Making a leap of faith without a safety net
February 4, 2016 11:30 PM   Subscribe

I've saved up the eff-you fund. I've come to the decision to quit my job without another accepted offer in hand. I give notice tomorrow. Have you done this? What do you wish you had done to heal from this period in your life, or what did you do that made all the difference? How do you rebuild yourself when an abusive person in a position of power over you has torn you down?

After being in an incredibly toxic work situation with a fully psychologically abusive boss and uncaring upper management and HR, I have made the difficult decision to leave my amazing team before securing another position. I've got enough money saved up to make things work for 6-12 months (possibly even more, depending on my budgeting) to just take a break, recover, regain my equilibrium, self-worth, and health. I can't wait to rebuild myself again!

I've already let the people I work with most closely know that I am giving notice in the morning after telling the team. I'll be giving 2 weeks, but there's a real possibility that my vindictive boss will just tell me to leave right away. I am ok with this and have prepped for the possibility (my coworkers know this too).

I have been interviewing quite heavily over the last couple weeks (I actually have 3 more interviews in the next 2 business days, even!) so I don't doubt that I'll land on my feet, but I'm also ok if those don't work out and my search takes a bit longer.

What I'm a little more fuzzy on is how to approach healing from what has been an incredibly emotionally traumatizing experience. I worked for someone who gas-lit me into believing (and got her manager to believe as well) that I was a piece of garbage who couldn't do anything right and needed her constant control, attention, guidance, and daily criticism (plus super long nastygrams that she'd send me in the middle of the night highlighting all my flaws and how she'd repeatedly told me before to fix them but I hadn't, etc), and that only her validation would make me a decent human being. I had a nervous breakdown last year and did not eat or sleep for nearly a month, and my health suffered enormously- I had constant panic attacks, aches and pains, insomnia, digestive issues, migraines, the works. It has all done a real number on my sense of self-worth and I am so exhausted, sad, and worn down to a nub.

Here are some things that I do already have in place:
-Really great therapist
-Anti-depressant medication + emergency xanax
-Friends and family who have been really really amazing and supportive and wonderful
-Network of colleagues and former managers who have been happy to refer me, offered to keep an eye out, etc

Despite my sense of relief at making the decision, here are the things that still plague me:
-Sense of anxiety at not having my next gig lined up. I have done this only once before, very early in my career, but I was just out of college and still living with my parents so didn't have much in the way of bills- so this would be the first "real" jump without a safety net
-Sense of failure. Because I loved my team, I really, truly tried to make the situation work. I kept thinking that if I worked as hard as I could I'd eventually win my insane boss over. Instead, when it came to performance review time, she dismissed all the glowing reviews my colleagues gave me because SHE knew better. Nonetheless, I can't help feeling like I've failed in a way.
-Having no real idea where to start for rebuilding my sense of self. I know that at some point i felt like I was a smart, hardworking, worthwhile human being, not the piece of garbage my soon-to-be former boss has made me believe I am, but I don't even know how to get there anymore.

I am working through the above issues with my therapist, but I'm looking for helpful mefi anecdata for people who have been there, people who have survived this, people who have gone on to thrive and regain their sense of worth and happiness.
posted by raw sugar to Work & Money (20 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

You are opting to get away from CrazyPants. This is a monumental step for you on your journey in Life.

If it helps, we've all been here. You are able to walk away with a stellar support system in place + money in the bank. Who does that?? YOU DO. You are doing this right.

In your shoes, my biggest worry was avoiding this in the future, and this is something you can work on with your therapist + handle by keeping a financial cushion and your resume up to date. And now to the healing part...

Studies show having a "practice" of some sort helps - meditation, yoga, daily walks, weight lifting, spinning, etc.. Additionally, getting out in nature (believe it or not) is like the #1 cure. I'm going to recommend, again, walks or hikes, sitting on a blanket and reading in the park or at the beach, and just general fresh air. Best practice, apparently, is gardening because there are all sorts of beneficial microbes in dirt, who knew?

You should get massaged twice per week, for a few weeks. You will likely cry during some of these sessions. Go ahead, you have a lot to release.

Get fresh flowers once per week for your home. Just for a little while. Don't question this.

You can combine a heap of these recommendations into a one or two week visit to a spa resort - I suggest you do this before you start your next job. Like, make your start date far enough away (2 or 3 weeks) that you can vacation, reset your nervous system, then start your job after being home 3 to 5 days.

Keep up whatever your daily practice is + massage once per month. Or better yet -- GOOGLE FLOATING!! Do that tomorrow if there is a great place in your area. MeMail me if you want rec's.

