Why you don’t need to feel guilty about quitting your job

quitting

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Kristen and I are pretty seasoned in the ways of job-quitting. In my first three years of working post-college, I had three jobs and quit them all. And Kristen quit her very first job after 5 weeks (though they deserved it for having a series of meetings about whether or not to start a LinkedIn page for the company. I mean, come on now).

Maybe it’s our mutual rebellious attitudes, but we’ve both been pretty YOLOabout quitting (which has likely done nothing to help correct the notion that Millennials are entitled and disloyal, but that’s a matter for a different day). The way we see it, if you don’t advocate for yourself then you can’t expect anyone else to step up to the plate.

But not all of you are so c’est la vieabout quitting. In fact, most people we coach have a lot of hang-ups about it, like:

  • I don’t want to disappoint my coworkers.
  • I can’t leave if I’m in the middle of something.
  • People will think I’m disloyal.
  • What if they just can’t operate without me?
  • What if they can’t find someone else to do my job?
  • I haven’t been here long enough to leave.

 So, in this week’s brand-new blog I’m giving my best counterarguments against these common job-quitting hang-ups, all to convince you that you truly don’t need to feel guilty about leaving.

I DON’T WANT TO DISAPPOINT MY COWORKERS

It’s understandable that you don’t want to disappoint your coworkers or make life unnecessarily hard for them. If you’re a normal, empathetic human, then it’s natural for you to feel this way.

But those feelings are normal whenever you quit a job. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been there for a decade or a year! If you’re a caring, compassionate person, you’re going to feel a twinge of guilt. It’s a natural symptom, which means it’s not unique to you.

In fact, not only will you feel guilty, but you very likely WILL disappoint your coworkers when you leave. And that is STILL not a reason to stay put.

If you play an integral part on a team, and if people like and respect you, then of course they’re going to be disappointed when you leave. They’re humans with feelings, too!

But they’re also capable of being disappointed without labeling you, as a person, a disappointment. Trust that the people you work with are capable of separating you, the person, from the ripple effect your leaving will likely create. They’re allowed to feel disappointed, annoyed, or put out by your decision — and they can still like you, respect you, and wish you nothing but happiness on your journey forward.

I CAN’T LEAVE IF I’M IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMETHING

There is NEVER going to be a perfect time to quit. It’s understandable that there might be better and worse times to leave. And you’re allowed to plan for that and be respectful about finding a time that will create slightly less of an inconvenience.

But if you’re waiting until no one feels inconvenienced and you experience zero guilt … you’re never, ever going to leave.

Do your best to wrap things up in a neat way, help train someone new if you have the ability, and give people enough notice. But beyond that, know that the nature of leaving is usually upheaval, to some degree. And a little upheaval in life and business is something people can understand. Again, they don’t have to like it, but most will understand it.

PEOPLE WILL THINK I’M DISLOYAL

I think this fear is often rooted in an outdated idea of what it means to work in the first place.

If we still lived in a world where the norm was to work for the same company for forty years until retirement, then sure, I can understand where the concern with loyalty comes from.

But for better or worse, that world doesn’t exist anymore. People are expected to move around a LOT more — to have multiple careers (not just jobs, but careers) throughout the course of their life.

Also, let’s be clear about something: Loyalty is something that’s earned, not given by default. If you’re leaving a company with a toxic work environment, or a job that’s been a complete drain on your soul and body, then you do NOT owe anyone loyalty over your own health and wellness. Period.

WHAT IF THEY CAN’T OPERATE WITHOUT ME?

I know I’ve mentioned this multiple times on the podcast already, but the example keeps being relevant!

In the Netflix Fyre Festival documentary, one of Billy McFarland’s employees reflects on what they could have done to prevent the calamity that the festival turned into. He said something to the effect of, “We kept fixing just enough problems to keep it afloat. In hindsight, if we hadn’t done that, we could have avoided a much bigger disaster.”

A lot of you are afraid to quit because you’re convinced that your team or company would struggle or cease to operate without you. And you may very well be right.

But who’s to say that struggle is inherently bad?

Sometimes things need to reach a breaking point in order for the powers that be to finally take notice or make necessary changes. Consider that you staying might actually be what’s enabling things to keep limping on as they are. You could be preventing the reckoning that needs to happen.

And even if things aren’t all that bad, but you’re still afraid of creating more work and inconvenience for everyone, keep in mind that when someone leaves it creates a good opportunity for the team and leadership to take stock of what’s working, what isn’t, and what responsibilities could be shuffled around. Some people might get the chance to stretch and grow because you challenged them in a good way by leaving. And that’s not a negative consequence at all.

WHAT IF THEY CAN’T FIND SOMEONE TO FILL MY JOB?

Again, the fear of them not finding someone to fill your place has a lot to do with the assumption that you know what’s best for everyone.

But do you?

How do you know that a re-structure might not be better? How do you know that the team might not learn a lot from having to fill the space you leave behind for a few months, until they find someone?

And to be really blunt — you’re likely overestimating your own importance.

You are not the master of the universe. You are not the sole power that keeps an entire team or business afloat. And if you’re convinced that you are, then that’s not a very healthy team or business in the first place. No entity should be that reliant on one person to keep them operating.

Not only that, but by staying put you’re taking up space that someone else likely does want to fill (and even if it takes months, your job will get taken. There are more people who want jobs than there are jobs available. It’s just a fact).

