How I Found the Courage to Leave My Unfulfilling Job

“‘What if I fall?’ Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” –Erin Hanson

Have you ever considered how much you’d be willing to tolerate before feeling forced to leave a workplace?

In this economy, people wonder whether leaving their jobs to preserve their mental and physical health without another lined up is worth it if it means financial insecurity. So many people feel stuck in their jobs, and I was no exception.

I told myself any money was better than no money, so I stayed with a job that made me miserable.

After spending several years with the company, I thought I should’ve been paid more than what I was getting, but I lacked the confidence to bring it up to my boss.

Also, the working environment grew hostile over time. I thought I had no room for error—it all had to be perfect. I had to get it all right on the first try without asking questions, or else I would feel like my job was at risk.

I say it was my thinking because that’s important to differentiate—how you feel about a situation versus what others tell you to feel. Everyone has their own perceptions and feelings, but when you feel uncomfortable in a specific role, you have to ask yourself: Do I need to change, or does my workplace need to change?

Or do I need to walk away from it entirely?

I had to ask myself: How badly do I want to change? Will it alter my experience at work?

After confronting myself, I had to recognize whether I felt comfortable confronting my boss about my feelings. Would it have the outcome I wanted? Would it assist my co-workers or future employees in their journeys? Even more important, was I willing to put myself out there for the chance of something different happening?

Next, I had to consider my own feelings. I tend to avoid confrontation because it often isn’t worth the anxiety it brings. It’s disheartening when no talks yield the result you want.

So I had to think to myself, and it took a while for me to decide the answer. Did anything make me want to stay at the job, even if the discussion wasn’t fruitful?

Ultimately, I decided to stay at my workplace. While I didn’t thoroughly enjoy what my workplace offered, I loved what I did. I stayed because I felt like I was making a difference.

Things were fine for a while—especially once I accepted that “it is what it is.” My supervisor showed me empathy often, but I was still uncertain of their reaction if I addressed that the company culture didn’t work for me.

Unfortunately, ignoring the problem went exactly as you might think. It didn’t make things easier for me.

If I could go back in time, I would make different choices. The confrontation may have been worth the potential opportunity to open my employer’s eyes. Standing by only ensured things remained the same.

Were I to do it again, I would approach my boss with an open mind and an honest heart. In my experience, employers value honesty about certain situations, and my supervisor was more than willing to help me with solutions.

Still, I always feel nervous when approaching a supervisor because I worry they won’t take me seriously. If I could go back, I would go in with a plan and substantial evidence to support my claims. Having the proof to show something was amiss might have influenced my boss more than my anxious words alone.

However, looking back on it, it could have been just as likely that my concerns were ignored or dismissed. I’ll never know because I didn’t take the chance for myself. I wish I had—it might have made the decision to leave even easier.

Over time, I let the problems build and eventually snowball into something much worse—something that affected my self-esteem and my ability to perform well at work. I suffered greatly.

With over 60% of people saying they’re less productive at jobs they aren’t happy at, I realized I was in good company. It wasn’t a problem with me; I just wasn’t a great fit for this job. I was the puzzle piece that got mixed up in the wrong box, my true purpose lying elsewhere.

Unfortunately, these issues made me feel even more hopeless. Was there even a point to working? Did the good money I was making justify the environment that made me feel uncomfortable and unsettled all the time?

Only I could answer those questions for myself, but I did look to my loved ones for guidance. I asked my family and friends what they would do in my situation. Really, I just wanted some form of reassurance that I was doing the right thing.

Everyone I talked to agreed I should leave my workplace. They’d seen my mental state deteriorate over time and listened to my lamentations. When stress gets to you, it makes you do funny things, including questioning whether obvious decisions are the right ones.

You are not weak for wanting to remove yourself from a toxic situation.

Those words took me a while to process, but they’re true. I wouldn’t get a badge of honor for being mistreated at work. People don’t look at several hours of overtime as something to admire anymore.

It wasn’t worth it. Many workers are putting themselves first. I wish I would have, instead of wasting months before finally leaving the job.

My mental health mattered. I thought the money was worth it, but that was the only thing holding me back—and I should’ve found another job to serve that purpose. No money will ever make up for a job that hurts my mental health, robbing me of my time and leaving me burnt out beyond belief.

Looking back, the slippery slope to a lack of self-care happened faster than I knew. I poured more of myself into work, leaving less time for my own needs, and I chose to ignore my hygiene for late nights at the office. I skipped meals and sleep to ensure I met every deadline and still had some time for myself at the end of a demanding day.

Not every job would drain me the same way. I only realized that after some time of reflection.

For every bad boss, there are several good bosses. I’ve had supervisors who encouraged me to speak my mind and clearly valued my viewpoint. Though it took some time, I found an environment I belonged in.

As I healed from my past job and worked to improve my self-esteem, I realized boundaries are essential. I didn’t need to do anything outside of my job description and reminded myself it was okay not to want to work long hours. Having the luxury to say no to more work isn’t something everyone is afforded, but it’s a right everyone should have.

Not everyone will be in the privileged position I was to step away from a job that was actively hurting me. I was fortunate to be able to heal and identify my worth for a period after I left it, before I was ready to search for a new job. Many folks don’t have the same luxury, as their salary might be the only income for their household.

One of the worst things about a toxic work environment is just how hard it is to make that first step away. Taking that step, even when unsure where you’ll land, is likely to be worth it.

For some, that’s taking time off, even if just a little, to find something better. For others, that might be opting for another job—perhaps one not even in the same field—to make ends meet rather than continuing to waste away at their current job. Every job is as temporary as you need it to be.

This can even be as simple as putting out a first new application. Not everyone can take that leap away from a rotten position without a backup plan in place, but that doesn’t mean they’re without hope. It all just depends on taking that first step.

There is that turning point, though, and I knew it the moment I hit it. What would my loved ones do if I made myself mentally or physically sick working for a company that didn’t value me? There is only one me.

I’m not irreplaceable to any workplace. There will always be someone else with a similar set of skills that can take over for me if I leave my job.

My advice to my past self would be always to look for the job you feel fulfilled in. Too many people go to work depressed and come home burnt out. You may be just another number to a lousy job, but think of how much you matter to your loved ones. There’s only one you.

Being overworked is the leading stressor among employees. I’m still looking for the best ways to manage my stress, but I’ve actually made it a priority now. With less stress, I’ll also reduce my risk for chronic diseases and ensure I have time for myself whenever I need it.

One thing I learned was to prioritize myself, especially since I had the privilege of being able to leave my job. I could run fast and far from a situation that hurt me. Thanks to that, I could preserve myself and save people from worrying about my health more than they already did.

I was the only one who could have made that decision for myself. The “turning point” moment was all I needed to seek out better opportunities. I deserved more than putting myself through unimaginable stress in a subpar working environment, and realizing that was when it all changed for me.

When the time was right, I found a new job.

I felt refreshed and ready to tackle any challenge. I felt valued and celebrated by my new team. It made me realize I really deserve to be happy in what I do every day, and it was time I reminded myself of what that feeling was like.

About Jack Shaw

Jack Shaw has dedicated much of his adult life to writing and speaking on health, both mental and physical. For the past five years he has written extensively on how to navigate relationships, recognize self-worth, and stay healthy. His writings on fitness and life advice can be seen on Modded, where he works as a senior writer and editor.

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