project, how she hopes her journey can inspire other graduates, and what happens next after the fast-approaching deadline.
Leaving a steady job on a prestigious graduate scheme wasn’t a decision Emma took lightly. In the time leading up to her resignation, Emma says she felt “very lost and trapped” in her job.
“Particularly when you’re young, your job is part of your identity,” she says.
“That career path was something I’d chosen to do and wanted to do for quite a long time, and I worked very hard towards achieving it over several years.”
But she was unhappy, largely with the 9-5 lifestyle, long commute and lack of flexibility or opportunities to travel that came with the role. “I just sort of thought, I’m in my twenties, I’m at the time in my life when I want to be doing the most exciting things,” Emma continues, “ultimately, if you’re miserable every single day… is it really worth it?”
At that point in time, Emma knew she wanted to leave, but she “had absolutely no idea, not a clue” as to what she wanted to do instead. So, she wrote down every career she’d ever wanted to try, things she’d always been curious about but hadn’t pursued, and set out to experience all of them in one year.
That’s where launching 25before25.co.uk came in – a blog where Emma could write about millennials in the workplace, career happiness and fulfilment, while tracking her own journey to figure out what she really wants to do.
Since then, Emma’s long list of placements has seen her working as a photographer, an archaeologist in Transylvania, and an investigative journalist – as well as working with a think tank, as a forest school teacher, in international security and much more. Each career she tries is measured against a set of 10 ideal career attributes Emma is looking for. These include “Problem solving,” “Making a difference,” “Travel,” and “Creative”.
Emma has been able to afford the year out by living at home with her parents, working freelance and taking on copywriting jobs in her spare time. Her placements average around two weeks in length; some are paid, most cover her expenses.
From Emma’s first ever blog post, she says the project has been really well-received, generating thousands of visits to her site and feedback from many young people who really identify with what she’s doing. However, with numerous reports recently looking into the future of work, decrying millennials for job hopping and having unrealistic expectations of work, I wanted to know how Emma feels her project sits within that narrative and perception of our generation.
Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2016 found that employers face a “loyalty challenge,” as, by 2020, two in three millennials surveyed said they hope to have left their current role. I suggest to Emma that she has, to some extent, built a project around serial job hopping and trying lots of different roles without committing. She responds by saying it’s not about having a negative attitude to work, but a response to the fact that the way we work is changing:
“I think there’s a social contract that in previous generations has been in place, where you do your time at work – whether you like it or not isn’t really that relevant – but you get a decent salary in return,” that allows you to support yourself, your family and buy a home.
For the millennial generation, Emma continues, that simply isn’t the case. “Especially if you’re living in the South East, the chances of you being able to afford property in your twenties is ridiculous to be honest… all of those things that our parents’ generation got in return for working, we don’t.”
“So, you might as well go and do something you really enjoy,” she says.
Emma’s focus for the project is less on disloyalty and job hopping, and more on career education.
She describes her own career education throughout school and university, as “non-existent,” aside from a one-off obligatory work experience placement at the age of sixteen and schools having web pages with careers information available. “The focus still isn’t on actually going and trying,” Emma explains.
Too often, from the moment they select their GCSEs, young people find themselves pigeon-holed into a set of careers, and limited in their knowledge of them – making decisions based on pre-conceived ideas of what a job title, or a certain industry, is about.
Emma compares this approach to careers, to dating: “Very few people marry the first person they go on a date with. But with jobs, you do, and that’s insane… If you actually sit down and think about it, it’s ridiculous that the first job you try, you do.
“Why would you not want to go out and try 6, or 7, 10, or even 25, completely different careers and actually figure out what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re actually good at and what you’re not?”
Credit: Marie Edwards
What next, at 25?
Emma plans to continue the project after her 25th birthday, using it to launch a business that supports young people to access work experience opportunities and to help other millennials on their own journey to career fulfilment. For Emma, she believes this fulfilment will come with establishing a portfolio career – working multiple part-time jobs, rather than one, traditional, full-time role.
The project has taught Emma it’s rare to find one job that ticks all 10 of her ideal career boxes, but says that having two or three jobs in parallel will. It’s an approach that certainly takes work and putting yourself out there for lots of freelance opportunities, but it’s something Emma thinks more people should consider.
Ultimately, as part of 25before25, she's been able to try things that are in no way related to her degree or her previous experience, which she says is largely down to networking, building connections and not being afraid to send out speculative emails.
“Just because the company’s website doesn’t say they offer an internship or placement, doesn’t mean they won’t,” Emma says. “You create your own opportunities, and that’s what a lot of it comes down to: having the gumption to put yourself out there, in total charge of your own opportunities… the absolute worst thing is that someone isn’t going to reply, or that they say no.”
You can keep up with Emma's journey and find out more about 25before25 via her blog.