Illustration: Ashley SIebels
If you’ve ever calculated just how many hours of your life are spent working, it’s enough to make you reach for a cocktail. (Psst: that’s 90,360 hours if you log 40 hours a week and plan to retire by 65 if you’re curious.)
That’s why it can be so detrimental to stay at a company — or with a manager — who continuously diminishes your self-esteem, your confidence and your ability to excel. Though some workplaces are still learning how to put employees first, other capitalize on unhealthy methods of motivation that keep their staffers fearful and full of angst. The decision to pack it all up — so to speak, anyway — and set out for smoother pastures?
It’s not always paved with golden bricks, especially when you state of mind isn’t positive, to begin with. However, the longer you feel trapped in a gig, the less courage you’ll have to make the jump, no matter what you risk.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, get inspired to leave a toxic gig, just like these five — super-successful and happier — women did:
“Whatever it is, it’s totally okay.”
Even though her old job looked great on paper, Jessica Goldman — now a freelance graphic designer — had to admit the hard truth: she wasn’t happy. Not only were her stress and anxiety levels soaring, but she lacked confidence and comfortable with her work, causing her experience stomach pains when she thought of Mondays, brainstorming meetings or merely going into the office.
How she knew it was time to quit: Though she didn’t have a specific a-ha moment, Goldman sought the help of a therapist because she felt as if she was in the crux of a career crisis. After all, if she had the ‘dream job’ she always fantasized having, why was she so miserable? Through the guidance of an expert, she found the permission to walk away from a seemingly-perfect gig in search of something else.
Or rather, somewhere else: around the same time, Goldman discovered Remote Year, a program that gives digital nomads the ability to travel around the globe for a year, living and working remotely in up to 12 countries. This opportunity helped her take the plunge — she quit, found a sublet (minus some hiccups), started freelancing and flew to her first destination: Croatia.
What she learned: Especially if you’re a type-A personality, struggling with perfectionism runs in your veins. This difficult experience taught Goldman the value — and importance — of reminding yourself that everything is ‘totally okay.’ And that doesn’t mean it’s coming up roses, but rather, it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. “It’s totally okay to go through what I went through. It’s totally okay to quit a job after a few months as long as you truly know it isn’t right. It’s totally okay to put yourself and your happiness first. It’s totally okay to make hard decisions — like telling a boss who basically just hired you that you are leaving to travel. It’s totally okay to have anxiety and seek help and have breakdowns — they all make us stronger and more capable to tackle anything that comes our way,” she said.
“I didn’t trust the integrity of the company.”
When Holly Caplan interviewed for her previous position, they bragged about putting their employees first and aiding them in personal development and success. But once she started, she realized how opposite this actually was: not only was the C-level team making knee-jerk decisions, but they proved to be unstable and directionless. This created an office culture of anxiety and fear, where everyone—Caplan included—felt paralyzed, especially when they started making threats to fire or reduce salaries. She knew her future—and that of the business—was unsustainable.
How she knew it was time to quit: While on a call led by the vice president, Caplan received the nudge — er, shove— she needed to finally call it a wash. He revealed everyone’s salaries would be slashed and anyone considered a non-contributor would be let go in a month. “This was not a good sign, and I knew at that moment, I had to leave. They were going into panic mode, and I didn’t want to go with them,” she shared.
What she learned: Now a workplace expert and author, Caplan found this stressful experience to be a valuable source of wisdom on happiness versus money. “I learned to stand by my principles and not fall into the trap of succumbing to an unhealthy situation just because I was getting paid. Staying in a dysfunctional company will do nothing but send you into a vortex of negativity and non-production,” she explained. “Don’t go down with the ship. When you see ill-guided behavior and activities, know that there is a strong possibility that it is not coming from a good place. Take care of yourself and jump off the boat.”
“I didn’t want to be miserable until I was 60.”
