I’m not sure about everyone else, but in my family, quitting your job without a “backup plan” (aka not having another job to go to) is something you just don’t do. Having a job is far more important than whatever fulfillment you get (or don’t get) from that job.
I was trained early on that you could quit… as long as you had something stable to fall back on. I used to believe this too. I used to think that it didn’t matter if I was miserable at my job, I was lucky I had one at all.
Now I know that my happiness is worth something and that sometimes you need to take a leap of faith, and do it with confidence.
Here’s how I figured it out.
Just over 2 years ago, I moved 4 hours away from my hometown to start a new job. I wasn’t particularly excited about the position but it was “in my field”. I’d spent 4 years in university and then 3 years working retail wondering why my degree felt useless, so I jumped at the opportunity. When the offer came, it wasn’t even a question of “do I want this?”, it was: “obviously I have to take this”.
I had been struggling with depression and anxiety for years, and throughout my time working in retail I had many breakdowns and panic attacks. Throughout them, my main thought was, “if I could just get a job in my field, I could have purpose. I’ll feel better. Everything will be fixed.” I put a lot of pressure on my future job, and it’s probably no surprise that it didn’t fix anything at all.
I got to my new job feeling hopeful, but quickly realized it wasn’t what I thought it would be or wanted it to be. I just wanted to feel like I was doing some good in this world where so many terrible things happen daily. But I wasn’t helping people. I wasn’t helping the world. I was basically just pushing papers. And then I was stuck.
I felt guilty complaining to my boyfriend, who had picked up his life and moved with me. From many adults in my life, all I heard was ‘no one loves their job’ and ‘you just need to work any job to gain experience before you can get a job you like’.
Now, I don’t fully disagree with this. Your first job isn’t going to be your dream job. You have to learn skills in the workforce to be able to move up. But should you stay in a job you are completely unhappy with? Should you wake up every morning and dread going to work and just suck it up?
I don’t think so.
The first two weeks of the new job were rough. Not only did I already not like what I was doing, I was also now 4 hours away from my boyfriend (although he was to join me in a couple of months), my friends, and my family. I was practically crying myself to sleep every night, feeling aimless and alone, and the pain finally became unbearable.
I sought out a therapist nearby, and made an appointment. This was something I probably should have done in high school, but our healthcare system actually makes it very difficult to receive the help they offer. It’s a long process, and by the time I had an appointment, I’d convinced myself I didn’t need it.
Instead, I paid for therapy out of pocket, because that’s the only way to get help fast. I had to deal with a number of issues, but as I did, my confidence and self-esteem increased, which eventually allowed me to make this big, scary decision.
The Turning Point
I loved having my boyfriend with me, but being the only one with an income left me feeling pressured. Quitting wasn’t an option if we wanted a place to live and food to eat. I started searching for other jobs, hoping I could just jump ship, but I wasn’t hearing back from any of the applications.
Finally, I asked my boyfriend how he would feel about moving back home before he was done his course, and he was happy with the idea. He applied for a transfer, and I applied to school as well. I knew I wanted to change the course of my career, so I would either get a new job or go back to school. Once I was accepted, I had my back-up plan.
Finally, the time came to give my 4 weeks notice. I was dreading it but I just knew deep down it had to be done. I had given my landlord notice and my boyfriend had already moved back to start a full-time job for the summer. I’d gone through the best and worst case scenarios with my therapist, making action plans for them (and a lot in between), and I finally did it.
The day leading up to my meeting with my boss is all a blur, but I do remember the feeling as I drove home. I felt so free, it felt like I was flying. I remember that was when I suddenly decided I wanted to try riding a motorcycle one day!
For the first time in my life, it felt like I was truly in control of what happened to me. I didn’t have to stay in a job I didn’t like. I didn’t have to listen to the people who told me I couldn’t leave without another job lined up. I just listened to myself.
However, with no job and limited savings, my boyfriend and I had to move back in with our respective parents, which for me was no easy feat. I had been constantly worried that being back in their house would make me feel like a failure, but that didn’t end up being true at all.
It may not have been ideal, but it still felt like moving forward. I hit the ground running and spent the first week I was back visiting friends and family I hadn’t seen in a while, mixed in with some interviews and networking events.
I was technically unemployed but I’d never felt busier in my life. The experience I gained in my job led to several networking connections, which led to a lot of opportunities. But in the end, I had two job offers.
All my hard work had finally paid off and my whole outlook on the job-hunting experience had changed. Instead of considering myself lucky for getting these offers, I knew these companies were lucky to have me as an applicant.
I was finally able to choose my own path and decide which opportunity was the best fit for me.
The Right Time
I’m not going to say “there’s no right time” or “you can do it any time, you just need to take the leap.” That’s not what I did and that’s probably not what you should do either.
What I learned is not that I could have quit any time during those 2 years and been fine. There is absolutely a right time to do something like this, but often that time is such a big and scary prospect, we may still run the other way.
And that’s the key. If you tell yourself you are going to wait for the right time, but you don’t allow yourself to see it, it’ll never happen. Sometimes, you have to make the right time for yourself.
For me, things were falling into place quickly and it was overwhelming. The voice in my head was screaming to make it all stop and to avoid everything at all costs. I did my best to drown it out with the help of my therapist.
While I didn’t want to deal with the awkward conversations and great unknowns, I also wasn’t going to spend any more time in a job that didn’t make me happy, that didn’t fulfill me in any way, and that did not let me serve my personal values.
One more key factor in all this was that while I spent a lot of days completely hating my job, when I finally quit, I wasn’t in a bad place. I liked my coworkers and I was getting to travel to interesting places. It wasn’t a desperate move to get away.
While that made it a little more bittersweet, it also made it more clear to me that it was the right decision. It was rational and a well thought out move that was just for me, and it felt great.
Did I end up getting a job this summer? Yes.
But that’s not the success here. I would have written this even if I didn’t get a job. Because I still learned something important: to listen to myself, and that I’m absolutely allowed to try to be happy.
I learned that a lot of people will disapprove of your decisions when the only reason you have is “I want to be happy”. People don’t understand it, or in some cases can be bitter that they never went after their dreams, or are afraid to do it.
For the first time in my life, the job search has felt like moving toward something instead of running away from something. I wasn’t in a desperate search that led to taking the first thing that came my way.
I turned down interviews and jobs when I knew they wouldn’t be right. It takes a lot of self-reflection and listening to your heart and mind. It’s not easy to know what you want, but it gets easier to know what you don’t want, and go from there.
I talked to a lot of people who changed their careers several times. I read articles and listened to people who agreed with me that finding happiness in your work is important, and stopped listening to people who said otherwise
It’s never too late to try and be happy. Make lists, make plans, find out what you need to do to achieve it. Then do it.
Good things will happen.