What Quitting Your Job Feels Like
I recently resigned from my full-time, professional job. The job I went to grad school for. The job I invested two years into becoming as great at as I knew I could be. I’d been thinking about quitting for a while, but in that flippant way where you daydream out loud with your coworkers and reflexively check job boards when you have a bad day. I wasn’t happy and the idea of quitting had been in the back of my mind for nearly a year, but it wasn’t something I could realistically do — my husband was back in school and we were living rent-free as part of my benefits package. To put it plainly, we just couldn’t afford it. The kind of spontaneous quitting you see on TV is a luxury, and not the kind I could afford.
Then, miraculously or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, circumstances at work changed. I was a Residence Director at a university and part of my job was to participate in an on-call rotation at night, responding to incidents in residence halls and apartments that needed professional attention. Crime had risen on campus and the surrounding area, so I would call for a security escort when I had to travel across campus in the dark. After a year and a half in the job, I was told that I could no longer use these security escorts. I didn’t feel safe doing part of my job and after talking it through with my employers, they were unwilling to accommodate my requests to make it safer. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I had to choose between my safety and my job. I fought it, going up the chain of command, writing proposals, and doing anything I could to find someone who would listen. I did this not because I loved my job or even because I really wanted to stay, but because it was our means of living. Quitting without fear is a luxury of the rich.
Nothing I did really changed anything. I got an extension to give my decision, as a kind administrator met with me and looked into the situation, but ultimately, he couldn’t do anything for me. It ended when he met with me on a humid, spring Friday morning to tell me that he’d fought for me, but couldn’t come up with a favorable outcome. There wasn’t enough money in the budget to put safety accommodations in place, so I would have to choose. I walked out of his office feeling free. Free of the stress of fearing for my safety, free of the mental exhaustion of being overworked. I was free. All I had left to do was actually quit.
My supervisor and I already had a weekly check-in meeting scheduled that afternoon. I updated her on project statuses and things I’d planned, calmly going through the motions like I wasn’t about to tell her something that would change my whole life. Finally, as the meeting was wrapping up, I told her that I quit. I handed her the notice letter I’d carried in my bag as a security blanket for the last few stressful, frustrating weeks and I told her I was done. We worked out some details maturely and professionally and I walked out of her office at peace. I knew that the next few months would be stressful, having to find a new place to live and a new job and a new way of doing life, but I was ready. I was proud of myself for standing up for myself and I was ready for whatever was to come next.
What I wasn’t ready for is that the period after you quit a job is nothing like they show in the movies. You give your boss the speech you’ve practiced in your head a million times and no matter how bitchy or polite you choose to be, you leave that conversation expecting to feel one singular emotion: joy. But there’s a whole roller coaster of emotions ahead. There are highs and lows and loop de loops that no one tells you to expect. For me, there were five emotional stages in five days and I still wish that I had known to prepare myself for the ride:
Day 1: Sweet, Sweet Relief
This was the day I quit. I walked out of my boss’ office on Friday afternoon thinking:
Glory glory hallelujah, I’m free! I’m done! I can get through these next two weeks because I know there’s pure freedom on the other side. I won’t have to put up with that annoying coworker’s inexhaustible chatter anymore, I don’t have to play office politics anymore, that endless to-do list can’t hold me down! Plain and simple, I don’t have to do this job anymore! This is the best decision I’ve ever made! Let’s go celebrate!
My husband and I went to dinner with some friends as soon as 5 o’clock hit and we stuffed ourselves with celebratory queso and beer. I’m sure they were worrisome queso and beer for him, probably involving that emoji that’s a dollar with wings floating around his mind, but I was buzzed and I was full of melted cheese and I’d just quit my job. I was happy!
Day 2: Unexplained Sadness
I woke up on Saturday morning a little sad, slowly coming around to the realization that no matter how much I’d wanted to leave my job, I was still going to mourn it a little bit. It occurred to me that there were parts of this job I did like: After these two weeks, I won’t get to join the coworkers I do like for impromptu Friday happy hours. I’m going to have to say goodbye to the people I supervise and the projects I’ve grown from the beginning. I’m going to have to start all over somewhere new. I worked hard to excel at this job and now that’s just going to disappear.
I just wanted to lay on the couch and listen to Daughters while I stared at the rain through my window all day and that’s exactly what I did. Granted, some of my feelings were result of the hangover I had from that celebratory beer the night before, but that’s okay, too. There was a little gray cloud over me and it took me a while to pinpoint and admit to myself exactly why. I was glad to be rid of this job! Why did I feel like crying a little bit too?
Day 3: Mild To Moderate Panic
On Sunday morning, I checked my bank account and realized Shit, I’m only getting one more paycheck after this. Maybe we should cancel that celebratory brunch today. Or pick a cheaper place to go at least. Diners are cheap, right? Free coffee refills! But no mimosas. And I need mimosas.
I remembered my friends complaining about how hard it is to find a good job at this age and I hopped on to the job boards to get a feel for my chances. I had a lively debate with my husband on whether I should try to quickly get a job in my career field again, or use this as a time to make the jump into the other career I’ve been dreaming about (writing, in case you didn’t guess, and look who won).
I panicked when I thought maybe I’d have to start drinking watery beer instead of fancy cocktails in this new, poorer life of mine, but then remembered we usually default to a team pitcher when we go out anyways, so who am I kidding. The only reason I didn’t quit sooner was because we didn’t have the money and reality was starting to sink in that our bank accounts wouldn’t miraculously change just because I thought it was the right time to get out. If anything, they would miraculously change for the worse.
Day 4: Unbridled Joy
Monday morning, I woke up to get ready for the second to last Monday I’d have at this job and I was ecstatic:
In just two more Monday mornings, I can stay in bed! I’m free! I don’t have to answer to my old boss anymore! I can do whatever I want! Do I want to be a doctor? I have the time to go back to school! Do I want to start a fashion blog? I can wear whatever I want now! Do I want to write for a living? I can finally make my social media public again and write my heart out! The possibilities are endless and the world is my goddamn oyster!
I whittled down my to-do list at work to just the essentials and got started. I wanted to leave my job in a state that would make my co-workers’ lives as easy as possible while they covered until someone new was hired. I alternated crossing tasks off the list with daydreaming about what my days would look like after these two weeks and I was overjoyed. I couldn’t wait for my new life to begin.
Day 5 & Beyond: Peaceful Contentment
On Tuesday, I realized I was happy. I’ve told my quitting story dozens of times by now and every time, I’m sure I made the right decision. I’m at peace with my choice, even if it is a little scary. Yes, I have to job search and yes, money will be tight for a while, but I’m going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. The job I left wasn’t good for me and I’m proud of myself for standing up and saying that I’d had enough. It’s hard to trust yourself when the world makes it seem like quitting any job is irresponsible, but I did it. I thought it through and discussed it with the people who matter to me and I quit my job. And I’m going to be just fine.
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