Why the pandemic had these young people quitting their jobs

Two years of pandemic life have many reflecting on what really matters to them. For some, that means rethinking their work choices in what's been dubbed the "great resignation." CBC Ottawa reached out to three young people to hear why they decided to make the leap.

These 20-somethings say now is a good time to take a risk and join the 'great resignation'

From left to right: Nick Kathen, Hanna Zahirovic and Issa Ibrahim. All in their 20s and all saying despite the challenges and sometimes resistance, they don't regret quitting their jobs and taking a different path during the pandemic. (Francis Ferland/CBC/Submitted by Hanna Zahirovic)

Two years of pandemic life have many reflecting on what really matters to them. For some, that means rethinking their work choices, in what's been dubbed the "great resignation."

CBC Ottawa reached out to three young people to hear why they decided to make the leap.

Issa Ibrahim, 24: Switching up the 9-5 for the hotel industry 

When Issa Ibrahim graduated from Algonquin College in the spring of 2020 with a degree in hospitality and tourism management, he'd already lined up his dream job: working at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Toronto. 

But the pandemic paired with lockdown pushed the hotel to delay and eventually rescind its offer. It wasn't a good time to look for other options in his new field. 

"I was very devastated. I didn't know what I was going to do because the hospitality industry took a huge hit, there were no jobs anymore." 

Issa Ibrahim has no regrets about quitting his government job to work in hospitality. Now he can 'change people's lives positively by making them feel like they are at home away from home.' (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Instead, Ibrahim found a job as an executive assistant in the public service. 

For seven months he worked from home. While he enjoyed the work and did well — even being offered a permanent position — society was opening up again, and his passion beckoned. 

He decided to quit the nine-to-five lifestyle and take another chance in hospitality, this time moving across the country to start work as a front desk agent at a hotel in Kelowna, B.C., which also meant leaving his family home for the first time.

Issa Ibrahim says he was able to explore various roles at the hotel where he worked in Kelowna, B.C., as well as in the surrounding mountains. (Submitted by Issa Ibrahim)

"Everyone was shocked by my decision," he said. "My family is still telling me to go back to the government to this day." 

He says he got to explore various roles at the hotel, as well as in the surrounding mountains. A few months later, he decided to return to Ottawa, taking on a role on food and beverage leader at the Brookstreet Hotel.

He's glad he took the path he did during this unusual time.

"I learned a lot about myself during the pandemic … To me, it's not worth it if you live a life full of regrets, or live a life that you're not going to enjoy." 

WATCH | Issa Ibrahim's career 180s: 

From student to government to hospitality, Issa Ibrahim says the pandemic had him making several career 180s

1 year ago
Duration 1:41
This 24-year-old says despite the setbacks and frustrations it was worth taking a leap to do what he loves

Nick Kathen, 24: From health care to the restaurant biz 

Working from home on the weekdays and staying home on the weekends started to get old for Nick Kathen. 

The 24-year-old worked as a patient navigator and research assistant at the Bruyère Research Institute, shifting to work from home when the pandemic started.

That meant he'd wake up, roll out of bed and walk just a few steps to get to his office for the day. 

Before shifting to his new job Nick Kathen worked from home, which meant waking up and moving a few steps to get to his 'office' for the day. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

"Staying at home all day really wasn't something I enjoyed," he said.

"I'm such an outgoing person. I love interacting with people and being at home wasn't working for me." 

In the pandemic's early days, he struggled with whether to make a change.

"I was extremely scared of leaving my job because it was good-paying, it was a research job working for a hospital, I had benefits, I had all these things."

He says his work felt meaningful, including helping people in vulnerable and rural communities to connect with resources to help them cope with the pandemic. His family was also hesitant about the change.

Isolation made him lonely, though, and he realized his heart was no longer in it. He took what some might call a left turn.

On a whim he applied for an opening at a downtown restaurant and now works as the guest services manager there. 

Nick Kathen didn't envision working in the food industry but he says the pandemic made him realize he needed to change careers to find work that was more fulfilling. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

"It really meshes with my personality … I'm also learning a lot about the business side of things," said Kathen. 

His advice? Find work that fits with who you are as a person. 

"Experience everything you can," he said. "If that means changing professions, do what you need to do to really be mentally happy and mentally well, and then let the other things come after."

Hanna Zahirovic: From service to completing a life goal 

When the pandemic hit, Hanna Zahirovic had been working full-time at an escape room. For her, it created an opportunity to rethink what she wanted to do.

"It wasn't a good time to deal with people face-to-face … People felt the need to go out of their way to be rude and disrespectful, coughing and sneezing in front of you," she said, explaining she didn't feel safe on the job, especially in the pandemic's early days.

She decided to quit and go back to school.

Hanna Zahirovic says the pandemic created an opportunity for her to rethink her plans. After feeling unsafe in her service job, she took a risk and quit to complete her computer science degree. (Submitted by Hanna Zahirovic )

Zahirovic had originally planned to juggle working and full-time studies in computer science. But after two years, she realized she couldn't do both and was forced to take a break from school in order to keep paying the bills.

"I did have to financially support myself, which meant paying rent and tuition," explained Zahirovic. "Sometimes it's like, what do you choose? Do you pay for a semester? Or do you pay rent?"

Through school she was able to find part-time work in her field. Because classes were offered online and there was no commute needed for her remote job, she was able to juggle both commitments. 

"All of a sudden, people have this opportunity where even if you are working somewhere else, and you have classes, you can actually go home and study. That was the biggest difference for me."

Zahirovic and her work-from-home colleague, Chapeau, right, spend much of their time at her desk while she completes her work and studies. (Submitted by Hanna Zahirovic)

Zahirovic now works in a technical advisory role for Health Canada and she is set to graduate with her computer science degree this summer. She plans to work full-time in this position in the fall, and is also buying her first home.

"I think people have that unfortunate habit of doubting themselves. It's almost funny to look back and think that I was worried because now I just feel so much more confident in my work and my value."