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How I Know When to Quit My Design Job, Every Single Time

by Melody Koh
15 min read
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Stories from a seasoned job-hopper; amidst layoffs, challenging hiring conditions, and the pursuit of professional purpose.

If there is one thing I have yet to master but strongly desire to, it’s flipping a pen between my fingers. There is nothing cooler (to me, anyway) than a creative who can do pen-hand tricks at their desk.

Like wow, they must spend a lot of time with the contraption that dispenses ink on paper. If they do, it means they design a lot. If they design a lot, it means they’re good at it.

While I do use a pen a lot, it’s mostly to jot down my to-dos on a notebook like a caveman. And whilst not the most common thing in my to-to list, one task has appeared on my notebook more often than I would like:

  • Write resignation letter

I am no stranger to resignation letters and the process of ejecting myself from companies. The question of many remains as to why, when, and how.

And it’s mostly personal. No two stories are ever the same, but I’ll share mine as always.

My most memorable quitting story

Some employers just have to get the last say. What’s the worst that could happen after you quit? They fire you?

Yes, that is exactly what happened to me that one time. And it’s hilarious.

Shame on my ex-employer who thought they could get the last laugh, because guess what, I’m still chuckling.

It’s just one of those days you know you’re burned out and exploited. It had been weeks since I’ve seen any family or friends, months since I got a haircut. I was in front of my computer, day in and day out, grinding for a company that didn’t give a flying f*ck about the promises they’ve made me.

I did not enjoy my life as a consultant, and that is a big understatement. The money wasn’t great and the work was mind-numbing; Being a consultant basically means hand-holding incompetent middle managers at large enterprises who, unfortunately, are now your paying clients.

At least they’re not my manager, right?

It’s not a glorious job by any means, but it’s one of the few ways for people like myself to collect big brand logos into our resumes.

But that’s not why I did consulting, not at all. I could care less if I worked at a large enterprise or a giant conglomerate. What I cared about most was my pathway towards Europe; my ex-boss knew that well, and waved Paris in front of my face constantly, as if baiting a donkey with a carrot.

He exploited that promise as much as he exploited me, and I haven’t found it in myself to forgive him for his mockery of a genuine life milestone.

When a new client contract was signed, and so was my resignation letter. They cannot say I haven’t been good to them, I’d worked hard for them even when I had only a doughnut’s worth of mental sanity left.

“Wishing you all the best”, signed he, and within a week, I was locked out of all my accounts, fired without so much of a warning, and without my final salary in place.

You’ll be contented to hear, dear readers, that I did get my money back. Despite the mental gymnastics and how much this ordeal tested me, I would happily shove my resignation up his asscr*ck again.

Test me again, I dare you.

So that was really the lowest point of my career. I left out a lot of details for privacy reasons, but I never felt more used in my life than at that point.

So don’t be like me, learn from my mistakes.

I was too naive.

It is normal to be young and naive, don’t get me wrong. Innocence is part of youth, after all. But the first big mistake was that I trusted their promises of relocating me to France.

Hear me when I say this, internal transfers don’t usually happen, and if it does, they will prioritise a citizen rather than a foreigner.

The company wasn’t stupid and they were masters at manipulation. Every time I lose hope on the transfer, they sent someone (obviously French) back home or a local on a paid trip to magical Paris.

“That could be you.”, nudged my previous employer. And this went on repeat for months and quarters until I was sure I was being played the fool.

France is never gonna happen, thought I, and the innocence I had shattered along with my desire to rely on a current employer to get me where I wanted to be (both geographically and professionally).

I grew up that day.

I let others de-value my worth

Humility is a value on which I do not like compromising on. In Bas’s article on how cultural sincerity can lead to enormous misunderstandings, he mentioned how there were both feminine and masculine societies.

“In masculine countries, it’s socially expected to manifest yourself. You might need to indicate you are the authority.

Feminine countries see the world as collaborative, while masculine societies often think in terms of competition.

