In 2007, I was working at what should have been a “dream job”: a start-up-ish like company located in a hip downtown NYC neighborhood with lots of young people who sometimes wore their pjs to work.
Better yet, I was in a role that highlighted my relationship and communication skills, which was super important to me.
I took that job as a way to get out of the sales positions I bounced around from when I was still kidding myself that I was going to Be An Actress. I went along with my largely commission-only positions while pushing back the tiny voice in the back of my head that told me I no longer wanting acting to be my career. So I got a “grown-up” job that looked so good on paper, complete with the mythical things I dreamed of, like medical insurance and a 401K.
And yet, there he was: my verbally abusive boss who obviously felt threatened by those who reported to him and were given good reports. While my clients and colleagues loved working with me, he publicly berated me every chance he got, blamed me for things that weren’t even close to my fault, and shamed me the next day if I didn’t answer his emails at 11:00 at night.
I was there for about a year until that fateful morning. Picture it: I was on the subway during rush hour, and feeling more and more nauseous with each stop. I had to run out at Union Square – one of the busiest stations – and dry heave into the trash can next to the train, surrounded by hundreds of people trying to get to work.
Did I head right home and call in sick? No. No, I did not. Because this job had such a hold on me, I took the stairs up to the street and walked the 20ish blocks to the office, where I grabbed my laptop and told my colleagues that I needed to work from home that day.
Can you guess what happened? The moment I hit the street to head home, I felt fine. Talk about a wake-up call! I knew I couldn’t stay in this job, and that I had to do some soul-searching to figure out what I could do for work that I could also feel passionate about.
Regardless of where you “end up”, here are the ways to know it’s time to leave:
2. You’re depleted all the time. If you mostly only have energy to work, Netflix and chill – even on the weekends – then there’s something really wrong here. You know when you’re bone-tired too often, or can’t seem to get your act together to cook a few good dinners each week, play with your kids, and/or get together with friends. When exercise and self-care has become a thing of the past, it’s time to take a closer look as to what isn’t working about work.
3. You don’t like the person you are at work. I always remember my husband giving this as a reason he left his full-time job to become a freelancer. He recognized that he was short-tempered at work, and overwhelmingly felt agitated with his work environment. He didn’t like being that person 40+ hours/week, and by cutting the employee ties he also cut the office politics that went along with it. While he still works in the same industry, he has more autonomy and rarely goes into the office, so he’s happier day-to-day with his work responsibilities and deadlines.
4. You spend most of your time bitching about work. This was so me at the job I mentioned above. It got to the point where even I was sick of complaining about it! And yet, it was part of my self-imposed “therapy” that helped me deal with this toxic culture. It was the worst.
5. You’re underappreciated. Every time I hear from clients how they managed a major account or pulled off a killer project and yet got zero acknowledgements, it makes me absolutely nutso in the buttso. If this is you, and you know you’re someone who’s motivated by private and/or public appreciation, it’s time to hit the bricks.
6. You feel unfulfilled and/or inauthentic. The “day job” I got once I realized I wanted to be a coach was an Executive Assistant for a financial consultancy company. Um, can you picture this? Talk about a bad fit! And yet, it was worth it for me to stick around and file expense report after expense report and set up travel itinerary after travel itinerary and make copy after copy of meeting “decks” because the pay was the best I ever got and I didn’t have to work overtime in any way. But seriously, I felt like I had a mask on every weekday from 7:30am – when I put on my business casual attire – ’til 7:30p, when I got to trade ’em in for My Real Clothes or my pjs. Seriously, this is a really shitty way to feel for most of your waking hours each week.
7. You have enough savings and/or a short list of other ways you can make money, and you’re not too worried that you won’t be able to make ends meet if you can’t match your current income for a few months. Let me italicize this to bring the point home: Do not make assumptions when it comes to your financial situation. My clients do this all the time, and without fail, they come back to me the next week (after being given the homework to actually look at their statements and accounts) saying they have more resources than they thought.
8. You’ve been side hustling and feel confident-ish about making the transition to your own business. Also worth italicizing: You will never feel capital-r Ready. Ever. This will ALWAYS feel like jumping off a cliff, and you’ll have a huge case of the AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!s when it comes to giving your notice and becoming a full-time business owner. But the proof is also in the pudding. If you’ve been continually moving forward with your business, and feel confident-ish about putting the pedal to the medal once you’ve freed up 40ish hours/week, then you’re ready enough to quit and leap!
9. There is no room for advancement in your company. I’m working with a client now who has been in the same position for 8 years. 8 years! Also: she’s pretty much the only employee, so there’s nowhere to go. Yeah. Time to leave, unless it’s your bridge job and you’re waiting for a different reason to leave.
10. You’ve been doing the same thing for years and are bored out of your mind. See point #9.
If you read this far, then I want to give you the biggest hug. I know exactly the spot you’re in right now and promise you that if you take action, It Gets Better.
Thankfully, I can credit that moment on the subway to all the good that came after it: realizing I wanted to be a life coach (of all silly things!) that works with creative people on their career transitions, getting certified + engaged + married all while working my 50 hour/week corporate job, quitting 2 years and 7 months later in the middle of a recession to be The When I Grow Up Coach full-time (was I crazy?!), making the Forbes Top 100 Websites for Your Career list, publishing a book, teaching for CreativeLive, working with hundreds of creative women to help them discover/launch/ grow their dream businesses, making my corporate salary the first full year I was in business (and growing it to six-figures annually), and feeling fully authentic and purposeful with my work ever since.
If I had a time machine, I’d travel to that day in 2007 and tell Past Michelle that she’ll be thankful for that moment a few years down the line! If you decide that you’ve hit your breaking point and enough is enough, then you can hop on that time machine with me and say the same thing to your Present Self. Road trip!