Ah, yes. Floating. So awesome. Your nervous system need gentle regular care to heal and strengthen. Give yourself this normal requirement, make self-care normalized in your daily life.

I also want you to forgive yourself for being nice and responsible and trying to stick it out. You've just learned CrazyPants is not fixable - no shame in that lesson.

Clean your home. Hire a professional to deep clean, then maintain it. Do you have a friend that loves moving furniture around? Get them to makeover your space. Make it all new and functional. Get rid of old electronics, shoes, linens, clothes, any item that reminds you of anything unpleasant, just purge that stuff from your space and your consciousness. Start fresh. Finally...


PS. You will likely grieve heaps. Breathe into the sorrow when it comes up. Sit with it. Appreciate it for the lesson you learned. What happened was sad. You don't need to rush straight into your next career move. Tell them your start date is a few weeks out. Give yourself time. Enjoy. Not everyone overcomes this. You've done well.
posted by jbenben at 12:35 AM on February 5, 2016 [41 favorites]

It'll be alright.
posted by oxit at 2:11 AM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Having no real idea where to start for rebuilding my sense of self. I know that at some point i felt like I was a smart, hardworking, worthwhile human being, not the piece of garbage my soon-to-be former boss has made me believe I am, but I don't even know how to get there anymore.

Lemme hit you with some anecdata. I was in a very similar situation. I had this abusive, bullying, belittling boss. He made me feel like garbage. I was very seriously considering changing careers, my self-esteem and confidence were so in the toilet.

I lined up another job and quit, but made sure I had two months in between last day and first day.

For the first few weeks I was kind of a wreck as, metaphorically, the toxins were leaving my system. But as the memories of former boss started to fade, I started to regain sight of what was important to me. By the time I stared new job I felt totally different. New job is a very different workplace, my relationships with my colleagues are different, and I'm actually making some of the best work I've ever made. The difference is truly night and day.

Get out of the shitty situation. Let yourself grieve and just be for a while. I guarantee you you'll feel like yourself again soon.
posted by nerdfish at 2:34 AM on February 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

Yes, if you're anxious about not finding something else, get something else lined up.

If you can, do what I did. Take time off sick (I got a note easily, my doctor had been telling me to take time off for stress ever since my hair started falling out and I got a stutter), two or three weeks if possible, and interview like crazy til you get something.

Think of it as the last sprint before the finish - you can do it, and then when you take a while in between jobs you can recover like crazy. Getting a new job will also be a boost when you start off - it'll be tiring, but you'll remember what it feels like to be valued and appreciated.
posted by greenish at 2:47 AM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've been there. You'll be amazed at how quickly you'll bounce back, but the experience leaves scars. So good that you're in therapy, that helps a lot!

Congrats on saving up the eff you fund. I've been the one let go with no money in the bank, and having to live off of unemployment. So you're WAY better at this than I ever was.

What helped me a lot was the fact that once I got my resume out there, I got a lot of calls. I also decided that even if it hurt financially, that I'd wait for the really GREAT fit, not just leap out of the frying pan and into the fire because I was so freaked out about not having a job.

Are you on LinkedIn? If not, go there, do that. Once you indicate that you're available, people will start coming out of the woodwork. This is also where I learned that my former crazypants bosses were stalking me. It made me smile to know that for whatever reason, they felt the need to see if I ended up with a better job (and yes, I absolutely did!)

I might take a week long retreat somewhere. A spa where you can decompress, do yoga, guided mediation, get massages and sit in hot springs. Your body takes a beating when someone's been beating up on you emotionally and intellectually.

Another thought is a last minute cruise. You can get them dirt cheap if you're willing to go in the following week, and they have all the classes and gym, and meals and sunshine a cruise.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:16 AM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I did this once many years ago and it was one of the better life decisions I made. Pretty much the instant I gave notice people did in fact start coming out of the woodwork with better job offers - may it be the same for you!

The best thing I did, which I strongly suggest you also do even if people do show up on your doorstep to offer you your dream job, is to take some serious time off. At least a month. I wish I'd taken two, honestly. You'll need some time to recover your equilibrium, some time to catch up on personal projects, and some time to just relax and enjoy some well-deserved time off. You've saved up enough that you can afford it, so go for it. Both you and your next job will be better for the break.
posted by Stacey at 5:28 AM on February 5, 2016

What helped me was to build a portfolio website for myself so I could remind myself that the toxic people were wrong about me being the crazy one. Portfolios may not be applicable to your career, but take some time to formally reflect--maybe journal--on your past work and remind yourself that you are capable and competent and a bunch of your peers in your other workplaces have thought so, too.
posted by smirkette at 5:47 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

This happened to me in 2011 (though on a much smaller scale) - I had to leave a job without another one to immediately go to because my boss had inexplicably become unhappy with me for reasons that I have never figured out.