— Bas Wallet (Source)”

Singapore is very masculine and extremely competitive. My humility was appreciated when communicating with my fellow workmates, but it didn’t get me far professionally.

I watched my cocky, more masculine colleagues get their pay raises and benefits approved while I got nothing. And that was a hard pill to take in.

I had to learn how to be effectively humble; take credit where it is due, and of course still be able to show a class act of humility, because you know your work is never a one-man-show.

I let my company decide my future for me

This is ultimately the biggest mistake I will never commit ever again.

A previous employer were one of those who are very into MBTI and psychology bullsh*t (sorry, not sorry) at the workplace. We did tests to find out about our personality types, and even had a resident psychologist and career coach to ‘guide’ us through our careers, utilising our strengths and working on our weaknesses.

And it was a load of c*ck. Just like stupid yoga sessions companies provide you in a weak attempt at improving mental health at the workplace, any career coaching provided by the company is the same weak attempt to pretend they can move their employees an inch forward in their desired career.

The whole process was designed to make them seem like they care, but it was all pretend to ensure you don’t mentally check out.

I was subjugated into career paths I didn’t even want and weren’t remotely possible for me due to my financial background.

It was a haze they used to keep me from leaving, because if I am unsure where to go in my career, or if my path to transitioning is a longer and scarier path that they will ‘support’, I will be inclined to stay and be exploited further.

Corporate math never felt more real than then.

Why I job-hop

A lot of people assume I am motivated by money due to my short tenures at every single company I worked in. Many studies highlighted that job-hoppers earn 50% more salary than those who do not job-hop, but I call bullshit on that study.

If you are really motivated by money, you’ll job hop perhaps once every 2–3 years, when the market actually re-evaluates compensation and can offer higher starting bases that would be worth the hiring circus show you’ll have to sit through.

If you think going through >5 interviews per company for months with a (maybe) 15% raise as a reward is worth sacrificing your peace and your precious weekends every year, think again. It’s not happening.

What’s the point I’m trying to make? Well, contrary to popular belief and outdated studies, there is no strong evidence that money is the main reason why people leave.

I’ve only gotten 3 raises in my life, but I’ve went through a dozen jobs.

Money is not my key motivation, and very rarely a reward from experience.

Challenging myself

Some friends call me a seasoned masochist; I like putting myself in difficult situations to enforce more growth instead of enjoying my achievements.

But I really do enjoy learning and working on new things; as a designer, it is important to be hungry for more knowledge and even more important, in my opinion anyway, to seek out new ways where you can apply design instead of doing the same things over and over.

It’s not creativity if it isn’t new or renaissance.

Testing the support network

Lots of people stay where they’re employed for years because of the relationships they’ve developed at work. Their work friends become their real life friends, and they cannot fathom leaving their emotional comfort zone to work elsewhere.

I dislike when professional and personal relationships mix because its too close to the theme of convenience. When relationships are convenient or only exist because it’s convenient to, they’re weak and usually provide very little value other than pleasantries.

Job-hopping and leaving that emotional comfort zone keeps your network clean, because only the people who truly care would reach out frequently.

Diversifying the support network

I’m an introvert. The only way I’ll ever meet new people in my professional network is mostly through work, and nowhere else. And since you need quantity in order to filter through quality, job-hopping just to meet new people seems like a legitimate strategy.

One might argue that I don’t give enough time to develop proper relationships, but I really don’t have time to play games. Either you like me enough to support me and be friends, or we’re not friends.

And knowing more people that you’ve professionally worked with is always an advantage. Nothing screams accountability more than a proven display of positive work ethic.

It’s just not the same unless you’ve worked with them before; sorry networking events, you’re not real to me.

When I know I should quit

So I shared only one story (the most dramatic one too) of me quitting somewhere, but generally the red flags I look for every time are pretty much the same.

This list below is simply what I don’t tolerate. It can be different for you.

If you keep having to justify your design decisions

I know low design maturity companies exist, but if there is a constant, repulsive force that works against every single solution you’re trying to propose, it’s not worth it.

