3 Reasons You Feel Guilty About Quitting Your Job—But Shouldn’t

Why You Don't Need to Feel Guilty About Quitting Your Job
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August in San Francisco.

A friend and I slosh through mud on a trail that leads us into the wilderness that touches our San Francisco neighborhood. Fog whispers over us. Hidden beneath its eclipsing covers, we feel as though we’re truly alone; in this private atmosphere we can talk freely.

“It was hard,” she admits stepping over a root, “Quitting… I felt like a failure. I mean, leaving a job that is so ‘good’ and that everyone keeps telling you is such a great opportunity. It’s hard not to feel like you’re making a huge mistake.”

I nod. The news of her quitting came as a complete shock to me at first, but now I can see a difference in her presence. Though she hadn’t been vocally unhappy, there were signs that her work was taking a toll on her; a reservation that she hadn’t expressed before.

But still, I can tell that it’s been difficult for her to get to this point. It’s been a month since she quit and she’s just now ready to talk about it. Why did it take so long?

That really got me thinking about this topic.

Why is it that you feel guilty about quitting your job when it is so obviously wrong for you?

I’ve given it some thought and these are the reasons why I think it might be harder for millennials to quit their jobs (even when they’re totally miserable) than it is for people in other generations.

1. Our Generation’s Stereotype

I think it has to do with being part of the “millennial” generation. According to this New York Times article, “Generation Nice,” we (those born after 1980 but before 2000) are one of the most written about generations.

Although this article is shedding a positive light on our generation, and is part of the reason I decided to write this post, many of the things written about us have not been so kind. They have labeled millennials as the worst types of people. Fickle to a fault, we care only about ourselves, are always searching for the next best thing, and can never be satisfied. A Generation “Me.”

It can be hard to ignore these judgments, especially when quitting a job. Even though we know our personal reasons, and that it’s the right decision (for both the company and ourselves), it can feel like we haven’t tried hard enough to make it work. Are we just playing into some inherent narcissism that apparently plagues our entire generation?

Sure, some of us may be spoiled, teeny-attention-span-suffering youths, but I don’t think quitting a job because it’s wrong for you puts you in that category.

I really liked what “Generation Nice” had to say on the matter; the need to remove ourselves from situations stems not from our selfish natures but from introspection and empathy. We can identify a situation that isn’t working and for the sake of ourselves, our managers, and our clients, we remove ourselves. If we’re miserable, we won’t be doing our best work.

2. The Economy

The current economy is also a big part of why we feel guilty about quitting a job. We’re constantly being bombarded with unfortunate news about the job market. Though there has been some improvement, it’s still not the flourishing and welcoming (especially to recent graduates) environment that it was before the great recession in 2008.

So, how could we possibly consider quitting a job? Shouldn’t we be thanking the stars above us that we have one to begin with?

This is definitely a hard point to get over, but I think it’s important to view this from a bigger picture perspective. Yes, it’s awesome that you’re a recent graduate with a job. That’s huge! But isn’t one of the main points of having that job to improve your quality of life?

I know that it’s terribly cliché, but I just have to say this: We only have this one life to live. And even though we can’t be happy all the time, shouldn’t we be working to make this life the best it can be?

Trouble with the economy or no, we have to take care of ourselves. Yes, in a perfect world you would have a job lined up before you left your old one. And it’s scary not knowing what’s coming next. Everyone feels that pressure, but maybe because we’ve grown up in such a slow economic period, we’re even more hesitant than other generations to make this kind of leap.

3. The Myth of the Traditional Career Path

We’ve also been trained to look at our career paths in the traditional way, as a ladder. You’ll start as an intern, move to an entry-level position, move to a higher position, become a manager, etc. Quitting your job means that you’ll have to start over again. Is that really something you can afford to do?

The truth is, the world is changing and that means the job landscape is adapting to our overly connected and constantly moving world. Switching jobs is becoming more and more common. As is freelance and contract work. The old way of finding a job after college and staying there for the rest of your life is not realistic for a lot of people these days.

You don’t need to feel like you’re taking a huge step backwards just because you quit a job.

We shouldn’t feel guilty about making ourselves happy. Of course, we have to be realistic about our expectations. Work is work (even at your dream job). A lot of the time, it’s not the job that is making us miserable, but our attitudes. Mike Rowe talks about the dirty jobs that people do and how a lot of those people are still really happy.

But sometimes, no matter how much you work on your attitude, the job you have just isn’t right for you. If you’re waking up every day filled with dread, or you feel yourself haunted by your work in everything you do, it’s okay to call it quits. You’re not a failure. You’re just learning, growing, and finding out who you are.

Homework time! Try to avoid getting stuck at a job you hate by doing some career exploration before you enter the workforce. Do some research into what it’s like to do certain jobs (we cover a lot here on the AfterCollege Blog), job shadow someone, conduct informational interviews, volunteer with a company, or do an internship. All of these things can help you discover what it will be like working at a certain job. Also, be sure to pay attention to company cultures. You may love a certain industry, but not the company because of the culture.

These overwhelming feelings of guilt aren’t limited to a job either. Just take a look at this post by guest blogger Taryn McMillan about how she overcame the guilt she felt when she quit graduate school.

P.S. What do you think? Is our generation more hesitant to quit than others? How do you know when it’s time to move on from a situation that isn’t working for you? Let us know in the comments.

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4 Responses to “3 Reasons You Feel Guilty About Quitting Your Job—But Shouldn’t”

  1. Joy

    I just left a job with the federal government. I got the job right out of graduate school and I applied for it because they said they wanted someone with my degree. I was there almost three months and could not figure out why. The job had nothing to do with my education, experience or skills. I was bored to tears and stressed out from exams (which had to be passed in order to maintain employment) which nobody had mentioned to me before I was hired. A test every other week that your job depended on. I was just too stressed out and bored. My mind was turning to mush and I was constantly scared I’d fail an exam and lose my job. It was too much stress.
    I stayed for those few months because everyone said I was crazy ‘you have a federal job!!! You’re in!!!! Are you insane? You’re set for life!!’ And I did feel guilty leaving them so soon when they exalt needed people but when I got a job offer with the same pay and benefits, I left. It was a harder day than I thought, I felt so guilty, but I had to keep reminding myself how miserable and stressed out I always was.

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  2. Matthew

    I think you’re minimizing the realities of #2. I’m not saying “the economy is bad” is a good excuse to stay in a job you hate, but “I have a lease, student loans, medical bills, and a need to eat and no savings or other income to fall back on” is a fairly good reason to suck it up and continue at a job you hate–at least until you find a better one.

    If I’m jeopardizing my ability just to survive, or worse, my dependent’s ability to survive, I definitely will feel guilty quitting without having a better alternative lined up.

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