How do I feel OK about quitting my job when I never intended to stay in the first place?
June 3, 2010 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Anxiety Filter: I took this job knowing that I would have to leave it after only a few months. Now I must give notice, and I feel overwhelmed with anxiety about it. Advice?

So, here's the story. (Sorry, it's long.) I'm an American in my mid-twenties, not yet settled in a career. I've also dealt with severe anxiety and depression since I was a kid, which is important to know for the purposes of this question. I've also been in therapy for many years and have already spoken to my psychologist about this situation. It would really help to hear from others as well, though.

This past winter I went through a pretty rough break-up with my partner of several years. I moved back to my home city in January to stay with family, regroup, save money, and try to find a new direction for my life. After a few weeks of job hunting, I found a good job working for a nonprofit organization here. Now, by "good job" I don't mean highly-paid or particularly enthralling—it's entry-level office assistant work, lots of filing and moving things around. This sort of position has a fairly high turnover within the organization as a result. However, the organization itself is great, and my co-workers and supervisor are nice, and there's room for advancement for an educated, hard-working person like me. For a $9.50/hr. job, it's not bad.

Here's the catch. I never intended or wanted to stay here, in my hometown, for longer than a few months. I had a pretty unhappy childhood, and have persistent negative emotional associations with the area and with some members of my family. In short, I didn't really want to come back home, but financially and otherwise, staying with family was my only sound short-term option after the break-up.

So even before I got this job, I was making plans to leave. I arranged to work this summer for some close friends who operate a seasonal business on the east coast (far from here). I'm really excited to go; it will be a much more positive environment for me emotionally and financially. And it's coming up! My flight is in three weeks, so I need to give notice to my supervisor sometime this week.

While my supervisor didn't ask me to commit to any definite length of time in my job when she hired me, and while she knows I am overqualified for the work I'm doing and its pay, I'm sure she didn't expect me to leave this soon. I feel guilty for taking the job when I knew I wasn't going to stay in it, but I needed the money. Now that I have to give notice, I'm feeling overwhelmingly anxious about leaving after only 3 months of work.

I understand that this is not really a big deal and people blow through low-paying jobs all the time, but for some reason it's really stressing me out. I'm worried that my supervisor and/or my co-workers will think I'm irresponsible or flaky, worried that they will have trouble keeping up with the busy summer season when I leave, and worried about how to give notice in the first place. What do I say? "Sorry, I was just using this job as a stop-over until I could move on to a place I really want to be"? Do I lie and say a job offer just came up recently, and I have to take it because of the money? I've left jobs before, but it hasn't felt underhanded the way it does now.

I would appreciate thoughts from people who have dealt with anxiety in similar situations, or suggestions about how to re-frame this situation in my head. I totally understand I'm making a mountain out of a molehill here, but for some reason it's like my sense of reason has shut down and I can't think about this without feeling dreadful.

Anonymous because I'd prefer not to have this question linked to me in real life, for reasons you might understand.

Thanks for any help you can offer, and for making it through the long post.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, none of that back story is necessary. As you noted, churn is part of being an employer. Tell your supervisor you've been offered employment elsewhere that you can't turn down and you appreciate the opportunity to work at your current company. Your supervisor does not have to know what your intentions were when you took the job, the story of your life etc. Just give notice and have fun this summer.
posted by Kimberly at 8:57 AM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have been in a similar situation - taking a job when knowing I would have to quit after about 3 months to move onto something else. I had huge anxiety about it and what calmed me down was this advice given to me by a very successful, 40+ years in business dude: "Look, they wouldn't feel any guilt about firing you so don't feel any guilt about leaving them. It's a job, it's expected, and life is too short to worry about things like this."
posted by meerkatty at 9:00 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Think of it this way: if the situation was reversed, and your employer decided to get rid of you, they wouldn't even give you two weeks notice. It's business, not personal.

We've had a few people leave my company lately (one after only a month) and the only thoughts I've had about them are "Man, I miss X," and "I hope they're doing well."

Give your notice in writing, and keep it simple. "Dear Ms. X, Please consider this my two weeks' notice. I had enjoyed working for Company X, and I appreciate what I've learned in this position. Thanks, Y." If asked in person, say something that amounts to, I found something else, but gosh, I'm gonna miss this place. You all were such a pleasure to work with.
posted by punchtothehead at 9:01 AM on June 3, 2010

Tell them you're leaving because you're moving unexpectedly, and though you love the people at your job, you're excited about the adventure of moving to a new place. Make sure you stress that the unexpected move is a positive thing for you. They'll understand, and they won't take it personally. Chances are, they'll be happy for you.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:03 AM on June 3, 2010

"Sorry, I was just using this job as a stop-over until I could move on to a place I really want to be"

There's no reason at all to get so specific or to apologize at all. People take low-paying jobs they're overqualified for when they're in transition. They don't know when you're planning to leave but I'm sure they understand it could be at any time. They'll probably be happy for you if you just tell them you got a job offer you're excited about on the east coast. The best thing you can do for them is give notice ASAP so they can find somebody else, and maybe have you help train your replacement. Lots of people are out of work, it shouldn't be hard for them to find somebody who can file.
posted by contraption at 9:04 AM on June 3, 2010

Punch has got it right. Employers generally have no compunction about firing you at the drop of a hat. You don't owe them any explanation or more than two weeks' notice.

