Help! I’m Having Second Thoughts About Quitting My Job

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I left my job about two months ago, run-down and on the brink of something drastic because of how miserable I was. It was an extremely high-stress job in finance, and I was very good at it despite the long hours and the lack of creativity it took to do the job. Quitting it was a huge risk—I had savings, but no real prospects on the other side. I just wanted some peace after a decade of work that was at once mind-numbing and incredibly taxing.

Since I left I’ve been making ends meet with some odd jobs, but after two months the thought is starting to creep in that I made a huge mistake. Life hasn’t been as fulfilling as I dreamed it would be, and though I have time and freedom now to explore hobbies I’ve wanted to take up and complete some lingering house projects, I seem to be … still stuck, somehow.

Maybe I had too many expectations for quitting? Did I build it up too much in my head? The company I just left has an opening, and part of me wants to return. My best friends are there, but I dread every other aspect of being employed there again. At the time, I thought quitting was the best decision I ever made and I vowed never to go back. Should I listen to my nagging regrets? Try harder to make a new life for myself? Or opt for stability and doing what I know? —Wealth or Worry

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Dear WOW,

Thank you for your letter. As is so often the case (sayeth the psychotherapist), it raises more questions than answers. But first, let me make an observation or two.

We are often confused by the question of, “Is it the external circumstances that are the problem here, or is it me?” Typically, it is both. In fact, part of the problem can be seeing it as strictly either/or. Some of us grew up in misattuned environments, for instance, where we were always the problem. Some people in therapy also struggle because “they”/“him”/“her” is at fault.

There are always exceptions, but most of the time an external situation—especially a stressful one—is a catalyst for some psychological or emotional conflict we are sorting through. We cannot avoid seeing everything through our own “glasses” or filters. And everyone has ongoing, unsorted conflicts; there is no normal in this regard, as each person’s psychic conflict is highly individualized.

It sounds here as if the job was undoubtedly stressful, and no one can fault you for being a “quitter” since you hung in for a decade! One of our most basic needs is precisely what you stated—peace. I can confirm that the financial industry is anything but peaceful, what with the advent of ever-faster technological tools which seem to increase impatience from management and demand on workers. It is inherently a nerve-wracking business since it involves money, which touches on widespread fears and needs for security, leading to ongoing, socio-cultural anxiety and neurosis.

So the pressure was on, and from the sound of it, you prospered. That is no small feat. Clearly, you have marketable skills and can perform under pressure, to your credit, with a solid résumé that speaks to a decade of experience in a stressful environment.

Yet, in spite of your palpable relief at leaving, something lingers: self-doubt, a creeping sense of “what if I goofed?” This, to me, is probably the most emotionally significant part of your story.

Stability is, at least in part, an inside job. I have worked with quite a few wealthy individuals in therapy who were terribly unhappy. (I am not saying being able to pay bills and rent is insignificant.) In this case, though, it sounds like you have sufficient funds for now and can “make ends meet.” So rather than focus on the externals (the job opening, the company) or looking in the rearview mirror (“did I screw up by quitting?”), I would suggest you take time for sustained, empathic self-reflection.

Have you considered speaking with a therapist, career counselor, or another professional who has experience helping folks with precisely these concerns? Something new awaits—something good, I am sensing—but it’s hard to know which door to open, or where the door can even be found. This, in turn, stokes fear.

I strongly sense there is also a sense of conflict within yourself that wants security and certainty and peace or serenity, a sense of wholeness within the kind of work that truly, in the long run, is right for you. This is a tricky balance, one that requires more work and exploring on your part, but I am sure it is possible. You might not find perfection, but I am certain you can get inside the ballpark.

Renowned psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott would call this yearning for peace as coming from your “true self,” while mythologist and Jungian author Joseph Campbell might call this process the beginning of your “hero’s journey,” or journey to authentic selfhood.

Campbell stated that the hero most often refused the “call to adventure” at first, deciding to take that journey only when backed into a corner. Carl Jung himself felt it is only when cornered, or up against a wall, that our conscious mind surrenders to deeper, creative forces seeking actualization, carrying us forward like the currents of a river.

Or, as an old Zen parable puts it, we are the train on the tracks, but we cannot be the tracks.

I sense, in other words, that you need to give the quieter “other side”—which wants peace or something different, which nagged you to quit the job—a little space and patience to speak up. (Journaling can help in this regard, or talking to a professional or a trusted friend.) There is always existential anxiety at giving up a path of certainty—the financial job, where you know you can succeed and make a good living—for the blank canvas of what next. But that is precisely the adventure! In a way, we need that anxiety to keep our search in motion. And it is trial and error; don’t give up if the answer doesn’t appear right away. It will, though answers come in bits and pieces. Dramatic “aha!” moments are, for the most part, best left for movies and television.

