primary family earner, on leaving a toxic job before finding a new one
“Are you crazy?” It was the most common phrase Jenny heard when socializing the idea of quitting her job without another one in hand. She had worked for a decade, for a well-recognized brand name, respected for their efforts in sustainability. People viewed her as lucky. She had a solid job with great pay and benefits.
Jenny's leaving story began in March of 2021, a full year into the pandemic, a time where many were feeling impatient and restless to “get back to normal.” Although we had surpassed fears of going to the grocery store, we still hadn’t returned to the office. Stories of supply chain challenges and recession indicators were beginning to surface.
It had been three years since Jenny had first crafted a resume, which remained safely tucked away in her drafts folder. The increasing stress and toxicity in her workplace was beginning to shape the rest of her life. She had tried to make the best of her situation, applying for different jobs internally, volunteering for new projects, and seeking ways to rediscover her mojo. Daily, she reminded herself she made a great income, provided for her family, and had more than most. Yet, she couldn’t seem to fix it. This itch of wanting to leave. This feeling of misalignment in how she spent her days.
She described the downhill slide of her work, spawned by an evolving door of leadership changes, thin margins and demands for more profit. The once coveted culture of autonomy and innovation had shifted to office politics and back-stabbing. Increasingly her strategic responsibilities were minimized to basic project management, which required little thought at all. Trading precious time with her young children to show up in an office filled with oppressive people and mundane work began to etch away at her spirit.
As with each of the women I spoke with, her angst showed up in her body. When her company began laying off people, and more work was piled on those who stayed, morale was at an all-time low. Many co-workers she respected were let go in a very impersonal manner. She questioned her own values for staying at a company she no longer respected, simply because she was the primary earner. She shared, “it was as if I was in a co-dependent relationship with a paycheck, attaching my sense of self to earning.”
Her anxiety led to patterns of deteriorating self-care. She stopped daily showering, struggled to get out of bed, and no longer worked out. In retrospect, Jenny wonders why she didn’t seek help, but at the time, it felt as if her only option was to power through it.
Finally, she turned to others, looking for validation she would be okay if she left her job. Mentors told her to seek satisfaction in other areas of her life. Friends asked about her financial responsibility to her family and saving for children’s college. Social media reminded her everyone else was thriving.
She thought perhaps she was the problem. Oscillating in cycles of self-judgment for being too picky and holding unrealistic standards. Absorbing shame for not being more grateful for what she had. Jenny’s awakening surfaced when she questioned her own definition of success more deeply. She shared, “I looked at people whose trajectory was linear and who stayed in their jobs or companies for a long time to climb the corporate ladder. They told me it would be irresponsible to quit. I began to realize they valued success in terms of sticking it out. Slowly, I began to unpack the stigma around the steps we are told to follow in life – go to school, graduate with a degree, get a job, stay in said job for a long time.”
She told story after story of seeking advice from others, who she deemed as successful, and of their consistent response, “can’t you just stick it out?” As if there was something wrong with her for questioning the proven path. As if her internal values and sense of self, should not carry any weight in the choice of how she spent her days and this precious time in her life with a young family. Remind me again – who are the voices in our head and why should they govern our knowing?
Eventually Jenny’s internal growth and grounding shifted her ability to choose self. She shared, “Time is the one thing that’s finite. I knew if I stayed in a place that was taking all my time, my energy, my resources, I would not be able to spend time really looking for what I wanted next.”
Jenny left. Without a job in hand. She leaned into her network fearlessly. They responded graciously. She reflects, “there’s so much help out there, you have to be willing to look for and receive it.” Jenny now realizes her fears about finding a new job were exaggerated, saying, “I really like solving problems, being strategic, and taking on responsibilities. I didn’t thrive in an environment of being told what to do and how to fit in. The more I explored what type of work I wanted to do, the more hopeful I became. I began to feel like myself again. Like this was the fresh start I needed.”
I began to feel like myself again. Another common theme in the stories of women who left was the distance between self and circumstance.
Today, she acknowledges her conscious choice to live and work with purpose. She knows it is possible to attain both and is reveling in what she describes as a fresh start. She scoffs at advice like, “Why don’t you give just 70% instead of 100% and just stay where you are,” reflecting, “That doesn’t feel great when you lie your head on the pillow giving less than your capability.” Her awareness in honoring her values and truth, paramount in her learning.
Jenny weaves wisdom with gratitude for the hard-earned process of what it took to escape the prescribed social mindset that you can’t leave one job without another in hand. What she wishes she would have known sooner, “to not take the words ‘are you crazy?’ to heart. No one is living your truth or experience and all those comments did was make me feel crazy. It was like gaslighting my experience.”
Jenny’s Because I left… “I have a renewed sense of self and spirit. I found strength in my inner voice, and I’m living my purpose.”