From the outside, life was peachy for Nadine Hays Pisani. She was a successful chiropractor with a steady stream of clients, a nice home and car, along with a happy marriage. But what wasn’t obvious was her crippling financial, business and mortgage debt that she worked a decade to pay off. Once she reached a zero balance though? It didn’t make her as happy as she thought it would — especially working a blur of eight-to-ten hour days, on repeat.
How she knew it was time to quit: When her husband, also a chiropractor, was admitted into the hospital for a stomach ailment, they looked at each other and wondered what they were doing with their lives. Since most of their 30s were spent in an office, staring out of a window hoping for a new life, they knew they needed to make a change. “I knew deep down that I would be working there until my sixties unless we made a run for it,” she shared. That’s when they untangled their lives and rebuilt their lives in Costa Rica. Ten years later, they’ve never looked back. “It was the most reckless, ridiculous, and romantic move all wrapped it one. The risk of not doing it was too heavy. The thought that if I didn’t go, in five years, I’d look back and regret it. That the moment I was brave went to waste. That’s when you know. When there is no other choice. When that brave moment has not yet slipped away,” she shared.
What she learned: Even though a career takes a lifetime to build, you can always start another one. Now, Pisani is an author who writes about her experience and offers advice to others who want to leave the rat race in search of something softer.
“I grew afraid of my boss’s unpredictable mood swings.”
Though it was in the throes of the recession, Meghan Ely was excited to be offered a Director of Catering position, resulting in a major pay raise, making her one of the highest paid in the region. It seemed like the right move — but something wasn’t sitting well for Ely, right from week one. Not wanting to be wrong about her choice to accept the offer, she pushed through as her boss had daily tantrums and unpredictable mood swings. In addition to witnessing him drinking on the job and always having a camera monitoring their work, she stayed put—after all, she had just taken out a mortgage with her fiance and were about to pay for their wedding.
How she knew it was time to quit: Three weeks in, on a seemingly-normal workday, her boss arrived upset. He instructed everyone to rearrange a section of the store at the office — a huge and unnecessary undertaking. “It was then and there, I realized I was dealing with an unstable boss and it was not my best interest to stay,” she shared.
What she learned: Ultimately her decision to leave led to a part-time gig that allowed her to build up her own company, OFD Consulting, which she later founded. For Ely, having savings was the key to freedom, and something she recommends to all professionals. “I aim to live lean and save as much as I can so that, when an emergency pops up like this, I can breathe,” she explained. “Build a life raft before you need it—even if things are so-so now, start saving and keep a polished resume handy at all times.”
“There’s never a perfect time to start your business — but there is a time to leave.”
Leah Weinberg used to work as a commercial real estate attorney, but her passion was found in event planning. Though she didn’t want to admit it, she realized over the years of practicing that she should have never become an attorney in the first place, but now found herself in a position where she could only give a fraction of her time to her real passion, since her job demanded so much more.
How she knew it was time to quit: Once her side hustle, Color Pop Events, started to grow, she wondered what would happen if she dedicated 100 percent of her efforts. Still nervous to leave the safety net of a steady paycheck behind, she held on until a phone call sent her through the roof — and out the door. “I had a particularly contentious conference call with another attorney during a lease negotiation. He was insulting, condescending, patronizing — I hung up the phone and said, ‘That’s it. I’ve got to figure out a way to go full time with my business.’ So I got my finances in order and left that law firm a few months later and have been a full-time entrepreneur ever since,” she shared.
What she learned: Much like when you meet the person you’ll ultimately marry, are faced with difficult health news or everything around you seems to crumble — you can’t always control the timing of your career. As Weinberg says, sometimes you have to listen to what the universe is telling you, especially if it keeps delivering negativity to you. Since her role as an attorney was always met with conflict, she knew leaving was the best choice — and it might be the right one for you, too.
“For other people who may be feeling stuck or unhappy in their current jobs, I can definitely tell you that you’re not alone. And the number one thing you can do to start feeling better is to start looking into other options. Whether that’s interviewing at other companies or getting your ducks in a row to go full-time with your own venture, there’s nothing more empowering that starting to move forward,” she adds.