Would quitting my job help more than hurt
June 20, 2010 6:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about quitting my job, not because I hate it (in fact I love what I'm doing). I would quit to take time to rest and recover. The questions: Are the consequences worth it, or should I treat this as an impulsive escape fantasy? Tried this yourself? Did you have the positive outcomes you had hoped for? Any suggestions or insight?

The details in Pros/Cons format:

--I'm tired. I need to heal myself, mostly mentally, but also physically.
--Mom={Borderline, Hoarder}, Dad = {Bipolar, Asperger's}, Me ~ Dad. I'm still dealing with my hurtful upbringing.
--I have OCD in the form of intrusive thoughts and a history of depression and get easily overwhelmed (although I am well-rehearsed at compensating and it is not too obvious from the outside).
--I have spent the past 6 years working while in school, 5 of which I was supporting both myself and my husband as he worked for sweat equity in several start ups. Also, before that was a string of very stressful situations that I did not really recover from.
--My marriage needs work.
--In short, I feel like I'm cruising for a breakdown.
--I need to finish my master's in statistics. I've been working on it for 4 years now, and the fear/stress of not finishing is consuming me. I only have comps or a thesis remaining (pretty much). (The OCD/intrusive thoughts are keeping this goal hard to achieve.)
--My husband is agreeable to supporting me.
--I'm irked that my work peers are making 20K-30K more than me. (I didn't go to a fancy school and my department values a business education over a mathy/techy skillset)
--I get all happy when i think about doing yoga everyday, working on my blog, finishing school, feeling nurtured by my husband (meaning, him working while I rest), spending a few months at my meditation retreat center, volunteering with hospice and math tutoring, helping my photographer friend, writing music again, reading NOVELS and not just math/coding books, returning to my hobbies, becoming a more joyful person who is stronger to handle difficulties, etc.
--I think(?) that my industry will continue to need people and rehiring won't be too difficult (Business Analyst: predictive analytics, BI, dimensional data modeling and other data warehouse stuff, mainframe coding, ETL, data quality and profiling, etc etc. I am fortunate to get to do a broad range of stuff and think I could maintain intellectual currency by focusing on a topical blog.)
--Taking time off to finish a degree isn't so bad... (But is taking two years to do yoga and a blog bad?)
--My shrink is supportive
--Leaving after two years and taking time off work doesn't look as bad as it would have 20 years ago. (Yes? No?)

--Because it would make me look flaky/neurotic/like a quitter on my resume in the future. Why hire someone who quit work to just... not work? (and finish a degree and blog, I guess)
--Even more to the point, it would show to MYSELF that I AM flaky/neurotic/a quitter. One could guess by the description of my folks that integrity and reliability are hot-button issues for me.
--I have an unofficial 3-year contract to stay in my current job. I've been there two years.
--I have a sweet job in a tough economy.
--I self-identify with perseverance in the face of difficulty (but here, does that mean having the strength to step back and work on myself? or stick with the job and finish the degree?)
--Apparently my troubles aren't disruptive at work. People tell me stuff like "it must be nice having no problems like you..." or "you're just so peaceful and positive." I'm pretty secretive and do not wear my problems on my sleeve, so it's not like I'm causing problems at work or anything.
--We could get by on my just husband's salary, but it'll take careful planning and adaptation.
--We have about $8K in student debt remaining and $16K on a car. (No other debt and we rent.)

Some about me: 30 years old, no kids. My current job is my first salaried position, the previous jobs lasting a couple years or so each. I didn't get my undergraduate degree until I was 26, so I'm a little late to the party careerwise.

Throwaway email: stay.go.stay.go@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Some jobs will allow you to take an unpaid sabbatical, might be worth checking if your job allows this. Having said that, if you feel like you want to do this and have a supportive husband, I see no reason not to do so. However, it's worth planning HOW you want to tackle your regeneration before you actually quit your jobs to avoid spending the time sitting around in sweatpants eating cheetos.
posted by gadha at 6:47 AM on June 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

On preview:

seconding the sabbatical. Getting a degree is not a bad reason for this.
posted by Triton at 6:49 AM on June 20, 2010

I think you should do this with a couple caveats:

1. Commit to completing the degree while you are out of work. Quitting work to bum around and do yoga is unacceptable for an adult in my opinion.
2. Save up some money over the next few months before you quit to give yourself a safety net in case something goes wrong with your husband's job/you unexpectedly get pregnant/someone gets sick/whatever. You can pay off your debt or save it, preferably both, but that way you have some wiggle room there.