Create a killer portfolio and resume for yourself that highlights your strengths and skills. Get in touch with people who have been happy with your work in the past, either within your current company or in other places where you have worked. They can serve as references, and as validation that you are a person who provides value.

While looking for work, take time to relax and enjoy yourself. And don't beat yourself up - this happens to a lot of people. Some work environments are toxic, some people are horrible bosses, and some boss-employee relationships are just bad fits.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 6:23 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

You have taken the first step to happiness. FWIW, I think having a financial safety net is great. Take at least a month between jobs so you can be energized when you start at a new company. Think of it as a toxic relationship, go no contact, eat some ice cream and realize you are fabulous.

I just did this recently and I am so happy I left when I did. I know who I am and what's best for me and no one can tell me otherwise. Treat people the way you want to be treated, yes, but you are also teaching people how to treat you. If people treat you in a way that feels off, you can either alert them of the behavior and let them know it's unacceptable, or no longer associate with that person. There's a saying, if you give an inch, they will take a mile. Some people think they can get away with treating people however they want. For me personally, I don't care if someone doesn't like me, that's fine I'm not on this Earth to win a popularity contest. But you better believe they will respect me. I cannot work with someone that does not respect me. I take the high road. I have options. I deserve better than to be treated like I'm incompetent or belittled. I've earned the respect of my peers and previous managers and one person's opinion is not going to change the fact that I am hardworking. I deserve better and so do you.

Find that for yourself. It's ok, you made a mistake. You learned that this is not an environment in which you can thrive. Focus more on why this particular situation was so difficult for you, after you have taken the time to heal, so as not to be stuck again. Sick systems and all that. But also, why did you feel you needed this person's approval and to change their mind so badly? It's a losing battle to seek acceptance and approval outside your self. Only you can give yourself that. Be firm in your self image and sense of who you are and no one can throw you off balance like that.

This is a learning moment. Let it be just that. Learn that your job is not your life. You can either live to work or work to live. It's your choice. Understand that there is more to life. Find what that 'more' means to you. You will overcome this. Not because you won, but because you can overcome any obstacle on your path to happiness.
posted by lunastellasol at 6:32 AM on February 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you do end up with a gap, take some time to recover, go on a vacation or whatever, but keep a routine. Treat finding a job as your job - do it at consistent times four or five days a week. Don't let yourself get into the habit of sleeping until noon and then binging on Netflix in your PJs until late in the afternoon telling yourself that you'll get to sending out resumes that night. Incorporating regular exercise and volunteer work into your schedule is also good. Try to have something that you can feel that you accomplished most days - if the job search goes slower than you like, it's good to feel that you're making progress on _something_ and not just in limbo.

The longer you go, the harder getting that next job will be and the weaker your negotiating position, so take the time you need to breathe but don't let the healthy financial buffer make you too complacent. If you can do enough freelance work to justify calling yourself a freelancer, that will help with the gap.
posted by Candleman at 7:05 AM on February 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

My only recommendation is to, after a while, get a Joe job to help pay the bills and give yourself more runway.

Also, figure out what you want to do, who will employ you to do it, and start making phone calls when you're ready. Talking to people and telling them what you want to do is the only way to find that ideal job.

You're in Year 1 of a three year transition.
posted by My Dad at 7:29 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mod note: One comment removed; I appreciate that was a lot of work and basically well-intended, but if a core theme of your answer is repeatedly telling someone they're wrong/lying/bullshitting about their feelings as stated in the question that's getting into pretty not great territory and should just be skipped in favor of the more constructive aspects of the answer.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:49 AM on February 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

First, congrats on leaving the job!

Second, others have mentioned things like exercise and a routine. Something that came to mind for me that you might consider is the 30 Days of Yoga Camp from Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. (Start with this intro video. )

It's free, it'll give you structure for 30 days (31 if you do the intro on a separate day), and it's specifically focused not only on getting a (sometimes gentle, sometimes tough) workout, but also on remembering and reaffirming who you are and why you matter and are great. She uses a daily mantra/affirmation, which sounds a little woo, but is actually really nice. She also doesn't take herself too seriously, so there are plenty of opportunities to laugh with her and at/with yourself, which is really nice. (And no worries if you've never done yoga before - she teaches in a way that's quite approachable and downward-modifiable, and she has lots of videos on the basics that you can check out as well. I started with her videos as a total beginner and have loved her approach throughout my yoga journey so far.)

