What are good reasons for quitting a job?
February 26, 2013 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm depressed and overwhelmed. I think this is primarily due to work pressures. Are these reasons to quit a job? What are some valid reasons? What should I be asking myself?

I am feeling so overwhelmed and tired and depressed about work. I keep on breaking down, and I am really struggling to stay afloat or stay focused. I get very depressed and don't feel like going on (I do have support mechanisms so this is not something that needs an intervention -- just trying to convey how depressed i am).

I keep on thinking about quitting. I honestly don't know what I want to do next - I've had several short term fellowships -- I don't think i've been stellar in those either, though I seem to have cultivated a successful-seeming narrative.

Issues that I've come up with so far:
1. not having health insurance
2. not having money (I don't have a lot of savings - maybe 10k? no debt. i live in an expensive city though)
3. supporting my mom (she's in her early 70s and has no retirement savings.)
4. concerned that I will just get further depressed, and become a burden on others
5. wondering what people will think of me
6. making a rash decision, not really having a good plan what to do
7. losing my friends? (fellow professionals)

Out of these, 3 worries me the most, followed by 4 and 7, i think.
I hate living so much some times that many of these start feeling moot.

Things that could be good that come out of this? Maybe?
1. it might force me to try something new and radical, and identify what i really want to do with my life?
2. give me an opportunity to do typical in-your-20s stuff -=- travel, working odd jobs, etc. (I was in grad school (PhD) through my 20s, and related 'alternative careers' since... to the point that i am somewhat viewed as an expert in career advice. funny, huh?
3. remove the persistent feeling that i keep on staying in these jobs like my current one because that's what i'm expected to do?

background: I've been like this for a long time (like this) and sorta like this), tend to be an overachiever and people pleaser, i am 33, boyfriend but no kids, have a Ph.D. (that i something think i did just because of parental pressure and question a lot), am making decent to above-decent money, and am in a career US gov job, so while i should be happy with what i have... yet here i am, feeling so so so stuck. feel free to tell me i'm being ungrateful... but please tell me ways i can try to reframe my thinking.

sorry for all the rambling. just feeling at wits end more and more. thank you.
posted by ArgyleMarionette to Work & Money (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Don't quit the job you have until you've lined up a suitable replacement. Look for something that offers health insurance, for starters. If you claim your mom as a dependent, that might help too.
posted by dylan_k at 6:12 PM on February 26, 2013 [11 favorites]

but please tell me ways i can try to reframe my thinking.

Not saying you should stay or leave, but if you want to reframe your thinking:

1) Viz your material situation you are likely in the top 5% of the world right now. You have a nice income, benefits, etc. Not to make you feel guilty, something to feel grateful for.
2) Taking care of a parent who needs your help is a rare honor that most never get to or choose to have. You could feel very very good about yourself for choosing to do this if you wish.
3) Great majority of people really do not like their jobs. You can find much meaning outside of your job if you wish, and view the job as a vehicle that allows you that luxury.
4) It is darn nigh impossible to feel depressed and grateful simultaneously. I could actually name 25 things you could feel grateful for right now, and I do not even know you. Learning to practice gratitude could ameliorate much of your suffering.

As I say, whether you stay or not is immaterial. I DO think you need to get the depression issue sorted out. Once you are not depressed you will be able to make a better decision about your job. Too many times we blame our circumstances for our inner state, but I think more often our inner state determines our experience of our circumstances. I hope you figure out a way to improve things.

best regards
posted by jcworth at 6:22 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah there's no way that being unemployed with no health insurance and an elderly dependent is going to be less stressful than your job. Rest tonight; tomorrow do your resume; and get started searching and applying to other jobs.

(I had a crummy day too that left me drained and wishing for a break. I understand and I feel you. But don't make sudden moves based on this feeling.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:23 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

If your job is stressing you out, leave, but not until you have another lined up.
posted by radioamy at 6:26 PM on February 26, 2013

If you don't like something specific about your job then it makes sense to move on but if you are generally depressed and overwhelmed don't quit on a whim.

I am very depressed and constantly try to talk myself into quitting my job. It is hard but a lot of the time I am able to see that I am looking for a solution in the wrong place. If you have another passion there is no reason you can't try to pursue that on the side and see where it leads while keeping the safety net of the job for awhile. Good Luck.
posted by mrdrummed at 6:26 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was in your shoes about one year ago.