If you do these two things, I think it's fine to quit for a while and recharge, provided you can afford it and do so responsibly. Someday when (if) you have kids you will remember this time very fondly and probably appreciate having had the chance. It sounds like you'd have a relatively easy time finding a new job after your two years. Please do keep in mind however that many of your pros will not be fixed by being out of work. You will still be OCD, still have had a hurtful upbringing, etc. Being out of work is not a miracle cure. But if you think it will help recharge you AND you complete the education, go for it.
posted by supercapitalist at 6:56 AM on June 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Quitting your job for two years to finish your degree, take care of pressing family obligations, and find a better paying job, with some extra time thrown in (maybe a couple months) for relaxation sounds okay to me. But when you phrase it as take two years off to blog and do yoga, frankly it does sound pretty flaky to me. Sure, I get all happy if I think about not working and doing stuff I enjoy all the time...who doesn't? (But if you have a husband who's willing to let you do that, then more power to you.)

Some questions to consider:
1. Do you and your husband intend to have children? Do you intend to stay home with them for any significant period of time? Can you financially swing this two year period of time off and then later taking time off to raise children?
2. Let's suppose the worst case scenario. You can't find a job again. Will you and your husband manage? Will it derail your future plans? Or what if you get a new job, but you hate it? Is your current job good enough that you will be kicking yourself over it?

Another potential compromise: can you move down to part-time?
posted by unannihilated at 7:01 AM on June 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're not a neurotic flaky quitter--after all, your therapist sees this as a good idea! You need to be firm with yourself and others (especially with people like--heh, epopnysterical--supercapitalist out there) that you're taking time off to finish your degree and recharge. That's completely valid, and doesn't need any defending.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:21 AM on June 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've taken multiple extended breaks from working where possible. A few months at a time, nothing too heavy. I never worried about how it would look on my resume, and my current employer certainly didn't care when I went through a rigorous year-and-a-half competition for what is now my dream job.

When I took time off I basically drank a ton of coffee, spent a lot of quality time with my parents, read more books than I thought was possible, and was ready to go back to work at a new job feeling completely rejuvenated.

So, I say take advantage of it if you feel it can work out financially. That's the only real stumbling block as far as I'm concerned.
posted by fso at 7:39 AM on June 20, 2010

I would keep working until you pay off all of your debt. A good way to find out if you can really live off of your husband's income is to keep working and use all of your income to pay off the debt. It shouldn't take too long. I have stopped working a couple of times in my life. The first was for 1 1/2 years and the second was for about one year. I enjoyed both of the breaks from work and they were much more interesting periods of my life than if I had worked during that time. It was a little uncomfortable not to have an income, even though I had planned financially for my breaks. It would have really bothered me if I had had any debt at all during those times.
posted by calumet43 at 7:42 AM on June 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Everyone here who has said not to quit to bum around should STFU- you only have one life and going through it miserable isn't the right way to do things. Quit, take some time off, be a flake, who cares, as long as you are covering your responsibilities (domestic and financial) it is only up to you and your husband to make that judgement.

My suggestion would be to sell the car and buy something you can afford (get that payment off your back) and enroll in just enough classes to put your student loans in deferrment (but only if they are subsidized so the government eats the interest). Ease back into school if you will.

There are plenty of very smart (much smarter than I) people such as Tim Ferriss who advocate mini-retirements throughout your life. Doing it smart is the key.
posted by TheBones at 7:43 AM on June 20, 2010

Everyone here who has said not to quit to bum around should STFU- you only have one life and going through it miserable isn't the right way to do things.