I’ve worked at loads of companies with zero-design maturity before, and they absorbed designers’ suggestions like a sponge.

Collaboration with these companies are usually a breeze because they are eager for change and they are humble enough to know they’re not the expert, the designer is.

If you’re working somewhere that is low-maturity but your boss thinks they know better when they really don’t, they can have your job. Just quit.

It’s okay to be low-maturity, it’s not okay to be high-ego and difficult to work with.

If your boss kept throwing you under the bus

Recognition is one thing, but I’m usually content when my manager or boss did not sabotage my working relationships or down-play my contributions.

Setting low-bars here, but apparently it’s too much to ask for from some people. It is really irritating to have to deal with passive aggression.

I was designing a learning platform one day, and my boss was given free classes as a pro-bono perk. He gave it to me because he didn’t want it, the client found out and was unhappy about the situation, and he reprimanded me in front of the client for using it “without his permission”.

Question marks all over. I didn’t take it to heart, but if your boss behaves like that, you need to leave.

You need a boss or manager who advocates for you. There is no point working under petty people.

If you keep complaining about work

While this sounds obvious, I think analysing our psychology and behaviour long-term makes certain decisions quite obvious. I like my conversations with my friends and loved ones to be about interesting topics on life.

It is not productive for anyone if the conversation always revolve around complaints and trauma about work.

It always goes like this: the conversation stales with you nagging about work problems, your friends offering useless suggestions, you rejecting those suggestions of course, and before you know it, the precious time you have with them are used up.

You already know how to fix stuff at work. It didn’t work. That’s why you complain.

So if you keep complaining and it’s taking over your life, it’s time to look for a new job.

Don’t let your job seep into your personal life and mental capacity.

Negative side effects of job-hopping due to the tech boom

There are a ton of side-effects job-hopping, and there are also a lot of side-effects the tech boom created with the pandemic. I’m just going to go off-tangent and reflect on some of the realities that manifested and how it affects our job market today.

Companies reverse uno-ing hiring practices to curb job hopping and quiet quitting

It’s getting increasingly difficult to get a design or tech job; there are more steps involved when hiring for a position, and as if to quietly discourage quitting or a lack of appreciation for employment, companies are intentionally keeping a minimum difficulty level for their interviews before offering employment contracts.

We are no strangers to the circus show that is the tech hiring scene in general. But there are hints that this would be the norm moving forward.

It’s a whole reverse psychology movement, because if it is so difficult to get a job, you’ll be more likely to appreciate it. This curbs the desire to job-hop. It also ensures that you’ll think thrice before quitting because the general market is not a playground.

UX was always very interesting to me because aside from improving user experiences, it is a study of human behaviours and creating new policies and structures to moderate certain behaviours.

The world is never set, and the powers above will adapt to our behaviour below. So as much as I don’t want to gaslight ourselves for this divine punishment, a lot of us are to blame for the plight we’re facing in design hiring today.

The future of work is back to reality.

Many people shifted from a non-tech to a tech role during the pandemic, and the temporarily privilege of remote work instilled zero desire for anyone to switch back to reality.

We’re reminiscing the better days, where TikTok and social media were flooded with “day in the life of” videos of tech workers and people of tremendous privilege working from home, telling you that you can do it too.

Spoiler alert: You can’t do it.

We were fed a narrative that is irresponsible and untrue.

Some of us, more delusional than others, think we can give up a blue collar life for a white collar one. Now, call me a snob, call me arrogant with a pointed nose, but not everyone can work in an office and not everyone should.

That’s not how the market works. We need blue collar workers, we need people who won’t have as glamourous lives, we need people pursuing different paths.

The bootcamp culture screwed that up deeply, and I think it’s a huge injustice and a disservice to all societies globally. Conspiracy theorist me says it’s a crime, but lawsuit-avoiding me says jk (just kidding).

