Managing sadness about leaving a job
February 9, 2021 8:07 AM   Subscribe

So, yesterday I quit a job for the first time ever. It was the right decision; I needed a change and certain changes over the past few months were making the job increasingly unpleasant for me. But I feel quite sad about it!

In particular I feel sad about leaving my manager and coworkers, who are wonderful people. It's a small company so my departure has a noticeable impact; my manager in particular has had several people leave over the past few months and is very bummed about me leaving as well. (He's been nothing but professional about it and hasn't pressured me to stay in any way, but I can tell he's pretty deflated by it.) I feel bad for him especially because he's a great manager and a wonderful person but there are issues at the company beyond his control.

I think these feelings are especially intense for me right now because I live alone and have been mostly working from home since last March, so my coworkers have been a significant part of my human interaction over the past year, and leaving them feels sad and scary. I also feel sad that they've done a lot of things right in terms of how they treat their employees (work-life balance, vacation, celebrating birthdays) but strategically the company is not moving in a great direction and I'm worried my departure will just make things worse. It would be easier to leave if they were all assholes, ya know?

I know all the usual wisdom about not feeling bad about leaving a company because they wouldn't hesitate to fire you if needed; my sadness is not so much about the company itself but about my personal relationships with my coworkers. I also know it's just a job and people leave jobs all the time. But I keep having intrusive thoughts and horrible guilt about this, particularly about how hard my manager seems to be taking it. I'm a sensitive person! Usually too sensitive! I hate disappointing people. (And honestly I think this is bringing up a lot of buried past emotions related to times I've disappointed people in the past.) How can I honor these feelings while also keeping things in perspective and not being overwhelmed by negativity?
posted by mekily to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, you're not doing anything wrong! Something can be the right decision and still make you sad. Something can be the right decision for you and still be difficult for other people (like your manager). Maybe it's possible to live without ever disappointing or failing anyone but I sure as hell don't know how to do it. Life is all about tradeoffs, and endings are tough.

The anxiety/guilt/intrusive thoughts part - do you have good ways of dealing with that kind of stuff? Those feelings will likely continue to bubble up and if you can notice them and let them go rather than dwelling on them that's the way to go. You don't have to get rid of those feelings, just recognize that they are just one set of feelings that you are having, they're not the whole story.
posted by mskyle at 8:22 AM on February 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I also quit a job for the first time a few years ago and dealt with a lot of sadness. I cried for two weeks in offices as I told people I was leaving, and apologized a lot, and had guilt after I left that I was leaving them with a lot of work.

On some level, your colleagues likely know why you’re leaving and understand. Do as much as you can to make it easy for the next person, lots of documentation and emailing to set up an interim contact. And then think about ways to honor the personal connections. Perhaps schedule one on ones with those you especially are close to and tell them nice things about themselves - how much you’ve learned and valued their input and help. Reach out and give contact information to those you’d like to stay in contact with, perhaps write a nice parting email if that’s in your company culture.

What will probably happen is they will be sad for a while, but they’ll hire your replacement, you’ll keep in touch with some of them, and in a while, the guilt and sadness will dissipate.
posted by umwhat at 8:23 AM on February 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have felt this way at every job I have left! My reasons for leaving have varied: sometimes I left because of a life transition, like going to law school or having a baby, sometimes I left because a job wasn't a good fit, and sometimes I left because a new, great opportunity presented itself. I also noticed that in a few of these transitions, something came up in the last few weeks before I left that seemed like it could have made the difference if only the opportunity came sooner! (E.g., an old boss called just before I started law school to recruit me to her new publishing house, or a partner I really wanted to work with at my firm started having work available for me.) (I mention this in case it ever happens to you--I know it's happened to my husband a few times and to others as well, and I think it's helpful to keep in mind.)

Nonetheless, in each case I was always glad that I made the change I did. From your post, it sounds like you made a very careful decision about leaving and weighed the pros and cons. You didn't quit on an impulse. So, even though you have these feelings of sadness, you can feel confident that you left for the right reasons.

Also, you can view your sadness about leaving your boss/co-workers as a good sign. It confirms that you're the type of person that people want to work with, and you're capable of developing productive, friendly professional relationships. That is a huge asset! It doesn't come naturally to everyone, even people who are otherwise good at their jobs. It likely means that you will be able to develop similar work relationships in the future--which is one of the good things about new jobs. More people to meet, and more opportunities to work with people you'll groove with.

Finally, if you're leaving on good terms, you will likely find that those bonds with your boss and/or coworkers will prove fruitful in the years to come. Your boss can serve as a reference in the future, or maybe as a mentor as needed. Your colleagues may come to you with other opportunities down the line. Or--my favorite part about developing a network--you may be able to put your colleagues forward for good positions wherever you end up.