A few months after hitting a low in my then-job -- like yours, at a well-paying, well-regarded job at a good company in a Very Expensive City -- I handed in my notice with a plan to well, do something new. I've felt the way you do, and the important thing is to change the narrative.

See, most people are itching to do just this. Rather than saying you're miserable about your current job, say you're exciting for a new project. I worried my professional friends would judge me; instead, they were excited and fully supportive. Really, I had only a vague idea of what I "wanted" to do -- but pretended it was a big secret I just couldn't let them in on yet. Also, different people like different things; you're no less "good" than they are because you don't enjoy the same work.

For me, it all worked out. I ended up making a few big life changes that I hadn't expected, all good, and I'm now in a better place that I couldn't have imagined/expected in my I-hate-everything-here job. There was a long, unemployed period between, but it sounds as if you have some money put aside. Might as well invest it in yourself.


The other important thing, really, is to get some therapy. It sounds as if you have health insurance now; does it cover some therapy? Use it to find someone who can help you talk through all of this while putting aside a bit more in savings. It took a lot of convincing to get me to try therapy, but I wouldn't be where I am now without it.
posted by lukez at 6:27 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can relate to your question a lot, and six months ago I quit a job I absolutely hated. I was having a lot of panic attacks and I really thought the job was the source of most of that.

Well, I'm glad I quit, I've mostly landed on my feet and that job did indeed suck every bit as much as I thought it did. I had a little over 10k saved, like you, however, I live in a cheap city, my SO has a decent job so she ended up picking up more of the rent, and my mom has paid for my $400 COBRA bills and helped me out here and there with a bunch of unexpected medical/car bills that come up. Trust me, shit will come out of nowhere at you as soon as you leave your job, even if it's just "oh crap I forgot about car insurance being due this month".

So it sounds like we're similar in that leaving a job won't mean homelessness, but I'm seeing more financial insecurity than I had in your question and that's troublesome. I hope this isn't coming across as judgmental—I'm the last person to judge someone for quitting their job!—but I can tell you my situation is still precarious and I'm still dealing with a lot of depression, and leaving my job didn't do anything other than remove a huge source of stress in my life and allow a bunch of other stuff to come in and start stressing me out just as much.

Being unemployed goes from awesome to depressing really quick. I've gone through it once after being laid off and twice after quitting a job. This last time I just travelled a lot, started cooking and baking all my meals, started exercising. Awesome! But then I started having health problems. And then I lost all motivation and lost my self esteem. I didn't have anything to do all day, and I was really hard on myself for it and convinced everyone else was hard on me too. Then my partner started being incredibly unhappy at work, and there I was without a job and wishing that I could support her. Again, life is stressful even without a job.

I really want to urge you to figure out the depression before leaving your job. I truly think it's easier to make the most of your time when you have a job; you only have a set amount of free time so it's now or never—I did way more laundry and cleaning when I was employed full-time because I had to make good use of my precious free time, now, nothing is a huge priority. So searching for a job tends to get pushed off while you get over your last job, and suddenly two months have gone by, money is tight, you're frozen with anxiety and that costs your performance when writing cover letters and going to interviews.

Other than that, well, if you decide to leave without another job lined up, don't beat yourself up. It's hard to search for a job when you're being sucked dry by one, and it doesn't make you weak or stupid or unemployable. But a job search is hard either way. I'm in a much better place professionally, and yet...I'm definitely in a worse place, mental health-wise, and now I can't afford to go see someone about it!

Best of luck to you. Memail me if I can offer any support, although as you can see by my back and forth advice here, I'm still trying to figure it out.
posted by thesocietyfor at 6:39 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

You said you were depressed and overwhelmed due to work pressures. But then didn't list any in your question. Have you addressed any of these work stresses or looked for solutions? You said it is a relatively well-paying government job, which yes, can be stressful but usually also has built in supports to help you have a balanced responsibilities. I just wonder if you are rationalising the depression as coming from your job so you don't have to look at the true source of your depression. What does your doctor think? You didn't mention one but since you have good health insurance and you appear to have a serious medical issue I assume you are seeing a specialist. Are you using medication, exercising, eating properly and making time to unwind every day? I work with p-docs quite a bit helping workers struggling with depression become fully functional at work and I have NEVER heard a doctor recommend a patient that is depressed and overwhelmed to stay at home in bed, let alone quit their job unles they were moving towards a positive goal. You identified some possible vague goals after quitting:

1. it might force me to try something new and radical, and identify what i really want to do with my life?
Way can't you do this now? The job only has you for 40 hours a week, doing something radical and scary once a week and discover a bit about yourself.

