Sometimes, jobs can feel like a relationship. You fall in love with the people you work with; you pamper your work and try your best to impress your boss; and you think about it 24/7. But then it starts crumbling. Your boss never acknowledges your hard work, your coworkers are all leaving, and something just doesn’t feel right anymore when you show up in the morning.
This was me only a couple of months ago. I was doing everything I could to salvage a job that was sinking fast. What I didn’t realize was that I was going through the first stages of a job breakup. Now, I can look back and confidently say that my job breakup was the best thing that could have happened to me.
There are ways to tell when it’s time to move on, and I wish I had known them before the breakup. For one, I was constantly stressed. At times, I assumed that everything in life was going to be stressful and I was just experiencing a bit of a mid-20s “adulting” realizations. But even when I was out of the office and hanging out with friends in my spare time, I was constantly irritable. It got so bad for a while that my depression—which had been dormant for a few years—sprang back with a bitter vengeance. This was a huge red flag, but I still held on to work that was no longer working. I assumed that as long as I wasn’t having a full panic attack, I was completely fine. It turns out I was falling for some of the most common myths about workplace stress.
Another sign the breakup was inevitable was the job itself. I was working as an event coordinator (a difficult job for an introvert) for a small business of about eight employees. The position was the highest I could possibly achieve, and it barely paid a living wage. This wasn’t the fault of the owner—he was simply trying his best to keep the business afloat. But it was a sure sign that I couldn’t stay there forever.
I was stretched thin; I was exhausted; and I was losing my sanity (quite literally). And then it happened.
I walked into work one day, and the new boss (the spouse of the other, returned from teaching) cornered me in the back. “We’re looking at the path our business is taking, and you’re no longer in it,” I heard.
I was stunned, hurt, angry, and totally caught off guard.
I was heartbroken.
No wonder there seemed to be a divide in communication recently. No wonder my responsibilities were dwindling. They were done with me. A sort of “it’s not you, it’s us” excuse was uttered, but I wasn’t ready. I had been prepared to fix it and continue onwards!
Instead, I went home, cried, and applied for unemployment. I was lucky I had so many friends and coworkers to rally around me for support. It really was like a breakup. People came over, got me drunk, and talked about how much the business owners would regret letting me go.
I’m lucky I had that support group. It was through their help that I managed to find another job within just a few weeks of intense applying. That short break gave me time to think (there was a lot of brooding) and grow from the experience. I was able to slowly detach myself emotionally from my old job and accept the rejection.
By the time I was at my new job, I felt like a different person. I never realized until then just how toxic my old work environment was and just how badly my life was spiraling out of control. I was smiling and laughing and felt the happiest I’d been in 6 months. My personal relationships were thriving, and my new job was letting me express myself creatively in a way that was previously not possible.
A few months later—when I had the distance to dive into a deeper analysis of the job breakup—I took a moment to reflect and consider why I was so happy now. I started thinking about my old job, my old boss. I immediately felt my heart rate pick up and an anxiety attack start to crawl its way up from my stomach. That was the moment of my epiphany: my job breakup was a true blessing in disguise. I realized that the organizational stress the business was creating wasn’t just bad for me—it was bad for profits. My unhappiness and stress were costing the business some serious money. It really was beneficial for both of us that I was let go. Now I can look back and be glad it happened.
It’s important to know when you are experiencing job burnout and to break up with your job before it breaks you. It may be sad at first, but—just like in a real relationship—you will find that it was all for the best for you both to go your separate ways.