I just finished this series the other day and it was a great beginning-of-year reset/refocus practice for me. (I'm not in any way affiliated with Yoga with Adriene, I'm just still coming off the high of finishing this program! Woohoo!) I could see it also working to hit your reset/heal-your-self-image button in your case.

I also love all the other suggestions of long walks, massage, etc. Take some time to do fun stuff! You deserve it!
posted by bananacabana at 8:43 AM on February 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

List your accomplishments, esp. at work, but also in life. Toxic people steal your confidence, and reviewing your accomplishments helps you regain your balance. Remind yourself often that you are wonderful, you deserve respect, fairness, decency, credit, fun, love, and all good things. You do.

Try to see toxic boss as a person who may be deeply flawed and doesn't know how to do better. It's hard to cope when a person in authority is mean and vile for no real reason, or certainly any reason you can comprehend.

Get reference commitments from people at the old job who recognize your good work.

Do something. Take some of your savings and take a trip to someplace you've always wanted to go. Especially if you can relate it to an interest, so you can say to an interviewer I had the opportunity to take some time to visit Hale County, Alabama, to see the work of the Rural Studio or whatever. Or go to the library and start a research project and say I enjoyed brushing up on my HTML5 skills and build a site for my Blahbla group.
posted by theora55 at 9:45 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wow! I'm SO incredibly impressed that you've managed to save up such a buffer under that huge load of negativity and stress! You're going to totally thrive once you get into a better work environment, and you've created space to find the right place for you.

You are thousands of steps ahead of where so many people find themselves - money in the bank, a support system in place, and you're moving on! Enjoy, because this is the first day of the future, and the future is gonna be great!

And if that witch says anything to you, I hope you just say that you're moving on to greener pastures that will be far more rewarding - because it's true - anything is better than living with that kind of abuse!
posted by stormyteal at 10:21 AM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry this happened to you. It sounds awful. A few suggestions from having seen someone else go through this:

Stay far away from this person, who will probably always trigger you back into this headspace. (Pick your new job with that in mind.)

Really try to take in your co-workers' positive appraisals of you.

Reframe some of it as "I learned that now." Her treatment of you was wrong, but in the early days at least, it probably pushed you to improve certain skills. Recognize the ways your competence increased (even if she can't see that). I'm not saying "appreciate her teaching" (ugh). But occasionally you'll hear her criticisms in your head: "you're just no good at X" or maybe even "I'm just no good at X." The reality is that you've probably long since filled any skill gaps in X, so appreciate evidence of your X skills whenever they arise and use that to bolster your sense of competence, and your knowledge that she is truly not an objective judge of your competence.

Do other work where you'll get praise. You may find you get more praise in one month of the new job than in a year at the old job. Particularly if you get praise for X, it could help you internalize the understanding that it really was a personality conflict or something on your boss's end, not an objective truth about you.
posted by salvia at 10:58 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you work in a field where you can get temp or contract work? Or, if not, do you know Word and Excel well enough to pass the tests that temp agencies give? Temp work can help keep body and soul together without a long-term commitment to one workplace. Being able to cobble together some temp or freelance work would be good for your peace of mind while you are job hunting.

And congrats on getting out. I've known a couple people who have actually had to go on disability because they were so ground down from a toxic workplace but were unable to quit. You have done your physical and mental health - and your future of being able to work, period! - a huge favor.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:32 PM on February 5, 2016

Response by poster: I want to thank you all for your amazing comments. I gave a two-week notice today and my boss basically took all my equipment, confiscated all my passwords, and threw me out immediately, claiming it was an HR thing (it's not, other colleagues in my group have recently given two week notice and finished things out). I wasn't even able to properly say goodbye to my colleagues- when I asked if I could at least say goodbye to some people, she said no and that she had to walk me out right away.

I had an interview at the end of the day where a hiring manager proposed freelancing to start, so it's another potential option in my cap.

I have not selected any "best answers" because I would honestly just best answer them all. Well, maybe not whatever comment cortex deleted :) Thank you mefi.
posted by raw sugar at 6:05 PM on February 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

Congrats on the freelance opportunity! You're going to be just fine. One day you'll look back on this and realize you did the right thing.

Rejoice! You're free!
posted by lunastellasol at 7:07 PM on February 5, 2016

I highly, highly recommend reading Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. Addresses how to make win/win decisions rather than win/lose, which helps alleviate anxiety about the future. In fact, it makes the future exciting and fun to think about, no matter what course of action unfolds. Also addresses feelings of helplessness and low self-esteem in a very simple and almost easy way. Time will heal you, there is no doubt, and in the meantime tell youself no matter what happens, you will handle it (full stop), give all you do 100%, even if it's a temporary situation, and always know that what you do matters.
posted by waving at 8:22 AM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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