Overcoming shame after quitting a job
April 18, 2012 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I quit a job without notice more than a year ago, and I still haven't fully recovered. Please help me overcome my shame and move on with my life.

Long story short, I chose a college major and profession for the wrong reasons (among them: a sense of obligation to my mother who disapproved of my dream careers, job security, stable income, potential for advancement). Needless to say, I became extremely depressed, and six weeks into orientation for my first full-time job within that profession, I had a panic attack and made the rash decision to quit the job without notice. I was well-aware of the consequences, namely that I would be ineligible for rehire.

A year and a half later, I am still filled with a sense of shame about quitting that position. Whenever I fill out a job application and get to the section on employment history, my stomach sinks because I know that position is a huge blemish on my resume.

I've been trying my best to recover from these mistakes (choosing the wrong major/career, accepting then quitting that first job), but no matter how much time passes, they continue to haunt me. I'm tired of hating myself for these failures.

My questions:
1) Am I completely unemployable?
2) What can I do to give myself a sense of closure and feel optimistic about my career prospects once again?

Thanks for your help.
posted by constellations to Work & Money (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If it was your first job after graduation and you worked for six weeks, leave it off your resume and move on. Realise that in the long term, this will make no difference at all. You're precisely as employable as you were they day you walked into orientation.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:17 AM on April 18, 2012 [50 favorites]

You don't have to list a job that you were only at for six weeks. People leave mistake jobs off their resume all of the time.

In terms of closure, you aren't the first or the last to make a mistake in how you handled a situation, particularly on the front-end of a career. The best thing you can do for yourself is learn from it and take those lessons to your next career.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 11:18 AM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

#1: No, of course not! I know so many people who have done much, much, much worse things.
#2: See a doctor/therapist for diagnosis for depression. Depression is less "I am sad." than "I feel overwhelming guilt, shame, that I've failed at life and will never recover." which you seemed to say.

Not being able to let go of this is pretty classic depression.

Also, don't mention that job on your resume/employment history if you don't want to.

Story time to make you feel better: I have a great friend who was in a terrible relationship and who quit his job here (without notice) to take a job at the place she lived. But she was lying about everything and dumped him 1 day before he moved, so he had to get his old job back (they accepted him) and not show up for the new job. If he can recover from that... your thing is nothin'. This happened not very long ago.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:19 AM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, just don't put this on your resume. You shouldn't have any problem getting a job--I assume you're pretty young and just finished college before that first job, so no one will think it's strange that you haven't been working until now.
posted by Paquda at 11:20 AM on April 18, 2012

No, you're not completely unemployable. You may not be immediately employable in what it is you DO want to do. That's different. You can do something about that.

Moving in that direction would be a good start on the closure you seek.
posted by John Borrowman at 11:20 AM on April 18, 2012

Honesty, you're probably in a better mental state then you would be if you'd stayed at a job it was clear to you right away that you hated.

Try and keep that in mind and reframe what you think of as a huge mistake/blemish as a good thing in the long-run.

Also, yeah, you don't need to list that on your resume.
posted by Fister Roboto at 11:20 AM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with DarlingBri--leave that job off your resume. Even if you quit with notice, you don't include someplace you only worked for a few weeks. It's just not done.

This is a time when a lot of people, for economy-related reasons, have been/are out of work for long periods of time, so a lengthy time since your previous job (or college experience, etc) isn't the end of the world.

I suggest temping in the meantime while you're looking for a new job. I was unemployed for a reaaallly long time, and temping helped get me back on my feet, both financially and mentally. (I also lucked out and fell into a really sweet permanent gig after only a short time with my agency, so that's also a possibility.)

Basically: don't sweat it. Pretend it didn't happen, and move on.
posted by phunniemee at 11:24 AM on April 18, 2012

I know that position is a huge blemish on my resume

It shouldn't be on your resume. No job you had for six weeks should be on your resume, really. Even a job you loved and were really good at, but then the company closed unexpectedly. Feel no shame or compunction about just erasing this brief episode from your employment record.

And, you know, don't do it again. The thing about making mistakes is that the best approach is to learn what you can from them and move on, not to beat yourself up about them for years.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:26 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

And you should just give yourself a sense of closure, because the incident is long closed. Probably nobody at that workplace even remembers you were ever there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:26 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing above; leave it off if you're in a country where you don't have to show every job on your resume (the US would be one of the countries where you don't have to show every job on your resume) and forget about it other than any lessons that are portable. You would surely be compassionate to someone else if they told you this story, so you can be compassionate to yourself and let yourself off the hook about something so teensy-tiny in the grand scheme of things.

2) What can I do to give myself a sense of closure and feel optimistic about my career prospects once again?

Realize that if they had had enough of you during the orientation period rather than vice versa, they probably wouldn't have given you more notice. Realize that many if not all of the people you esteem who are in the prime of their careers have a job in their past that they didn't perform perfectly and which didn't come to a good outcome.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 11:28 AM on April 18, 2012

You may not realize it now, but jumping ship quickly when you have made a bad career move is actually a good thing in many cases. The other option is to be stuck for years in an environment you hate - which can be bad for your career because you end up underperforming and not impressing anyone for future references. Better to bail after 6 weeks than to be known as the underperformer!

