Oh, the joy of your first job! How exciting, wonderful and, honestly, very disappointing. ‘First job blues’ is a relatively new phenomenon. Back in the day when Og went to work his only concern was to whack a mammoth to feed his family. He never sat back and thought, “Og miserable. Og want more. Og want job fulfilment.” If Og sat around thinking about this, he would have been eaten by a saber-toothed tiger.

Nowadays there’s more pressure on young graduates to want more out of their jobs. A sense of purpose, a sense of drive and belonging.

With an MA in Politics I decided to try my hand in the NGO world. I would combat all pain and suffering in South Africa, help alleviate poverty and make it rain strawberry milk. I, Varsha, would save the world!

Unfortunately it’s a bit difficult to save the world when you have to buy your boss lunch before picking up her kids from school.


Every first job is a drag. It’s full of drudgery and boredom. I took a job as a PA and junior researcher to a manager at an NGO. I saw it as a rite of passage, going from the mundane to finding the cure for world hunger.

Unfortunately, I suck at being a PA and the junior researcher part of my job was often ignored. Being an only child I was not used to working towards the comfort of one other person. I mean, surely the seas parted for me? The birds sang because I wanted them to? Only child syndrome is a scary but potent thing. We like being the centre of attention.

Being a PA must be the most terrible job in the world. Your main accomplishments are learning to make your boss’s coffee the way he/she likes it and fetching their lunch fast enough. The line between personal PA and work PA becomes so blurred that you might as well move in with their family. Now, at night, I send a special prayer for the PA’s of Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian.

Figuring out what you want

I was terrible at my job. Seriously. I can’t manage my own life on a daily basis let alone someone else’s. There were a lot of other problems with my job as well that often resulted in clashes with my superiors. Mistakes were made on both sides (as is pretty much the case with all problems in life).

Amid the job depression I started acting a bit strangely. Our staff meetings were very intense. We spoke about AIDS, the education crisis and government. However, I found my mind drifting off. I started wondering about cats riding dogs, dolphin ghosts haunting aquariums, Peter Pan with pixie dust addiction. It actually began to keep me up at night.

Unfortunately, things like this don’t help you pay the bills. To try and get these weird thoughts out of my head, I signed up for some excellent writing courses with SA Writers College. This, however, had the opposite effect. Suddenly I imagined the dogs rising up against the cats, the dolphin ghosts turning into dolphin zombies and Peter Pan checking into AA with Captain Hook.

What was wrong with my job?

I have an MA in Politics. I saw my life going in the direction of government, NGOs or academia.

I started to wonder where my life was headed. Why was I so miserable at work?

Was it the job itself? Yes, I hated it so much that my stomach was in knots every morning.

Is it the company? Yes, it was not a good fit for me.

Did I like what the company did? Yes, they did amazing work.

Would I like to do what the other people in the organisation are doing? No.

And there it was. After seven years of studying politics I realised it’s not what I want to be doing. Yes, there were other factors but, ultimately, I didn’t want to be doing this.

Finding your own direction

First jobs are there to help you learn. Mostly it’s about learning about your chosen career path but sometimes it’s about taking you off that path. It’s scary but that’s okay. Life is supposed to be scary and you’ll make lots of mistakes along the way.

Heck, I made so many mistakes at my job they gave me my last five days off as paid leave!

However, if I hadn’t made the ‘mistake’ of taking that first job I would never have done the writing courses. I would not have realised what makes me tick.

The day I resigned was the happiest day of my life. I got a job as a copywriter at an advertising firm. Weird ideas, imagination and strange notions are in much demand in advertising. In the mean time, I’ll continue practising my creative writing and see where that takes me.

The thing about doing what you love is that sometimes it isn’t important where it takes you so much as that you just continue doing it.


About Varsha Lalla

Varsha Lalla grew up in a small town called Pietermaritzburg (gesundheit) in South Africa. After completing her Bachelor’s degree in Law and Politics she moved to the even smaller town of Grahamstown to complete her post graduate degrees in International Relations. After a few years at Rhodes University she moved Johannesburg to start her political career. Realising (after a good 6 years of studying the subject) that she hated politics, she decided to explore her love of creative writing. She is currently working as a copywriter at an advertising firm and does creative writing on the side Read more of Varsha’s writing here: http://sandtonprincess.blogspot.com/

Photo credit: Corie Howell