Not being able to meet financial obligations in the future, as well as potentially harming the chances of achieving other life goals in the future because of decisions made now, can make one's life miserable as well.
posted by unannihilated at 8:01 AM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

You do sound burned out. When was the last time you took 2 full weeks off work to do something relaxing? If you haven't done that in a long time (or ever), you should really start there. The answer here might be that you just need to ramp back at work, let yourself cruise some while still maintaining a job (I mean, you must be working pretty damn hard if you don't even have time for leisure reading). Look into sabbatical opportunities (or short-term leave of absence, even), or possibilities for going part-time.

It's unclear from what you've written how dedicated you are to having a career. If you do consider yourself dedicated to your career, I don't think you will do that aspect of your life any favors by taking 2 years off. 2 years off to finish a mostly done master's degree is not going to look compelling on a resume filled with a string of 2 year jobs. Are you prepared to come back in starting at 0, if you are able to come back in at all?
posted by ch1x0r at 8:40 AM on June 20, 2010

I've taken time off work to raise children and quit jobs because they weren't fun, so I am not in the "you gotta always work" camp. That being said, you need to be able to financially support yourself without your husband's help - I think asking your partner to financially support you (unless you have a mutual obligation like children that one of you is staying home to raise or educating/working themselves into a fantastically high-paying job) is not healthy for either of you. Eliminate your debts, save for your sabbatical, and right now start living off the equivalent of your husband's income (bank the rest and don't touch it) and see how you both feel about the change in circumstances before you commit to leaving your job.

If your marriage needs work, adding the stress of unemployment and financial instability can possibly make it much, much worse. You say he is agreeable, I wonder why he isn't enthusiastic?
posted by saucysault at 8:56 AM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Can't say whether you should quit or not, but I do NOT think you should quit and get a higher degree just for the sake of doing something. Higher education only makes sense in the context of furthering a career or life goal. Learning random things in the hope that it will be helpful/look good will just add to your woes. Its tough to go back to doing pointless HW/tests. If you want to keep busy, volunteer.
posted by earlsofsandwich at 8:56 AM on June 20, 2010

Unannihilated did you not read the rest of my post, or even the next sentence where I explicitly say Quit, take some time off, be a flake, who cares, as long as you are covering your responsibilities (domestic and financial).

And then I go on to give some options on how to be more financially responsible while doing what you need to do for your sanity.

It is especially important to take time for yourself if you feel like you are getting close to having a meltdown.
posted by TheBones at 9:00 AM on June 20, 2010

I think one way to look at it is that there are two kids of questions about quitting your job. The first kind of question is moral: is this an ok thing to do? Will it make me a bum or a flake? The second kind is logistical: do we have enough money to do this? Will it help me finish my degree earlier?

In general, I would ignore the moral questions, since this isn't really a moral issue. This decision impacts you and your husband and not really anyone else. If you're both ok with it, then no one else's opinion matters (for instance, it's really not relevant that supercapitalist thinks bumming around is unacceptable, since he is not impacted by your decision). As PBWK says, this part is important to get firm, because, unfortunately there's no shortage of people who will want to offer moral opinions on matters that are none of their business, like this.

The logistical questions are, in general, more useful for dilemmas like this. It seems like, logistically, this makes sense. FWIW, I would not even consider this to be "taking time off." Many, many people go to grad school full-time. I did, and I never, nor did any future employers, see it as time off. I have friends who have gone to school part-time while working full-time, and obviously there's a huge benefit to that. But at the same time, it's enormously valuable to be able to devote your full attention to what you're studying. I would imagine this is especially true when you are at the point of comprehensive exams and thesis - classes, with all their immediate deadlines, can be studied for in snatches of time between work, but it's really hard to keep yourself on track for open-ended projects like a thesis when you're also working full-time.

One alternative, if you're not totally ready to take the leap right now: what if you suspended your studies for a year (ie, did not work at all on your thesis), saved money during that year, and then quit to finish at the end of the year? This would give you some breathing room now without having to quit your job right away, and of course the savings would give you some financial security while you're not working at a job.