This Stockholm Syndrome mentality is how The Man keeps you enslaved at work.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:05 AM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think moving unexpectedly is a perfectly valid excuse for leaving a job. Employers understand that. Circumstances could have easily changed in the meantime and you might have ended up staying with the job longer. You're in a time of transition, after all. So I don't think you have to feel guilty because you never had a 100% set date of leaving from the get-go.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 9:14 AM on June 3, 2010

You need no excuse whatsoever for leaving. Just give your 2 week notice in writing, include a line about how much you enjoyed working there, and go on with your life. As others have noted, your employer would have no compunctions about letting you go if circumstances changed on their end. It's good to learn this early in your career.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:18 AM on June 3, 2010

I've been through this from both sides of the equation.

As an employee I felt as you do now: that by accepting the job I had implied that I would be there for a while, and that I was letting people down by leaving so quickly. And looking back I think there is some truth to that. I wouldn't have gotten the job if I had been upfront about my plans to leave, so at the very least I had lied by omission. That's not something I'm particularly proud of.

As an employer we looked at it differently. There was never any trouble filling low level positions and the training period was relatively short so it was more of a hiccup as people came and went. We always had a temp agency to cover any gaps. And virtually all of us had worked crap jobs at one time or another so we weren't particularly judgmental about people wanting out.

So to sum up, I think that a) you have misled people and that a little bit of shame about that is appropriate and b) your leaving your job is a minor disruption at best and nothing that anyone will hold against you. You're definitely in molehill territory here.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:19 AM on June 3, 2010

I gave a week's notice at an office job that had only one other person who could do what I could do; they had interviewees coming in on my last day and hired someone the next week. You as an employee are always easily replaceable, especially in this economy. Which is good, because your employer expects this type of turnover and you don't have to feel so anxious.
posted by lychee at 9:42 AM on June 3, 2010

Prepare a detailed job description of every single thing you do, print it out, and put it in a binder. Give your notice without guilt and say, as you hand over the binder: "I put together a list of everything my job requires for the next person. I hope it helps the transition go smoothly. Feel free to call me anytime if you have questions about procedures I followed. Thanks so much for giving me this opportunity. I almost hate to move on. You've been great."
posted by Elsie at 10:23 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

What everybody else said, plus one little thing: it might make you feel better to think that by leaving this job, you're creating an opening for somebody else who needs it. A brand-new graduate trying to get their first real job; somebody whose life took an unexpected turn and just needs a job, any job; somebody you might consider less fortunate than you. You're earning karma points, if you will.
posted by Quietgal at 10:58 AM on June 3, 2010

I am planning on leaving my nonprofit job when/if I get a better offer, so I'm nthing preparing a detailed job description. I'm doing the same thing, not because I have to, but because I respect these folks and don't want to see them screwed when I move on.
As one of our board members always says when emotion plays into these sorts of things: "It's just business." You owe them nothing, anything beyond that is gravy.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:18 AM on June 3, 2010

It would be more irresponsible and flaky to be an entry-level office assistant any longer than you have to. It's nice that you want to be nice to them, but your presence as an entry-level office assistant is not their linchpin for survival.
posted by rhizome at 11:18 AM on June 3, 2010

Elsie's idea is fantastic, it's 'good karma' and it will certainly help you with the guilt you're feeling.

Start thinking of it this way: you know that you're not a bad person. As long as your employers will give you a decent reference, what they and your colleagues think of you really doesn't matter. The more you trust what you think of yourself and the less you worry about what others think of you, the less anxiety you'll have in general and the better off you'll likely be.
posted by kitcat at 11:21 AM on June 3, 2010

Don't feel bad! Your employer will not hold it against you, I promise. They also won't have trouble filling your position. So, you're actually making an opportunity for someone who really wants that job! Good luck!
posted by amanda at 12:26 PM on June 3, 2010

I've felt like this myself about TAKING the job with the intention of staying temporarily. And then I didn't leave in anything like a short time. As most are saying, don't worry about it.

I would say quit, leave some notes for the next person, but don't offer your time once you've left, because you never know who might call you and how often. The next person could have a low threshold for what justifies picking up the phone.
posted by galaksit at 4:37 PM on June 3, 2010

As an employer we looked at it differently. There was never any trouble filling low level positions and the training period was relatively short so it was more of a hiccup as people came and went. We always had a temp agency to cover any gaps. And virtually all of us had worked crap jobs at one time or another so we weren't particularly judgmental about people wanting out.

This is exactly right. I'm an employer, and it wouldn't faze me if someone in your position resigned after a few months. You're worrying about this too much.
posted by jayder at 7:04 PM on June 3, 2010

Think of it this way: the longer you put off giving notice (due to anxiety), the shorter the notice period will be, and the harder on them. So you will be doing them a favour giving it ASAP!
posted by Pomo at 8:10 PM on June 3, 2010

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