I’m guessing your courageous decision, which was a bold and necessary step to protect your sanity and serenity, has provoked deep-rooted voices—parental, perhaps?—that are saying things like, “Are you crazy? That job paid $_____ a year! Now what are you going to do? Watch daytime TV?”

That is the voice of fear. Fear tends to lead to black-and-white perception, where you are either secure or screwed.

But you have marketable skills, as I say. From a more neutral vantage point, I would guess you have options. By calming your fear and finding outlets for existential self-soothing, you might start to see that you could, for instance, work part-time for a company or even for yourself. And you are making ends meet, which might be good enough for now until you find something that resonates.

It can be overwhelming when what we are looking for hasn’t been found or doesn’t seem to exist (yet). This doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It just means you may need a little time and support to do something naturally difficult but, it sounds like, essential.

Have you considered working for yourself? Many folks are overwhelmed and confused by money matters (my hand is raised); could you do some independent advising or work for a smaller or less daunting firm, even part-time? Sometimes companies hire people for short-term projects, via a recruiter for instance. During that time, you could explore other options: volunteering, taking informational interviews, and so forth.

Corny as it sounds, this is a prime opportunity for you to stretch your wings. Daydream a little. Is there anything you’ve always wanted to try, or even go back to school to study? Is this the time to go to grad school in the evening for your philosophy degree or take a creative writing or guitar class? There is more to life than work, and we are not defined by work alone; for many, it is the least defining point of identity.

Try browsing online job sites, A to Z, and see if anything jumps out at you, something you never even thought of. Maybe you yearn to do some socially or environmentally conscious work (as a random example); could you end up as an investment adviser for a nonprofit? Could you do some combination of corporate and nonprofit work? Do you want to chuck finance altogether and teach English in Asia or Europe, or find a finance job in an international firm and live abroad?

It is possible you could write your own job description and follow it up with persistent footwork to make it happen. It sounds like you have a rare combination of gifts: a financial talent along with integrity and a need for something more personally fulfilling. You have a soul, and it is speaking to you. The soul—or the unconscious, or true self—does not always speak in digestible sound bites, which means we need to find ways to listen deeply to that quiet inner voice which is telling us something vital.

I have worked with people in your situation, and they have prevailed by not giving up. One was an attorney at a movie studio, and he was miserable. He was on-call 24/7, and despite working on prestigious projects, he felt depleted and beat up, with no time or energy to find a partner or start a family. Eventually he decided to get training in estate law, and now runs a quiet little business with a partner, with weekdays that end at 5 p.m.

It can be overwhelming when what we are looking for hasn’t been found or doesn’t seem to exist (yet). This doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It just means you may need a little time and support to do something naturally difficult but, it sounds like, essential. I would just remind you that you have options, per the above.

It’s natural to experience awkwardness after a decade of living a certain way and then stopping. You are carving out a new way of living, day by day. Give yourself credit for doing something brave. You can always go back—to your previous job, or others like it—though I can’t help but conclude that, on a soulful level, you truly don’t want to. So, keep the search going and I am sure the answers will come.

Thanks again for writing!

Kind regards,

Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT

Darren Haber
Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
  • 5 comments
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  • Leon

    Leon

    October 27th, 2017 at 11:43 AM

    I have been in the same situation as you are right now. It is hard when you are in the midst of it but take it from me… if this was a job that seemed to be draining the very life and soul out of you, then you have made the right decision for yourself. It is scary and may not feel that way right now, but it is more important to like who you are and to enjoy your time than to simply go through the motions with a job or a career that you hate. One foot in front of the other, you will get to that other side and I promise it will be worthwhile in the end.

  • Monica

    Monica

    October 28th, 2017 at 10:24 AM

    It can be scary, but day by day you will come to learn that this was the best decision for you.
    Continue to look for something else which will not only pay the bills but will fulfill you.

  • Jacob

    Jacob

    October 30th, 2017 at 11:28 AM

    If you made a mistake is it really so terrible that you could not own up to it and ask them to take you back? I mean, if you were a good employee and got things done then why wouldn’t they want to have you back? If they do then great, you know that this is probably meant to be. If not, then you have to resolve yourself that this was not the fit for you and continue to explore your other options which are available to you.

  • Lila

    Lila

    October 31st, 2017 at 6:52 AM

    It can be so frustrating to think that you want one thing and then when you actually get it it seems that this is not quite what you wanted in the first place. Such is life. I think that there was likely a very good reason that was compelling you to leave that job and even if you can’t put your finger on it at the motet, it would be a bad move to go right back into it.

    Personally I would say give the separation a little bit of time to sink in, and perhaps eventually you will come to see that underneath it all it was a good move for you.

  • Ric

    Ric

    November 4th, 2017 at 6:26 AM

    Part of being an adult is learning to deal with the ramifications of your decisions. So you feel that you may have made the wrong choice. Ok so now what? You can’t go back, so you have to start looking forward. There was a reason why you wanted to leave. Respect that decision and find something new

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