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Why I Decided To Quit My Job and Find a New One

Originally published on The $76K Project on 1/5/2018

The best present I received this past holiday season was one I've been eyeing for months: a new job. After weeks of interviewing, reference-requesting, and nail-biting, I finally received the offer the day after Christmas. When my new boss called with the good news, it was all I could do not to jump up and down and scream as if Publisher's Clearinghouse had just showed up on my doorstep. (Don't worry, folks, I played it cool. Or cool-ish.)

Pursuing a new job - scouring the job boards, revamping my CV, putting myself out there, knowing that I might only get a few bites, if any - felt terrifying. There was a big part of me that wanted to just stay where I was at for the sake of convenience and comfort - the devil you know vs. the devil you don't and all that. Plus, I can't deny that my current job comes with several attractive perks, including a competitive benefits package and plenty of vacation days. I'm rarely asked to work outside of the 9 to 5, and even when I do, I'm awarded generous flex time. Most importantly, my coworkers are some of the most genuine and empathic people I've ever met.

Given all the positives, I told myself to just stay put and adjust my attitude. And I tried. I really did. I pep talked myself every morning on my walk to work. I reminded myself of all the things going well in my life. Who was I to complain?

But despite my best efforts, I was so. damn. unhappy. with the job. I tried to hide it at first, but eventually my negativity started to seep out around the edges. Getting up on weekdays began to feel intolerable.

Finally, I took a deep breath, tossed the fear aside, and committed myself to a full-on job search. And that, as it turns out, was a very good life choice.

Ultimately, there were four factors that prompted me to get past my fear and seek out another job:

(1) Lack of advancement opportunities: Looking around, I saw that even my most dedicated, knowledgeable coworkers, people who had been there for years, hadn't been promoted despite their talent and innovative ideas. Advancements were few and far between because leadership roles were few and far between. The same seemed to be the case for professional development opportunities. When, after months of mustering up the courage, I asked about the possibility of attending industry workshops or conferences, I was told that there just wasn't enough money, and besides, nobody really needs that stuff to be successful in the job. The message I received was, Hey, this gig's not hard, right? We won't ask too much of you, but in return, don't ask too much of us.

I tried to picture myself in two years, or three years, or five years if I stayed with that organization, and the image never changed: it was just a vision of me in the same cubicle, doing the same stuff, over and over again. And that felt suffocating to me. I've always pictured myself in a career that offers plenty of room for professional growth.

(2) Low pay, with no raise in sight:  I've written before about what an expensive city we live in. The disparity between my salary and cost of living was so great that without Fortysomething's income, we wouldn't be able to afford to live here at all, not even in the smallest studio apartment. When recently asked about the prospect of raises, my institution's administration was forthright in sharing that no pay increase of any kind - not even a cost of living increase - was imminent. 

I calculated what I was making per hour, an exercise that was as enlightening as it was depressing. The question that started to float across my mind on a regular basis was, Am I willing to give out my time for such a small sum? And increasingly, the answer became obvious: no. It's not all about the money. It's about how I use my time, and time is far more valuable than what I was receiving for it.

(3) My mental health: As a die-hard introvert and reluctant empath, customer-facing jobs (especially those that take place in person) are challenging for me. And my current job is all about customer service. During our busiest times, I'd meet with up to 16 people a day, back to back, with only a short break for lunch. Like a human sponge, I'd soak up whatever potent mixture of anxiety, worry, depression, frustration, anger, and/or excitement each individual brought into my office. The thought of hiding under my desk started to sound more and more appealing.

It was exhausting, and yet as the months wore on, I slept less and less. I just couldn't seem to shut work out of my brain. Every night, I felt overcome by a breath-taking anxiety. Some nights, I didn't sleep at all. I ended up missing a bunch of work, using up all of my sick time and part of my vacation time, and going to the doctor for sleeping pills. She gave me a prescription, but my anxiety was so through-the-roof that she also advised me to quit my job as soon as possible. 

Perhaps due to sleep deprivation, I also felt increasingly depressed. What was supposed to occupy my mind for only 8 hours a day started to become a waking obsession and thought spiral: I don't like this job. What should I do? What's the answer? What's the best course of action? Get with the program! Try harder! Stop whining!...  I don't like this job. What should I do? On repeat all day, every day. Not productive, fun, or healthy.

(4) An atrophying skill set and knowledge base: When I accepted this position, I went in knowing full well that it was in a different field than that of my previous career. But what I couldn't predict was how much not utilizing my background and experience would bother me and how panicked I would feel as I realized that concepts I'd once known like the back of my hand were starting to atrophy thanks to lack of use. 

That wasn't my employer's fault, of course. And overall, it's been a good thing: being in this job has helped me better understand what I really want to do, and the field I really want to pursue.

The new job fits the bill perfectly.

So here's the advice I'd now give to the me of three months ago, or anyone else who's unhappy in their job: searching for a job is hard work. It's work on top of the work you already have. It feels like it takes forever to even just get an interview. It's scary. It's full of uncertainty and waiting.

But your job shouldn't be creating 40 hours of weekly unhappiness. You deserve to have a job that doesn't make you lose sleep, that offers decent pay and opportunities for growth, and that harnesses your knowledge, experience, and passion. You shouldn't settle for less.

It was an exhausting experience, but so well worth it, and I'm excited to see what I can do with this new opportunity.

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