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What I Learned by Quitting My Job

October 27, 2020

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This coming Thursday will be the one year anniversary of packing up my office, shredding my company credits cards, and handing in my work phone and laptop.

4 weeks before that, I was sitting at my dining room table with a glass of wine, Googling “How to write a resignation letter” and crying as I fumbled my way through typing my own. There’s the first thing I learned.

A month and a half before that, I had made a joke to a friend about setting a letter of resignation on my boss’ desk and walking out, in response to something a colleague had done. But it wasn’t something I was actually serious about. A lot can change in a few weeks.

I spent five and a half years working for that company. My employment started two days after I walked across the stage to get my college diploma. I moved to Illinois for them, then to Washington, and finally to California. I held three different titles. Those five and a half years took me to some of my highest highs and also my lowest lows. It’s been almost 13 months since I handed in my resignation. A year since I left it behind.

Here’s what I’ve learned

It’s okay to quit something

When I began to consider quitting my job, I felt bad about it. The company had put money and time into hiring and training me. They had taught me and advanced me, given me responsibility and an opportunity to grow. I felt like I owed them. I also didn’t want to seem unreliable, having lots of short term jobs on my resume.

Not that I think it’s responsible practice to jump from job to job, you also aren’t obligated to stay with a company because they trained you. Doing the job you were hired to do is their repayment for that. But it doesn’t mean you have to stay forever, especially if they aren’t providing you a healthy work environment. And quitting something isn’t failing.

Sometimes you don’t know how bad it is

I knew I was unhappy – that was part of why I quit, but I was completely unprepared for the weight that lifted off my chest when I handed in my resignation. A coworker told me I was glowing afterward. My parents told me I was like a new person, or a person they knew, but hadn’t seen in a very long time. My dad told me I was fun again.

When you are living the situation and growing a little more stressed or a little more unhappy each day, you don’t necessarily realize it. Outsiders who see us infrequently are much more likely to notice drastic changes in mood or behavior. Trust them.

Our jobs aren’t the most important thing

My niece was born the week of a quarterly meeting that I felt it was important to be at. I thought there might be information shared that I shouldn’t miss, that I wouldn’t seem as committed if I wasn’t there. I skipped the birth of my niece to sit in a conference room and listen to budget plans and territory updates. It’s honestly one of my biggest regrets.  

It’s really easy to get wrapped up in a job. To feel like it has to be the priority. And to feel like you can’t, or shouldn’t, miss meetings or take time off. Which is stupid, to be frank. Yes, caring about your work is good and it puts money in your pocket and food on the table and it can be very fulfilling. But it doesn’t chase you around the kitchen island, giggling and shrieking with delight, then throw its arms around your neck.

Mental health needs to be a priority

The last few months of my employment, I dreaded getting out of bed and going to work. Thinking of what I’d be dealing with made me miserable, before I’d even leave my house. After work, I’d usually go straight to the couch and watch tv, taking a quick break for a microwave popcorn dinner, then watch tv again until I went to bed. Wake up and repeat.

That behavior isn’t physically or mentally healthy. If the idea of going to work fills you with dread and you are so emotionally wrecked by your day that the thought of engaging with friends or family, moving your body, or doing more than microwaving food is too much for you – it’s probably time to make a change. That change doesn’t have to be quitting. Maybe it’s going to therapy. Or changing roles. Or taking time off. Anything that prioritizes your health.  

Healthcare should be used to the fullest extent

To be brief, if you have health insurance, USE IT. Get a yearly physical. Use all your teeth cleanings. Don’t skip your dentist appointment for a conference call. Every single perk that comes with your insurance should be used. And if you’re quitting your job, do all those things before your last day. Seriously.

Talking about it is healthy

Publishing this makes me nauseous. I worry about people’s opinions of what I’ve said. If I sound like I’m bad mouthing the company or anyone that I worked with. I’m concerned about offending people. I’m anxious that someone could see this and not want to hire me, for fear that one day they are the one I’m writing about on the internet. Etiquette and professionalism tend to imply that we should keep these things to ourselves.

I think that’s unhealthy. I’m not the only one who has struggled with my job, the people I work with, or boundaries between work and my personal life. But when no one talks about it, it’s easy to feel isolated in your struggles. To think you’re the only one not dealing well with it. Openly talking about difficulties in the workplace tends to be what makes change. Either for the workplace as a whole, or for the person who decides that quitting is the best choice.

There’s so much more

I learned that it’s okay to start over. To pivot. That the people who love you will have your back and cheer you on. That growth is uncomfortable. And that sometimes happiness can be found driving a seed truck down the road, watching the sunset.

I’d do it again

I said that my job took me to my lowest lows. I wasn’t kidding. But I also wasn’t exaggerating about the high highs. I learned so much, including a lot of the skills I’m using now. Friends were made. Sights were seen. I was paid to do some really cool things. I’m glad I did the job. Truly.

But I wish I’d known then what I do now and chosen the important things over my job. Set boundaries with people and not put up with as much as I did. I wish I had prioritized my health, physically and mentally. That I’d considered going to therapy when it started getting bad and either found better coping mechanisms or quit before I felt as bad as I did.

However, if it didn’t all happen the way it happened, I might not have quit and moved back home. Maybe I wouldn’t have pursued my dreams of teaching others about agriculture. My niece might not know my name and want to spend time with me. Maybe I would have missed the birth of the next niece or nephew. (Update: there’s a nephew now too and this time I didn’t miss it.) So many mights and maybes.

Don’t let your life be filled with mights and maybes. If something needs to change and you have the ability or safety net to make it happen, do it.

* I want to add a note that the company, as a whole, isn’t bad. It’s full of good people who care, a lot, about the people they work with. I’m still in touch with a lot of the folks I worked with. I would absolutely recommend working for them (I’d recommend reading this and setting some boundaries and priorities first). There are some things that certainly would have made my experience better, but my experience isn’t the norm.

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