The tech industry would likely once again be an arena for a select few. Inclusivity will now take a back seat, and the realities of becoming professional would only be realised by those of certain privileges and those of proper education.

Mid salaries, layoffs, and the fear of big purchases for millennials

My dad mocked at the amount of savings I had after almost a decade of work. Ouch.

I like to call millennials the next “quiet generation” or the next forgotten one, because I honestly think we work darn hard and we’re mostly ignored by policy makers and governments; we get an absolute pity fraction of what we deserve, and very little assistance.

In the midst of frequent layoffs, stagnating salaries, and having to look for a new job every year, our chances at securing a bank loan for milestone purchases is pretty sad.

And so, buying houses and starting families are unfortunately a question of affordability and stability instead of desire. We never really had a choice, no matter what we choose to do.

And I’m interested to see how this shift would affect the world of product and systems in the coming years, because if we’re not buying anything and following the same patterns of generations before us, what of the economy?

We’re manifesting new user behaviours as we exist, how exciting.

The pursuit of professional purpose

Purpose is a very directive word, and with every individual that abstraction takes a different form, along with different intentions and levels of resolve.

I personally split design (or insert your industry here) into 3 different topics in order to derive different perspectives about what to do in general. My philosophies on professional purpose isn’t very developed, but as with every new concept, all we can do is just break it down and hope it makes sense with the sub-organisation.

Design as a job

Before I ever thought that I was gonna change the world with design, I really just thought of using my design skills for the sake of gaining employment.

And if we think about employment in design, it actually opens up a wide range of jobs you can do. If you know graphic design, you essentially can’t go hungry (unless you suck) because it’s one of the most sought after skills that AI and Canva didn’t manage to eradicate.

And I think it’s important to dumb down design to the most basic jobs you can do, because the basics is the start before it branches out into something bigger in the future.

I think graphic design is still one of the core essentials for all designers today, because print design eventually branched out into web design, web design transitioned into marketing, and eventually the merger of the two gave birth to branding and UX.

If you need to start somewhere, you gotta start with the basics. It doesn’t make sense to start somewhere high-level. So a big reccomendation from me to all designers feeling a bit stuck with their careers is to go back to basics.

Design as a career

I oversimplify the word “career” a lot, because to me it is simply the pursuit of doing what you like professionally. A career is a funny thing, because it’s something that is built upon choices you can make; and based on the choices you make, you get a very different finish.

If you choose to pursue something out of money, your decision chart is a very simple one where you will let yourself be led by where the money is.

If you choose to pursue a career of curiosities, your decision chart is pretty much a colourful pathway of your interests as the years go along.

If you choose to pursue a career of technical competency, your decision chart is full of logical decisions and becomes a solidifying path towards expertise and niche.

Find out what you like, and use it as your career’s north star.

Design as a purpose

Would you rather have design assign a purpose to you, or would you rather have a purpose in order to design?

That’s a weird and confusing question, but an important one to think about. What is purpose truly? And do we really need to be the ones to define it?

I like to believe in a bit of whimsy from time to time and it has dawned on me that people are different in terms of why they want to pursue design. Unwittingly, we’re split into two groups whether we realise it or not: A goal-oriented group that wants to achieve with design, and a passion-oriented group that wants to experiment with design.

I’m leaning on the belief that you don’t really get to choose which of the two groups you’re in, but the point of this section is basically to suggest that your purpose in design, from start to end, was decided from day 1.

If you have a goal, you’ll pursue it. If you have a passion, you’ll ensure it doesn’t die. That’s all this means.

Which of the two are you, I wonder?

Closing thoughts

With my previous article, the career of being a designer seems pretty bleak and the industry seems to be on its way to a crash. But I don’t think of ‘quitting’ as giving up or leaving something entirely.

This article was originally published on Medium.

post authorMelody Koh

Melody Koh, Senior product designer ⭐ I write provocative things because I am a provocative person.

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Ideas In Brief
  • The article delves into the intricacies of knowing when to quit a design job, drawing from personal anecdotes and broader observations in the industry.

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