2. give me an opportunity to do typical in-your-20s stuff -=- travel, working odd jobs, etc. (I was in grad school (PhD) through my 20s, and related 'alternative careers' since... to the point that i am somewhat viewed as an expert in career advice. funny, huh?
Maybe you should book off some time for a holiday, pretend you have no responsibilities for a couple of weeks. When you say working odd jobs are you thinking of short term well-paid projects you have to hustle for or min wages slave positions that you have to meet unrealistic expectations? Because both of those would kind of suck right now if you had the extra stress of knowing you couldn't miss a day at work despite how crappy you feel because you really, really need the money.

3. remove the persistent feeling that i keep on staying in these jobs like my current one because that's what i'm expected to do?
I don't know if you can say having a job is expected of you, however being an adult who is not independently wealthy means you need to either find someone to live off of or make money to keep a roof over your head and food on your table.

Sorry to sound harsh, but literally everyone I know that sunk into depression and decided that not-working was the answer to all their stress spiraled into a far deeper, darker place that they had to climb out of without the resources and structure they had previously taken for granted.
posted by saucysault at 7:25 PM on February 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

I am I this exact same place right now - so much so that I broke down crying when the Director of my department asked how I was doing.

So, this is what I'm NOT doing - quitting.

This is what I am doing instead: taking some PTO to go see the doctor, and get back on antidepressants. If it sounds like I need more time than a week or so, I have the options to either take out short term disability or FMLA.

As much as I want to quit, and as much as I believe that my job is causing the stress, I want to do it when I a better and am in a better headspace. Otherwise, it just takes away the resources that the job has given you.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:03 PM on February 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'd second many of these ideas -- if you're about to quit, why not just take a TON of time off. What are they going to do... fire you?

Take all your vacation, sick, PTO, and maybe then some, and go somewhere to clear your head. A few weeks off may make a huge difference in your thought processes.
posted by carolinaherrera at 8:49 PM on February 26, 2013

How much care does your mother require from you? Are you financially responsible for her? Does she handle her money responsibly? Does she have friends that she socializes with regularly?

Having elderly parents myself (out of state from me but with retirement, savings and long-term health care), I know that just making sure every few days that they're ok and not experiencing any issues they can't handle on their own is emotionally draining for me. Is it possible that what you're experiencing is something akin to caretaker's fatigue?
posted by summerstorm at 8:58 PM on February 26, 2013

Since you have health insurance, you may find talking to your doctor about your depression a good idea. You might benefit from anti-depressants, therapy, or there might be something wrong with your biochemistry. (I have low thyroid and before I got treated, I thought I had cancer because I was so darn tired all the time).
posted by elmay at 10:41 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get a physical first, then a mental work up. Let's be sure there isn't anything organicly wrong with you.

My life changed when I went on anti-anxiety drugs. I had no idea how much of what I hated about working was tied up in anxiety.

Once you have that sorted, take some REAL time off from your job. Then get away. Go to a country where you phone doesn't work, don't watch TV, stay off the internet. Walk in quaint cities, hang out in cafes talking to people, pet dogs. Read books on benches in the parks, visit castles and museums. Drink wine, eat good food, get plenty of sleep, screw your brains out.

You will be amazed at how refreshed you'll feel.

Now get back to work. Was your problem your perspective, or is it a shitty job. If it was perspective, great! Now you can get back to doing your gig. If it's a shitty job, you're now in a great space to find a new job! Dust off your resume and start working your network.

Be sure to carve out time for yourself every day. Work-out or walk to get exercise. Prepare and eat high quality food. Get some cats and pet them. Read fluffy books, watch fluffy TV or start playing Bridge. Keep a journal/blog so you can keep track of everything going on in your world and in your head.

Very rarely is the answer: chuck everything and become financially unstabile.