Your only mistake was to quit out of panic instead of deliberately - but I think you can cut yourself some slack for that one.
posted by yarly at 11:38 AM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

six weeks into orientation

You don't need to mention this job on your resume, in cover letters, during interviews, or, really, ever.

Not that many people would be shocked to hear that someone started a job, found it wasn't a good fit, and quit after 6 weeks--you'd get some raised eyebrows with regard to quitting without notice, but other than that, it's perfectly common to have a false start once or twice, or even a few times, in your career. Putting it on your resume or employment history form isn't a "huge blemish" but rather a "thing that takes up a few lines and doesn't add value." Leave it off, but not because it's something to be ashamed of.

What can I do to give myself a sense of closure and feel optimistic about my career prospects once again?

Realize that the only person who cares about this choice is you: you get to decide how it gets remembered, learned from, and left behind. The organization you left? They don't care about it. Seriously. If you tried to get a job there again, the worst they'd do would be to dig up your file, read about your brief time there, and turn you down for rehire based on company policy. Prospective employers? They don't know about it, so they don't care about it. You'd have to go out of your way to tell them about it in order to make them care enough to base hiring decisions on it.

You get to decide: am I going to remember this as a rash decision I made when I was 21 or as the worst thing I have ever done in my life? It's ok to feel embarrassed about it, to wish you'd made a different choice, but eventually you need to let it be a thing you did once rather than the thing that defines your worthiness as an employee. Figure out where your dreams, skills, and interests intersect, and let that guide you to a renewed sense of optimism about your career prospects. You have something to offer employers: what is it? (And don't say, "A huge mistake I made when I was 21." That's not it.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:38 AM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nthing everybody else above -- just leave it off your resume. I'm a grown-ass woman who moved cross-country to take a job I quit after three weeks! You think I list that mistake on my resume? Oh hell no.
posted by jabes at 11:39 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Give yourself some credit for having got the hell out of there before you devoted your life to it. Maybe you could have done it more gracefully, but what the hell. We don't always do things gracefully.

What everyone else said -- leave it off your resume and forget it. And maybe talk to your doctor about whether you might be depressed.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:40 AM on April 18, 2012

Imagine this. There was a guy next to you in orientation who was feeling the same panic attacks. He wasn't cut out for that job, and he knew it. But he stayed anyway, he didn't listen to his body trying to tell him to get out. In order to manage that feeling he's had to shut down his inner life all over the place and now he's a stranger to himself. He's in a relationship that isn't right for him but he won't let himself know it. He doesn't know how to find joy in his hobbies. He can't even hear himself because the first thing he's going to hear is that he should have run out of orientation like you did, and he should have run out every day ever since.

Obviously, he can't do that, because that wouldn't be responsible. So he's learned to label his own inner voice as being something irresponsible and therefore to be ignored. That's why he's a stranger to himself.

But he's also miserable, because he's a stranger to himself and because he's working at a job that isn't for him. And one day he's going to snap. He's going to just drop all of his responsibilities at work, he's going to cheat on his wife and leave his kids and buy a red sports car and leave personal and professional chaos in his wake, because the dam broke and all of his inner voices flooded him at once and he didn't know how to listen to any of them. Because he doesn't know who he is, hasn't known who he is since he was a child. He wants to know who he is again, so he starts acting like a child.

You dodged a bullet. You really really did. Your moment of anxious panic was your moment of clarity into the future. Your dam broke early. Now you have the rest of your life to listen to yourself and to do the things that you are good at and will make you happy.

Don't feel bad about this. Nobody else does. In the past year, literally nobody in the world has thought about how you ran out of the orientation, except for you.

Hell, I know a guy who called in sick to his job in Michigan, from Atlanta Georgia, where he was unexpectedly partying with some friends. They fired him. A few years later, they hired him back and now he's managing a pretty big department at the same company. It's fine. It's not nearly as big a deal as you think it is.
posted by gauche at 11:52 AM on April 18, 2012 [21 favorites]

You're probably fairly young, given the timeline you have here, and I have given this advice before, but it does help often:

Try to reframe this as a funny story. Because, in 10 years, when you're in a kick-ass job that suits you, it's the kind of story you're going to tell and laugh at your former self for.

When I was out of college for a very short time, I took an assignment with a law office doing administrative work. I expected that it would be cool, interesting, legal-type work, and I bought a suit to go to work in!

My first day on the job, two of the most obnoxious individuals came over to my desk and proceeded to discuss the merits of me in front of me, as if I weren't there. At one point, one of the attorneys said, "Does he even know how to proofread?"

I left at lunch and never came back.

I've used that story with recruiters and bosses and people I work with.

Your work record isn't a judgement of who you are.
posted by xingcat at 11:59 AM on April 18, 2012

Your resume is not your permanent record. It is a totally flexible document that can be custom tailored to match up with whatever job you happen to be applying for.