If you really want to create a win-win, then staying in a job you desperately want to quit is NOT the way to do it. If you leave, then everyone gets to win: You’re happy because you aren’t there anymore, the person who gets to take your place gets a job (that they may be a lot more excited about than you ever were), and the team gets someone who actually wants to be there.

I HAVEN’T BEEN HERE LONG ENOUGH TO QUIT

Keep in mind that I’ve heard people say this after 6 months, 2 years, and even 5 years! Again, because guilt is a normal human emotion, you’re going to feel guilty regardless of how long you’ve been there. The timing is something you’ll likely latch onto in order to explain your guilt to yourself.

To reiterate: If you’re in a miserable situation and your mental or physical health is suffering, then you are always allowed to prioritize your wellbeing over what quitting “looks like” to other people.

The dreaded, “But what about how it looks on my résumé?!” question is one that I think can be easily and maturely addressed with any future employer. You’re allowed to say that you left for the sake of your health, or that you had a golden opportunity you didn’t want to pass up. Reasonable employers will be able to understand your motives. Honestly, it’s a red flag if an employer lacks the empathy and curiosity to relate with you on a human level.

And if you want to quit for another opportunity, but feel guilty about not being at your current place long enough, I want you to think about what you’re going to wish you’d done when you’re 80.

Looking back on your life, are you going to feel bad that you took a great opportunity? Or are you going to be happy you went for it?

I don’t believe it’s callous or unfeeling to say yes to a great opportunity. It’s possible that you’ll burn a bridge, even if you’re as compassionate and diplomatic with your exit as possible. And if it’s a bridge you’re willing to sacrifice for a higher purpose, then you do you, as they say.

The moral of the story is this: If you know that quitting will help you move in a positive direction, then a win for you is going to ultimately be a win for everyone. Be as empathetic and mature as you can, but know that chaos and struggle might still happen. You will likely never please everyone with your decision, and that’s OK. It’s not your job to stay put until everyone understands. Trust that they, and you, are strong enough to weather what comes next (and that all of you will likely be made better by the process).

So, how does this sit with you? Have I missed any hang-ups you have about quitting? Come share with me, in the comments.

Much Love,

Rachel (& Kristen)


IF YOU LIKED THIS YOU SHOULD ALSO LISTEN TO…

Blog: Why selflessness doesn’t make you a good person (February, 2019)

Permission to pivot (in your life & career) with Marissa Burdett (March, 2019)

A former recruiter tells all (& helps you get hired) with Emily Liou (September, 2018)

Side Chat: Curing your people-pleasing disease (May, 2018)

Dear Krachel: I love my job but hate my team. Should I quit? (August, 2018)

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6 Comments // ADD COMMENT

6 comments

  • Natalie

    I’m struggling with the impending exit that I’m going to be making because I really have an amazing boss who has been extremely supportive these last couple years. I know he was counting on having me here for a long time so I just feel bad. I have no doubt that he will understand my reasons for leaving, but it doesn’t make feel any less bad about it. I’ve been very taken care of in this position and been afforded a lot of opportunities. It just isn’t the place for me so I have to do what is right for me. It’s just never easy. This was very timely.

    • Rachel East

      Hey Natalie! It’s totally OK to feel bad. Like we said, I think that’s a completely normal human reaction to have. If you didn’t feel bad, it would probably mean you weren’t empathetic or compassionate. This is definitely a both/and situation. It’s both OK to feel bad AND it’s OK to move on. Being a human is such a nuanced thing!

  • Jen

    I feel like this blog post was written for me. Very fitting since I just came back from a job interview yesterday and have been dealing with health issues since about Day 1 of the job that I’m currently in. Moving on would be super positive for me so thanks for reiterating this!

    • Rachel East

      Hey Jen! I’m glad this came at the right time. I’ll be curious to hear how that interview went! 🙂

  • April Ettinger

    Just the sign I needed! I need to stop feeling guilty and make a move to leave a job that has been unfulfilling for quite some time. I’ve done my best to stick it out, try and pin point exactly why I’m unhappy, but it’s time to take the leap.
    Actually, as of this upcoming Monday I will be taking a 6-8 week leave of absence. While I will be seeking out mental health support, I’m also using this as a transition to move into the health and fitness world. My only fear still lies in being financially stable during this time. What advice do you have for someone who has the opportunity to be happy but money is holding them back? Should they let the uncertainty of money hold them back from being happy?

    • Rachel East

      Congrats on taking an extended leave, April! I hope it’s really restorative for you. My quick take on financial stability during a break (or after quitting any job, really) is: Make sure you have a solid plan. If you can clearly articulate how you’ll provide for yourself and what you’ll do if something unexpected should arise, then I think it’s totally fine. The thing I tend to warn against is quitting a job if you’re going to end up piling MORE stress on yourself in the form of freaking out about where money is going to come from. Being in constant survival mode isn’t good for mental health, and certainly isn’t restorative! You don’t have to have 100% certainty about your money situation when you quit (because in that case, you might never leave). But you should, in my opinion, have a clear idea of what you’ll do if you end up unstable and need money. That way you hopefully avoid stressing about it the whole time you’re supposed to be relaxing, and you also hopefully prevent any reactive decisions you might make out of desperation. Hope that gives you some food for thought!

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