I hope this is helpful. Tl;dr: It's normal to have these feelings, they speak to good things about you, and while it is an end, it isn't THE end! Good luck.
posted by CiaoMela at 8:23 AM on February 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

In all my jobs across all the coworkers I have been friendly with and had great work friend relationships with, there are like 2 who I'm actually friends with. And I'm actually friends with them, we do things (or did in the before times) and keep in regular touch. The personal relationships that matter will find ways to last.

Think of it like when you're dating, and all your boyfriend's friends become your friends, for a little while. And then you break up, and all those people go away. They aren't your friends, they're your situational acquaintances with whom you got on well. These people who filter in and out of our world are all part of the great tapestry of life, cue the disney song.

You'll be ok and so will they.
posted by phunniemee at 8:24 AM on February 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If this helps at all:

1) This is totally normal and you are not weird or alone for feeling this way.

2) I've almost entirely left jobs when I "had to" - either literally (laid off) or because a situation had become totally untenable and unsustainable and had become a Bad Job.

This is often necessary but it's not ideal, and it sucks. I'm still bitter over some of those situations. Leaving a job before you absolutely have to is almost always better than leaving after you're frustrated or angry with it.

It's also better for staying in touch with people. I still keep in touch with a lot of my coworkers from past jobs, we meet up in professional and sometimes social contexts. One of my old bosses is a good friend now and he came to my wedding!

They won't take it personally, and they won't hate you for it if they're at all good professional folks - and if anything they'll think better of you for having made a smart move for yourself.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:41 AM on February 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I also left a job a few years ago for the first time—I had left individual projects at the company before, and had left summer jobs at college, but had never resigned from a full-time job before.

I cared about the people that I worked with, and enjoyed parts of the job, but I wasn't confident at all about the direction of the project. Several people had left already, and there were murmurings about the finances looking bad. I was also overworked and stressed, and ready for something new. I didn't want to be forced onto a new project where I would have to travel, either.

It was time to go, and I knew it.

Still, resigning was hard. The project was close-knit, and while most of my teammates took it well, some took it hard, including my manager. I felt like I was breaking up with him.

The two-week's notice period was weird. It was radio silence with some coworkers, almost up until the last minute. Others wished me well almost immediately after the word broke. We had a goodbye lunch, and it was both wonderful and bittersweet.

The layoffs started four months later.

Two years later, the project was disbanded entirely.

What you're feeling is normal and healthy, even though it sucks. You'll learn how to deal with it in time.

Though it's a blow to the ego, it helps to remember that the success of a company or project is usually not dependent on a single person. They either are going to be fine without you—or they aren't.

If they aren't, then that's probably because the ship was sinking well before you decided to leave, which validates your decision to go—there's no honor in going down with the ship.

Good luck with your new job. Take the time to look back on the positives. Before long you'll be in a new place, and after a year or two, you will have long-since moved on.
posted by vitout at 9:01 AM on February 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the kind words and perspective, everyone, it helps a lot.

vitout, your anecdote in particular sounds really similar to the position I've found myself in right now.

I just wrote a warm goodbye email to the company listserv and it was quite cathartic, I feel a bit better.
posted by mekily at 9:26 AM on February 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

I've been on both sides of this, and you're right, it is hard. No amount of rationalization will make it easier.

I'm pretty sure a big part of what you're feeling is the realization that your relationships with your former co-workers are coming to an end. I'm on record several times as saying that work friendships rarely survive job changes. That's just life. As phunniemee said, they're not really friends; they're acquaintances. You'll make friends at your new job (or whatever you go to next), too.*

That said, though, it has literally never been easier to remain friends with people you don't work with anymore. Social media, texting, etc. If you want to still engage with these people, there are ways to do so. I've done some Zoom calls with friends from one old job; another old job actually has a Slack workspace for alumni (unofficial, run by an alumnus in a similar position as you). Since you're not hanging out in person anymore, this is going to be pretty close to what your actual friendships already were.

My best advice, though, is to throw yourself into whatever comes next for you. You didn't mention if it's a new job, going back to school, just taking some time off, or whatever, but whatever it is, jump in. Do it 100%. When I started my current job, I was coming off a job like yours where I was really close with my co-workers. The combination of starting over learning new processes, missing my friends, and the general misery of lockdown meant that I spent a lot of time questioning whether I'd made the right decision to leave, and therefore not working as hard as I could at my new job. Second-guessing yourself for sentimental reasons is a distraction. You made the decision for a reason (and based on your question history, it sounds like it's the right decision). Remember that. The next time you feel that sadness creeping up, tell yourself that you moved on for a reason, and then actually do what you've moved on to.

*Note that this is true even if you're still WFH. I started a new job in April 2020, after lockdown began, and I've become friendly with several co-workers. It's been different, because we can't do happy hours or things like that, but you can still build a friendship over instant messages.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:00 AM on February 9, 2021

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