As others have said, leave this job off your resume. Life is full of these unfortunate incidents which we may never forget, but which we must sincerely move on from.
posted by hermitosis at 12:02 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

A resume is a sales document - not a life history. It should be generally truthful, but omitting something that is not relevant is fine. A job you had for 6 weeks is not relevant.
posted by COD at 12:13 PM on April 18, 2012

My first job out of college, they spent five of the first seven weeks sending me to Europe for training.

However, I found "management consulting" to be an affront to my (delayed a semester) engineering degree, so when they tried to make me work over a weekend and ditch the last class I needed for my degree, I got on the next flight stateside.

I just never put it on my resume.
posted by notsnot at 12:13 PM on April 18, 2012

Was this "panic attack" really a sudden realization of clarity? Getting out of a job you know you don't want is the absolutely correct thing to do. Sometimes that can hit you very hard all at once, and that can feel scary.

You never have to list this job anywhere. If the subject comes up somehow, sometime, in passing, in talking not writing, you could say something like you interviewed there, and you decided it wasn't for you. It's true. The fact that you were in the building and got a general feel for the place can be a positive point in certain situations.

I don't see anything for shame there. You did a brave and correct thing.
posted by caclwmr4 at 12:19 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you to everyone who has replied for providing guidance and much-needed reassurance.

To everyone who has written that I can leave the job off my resume - won't HR see this employer on my record when they do my background/Social Security check? My worry that it would come up is the only reason I haven't omitted it.
posted by constellations at 12:29 PM on April 18, 2012

Background checks conducted for most jobs will not unearth this previous employer.
posted by cranberry_nut at 12:38 PM on April 18, 2012

Constellations, if that's the case then simply say that "I did not consider it relevant to my area of interest."

Resumes shouldn't be more than one page in most cases. Just recently, I submitted an internal resume for a job that I was interested in. I made sure that it didn't exceed one page and chose to omit work experience at a department store (high school years), library work and volunteering experience (middle school years), music internship, and a legal internship. The reason being? It's not applicable for the job and I don't want my resume to be hundreds of pages.

You are employable. Customize your resume based on all of your skills and accomplishments.

Time heals many things in life. But, if after some time and advice from your support group (us, friends, family, whatever) you still can't move past this then please consider therapy.
posted by livinglearning at 12:38 PM on April 18, 2012

As multiple people have said, it is perfectly normal to leave whatever positions off a resume if you don't want them to be considered in light of the job for which you are applying. I don't put dog grooming jobs on my whatever, pilot resume.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:38 PM on April 18, 2012

I'm pretty sure the SSA, IRS and state/local tax bureaus don't just hand out private citizens' tax records willy-nilly, and there's otherwise no other official "record" of where you've worked. So, unless you're going for some sort of high-security clearance, no one is going to be digging so deep as to discover a six-week job. If you are being interviewed for a job with a high security clearance, you're probably well past the point where they would care about a six-week job and you can just tell them.
posted by griphus at 12:49 PM on April 18, 2012

won't HR see this employer on my record when they do my background/Social Security check?


Seriously, it is the norm not to include jobs you've had for only a few weeks on your resume. Don't overthink this.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:49 PM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

A year and a half later, I am still filled with a sense of shame about quitting that position.

You have literally spent 10x more time worrying about this job than you actually spent on the job itself. Aside from the fact that, as others have mentioned, this is something you can easily leave off your resume for the rest of your life, I think maybe it might be a good idea to explore this in some kind of therapy, because this seems like an awfully extreme response to something very normal and unremarkable.
posted by elizardbits at 1:11 PM on April 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Try to reframe this for yourself: you made a clear, quick decision which spared you the unhappiness of working at a career you disliked, in a place you hated. Never underestimate how soul-crushing that can be. Take credit for knowing yourself, and for taking decisive action.
posted by jokeefe at 1:33 PM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

And just another piece of anecdata: I work on graduate admissions for a school at a large Canadian university. The other day I was looking over a resume, and because the student had attended the university previously I looked up their data, only to find that they had completed the coursework for an utterly unrelated PhD and then left their program (and when I say unrelated, you probably could not get two more opposed fields of study). There was no mention of this on their resume, and I totally understand why: it was not relevant to the application at hand. Your resume can have many characters; this person could have presented two entirely different views of their career(s) depending on which one they wanted to emphasize.
posted by jokeefe at 1:41 PM on April 18, 2012

I just wanted to tell you that what you did was pretty brave and part of me feels envious. I never had the guts to back out of things that were wrong for me. My life isn't crap, don't get me wrong, but it is full of what ifs and a kind of shame for not standing up for myself.

You did well and I hope you can get on with the rest of your life now, you deserve it!
posted by Omnomnom at 2:26 PM on April 18, 2012

What makes you think you are unemployable? That was a job, you take jobs, you leave jobs. Dont get yourself emotionally involved with a job :). Move on, you deserve a better job and it is your right to get a great job that works for you.
posted by pakora1 at 2:39 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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