Good luck!
posted by lunasol at 9:26 AM on June 20, 2010

I think you need to figure out *why* you are actually quitting, and voice it. At the moment, you're saying two contradictory things: quitting to go back to school, and quitting to blog/do yoga etc. Are you actually quitting to go back to school? It doesn't sound like you want to, but you think maybe it sounds better than "I'm quitting to blog and do yoga." Be honest about why you want to leave, and then don't let anybody give you crap about it.

Having said that, consider your finances. Start living on just your husband's salary for a few months, to see whether it's doable or not. Use your salary to pay down outstanding debt and don't take on any new debt.

Also, speaking as someone who has mental health issues, I took a year off between jobs. Having the recreational time may seem like it's going to be great, but it won't make any difference if you don't have a plan for dealing with the underlying problems. Indeed, having more time can make such things as intrusive thoughts much worse, since you can work yourself into a real spiral.

So, 1) figure out your real reasons for quitting, and get comfortable with your choices.
2) work up a plan to deal with anxiety/boredom/intrusive thoughts.
3) get your finances in order, to make sure it's practical.
posted by media_itoku at 9:35 AM on June 20, 2010

I am not sure quitting is such a great idea. If you take two years off, will that teach you how to handle the stress of working? Or will you just get out of the habit of working?

I think before you quit a sweet job in a bad economy, try to figure out how you can learn to recuperate on your off hours. Most jobs are 8-10 hours out of a 24 hour day, 5 days a week. There's a lot of down time. If you're burned out, maybe the problem is you don't take advantage of that down time, and you need to learn how. Because after you take your sabbatical, you will be back to work, with the same problem you had before.

If you're working more than 50 hours a week, on the other hand, before you quit, you should ask your boss if you can scale your hours down to something reasonable.

Maybe what you really need is to take some time to yourself every day. Maybe if your husband could give you one hour where you can just walk out of the house and wander around, with no responsibilities to him or anyone else, that would take care of what you really need. Or, an hour to blog and do yoga.

If you love what you do, I would strongly suggest you stick with it, and just learn how to use your down time to relax.
posted by musofire at 9:52 AM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

You made a three-year commitment? Quitting after two years without getting released from that verbal contract by the other party (or completing it) would feel flaky to me as well. I'm all for quitting. But not following through on commitments has consequences on your relationship with yourself. (Do you trust your own word?) I'd handle that part with care.
posted by salvia at 9:58 AM on June 20, 2010

I'm concerned with a couple of things:

1) I get all happy when i think about doing yoga everyday, working on my blog, finishing school, ... spending a few months at my meditation retreat center, volunteering with hospice and math tutoring, helping my photographer friend, ...

This feels like sheer escape fantasy to me, unfocused, and with the false premise that you would be happy only if [fantasy next step]. It reminds me of Kate Harding's essay The Fantasy of Being Thin, in which she talks about how she got thin, but she was as depressed and scattered as ever.

2) I'm worried about your marriage; it sounds like you are too, in that one of your pro bullet points is that your marriage needs work. Also, your desire for this: feeling nurtured by my husband (meaning, him working while I rest)

You should be able to feel nurtured by your husband even with you working. And it's a bad idea to become completely financially dependent on your husband if you don't feel nurtured by him (which you seem to want and need, which is fine). Feeling secure enough to quit your job and depend on your husband and feeling like your marriage needs work are opposites.

Plan a vacation, make an effort to do the things you love and miss (go to yoga every day for a week no matter what, WHILE you're working; buy a novel and finish it by reading before bed instead of watching TV), but don't quit quite yet.
posted by purpleclover at 10:00 AM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

My only hesitation (I am a big fan of not working for money, I don't think there's any problem with one partner supporting another if both are comfortable with it, etc) is that some people--I'm one--can have a really hard time with completely unstructured time. It may seem like having no set obligations would result in this great mix of yoga, working on that final obligation for the degree, blogging, reading those novels you really want to read...but some people fall apart without any outside structure and end up getting nothing done.

Once a long time ago when I had saved up carefully during the academic year so I wouldn't have to work over the summer, I ended up running out and getting a job at Kmart because having no schedule, no pressure, nothing to push against, meant my life didn't have the minimum amount of productive tension in it. So that's something to think about with regard to your own temperament and personality.

