“You have to ask, am I enjoying my job? If you aren’t, try something new.”

A job is a fantastic thing. And not just because work funds your life but because if you find out what you love and get to spend your time doing that thing, you’ve given yourself one of the all-time greats of life: personal satisfaction with a hint of smugness.

If you follow the work of the Jobs Foundation, a charity I co-founded last year, set up to champion business’ vital function as a job creator and driving opportunity, you’ll hear me talk about this subject a lot (like a lot, a lot). But to the many first jobbers, maybe six months into your working life, looking ahead into 2024, ask yourself, am I enjoying my job? And if you aren’t, it might be time to try something else.

Certainly, that was my own experience. Let me rewind, it is 2004 and with my degree coming to an end, I’m sitting in the Newcastle University library smokers’ room, pondering what on earth I should do with my life, awash in a haze of smoke.

When you are at school or university, it can be hard to imagine what comes next. I confess, I hadn’t been hugely proactive in searching for a job. I’d done a few bits of work, most of which had been horrible. During my first stint in an office, I was asked to fix the office printer. After shaking a few toner cartridges and giving the whole machine a bit of a full body jiggle, black plumes of smoke began to pour out of it, and we were all evacuated under the threat of potentially carcinogenic fumes.

Before that, I worked in a shop that nobody ever went into, tucked away in the back end of a silent mall. And then in the long university holidays I used to drag around heavy goldfish bowls with delicately draped sashimi around Hampton Court Palace, hoping not to fall over one of the glamorous guests.

Like many, I’ve always looked upon these experiences with a certain acknowledgment that bad jobs are a rite of passage. Everyone I know spent their early 20s in boring or unpleasant jobs and with that low bar in mind, I got my first proper job at a company that provided events for lawyers. As neither a lawyer nor someone who had any interest in becoming one, this probably wasn’t the best start. 

The commute to my job, encompassed a long chuff round the district line which gave me a good forty minutes each way, wondering if I could continue to be this bored for the next forty odd years? Bear in mind, this was an age without the smartphone. No quick flick on the Daily Mail, entertaining WhatsApp or a rousing podcast to break the gloom. It was time to get out, but to where and what? 

Fashion, hospitality – maybe the policy world? This was after all the background hubbub of my family life, often centred around a feverish discussion at Sunday lunch, with one of my sisters’ new partners looking anxiously on.  After this lightbulb moment, I was lucky enough to start an internship at a think tank and turned up at Faith House, resplendent in a new suit from Warehouse, hopeful that the name of the building was fortuitous in some way.

As it transpires, people in think tanks aren’t just studious people thinking away, in fact much of it, to my delight, was about engaging with people and benefactors of these organisations. Suddenly I was in a world of something I found absorbing. Listening to inspiring stories about what motivated them. Business leaders’ pride in the employment and the training they bequeathed. The communities these inspiring people enriched, the public services they propped up from the profit of their life’s work. How could they give back more? What would make society better and greater.

Life started to lift. Don’t get me wrong there were still mountains to slog up but there was a destination. It didn’t matter if I high fived a Prime Minister’s armpit (an overenthusiastic handshake gone awry) or lost the London Mayoral candidate in a Star Wars exhibition (I’m still friends with Darth Vader), I had found a sense of purpose. Being fed on new experiences, new people and maybe – if you will forgive me for being trite – a new me, or maybe just a part of me that I hadn’t experienced before.

And that’s the thing about a job, it’s tough at first finding out what you want to do, but if you find something right, you gain in so many ways. 

So, if you are just starting out at the beginning of your career, find something that interests you and then stick with it.  Hell, or highwater. Don’t let anybody or anything force you off your path because once you start to find yourself and people that believe in you, oh boy – you’re just getting started.

The Jobs Foundation is is a registered charity that champions the role of business as a force for good.