'I Had Everything I Thought I Wanted, but I Walked Away'

Women back to workI cried when I quit my job.

No, let me rephrase that. I sobbed when I quit my job, dissolving into a snotty, blubbery mess the moment I opened my mouth while my poor boss sat across from me with open ears and a negroni in hand at our favorite after-work haunt.

Some were tears of relief for finally making a move on something I had been thinking about for the better part of two years. Some were genuine tears of sadness for stepping away from a company that I truly loved in a lot of ways, and a team I loved even more.

Some were insecure tears, my inner critic scolding that leaving this job was some sort of personal failure, that I was letting go of a good opportunity, that people around me would be disappointed.

But most were tears of fear. Fear that I was somehow throwing my career off course for the rest of my life. Fear that nobody would ever want to hire me again and I would end up with an empty bank account. Fear of not knowing what was going to happen next in my life.

See, I wasn’t leaving my job for some flashy, high-paying opportunity, to go back to school, to move across the country with my love, or any of the other completely "normal" reasons that people move on. I was leaving with nothing lined up.

"A sabbatical," I called it, which really meant "I'm not sure what’s next for me but I know that I can’t be here anymore."

I never imagined I would be in this place when I started at The Muse five-and-a-half years earlier. In fact, for much of my time working there, I thought I had struck gold and somehow landed my "dream job" straight out of college.

After all, I had been given a full-time offer before I even graduated, at a company I truly believed in, with people who I was actually excited to spend every workday (and plenty of happy hours) with. Plus, I was being paid to be a writer.

It seemed so far beyond anything I could hope for that I was giddy.

So when a couple of years in my gut started to suggest it was time to go, I immediately jumped to denial and troubleshooting. Leaving didn't seem like an option, so instead, I would logic myself back into loving my job.

I knew I wasn't making enough money, which was quickly fixed when the company got another fundraising round and I got an unbelievable raise. My happiness level spiked for a bit—then crashed.

I wondered if I was just getting bored with my responsibilities, many of which I had been doing for years. I shifted my role, looking for opportunities to delegate the tasks that were weighing me down and take on interesting new projects.

After each of these shifts, there was a spike—and then a crash.

I decided I just wasn't creatively stimulated enough at work and needed to pursue some hobbies and passions on the side. I took a screenprinting class, started doing more aerial silks, was always chatting with my friends about projects we could start.

Spike—then crash.

I thought maybe I was just burnt out, so I took more advantage of our unlimited vacation policy and made myself start leaving the office a little earlier.

Spike—then crash.

Ironically, I came out on the other side seemingly better off, with more money, a better title, more responsibility and better work-life balance. But I was less happy than ever and the signs that it was time to go were starting to rack up.

Sunday nights I would lie in bed unable to sleep, my mind racing with thoughts of the week ahead. I would get only a few hours into the workday before my brain would effectively stop working, and I would sit exhausted and zoned out in front of my computer trying to do something productive.

I started counting down the hours until I could leave work every day and wanted nothing more than a drink when I finally walked out the door. I was more irritable than usual and felt I was being a bad colleague to my team.

My body even started to try and get my attention, with upper back pain that sent me to physical therapy for months. It kept flaring up from all the tension I was holding in my shoulders by refusing to address the decision I knew I needed to make.

Once I had finally stripped down all my logic I was left a little more worn down and with my resounding gut feeling: I have to leave.

I started doing the next logical thing: looking for a new job. But after several months of trolling job boards and having conversations with people, I realized that no job sounded exciting to me at the time.

I didn't have the energy for my job anymore, but I also didn't have the energy for another one just yet. I wanted to get my spark back so that whatever I put my mind to next, I could do it fully.

And so I did the thing that all the career advice I had been giving for the past five years advised against—I quit without a plan. I had a good amount of money in my emergency fund and decided my declining mental health and happiness was enough of an emergency to justify dipping into it.

I gave myself the gift of time.

It's been about two months since I left, and I still don't know "what's next." But I know that, right now, I feel more energized and creative every day. I know that I haven't ruined my career and that, in fact, I feel more able to imagine new possibilities for the impact I could have next, feel more open to new conversations.

And I know that I feel ready to move forward, even though it's scary sometimes—because I finally left something that was no longer working behind.

This story is part of Spring.St's Back to Work series. You can find more here.