That's a lot worse than hating your job.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:08 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Judging from the poster's history on the site, they're already seeing a therapist and a doctor who prescribes medication for depression, and are taking thyroid medication for said depression. (Sorry if this is overly creepy, but they seem like relevant details that I missed when answering the question.)
posted by thesocietyfor at 7:11 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you're stressed out, the idea of having a long weekend that never ends is really appealing. Keep in mind, though, that it's not gonna be all beach parties and piña coladas when you're unemployed. At some point, you'll have to start looking for another job – even if it's just a temporary gig stocking shelves to pay your rent.

I have had a few periods as an adult when I had no job or income source at all. It wasn't a lot of fun. My fantasy is always, if I quit my job I would have no stress and I could spend all day reading and writing! Wouldn't that be great? But in practice, I've always been happiest and enjoyed my personal projects more when I have a sustainable, stable, normal work day with flexible hours and a lenient boss who doesn't care if I leave an hour early here and there, as long as I get my work done. When I have no job, I'm worried about the future, which makes me slip into unhealthy habits, and then I spend less and less time doing the things I really love. The ideal situation for work in my life is as a painless background activity that occupies the middle part of my day.

But that's me. Maybe your experience would be different. I know people who have successfully taken off a year and it seemed to work out fine.

One practical thing to consider is how you're going to spin this period of voluntary unemployment to future employers. In a lot of industries, a gap in employment will set off red flags. So get your story straight. Maybe you're going to work freelance. Or you want to spend more time with an older family member. Or you wanted to change careers and work part-time while you were training. Come up with a good answer for why you are quitting. Don't quit just to have a long weekend. If you're quitting just to manage your stress, I think what you want is some time off, not indefinite unemployment.
posted by deathpanels at 8:04 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with the folks saying "don't just quit, but make a plan". And I think that you can do this kind of thing with a deadline. Give yourself 6 months or a year, and commit to staying in your job for that time. Now write down what you want your life to be like at that time. In the meantime, save every penny that you can so that it will be easier if you quit, start networking, especially within your organization - what if you could get a new job within the same govt structure so you keep accumulating retirement benefits and vacation day?? Make specific plans to improve your physical/mental health. And when your deadline comes, think again and make your decision.
posted by CathyG at 10:54 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also know how overwhelming things can be, but making a plan is really good, if you can.

Since I'm in the same boat as you, this is what I'm doing. This might help you quite a bit:

1. Seeing a doctor for my depression, as it's out of control.
2. Updated my resume. So, even if I panic and jump ship tomorrow, I have at least something to give to new perspective employers. I'm also running it past a friend who is in my same field (in my case Software QA) to see if I'm missing any holes and gaps. It feels really liberating for me to have finished this step, and it might be the same for you.
3. Researching prospective employers to see if I'd be interested in working for them in my field.
4. Getting my banking in order.
5. Getting the rest of my health in order. Get that teeth cleaning you've been putting off, get a full physical exam, etc.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:02 PM on February 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all for the feedback and some really great advice. Making a long-term plan right now still seems sort of overwhelming, so the past day or so I have been focusing on practicing gratitude, even for little things and basic needs being covered. And, yes, as noted, I have a therapist and psychiatrist, and I've got a long history with trying med after med, burning out, being tested for everything under the sun to explain my fatigue and spaceyness, etc. Which makes the working even harder (I probably work closer to 50-60 hours, and it can pretty fast paced (for me at least) during the weekdays, and nights when i need to monitor email). my usual tendency is to weather through and not be impulsive enough, but the idea of making a plan to bow out gracefully (and with finances intact) is likely the better way of addressing this.
posted by ArgyleMarionette at 6:13 PM on February 28, 2013

Yup, I think you're on the right track.

One thing that really helps, too, is acknowledging that your job sucks for reasons outside your control. If you're like me, you have a tendency to take it as a personal failure when things in life turn south. But if you're in a stressful industry, or your company is imploding, or your boss is just ineffective at managing your workload, it's really not your fault, and you're not being unreasonable or whiney by insisting on a healthy work/life balance. Sweaty guys fought the police a hundred years ago to get the 40 hour work week, and there's a reason – working more than that starts to wear you down. You don't see your family. You have no time for hobbies or interests. You are more tempted to turn to vices for escape. It's not healthy to work like a dog, and unless you really love the work, it's a losing proposition.

So in sum, be pragmatic and rational. The stress you're experiencing is greater than your available coping resources. Give yourself a break and then approach the problem when you are in a good place mentally. If quitting is the thing to do, then decide on a plan and commit to it. Then start counting your days.
posted by deathpanels at 8:10 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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