I left my job a few months ago. I had been sitting on this decision for a while. I liked my work. I was invested in our mission. I enjoyed interfacing with many of my coworkers. What I didn’t love was a continued expectation for excessive overtime, that work was to take precedence over personal and family commitments, that almost complete projects were upended (more than once), and the repetition of “we’re family” was part of the workplace culture. (It’s not healthy, I promise, and having leadership that uses that language puts workers – you and I included – at a disadvantage with our time and financial value because “family” workplaces expect employees to give more (or all) for less.)
I’ve burnt out before.
Burnout is no joke. Dragging out of bed and through the day bleary-eyed. Difficulty concentrating. Taking hours longer to complete a task because I. Just. Can’t. Move. Any. Faster. Having to bribe myself to go to work. All the signs were starting to show. What was most frustrating for me was that I had tried to address my concerns about unmanageable workload early on (starting more than a year before giving my notice). During one exchange when I asked how my boss would like me to prioritize certain types of tasks, I was (unhelpfully) told, “It all just needs to get done.”
All of these individual things aside, I knew months before I finally left that the time was approaching. It took me a while to get all the pieces in place. Was I in a financial place where I could leave? How long could I manage to be unemployed without incredible strain? Was it the right time? Would things get better? Should I give it another chance? How much longer could I go before burnout really got me? I’m sure there’s a point in my life where I would have up and walked off a job. (Actually, I have up and walked off a job.) But this was not that place or time.
I have value outside my job.
We’ve been conditioned (very much so in the United States and also in other parts of the world) that our job – the type of job we hold and rank within it – determines our value as a person. I’ve been to countless networking events and social parties where the first question I get asked is, “What do you do?” I’ve tried to flip this on its head by replying with my hobbies, but the follow-up question is always, “No, what do you do for work?” I realized probably close to a decade ago that this question is very much a matter of people determining each other’s status and worth in society and have made a concerted effort to flip the script on this question by opening my ask with something else. Really, anything. “Do you have any pets?” “What’s your favorite dessert?” “What are your hobbies?” The possibilities are endless.
Know Your Priorities.
In reality, our work is only a part of us and what we do. For me, work ranks third in what I view as important in my life.
1. Family: Myself, my immediate family, my chosen family, those for whom I would literally drop everything no matter what.
2. Community: The people and places with whom/where I collaborate and in which I invest my time, talent, and treasure in order to leave the world a better place than I found it.
3. Career: A job (hopefully one I like a lot) that allows me opportunities to share my abilities and positively impact our mission as a whole. The vehicle that keeps a roof over my head and food on the table and allows me to fully invest in #1 and #2.
It’s taken time to find my own value (yay, life experiences!), but as my own understanding of my value as a person has matured, my patience for people who don’t respect the autonomy of others (be it in learning or communication style, preferred hobbies, style of dress or physical expression, etc.) has gone down. I am a baker. A pianist. An activist. A bookworm. A yogi. A gardener. A cat mom. And so much more.
Even with all the uncertainty that comes with not having another job lined up, I knew it was time when the time came. I was on the precipice of burnout. I wasn’t feeling valued. When I did set my end date, I gave a statistically long amount of notice. I was honest in my reasons to leave in the hopes that systemic change could happen for others. I hope I set my team up for success. I wish no ill on my colleagues and hope that their work towards the mission continues successfully.
Quitting can be scary and that’s no lie. There’s the aspect of not knowing how others will react when you give your notice, what they will say about you (to your face or behind your back), or if you’ll simply become a pariah for the last few weeks you’re there. And it was scary. But it was also an incredible, empowering step in staying true to myself and doing what I needed to do – for me.
The closer I got to my last day, the prouder I was of myself for making this choice. The closer I got to the uncertainty of what was next, the stronger I felt in my decision.
I’ve carefully selected a handful of fields I feel I will really enjoy. I’ve curated a list of important interview questions to make sure I’m valued from the beginning (including questions about work/life synergy, workplace culture, the cohesiveness of mission/vision/values, and more). I have some incredible friends helping me on this journey and while I really don’t know what’s next, I know I can do it.