I agree, too, with some people up-thread who said this sounds like an escapist fantasy, or perhaps a bit of magical thinking: not working would let you do all these various things plus feel nurtured by your husband (as purpleclover pointed out) plus finally get a grip on that OCD problem.

On the other hand, "cruising for a breakfown" is worth paying attention to. If a full-on break from full-time work is what you need to avoid that, then that's what you should do.
posted by not that girl at 10:16 AM on June 20, 2010

A few things I would think about before quitting:

a) What is stopping you from doing yoga every day now? 15-30 minutes in your day surely is possible at this point; it's not optimal, but it's a start.

b) What is stopping you from having a blog now? Most blogs will have less than 30 readers for the first year if they're lucky and very little in the way of promotion outside of yourself. Is that something you're interested in quitting your job for?

Additionally, will this just be a "you" blog or a focused subject? Do you have a breakdown of format, how often you want to post, what topics you want to cover, what sources you'll get your info from, etc. If you're going to make a blog worthwhile, you need to put some time into it and have that figured out from the getgo.

c) You sound like you're quitting your job for a wide variety of hobbies, which is definitely a way to de-stress, no doubt. It sounds like you're currently inactive in all of them (the tone of your writing) which leads me to wonder if you'll end up actually doing many of them.

If you're leaving work for something that you're passionate about, that's one thing. If you're leaving work to pursue a bunch of kinda-passions, that's a little less awesome and could lead to a big waste of time and guilt for not having done more with your sabbatical.

d) All of this should be ignored if you're either super enthused to do your master's or you feel like you're going to explode. A lot of people sort their lives out while still moving forward, but if you really don't feel like you can, do the things that make you happy and focus on family, your marriage and your sanity.

Best of luck!
posted by Hiker at 10:23 AM on June 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just remember that neither option is wrong, both are doable, both have pros and cons, so either option is ok. So it comes down to which makes you happiest.

I personally think being healthy, rested and sane are a priority for my quality of life, and without quality, there is nothing else. But that is me.
posted by Vaike at 11:03 AM on June 20, 2010

I have an unofficial 3-year contract to stay in my current job. I've been there two years.
--I have a sweet job in a tough economy.
--We have about $8K in student debt remaining and $16K on a car.

The combination of these three suggests to me that the best thing to do is start planning your time off/sabbatical to start a year or so from now. In the meantime hammer away at the debt as much as you can, learn to live frugally, get your plan in order - goals, timeframe, finances, etc - and start into the hobbies you're dreaming about to make sure they're actually satisfying. Having a deadline will make you feel somewhat better, I think. As for the resume, taking time off to finish your degree is absolutely a professionally acceptable way to spend time off, at least in my industry but whatever you end up doing you've got to be able to tell the story in a work-friendly way when you start interviewing again.
posted by jamesonandwater at 1:02 PM on June 20, 2010

I've taken a years-long break from work for similar reasons: burnout, basically.

Bad idea.

Society is what it is, and it will marginalize you for your choice. From future employers, friends, and family, expect to feel subtle -- or not-so-subtle -- condemnation for dropping out of the work world. That societal pressure won't be helpful to your mental health, but it will be there.

And, unless you spend your extended time off engaged and occupied in something worthy of your serious full-time attention, you run the strong risk of finding the down-time depressing, anxiety-provoking, and alienating, rather than refreshing.

There is indeed more to life than work, but I don't think you'll get anywhere near the benefits you expect from a couple years of quasi-idleness. I know. I've done it. I wouldn't recommend it.
posted by Dimpy at 1:27 PM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

supercapitalist: "I think you should do this with a couple caveats:
Quitting work to bum around and do yoga is unacceptable for an adult in my opinion.

posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 1:44 PM on June 20, 2010

See, I completely disagree with Dimpy. I've done what you're contemplating two or three times. Each time, I've gone back stronger, better equipped or educated, and at a significant pay increase. Plus, I've gotten to travel all over the world, I've seen plays and readings and street performers. I've heard music and poetry and the compared the bird song in some of the prettiest scenery in the world. I've picked up degrees, I've picked up certifications, I've picked up friends, acquaintances and future work contacts.

