“You are not weak for leaving a job that is bad for your mental health.”
The picture on the left is in March, before lock-down when my team was a team of three. This was when the work was balanced, and we had physical interactions, we were doing the damn thing. The picture in the center is from July, a few days after I wrote Stressed Out: Toxic Work Environments and Mental Health. You may want to defer to that post for a minute; if you have not read it, it will help to bring the picture in focus. The photo in July is two months after a colleague was unjustly let go, and despite a new hire, we were not a team of three. No, we were a team of two. We were sinking in the ship, and we were plugging holes as fast as we could, burning ourselves out along the way to pick up for the slack.
The picture on the right is six days after I quit my job. What do you notice? In March, my eyes had a light in them; I was still fulfilled with my job and enjoying it every step of the way. In July, my eyes are dull, almost lifeless. I was tired; I was angry; I was done. And six days after my quit job? The light is back. Stress is not just felt internally folks, it also presents itself physically, and in my case, my eyes told a bigger story than I was willing to tell.
Before I go any further, I am sure you are wondering why both my colleague and I still saw us as a team of two. The new hire did not get trained until my final two weeks. That is right, he was hired a few weeks after my other colleague was let go, and the project manager never initiated training. He sat for three months with only a financial system training under his belt when it only contributes to 1% of the job. I felt horrible – not for leaving, but because this man was not allowed to learn along the way. The failure of my project manager threw him into the fire with my departure, and I could only provide but so much protection against the flames.
Because of my project manager, my colleague and I took the brunt of the work. We carried everything on our shoulders. I avoided taking leave because I felt as though one day off would derail the train. It was not until I told her that I needed a break, and she told me to take my leave, that I felt less guilty. The problem was, even though both of us were on vacation, we were never really on vacation. No, work had consumed our every being; we were worried about the status of our actions. There was no peace to be found.
I began my job search around the same time my colleague did, and the catalyst for that was the unjust firing of our other colleague. We had to sit at home as the person with the most historical knowledge was let go. It pained me to return to the office to gather my belongings and turn in my equipment because everything was still just as we left it in March. My colleague did not get the opportunity to collect her belongings, so her desk looks as though she will be returning. I stood in the middle of my office that day and said, “Goodbye,” out loud. We were truly the dream team; we became family; we were all we had. Our project manager was and still is so far removed that we had to rely on one another to succeed. My remaining colleague and I did our best, but resentment had taken over, and then burnout threw itself on top of it. My dream job became a nightmare that I had to escape.
Now let us go over what burn out is and its signs.
“Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment,” (Carter Psy.D., 2013). Burnout can cause you to no longer perform efficiently at your job, and it is a gradual event. Think of it as a small hole in your tire, the air slowly leaks out. Now you are ready to go, and your tire is flat. You cannot just put more air into it; depending on the size of the puncture, you might not be able to patch it up. You might have to go out and get a new one.
Now, our bodies give us subtle clues that things are about to take a turn for the worse, so some of these signs and symptoms of burnout may seem repetitive, but that’s how insidious burnout is.
I hit the point of full burnout by the end of July, and what is worse, I had accepted another job offer at the beginning of July but had to wait for my background check to clear. I woke up every morning, hoping that day would be the day that I received my start date. It was to the point that because I knew I had another job offer, and there was no reason I would not clear, I almost did not care if I got fired. My focus was the customers I supported and anything beyond that, I could not find the energy or capacity to care. I made last-minute requests hastily, I just wanted it done, and minutes to hours later, I would realize I messed up and tried to fix it before anyone caught it.
I had one customer whose programs mean the world to me because they are about reducing the stigma of mental health in the military community and ensuring the continuity of mental health care for service members separating from the military. He was all I cared about, and yet, I still made mistakes. I was not on my game anymore. Gone were the days where I could turn things around and have him approve. No, my mistakes were growing each day. Now, I am not only upset at the unreasonable time pressure that seemed to be put upon us week after week, but I am also upset that I am not doing my best! I dreaded every day I had to log on; I went from 140lbs. to 133lbs. I was not hungry, I struggled to finish my course for project management, I would lash out at my boyfriend, and every day at 1500 (3:00 PM), I was mentally done. My brain felt tired, and no matter how much sleep, shutting my mind off by leaving shows on in the background while I played Homicide Squad on my phone, I could not recover.
When I was finally given the green light to put in my two weeks, I knew I could not start this new job right away. I knew I had to shed all the bad energy and rest. My therapist told me that it was a good idea to take a week off. During my final week in that position, she said to me that if that had not been my last week of work, she would become even more concerned about my mental health. I was slipping into depression, folks. I could feel it, but I wanted to ignore it as much as I could. I just kept telling myself to be there for my colleague, and it is only one more day, your freedom is coming.
In a perfect world, my dream job would still be my dream job. I truly enjoyed the work I did, I enjoyed my customers immensely, and I loved my team. I loved them enough to stay when my project manager failed me when another colleague was harassing me. I trusted them, my team. In a perfect world, my project manager would have counseled my colleague before she was let go. How do you get rid of someone who has been “performing poorly,” without you telling them there is an issue with their work, to begin with! No opportunity to rectify the situation? I truly believe it was personal; that colleague was restricted access to a program, but when I took over, I had full access. Because of that, you cannot convince me otherwise. Read Social Distancing and Bad News for more details.
Unfortunately, the world is not perfect and everything that happened, happened. The job I accepted was not a job I thought I would be happy taking on at first. I wanted to stay in acquisitions, and solely in acquisitions, I tried to leave the financial world in the past. However, once I got the full details of this opportunity, I realized how bad I was itching to put those skills to use in some capacity. I am the only one on this new team designated to support two different branches, meaning I get to do what I love to do, and I get to keep my financial skills current. In my training session on Friday, I had an internal freak-out; I was excited to do accounts payable again. I even told the client how excited I was because it has been so long since I have had the opportunity. I never thought those words would leave my mouth.
Just because these are unprecedented times does not mean that you must stay at a job that is detrimental to your mental health. Jobs are hiring folks; I had phone interviews, zoom interviews, and Google Meets interviews. I received four offers total from May into July. Why didn’t I accept any of the other three? Two of them did not feel right, and one I accepted, but the offer was rescinded when my salary requirements were too high. Yes, there are terrible HR people who do not ask your salary requirements before an interview and waste everyone’s time. I say all of this to say, do not jump at the first opportunity to leave. Think about it, weigh out the pros and cons, and if you worked in a toxic environment, make sure you formulate interview questions to ask in your interview. I have shocked quite a few people by doing that, but that is because I refuse ever to be put in a similar situation again.
I had to replace my tire, and if you need to replace yours, too, you can. If you have not reached the full level of burnout, take your vacation, and take it now. You do not have to go anywhere; take the time to practice all the self-care in the world.
Whatever you choose to do, remember to always, always take care of you.
Until next time – Love, peace, and chicken grease <3
Carter Psy.D., S.B. (2013). The tell tale signs of burnout…do you have them?