I decided that I would leave a job I had been at for 15 years.
My career had been a huge part of my identity for so long: I was given the privilege of working remotely, I had become a parent, been co-workers with my own husband for a while, and gone from contributing to a team to leading a team.
It was my first full-time job after college. I had started as an onboarding and training specialist, rose to a senior role, then became product manager and finally a member of the executive team, managing the customer service department. I had watched the company struggle in that decade and a half, surviving two layoffs and multiple cuts to pay and benefits.
Through all of this, I was always grateful and loyal. I thought that if I worked hard (i.e., worked my way to management level), I could enact some of the changes that I wanted to see. And I was able to with some things. I implemented a project management tool, ticketing system, CRM, and—right at the end—on-demand training for customers. Yet all of these changes were to processes or making work more efficient. They could not address some of the underlying problems that I thought desperately needed change and why the company was stagnant, year after year.
I felt this more acutely during the pandemic. Suddenly, these issues lurking in the background were pushed front-and-center. Throughout the Summer and Fall of 2020, I talked to Ger. Should I stay? If so, how long? Should I try to stick it out for five more years? Or maybe just until Autumn starts kindergarten in the fall of 2022? I had a good salary and a lot of flexibility, something I couldn’t be assured at another job.
The more I thought about it, the less tolerant I became of my job. Everything irritated me. I found myself stressed and constantly frustrated, ruminating long after the workday was done.
On December 16th, 2020, I hit a breaking point. I almost quit on the spot but knew that it would put my family in a tough spot financially. I was spinning my wheels on an issue with an obtuse colleague. My boss called me and asked me how I wanted to handle it. I replied, “Do whatever you want. I do not care anymore.”
She sensed my tone and told me to take a breath and step away: she would handle the situation. I didn’t work for the rest of the day. And I also made a decision: I would quit my job on January 15th, 2021. It would be my first scheduled touch base with my boss in the new year, and I would use that time to inform her of my resignation.
Later that day, around 5:00 p.m. on December 16th, my grandmother passed away at the age of 100. She had been slipping for several days, no longer eating or drinking. I knew that her death was imminent.
When my mom called me to give me the news, I was also very certain that my decision to leave my job had not been fueled by the emotions of knowing that my grandma was about to die. If anything, hearing that she had left the earth on December 16th — the same day that I resolved to leave my job — gave me even more peace.
With clarity and an end date in mind, I kicked into high gear. I had been pondering a career change, leaving the world of product management and pursuing a career where I could focus on writing. I built a portfolio through freelancing work and scoured job sites every few days, spending hours customizing my cover letter and sending out my resume. I had a backup plan in mind: if I hadn’t landed a job, I would freelance full-time. My freelance earnings were meager as a new writer, so I calculated exactly how much I would need to earn to pay our bills. My husband and I braced ourselves for this scenario.
January 15th arrived. I was in the final stages of interviewing with a few companies. I could have done the safer thing and waited until I had an offer in hand, but I had been planning for this day: I was done. That morning, I took a long walk and then called my boss at our regularly scheduled touch base time. We had some of the usual small talk before I said the words out loud, “I am leaving.”
My boss was surprised, yet not surprised. I had been expressing my frustrations for months… years, even. It was clear that my work was welcome, but not my ideas. And—reaching the executive level at the company—I had hit the ceiling.
We didn’t set an end date in that meeting. I said I could be flexible since I didn’t have anything else lined up yet. Within a week, I had two job offers: a full-time role at a marketing agency and an offer to be a contributing editor at a magazine.
Sometimes I look back and wonder why I stayed at the job for so long, swallowing my feelings and prioritizing company needs over my own. Part of it was idealistic, really thinking that I could enact change. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, I was choosing safety and security, not quite comfortable with spreading my wings. I was filled with self-doubt, wondering if I could shine elsewhere after dedicating most of my professional career to a single organization.
2020—and the pandemic in particular—upended all of my thoughts about safety and security, extending far beyond the metaphorical walls of my job. Day in and day out, I felt like the world was collapsing around me. After what felt like months of no control and no progress, my job became intolerable. My career was something I could control. I could choose instead to find work that I would enjoy.
On December 16th, 2020, my grandma and I both made decisions to move on. She was a person who was fiercely supportive of the people she loved, and I know she would be proud of me.
We took literal and figurative last breaths and said, “Enough. It’s time.”