In my previous article we talked about how hard, but entirely necessary it is to find your start while enrolled at university. So, let's assume you found one, a real step up for you and your career prospects. A job so good in fact that you'd be a fool not accept it. Well, now you're in a predicament, one that's left you not only juggling coursework but important professional work too. Work that, if done wrong or not given the appropriate time and effort, can wind up costing you potential employment in the future. So, what do you do? Well, for me, I quit.

I remember when I got the job offer back in November. A firm I was in contact with since August had recommended me to one of Bristol's most prestigious copywriting agencies, which needed freelancers to help with what they described as a "high-volume writing project". What surprised me the most was that I had already tried approaching them once before - one of those unfortunate encounters wherein I didn't receive so much as an automated response. Which, to be completely fair, wasn't a practice entirely exclusive to them. And yet here they were, a year later, coming to me and offering me work! At the time, there really were no words to describe just how exciting it was to be approached like that.

Obviously, I accepted. I mean of course I did, who wouldn't, right? In my head, this was going to be my big break, a chance to really make my name in the industry. So, a few weeks later, after all the admin was processed, I was given the brief, and on paper it didn't seem all that bad. It was a four-week appointment that asked for writers to draft and submit numerous holiday destination pages per week for a travel site. Each week, depending on the amount of work you were happy to receive, you were emailed a pre-approved list of destinations. How each page was laid out would adhere to a very regimented structure of up to eight headlines, with the total word count coming to around 1,500 words.

Writing out the first page, a sample they requested to be done over the course of a day, I found that it wasn't necessarily a very taxing brief - just extremely time-consuming - with my submission of the page coming uncomfortably close to the deadline. So, with that in mind, I let them know I could probably get around two to three pages done a week. Before the weekend, I received an email with feedback, a completely normal if slightly nauseating process with copywriting. Overall they were happy with it, but there were a few minor problems that could be fixed; such as tone of voice (TOV) and search engine optimisation (SEO). A practice that, unfortunately, hadn't really been touched on all that much during my three years at university.

With my fixes submitted, I was given my first real batch - three destinations that had to be drafted by the end of the week. Again not entirely difficult, just time-consuming. It was around this time that course assignments were beginning to rear their ugly heads. This was when things started to get a little testy.

Alongside the work I had to do per week, which often took me upwards of around twelve hours to complete, I also had to maintain a presence at university, making sure I went to classes and handed in the necessary homework that was due. Okay, I thought, I can handle this. Do you want to get into the big leagues? This is how you do it. But with that, as I imagine a lot of you can guess, came zero sleep, barely enough time to eat, and not to mention a fractured hand that I'd sustained a few weeks before that I was unable to have seen. It was all starting to get a little much, but for the sake of such an incredible opportunity, I persevered.

The thing I enjoy most about copywriting is the chance to dive into a subject previously unknown to me and really figure out how that thing works. But with this job, I never really got to feel that same sense of discovery as I had before. Since every new page followed the same 8 topics. It became an exercise in monotony. As week in week out, I recently worked out, I would end up writing 36 different ways to sell a beach, and that wasn't even including the other 8 headings I had to write. The terms "sugary white", and "golden brown sands" are forever burned into my mind.

I remember one time, I had just finished a day of university and, naively believing I was owed the night off, I decided to enjoy a couple of drinks with my friends. Of course, at the very peak of my drunkenness, I was hit with a sudden stab of panic at the thought of trudging through another page, which was already so time-consuming, while trapped under the weight of a swelling hangover. So, with no other option, I stumbled home and proceeded to write out another page. While not the only sour moment linked to the whole ordeal, it was definitely one of the more egregious memories that geared me towards the mindset that maybe this job just wasn't for me.

As mentioned in my previous article, I like the intensity that comes with this line of work, having to figure out the puzzle of how best to communicate the brief's call to action. But when that work begins to affect not only the quality of your coursework, during your final year of university no less, but also your daily wellbeing, then it's safe to assume that your overall effectiveness in this business will come into question. After all, this is just one of many different briefs I'm eager to receive in my career. A sentiment I can totally get behind now that I'm free of it, but at the time, I remember thinking that the only problem with that mindset was landing a career in the first place, and more importantly, that this job was likely to get me there. So, without pause for thought, I continued to stick with it.

By this time my university assignment deadlines were inching ever closer and it was becoming more and more difficult for me to consistently change my headspace back and forth from "efficient brief" to "creative coursework". My attendance, or lack thereof, was also becoming noticeable to say the least. I received multiple emails asking why I wasn't showing up and if I was doing okay? How was I supposed to respond to that? "Sorry, I've not been showing up; I'm just busy with real work." Doubt it would've been well received.

The last straw came when I was halfway through my second batch of destinations. I was told that my sample from weeks before was still in need of rewrites, as well as what I presumed to be a whole list of feedback for the other three pages I'd previously drafted. So, not only would I have to produce the ordered content by the end of the week, I now had to make time for a whole slew of feedback too. Suffice it to say, it was finally too much.

Quitting this job was not an easy decision to make for several reasons. For one, I thought my skills as a copywriter would somehow help me overcome the rising tide of work that I was becoming inundated with. The thought process was that If I couldn't handle this, what else might I have trouble with in the future? What if I just didn't have what it takes to make this into a career? And worst of all, had I already hit my ceiling? Remember, my only real experience at that point was working as an intern, which was an environment specifically geared towards educating me. This, on the other hand, was real.

Second, and by far the most important reason, was the adverse reaction I felt I was likely to get from the agency for opting out of our agreement halfway through the contract. Regardless of the direction I was leaning, either decision, at least at the time anyway, would ultimately affect any chance I might have for future employment with that agency. So, what was I to do? On the one hand, I was so severely unhappy with the brief and how it was affecting my day to day that I honestly couldn't think of any other possibility, but on the other, the potential consequences if I were to leave felt so very high.

In the end, I emailed them that very day, letting them know that the workload was getting a little too much for me. And to their credit, they offered to reduce the number of pages I was expected to draft per week. But that wasn't really the point. The work itself was tedious to perform and required every amount of effort I hadn't already spent on my coursework to work on the same subject. I simply didn't enjoy it, and when you don't enjoy the work you do, is it really worth the money and experience? Not to me, evidently.

Looking back, I feel I made the right decision, especially when I was still tasked to finish off the remaining destination pages. How my choices will affect the future are still unknown to me, but after the hit to my ego had healed I began to accept that hard-to-reach silver lining that there are still plenty of opportunities out there just waiting for me, ones that are more aligned with my skill set. Leaving me with the important lesson of recognising one's limitations, which I know sounds like such a reductive thought process to be conducting so early on in your career. But it's such a necessary learning curve to go through if you're looking to make it long term, and enjoy it at the same time.

A friend of mine put it like this; of what use is a beautifully decorated train without an engine. Essentially, what might be good for you way on down the line, might not be good for you now. And while thinking long term is a very sensible way of looking at things professionally, sometimes it can blind you to the things that matter most in the present you occupy. Namely, You! Without you, the work doesn't matter.

So, look after yourself and recognise the moments where you've perhaps drifted out a little further than you might've anticipated, beyond the buoys of your career. Your happiness, just in case you needed reminding - whether meeting your aspirations head-on or simply taking a breather from the race entirely - is far more important than a list of prospects.

Liam Cope
Liam Cope

A freelance copywriter, keeping his thumb to the back roads of Adland with nothing but a saddlebag, and some unfinished notebooks.

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