Burn out will kill you. Listen, nobody gets off this ride alive...enjoy it. It's just a ride.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 1:47 PM on June 20, 2010

I've had a job where I ended up really burnt out and in need of a break and I was also fantasizing about taking a year off etc. What ended up happening was I took 6 weeks off at the end of that 18 month contract and that was actually plenty. I was rested and ready to move on to the next thing by the end of the break, which I never would have predicted beforehand. It also allowed me to take stock and change my working habits a bit so that the next project worked better for me and didn't burn me out in the same way, and given the next thing was enrolling as a PhD student that wasn't an easy task.

So I think that if you can take a shorter break, even just a couple of weeks, to decompress and get over the initial exhaustion then you'll be in a better place to make a decision about what to do next (be it a longer sabbatical or changing your job somehow or just going back refreshed and with a different attitude). If nothing else it will show you whether the break will go as you planned, what you will or won't get done, what your husband will or won't do. Taking a month or two off won't effect your career in the same way that taking a year or two off would so it's lower risk and then the chances of you making a good long term decision would go up as a consequence.

Also, writing a masters thesis is hard, let alone trying to write it while you're working. Leaving work to finish your degree isn't the same as just quitting, you're changing jobs from being a business analyst to being a student (presumably full time if you're not doing anything else). So that takes away all the judgey moral stuff for a start, there's nothing wrong with being a full time student. Quitting your job with some vague idea about finishing the degree and no plan in place for how you're going to do so is a bit different, because the chances are really high nothing will happen. I found that as soon as I didn't have to go to work I stopped doing all kinds of things and it was hard to get the momentum back (and all my bad mental health habits were amplified without structure to keep them in line). So if you really do want to stop and finish your degree make sure you talk to your advisers about it and get a plan in place then commit to actually doing that.

One thing I would totally ignore is any judgement about having your husband support you. You already supported him for five years and no one seems to think that was a problem, part of being in a committed relationship is being able to do thins you couldn't do on your own. Figure out the finances with him and be realistic about what you can afford, and focus on that instead.
posted by shelleycat at 2:25 PM on June 20, 2010

If roles and feelings were reversed (no change to jobs, proportion of income, etc., but otherwise flipped) would you support your husband quitting for the same reasons and with the same plans?

If the answer is an honest yes, what's the problem?
posted by rr at 3:22 PM on June 20, 2010

Okay, so I don't normally respond when someone disagrees with me-I figure reasonable people can have different and yet valid opinions, but I've been mentioned by name three times so apparently I need to clarify what I said. To listen to you guys I am proclaiming that we should all be working ourselves to death or else.

First, read carefully-I told the OP to do it. To quit and take time off. Just because I think she ought to be responsible about how she does it and make the most of that time does not mean that I think she ought to not do it at all.

Second, I don't work. Right now, I am unemployed by choice, going back to school in the fall for an MBA, spending the summer with my kids at the pool. So I get the urge to rest and recharge, believe me. But I planned for this. I set aside what we needed so that I can spend this time resting and relaxing and blogging (duh). And I want the same for the OP. It's not restful or relaxing to be unemployed, doing yoga, and wondering how you will pay rent. Also, from personal experience, it's nice to have a plan for what to do with all that free time so you don't wind up watching Oprah every day. Been there.

As for my comment about adults bumming around. I stand by it. The OP posted the question, she was obviously interested in getting different opinions. Mine is that by 30, sitting home and doing nothing is counter productive and wasteful. You only get to go around once, I can't imagine wanting to spend it wafting through the days.

So to the OP-I stand by my original opinion. That and $2.50 will get you a cup of coffee.

Oh and last...I know that my handle makes this opinion extra funny-I chose the right handle for myself, obviously. So can you guys go smack off about someone else's now, please? lol
posted by supercapitalist at 3:35 PM on June 20, 2010

With documentation from your shrink that you need the time off, could you get FMLA leave? That would give you 12 weeks (unpaid) to rest, and then you can return to your job.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:31 AM on June 21, 2010

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